After the events of the universe-destroying Secret Wars (the 2015 edition, and hey, if a name works once, use it again and again), the inhabitants of the regular and Ultimate Marvel Universes have turned up on Battleworld, a "massive, patchwork planet" made up of different continuities.
One such alternate world is one where Peter Parker and Mary Jane remained married, and are raising a child together.
Our story opens amidst a domestic slice of life in the Parker household, of Mary Jane feeding the kid in her highchair at the dinner table while Peter fixes his webshooters. Mary Jane chides Peter for not doing his share of the diaper-changing duty, and says they need to be covert in mentioning S-P-I-D-E-Y around young Annie Parker.
The scene shifts to the Daily Bugle, where Peter bursts in on JJJ and Robbie, proclaiming he has "action shots of Spider-man fighting everyone else's super villains!". Robbie informs Peter that the Mayor is clamping down on rumors of New York's superheros going missing to avoid a panic, while JJJ bellows that it's censorship.
Ben Urich informs Peter that Punisher, Moon Knight and Night Thrasher have all turned up dead, and others like Daredevil are missing.
Peter heads over next in costume to Avengers Mansion, where Captain America is holding a briefing saying that many of their friends and enemies, those with super powers, have disappeared. Iron Man gives Spidey the chance to go full time with the Avengers, and move Spidey's family in. He calls MJ to talk it over while Hawkeye videos in informing the team of a breakout at Ryker's Prison. As the phone call goes dead, Spider-man remembers suddenly that "he" is at Rykers, and if he's broken out, will come gunning for Peter's family.
He webslings home, leaving the Avengers, and crashes in the window of the family room in the apartment. He finds Venom there, holding Mary Jane and Annie captive.
Peter hits Venom (who's drawn here looking very Mac Gargan-Venomish) with everything he's got, telling MJ to grab the baby and go, that "that's all that matters". MJ runs out in the street with Annie, wondering what Brock's weaknesses are, and comes up with fire and sonics. She flags down a passing fire truck brigade. Venom jumps out the window after her with Peter behind him.
Meanwhile, the Avengers encounter the big bad of this Battleworld, the Regent, who defeats them all without much fuss. Seems the Regent sucks up the abilities of super-powered beings.
Venom catches up with MJ and Annie, and MJ hits him with the full blast of the fire truck siren. With Venom momentarily stunned, Spider-man kicks him around a bit. Their battle carries over into the burning building, and Venom tells Spider-man that he knows how to get to Peter now, through his daughter, and claims to never stop until he sucks out her brains. MJ calls out to Spider-man, that he and Brock are the only ones in the building. Spidey understands, and pulls out a support beam, which rains down burning rubble onto to the both of them. Spidey crawls out, but Venom is clearly killed.
Spider-man monologues that it was the day the Avengers and every last hero died, including Spider-man himself, a "dad in a stupid red-and-blue suit". The scene shifts to later, during the day. Peter is out walking with his daughter. The Vulture flies overhead, and steals a woman's purse, but Peter does nothing. As Peter and Annie cross "Regent" street together, the camera pulls back, showing the Regent on a billboard.
This is Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Mary Jane Watson-Parker, if they had stayed married and had the red-headed child glimpsed during the notorious One More Day story. It is of course from that reviled story arc that the continuity was altered to having Peter and Mary Jane never married. Readers have heard a lot out of the powers that be at Marvel for the last 8 years, of why Peter shouldn't be married, how it ages the character and limits the writers. How Spider-man is about "youth" (wasn't it supposed to be "responsibility?"). But fans wouldn't let it go, clamoring for the marriage to come back at many turns.
And so here we are, but instead of bringing back the marriage in the real Marvel continuity, fans will have to make do with yet another alternate universe-set tale. Such is comics. (As such, this is also being semi-touted as "the Last Spider-man Story").
But this story undoubtedly has impact; Peter's family home life is deftly established in a few pages, and then we quickly get to the conflict featuring two very dangerous villains. The art rises to the story, and is at turns detailed and panoramic. The voicing and characterization of Peter and MJ is handled well, and the setup is enticing. Will Peter truly decide to give up being Spider-man for his family now that he's the only hero left to face the Regent?
If I'm truly being critical, I'm not sure this take on Eddie Brock Venom works. Brock had his own twisted moral code, and was known to save innocents and children in the past. I'm not sure he'd go as far as threaten to eat the brains of even Peter's infant daughter. Also, I wonder how much more impact this story could've had having not come on the heels of the alternate multiverse-spanning Spider-Verse crossover that took up space in the Spider-books for six mind-numbing months.
I was going to give this issue three webs, but upon a re-read, it does what it sets out to do in an admirably streamlined way.
Peter as Spidey is proactive and heroic instead of the bumbling and ineffective way he's recently been portrayed. Mary Jane herself is courageous, helpful and quick thinking, and Venom is vicious. It's what we as fans seem to have been clamoring for, even if it's just for four alternate-world issues. Though this issue's title, "Why We Can't Have Nice Things", rings slightly ominous, and it seems like an inevitable sucker punch to fans is on its way, this is much more the type of Spider-man story I'd like to read nowadays.
Even though the issue ends with Peter having seemingly quit the heroics, for now lets break out the booze and drink a toast to Peter and MJ. Four webs out of five, for starters.