We conclude the oft-overlooked two-part arc that Kurt Busiek did for Spectacular Spider-Man long before he got his big break. Unfortunately it's shaping up to be far from his best work...
|Cover Art:||Sal Buscema|
|Reprinted In:||Complete Spider-Man (UK) #17|
Remember the leap that the now-demonic Corona took towards the web-slinger at the end of the last issue? Well, it sends both of them crashing through a window so that they start falling many stories to the street. (Turns out there was a window right behind them in the laboratory! Who knew?) And the only other comment I have to make about this issue's splash page concerns Kurt's opening caption. "Moments ago, the creature that was once called Corona leapt at Spider-Man" he writes. To which I would like to reply, "What? She's not called Corona anymore?"
Corona starts by grabbing Spider-Man around the neck, then switches to slashing him with her newfound claws, even as they both plummet toward the earth. Spidey ignores the pain from the slashes and shoots some webbing out which snags the side of a building across the street. Seeing as Corona is still whacking away at him, it briefly occurs to the web-slinger that he should save himself and let her fall. But being the hero that he is, he instead web-swings with his right hand while he tries to grab a hold of Corona with his left. Corona does not cooperate, however. She keeps slashing and twisting so that Spider-Man can't compensate for her weight. He ends up swinging right into a wall with Corona plowing into him from the other side. His head smacks the bricks and he is immediately knocked out.
Corona is not affected by the collision. She grabs onto Spidey's arm with her left hand while she clings to the cracks between the bricks with the talons on her right hand. Then, she climbs up to the roof, dragging the unconscious web-slinger with her. (And just as I wondered how Spidey could web-sling one-handed when he carried the unconscious woman to the hospital, I wonder how Corona can use her claws to scale the wall when one hand is occupied with hanging onto the arm of the web-spinner.)
As she climbs, Corona concocts a new theory concerning Spider-Man's involvement. She is now convinced that Cedric has hired him and that he has "been in league with my brother all along". She drags the webster over the lip of the ledge to the roof. (And Spidey's costume has gotten all torn up along his left arm and right shoulder. This story occurs smack in the time when artists started tearing up Spidey's costume nearly every storyline. I guess Pete couldn't get any more of that sturdy fabric he used to buy in the sixties and seventies.) Then, she grabs Spidey by the front of his costume and yells into his face. She whines about being a "freak, a monster" all because of his interference and she tells him to "Wake up, blast you" because "I want to hear you confess [to being Cedric's pawn, that is] before you die!"
But Spider-Man does not comply. He stays stubbornly unconscious until Corona decides she'll just kill him while he's out. Before she gets a chance, she is fired upon by Cedric's guards on the roof across the street. They have been ordered to use half-power on their fancy guns because "the boss wants her alive" (one guard who obviously thinks with his pants can't understand why they need to take her alive seeing as she is "uglier 'n' sin") but even this is enough to scare Corona away. Not wanting to risk capture, Corona thinks carrying Spider-Man with her would only slow her down so she dumps him on the roof and flees. Even now, our hero has not regained consciousness.
Sounds like one heck of a concussion, doesn't it? Forget it. It's just a plot device that is forgotten as soon as we change scenes to St. Vincent's Hospital. Peter is at MJ's bedtime, holding her hand. He tells her the whole story of Corona (which serves as a flashback for all of us) from the moment that Cedric and Dagney Forrester worked on an "experiment involving energy transmutation on a cellular level" creating Corona to the fact that Cedric's violation of safety regulations brought about the SoHo Fever to Corona facing off against Spidey in order to get the antidote for herself to her laser blast destroying the giant test tube to her burn-out into a Mephisto look-alike. There are two things worth pointing out in this flashback. First, Corona's first name is still in flux, to the extent that she is called "Dagny" in the first caption and "Dagney" in the second caption of the same panel. (Page 4, panel 1.) Second, Pete's explanation that Corona "needed the antidote herself or she'd melt down or burn out or something. I couldn't let her have it. We fought" skims over the truth which is, as we all recall I'm sure, that Spidey stood like the house on the side of the road, wracked with indecision, until Corona got fed up and made a play for the antidote herself.
It hardly matters what Peter is saying, however. MJ is in no condition to listen to him. He keeps blathering on about his feeling that Corona, for all her menace, is "someone in trouble" who "needs help not more violence" but MJ is unconscious and sweaty. Peter is pretty sweaty himself and admits to being "so tired"; both initial symptoms of the SoHo Fever. But then Pete looks out the door to the hospital corridor and sees Harry and Liz Osborn walking by and talking to a nurse. Pete is too wiped out to call out a greeting or join his friends in the corridor so we must go there without him.
Harry and Liz enter another hospital room where their son lies in bed. Little Normie has also contracted the Fever. The nurse tells them that the latest theory is that they have traced the disease to the water supply. This shakes Harry up, since he kept giving Normie more and more water at the onset of the illness. A voice from above him tells Harry "You poisoned your child, Harry Osborn! What kind of father are you?" But when Harry looks up to see who is talking, there is no one there. (Uh oh.) Harry asks Liz if she heard anything and she tells him she didn't. But Liz is so focused on the fact that Normie is starting to sweat again that she may easily miss anything else that happens in the room. At least, that's what Harry tells himself and he starts to relax (except that he has now decided that he poisoned his son) when he hears another voice from the ceiling call his name. Though the voice is different, it comes from the same location. Shocked, he looks up and sees Spider-Man crouching on the ceiling. (His costume is good as new again, by the way.) Spidey tells Harry that he needs his help and asks Harry to come along with him. Harry is reluctant to leave Normie's side but Spidey assures him that "If I'm right, if this works, you'll be saving your son by helping me."
Over at the Forrester Building, the press has surrounded the desk of Cedric's secretary Ms. Lecter. (Hannibal's sister? A little joke by Kurt?) She is besieged by a variety of questions but only has one answer: "Dr. Forrester is not available at the moment." A reporter named Flaherty asks just when Cedric will be available. Ms. Lecter assures him that she'll "buzz Dr. Forrester when he's off the phone".
And Cedric is on the phone, talking to one of his high-powered Senate buddies. Word has gotten out that Forrester's company is responsible for the Fever and Cedric asks his pal for "a word from you to the E.P.A.". But the Senator refuses to stick his neck out unless Cedric is ready with a cure. "Otherwise" the Senator says, "you're on your own."
Just as Cedric hangs up the phone, one of his guards enters the office and tells him that there is something he should see on the roof. Cedric steps out and finds Spider-Man perched on the ledge. Harry Osborn is with him. Spidey introduces Harry as "the head of Osborn Chemical" and explains that "he can help recreate the antidote". When Cedric asks why Spidey didn't return with either Reed Richards or Henry Pym, Spidey explains that neither one is available. Besides, he adds, "you already know what to do, you just don't have the ingredients. Tell Harry what you need. If anyone can get it, he's the man."
Meanwhile, over at Empire State University, Graduate Student Roger Hochberg (who first appeared in ASM #223, December 1981, where he became a chick-magnet after hanging out with Spidey) is conducting a lab class. Student Barney Fenton (who has never appeared before, I believe, but let me know if I'm wrong) is rassing Roger about the dullness of his demonstration. "You'd be excited to watch water evaporate!" he says. Just then, an explosion blows a big hole in the wall and a female silhouette stands in the new entrance. "I require this lab," she says. "Get out." Everyone quickly complies (with Barney promising himself "never to wish for something exciting to happen in Roger's class again", according to Kurt). The figure is, of course, Corona, and she has chosen this lab because it has a "field acceleration chamber". It isn't as fancy as the one the Forresters have on the Riviera; in fact, it is "practically antiquated" in Corona's opinion. Still, if Cedric's theories are correct, it should be just what she needs.
Back at the Forrester Building, Harry has rolled up his sleeves and gotten busy in the laboratory. He has already ordered a whole slew of chemicals from his company and they have already arrived. (There are four suitcases filled with test tubes of yellow liquid on the table in front of Harry.) Spidey perches on a wall and watches as Harry tells Cedric that he was able to collect every needed chemical except parsystacane. That compound is unavailable but Harry tells Cedric "we've got a new synthetic-Asticane B" which should suit the purpose. Spidey marvels at how "businesslike" Harry is but Cedric is unimpressed. He tells Harry that he's "read about asticane" and that "it won't work". But Harry perseveres. He tells Cedric that asticane has "a very malleable signature". After all the parsytacane (or "p-sys" as Harry and others in the biz call it) is used as a bonding agent. Harry assures Cedric that, given "the right ionic bombardment", the asticane will bond with anything. "It can't hurt to try it, at least" he says.
It seems that the sparring between Harry and Cedric will continue except that Spider-Man suddenly moans and almost topples off the wall. Harry goes over and feels Spidey's forehead. Even through the mask he can tell that the web-slinger is feverish. "You should be in the hospital," Harry tells him. Spidey knows that Harry is right. He is sick with the Fever; probably as a result of all the "scratches and bites from Corona". At that moment, a guard enters the room and whispers to Cedric. Spidey can't hear much of the conversation but he does hear the name "Corona". He immediately deduces that Corona has been found. "Tell me what you know, Cedric!" he demands. Cedric, rather snootily, replies that his sister has been "spotted at Empire State University". Then, his hands behind his back and looking away, Cedric adds wistfully, "If I only had the chance to continue my research..." Spidey know this means he wants to "keep her locked up and run tests on her for years". He's not going to allow that. He moves from the wall to the floor and, even though his legs are wobbly, decides he'd better make his way to ESU. He never gets the chance. There is an explosion above the three men (and just look at how big that machine is that is up against the wall. The whole room must have fifty feet for head room) and Corona appears in the hole in the ceiling (clearly, these kind of entrances turn her on) only now she is pure gold in color from head to toe with the exception of those glowing green eyes. She is pleased to see "both my betrayers in one place" so that she doesn't have to work very hard to eliminate both of them and she announces that the field acceleration chamber at ESU succeeded in recatalyzing the chemicals in her system, which "completed the process". She is now what she was meant to be... "finally and truly Corona"... but she's still ugly as a mud fence underneath all that golden glow.
Since Cedric and Harry have not finished creating the antidote, it is left up to Spidey to take care of Corona. He shoots his webbing up to the ceiling, swings straight up (no, I don't know how he does that either), climbs through the hole and crawls out onto the roof. Corona hovers nearby, surrounded by her green glow looking a bit like a crucified Christ-like figure or at least like Adam Warlock doing his crucified Christ-like figure. Spidey tries to tell her that he is glad to see she has recovered but Corona doesn't buy it. She shoots her undefined force blast at him and the wall-crawler must scoot by shooting out more webbing and swinging away. Corona follows.
Now that Spidey has led Corona away, Cedric orders one of his guards (Kersh) to "put a team on this" that will follow the two super-beings and report their whereabouts. Then he orders Harry to "stop gaping like a codfish" and get back to work on the antidote.
As he swings across Manhattan, Spider-Man tries to convince Corona to use her powers to help with the antidote but she sneers at him. ("Do I look like a fool, Spider-Man?" Uh... does she really want an answer to that?) She vows not to make herself vulnerable again. The webster tells her she has a responsibility to help but Corona only fires another blast at him. He ducks it easily but the blast ends up striking the cable holding up scaffolding on which a window washer is perched. The man falls off the scaffold and plunges toward the street. Spider-Man immediately springs into action, swings down, and grabs the man right at streetlight height. Corona laughs at him for his "mania" of responsibility and, while he is thus occupied, she starts to fly back to the Forrester Building.
Now, safely on the ground ("I take back everything I ever read about you, Spidey" says the window washer), the web-slinger yells at Corona, telling her that she could make Cedric "look like an incredible dope" if she managed to cure the Fever instead of him. This doesn't convince Corona to change her ways but it does get her to turn around and attack Spider-Man again. Using her ability to change an object's molecular structure (oh yeah, that's what that power is), she blasts a semi truck and turns the entire vehicle into liquid. It pours down on Spider-Man leaving him standing in liquid up to his ankles. Corona then blasts the liquid and turns it into a substance as hard as steel. Spidey finds his feet trapped. Then, as so often happens with villains, she takes the whole shtick one step too far, changing part of the steel-like substance into tear gas, which makes Spidey cry right through his mask (!) but also weakens the solid substance enough for him to break free. Now he realizes that Corona easily has the power to synthesize the antidote. "She just doesn't want to!"
Having proven her point (whatever that point may have been... oh, yeah, yeah that she had nothing to prove!), Corona flies away. This time the wall-crawler follows her, calling after her to wait. (First he chases, then she chases, back and forth, for two issues it's been like this!) Again Corona stops and turns. Really cheesed off this time ("This is absurd, Spider-Man. I grant you an extra hour of life while I go to kill Cedric and this is how you spend it?"), she yet stops to listen. Spidey makes a big speech about how he truly believes in responsibility, and then he promises her that all he is interested in is the cure to the Fever. He also promises that he will keep her safe from Cedric. "I promise that you won't be harmed or imprisoned," he says. And finally, he stands on a roof and holds his arms out in his own little crucified Christ image and tells Corona to kill him if she doesn't believe him. "I won't try to stop you" he says.
Corona hovers above him, trying to decide whether she should blast him or not. Just as Spidey thinks he's done for (or, as Kurt puts it, "he wishes he had a chance to say goodbye to his wife"), Corona surprises him by agreeing to help. (Or, as she puts it, "Very well, Spider-Man you were a fool to help me against Cedric but you did help me. If you can guarantee my safety, I suppose it's my turn to be a fool.")
So, Spidey and Corona return to the Forrester Building. As they land on the roof, Spidey tells Corona that he will go in first to let Cedric know "about our little cease-fire". Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they actually follow through on this plan because, in the very next panel, Corona has entered the top floor laboratory (and it looks like she has gone in ahead of Spidey) and walked right into an ambush. Two of the guards in brown outfits are waiting and one has a gun that launches a "power siphon". It looks like a discus with a string attached to it and it smacks Corona right in the back. The siphon does the job, draining her of power, which causes the golden glow to disappear. "She's reverting to that ugly form again" says one guard, and then adds, "I swear, how can someone so brainy be so dumb?" But then, apparently, the siphon just fades away into thin air because it sure isn't attached to Corona in the following panel when she runs right through a wall in order to escape.
So (sigh) here we go again. First Spidey gets into Cedric's face about scaring Corona off, then Cedric counters by saying that her abilities aren't needed, then Harry tells an unsteady Spidey to lean on him before he falls down, then Spidey says he must go after Corona to honor his promise, then Harry tells Spidey he has to see a doctor, then Cedric tells the two of them that his men will capture Corona, then Spidey breaks away from Harry and tells Cedric that he isn't getting his hands on Corona again, then Harry tells Spidey he's making his fever worse and may end up killing himself, then Spidey goes out on the roof and unsteadily web-swings his way back to chasing Corona AGAIN. Cedric tells Harry that they must get back to work and the two of them go back inside.
Spidey catches up to Corona pretty quickly this time. Even though she could fly before, she is now planning to kill herself by jumping off of a building. (And, yes, the power siphon seems to have drained her of her aura but then, if she can't fly anymore, how did she get to the roof she is on now?) Why is she planning to kill herself? Because she won't live as a freak and a guinea pig. Spidey rushes up to her from behind and tries to talk her out of it but Corona is back to believing that the web-slinger is planning to betray her again, so she jumps. But if you think that's the end of the story... ah, ah, ah, you're not getting off that easily! Spidey jumps after her, grabs her around the waist, and shoots some webbing up to stop their fall. The trouble is, the fever makes him "misjudge the angle of [his] swing" and, in order to save the two of them, Spidey is forced to maneuver around so that he and Corona end up landing in a full garbage dumpster sitting in an alley.
The garbage cushions their fall but does nothing for Corona's mood. She is furious that Spidey has chosen to rescue her. She seems just on the verge of attacking him again when she is blasted into unconsciousness by yet another weapon yielded by yet another member of Cedric's goon squad. In fact, there are about ten of them standing at the entrance to the alley. Spidey tells the men that he will not let Cedric take Corona back again and he prepares to fight for her. He gets out of the dumpster and realizes that the fever is so strong that he can barely stand up. His vision blurs, he can't seem to concentrate, but he still slowly walks towards the men with the intention of clobbering them.
Back at the lab, Harry Osborn declares the latest batch of antidote to be yet another dud. To make matters worse, there is only enough asticane left "for one more try". Harry decides that they are sunk but Cedric tells him to "try it one more time" before he gives in to failure.
And back in the alley, our sick little web-slinger is swinging away with his fists, muttering to himself about how he won't let anyone take Corona. Then he stops and looks around. All ten of the goons are knocked unconscious in a big heap on the ground; their big fancy guns sticking uselessly up out of the pile. I'm not sure why the squad didn't just blast Spidey like they blasted Corona and I'm not sure why they just didn't get out of the way as Spidey flailed around with his fists but it appears that they all leaned in with their chins and let themselves get knocked out.
After polishing off the guys, Spidey staggers to a pay phone and asks the operator to connect him to 555-4444 and to tell them it's urgent. As soon as someone answers the phone, the web-slinger mutters "Spider-Man" and passes out.
When Spidey comes to, Harry Osborn is standing over him. (Not sure how Harry found him in that alley, but never mind.) Harry explains that he and Cedric succeeded in creating the antidote in their final attempt. (Was there ever any doubt?) Cedric has gone off to the mayor's office to deliver the drug but Harry saved one dose for Spidey. He has just finished administering an injection and, boy, does that drug work fast! Spidey is cured of everything except a headache while Corona and the goon squad haven't even regained consciousness in the meantime. Back on his feet, Spidey remembers that he tried to put in a phone call and he wonders if he got through. Suddenly, the Fantasti-car appears with Mr. Fantastic driving and the Human Torch riding shotgun. They zoom down out of the sky and land. As Reed Richards stretches out his arm (literally!) to shake hands with Spider-Man, Johnny Storm explains that the web-slinger left the phone line open when he passed out and that the FF traced the call and found the pay phone's location. "What's so urgent?" he now asks the wall-crawler. (How about that? Just a few pages ago, Reed Richards was unavailable but now that he's needed for the plot, he's right here, following up on a call from a pay phone by actually flying to the scene even though it could have been nothing but a crank call just because the operator told them it was urgent and someone on the other end of the line muttered "Spider-Man".)
So, Spidey explains the whole thing. Reed Richards thinks that "chemical mutation on a cellular level" as in Corona's case, "should be reversible" though he admits that "I haven't had the best of luck in that area", referring to the Thing, I assume. Nevertheless, Reed agrees to try... only to be stopped by the arrival of Cedric and a handful of his goons (including a couple of guys named Franz and Edward). Cedric has a court order in hand, which he allows Reed to read. It remands the custody of his sister to him... her only living relative. Reed looks at the paper and tells Spider-Man that it is a genuine court order and that they "can't go against it". Spidey is not ready to give up without a fight. He knows that Cedric caused the whole SoHo Fever and should be locked up. But Cedric tells him that all charges against him have been dropped thanks to his "quick and decisive action in formulating our little antidote" Then he really rubs it in. "I'm a hero, Spider-Man" he says, "Would you like my autograph?" The web-slinger is so incensed that he can only sputter. Reed tells him to take it easy. Cedric is "within his rights".
So, Cedric orders Franz and Edward to pull up with the truck; a small vehicle somewhat resembling a rider lawn mower with a big transparent plastic box on the back. They load Corona into the box and drive her away. She has recovered consciousness by this time and screams for someone to please "Help me!!" (And her powers never did come back so I guess that power siphon did its work.) Spidey can't believe that he is just letting Cedric cart his sister away. Harry puts his hand on Spidey's shoulder and tells him he did his best. "Nobody could ask more of you than that" he says, while Reed and Johnny stand by like two bumps on a log.
Not long after, Mary Jane is released from the hospital. A nurse pushes her to the entrance in a wheelchair while Peter walks alongside. Out on the sidewalk, now walking side by side, MJ asks Peter if he's still upset about the court order. He is, because Pete can't stop thinking about Corona's fate. "I've got a wonderful wife and a home to go to" he says, "but what's she got? Her worst nightmare, that's what and I helped bring it about!" adding, "Face it, honey, I blew it!" MJ thinks he actually did a pretty good job under the circumstances. "And if you want a second opinion" she tells him, "why not ask Harry and Liz?"
And, yes, Harry and Liz are pretty happy now that Normie is cured and out of the hospital. Harry holds Normie up in his arms, then Liz gives Normie a big hug. But all is not well with the Osborn family. As Liz hugs Normie, Harry hears a voice calling his name. He looks around, as sweat breaks out on his brow, and no one is there. Still, Harry knows he heard the voice and, not only that, but he recognizes it. "It's impossible!" he tells himself, "It can't be him!"
So, what is happening to Harry, anyway? Why, he's just reverting back to the Green Goblin, that's all. The next issue features part one of J.M. DeMatteis' "The Child Within" storyline (which runs from Spectacular Spider-Man #178, July 1991 to Spectacular Spider-Man #184, January 1992) and that unseen voice that is whispering to Harry has gained a body... the ghostly form of Harry's dead father Norman, the original Green Goblin. (Well, he was dead at that time, anyway.) By Spectacular Spider-Man #180 (September 1991), Harry is back in the Goblin costume. By Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (May 1993), poor Harry is dead.
And what about Corona? Nobody bothers with her until Kurt brings her back in Spider-Man Unlimited #3 (November 1993), in which we learn that Spidey contacted the Avengers and the X-Men trying to help Corona without success, that Cedric managed to stabilize her condition so that she lost the shriveled Mephisto look and implanted a "bio-monitor [that could] stimulate the pain centers of her brain" in order to keep her under control, that the control device for the bio-monitor fell into the hands of a crook named Lenny "The Operator" Flynn, that Lenny used the device to make Corona his slave as well as forcing Cedric to hand over the Forrester Building, and that Corona's first name has stabilized as "Dagny". By the time this is all done, Cedric and "The Operator" are thwarted and Corona regains her freedom. A final caption asks, "Want to see more Corona? Write in and let us know!" Which I guess very few people did because Corona has not been seen again.
It's...oh, what the hell, it's lame. The characterizations of Cedric and Dagny are ham-fisted and heavy-handed. The cover of #176 promises "The Birth of a terrifying new villain!" but since Corona is never clearly a villain, she is never particularly terrifying. This kind of wishy-washy treatment of the character is the death of her. Is Corona a villain? What exactly are her powers? How does she feel about Spider-Man? Does she want revenge or does she want to end it all? It all results in a back and forth battle that lasts longer than most tennis volleys, featuring a sequence of Spidey following Corona and Corona following Spidey that reminds me of those hyper-accelerated chase scenes at the end of the old Benny Hill TV shows. Spidey isn't much better. He falls for Corona's line and, when he learns the truth, can't even bring himself to make a decision. Add to that, the deus ex machina of the silly power siphon, unnecessary appearances of Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch who do nothing but stand around and let Corona be taken away, and the last-minute invention of the antidote that works on Spidey faster than a Dr. McCoy concocted hypo in Star Trek (and, oh yeah, the cliché of Spidey fighting while out of it and wiping out a whole squadron of men) and you've got all the ingredients for a stinker. Sorry, Kurt! Better luck next time! (Oh, yeah, that's right. You did do much better next time, didn't you?)
This story started off disappointing and headed south from there. Let's call it a very poor one and a half webs for this second part, and then agree not to bring the story up in polite company.