It's the end of the Year of the Woman and we're going out with a Shriek! Here's part three of the four part "Shrieking" arc.
The cover proclaims "Peter Parker No More!" and features a nice takedown and reversal of the old "Spider-Man No More" cover from ASM #50, July 1967. The original shows Peter Parker walking with his head down while a vision of a back-turned Spider-Man looms up behind him. This cover shows Spider-Man walking with his head up while a back-turned Peter Parker looms behind him. A neat touch.
Hey, remember the guy who owns the Upstate house who was thrown out the window by Shriek? Well, he's still lying out there dead on his lawn. Inside, Carrion is still clutching his hand over Spider-Man's face, draining the life out of him. He would do it too except that Shriek has regained consciousness and implores Carrion to let the wall-crawler go. When Carrion ignores her, Shriek grabs Carrion around the neck and yanks him off Spidey. She pushes him up against the wall knocking out more wallboard.
Carrion doesn't understand why Shriek is preventing him from killing Spider- Man. "You're my son, I'm your mother, and you'll obey me whether you understand or not!" Shriek replies. "Because" she adds, "Mother always knows best" and her left eye is really glowing now.
But Carrion pursues his point as he rubs his neck where Shriek throttled him. He thought Spider-Man was the enemy and that Shriek wanted him dead. Shriek walks over to the unconscious web-slinger as she explains that Spider-Man's pursuit of them is what "gives the game meaning". She uses her mind powers to lift the wall-crawler up in the air as she further explains that "each time we take another life... we drive another spear through his heart". Shriek has seen into Spidey's soul after all and she knows "that the more he pursues us the more he'll sink in the sewage with us". Eventually, she believes, "the darkness within him will grow around him like a cocoon". (Aha! Foreshadowing!) She kisses Spider-Man on the lips (well, through his mask on his lips) and then lets his body fall to the ground with a "krak". She is waiting for the moment when the web-slinger emerges from that cocoon of darkness for she believes "he'll become one of us". On that day, Carrion will have a father again to replace Carnage and the family will be whole once more. A spark of Malcolm peeks out of Carrion as he vaguely recalls that he had a family once but Shriek assures him that "those aren't memories... they're dreams, nightmares". She takes his hand (if Carrion's touch can kill, why doesn't Shriek die when she holds his hand?) and the two of them levitate out a window and into the night. "There's so much mommy wants to teach you", Shriek tells her "son".
After they leave, Spider-Man tries to shake off the cobwebs and regain consciousness. He starts by... surprise!...putting his hand over his face and then he actually gets to his feet. But the pain is too great and it reminds him of an agony "he's spent years vainly trying to escape" so "when the darkness rears up again, he doesn't fight it" and allows himself to fall back into unconsciousness.
In a hospital in Forest Hills, May Parker is looking very much like Ashley Kafka did a couple of issues ago. She is lying unmoving in bed; an IV in her arm, an oxygen tube in her nose, a respirator in her mouth. Mary Jane watches over her with Dr. Caputo (a woman who looks very much like Mary Jane herself, though that may just be Bagley not bothering to create a new face for a throwaway character). MJ wants to know if May is going to die. Caputo tells her that her Aunt has had a stroke and that "there's been some brain- swelling". May is currently in a coma and there is no way of knowing if she will ever come out of it. "Right now" says the doctor, "all we can do is wait". The doctor leaves the room and Mary Jane waits. And waits. And waits. She takes May's hand in hers and begs her, "May, please. Don't die."
At the Rags-N-Bags leather goods shop in Greenwich Village, Shriek repels the leather-clad, shirtless, vest wearing goateed, biker-type store clerk through the plate glass window, refusing to pay for her purchases. ("I don't have a Master Card! So charge this!!") The clerk runs away. Carrion offers to pursue him but Shriek tells him to let the man go. Inside the store, the two villains have found just what they want for their new outfits. (I can sort of buy Shriek finding the dominatrix outfit for sale there but this goofy thing that Carrion is wearing is beyond my suspension of disbelief.) Shriek has garbed herself in a black corset that makes sure to show off her overly-large breasts. Fingerless black gloves go with it. They have spikes at the wrists and they go up to the shoulders and around the neck. (Actually I don't have a clue how these gloves work and I suspect that they wouldn't work at all without a whole slew of buttons or zippers or something.) She also has black boots that go all the up past her knees but are sure to show off her lily-white thighs. Carrion has a thoroughly silly outfit. He has brown tights that go up past his navel (assuming Carrion has a navel) and are cinched with a belt that has a little pouch hanging off of it. He has fingerless brown gloves that go up to his elbow and a brown... thing... that is a combination hood and shoulder warmer. The poor dope is so cowed by his "mother" that he thinks the outfit is "appropriate". All of this clothes shopping reminds Shriek of her past when she was a fat little girl and her mother would force her to go to Macy's to buy a new dress ("It was always so humiliating standing there while the tailor measured me and mother rolled her eyes as if I was the biggest embarrassment in her life.") which she would then have to parade around in front of her father. (It somehow doesn't occur to her that she has done the very same thing to Carrion with his dopey outfit.) She recalls that her parents seemed to think that this annual event made up for "what they did to me". It's not clear what that was but the memory of it is enough to send Shriek into a frenzy of psychic energy and self-mutilation. Usually Frances Barrison represses the horrible memories of her past but when they come out, they come out in wave after wave of sonic violence. She glows like the sun and her power blasts the leather store into rubble. Carrion puts his hands over his ears and begs his "mother" to stop. And within this chaos, Carrion remembers another mother, "one far kinder, far saner than this tormented soul". His memories become almost a palpable thing to Shriek who realizes that her tantrum is pushing him away so she squelches the memories, works her powers down to just a glowing right hand and asks her darling "son" what the matter is. Carrion has seen through it all, however. He recoils from her and tells her, "You're not my mother!" Then, with anguish settling over his cadaverous face and blank eyes, he begs her "If you do love me, please, let me go home!"
Back at that home in Astoria, Queens, Beatrice McBride talks to Colonel John Jameson on her cordless. He assures her that Ravencroft is doing everything in its power to get Malcolm back. She thanks him and tells him, "I'll be sure to say a prayer for Doctor Kafka" (who, you'll recall, got her into this mess). She looks at a picture of Malcolm sitting on her bureau and up at a big gold crucifix on her wall and adds (with tears streaming down her cheeks), "For all of us."
In Manhattan, Spider-Man lets himself into his apartment through the skylight. "All he wants is to hide behind the Spider's mask" but the human being under the mask is exhausted. Peter Parker removes his mask and heads for bed. He almost wishes Carrion had killed him but he'll have to settle for sleep. He falls onto the bed without taking his costume off, without pulling the blankets back and sleeps.
He doesn't know if he's slept "half a minute or half the day" but a part of his mind realizes there is a note on the bedside table, addressed to him, sitting next to the photos of Aunt May with young bespectacled Peter in cap and gown, a wedding photo of Peter and MJ and a third smaller photo that may be a shot of Peter's parents. He leaps up and reads the note with shock and horror. Then he puts his mask back on, climbs out of the skylight and web-slings away, leaving the note to fall to the floor next to the bed. And just in case you didn't catch on that the note is from MJ explaining what happened to his Aunt, the "camera" focuses in on the photo of graduating Peter and a proud May Parker once again.
At the hospital, Spider-Man climbs the outside wall. God knows how he manages to find the right room (half the time you can't find the right room in a hospital when you have the room number and enter it from the inside) but he does. He peers into the window, hanging upside down. Mary Jane is sitting in the room's only armchair, reading a book when she notices Spider-Man peering in. When she gets over to the window, he is gone. It begins to rain and the drops strike her cheeks like the tears she (and Bea McBride) shed before.
By the time MJ gets home, it is raining harder. She races into the apartment and finds Peter looking out the window. He is still dressed in his spider suit but without the mask. MJ tells him that she saw him at the hospital and that she knows how upset he is. She starts to tell him that they must hang together on this but Peter cuts her off. Now, he has the tears streaming down his face. He hasn't shaved in a while and he grits his teeth as his eyes flash out their anger. "It's not fair" he says and then gives way to his emotions. Eyes closed, still crying, Peter lashes out at all the objects and furniture in the room. Mary Jane looks on, terrified, as Peter flings the couch across the room and scatters lamps and vases. Finally, he picks up a large oak coffee table and heaves it at the wall. It shatters with the impact and this seems to cool his rage. He turns, still crying, and grabs MJ by the arms as he puts his head into her chest. Then he sags to his knees, still muttering, "It's not fair". Mary Jane puts her arms around him and comforts him.
In Astoria, Bea McBride has heard a radio report that Shriek and Carrion were seen in the East Village. She decides to follow the report and try to track them down and she just opens the front door of her home when she comes face-to- face with the objects of her search. Carrion stands on the doorstep while Shriek levitates above it. "I think it's time... that you and I had a little talk... about my son" Shriek tells Bea as the glow out of her eye encircles the older woman and lifts her up into the air. But Bea is a tough cookie and, though she is obviously scared, she does not back down. "I'm his mother," she proclaims "and nothing can change that". Again, a bit of Malcolm peeks out as he recognizes his true mother and Shriek gets so enraged by this that she flings Bea across the room. (Destroying more wallboard.) Shriek takes Carrion's face in her hands and tells him that people like Bea "put on a good show for the world... smile their June Cleaver smiles and pretend that they're gentle and good, that they care! But then, when the world's not looking they show their true face and only the children ever see it!" (As if you didn't yet get it that Shriek was abused as a child.) Shriek tells Carrion that he must kill his past as represented by Bea McBride. She points her finger at Bea and orders Carrion to "Kill her, son! Kill her now!"
Back at the Parker apartment, Mary Jane enters the bedroom to tell Pete she has cleaned up the living room. (Apparently lifting the couch back into place and gluing together the shattered coffee table.) But instead of finding her husband, she finds a man-size cocoon made out of webbing stuck up on the ceiling and the wall above their bed. She stares at it for five full minutes, realizing that the mask is no longer enough of an escape for Peter, realizing that he has encased himself in this mass of webbing so he can be completely, totally alone. Then she turns and walks out of the room.
When she comes back later, the cocoon is gone. There is only a mass of webbing lying on the bed and hanging in shreds from the ceiling. Meanwhile Spider-Man webslings through the night and the rain. He has emerged from his metamorphosis and, in the process left Peter Parker for dead. ("Rest in peace, Peter Parker, he thinks. Long may you rot.") Now he is only The Spider.
In Astoria, Shriek keeps pressing Carrion to kill Bea but Carrion cannot bring himself to do it. He wants to but he remembers Bea's "tenderness, kindness". Shriek gets right in his face and screams out, "You remember lies!" Bea, meanwhile, gets to her feet (and, of course, tears stream down her face) and defends herself. She tells Malcolm that his memories are the truth and she asks her son to walk away from Shriek and "come to me"! Shriek has had enough. She is ready to kill Bea herself. But then she senses something coming in out of the lightning and pouring rain. It is Spider-Man (and how he knew where Shriek and Carrion were again, I have no idea) only it isn't the same Spider-Man she remembers. He is silent and his silence seems to say, "I am anger, I am madness, I am The Spider. And God help you if you get in the way!"
You know, I remember being quite impressed with this storyline when I first read it almost ten years ago. I'm not very impressed with it now. In fact, I'm rather tired of it. I'm tired of the anguish, I'm tired of the tears streaming down people's faces, I'm tired of Shriek's incessant childhood traumas, and I'm tired of Carrion's wide-eyed maternal confusions. Peter is particularly annoying. I feel his pain and I understand that the poor guy has been through more than anyone could possibly bear but this "I am The Spider" stuff is for the birds and the business of enclosing himself in a literal cocoon is just plain ridiculous. I suspect that, with the impending arrival of Ben Reilly, the powers-that-be were already trying to get us to dislike Pete so that we would accept Ben as Spider-Man. The first part worked anyway. I sure don't like Pete in any of these issues. I say all this knowing that it's a bit unfair to judge this sequence without re-reading the whole "Parker's Parents" business that came before and to judge it from the perspective of now knowing where this leads, where it ends and where it gets mercilessly retconned.
Despite the caveats, I'm still dropping this one back to two webs. One part to go.