It's the end of the Year of the Woman and we're going out with a Shriek!
Shriek is not a character that seems all that well thought-out from the outset. She first appears in Spider-Man Unlimited #1, May 1993, the first chapter of the excruciatingly long, dull, and mindless Maximum Carnage. When Carnage, a mass murderer in a symbiote suit, tears his way through Ravencroft Institute, he finds Shriek strait-jacketed in a padded cell and free hers. She is already a serial killer though we never get any details about whom she has killed. We are told she was a drug dealer, then we're told she was a rock and roll groupie. We're told her name is Sandra Deel, then we're told her name is Frances Louise Barrison. Initially, her only power is a "sonic blast" that she shoots out of her hands. Later she demonstrates the ability to instill violence in others, the power to absorb energy from an outside source and rechannel it, to draw strength off the psychic anguish of others and even to levitate. During the course of Maximum Carnage, Shriek thinks of Carnage as her huband and her other allies, Carrion II, Demogoblin, and Doppelganger as her children. None of which really need concern us here except for the relationship with Carrion.
Spider-Man has not had a very easy time of it these days. First, he comes face- to-face with his parents, Richard and Mary Parker (in ASM #365, August 1992) long believed to be dead. Then, he discovers they are actually robots (in ASM #388, April 1994) engineered by the Chameleon. Spidey is forced to fight the Richard-robot, who gets short-circuited by the Mary-robot. Then the Vulture steals the life force from Mary because she is actually supposed to be a form of artificial life with a life force even though she is, let's face it, a robot. On the verge of snapping from all of these revelations, Spider-Man relentlessly pursues the Chameleon until he subdues him...only to discover that the real mastermind behind the "Parker parents" scheme is Harry Osborn reaching out from beyond the grave in his Green Goblin costume in the form of a computer file. A posthumous "gotcha" from his old roomie brings a traumatized web-slinger to his knees. So begins "Shrieking".
The splash page shows us a close-up of the Green Goblin's mask and Spider-Man's mask side by side. The "camera" pulls back to reveal that the masks are being held by Peter Parker, still in his Spider-Man suit but without his mask on. (Because, you know, the mask is in his right hand even as the Goblin mask is in his left.) The web-slinger has moved from the Kravinoff mansion to the abandoned Osborn mansion on Long Island shortly after he defeated the Chameleon and discovered that Harry Osborn was responsible for the return of his "parents". (I'm not sure where he picked up the Goblin mask, though. Was it just sitting around somewhere in the mansion?) Peter still can't believe that Harry put the Chameleon up to the idea of resurrecting Richard and Mary Parker. He knows that Harry arranged this months before his death because he "couldn't deal with the reality of what a monster [his] father was, couldn't find it in [his] heart to hate him and chose to hate me instead". He flings the Goblin mask across the room and looks up at a portrait of a stern Norman Osborn with his hand on the shoulder of a very young Harry Osborn. Pete thinks about how Harry chose to hurt him the way he'd been hurt by his father and he congratulates the portrait of Norman for instilling the "Osborn Legacy [of] hate and madness" so thoroughly in his son that Harry was destroyed by it. For a moment, Peter shuts his eyes against the agony and then re-opens them with a look of rage on his face. He reaches up and tears at the faces of the two Osborns in the portrait. Then he rips the entire painting to shreds, screams in pain, and pounds his fists on a large oak table, shattering it. He doesn't stop there. In moments, the table is little more than firewood. But the agony doesn't go away and Peter puts his hand over his face and goes down on one knee. He kneels on the ground and thinks about how Norman has destroyed him as well.
A mist kicks up outside of the Osborn mansion and transports us all the way to Ravencroft Institute in Westchester County; "a facility for the treatment and it was hoped eventual rehabilitation of mentally-unbalanced super-criminals". Dr. Ashley Kafka is in her control center watching a monitor showing the patient known as Shriek who is, well, shrieking. Ashley knows her patient's real name is Frances Louise Barrison (even though she was named Sandra Deel until Web of Spider-Man Annual #10, 1994) but she knows little else. (We don't know much more than she does. For example, is Shriek an albino or is she covered in white body paint? And what is the deal with that blank left eye with the Vulcan weapon design painted around it?) (And note how Shriek is dressed in tight blue pants and a blue tank top that shows off her two main assets. Hospital garb courtesy of Victoria's Secret.) Her weeks of therapy with Shriek have produced few results. "For each layer of emotional pain I peel back" she thinks, "I find five more". She knows that "some trauma so profound, so shattering that it redefines the word" happened to Frances when she was a child, something that makes Frances yearn for "a sense of belonging... a sense of family" but she hasn't been able to find out what it is. Her current strategy is to surround Shriek with "an atmosphere of trust and love" but she wonders, "how do you love someone who'd just as soon cut your heart out as say good morning?"
She is startled out of her thoughts by a hand on her shoulder. It belongs to Edward Whelan who was once Vermin and is now her greatest success. Edward has returned to human form through psychoanalysis and now serves as an assistant to Dr. Kafka. He reminds her that it is time to look in on Malcolm McBride (spelled, in this issue only, "MacBride".)
While the original villain called Carrion turned out to be a clone of Professor Miles Warren, Malcolm is the second Carrion, transformed and infected by the "Carrion-virus" created by Warren in his Jackal persona. (He was first infected in Spectacular Spider-Man #149, April 1989 and appeared in the Maximum Carnage mess that ended, for him, in Spectacular Spider-Man #203, August 1993.) At that time, he was returned to human form by the highly convenient Alpha Magni-Illuminizor machine but the disease is not eradicated. Instead, the virus is kept in remission by various administered drugs so while Malcolm is mostly back to normal physical form, he is "still agitated" and still has trouble sleeping. Dr. Kafka tells Edward that it isn't the physical healing that worries her. Malcolm's main problem is guilt over "the knowledge that he was actually a murderous entity like Carrion". She believes that they would have lost Malcolm to that guilt long ago if it wasn't for his mother.
With that, Ashley opens the door to her office to find Malcolm and his mother Beatrice waiting for her. (Shriek isn't the only one with a sudden name change. Bea McBride is named "Martha" when she first appears in Spectacular Spider-Man #162, March 1990.) Malcolm is not looking well (he sits in an armchair with his hand over his face) and Bea explains that "he's got those headaches again and the nausea". Ashley explains that these are side effects from the anti-viral drugs and then tells Malcolm that she has heard that he is not sleeping well. Malcolm takes his hands away from his face to reveal worn, gaunt cheekbones, and hollow, dark eyes. "How can I sleep?" he asks Dr. Kafka, "Every time I close my eyes, I see them." It is a pile of naked corpses piled up in a street in New York and rising as high as some skyscrapers. Other bodies are falling down seemingly from a large full moon and joining the grotesque pile. In this vision, Malcolm walks down the street and each corpse seems to look at him, accusing him. He cannot at first believe that "this holocaust is my doing". He knows that he is at heart a good man. But then he remembers the Carrion virus and with that Carrion himself appears from the darkness, claws outstretched. Malcolm hopes that Carrion is there to kill him as well. He tells Dr. Kafka that he would be happy if this was so since, "I deserve to die". But Carrion is not there to kill him. "What he wants" Malcolm says, "is for me to take him back". And at the same time, in Forest Hills, May Parker sits up in bed, awakening from a horrid dream, with a shout of "Peter!" on her lips.
May puts her hand over her face (people seem to do that a lot in this story) as she tries to shake free of the dream. "It was the burglar again but instead of Ben, this time, he took Peter." May has been having nightmares almost every day of late, waking up "like a frightened little schoolgirl, shivering in my bed". After many of these dreams, she reaches out for Ben but he is not there. He hasn't been there for years now and May wonders how she ever got so old. (Which really takes a lot of nerve seeing as she was at least sixty back in 1962 and appears to be younger than that today.) She picks up a framed photo of Mary and Richard Parker. Cradled in Mary's arms is the infant Peter. May looks at the picture and a jolt of pain goes through her. She remembers the "terrible people" who showed up and tried to convince her and Peter that they were Mary and Richard. It's "hard enough for a boy to lose his parents so young", thinks May without having to go through it again. She goes to her window and looks out at the night. She knows she must shake off the nightmares and the fears. She knows she has to be strong. Not for herself. For Peter.
As May looks out her bedroom window, the mist builds up again and takes us over to Manhattan's Upper East Side. Within her apartment, Mary Jane Watson-Parker sits on her couch (posed like a super-model) with a cigarette in her mouth and a lit match in her hand. Peter is out somewhere as Spider-Man. He has barely been home for days and, when he is home, he barely communicates with his wife. MJ thinks about how much Peter is hurting her as she tries to decide whether to light up the cigarette. Mary Jane had previously succumbed to a smoking habit that she broke after seeing Nick Katzenberg in the hospital dying of lung cancer, in ASM #385, January 1994. Now she stares at the match and thinks about her father, about how he used his work to tune out from his family, about how "he abandoned me years before he actually left". MJ feels as if Peter is now doing the same thing. The match burns down in her hands as she thinks about this. Then, deciding "No, not again", she tosses the burned-out match in the ashtray and the unlit cigarette in the trash. She is not going to start smoking again and she is not going to let her husband tune her out the way her father did. She picks up the pack of cigarettes and looks at them. (The brand is "Sun".) Then she hears a creaking sound in the bedroom and goes in to investigate.
Peter is home, as she hoped and it is time to talk about their relationship. But she stops halfway through a sentence as she watches him sitting on the bed in his spider-suit, the mask in his hands, his mind a million miles away. Ignoring her, just as her father did. For an instant, MJ thinks about leaving him alone but instead she speaks. At first she tells him that "you're not the only one who's good at running away" and vows that "I am out of here!" But Peter doesn't respond (he doesn't even move a muscle) so MJ comes over and sits next to him on the bed. She puts a hand on his shoulder. Peter takes her hand without looking at her. "Get this straight, Parker" MJ says, "No running, no masks, no cancersticks. We don't need 'em. All we need is our love." She puts her hand on his cheek and Peter finally looks at her. Then they kiss and, as they kiss, Mary Jane lets go of the pack of cigarettes. It falls to the floor as she prays that their love will be enough to get them through.
Back at the mist-enshrouded Ravencroft, Dr. Ashley Kafka tries to reassure Malcolm MacBride that he is not a monster. Malcolm doesn't buy it. He has murdered people as Carrion and he believes that this is only possible because he was capable of murder "virus or not". He calls himself twisted and insane. This sets Ashley off. Telling him, "You are not insane! You were raised in a loving, nurturing environment by good and decent people!", she takes him by the hand and leads him to the observation room. This is probably not the brightest idea that Dr. Kafka has ever had.
The thought is to show Malcolm some real insanity. She engages the monitor and shows him Shriek who is, well, shrieking. And she tries to explain that Shriek never had anyone to care for her and look where it's gotten her and blah, blah, blah. The problem is that Shriek turns in the midst of her screaming, sees Malcolm and recognizes him.
Let's hold it one second here. When we first saw this observation room, the monitor was clearly just a television screen eavesdropping on Shriek from a distance. Now, it turns out to not be a TV screen at all but just a big window! And it's not even one-way glass. Shriek can turn and look right at Ashley and Malcolm in the other room, which means that her padded cell is only padded on three walls but has a big glass window on wall number four. And then Ashley brings Malcolm in to look at her? You have got to be kidding me.
Within her psychosis, Shriek recalls the Maximum Carnage binge, recalls that she thought of Carnage as her husband and Carrion as her son, and sees Carrion within Malcolm. That blank left eye starts to glow and she channels a sonic blast through her hands at the glass, yelling "What have you done to my son?!" Dr. Kafka is sure that Shriek's cell is designed to contain her sonic powers but that must be before you hit the monitor button that allows Shriek to look into the observation room. The sonic blast shatters the glass and knocks Ashley across the room. Trying to get up, Ashley tells Malcolm to run and call Colonel John Jameson (who is in charge of security at Ravencroft) but then Shriek grabs her by the throat and throws her against the wall. Shriek is now well into the "Mommy Dearest" kick. She tells Dr. Kafka that "No one comes between Shriek and her child". Then, she looks over at Malcolm and calls him "Carrion darling".
Malcolm is terrified. He turns and runs for it. It doesn't do him any good. Shriek leaps above him, bares her fingernails like claws, grabs him by the shirt, smashes right through the stone wall of the building and flies away, carrying Malcolm with her. (And displaying about four different powers that we didn't know she had.) Bea MacBride hears the crash from the Doctor's office. She looks out the window and sees her son silhouetted against the full moon, being carted off by Shriek. Tears stream down her cheeks as she watches.
A little later in Manhattan, Mary Jane wakes up from a nightmare. She calls out to Peter but he is gone. (And he didn't even have the decency to close the window behind him.) She sits on the side of the bed and puts her hand over her face. (Number four in a series. Collect them all!) She sees the pack of Sun cigarettes sitting on the floor by her bare feet. She picks them up and flings them out of the open window.
The mist swirls up around the bedroom window and transports us over to Spider- Man web-slinging through the city. He knows that he shouldn't be out. He knows that Mary Jane needs him. He knows she wants him to talk to her. But he can't. "Peter Parker's not a safe man to be around" he reasons, "But as long as I'm Spider-Man, as long as I stay away from Peter's world, she'll be safe and so will I." He wonders if he may just be paranoid but he has had so many recent experiences that justify his feelings. "Everywhere I turn I see lies and betrayal" he thinks, "When even the people I love seem to be one thing and turn out to be another. I can't trust anyone not even myself."
And then it occurs to him that there is one person he can trust; someone who helped him find his way back the last time he felt so very lost. Spider-Man makes his way through the city with the intention of visiting Dr. Ashley Kafka. But Dr. Kafka is unconscious in a Ravencroft hospital bed with a neck brace on her neck, bandages on her head, an IV in her arm and tubes feeding oxygen into her nose.
Actually, the most important page in this entire comic has nothing to do with the story. It is the Bullpen Bulletins page that features a tribute to Jack Kirby who had passed away in February of 1994. Joe Sinnott, Tom DeFalco, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Curt Swan, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, and Don Heck all praise Jack and mourn his passing. I'm still mourning his passing and it's been over nine years since then.
Okay, part one of Shrieking is in the books and what have we got? Peter is acting surly and uncommunicative. (And he's going to get much worse!) Dr. Ashley Kafka gets a severe attack of the dumbs. Aunt May, MJ, Malcolm MacBride and Bea MacBride are all quite seriously bummed out. The only people who are happy are Shriek (and she's crazy) and Norman Osborn (and he's dead... for now, at any rate). There's way too much mist, piled-up corpses, bad dreams, and people putting their hands over their faces. And Spider-Man didn't do much more than mope. But things are about to get interesting. (I think.)
It's an interesting start but that's all it is. Shrieking Part One only gets two webs.