Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

An awesome 38-issue run pencilled by John Romita Jr., and masterminded by Babylon 5 author J Michael Stracynski.

(most of the covers are sadly irrelevant)

Having not read any of the immediately preceding or following editions, I can’t comment on what impact, if any, these episodes had on the overall series. Reading them in isolation however, Stracynski seems to concentrate equally on Peter Parker the man, and his increasingly bizarre relationship with the eight-legged insects who have so transformed his life.

Over the course of this three-year saga (in publication terms anyway), Pete has to balance his humanity against his super-humanity, and he’s clearly reluctant to let himself go fully over to either.

Here’s a very brief rundown…


After his wife Mary Jane has left him, Peter meets Ezekiel, who to all intents and purposes appears to be an older, wiser version of himself, with similar powers. Ezekiel taunts him with the notion that the radioactive spider which first bit him 'by accident' all those years ago actually did it on purpose. Oh, and he also warns Spider-Man that he has a natural predator. When that guy – Morlun - shows up, poor Spidey-Man simply has no chance, even with Ezekiel’s help.

It’s a fairly staple ingredient of so many Spider-Man tales for our hero to gasp towards the end something like “Oh no, after all these years, this one villain is just too powerful for me!” Here, after an enormously exhausting fight, he really means it. He even gets to the stage of phoning Aunt May and Mary Jane to say some sort of goodbye to them.

Morlun won’t afford him such luxuries as running or recovering though. As soon as Spidey goes on the move, this bad guy simply starts hurting innocents instead to lure him straight back.

Eventually our hero has to hit back with something against which his aggressor has no natural advantage – his human side.

It’s a six-month battle (for us) that ends with Peter Parker’s scientific knowledge just giving him the edge that saves his life.

Then he gets back to his flat and collapses unconscious with exhaustion, just as his Aunt May comes in to collect his laundry and stands there gaping in shock at her nephew's no-longer secret identity!


The famous “black issue”.

(Don't get me started on the whole numbering thing - numbering comics is supposed to make them each UNIQUE, and I refuse to become a part of the problem!)

Ignoring the cliffhanger with Aunt May last week, this edition pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the World Trade Centre tragedy.

It features Spider-Man and other Marvel characters helping real-life heroes (servicemen etc.) to rescue the injured on 11th September 2001 and the days immediately following.

It seems to have worked very well at the time of publication, although without the shock of its original context, it has now aged a little. What begins as an internal monologue from Peter Parker at some point seems to become an anonymous commentary on events and society.

One of the most striking observations is the presence of Marvel’s broken villains amongst the devastation – the Kingpin standing silently horrified at the damage, with Doctors Octopus and Doom.

Narration: ”Even those we thought our enemies are here. Because some things surpass rivalries and borders.

Because the story of humanity is written not in towers but in tears.

In the common coin of blood and bone.

In the voice that speaks within even the worst of us, and says
this is not right.


Because even the worst of us, however scarred, are still human.

Still feel.

Still mourn the random death of innocents.”

While I applaud the point being made, as a comic reader I had a real problem with that when I first read it in 2005. In the Marvel universe these guys have plotted to kill many more than died on that awful, awful day in real life. In #296-297, Doc Ock himself plotted to wipe out New York with anthrax, from the World Trade Centre no less.

Yet, while these inconsistencies initially led me to suppose that this story was outside the Marvel canon, I can now see how well it fits in. By 2001 Marvel’s villains had developed in character a huge amount since their early days, and tend to have much more depth to them now.

This, plus the ongoing building work in the background of subsequent issues, place this edition firmly within the Marvel universe, as far as I can see, although perhaps not taking place while Pete lies unconscious between #476 and #478. Unless this issue is all his dream of course.

If you still need convincing, just read Spidey’s observation of Captain America’s clenched fists…

”He’s the only one who could know. Because he’s been here before. I wish I had not lived to see this once. I can’t imagine what it is to see this twice.”

Cap’s standing there recalling Captain America #306 when London got devastated, isn’t he?


Suddenly Pete’s back in bed unconscious again with his Aunt May standing over him gaping in shock at his secret identity once more. It might seem like the previous issue had interrupted the ongoing storyline, but after the events of September 11th 2001, this image runs on quite logically.

Once she’s decided to confront her nephew regarding his double-life, May and Peter have a huge issue-long duologue about all the implications, not just for the present but their respective pasts also. Their openness, once they've managed it, enables them both to find some peace over Uncle Ben’s death.

This 22-page conversation is just the sort of in-depth scene that Stracynski rarely, if ever, got to write in Babylon 5. I always thought one of B5’s shortcomings, and indeed of much modern TV drama's, was/is its tendency to present huge life-changing moments in the space of just a couple of minutes. Not so here.


A bit soapy. Everyone gets on with their lives, but thanks to Marvel's 'Nuff Said month, without any speech-balloons.

Good job this wasn't last month!

Stracynski cheats however, showing May not just writing down her to-do list, but also composing emails. Alas, I still got lost as to what was happening towards the end.

Fortunately the original script is then presented on subsequent pages, robbing the gimmick rather. Unfortunately for me, the issue runs out of pages before the script does. Just what was the point of all that then? Come on Marvel, just print the text smaller – it's 'Nuff Said, not 'Nuff Read!

#481 – 483:

Spider-Man enlists the help of the ever entertaining Doctor Strange to find some lost kids on the astral plane. While there he finds a giant green spider who tells hi that he should not be there. Ironically, the irregular flow of time means that Spidey winds up missing a potential reconciliation with Mary Jane, and can only visit her astrally on a plane. Ha. Ha.

#484 – 486:

Successfully smuggling his Spider-gear through America’s tight post-911 airport security, Pete takes a flight with Aunt May to go visit Mary Jane over in Hollywood. There he explains about the whole astrally visiting her on the plane just as she was leaving NY thing, but doesn’t think to prove it by relating any details of what he saw, eg. what she was wearing at the time.

Meanwhile an aging Doctor Octopus discovers that his metal arms now have a technological successor. And, heh heh, that’s when the trouble starts…


After correctly picking the lottery numbers but forgetting to buy a ticket, Spider-Man learns from Doctor Strange that, during his trip on the astral plane, he accidentally entered the food chain. Dang it, don't you just hate it when that happens? Well, so does Spider-Man.

Sure enough, Shathra the spider wasp shows up in New York, to eat him I assume.

Spider-Man gets so overcome by the paralysis of her sting that he can only hide from her by crawling into the spider-cage at the museum of natural history, and letting hundreds of the things completely envelop him.

From there Ezekiel rescues him and flies him to Ghana. Having told Pete the legend of the original Spider-Man of Africa from centuries ago, Ezekiel then takes him to a giant underground stone spider. Here Ezekiel assures Pete that he will actually stand a very slightly better chance of winning against Shathra, which he apparently does. Whew!

#490 - 491:

With the ominous news from Ezekiel that he still has a third natural enemy to come, Pete pays a surprise visit to MJ in Los Angeles… unaware that, ha ha, MJ is simultaneously paying a surprise visit to him in New York! Heh heh heh, I mean, it’s like some kind of whacky screwball comedy. Those two repeatedly just missing each other, cor I love those things.

Ultimately bad weather finds them both stuck in transit in Denver, along with Captain America and Doctor Doom. And that’s when the trouble starts. (By which I mean they get back together again. In your face, Mephisto!)

That’s The Amazing Spider-Man tonight at 8:30pm right here on Thames. After George & Mildred.

#492 - 495:

Gangsters. From the undead.

#496 – 497:

Throughout these 38 issues Peter is holding down a day job as a school science teacher. Here he sets out to track down a pupil's missing brother (again) only to find that the kid has fallen in with Ezekiel.

#498 – 500:

A huge team-up with Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Thor, Cyclops and the Fantastic Three. (or Four if Sue was there invisibly)

Issue #500 has Spider-Man unstuck in time and bouncing around different moments from his life. He sees his apparent death and also gets the chance to prevent it, by averting the moment when he first gained his spider-powers. He chooses to restore history, but to do so has to re-win many of his earlier battles. Cue lots of old villains and situations and we have a re-enactment of key moments from Spidey's history. I was particularly pleased to see #31-33 covered, which is the story that I first came in on. (when it was reprinted in the 1980s as Marvel Tales #170-172)

Sadly no Beyonder though. Drag.


Spider-Man encounters a guy wearing a big suit that can vibrate stuff. Spidey defeats him in a swimming-pool. He's the greatest science teacher ever.


Spider-Man has to protect a tailor guy who specialises in designing costumes for super heroes. And villains. So we see Thor sitting there reading the paper as his top is repaired while he waits. Obvious comedy.

#503 – 504:

I'll let Spider-Man himself handle this one...

"Any way you look at it, I'm up to my webs in magical whackos."


Spider-Man prevents a kid from ruining his life by shooting a cop.

#506 – 508:

Ezekiel returns to warn Pete of the approaching third predator – the Gatekeeper. He explains that by being bitten, Peter has gained his spider powers illegally, and now the Gatekeeper expects payment for them.

Millions of giant spiders infest New York, building together to form a gigantic man. The Gatekeeper has arrived.

Throughout this run, John Romita Jr.'s artwork has remained nothing short of stunning. Here his close-ups of enormous spiders with huge gnashing teeth are truly disturbing. With three years of Stracynski's (and briefly Fiona Avery's) excellent story-telling all having built up to this moment, this is Spider-Man's greatest hour, particularly when he is engulfed by the above monster and passes-out from thousands of tiny bites.

Then it turns out that Ezekiel has been lying to him for the past few years.

Zeek is the one who stole his powers from the spiders, and he's just been hanging around Pete to use him as a decoy.

It all reaches an incredible conclusion when... oops and that's all we have time for.

An awesome run, no matter what Mephisto thought of it.


With thanks to Herschel.


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