Peter has had recent showdowns with the Jury and Hulk, and he's pretty much in one piece - which is a good thing, especially for the Hulk part. He's now very attached to his returned parents, and has only reasons to smile. MJ gave up smoking after seeing Nick Katzenberg in the hospital, suffering from lung cancer. Of course, as we know, whenever all goes well in Spidey's life, a storyarc comes to shake the whole foundations. Enter "Lifetheft".
|Pencils:||Larry Alexander, Mark Bagley, Ron Lim|
|Inker:||Larry Alexander, Randy Emberlin, Tom Palmer|
|Cover Art:||Mark Bagley|
In an isolated property West of New Jersey, the Vulture is arguing with Doctor Sanchez (presumably the fake one) because of her promise to make the effects of the rejuvenator permanent. The Doc tells him to calm down, revealing "her" true form, the Chameleon! (Just for the record, Toomes already knew who he was working with - and with a bit of deduction, so did we).
At home, Peter settles with MJ, explaining her why he took off, and that he told his parents he is Spider-Man. She says she would have understood, and recalls their marital vows. He acknowledges she's right, and says he's off to see Aunt May, because of the possibility of she having Alzheimer, to take her to make some exams. MJ realises her poor timing to stop smoking.
Back at New Jersey, it's time for some insight on the villains plan. The Chameleon explains Toomes he's been working with vital force for some time, that's why he disguised himself as a janitor to watch Dr. Sanchez's studies, because they could add something to his own. When he saw the Vulture use the rejuvenator, he thought Toomes would be a good ally. Toomes asks what's in it for him, and the Chameleon answers youth and health. Toomes says he had it for only three hours, and he doesn't want that. The Chameleon responds that the rejuvenator might work better when used on artificial life.
At May's, she isn't keen on the idea of going to a Doctor, despite Peter's assurings that it's only for a few tests. She asks if he thinks she's insane. Pete feels guilty by looking at her sad face. At that moment, his parents arrive, saying they were just going to call him, and that they have a surprise. Peter is stunned as his Spider-Sense is tingling thanks to his parents. They ask what's wrong, and he says nothing's wrong, he just has to show something to Aunt May. He leaves with her, and tells her she might be right about his parents, and she'd better stay with MJ for a while.
As they leave, Richard tells Mary that this is troubling: their primary directive was activated as soon as they knew Spider-Man's identity, and it stated that they should take him to their master without raising suspicions within a day, or to take the information to their master. Mary answers that Peter Parker seems such a positive human, and wonders if they're making the right thing, but Richard dismisses her concerns, stating they're only projected to simulate emotions, so it doesn't matter right or wrong. Now, we the readers realize they're just robots...
At night, in New Jersey, Spider-Man approaches Chameleon's hideout, (his contacts in the Bugle traced last issue's truck licence plate). He sneaks in through the air conducts, having trouble getting his parents out of his mind. He reaches an inner vent and confirms his suspicions (well, he saw 2 Dr. Sanchez), as he sees the Chameleon talking to the Vulture. The intercom announces that his agents have arrived. He becomes extremely glad, and Peter wonders who they'll be... No others than Richard and Mary Parker, made from the same technology that shapeshifts Chameleon's skin, they're full of artificial life. Peter can't believe his parents aren't even human as he hears the Chameleon explain to Toomes the details. They were programmed to behave as Richard and Mary Parker to find out Spider-Man's identity. He knows there is a connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man because of Parker's photos. Any memory lapse would be justifiable by the 20 years as russian prisoners. They were to gain Parker's trust and to help him to unmask and kill Spider-Man. Aside from his personal vendetta, he also wanted to avenge Kraven, his old friend who he put on Spider-Man's trail only to result in his death. This is heavy material, in my humble opinion. There have been few villains who have attacked the Parker-Spider link, and those have been the most dangerous ones.
Back to the story. The Chameleon orders the robots to speak, to which Mary is reluctant, but Richard isn't. Spider-Man interrupts the revelation, to general surprise. Richard tries to tell Spidey's identity, but Mary grabs him. Chameleon calls the security, and Spider-Man thwarts the security in one panel. Toomes asks what went wrong, and a fascinated Chameleon says that artificial life is still experimental, thus unpredictable, and he didn't imagine it'd develop conscience. He grabs a controller, orders Richard to dispose of the defective unit, and transforms him into a purple "Ultron meets Roswell's Greys" body, with the right half of Richard's face. The robot's speech is blocked due to the transformation. Peter doesn't like the idea of fighting his father, so he takes the defensive, as Richard uses his transmorphic abilities to turn his arms into some sort of ramrods, and starts hammering on Spidey's tracks, as he leaps out of danger several times. The Vulture claims he's gonna kill Spidey, but Mary whacks him in the head with a pipe, and he whacks Mary against some control panels. Spidey punches him away and he flies against the Chameleon and against a wall. Toomes tells the Chameleon to transform Mary, but he says it's too risky, she's out of control. Peter goes to see if she's alright, and Richard dives towards them. Pete turns around and punches him hard, warning that if he wants to harm her, he'll have to deal with Pete first. Meanwhile, the Chameleon accesses the situation, and sees his men fleeing, Toomes out of combat and the controller destroyed (due to the collision with Vulture), and decides to retreat, vowing revenge.
Spidey is finally bringing himself to beat up Richard. When Richard is down, he manages to speak, asking for help and saying he doesn't want to harm anyone. Peter disregards his Spider-Sense, and is punched by his "father", who gains the upper hand and moves in for the final blow, but Mary uses a broken elecrical cable to take him out. Shocked, she says she saw the cable, and it was the only way to stop him. Peter crawls to Richard's body, thinking that in spite of being a fake, for an instant he was the father he always missed. He's interrupted by a scream, and he sees the Vulture draining his "mother"'s life through the rejuvenator's gloves, and rejoicing for being young for ever. A desperate Spider-Man jumps to punch Vulture, and beats him up savagely, to be stopped by an old Mary's calling. He begs her not to die again, and she tells him that they didn't knew, and that she loves him. Then she dies. And Peter's scream echoes through the night.
Hours later, Peter made an anonymous phone call to the police, and watches the police taking Toomes into custody. He's still young, but he's completely apathetic. He thinks Toomes deserved it, but the only thing he feels is emptiness.
Next morning, Peter and Mary Jane peek into a room where May is sleeping, and swears he'll never mistrust his Aunt again, as her intuition was much more reliable than his Spider-Sense, which only worked when they're programming was activated. MJ says it's over now. Peter says not yet. Someone caused him a great deal of pain, returning him his parents to learn to love, only to take them away again. He swears revenge against the Chameleon and whoever was behind him, and he's going to show them real pain.
Ok. Personally, this is one of my favourite Spider-Stories. I know that I may be one of the few people who like it (I think there's two of us), but I don't really care.
Just one catch: there was, in fact, someone behind the Chameleon. It was Harry Osborn, the recently dead Green Goblin, who gave him the suggestion to create the fake parents (in Amazing 369 he has a strange reaction to the news of their return). But the Chameleon said nothing about it in this issues. Only in the next issue, 389, will he make a reference towards someone guiding him to Peter Parker. But in the end of 388, Peter talks about someone who was behind the Chameleon, without having any indication of that possibility.
Sometimes I think what I like the best about Spidey, and I realise that it is the moments where everything goes wrong. Don't get me wrong, it's not a sadistic pleasure of seing him suffer, but the very human way he deals with his problems captivates me more than any story where his life is going great, and he thwarts another bad guy effortlessly. I like this story arc very much. It shows us another side of Peter, but here we had just a glimpse of it, while in the next stories an enraged Spider-Man will make his appearence. It's dark, gloomy, and I love it. 4 webs for this issue, and for the overall story arc.