After saving the lives of J.J. Jameson and Felicia Hardy from the vengeful Dr. Octopus, Spider-Man has managed to clear most of his disputed reputation as a menace after the Mysterio smear campaign. Not only is Spidey finally starting to look like the hero New York needs, but his alter-ego Peter Parker is also having a run of good luck in his studies; his reputation as a photographer; and his current involvement with upcoming actress Mary Jane Watson.
|Story:||Brynne Stephens, John Semper|
|Teleplay:||Brynne Stephens, John Semper, Len Wein, Meg McLaughlin|
On the surface of an asteroid orbiting the moon, renown astronaut John Jameson is excavating a crater when he discovers a strange black rock. Keen to analyse the mineral he takes a sample, uncovering a tar like substance which oozes from the rock-bed and snakes after the retreating John. Suddenly the ground becomes unstable and the asteroid erupts in seismic activity, forcing John to abort the mission – barely escaping into orbit as the ground beneath the Luna Module collapses. In the newly exposed fissure the black substance pulses with a low hiss.
The Daily Bugle news team are awaiting the triumphant return of John and his fellow team members at Kennedy Space Port, now returning from their archaeological mission, which they speculate has uncovered new minerals for scientific analysis, including Promethium X; a potential new power source to rival plutonium. At the Bugle central office key staff watch the coverage of Jameson’s’ son with pride, however they are not the only ones watching the footage with keen interest. From the comfort of his empire’s central office, Wilson Fisk, aka The Kingpin and Alistair Smythe set their plans in motion.
Traffic is gridlocked on the George Washington Bridge, much to the annoyance of Eddie Brock who is among the pile-up during the news event that could see his career restored (after disgracing himself several times with 2 major papers). Meanwhile, as the space shuttle enters the atmosphere the mysterious black goo secrets itself from the Promethium X sample and breaks free from its container, attacking the two astronauts during their live television report – enveloping Johns’ partner and causing him to steer the space craft towards earth. Communications from the shuttle are cut off, and news breaks that they are heading towards New York – hearing this, Kingpin prepares to evacuate, but Smythe calculates that the shuttle will most likely hit the George Washington Bridge. Confident in Smythes’ prediction, Kingpin phones The Rhino and orders him to collect the Promethium X sample from the downed craft. Miles above them, the shuttle is descending into the atmosphere where John is struggling against the alien goo as he fights to bring the ship down into the Hudson River. Jameson takes the news copter as Spider-Man launches into flight as the two men race to the scene. Panic has erupted on the bridge as people abandon their vehicles and flee to safety, yet Brock is less inclined – determined to get a prize-winning picture of the crash. Smythe beams smugly as the shuttle passes over Fisk’s tower, although Kingpin is less than amused at the close-call. John’s visor is now crawling with the alien liquid, but without incident manages to steer towards the Hudson via the city streets, as Rhino and Brock wait on the all-but-empty bridge as Spidey draws closer. With expert skill, John pilots directly onto the bridge and manages to drag the downed craft to an eventual stop.
Spider-Man arrives at the scene; however the shuttle door is already open. Entering causes the shuttle to lurch on its perch overhanging the edge of the bridge. A moan draws him to the cockpit where the two astronauts lie unconscious – the tar-like substance now gone. Attempting to make his escape with the Promethium X, Rhino happens upon Spider-Man, whose wise-cracks rile up the thief who charges at the web-head, causing the shuttle to tilt dangerously. Stinking hard, Rhino knocks Spidey down and prepares to finish him, but Kingpin radios in, telling him to swiftly deliver the package. Spider-Man plants a spider-tracer on Rhino as he is leaving then painfully goes to rescue the two men. Outside, Brock snaps the Rhino’s picture as he rams his way effortlessly through the obstructing cars, while Spider-Man lays the men safely away from the wreckage. A sound from within the shuttle draws Spidey back inside, but before he can search further the shuttle capsizes and plunges into the Hudson. Emergency services and Jameson’s helicopter arrive and see to the catatonic men who murmur incoherently about the black tar and Spider-Man – misunderstanding, Jameson angrily asks what Spider-Man did to sabotage the shuttle as John is taken to the ambulance. Brock approaches Jameson, informing him that he has photographic evidence of Spider-Man stealing something from the shuttle; if Jameson agrees to rehire him, the photos are his – Jameson doesn’t even have to think twice before accepting the deal. At the rivers’ edge, an assumingly oil-coated Spider-man crawls ashore. Pulling out his spider-tracer device he tries to track down the Rhino but the signal is lost, meaning the tracer was either destroyed or Rhino is hold up somewhere extremely secured.
At Fisk Tower Rhino lays the prize at Kingpin’s desk. Questioning why they’re making such a big deal out of a hunk of rock, Smythe informs him that Promethium X could revolutionise nuclear power. Fisk has no time to let Smythe analyse the sample however, as he has several buyers waiting impatiently for their merchandise. Rhino glibly remarks that it still looks like another rock to him, inciting the patronising remark from Fisk not to confuse the Promethium X with the rocks in his head.
Aunt May watches the latest report on the shuttle story; the Promethium X has been stolen and Spider-Man has been linked to the theft. Peter cockily remarks that Jameson will now have to admit he was wrong about Spider-Man as he enters, only to be shot down by May when she tells him Spider-Man in fact robbed the shuttle. Interviewed live from the hospital, Jameson places a bounty of Spider-Man’s head of $1Million. May comments that now there’s nowhere Spider-Man can hide from justice as Peter strides upstairs. In his room, Peter gripes over being worth money he can’t collect and decides to lay low as Spider-Man until the situation cools off. On the plus side, he reasons that at least he can put washing his tar-stained costume down the priority list, throwing it into the wash basket. Later that night, the black substance clinging to his outfit leaps to the floor and slithers over the sleeping Peter. Peter dreams that he is being perused by a sinister black silhouette resembling his costume. The slimy creature seizes Peter and is about to eat him when a gigantic version of his costume engages the monster after a brief struggle between the two the black creature snatches back Peter and consumes him. Awakening, Peter’s relief that he isn’t going crazy fades as he notices he is dangling upside-down in the middle of the Manhattan wearing a black version of his costume.
As Spider-Man stares at his uncanny reflection a police helicopter moves in on him, believing the new costume to be a disguise to evade Jameson’s bounty hunters. Without thinking, or even consciousness, Spider-Man drops and flees – organic webbing shooting from his hands and swinging him with new-found effortlessness away from his pursuers. Dropping to the streets he engages a horde of construction workers looking to claim his bounty, reacting rather than thinking as he dispatches them with his augmented strength. Dodging the police barricade he leaps deeper into the heart of the city. Having momentarily evaded his would-be capturers he tests the powers the suit has bestowed him, lifting a fire truck without even breaking a sweat whereas before he could barely pick up a car. Residents appear at their windows and shout out to the cops and when Spider-Man remarks that the suit’s only lacking feature is subtlety it morphs into a police uniform, allowing him to slip away through the crowd.
The following day the Black Spider-Man sits atop ESU, pondering if the suit could be extra terrestrial – possibly from the shuttle – but drops the serious thinking in order to experiment further with the suit’s morphing ability, selecting an expensive Italian suit. Felicia notices Parker and they banter flirtatiously until Flash Thompson interjects and tries to stake his claims on the girl, pushing Peter aside. However, Peter refuses to back down, acting with uncharacteristic force and bravado. Felicia pulls the two apart and forces Flash away, commenting to Peter that he isn’t acting himself and it scares her. Unphazed, Peter shrugs it off – he’s never felt better in his life.
Smythe is being undermined by Fisk, who is refusing him access to the specialist control rods he requires to conduct his studies on the Promethium X, which in turn is preventing Fisk from giving full disclosure to his buyers as to the elements potential. Caving to the man’s incessant nagging, Fisk finally agrees, however it’s not that simple, as the required rods must be made of Lithium 90, a rare metal that is stockpiled in government vaults. Smythe’s lack of faith is misplaced, as Fisk hires the Rhino for a second heist.
Over dinner, Aunt May tells Peter she’s worried that his involvement as Spider-Man’s photographer for the Bugle could be dangerous now that half the city is after the money on Spideys’ head – who knows the lengths he’d go to protect himself. Refusing to listen to another anti-Spider-Man speech, Peter walks from the table and up to his room. Hearing a beeping noise from his closet he discovers the spider-tracker is operational again, meaning Rhino is no longer underground. Needing to work off his irritations, Peter leaps into the night, his clothes changing into the black suit as he goes.
Outside the gates of the maximum security centre, Rhino charges, knocking down the thick steel gates and drawing out the security team, who he dispatches with one hit. Breaking into the vault he is accosted by Spider-Man; initially Rhino holds the upper hand but he does not account for Spideys’ new abilities, and is beaten relentlessly and without mercy for the whereabouts of the Promethium X. Rhino terror of the Kingpin keep him from giving up the information; better dead than a snitch – but Spider-Man never said prison was an option. Spidey is through with always having to be the moral backbone of a city that never learns from his examples, and forever takes while he always gives. He grabs the broken vault door and holds it high oven the downed Rhino, who begs for mercy. However, as he prepares to deliver the final strike the pleading man’s works get through to him, and he realises how he’s changed for the worse since the other day. He drops the door and escapes into the night, leaving Rhino whimpering on the ground. As thunder rumbles overhead and a storm threatens the still night, Spider-Man realises that something is wrong with him. Looking at his reflection in a shop window he sees his face transform into a snarling, toothed, monstrous vision of himself as lightning flashes across the sky.
So the black suit saga begins, far earlier than in the comic continuity, but seeing as venom was such a dominant fan character in the 90s’ it’s hardly surprising that the developers would want to rush him in as early as possible. After saving New York’s Golden Boy Jameson Junior, Spidey is now public enemy number one thanks to a miscommunication and the meddling of discredited former photographer Eddie Brock. With Brock back at the bugle and eager to have his revenge on Spider-Man for getting him fired on two separate occasions (see The Spider Slayer and Return of the Spider Slayers) it’s only a matter of time until the two cross paths – as is obvious with this being the origin of the Symbiote/Venom arc. Fortunately the alien symbiote is keeping Spider-Man one step ahead of his would-be hunters, although the negative effects of the aliens control are starting to crack his mental state, making him aggressive, ruthless, and malicious.
Although happening over the short space of 10 minutes, Spideys’ drastic change in character and personality is done credibly and convincingly, as opposed to say how it was done in Spider-Man 3. His arrogance descends to anger and into murderous rage as a result of the situations he comes up against over the second half, but at no point does it seem out of the writers’ control – flowing naturally and well tailored to the story’s development.
The story is tight and manages to juggle multiple characters with great proficiency, even introducing Rhino to the rogues’ gallery and giving him ample screen time whilst developing the whole symbiote thing. It’s a commendable feat to keep the 20-odd minutes so balanced despite all the new developments, character arcs and over all story continuities.
The already high bench mark set by this series has been raised. It’s just a shame that other Spidey series developed over the last 2 decades haven’t delivered anything near this quality.