Monday, March 5, 2012

Best of Spider-Man Since "Brand New Day" Part 3

Here are parts 1 and part 2 of my look back at the best of Spider-Man since Brand New Day. Continuing part 3....

The Gauntlet


When Amazing Spider-Man jumped to a three-issues a month schedule, and all the new artists and creators came on board - there was a mandate that they not rely on the classic Spider-Man villains, but instead try and create their own. They had some good stories with their new crop of villains, but most of them didn't catch on - with the exception of Mr. Negative. Dan Slott was the one who really started bringing back the classic characters - no less doing a bunch of them in a single arch, with Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), Venom and the Scorpion. Doctor Octopus made a triumphant return in Amazing Spider-Man issue #600. The Gauntlet - a massive arch split into individual sections, all focusing on prominent and famous Spider-Man villains. All the attacks where largely separate - but had a similar origin at the end of the day. It really was all about crushing Spider-Man's world -- not all at once, but ruining his life over a long period of time.

Chameleon


The Chameleon actually reappeared in Spider-Man's life before the Gauntlet officially started, but I feel like he counted, especially since he is related to the group behind the Gauntlet to begin with.

The Chameleon basically kidnapped Peter Parker and took his identity. Instead of simply being a master of disguise - a warped personality, of imitating people so perfectly, was introduced. No one in Peter's life knew it wasn't him. And Peter would have been dead (dropped in a pit of acid) if not for his quick thinking and his augmented healing Spider Powers. The Chameleon, as Peter Parker, was trying to assassinate the recently elected Mayor J Jonah Jameson. Peter was starting on a job to be mayoral office's photographer. Peter's life and relationships where royally screwed up - including his government job. Spider-Man managed to stop his doppelganger, though. Having failed, the Chameleon was greeted and taken in by a surprising character: the wife of Kraven the Hunter. (The Chameleon is from the Kravinoff family.)

Electro


The first official villain of the gauntlet is the returning Electro. His powers are somewhat in flux - he might even be dying - but he's made better and more powerful with the help of the Mad Thinker. Yet the Thinker's help isn't free - so Electro has to get money.


In the course of fighting Spider-Man Electro strangely becomes a hero of the people. Suddenly the people are supporting Electro instead of Spider-Man. (Well, they never really supported Spider-Man either. Wallcrawling menace!) Electro's claim to fame doesn't last - but his souped up powers leave Spider-Man reeling. During their biggest confrontation, their fight takes place right in the offices of the DB. The entire building comes crashing down as a result -- putting the nail through the coffin of what was once the Daily Bugle.

Sandman


The Sandman has an interesting tale, where a little girl is adored and treated like a princess in a kingdom made of sand. The Sandman, through one of his girl friends, became like a father to this little girl. The mother is one of several people murdered - with the girl missing, having been kidnapped. Spider-Man solves the murders and finds the Sandman's hiding place on Governor's Island. Sandman's powers have evolved to a new state - where he's able to create duplicates of himself, with independent personalities, who committed the murders. The little girl loves the Sandman and doesn't want her daddy taken away. Spider-Man eventually defeats the Sandman, and child protection services are called in to care for the little girl. The story ended on a very dark note - where the little girl who was once treated like a princess is now suddenly with people that didn't love her like her father did.

Mysterio


Mysterio famously died several years ago in Kevin Smith's legendary Daredevil run. Quentin Beck had supposedly shot himself, as the closing act of his elaborate and theatrical death scene. So it's not exactly a leap to suddenly have Beck "As in 'Beck' from the Dead" alive again. Mysterio came back into Spider-Man's world using elaborate and realistic robots, claiming to be people brought back from the dead. A whole mess ensued involving the police, robotic mobsters, and all manner of insanity. Suffice to say, Spider-Man ended up foiling Mysterio's dramatic plot.

The Rhino

Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich, aka the The Rhino, as been one of my favorite classic Spider-Man villains. He's essentially just a guy in a massive Rhino suit; usual modus operandi being to charge at Spider-Man, Spider-Man dodges, smash into wall - repeat until knocked out. I like him; but he's not any master genius of Spider-Man's rogue's gallery.

Aleksei got a huge bump in personality, though - in two different issues of Amazing Spider-Man. As his name suggests, The Rhino has always been of Russian decent - but that has never been capitalized on in regards to his character. We're told a wonderful tale of how Aleksei meets a waitress after getting out of prison. He has given up the Rhino Suit, having it removed from his body in exchange for parole. (It was essentially grafted onto his body. Not exactly a rubber suit.) The waitress, who I think is also of similar Russian decent, falls in love with Aleksei and gets married to him. Aleksei has given up his life of crime to settle down.


The Rhino's reform, though, is called into question when a new mech-suited Rhino arrives on the scene. This Rhino is powerful and fearsome - and wishes to kill Aleksei - to overtake his spot on the animalistic totem pole as the new Rhino. Aleksei proves to Spider-Man that he has really reformed by helping to take down this new Rhino, who attacks Aleksei's new place of business as security in a casino. Spider-Man, who was skeptical at first, accepts that Aleksei has reformed and wishes him and his wife well.


What was a touching and moving story turns suddenly turns sour, as several issues later the mech-Rhino returns again. He still wants to kill Aleksei - all part of the Gauntlet, and how it's been surreptitiously encroaching on Spider-Man's life. While trying to help and stop the Mech-Rhino, Aleksei's wife is tragicly killed.


Having turned his life around, and done everything right - suddenly Aleksei's life has been ruined. All his hopes and dreams of a better life died with his wife -- and so Aleksei once again donned a new and powerful Rhino suit, to take on and defeat this usurper to his name. Aleksei manages to kill this mech-Rhino - and similarly swears vengeance on Spider-Man as well. He's the Rhino again - now and forever.

Deadpool


With the gauntlet well underway, and it's crushing effects on Spider-Man and those around him piling up, a one-off killer for hire broke the string of tragedy with a single issue featuring Deadpool hilariously trying to kill Spider-Man.


This issue featured a wonderfully creative artist, Eric Canete, who exploited the wacky nature of this issue with weird and creative art. (The image above is a good example, of Spider-Man versus "Lady Stilt-Man"... Yes, Lady Stilt-Man - the successor to the original male Stilt-Man.)


The fight against Deadpool was incredibly wacky and almost cartoonish. Deadpool has always had once foot outside of reality - but it really shines here, matched up against the usually more realistic (well, sorta) Spider-Man. The battle even ended with "Yo Mamma" jokes!

Deadpool, though, wasn't actually hired to kill Spider-Man. Just keep him busy for a while. Once the time was up, Deadpool left. Who hired him, and for what reason? Ana Kravinoff, the third "Kraven the Hunter" and daughter of the original Kraven, had used the distraction to allow her to act without Spider-Man's interference. Other loosely affiliated Spider-Man characters have been attacked; Spider-Woman Mattie Franklin is kidnapped by Ana, along with Madame Web - a longtime seer of the Spider-Man universe. Thanks to Deadpool, the kidnapping went off without a hitch.

You're Fired!


As if a parade of more powerful than ever Super Villains wasn't enough - Spider-Man's life took an even more serious blow when he was unceremoniously and publicly fired. During an encounter with the new Vulture, who has a vendetta against Jameson, a situation ensues where a security guard is killed by the Vulture. Certain evidence, though, casts doubt on what really happened - something that would make Jameson look bad. Peter, having been there as Spider-Man and knowing the truth, wants to exonerate Jameson. So Peter doctors a photo to make it look like Jameson is helping to attack the vulture, to more accurately show what happened.

What came next was a pretty big shocker. Jameson called a press conference and told the truth about what happened. A security guard on his staff had given up their life to protect the Mayor. Whatever questions about the incident where - the picture Parker presented cleared everything up. But Jameson knew it was a forgery. He publicly denounced Peter Parker, effectively black listing him for getting a job (any job) in New York city. This was really, really embarrassing -- and further ruined Peter's life. He thought he had been trying to do the right thing - but it blew up in his face. Like many in America at the time (which this was somewhat mirroring) Peter Parker was jobless.

The Lizard

To me the Lizard always seemed a little like the Hulk. Mild manner scientist who periodically transforms into a destructive green beast. Curt Conners, while a vicious foe of Spider-Man as the Lizard, has somewhat been Peter's go-to for help on scientific matters. (Less often in the comics; more often in the 90s cartoon series). The thing is - Curt Conners continual relapsing into the lizard eventually weren't happening by accident. Where the Bruce Banner is forever cursed with the Hulk, transforming whenever he gets angry - Conners usually has to have a scientific accident, or something to re-ignjght the latent lizard-DNA laying dormant in him. In a probably forgotten, but very important three-part story (found in Spectacular Spider-Man Vol 2 #11 - 13) featured a much more complex and pitiable Curt Conners. It was posited that turning into the Lizard was a way for Conners to escape his responsibilities. He's now divorced, and struggles to even keep visitation rights with his son.

I thought that was a very intriguing angle to look at. I thought it had all but been forgotten - so I was pleased to see the plot line from those Spectacular Spider-Man issues continued. The results where pretty horrific. You see, the Lizard once again resurfaces. Conners has even more stress in his life than before - having supervised visits to meet with his son. Where once young Billy Conners loved his father - he's now distant and myopic about his Dad.

To make matters worse his boss at the lab he works at begins to be a real problem. There's a dispute between them - and Conners brings out a vial of green liquid. Enraged - the person struggles with Conner, livid that he'd bring out that monster. It seems the evolution of Conner's DNA has changed. That serum wasn't to bring the Lizard out (like usual) - it was to keep the Lizard in. Conners transformed into the Lizard went on a rampage. Curiously there where very interested parties watching from the side-lines. Ana Kravinoff and her brother where intent on helping the Lizard transform further. The creature needed to eat. They attack Billy Conner's home, hurting his mother and kidnapping Billy. Having his mate attacked, and following the sent of his son directly to him, the Lizard is manipulated by Ana. The most damning victim the Lizard kills is that of his son Billy. Before Billy is eaten, he says "You're going to kill me, aren't you? I knew it... I've always known it."


After this gruesome act, which Spider-Man is unable to stop, the Lizard undergoes a transformation. In his garbled reptilian voice the Lizard says "Conners is shed." The Lizard is now the only personality left -- Curt Conners died inside that beast the moment it ate his son. The Lizard changes form a bit, growing spines from his neck - and has a new ability: to tap into the reptilian part of people's brains and command them to do his bidding. Spider-Man eventually defeats the Lizard; but nothing in this case can be considered a victory.

The Return of Kaine


I began reading Spider-Man comics during the infamous Clone Saga. The tale reviled by so many Spider-Man fans actually introduced me to this part of the comic scene; so it will always hold a favorite place in my heart. One of the cool characters from the Clone Saga was Kaine - a Clone of Peter Parker, who tragiclly was both disfigured, but also degenerating slowly over time. Kaine hadn't been seen in proper comics for a long, long time -- but his return (however brief) was very welcome for me. His return, though, was primarily a plot point in the Gauntlet, where Kaine is targeted by the Kravinoff family. Anyone connected to Spider-Man, in any way, where being attacked -- the entire mystical Web of Fate (which Madame Web and others have brought up before; but was always dismissed by the more science minded Peter Parker) is under siege.

Grim Hunt


The Gauntlet was all leading to this. Peter finds a bloody and near dead Kaine at his doorstep. Blood is everywhere, and all Kaine can spit out is "They're hunting Spiders." Peter does all he can, but ultimately leaves Kaine in a bathtub, hoping he'll recover. Meanwhile Spider-Man, along with the second Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter), fight off the children of Kravinoff - who where both hunting them.


Kaine eventually wakes up, healing from his injuries. He shaves for the first time in years - revealing the little seen face of a shattered mirror Peter Parker looking back at him. Kaine cleans the apartment up and tries to help Spider-Man, even by knocking him out so he could go into the Kravinoff's trap in Peter's place. Kaine is indeed caught for the Kravinoff's master plan.


The wife of Kravinoff had organized everything, along with Alyosha and Ana Kravinoff, both touting the name of their deceased father. The Gauntlet had drained Spider-Man to his lowest point, in hopes of making him weaker - and of use to them in their upcoming ritual. A totem-like rivalry colors this entire affair -- so while the Kravinoffs did initiate many of the harrowing ordeals Spider-Man was dealing with, some of them might also have simply been fate leaning in a negative direction -- all of course focused on Spider-Man.


Dmitri Kravinoff, aka the Chameleon, fooled Spider-Man into thinking that his old mentor Ezekiel (from JMS run, who taught Peter about the mystical side to his powers) was back from the dead. They played on Spider-Man's arrogance in thinking that he was so special the universe would really go to such lengths for him, by resurrecting a departed friend. (In Peter's defense, it happens all the time in comics!)


Mattie Franklin is ritually murdered, to return to life another Kravinoff family member, Vladimir Kravinoff (Grim Hunter) - but as a monstrous half animal, half man. This was essentially to test things out for the final resurrection. They say they need the blood of Spider-Man to resurrect Kraven properly. Kaine is similarly killed, bringing back the family's real goal: to resurrect Sergei Kravinoff the original Kraven the Hunter!


It had worked. (Turns out a clone's blood was good enough.) Everything the Gauntlet had put Spider-Man through had helped weave together this massive spell, to allow for these resurrections. Spider-Man was key, I think, because it was Sergei's obsession with the Wallcrawler that had driven him to suicide.

Along the way during this entire struggle, Madame Web died (as she herself predicted) - but passed on her precognitive powers to Julia Carpenter.


The biggest kicker of the entire event? The true and original Kravinoff is furious with his family for resurrecting him. He had killed himself -- but was at peace with that. Now that he's alive again - the meaning of life Kraven has always searched for, in the hunt, has been corrupted.


With so many people having died because of the Kravinoff family, Spider-Man engages in a terrible fight against the original Kraven. Spider-Man nearly wants to kill Sergei - but ultimately does the right thing and spares his life. (Though Kraven wanted Spider-Man to do it - to put him back in the grave where he belongs.)

With his family either dispersed or dead (some by his own hand) - Kraven ultimately retreated from the world - finding peace in the Savage Land, where it can be just him and hunt again.

This pretty much wraps up my favorite moments during the three-issues a month publishing era of Amazing Spider-Man. Up next? Spider-Man hits the BIG TIME, as Dan Slott takes over as the sole writer of the series.

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