Phil Sheldon, a highly respected freelance photographer that takes news photos of the "Marvels" (the superheroes in the Marvel Universe) has retired. Combined with the royalties from his book of photos (titled "Marvels") he has a comfortable life.
He was in the process of making a sequel to "Marvels" when his doctor discovers that he has lung cancer due to his smoking habit.
Phil undergoes surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. However Dr. Geoffries sadly informs him that they were unable to remove it all. He explains that Phil has contracted "squamous cell carinoma of the lung ... [the cancer has] already metastasized to a lymph nodes in [his] mediastinum".
The only option at this point is chemotherapy. He recommends thirty sessions over a period of six weeks. Phil asks him point blank if he will survive this. Reluctantly Geoffries admits he probably won't, but is quick to point out that the five-year survival rate with chemotherapy is 23%; without it he will last one year, tops.
With this news, against Geoffries wishes (and those of his wife Doris), Phil checks out of the hospital as there is nothing else that can be done until his stitches come out. He meets with his publisher Bennet Schwed to discuss his next book. His original concept to clear Spider-Man of the murder of George Stacy, but since Gwen died, he has reconsidered. Schwed suggests that the create a photograph book titled "Menaces" to showcase the super-villains. Phil is very reluctant to go in this direction, and tells Schwed that he'll think it over.
Phil's next stop is the Daily Bugle to have dinner with some of his co-workers. He can't bring himself to tell him that he's got cancer. They're too excited by the various superhero activity. (Of specific interest to this site is the revelation that "Spider-Man has a dune buggy now".) As Phil is deluged with information he becomes increasingly frustrated. Given his new perspective, stories about vampires in England or werewolves in L.A. seem inconsequential to him. When he hears a report that Captain America, Falcon, and the X-Men are fighting SHIELD, he leaves in disgust. As he walks home, he realizes that he's partly to blame for the fascination with the heroes. All the pictures he took have fueled the interest in them. He feels a bit cheated that everyone is obsessed with the Marvels while he has to cope with his death sentence. He will have to start chemotherapy soon, which may or may not prolong his life.
Days pass and Phil attends a party at Jonah's penthouse celebrating Peter Parker's nomination for photographer of the year. Phil is furious that Parker is nominated. This is not due to professional jealousy; he simply takes photographs for Jameson's smear campaign against Spider-Man. He is insulted that his "work" is even remotely considered journalism. When Peter approaches him and tries to speak to him, Phil rebukes him and walks away angrily.
He leaves the party and soon finds himself in an abandoned alleyway. He begins to rant about his current place in the world. He feels his life's work is being undermined in favor of sensationalism. People don't want the truth, they want entertaining lies. This attracts the attention of a small gang who try to rob him. The key word is "try". Spider-Man quickly appears and webs them up to the nearest lamppost. He advises Phil, who "looks like [he's] dressed for a party", to return to it.
Phil is left speechless for a few minutes. He then goes home and has an epiphany. He is angry because people are blind to the truth about the Marvels. They are noble people that save lives while theirs get drug through the mud for entertainment value. He decides that his next book will be a crusade to restore the reputation of the Marvels; to remind the public of the truth.
At times, it can be somewhat disturbing when you see the generation immediately following your own. What they wear, their diction, and their values may cross the established limits of your generation. It may seem – at times - that they will actually cause the downfall of society. One item to keep in mind is that the generation prior to your own had the same doubts. It's a never-ending cycle of suspicion until humanity actually descends to the mindlessness depicted in the movie Idiocracy. Of course by then it's too late to do anything.
Because of this tendency, Phil's attitude toward Peter is understandable, although not accurate. We know that he takes pictures of himself as Spider-Man and willingly helps Jonah ruin his own reputation in order to pay the bills. Sometimes people have to make hard choices in order to make ends meet. Phil's larger complaint - the public's unconditional acceptance of slanted journalism – is more grounded.
To his credit Phil is at least trying to do something about the downward progression of society and remind the public that despite all-too-human failings, the Marvels are heroes, not entertainment.
4 webs. Continuing from the previous issue, this is a great series that shows the "other" side of the major events of the Marvel Universe. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.
Gwen Stacy was killed in Amazing Spider-Man #121