The last time Spider-Man appeared in What If...?, a no-name creative team presented a lackluster tale of unmaskings and the Black Cat. This time a well-established group tells a future story of May "Mayday" Parker, never stolen by Norman Osborn and inheritor of her father's spider-powers.
May "Mayday" Parker, the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane, is a student at Midtown High School. Unlike her father at her age, May is outgoing and popular. She is the star of the women's basketball team and she steals the ball and goes in for a game winning shot when her nascent spider-powers kick in. She feels a strange tingle in her skull and leaps like no one human to slam the ball home, shattering the backboard in the process. Peter, sitting in the stands and looking, with his streak of grey and goatee, like the Avengers' villain Graviton, suspects what has happened and fears for her future. He thinks back to when May was two years old and Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had their final, catastrophic battle. Norman Osborn was killed. Peter lost a leg and retired as Spidey. May Parker was never told of her father's past.
But now, as May walks home with her friends, she is confronted by a new Green Goblin who tells her to "Tell your father that the Green Goblin has returned and that we have unfinished business." The new Goblin is Harry's son Normie, all grown up and covered in tattoos that read, "Honor thy father", "Kill the Spider", and "Revenge". He tells May he wants to meet her father at "the bridge".
When Peter gets the news, he intends to end the Goblin's generational reign but not as Spider-Man. However, when he turns up out of costume, an enraged Normie (who refers to his enemy as "Uncle Pete") demands the appearance of the Web-Slinger. What he gets instead is a Spider-Woman... May Parker, who has lately learned her father's past and chosen Ben Reilly's old costume as her own. The stage is set for Spidey vs. Gobby... the Next Generation.
Top-notch work by everyone concerned. This is Tom DeFalco's best writing since the Green Goblin series and Bill Sienkiewicz' finishes give Ron Frenz' work a grittiness and moodiness seldom seen in his pencils. (Could we have more Ron Frenz with Spidey, please? Maybe a regular title?) The story has a lovely inevitability about it. After all, haven't we all felt that little Normie was destined to be a Goblin, even knowing that he'll never age enough in the Marvel Universe to achieve adulthood? The idea that the Goblin vs. Spider battles will span generations feels just right.
Some nice subtle touches in this story as well. I loved seeing the updated versions of the Fantastic Four (featuring Herbie the Robot as a member!) and the youthful Avengers. Having an ancient Jarvis still butteling was nicely done, as well. May's curiosity about her long-dead and mysterious "Uncle Ben" made the whole story feel real (in Spidey-terms, that is). And there were some tantalizing glimpses of a larger tapestry, only lightly touched upon. Liz Osborn's illness, for example, and Foggy Nelson's query about the long-missing Spider-Man. "Was he killed like Daredevil?"
With all of that, I was very tempted to give it five webs except that the whole thing feels like it takes place in the present day. I realize that Spidey has stayed roughly the same age for thirty years but just because the past becomes the present doesn't mean the future should become the present as well. I'm not asking for futuristic touches but is it too much to ask for the teenagers of the future to avoid Tom DeFalco's version of modern slang, such as "She's totally into Brad", "Like forever, girlfriend", "Girly girl" and May proclaiming "oh maa-an!". (Note to Tom D.: this expression was perfect when Phil Urich used it but now that you've had everyone from Mayday to Peter Parker himself (in ASM) saying it, it's starting to look like the only trick in the bag. Surely there's another expression that could be used?)
It's going to take a true modern masterpiece to get a full score out of me. Four and a half webs for this one. And if anyone knows what the title means, could you fill me in, please?