It's the end of the Year of the Woman and we're going out with a Shriek! Here's part two of the four part "Shrieking" arc.
Oh my. Here we go again with the people sitting up late at night staring out of windows. In Manhattan, Mary Jane Watson-Parker sits on a table by the window and thinks about how fragile our lives are. Without Peter there to balance her, MJ feels like she is about to fall down into the same depths that are consuming him. In Queens, May Parker thinks about her late husband Ben, about how Ben made her believe in miracles. She has held on to Ben's legacy as hard as she could but tonight, for some reason, "miracles seem out of reach".
Over at Ravencroft Institute, miracles also seem far away. Colonel John Jameson, who is head of security at Ravencroft, sits at his desk... guess what?... holding a hand over his face. He hears a "snakt" and immediately draws his gun as he stands. "If there's someone there, you bloody well better show yourself right now" he calls out but all he gets for his trouble is a tap on his shoulder. The tapper is Spider-Man who is perched on Jameson's office wall (and he's darn lucky that John didn't snap off a few rounds at him after a stunt like that). When Jameson sees Spidey, he goes into a rage. He shakes his fist and bellows, "Who do you think you are breaching security like this?" But Spidey hasn't breached security. He has entered through the front door, using the security clearance card that the Colonel himself issued to him. John apologizes for "using [Spidey] for a doormat", sits down, and puts that hand over his face again. He confesses to Spider-Man that there has been a breakout of Ravencroft this evening. Six of his security forces are in the hospital wing as a result. (A clear contradiction from last issue in which we saw Shriek grab Malcolm MacBride... who is now called "McBride" again... and smash through a brick wall to freedom without any security staff in sight.) And as for Ashley Kafka... John cannot even bear to tell the web-slinger. "Maybe I'd better take you to her" he says.
Soon after, the two men stand over Dr. Kafka's hospital bed. Ashley is still unconscious with the neck brace and the bandages on her head but the IV is gone and so are the oxygen tubes. Jameson tells Spidey that Shriek did this when she escaped and took Malcolm but he blames it all on Reynard, agent for Warrant, and the official who forced Dr. Kafka to open up Ravencroft prematurely. (Though I think the real blame lies with Ashley for having a big window in Shriek's padded cell and for opening it up with Malcolm McBride standing next to her.) John whines about the lack of security equipment and staff, and then starts to get into a guilt trip where he blames himself for the whole thing. But Spider-Man isn't listening. In fact, Spider-Man has beaten it right out of the window. The web-slinger doesn't have "time to listen to excuses or self-recriminations". It no longer matters that he came to Ravencroft this evening to be helped by Dr. Kafka himself. Now he must push all his humanity aside while he tries to track down Shriek. He must forget about MJ and Aunt May and his humanity. He must "bury the man" and "be The Spider".
On the street below, Beatrice MacBride (now also back to "McBride") drives her blue compact looking for her son. She doesn't have super-powers like Spider- Man but she does have one thing in common with him. "She won't rest, she can't rest, until her child is back in Ravencroft. Till he's safe and out of the devil's clutches."
Malcolm feels very much like he's in those devil clutches. He kneels on the ground somewhere Upstate next to a leafless tree and cowers as Shriek hovers in the air above him. With her left eye glowing, Shriek assures Malcolm that she is not going to do anything to harm him. Rather it was "that witch Kafka" who hurt him by pushing the Carrion persona aside. Shriek promises to have Malcolm "back to normal soon". She looks to her left and sees a house nestled into this rural area. This looks to her like the perfect place to relax and enjoy the company of her family.
With Shriek's attention diverted, Malcolm tries to make a run for it but he doesn't get very far. Using super-strength that I don't think she's supposed to have, Shriek slaps Malcolm so hard that he tumbles head over heels and then lifts him up in the air by his neck. As far as she is concerned, she is disciplining her misbehaving child. "Don't ever give me reason to hurt you again" she says as she grabs him by the collar and floats over to the house, "Mother simply couldn't bear it".
Inside the house, a middle-aged man hears a sound and sits up in bed. He comes to the top of the stairs wondering who is there. He supposes it is Sheila who, he assumes, is staggering "in here drunk again" to beg him to take her back again. Unfortunately, he's wrong. It is Shriek, flying up to meet him with that eye glowing. Malcolm stands by the door and tells the man to run because "She's crazy!" but the homeowner never has a chance. He goes crashing through the glass of an upstairs window and lands on his lawn, unmoving, presumably dead.
Shriek turns on Malcolm and demands to know why he told the man that she was crazy. Malcolm tells her he said it because it is true. "Of course it's true!" replies Shriek "but that's our little secret". She reminds him that all families have "dirty secrets" that are "no one's business but [their] own". Shriek cradles Malcolm in her arms and tells him that he is all she has left in the world. A tear streams down her face as she tells Malcolm that "without the love of our family we're empty, we're nothing". And though Shriek is pretty easy on the eyes, to be honest with you, Malcolm recoils like he's having a nightmare from which he cannot wake up.
At eight o'clock the next morning, Mary Jane is already at Aunt May's house in Forest Hills. May offers breakfast to MJ (she's got a bag of Barny's Bagels clutched in each hand) but MJ tells her she came over to talk. May plays dumb. "Is there a problem?" she innocently asks. When Mary Jane barks, "Of course there's a problem!" at her, May goes off on the Richard and Mary thing again. "Those horrible imposters have upset you both" she says, "We're all better off now that they're gone." Then she goes back to holding out the bagels and offering to get the cream cheese. MJ can't stand May's deliberate denial and she cracks; knocking both bags of bagels out of Aunt May's hands with one sweep of her left hand (she holds a cup of coffee in her right hand and never spills a drop). MJ goes on a rant about how Peter is tuning her out, how he won't talk about his "parents" and how Aunt May is now doing the same thing. With both hands clenched into fists (she must have put that coffee cup down in the meantime), she tells May that, "it's like you're not even human! Like you have no feelings!" "I feel", May replies as she turns her head and then goes to look out the window. "I felt it when Richard and Mary were taken from us all those years ago" she says as she grabs the drapes with both hands. Then she goes through the list of people she has lost: her husband Ben, Gwen Stacy, Nathan Lubensky. Angrily, she turns and faces MJ; telling her "I've lived through my share of tragedies, young lady. More than you could ever bear. And the only way I've been able to live through them is by not dwelling on them, by pushing the pain aside and moving on." She sticks her finger in MJ's face as she continues, "So don't tell me what I should be feeling and don't tell me to face reality. I know full well what reality is! I know!" (And this seems to me to be a moment when J.M. foreshadows the revelation in ASM #400, April 1995 that Aunt May knows that Peter is Spider-Man. All wiped out by the "genetic construct" retcon, of course. Which reminds me... this is the genetic construct right now! So, who cares about all of this anguish? It's all retconned into phoniness anyway.) Now that May has said her peace, she looks down at the two bags of bagels on the floor, gets down on one knee and picks them up. MJ doesn't know what to say. May goes back to her denial... "Why don't you pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee, dear? I'll scramble us both some eggs." And Mary Jane decides to let her do it.
At the Upstate house, Malcolm McBride tells Shriek that he needs to get back to Ravencroft for his daily supply of drugs. Without them, he will change back into Carrion. He tells her he'd rather die than do that. Shriek tells him that "Carrion is the truth of your soul." "That's who you are," she says. Malcolm is starting to look more cadaverous by the second but he stills fights against the transformation. He tells Shriek that he was "brought up in a family that believed in love and faith and simple human decency". But when he mentions his mother and father, Shriek uses her powers to blast him across the room. "I'm your mother, you miserable ingrate" she screams and then goes on this toot about how she "almost died bringing you into the world" and how she put food on the table and all that kind of stuff. Then she stops, a look of horror on her face, as she realizes that she has hurt her "son". Using her mental powers (which are news to me) she levitates Malcolm over to her. He hangs suspended in front of her, about a foot off the ground (Shriek is levitating about a foot off the ground herself) as Shriek touches his cheek and kisses him on the forehead, swearing that she loves him "more than life itself". Hopelessly, Malcolm looks up at her and begs, "If you really love me... let me go."
Shriek scoffs at the notion but before she can do anything else, a webline attaches to her back and she finds herself sailing across the room and smashing into the wall with enough force to knock a big chunk of the wallboard off. She turns and looks at her assailant and sees that it is the man who "took Carnage away" and "murdered my sweet Doppelganger". But it isn't quite that man. It may look like Spider-Man but it's actually The Spider and he is not in the mood. (And I'm not sure how he got here. Isn't this house supposed to be Upstate?)
"No clever quips. No witty banter. No jokes." The Spider rushes in and punches Shriek with enough force to send her flying backward. He follows up with another crunching left, then a "swift and strong" right, then another powerful right, until Shriek reverts to her horrible abused childhood and screams at her mother, "don't hit me any more!" Or so it seems. It looks convincing enough. Her eyes are wide with terror. She holds an open hand up to defend herself, and then cowers against the wall with a tear streaming down her face. But when The Spider hesitates, when he allows Peter Parker's compassion to well up, he is played for a sucker and blasted by Shriek's full powers. "Idiot" she crows as her blast sends the web-slinger into unconsciousness. She stands over him and explains that she has developed her powers so that she can create a "sonic buffer zone" to fend off Spidey's punches. What she likes best, however, is finding the darkness in her opponent, echoing it and amplifying it. "In the end" she says with a laugh, "You're just like me!"
Back in Forest Hills, Mary Jane leaves Aunt May's house and heads to the subway. May closes the door and leans up against it. She is alone again and she realizes that "there was an emptiness, a void that only Ben knew how to fill. Ben and one other person. Peter." She goes over to her telephone table that has a photo of Peter on it from back when he still wore his glasses. She feels like calling him but she knows "how upset he is" and she decides not to burden him with her troubles. Then, a jolt goes through her body. Numbness. Tingling. "Sudden blurring of her vision." Dizziness. It is not the first time May has had such an attack. As before, she doesn't call anyone. She fights it on her own. "I have to be strong!" she thinks, "Peter needs me!" Unsteadily, she makes her way into the kitchen.
Upstate, Shriek leans over the unconscious web-slinger. She can sense the darkness that is consuming him and she starts to think, "if I give you a little push, you just might be the father my boy needs". She is about to reach into Spidey's mind and increase his darkness when another idea occurs to her. Instead of reaching into Spider-Man's mind, she reaches into Malcolm's mind. She grabs him by the head and shoots mental blasts into him to draw Carrion out of the darkness in which he lives. The effort blasts Shriek away from Malcolm and into unconsciousness but it works. Malcolm has gone all bald and yellow. Carrion is back.
He stands over his unconscious "mother" and rips the shirt off his body. (He's got killer abs for a corpse, too!) As far as Carrion is concerned, the disease is Malcolm McBride and he is free of it. "I could feel your pain as you gave birth to me," he tells Shriek... letting the birth symbolism get just a little too heavy here... "I know the agonies you experienced in the name of love."
Spider-Man is just coming to. He sits up and, yes, puts a hand over his face, trying to shake out the cobwebs. But it may be too late. Carrion decides to repay Shriek by getting rid of Spider-Man. "One touch" with his lethal hand "and our family is free of Spider-Man forever." Spidey cries out, "Malcolm, no!" but he doesn't know that "Malcolm is dead". Now, with his hand over Spider-Man's face, Carrion declares, "And so are you!"
In Queens, Mary Jane never makes it to the subway. She has decided that she doesn't want to leave Aunt May this way, with their relationship so strained so she returns to the house to propose a "girls' day out". She enters the house, all the while telling May that they should "do some shopping, take in a movie, have dinner together" but there is no answer. MJ is thinking about May's burning fuse (Aha! The title!), caused by all her repressed pain. MJ is thinking that she can help to put the fuse out by helping May to open up and let the pain out. But it is too late. The pain has won. And Mary Jane finds this out when she opens the swinging door into the kitchen and finds a crumbled Aunt May on the floor, lying right next to a bag of bagels. It looks worse than an attack. With her hands closed into claws and her eyes open but unseeing, May is looking quite a bit like she's dead.
A step up from the last issue, though there's still too much agonizing and face covering to suit me. The battle between Shriek and Spider-May is short and rather unsatisfying but you have to love the way Shriek prays on the last shred of decency in the web-spinner to knock him out of the fight. Carrion finally makes an appearance and, by the end of the issue, it looks like both Spider-Man and Aunt May are dead. (Neither one of them is and Aunt May is a genetic construct anyway but, hey, we didn't know that then!) But, still, for all the big surprises, not much really happens.
We're halfway through and Shrieking Part Two gets three webs.