Peter Parker lives a life that other people can only dream about. He's a billionaire who's married to Gwen Stacy and has a seemingly ideal life. One he knows subconsciously is all a lie.
The truth that's unknown even to him is that he was part of a combined group of heroes that went to confront the insane Scarlet Witch in Genosha some time after she brought down the original Avengers. She has altered history and allowed mutants to become the dominant species on the planet. To keep the heroes occupied she has granted each of them their ideal life to keep them from discovering the truth.
For unknown reasons he has intentionally sabotaged his life. As the Green Goblin he gave his personal journal to Jonah Jameson, his verbally abused publicist. Jonah wasted no time revealing a hidden secret: he is not the mutant he claimed to be. The backlash has cost him everything he's worked for: his fortune, his reputation, and is causing a strain on his family.
In an effort to help Peter, the Parker family stole the journal back from Jonah hoping to find an explanation for his actions.
When George finishes the passage about himself, he states that this is the "sickest thing [he's] ever read". Gwen is hurt that Peter married Mary Jane Watson after she died. Ben tries to morbidly one-up everyone by reminding them that he died right off the bat. Aunt May gets a bit smug when she points out that she's still alive. Ben points out that she may be alive, but she's always having heart attacks.
They continue to discuss what would prompt Peter to write these terrible things. Gwen points out that it's not some twisted wish-fulfillment, but about how these "fantasy" scenarios really affected him. She then asks the critical question "What does it mean when a person's fantasy life is tragic?"
In another part of town, some humans gather at a homeless shelter after they have been relocated by the dominant mutant class. None of them can believe the lengths that they are going to in order to get back at Peter Parker for making them look bad; they blame Parker for their misfortunes. They are barely there a full minute before the mutant police force enter and evict them. When one of them starts to get rough, Spider-Man bursts into the room and renders him unconscious. He warns the others to not start anything. Just let these people leave in peace. They collect their partner and reluctantly leave. The crowd quickly turns on Spider-Man, tearing at his costume, trying to kill him thinking that delivering his corpse to the mutants would allow them to resume their lives.
Hours later after he escapes the mob, Peter calls May and Ben. He tells them that when he had it all, he felt guilty every day for some reason. He explains that he began writing in his journal about the guilt he felt. When that didn't work, he created the "stories" to justify his guilt. When that didn't work, he thinks that perhaps he subconsciously sabotaged his life to acknowledge some truth that he's not sure IS the truth. Ben pleads with him to come home, but Peter refused. Ben asks where he can meet him.
Later on, Ben meets him on an unspecified bridge (but we can guess which one). As they watch the riots below, Peter blames himself for the chaos. Ben reminds him that this has been going on for a long time; they were just isolated from it.
Peter protests, claiming that his irresponsibility cost them everything. Ben admits that while he told Peter that thousands of times, he is ashamed that he never told that to anyone else. He has realized that while he was reinforcing that mantra in Peter, he should have been teaching it to everyone else in the family. Their actions were immaterial so long as Peter shouldered the burden. He tells Peter that they just want him back with them, whatever else may come.
With Ben's pep talk concluded, Peter tells him that as long as he's around, the mutant-human riots will continue. Ben suggests that he be a hero one last time. With that Peter gives him his camera and crawls up to a higher platform. Ben takes a picture of Spider-Man's last heroic act.
The next day the Daily Bugle runs a front page story about Spider-Man's suicide. Ben's picture shows "Spider-Man" hanging from a noose made of his webbing. The public reaction is mixed.
Some think he was a pampered celebrity that cracked under pressure. Crusher Hogan knows that there's more to this that meets the eye. Rhino is furious. A grief-stricken J. Jonah Jameson invites Norman Osborn to a bar to drink with him. In Genosha, Magneto receives a copy of the Daily Bugle webbed in an arch of his palace with a note: If you want me to stay dead, ease up on the humans.
In an unidentified, but secluded part of the country, the Parker family makes camp near a pristine lake. May is cooking while Gwen reads a book. May asks her daughter-in-law where the boys are. She responds that Ben and George have just returned from their hike. Peter is teaching Richie how to fish. She admits that she's never seen Peter this relaxed before. She thinks that despite the rumors of Spider-Man "sightings", Peter is no longer concerned with how his webbed alter-ego affects the rest of the world.
On the edge of the pier, Peter (with a full head of hair) shows his son a new use for his web-shooters. He teaches him that with great power comes.. great fish!
The cover to this issue is very powerful. The contrast between issue #1's cover and this issue captures the riches to rags theme of the story perfectly. You almost want to reach through the cover and drop $5 in the box.
The meta-criticism in the story is both humorous and a bit odd. Having each of the characters comment on their lives and - in 3 of 4 cases - their deaths is amusing to me for some reason. I think that subconsciously we want to know what Gwen would think about Peter being married to MJ. From that we would want to know what Ben and George think about being written out relatively quickly. Ben's comment to May that she's always having heart attacks was amusing as well.
4 webs. Overall a very well done mini-series. The decision to kill Spider-Man was shocking at first until it became clear that Peter's intent was to fake his death to allow things to return to normal. The remainder of the issues flowed smoothly and gave Spider-Man a rare happy ending. One one hand, I wish that could last. On the other, we know it's not the correct reality, so the sooner that is restored the better.
The Spider-Man/Dr. Octopus fight that resulted in the death of George Stacy occurred in Amazing Spider-Man #90
Peter found his way back to the city in Captain America (Vol. 5) #10 and found the New Avengers. In Cap #10, he's shown with a shaved head again. This seems like a continuity glitch no matter how you look at it. Not quite sure how or why this happened, so I'll blame editorial miscommunication.