By Alicia Ashby
Fair warning: if your idea of a bad Spider-man story is when he fights a silly villain like the Hypno-Hustler, then the shit on this list is going to set your eyebrows on fire. This is a hardcore, no-holds-barred look at the absolute worst of the worst of Spider-man, and as you?ll see, the ?80s and ?90s and beyond let Spider-man comics get pretty motherfucking terrible. For all that Spider-man is one of the world?s most popular superheroes thanks to his combination of cool powers and everyday problems, a really bad Spider-man story is about as bad as superhero comics can get (well, until Chuck Austen is writing them). Be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge to avoid accidentally trying to read shit that will never, ever entertain you in a non-ironic way.
12) Spider-man Kills Mary Jane with his Radioactive Semen, Spider-man: Reign
Spider-man: Reign is a four-issue mini-series by writer/artist Kaare Andrews that is forthrightly an attempt to wedge Spider-man into the equivalent of a Dark Knight Returns dystopian story. How forthright? Why, there is a character named ?Miller Jansen? featured in the book. It seems that at no point did anyone involved sit down and think about whether or not grim n? gritty Spider-man was at all a good idea, or what the point of such an endeavor would be. Somebody at Marvel just wanted old, dark future Spidey.
Where DKR is a trailblazing classic, Reign is a derivative little ball of failure. The plot is at heart a generic ?Spider-man?s villains team up to kill him? story drenched in ridiculously maudlin post-9/11 fear-mongering. Set 35 years in the future, Reign has a hilariously ancient J. Jonah Jameson push an over-sixty Peter Parker into becoming Spider-man again. It?s all part of a bizarre, nonsensical scheme to defeat a fascist government that?s taken over New York. Along the way there?s nonsense involving robot zombie Dr. Octopus, a laser killer death web projected around New York, and an impossibly stupid Dubya stand-in who works for Venom-as-Dick-Cheney.
What makes Reign memorably stupid instead of just forgettable is the truly, fantastically ridiculous backstory the whole thing hinges on. Throughout the book, our aging Peter Parker keeps having deranged visions of his long-dead wife Mary Jane. Later we find out that it?s not enough for him to be wracked by guilt because he was out fighting crime when she died of cancer; no, he also had to cause her cancer. Specifically, Spider-man gave Mary Jane cancer by tragically shooting her up repeatedly with his horrible radioactive Spider-Semen. His horrible radioactive Spider-Semen.
That?s not tragic. That shit is fucking hilarious. In fact, Reign could have worked really well as a Spider-man DKR parody, sort of in the Marvel Zombies vein. I mean, there?s a scene where Spider-man punches his way out of a coffin while singing the lyrics to his own ’60s cartoon theme. A bit where J. Jonah Jameson is the pastor of a weird religion that believes in masks and bells. Peter even confesses his angst to Mary Jane?s corpse while a Doctor Octopus that consists of a rotting corpse attached to still-sentient robot arms looks on! That is totally the stuff of wicked black comedy. Unfortunately, Reign was content to be a shitty, dead-serious action showpiece with the concluding issues given over to stupid brawls, and the whole plot is resolved by Spider-man getting hold of a detonator that lets him blow up a building that is conveniently full of all the bad guys. This symbolizes, uh? freedom? Something? Fuck.
11) Peter Parker?s Parents Are Actually Evil Robots Programmed to Kill Spider-man, Amazing Spider-man #386-88
For most of the comics on this list I can articulate exactly what makes it so motherfucking stupid, why I hate it. With the “Lifetheft” storyarc, trying to think about the story too long results in a deep stabbing pain that shoots through either temple. I hate “Lifetheft” on a raw gut level, when it gets right down to it. The plot revolves around a very long series of utterly stupid and extremely coincidental events taking place, all as a build-up to a cataclysmic retcon that leaves the book worse off than it was before. The events of this story are used to send Spider-man into a spiral of self-pitying angst so intense and long-running that getting rid of it ended up as one of the motivations behind starting the godforsaken Clone Saga, which we?ll discuss in more detail in a later list.
Richard and Mary Parker were first mentioned in Spider-man Annual #5, a Stan Lee joint that established that Peter Parker?s parents were actually super-cool secret agents, ha ha, isn?t it funny that Peter appears to be a loser dork but is actually a super-cool action guy, too! Peter?s parents didn?t join the cast of Amazing Spider-man until #365, as part of a thirtieth anniversary sales-spiking stunt. It?s pretty obvious, reading the books at the time, that his parents were sincerely intended as a new recurring addition to the cast. Exactly why Marvel thought it?d be neat to see Peter interacting with his old depressed ex-secret agent parents who were traumatized by years in brutal Russian prisons is a bit harder to fathom, but their roles in the few years of stories they appeared in usually hinged on them being, you know, human.
As with a lot of other ideas that didn?t work out so well, it was eventually decided that Richard and Mary had to go, and as quickly as possible. Editors worked them into an insane clusterfuck of otherwise okay-ish stories involving the Vulture, the Chameleon, and the Harry Osborn iteration of the Green Goblin. The short version is that, basically, the Chameleon got a hot but unexplained tip from Harry Osborn that making evil android duplicates of Peter Parker?s parents would be a great way to discover who Spider-man was. This clever plan apparently was supposed to work via the evil androids hanging around Aunt May?s house until Peter up and spontaneously decides to reveal his secret identity to them after knowing them for maaaaybe a few months of his life, tops. Good thing Peter spontaneously became stupid enough to do that when it was time to write Richard and Mary out, huh?!
That?s the signal for everything to get all crazy-go-nuts. His parents report back to the Chameleon, Spider-man tracks them down for a big showdown, his fake dad becomes a lame-looking porcupine death cyborg and starts pounding on him, his fake mom starts burbling with all sorts of womanly emotions and refuses to be evil. Somehow the Chameleon never finds out Spider-man?s secret identity, both of the evil parent cyborgs are killed in various ways, and in the process the story creates that lame-ass young dude version of the Vulture who ran around the Spider-books for way too fucking long. The whole thing was such a mess of hopeless contrivances that it?s not even defensible if you subscribe to the idea that it?s okay for superhero comics to be dumb as shit. The only upshot was making Harry Osborn seem mildly threatening, in the sense he’s willing to go waaaaaaay out of his way to fuck Spider-man’s shit up.
10) Curt Conners Is an Asshole, Spectacular Spider-man #11-13
Paul Jenkins would be my candidate for the worst single Spider-man writer ever. This story should give you a good idea of why, although it?s not even the worst thing, or worst Spider-man story, he ever told. ?The Lizard?s Tale? is Paul Jenkins? stab at a Lizard story, but of course, with a post-modern twist. So, don?t expect any of the traditional pathos of Curt Connors?s struggle to control his evil alter ego here. Instead, Jenkins took the bold step of writing a story about how Dr. Connors was always, deep down, a hateful asshole.
The basic idea of ?The Lizard?s Tale? is that Curt Connors could always control what the Lizard was doing, and just subconsciously chose not to so he could passive-aggressively lash out at those around him. Note that this revelation isn?t just boring by itself, but if taken at face value, would make all previous Lizard stories more boring except in the cases where it made them make no fucking sense at all. Jenkins also treats the Lizard a bit too much like the Hulk, with mild emotions like ?angst with son? and ?some jackass got a grant I wanted? being all it took to trigger Lizard transformations. Granted, Connors?s problem here probably isn?t helped much by Spider-man?s attempts to aid him by, say, locking him in a tiny cell in the fucking sewers.
Where the story gets really priceless is the ending. Once Connors realizes Spider-man knows what?s really up with him and the Lizard, he deals with it by making a lame attempt at a bank robbery so he?ll get locked up in jail. However, he gets put in a regular jail since he wasn?t committing a super-crime, and there?s no regular jail in the world that could hold the Lizard after a transformation. You could argue that Connors was going to try not to transform, but an environment like prison where everyone is trying to shank everyone else isn?t really conducive to that. Spider-man doesn?t even inform the jailers that they?ve got the Lizard on the hands?he just leaves Connors to his fate, which will probably involve eating a lot of other convicts once they get on his nerves.
9) Spidey Meets the Amazing Redneck/Trucker Superhero Razorback, Spectacular Spider-man #12-15
This is the only pre-’80s Spider-man story to make the cut for this list?s lofty standards of terribleness, but it?s bad in a very ’70s way. Within the span of four issues writer Bill Mantlo manages to present us with a superhero who speaks in CB lingo, a cult of evil pseudo-Moonies, and Spider-man battling a cosmic menace alongside? uh, Flash Thompson?
Seriously, the story begins with Peter Parker playing tennis with Flash Thompson, who is moping because his Vietnamese girlfriend? uh, Sha-Shan is actually married to another dude. After the match Peter and Flash accidentally wander into the meeting of some sort of cult presided over by ?Brother Power and Sister Sun,? who babble on about love and light and loves lighting lovingly and it?s all very sickening in a specifically ?70s way. Flash recognizes the woman?s voice and goes nuts, believing Sister Sun to be his beloved Sha-Shan. After this it?s not long before Spider-man is trying to save Flash from a mob, and Brother Power and Sister Sun are shooting laser beams out of their chests at him. Concussive laser beams. And they can only shoot them when they hold hands.
The second issue of the storyline catapults it into all-time memorable insanity by abruptly introducing the senses-shattering debut of Razorback. Razorback is a new, mod hero for the ?70s that hails from ?Texarkana?, uses CB lingo in casual conversation, speaks in a thick Southern drawl, and wears a pig-shaped cowl complete with tusks and an electrified mane. He tussles with Spider-man for quite literally no other reason than to introduce himself (he heard that was proper superhero etiquette, and no, I?m not joking), then reveals that he, too, is seeking the Light Cult so he can try to rescue his disappeared sister ?Bobby Sue? from it. Razorback is a gadget hero, so of course he can cruise around in a remote-control semi that he calls the ?Big Pig? without any irony at all.
Razorback, and Spidey head to a big cult rally in a huge stadium to try and rescue Flash Thompson. The crazy button gets pushed and the insanity goes onto overdrive. The cult turns out to be a front for the Hate-Monger! The heroes get captured and chained to a wall! In defiance of all known established physics of how webshooters work, Spider-man helps everyone escape their bonds by managing a trick ricochet shot that hits a button on Razorback?s belt buckle, which sends the Big Pig crashing through a wall to save everyone! Hate-Monger tries to collapse the stadium and starts using his powers to send all the cultists into a frenzy of hatred! Spider-man has to hold everything up by himself, because nothing inspires in a Spider-man story like him lifting a really heavy thing!
Eventually Spider-man and the others face the Hate-Monger after Sha-Shan turns on her husband (who has the highly Vietnamese name Achmed Korba, by the way) and they start shooting light-beams at each other. The Hate-Monger unmasks and reveals himself as the Man-Beast, a guy so strong that he could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk and most recently fought Adam Warlock. Warlock devolved him into a wolf, but the Man-Beast eventually hated so hard that he reverted back to his usual form. During a frankly mind-blowing battle with Spider-man, the Hate-Monger hates so hard at Spider-man that it creates a giant ZAM sound-effect and shoots a death-laser at him. Spidey of course presses on through the wall of SHEER HATE to eventually save the day by hitting the Man-Beast really, really hard. Yeah, I?m sure nobody thought of that one before.
This story has so many little demented touches, from Razorback? just existing, really, to the total lack of anything Vietnamese about the Vietnamese characters, to the positively offhanded way crazy ?70s cosmic mystic shit is thrown around. Sha-Shan it seems married Korba as part of her destiny as a priestess of the Temple of Light (destroyed by the last bombing raid of the Vietnam War!!!) and so was destined to, like, turn on him when she could no longer shackle his evil? and then there?s Razorback?s bizarre sister Bobby Sue, who does nothing in the story, and Flash Thompson hanging around the whole time just sorta punching guys? this is a bad and stupid comic, but a bad and stupid comic from an earlier era when even a total misfire could entertain a little just by virtue of sheer fucking insanity.
8) Gwen Stacy Fucked Norman Osborn in the ?70s, and Had Super-Aging Superpowered Kids, Amazing Spider-man #509-514
The “Sins Past” story began with a very simple, almost-sane concept: Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy had unprotected sex during their original relationship, which lead to Gwen secretly giving birth to fraternal twin children. Editorial disliked the notion of Peter Parker having fathered children out of wedlock, but were just fine with the idea provided the father was changed to the nefarious Norman Osborn. This added another, and frankly super-ridiculous, layer of implausibility to an idea that wasn?t very workable to begin with. Also, it resulted in the following artwork being drawn, and I?m sure you?ll agree the entire world would?ve been better off without it ever existing.
JMS wanted the twins to return as adults, trying to kill Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-man for not preventing their mother?s death. While it has been plenty of time in the ?real world? for Gwen and Peter?s theoretical kids to be adults, this logic breaks down rapidly when you remember Marvel?s weird fictional sliding timescale, where the events of the 1960s books have somehow occurred less than ten years ago. JMS?s attempt to have his cake and eat it too was to give the kids a nameless super-disease patterned after Hutchinson-Guilford Progeria Syndrome, a malady that caused soap opera age acceleration. The fact that it took the invocation of a disease with 48 current known incidences worldwide to make his concept plausible should?ve been a sign to JMS that this story idea wasn?t worth the effort of telling.
Clearly, though, JMS stayed committed to his terrible idea and the result was a story that blew on just about every level. The twins weren?t interesting villains and the climax of the story especially made no fucking sense at all. It called for Peter Parker to give the girl (who looks exactly like Gwen Stacy because of shitty writing) a blood transfusion. See, because her blood is fucked up by the Goblin Formula, and his blood is fucked up by radiation, and? uh? no, actually that makes less fucking sense than anything else in the book. It results in a scene about Spider-man?s blood beating the shit out of the Norman Osborn in the girl twin?s blood by? fuck, I don?t know. Maybe individual cells are having little fight scenes.
There wasn?t really much else to the twins as villains. Neither of them had much personality, and the fights were just another round of irritating WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE secret identity shit that had gotten tiresome back before Norman Osborn was in prison. The revelations about Gwen?s backstory felt strained and substituted some bizarrely uncomfortable imagery of Gwen and Norman doing the deed for any sort of in-depth depiction of how the two of them ever ended up in one room together long enough for anything to happen. She barely ever spoke with Norman on-panel, so the whole thing feels a bit like the fanfic pairing from Hell. All that ultimately came of the twins was a single creepy follow-up story called ?Sins Remembered? where Spider-man wanders around with girl twin in France feeling extremely attracted to her despite the fact she?s chronologically about five years old, and the sooner that story is forgotten the better.
7) John Byrne Takes a Dump on Amazing Spider-man #1-19, Spider-man: Chapter One
Chapter One is the horrible result of the world as it was before the Essentials line made classic comic book stories cheap and easy for pretty much anyone to lay hands on. Reprints tend not to sell, but Marvel obviously wanted fans to get reacquainted with Spider-man?s roots as part of their preparation for the doomed Mackie/Byrne relaunch of the Spider-man franchise. Marvel?s harebrained scheme to this effect was to hire John Byrne to basically do a new adaptation of the first nineteen (or thereabouts) issues of Amazing Spider-man, but with the plots moved into a more contemporary setting.
Byrne was a bizarre choice for such a delicate project. Instead of old Spider-man plots dusted off and retold with PCs and CD players in them, Byrne offered fans a bizarre mash-up that blended the Lee/Ditko framework with ideas that were very much his own, and also fucking insane. Things that really didn?t need to be explained, like why the Burglar chose to break into Peter Parker?s house, were dwelt on at length. Aunt May got a ?logical? reason to dislike Spider-man that fucking sucked, and so did J. Jonah Jameson. Norman Osborn had to be the big mastermind behind everything, because the main Spider-man comics were fucking addicted to that shit at the time, and Electro?s easily recognizable classic costume got replaced by a boring-ass generic blue union suit. At its most insanely OCD, Byrne actually descended into trying to explain why Norman Osborn and the Sandman had similar hairstyles. ?The same artist designed them? was apparently not fucking good enough.
Marvel didn?t really want, or need, the Chapter One Byrne ended up writing and drawing. Mostly they desperately wanted to make fans buy into a ?back to basics? Spider-man relaunch that didn?t actually change much about the current approach to the character, but did wash the bad taste left by the Clone Saga and its successor plots out of everyone?s mouth. Byrne?s street cred as master revamper was somehow going to let Marvel ?change? Spider-man?s continuity to try and also force fans into accepting ideas that might?ve been easier on marketing, but weren?t actually very interesting at all. The fans rejected all that bullshit, of course, because a shitty comic is a shitty comic no matter who?s working on it and how much continuity it?s dealing with.
6) The Hobgoblin Is Revealed to be Dead and Somebody Else, Amazing Spider-man #289 and Web of Spider-man #29
The mystery surrounding the identity of the original Green Goblin is fondly remembered by Spider-man fans, so it was inevitable that someone would want to copy it, specifically with a tale involving the true identity of a knockoff villain called the Hobgoblin. Unfortunately, the revolving door system behind comics writing utterly fucked up any chance this story had of succeeding. Roger Stern, who started the Hobgoblin arc, left way before it finished. His successors were left to guess their way through the dangling plotline. The story dragged on for months while editorial tried to come up with something.
Most of the evidence regarding the identity of the Hobgoblin at the time pointed to Ned Leeds, a character notable mostly for how he annoyed the hell out of Peter Parker. Readers had long since decided it was probably Leeds, and wrote irritated letters in to Marvel more or less demanding that the Spider-books get around to admitting this. This easy solution was complicated tremendously by the fact Ned Leeds was already dead at the time when Amazing Spider-man #286 was written. He?d been killed off in an earlier book by a different writer who, at the time, was convinced that editorial?s plan called for the Hobgoblin to not be Ned Leeds.
As a result, Ned Leeds was offed in a way totally incompatible with his possession of any kind of superhuman ability. He just gets ganged up on my some thugs and his throat slit. So when Peter David tried to argue in Amazing Spider-man #286 that the Hobgoblin really was Ned Leeds all along, he had to figure out some way to rationalize the man?s death. The route David went with was ?well, he really was the Hobgoblin, but died like a chump anyway.? David then gestures at the idea that the real mystery now is who?s been running around as the Hobgoblin since Leeds? death.
The answer is criminally dull: it was Jason Phillip Macendale, a.k.a. Jack O? Lantern, a.k.a. Some Boring Fucker No One?s Ever Cared About. David tries to cram tons of skullduggery, angst, action, and all kinds of plot revelations regarding The Rose into the rest of this double-sized issue, as if in apology, but it just doesn?t work. Claiming Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin but whoops he?s dead now and the Hobgoblin is actually some boring jackass was a spectacularly bad resolution to a long-running subplot. So bad, in fact, it?s an absolutely textbook case of how to botch a superhero story by forgetting that your tales have to be exciting first and logical second. Years after the fact Roger Stern wrote another story specifically to retcon this issue, called “Hobgoblin Lives,” but by then nobody really cared.
5) Spider-man Sells His Pregnant Supermodel Wife to the Devil, Spider-man: One More Day
Did you really think the story where Spider-man makes a deal with the devil wouldn?t rank somewhere on a list feature like this? No, the only question to answer with One More Day is how shitty it is when viewed shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other worst goddamn Spider-man stories ever. The answer, honestly, is? not really all that bad. It?s lacking the raw ineptitude it would take to put its awful premise over-the-top as the worst Spider-man story ever? although it certainly does have its moments of bathos.
The plot of One More Day is as follows: after the whole ?unmasking? stuff they did in Civil War, a sniper in the employ of the Kingpin tries to kill Peter Parker. He dodges the bullet, so it hits Aunt May instead. At her age a gunshot wound is too much to recover from. Peter can?t handle this because he?d always feel like it was his fault, so clearly there is a problem with the universe and not with his own emotional maturity. He goes to see Dr. Strange for help, who tells him that, no, for no reason he can bother to state, there is no way the Sorcerer Supreme can save an old lady from a gunshot wound. He lets Peter use a magic doohickey to go all around the world and ask every hero in the Marvel Universe at once for help, and they all say no, even that chick from the X-Men who didn?t have any powers except healing people. Why? Because the plot fucking says so, sit down and shut up.
Around part three of One More Day, Peter starts having weird encounters with other-dimensional versions of himself that are wealthy but alone and miserable. They lead him to a little girl who bitches at him for being horrible and self-centered, and then takes him to Mephisto. Being the Devil and all, Mephisto promises he could save Aunt May, but only in exchange for the most valuable thing Peter has: his marriage! Mephisto then teleports Spider-man back to wherever the hell MJ is, and it turns out she got the same offer. MJ is having obvious morning sickness, but talks things out with Peter anyway. She decides giving their marriage to the devil is okay because, hey, they?ll probably find each other again (I read it as ?we both know this shit won?t stand once there?s been a change in editorial?). Mephisto makes sure Peter knows that by making the deal he?s essentially giving Mary Jane a magical abortion and shows them the daughter he?ll never have, the little red-haired girl who yelled at him.
After that, time stops, and Peter is in what is clearly a new parallel dimension where Aunt May is okay, he?s younger, he just had a messy break-up with Mary Jane, Harry Osborn is alive and well and throwing stupid parties, and Peter is the self-centered slacker jackass he was back when the Spider-man books were generally readable. It?s a weird ending, more chilling and depressing than something that psyches you up for Brand New Day, and there?s an unsettling feeling of loss there. One More Day is really the Spider-man story where he fails completely and totally, and you know some day some dumbass editor is going to insist on revisiting this and finding some way for Peter to ?win?. Of course, while One More Day is an irrevocably shitty Spider-man story, it?s actually a passable Mephisto story.
4) Norman Osborn Becomes Magic, The Gathering of Five
The Gathering of Five is the tale of Norman Osborn trying to assemble a magic widget that was broken into five pieces. If five people bring the pieces together they?ll each receive one of five gifts, chosen randomly: knowledge, power, death, madness, or immortality. Honestly, you should know your Spider-man plot is in trouble when it sounds more like something a particularly uncreative Dungeon Master would come up with.
Norman only has one piece, so most of this storyline is a time-wasting event in gathering up all the others. Norman?s goon Override go steals one and then gets to use it in the ceremony, and there?s a whole fucking issue dedicated just to that. Most of another issue is devoted to Norman meeting another forgettable guy who happens to have another piece. The fourth issue is entirely filler aside from the introduction of the fifth goon for the Gathering.
One of the goons Norman wants for the Gathering is Madame Web, the god-awful ?blind psychic? character introduced way back in the (I believe) early ?80s. She doesn?t actually have any pieces, but realized she can probably get her old buddy Spider-man to go get one for her. He does, no questions asked, because intrinsic to Madame Web?s stupidity is her ability to tell Spider-man to do goddamn anything and have him take her completely at face value.
The last issue of Gathering of Five is devoted almost entirely to Spider-man trying to stop Override from robbing a bank and failing, such that Override gets away and go through with the gathering? which does not actually take place in the Gathering of Five storyline. Instead it takes place in ?The Final Chapter,” a story we discuss on down the list.
Jesus Christ, how did this thing get published? Was anyone doing continuity editing on the Spider-books at the time? How do you publish something called ?Gathering of Five? in five issues where two are filler and no actual ?gathering of five? takes place? That sort of incompetence on top of the fucking irritating idea of making Norman Osborn even more stupidly powerful seals this story?s place on the all-time worst Spidey story list.
3) Spider-man Mutates Into a Giant Pregnant Spider, Spectacular Spider-man #17?20
I?m pretty sure a lot of people who recoil in disgust from The Other, a big Spider-man crossover written primarily by Peter David, Reginald Hudlin, and JMS, are in fact confusing it with this particular story. Changes was written by Paul Jenkins, a writer well on his way to becoming the Howard Mackie of the new millennium, and ran in Spectacular Spider-man nearly a year before The Other crossover started running in Amazing Spider-man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man, and Marvel Knights Spider-man.
Both stories use the basic premise of Spider-man acquiring primordial ?insect? and ?bug? powers through a weird quasi-mystical rebirth experience. Both stories make the rebirth stupidly literal, featuring scenes where Spider-man gives birth to himself by dying and then having a new body explode out of his own corpse. Changes gives Spider-man the movie?s organic web-shooters and a frankly bizarre ability to talk to ants, while The Other built on that to give Spider-man a host of other powers like night vision. All of these powers, incidentally, have since been abandoned and ignored.
The main difference between the two stories is that The Other is fucking Shakespeare compared to Changes. Even if you don?t take a passionate stance on the status of Spider-man?s web-shooters, Changes is still a ball of fucktarded idiocy. The plot hinges on the mind-blowingly ridiculous notion of roughly one in every three people having a latent ?insect gene? that makes them susceptible to the mind control super-powers possessed by a new villainess called The Queen. Lest you accidentally not comprehend her importance instantly, she has complicated backstory that ties her in with Captain American and Nick Fury in World War II, and involves making her one of the super-bestest fighters and spies evar. She is of course presented as one of the most dangerous forces on Earth by story?s end, and gets hold of a bomb that could easily let her destroy New York.
Anyway, the Queen?s super-contrived power over the ?insect gene? somehow means that, upon kissing Spider-man, she was somehow able to infect him with a something-or-other that makes him slowly start mutating into a giant bug.
Mary Jane contributes by bitching at him and making him go to a Klingon nerd-wedding. Eventually Peter mutates completely into an eight-foot-tall giant spider that immediately joins the Queen in the underground lair where she intends to ride out the detonation of the bullshit bomb. After much pointless dicking around, a scientist reveals that Peter isn?t just a giant spider that the Queen intends to fuck later, he?s also a giant pregnant spider. Eventually he dies and in the process ?gives birth? to himself just as looked before he began mutating from human form into spider-form. Spider-man uses his new powers to get a hilariously easy defeat over the Queen, and there are many shots of Peter?s organic webshooters that make him look like he?s jizzing out his wrists.
Someone, at some point, seriously believed Changes would be acceptable as a story that changed Spider-man forever. Think about that for a minute. Let it soak into your brain. Changes was full of the sort of fucking idiocy that readers always want to forget as quickly as possible, from an overpowered new villain to really poorly-done characterizations. As a way to sell comics die-hards on the movie-style organic webshooters, it couldn?t have fucking failed harder.
2) Aunt May Is Alive and Immediately Dying Again, The Final Chapter
If there?s anything I hope this list has established thus far, it?s that deck-clearing exercises do not make for good reading. They make for what is as far from ?good reading? as humanly possible. If there is any doubt as to the veracity of this truism, let me present this very fucking story as Exhibit A. Editorial on the Spider-books was at this point so fucked up that a story called the ?Gathering of Five? managed to end without the titular Gathering of Five actually happening. Instead, it happens in this book, and it shakes down the way magic bullshit in a comic book usually does. Madame Web dies, random things happen to some other dudes nobody cares about, and Norman Osborn thinks he gets the gift of ultimate power.
Meanwhile, remember the evil waitress who gave Mary Jane the baby-murder serum back in “Revelations? “She?s back in this storyline, with a mind-controlled Molten Man chasing her down and trying to kill her. Hint: he succeeds, but she conveniently dies right in front of Mary Jane Watson, and conveniently manages to tell her that, gasp and wonders, May is alive. You may remember that May is what Peter was going to name the baby girl that Mongrain either murdered or ran off with, right?
Word gets back to Peter and of course he goes nuts and Spider-barges off to the baby?s alleged hiding place, Norman Osborn?s hunting lodge (seriously?) in upstate New York. Norman Osborn?s hunting lodge is, of course, guarded by ravenous wolves mutated by the Goblin Formula or some other such shit. Come on, what else is Norman Osborn going to do in a hunting lodge? Hunt? No, he?ll pass the time making freakish genetic horrors. Anyway, once Spider-man is in the lodge, he has a big tussle with the Green Goblin, who goes on and on and on about how he planned the total destruction of Peter Parker?s life all along no seriously. Peter, meanwhile, just focuses on finding where May is being kept, and wanders into a darkened room.
An old lady shatters a vase over his head! Wah-wah-waaaaah, the May who is still alive is Aunt May, not the baby. Although she shouldn?t really have survived long, because then Norman flies in and backhands her. Somehow Spidey ends up coming to and swinging off with Aunt May, who he immediately takes to the Fantastic Four because John Byrne was involved in plotting out this story. There Mr. Fantastic discovers that Aunt May has a weird thing in her brain and it?ll kill her if he doesn?t remove it. Jesus Christ, Aunt May has been alive for like one issue at this point and already she?s involved in turgid medical drama.
What follows next is a weird sequence where Peter tracks Norman down to Osborn Industries and tussles with him a bit. Norman shows off his upcoming evil scheme, a ?DNA Bomb? that makes people melt. Norman?s gonna use this to? uh? profit? From there he begins beating up Spider-man and expositing at him how Aunt May happens to be alive, which is a convoluted scheme involving hiring an actress to replace her just so he could put Peter through the trauma of his aged, very fragile Aunt?s death. Norman, you, uh, cad. Anyway, Green Goblin finishes all the drama off by beating the living shit out of Spider-man, wrecking the Daily Bugle, and then unmasking Spider-man before he finally kills him.
Ha ha! Actually it seems Green Goblin got madness from the whole Gathering of Five bullshit, and that last issue he was hallucinating. Actually Spider-man beat him up when we weren?t looking, and Norman?s just babbling to himself about killing Spider-man. That is totally awesome and not a shitty cop-out at all. Then Spider-man goes to try and save the Daily Bugle from collapsing with sheer brute strength, because man, it must?ve been like ten issues since he saved the day by lifting a very heavy thing.
Then he swings across to mention to the Fantastic Four that, hey, be careful taking the metal thing out of Aunt May?s head, it could maybe set off a bomb that makes everyone in New York melt. The issue ends with Peter Parker vowing not to be Spider-man anymore (hint: he becomes Spider-man again), and Aunt May is alive and well, and crazy old Norman Osborn is carried off by the motherfucking Scriers, because there?s a plotline nobody ever got sick of.
1) Maximum Carnage, Maximum Carnage
Here it is, folks. The final abyss, abandon all hope, this shit is about to get real, etc. This is it: the worst Spider-man story ever written. And could there be any doubt? Sprawling over fourteen issues, starring patently awful villains, guest-starring the greatest D-List heroes the early ?90s could offer, and never featuring Spider-man do a damn thing but mope and whine, Maximum Carnage is everything wrong with superhero comics. It?s preachy, mindlessly violent, and ultimately doesn?t make a bit of fucking sense. It also relies on a nigh-endless parade of really fucking stupid contrivances. I?d tell you to pay attention in order understand what?s going on, but no amount of concentration would really help that. Just read it and weep.
Okay, you know how the first Carnage story ended with the symbiote being destroyed? Maximum Carnage, right out of the gate, reverses that in the most flagrant way possible. Host Cletus Kasady just? regenerates another symbiote in his blood, and up and transforms on a visit to doctors at Ravencroft. So he kills everyone in the room, and then starts killing guards and inmates and basically everything. He only stops when he hears Shriek, a D-list villain who fought Cloak and Dagger previously, cheering him on. They decide to head out into the city to? well, break shit, basically, and find the evil Spider-man Doppleganger left over from some fucking Infinity crossover I can?t be bothered to remember. Shriek adopts Doppleganger so the story can start beating us over the head with its heavy-handed ?Manson Family? parallels.
Spider-man takes the first of many assbeatings in this story, injuring his rib cage, and has to get saved by? hey, Cloak and Dagger, how ?bout that. They take Spider-man back to an abandoned church where they hang out, and the villains follow to ensure more dumb brawling, which escalates to the point where Shriek is able to kill Dagger. Venom sees some TV coverage of events out in San Francisco and decides that Spider-man is far too fucking incompetent to handle Carnage, so he?ll fly out and do it himself. What?s sad is, generally speaking, the story thus far makes Venom look right.
Venom shows up the next issue to hunt Carnage, Spider-man is still running around hunting Carnage, and Cloak is looking for Shriek. Spider-man actually ends up brawling with (sigh) Demogoblin, the devil-possessed Goblin who exists to ?kill sinners?, and even then Spidey has to get his ass saved by a priest. Meanwhile, Venom finds Carnage and starts brawling with him, but loses and has to crawl back to Peter Parker?s apartment (where he knows he?s a welcome guest). Demogoblin, meanwhile, hooks up with Carnage?s posse at their abandoned warehouse hideout. Venom wants to team-up with Spider-man, who?s also gone home, and Spidey goes to ask the Black Cat (sure, whatever) for advice. She teams up with Spidey, and the two team up with Venom. Christ, this is like reading about a bunch of nine-year-olds trying to start a baseball team.
Cloak arrives at Carnage?s warehouse hideout and tries to avenge Dagger, but instead gets his ass kicked. Team Spidey conveniently sees some energy blasts flying around and homes in on the warehouse to bail Cloak out. There?s yet another fucking battle to a standstill, the roof is set on fire, and then the villains bring it down on the damn heroes. We have a moment where Spidey has to choose between saving his ailing allies, Black Cat and Venom, or chasing after Carnage solo. That the latter is presented as any sort of real option is part of the fucking idiocy inherent in this story. Of course Spider-man saves his allies. Could he even fucking stand a chance against Carnage?s posse solo, anyway?
Because Venom is a fucking moron, he yells at Spider-man for saving him and Black Cat instead of going after Carnage so he could get killed. Spider-man?s reaction is to sulk and go home, where his father Richard Parker (who isn?t an evil robot yet) screams about how you have to be an asshole to get by in the world. Guess he?s a Republican. Peter goes back out swinging around, and thinks of the goodness inherent in the common man as he runs across looting and rioting. When he tries to stop things, he gets dogpiled by enraged citizens. Spider-man emerges from the pile mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! This is a grim and gritty Spider-man for the ?90s!
Venom and Black Cat regroup with Cloak to form Team Venom , and go recruit Morbius. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is mad at Peter for being Spider-man during a superpowered serial killer crisis and decides to go out dancing. Stupid and contrived, since this means mostly that Carnage can attack the club she?s at. Team Venom goes there to get into a big battle with Team Carnage, which tears up the club. Spider-man sees footage on the news and heads over to help out Team Venom. The club (surprise!) collapses at the end, and Spider-man forces Team Venom to help save people trapped in the rubble instead of stopping Carnage right away.
Next Team Venom (which Spidey has joined, I guess?) decide to get Reed Richards? sonic gun and Firestar so they exploit Carnage?s damage type weaknesses for extra press turns. Team Carnage is destroying a museum, meanwhile, and picks up Carrion as a bonus member. Z-list cyborg guy Deathlok shows up to try and stop them, but he gets his ass handed to him easily and Team Carnage escapes. Later B-list hero Iron Fist shows up to rescue him.
Team Venom meanwhile crashes J. Jonah Jameson?s office to have him set a trap for Carnage, by printing ?Carnage Come Home!? as a headline. Team Venom hopes Carnage will go back to the orphanage where he grew up in, and that they can lie in wait for him there. JJJ goes along with it, and that means it?s time for another motherfucking fight. This time the heroes get Carnage pinned down pretty effectively, but Shriek does something fucking inane to make sure the symbiote can bounce back and this shit can go on for six more fucking issues. Team Venom and Team Carnage battle, with Cloak getting banged up enough to have to retreat. Shriek kindly explains her ability to make other people act deranged and violent, so suddenly people doing plausible things during a social breakdown is just evil mind control. People are basically good, Spider-man! You go right on believing that.
Team Venom starts collapsing during the battle, as Black Cat wimps out and Demogoblin takes out Morbius. Firestar has Carnage on the ropes, and Venom urges her to just kill him. Spider-man agrees for a time, but then begs her to stop when Carnage begins, you know, acting like dying really hurts. Firestar doesn?t really want to kill him either, which makes Venom take the tactically brilliant move of trying to kill her. He beats up Spider-man, too, which leaves both him and Firestar out of the battle. Carnage and Shriek then team up on him, beat the crap out of him, and drag him off to torture him some. Spider-man is wondering how much worse it can get, but then Captain America shows up, bringing with him singing doves and shafts of light breaking through the clouds and a heavenly fucking choir.
Captain America takes Spidey and Firestar to conveniently empty Avengers Mansion to gather information, and there they hook up with Deathlok and Iron Fist. What remains of Team Venom keeps trying to fight what remains of Team Carnage, and mostly fails until Spawn? er, wait, no, I mean Nightwatch shows up to bail their asses out. Carnage and Shriek have taken off to the Statue of Liberty to torment Venom with fire and yelling and sonic blasts, oh my. Black Cat is finally too beat up to care anymore and leaves Team Venom to go recover. Cloak also leaves to go? sulk or something.
Shriek leaves off torturing Venom for a bit to go out and cause riots or something, fuck, I don?t know why. Team Spidey, which is really more Team Cap at this point, go out to stop the rioting and beat Shriek up enough to web her a lamppost. Doppleganger and Demogoblin free her, and then there?s another big dumb throwdown with Team Cap. Shriek briefly loses her hold over the crowd around them, but pumps it up so the heroes also have to deal with an angry mob. Shriek pulls back with her posse (plus Carrion, who sorta? shows up at some point) to watch the battle while she angsts about her crummy life.
Carnage shows up and is very angry with Shriek for? leaving and doing things, I guess? Carnage begins beating the crap out of her, and the Doppleganger tries to come to her defense. Carnage slaps the Doppleganger around easily and then throws him off a roof, killing him. Team Spidey shows up after this to throw down with Team Carnage, now that the rioters are dealt with (uh? somehow). Cloak also shows up with a not-dead-at-all Dagger, who regenerated from the? folds of his cape? Something like that. It?s as fucking random as her death.
By now it?s time for the next-to-last issue, which means we can resolve all this bullshit. After a pointlessly inconclusive brawl between Dagger and Shriek, Spidey faces Team Carnage by himself while everyone else goes offscreen to get a stupid thing. After Spider-man gets beaten up for awhile, Deathlok returns with (sigh) the Alpha-Wave Illuminizer, a gun that shoots happy beams of goodness out of Iron Fist and Dagger through a biofeedback thingy Deathlok rides. They focus the Happy Gun to Shriek, which forces her to transmit Happy Waves to all of Team Carnage. The Happy Waves take out every single member of Team Carnage, or weaken them so much they can be easily subdued. It doesn?t work on Carnage, who gets so angry about happiness that he makes the Happy Gun explode.
At first the explosion appears to kill Carnage, so the good guys clean up all the mess and go home. Spider-man goes to Central Park to decompress, and Venom arrives there, angry that he didn?t get to kill Carnage. That?s also when Carnage shows up, cackling about how he?s not! Really! Dead! Now it?s down to a final issue?s worth of fighting between Carnage, Spider-man, and Venom where Spidey is really at the most pathetic he?s been through this entire sorry story.
Carnage and Venom brawl all over New York, first at Ryker?s Island and then back at the orphanage where Kasady grew up, and Spider-man really can?t do much more than try to keep Venom from killing Carnage. Eventually Spidey and Venom agree to team up and track Carnage down to a graveyard, but this really makes no difference. Spidey still has cracked ribs and Carnage is about to murder him when the Black Cat returns to make the save. Venom takes the opportunity to throw Carnage into a nearby? bank of? generators? This causes a massive explosion that knocks Carnage out. Spider-man and Black Cat haul him from the fire while Venom escapes. The Avengers show up to haul off Carnage, which leaves Spider-man?s score card of ?things accomplished? for this story at absolute fucking zero.