Shy, timid bookworm Peter Parker was shunned by his peers and tormented by bullies. His only solace was the world of science, and on a fateful day he decided to attend an exhibition on radiation. There, a spider was accidentally irradiated and with its dying breath transferred all its abilities with a single bite into...Flash Thompson. What? Madness, you say? Rather, another twisted reality brought to you by What If?...
History plays out as we all know it except in this world, Flash comes after Peter at the exhibit and pushes him just enough to avoid his fateful spider bite only to get himself tagged instead. Reeling from the bite, history plays out to where Flash leaps to avoid being run over by a speeding car. However, his rage takes over and he disables it with a chunk of the very wall he clings to. Making short work of the car and the apparent crooks inside, Peter ushers him away from the scene as police sirens draw near. Peter tells Flash that with his powers he could fight crime like that all the time, but Flash has other ideas.
Deciding on a life of crime, Flash tricks Peter into making gear to help him along (although using his own common sense makes less-lethal items than Flash had requested). During his inventing session, a certain burglar spots him at work and decides that the house wouldn't be as easy a target with a teenager as it would have with just an elderly couple. He decides to hit next door and ends up killing Mary Jane Watson in the process before Peter would ever get to meet and marry her. This act of violence so close to home only served to strengthen Peter's desire to aid Flash in his heroics.
Peter delivers the goods and Flash picks his first target; the self-same jewels that a new super criminal, the Vulture, had reportedly targeted. Using his powers with ease, The Spider makes his debut as he ambushes the Vulture and the security guards and makes off with the loot (see Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #2). Peter confronts Flash about it later, only to end up webbed to a building's roof awaiting his grisly plummet when the webs dissolve. However, he manages to use his brains to get himself out of that one, but a decision has to be made.
With a pep talk from his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Peter resolves to own up to his responsibility in helping to create The Spider and work to bring him down. However, while his skills can help him defeat the gadgets he created for Flash, he still needed help with a device to use against his powers. Enter Dr. Otto Octavius, whose revolutionary mechanical arms are just what Peter needed. Unfortunately, Otto was too arrogant to be bothered with Peter until the youth alerted him to a radiation overload (see Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #3). Grateful to the lad, Otto decides to help him.
A few days later at the Daily Bugle, esteemed publisher J. Jonah Jameson still mourns over the loss of his son, John Jameson, who was killed when his space capsule malfunctioned with no Spider-Man in this world to save him (see Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #1). The Spider crashes in and demands an ad in the paper designed to get more loot turned over to him at one go instead of the way he had been doing it. However, his intrusion is soon interrupted by the appearance of Peter Parker: Spider-Man!
Armed with various gizmos and walking on mechanical spider legs, Parker confronts Flash. The two duke it out, powers against brains. Peter ultimately gets the upper hand against the rampaging Spider, using a device to turn Flash's spider-sense against him and knock him out to save Betty Brant and Jonah. Seeing something of his son in Parker, ol' Jolly Jonah declares the day "Peter Parker Day."
Peter tells his family the whole story just before being invited to the Baxter Building by the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards had deduced how to remove Flash's spider powers since they hadn't the time to bond to his cellular structure yet. Believing his reward for his heroes was to be injected with the powers himself, Peter is shocked when Reed dumps the syringe holding them down the sink. The FF convinces Peter he doesn't need those powers; that he has what it takes already. Eventually, he decides they're right and a bold-new Spider-Man is born!
The first issue of Marvel's new darker alternate reality line and the last issue with the Watcher kicks off to a good start, however I really didn't like future follow-through with this direction. But, that's neither hither nor dither.
The story itself was definitely good with artwork that not only had the modern appeal but also managed to effectively capture the classic 60s look. Peter actually comes out ahead (for once) in this tale; his family is still together, JJJ respects AND appreciates him and some of his greatest foes would never come to be. However, we lose Mary Jane, the man Flash would eventually become and who knows how many other aftershocks down the line. I think the best part of this issue was going through the actual events of the first few issues of Amazing Spider-Man to show how much the world had changed just because Peter didn't get that spider bite. Also, the brief allusions to the way things would have been, e.g. Jonah complaining about not having a decent photographer after Peter saves him, were a very nice touch. This issue should also appeal to modern day Spiderfans who feel Peter doesn't use his smarts nearly enough in the books anymore, being that Peter's main tools in the story is his inventive skill and scientific knowledge.
I wouldn't have minded a continuation of this story just to see how this team handled the shockwaves to Spidey's later years. Of course, that would have run the risk of the crappy sequel rule, but ya know what? It would've been worth the attempt.
Five webs. Very good, very solid. Probably one of the best to come out of the new darker What If?