It's the end of the Year of the Woman and we're going out with a Shriek! Here's the conclusion of the four part "Shrieking" arc.
And now our scene changes to something completely different. It's a cemetery and we are looking at the tombstone of Gwendolyne Stacy. A shadow approaches the grave, and then the shadow becomes a young man in brown pants and a leather jacket. We can't see his face but he looks an awful lot like Peter Parker. The young man walks up to the tombstone, gets down on one knee, holds out a single rose and drops the rose in the grass by the grave. Then he disappears as if he never was there.
And over we go to Bea McBride's home in Astoria where The Spider confronts Shriek and Carrion. Shriek (her fists surrounded by two glowing globes of energy) tells Carrion that she thinks Spidey has become obsessed with her. "He keeps saying how much he hates me," she says, "but you know what I think? He loves me." (Yeah, I know the feeling but, for me, I think it's mostly about the way that corset fits on you, Shriek.) Spider-Man makes no reply but Shriek doesn't care. She tells the wall-crawler that he doesn't stand a chance of saving Beatrice McBride. Bea, who is the most heroic figure in this entire story (because she's the "mother love" part, don'tcha know?), tells Spidey she doesn't care about herself. She asks him to save her son.
Well, we all know by now what happens when you push that particular button on Shriek, don't we? She wigs out, screaming, "He's not your son, he's mine!" Bolts of power shoot out of her left eye and wallop Bea right in the head. Spidey immediately, silently, acts. He punches Shriek across the room, then shoots out some webbing to catch the hurtling Bea McBride and then wails away on Shriek again. He pops her with a right hand in her glowing eye, and then nails her with a left hook that seems to turn her upside-down. By the time he is done, Shriek is lying unconscious on the floor, a little wisp of her power rising up out of her eye. "Brutal justice" of this sort has never been the web- slinger's style but, remember kids, "Peter Parker is dead, now and forever" because now "he is The Spider".
But it's not over yet. Poor confused Carrion makes a leap at Spidey, accusing him of hurting his mother. However, his real mother calls out to "Malcolm" and asks him to stop. "Spider-Man is our friend!" she says, "He's trying to help us!"
Carrion hangs suspended in the air, not knowing what to think. On the one hand, this gray-haired middle-aged woman says she is his mother, "and when I look in your eyes, listen to your voice, it seems true". But on the other hand, this hot babe in the corset also says she is his mother "says that she loves me, that she'd die for me". Carrion doesn't know who to believe so he, of course, puts his hands over his face.
Spider-Man figures that he and Bea should leave while Carrion is distracted. He runs over to her and grabs her. Ordinarily, this would be a comfort to Bea but tonight she senses something different about the wall-crawler, "something cold and dark and angry". Instinctively, she pulls away from Spider-Man and Carrion notices. This is just the sort of thing that Carrion needs. He thinks, "I may not know who to love but I know who to hate!" He leaps on the web-slinger and punches him to the ground. He knows that "one touch from my hands can disrupt every cell in [Spidey's] body" but he's not interested in that. He wants the webster to suffer as he has suffered and feel pain as he has felt pain. So, he punches once, punches twice, and tries to punch a third time. But his fist is stopped in mid-punch by the hand of The Spider who laughs in an "ugly humorless" way as he grabs Carrion's arm, flips him over his head, and smashes him into the wall. (With yet more smashed wallboard.) Bea holds her hands out in horror as her son is clobbered by Spider-Man. Shriek, however, regains consciousness and is pleased by what she sees and hears. Spidey tells Carrion, "I turn New York upside down till I find you, risk my life against that lunatic Shriek and this is what I get in return? Why do I bother? Why should I care if that virus eats away at you till you die? Tell me that, Malcolm, why should I care?" Ah, just the transformation that Shriek was looking for. She looks like she has fallen in love.
Meanwhile, Mary Jane shows up at the hospital to tell the comatose Aunt May that she is going away. Everything that has happened recently, with Peter hiding behind the mask, with the phony Richard and Mary, has made MJ realize that she hid behind her own mask long enough. Now, she intends to go home to see her sister and dad. "I've been running from him almost as long as he's been running from me" she says. She gives May a kiss on the temple as tears stream down her cheeks. She tells May that Aunt Anna is coming up from Florida while she is gone. She promises that she won't be gone long. Then she tells May that she loves her with all her heart and she leaves.
Back at Bea's house, Spider-Man is just pounding away on Carrion, one relentless spider-powered fist after another. As Bea watches (with tears streaming down her cheeks), it's a good time to learn a bit about her past. Her husband died when Malcolm was four years old and she had to work two jobs and go back to school to support her and her son. We learn that she is religious and has kept herself going over the years with faith and prayer. Now, in the midst of this "violence and madness" she can sense that Spider- Man's spirit is as diseased as her son's is. This realization breaks her heart for both Malcolm and Spider-Man. One last time, she begs Spidey to stop. "Don't do this," she says, "to Malcolm or to yourself." It's nearly too late. Carrion is unconscious, with blood running out of his nose and mouth. Spidey stands over him, lifting his torso up off the floor by grabbing onto that ridiculous brown outfit. The wall-crawler looks at Bea, looks at what he's done to Carrion and puts the back of his hand across his face. He comes to his senses and apologizes to Mrs. McBride for what he has just done.
But it still isn't done yet! Shriek has been watching the whole thing. As long as the web-slinger kept punching she was fine with it. But this apology shows her that "the big bad tough guy" was the "pathetic weakling all along". Even as Spidey is still apologizing, she attacks. His spider-sense warns him but too late. Shriek fires a blast out of her left hand, knocking Spider-Man through some wallboard and into unconsciousness.
Shriek turns to Carrion who has already gotten to his feet. She tells him that they don't need anyone but each other. Then she tells him it is time for him to decide whose child he is, "hers or mine". So, Carrion stands between the two women. Bea stretches a hand out as she cries. Shriek looks forlorn as the power leaks out of her eye. Carrion looks back and forth between then, stricken with indecision. Then he looks at his deadly hands and, yup, presses them over his face! This time, however, it is more than simple angst. He has turned the Carrion power on himself and is committing suicide. Bea runs to him, intending to pull his hands away from his face but Shriek stops her. "Woman, are you as crazy as I am?" she tells Bea as she grabs her with the wispy glow from her eye, "If you so much as touch those hands, you'll die!" Bea hangs suspended in the air surrounded by Shriek's power but she doesn't back down. "Do you think my life matters?" she says. "Do you think I wouldn't sacrifice myself a thousand times over to save my child?"
At last, Shriek understands and now a tear runs down her cheek! (From her right eye, of course. The left one is still glowing.) It has never been an act for Bea. "You really love him" Shriek realizes. "How can I hate you when you love him so much?" And how can she let Carrion destroy himself when she loves him too?
And so, Shriek remembers a time when she was a "beaten down, terrified, abused" little girl and she would hide "in the old church across the street from her house... finding cool comfort for a few hours" and with this in mind (and with a close up of the crucifix from Bea's wall now lying on the floor next to where Shriek regained consciousness) she places her hands over Carrion's face and starts to draw his power out. Bea watches with, yes, tears streaming down her cheeks. Spider-Man starts to pull himself out of the, yes, smashed wallboard. And J.M. DeMatteis asks us, "Can anyone say who that little girl would have become had that comfort continued, had that hope been nurtured?" Maybe she would have become someone like Beatrice McBride who is "able to care so deeply, so selflessly that she would unhesitatingly sacrifice herself." For this one moment, that is just what Shriek becomes as her glowing powers seem to shoot out of Carrion and fill up the whole room. When she is done, Shriek collapses into unconsciousness and Bea sees that her son Malcolm is back. Shriek has used her powers to take the Carrion virus away.
Bea runs to Malcolm and hugs him while Spider-Man goes over to see to Shriek. He realizes that she has pulled the Carrion virus into herself and that she is dying from it. The Spider tells him to let her die but The Spider is no longer in charge. Spider-Man picks Shriek up and tells Bea that he is taking her to the hospital. Bea tells Spidey that she will take Malcolm back to Ravencroft. So, Spidey webslings through the night with a big full moon behind him. He has Shriek slung over one shoulder and he knows now that "Peter Parker may be buried alive but he's not dead yet."
Over at Midtown High School, a man stands in the shadows of the night looking at the building. He is wearing a Midtown High School ring and appears to be the same fellow we saw at Gwen Stacy's grave at the beginning of the issue. A night watchman approaches him to see what is up. The man tells him that he used to go to the school and that he is just back in town after being away for a number of years. The watchman tells him to take his look at the old place and is startled to see that the young man has apparently disappeared in the moment that he turned away, before he even finishes his sentence.
At the hospital, Spider-Man drops Shriek off. She is conscious now but looking weak and desiccated. He is surprised to discover that he feels compassion for her. Even though he doesn't want to feel or care, he finds that he can't stop himself. "Maybe Uncle Ben and Aunt May did their job too well", he thinks and this makes him realize what his next stop should be.
At the same hospital, Spider-Man peeks into the window of the room housing the comatose May Parker. He opens the window, steps inside, and removes the mask. The Spider goes with it, revealing the man, filled with love for his Aunt and so very afraid he is going to lose her.
Now, he knows it is time to stop running and go home. But instead of finding Mary Jane there, he finds a note on the bed. The note tells him that MJ is going away but it doesn't say where. It says she will call soon but it doesn't say when. And just like that The Spider takes over again. He sits crouching on top of a church gargoyle and gazes down at the city. Thoughts of Malcolm and Bea and Shriek and May and MJ go through his mind but he smothers them. They are buried with Peter Parker. "Now and forever, he vows, I am The Spider."
Shriek does not die. In fact, she is back at Ravencroft in perfect health and as nutty as ever the very next month in Web of Spider-Man #117, October 1994. When she appears again (in Spectacular Spider-Man #223, April 1995), she is so wacky that she believes that the Carrion virus she is carrying inside her is equivalent to an unborn child. She sketches childish drawings all over her padded cell with crayons while she awaits the day "the disease manifests itself". Unfortunately, the Jackal (who is the creator of the virus) has returned from the dead. He has a use for the virus so he invades Shriek's cell and strips the disease from her. Shriek reacts as if forced to endure an unwanted abortion which must be her most traumatic experience yet but she looks pretty much back to normal the next time she appears; as a jury member (in ASM #403, July 1995) in the trial of Spider-Man at Ravencroft that is staged by the mystery man known as Traveller. She hasn't appeared since and we can assume she is safely back in her cell.
Malcolm McBride is still at Ravencroft at the time of ASM #403 as well and he is temporarily turned back into Carrion by the power of Judas Traveller. But I'm pretty sure he reverts back by the time the trial of Spider- Man is over. I'm surprised he's at Ravencroft at this point anyway, since I thought that Shriek cured him of the Carrion virus. Maybe, Bea, his loving mom, likes him better when he's safely locked away.
Mary Jane finally makes it to her childhood home in Pittsburgh in ASM #395, November 1994 but she doesn't stay long (seeing as it was just a plot device to make sure Peter stays The Spider anyway). She walks back into the Parkers' apartment in New York in ASM #397, January 1995. Peter, of course, is not there.
Aunt May reveals to Peter that she has known for some time that he is Spider- Man before she dies in ASM #400, April 1995 only to come back to life in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #97, November 1998. See, she never died at all. It was all a Green Goblin plot involving an actress and genetic reconstruction or some damn thing and it all... oh God! Never mind!
The stranger with the Midtown High School rings reveals himself in Web of Spider-Man #117, October 1994 as the Jackal-created Spider-Man clone first introduced and thought killed in ASM #149, October 1975. Turns out he survived, took the name Ben Reilly (in honor of Uncle Ben and Aunt May Reilly Parker) and went off to find himself. Now back, Ben finds himself to be the real Peter Parker and takes on the Spider-Man identity, only to be soundly defeated by a bunch of angry fans and forced to turn to goo at the hands of the Green Goblin in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75, December 1996 proving that he was the clone after all.
Dr. Kafka gets better but eventually gets fired from being in charge of Ravencroft in Spectacular Spider-Man #246, May 1997. John Jameson gets canned with her. Doc Samson takes over the running of the place in a much less touchy-feely manner.
Peter stays The Spider as long as he does to try to get us to switch our allegiances to Ben Reilly but it's generally a bad idea and it's best if we just forget about it.
The guy who owned the house upstate is still lying dead on his lawn.
Well. What can I say? I expected to give this series four webs at the very least but this re-read has lowered my opinion considerably. I'm tempted to blame J.M. DeMatteis for this (for the record, Mark Bagley's artwork is consistently gorgeous). All the angst and psychobabble and tears and hands over faces certainly have J.M.'s fingerprints all over it. But I suspect that the real fault here has to lie with editorial interference. I suspect it was an editorial decision to stretch a one or two-issue tale into four issues and I feel certain that The Spider stuff, Aunt May stroke thing, Mary Jane running away deal, and Ben Reilly appearance business were edicts to J.M. from the editors. In spite of all of this, I was hoping for a big finish but there isn't one. The villains essentially end up defeating themselves while Spider- Man mopes around. For a moment, it looks like Shriek's self-sacrifice (another plot device conveniently forgotten a few issues later) will actually have a positive effect on Peter but by the end of the story, he is back to being The Spider, right back where he started. The series should have been re-titled The Amazing Beatrice McBride for the duration of this storyline.
I was hoping to give this last issue a rating of three webs but I can't bring myself to do it. For Ben Reilly's sake, I'll boost it up to two-and-a-half. And don't give me any grief about that Ben Reilly comment. I like Ben Reilly, I've always liked Ben Reilly and I'm still waiting for him to come back!