Circa "Amazing Spider-Man" #1: Spider-Man, in one of his first public acts of heroism, saves the life of astronaut John Jameson by rescuing him from a faulty spacecraft. However, what if such a thing had not happened? What if the spacecraft smashed into the ground, taking the lives of John Jameson, May Parker, and several others? What if, due to this tragedy, J. Jonah Jameson adopted Peter Parker? Read on to find out...
The story opens with Peter and May Parker watching a rocket take off. Meanwhile, Jonah Jameson is in the control room, beaming with joy and hoping that the heroism of his astronaut son will outshine that of the masked vigilante Spider-Man. However, a third, more sinister party is also there... the Chameleon! He plans to comandeer the rocket and send it to Greenland for the dual purpose of profits and respect. Unfortunately, the Chameleon's plans soon take a turn for the worse and John Jameson's rocket does a 180-degree turn, with disastrous results: John Jameson and May Parker, among others, have been killed.
A week after the rocket crash, Jonah Jameson adopts Peter Parker, the papers proclaiming that the two have been united in grief. While Peter is hesitant about the arrangement, the judge tells him that Jameson can give Peter a better life. This is true: Jameson enrolls Peter in one of the best schools in the state, letting Peter be admired for his intelligence instead of shunned for it. However, the media is calling for the arrest of Spider-Man, blaming him for the rocket's crash. They gain evidence from Peter's last ditch attempt to save his aunt: webbing among the wreckage at the crash site. Despite the fact that Spider-Man is wanted for mass murder, among other charges, Peter decides some web-slinging will clear his head. For some unknown reason, his powers cut out on him, and he never makes it out of Jameson's backyard.
The next day, Peter goes to the Daily Bugle at the behest of Jonah. Jameson gives him the assistant editor position of the Daily Bugle's supplement, the Reveille. Peter learns a bit about Jameson's hatred for masks from Foswell, and spends hours pondering how to make Jameson see Spider-Man was a hero. The pondering ends when Peter hears sobbing and screaming from Jameson's office. Peter sees Jameson mourning over his son, wishing he could have done something to save him. Peter tries to tell Jameson that there was nothing anyone could have done, and while Jameson denies this, this act restores Peter's spider-powers.
Peter, as Spider-Man, once again goes to Jameson to tell him there was nothing anyone could have done. After webbing Jameson to the wall, Spider-Man swings off to nab both the Vulture and a front-page special for Jonah. However, Jonah is less than enthusiastic about this (as well as Peter's claim that Spider-Man took him on a tour of the city), and decides Peter needs a bodyguard: Flash Thompson. Peter is none too happy about this, and even less happy about the Spider-Slayer and Scorpion suit that Jameson shows the two boys.
Over the next few months, Peter manages to continue being Spider-Man and lead the Reveille to success. Spider-Man's name has been cleared, as well. However, Jameson still wants to know who's behind Spider-Man's mask, and offers a reward for it. Also, the test of the Spider-Slayer is quickly approaching. Spider-Man sabotages the Slayer, but this only infuriates Jonah and drives Flash to take the Scorpion serum in an attempt to show Jameson that Spider-Man isn't such a bad guy. Unfortunately, the serum also drives Flash insane and sends him on a rampage.
Peter, fed up with all the casualties of the war between Spider-Man and Jameson, reveals his secret to Jonah and sets off to apprehend Flash before anyone gets hurt. Unfortunately, the only one who would get hurt was him, as the Vulture, Sandman, and Doctor Octopus were after the reward for Spider-Man's mask, though they'd gladly kill him instead. As they're about to tear Peter limb-from-limb, things look quite dark. Then the Spider-Slayer shows up, but Jameson has had a change of heart, and is there not to slay, but to save. All the villains are apprehended, including the Scorpion, and Jonah and Peter finally embrace the idea that they are father and son. On a final note, Jonah and Peter take up fighting crime as partners, operating out of the top of the Daily Bugle.
This has all the makings of a classic "What If?" story, from the tragic beginning to the happy (though somewhat corny) ending. All the characters are generally true to their 616-counterparts. A prime example of this is when Flash Thompson is hired to be Peter Parker's bodyguard. Peter is stunned, Flash mocks him, and Jameson shrugs it off as boyish taunting.
As for the art, it's good, though oddly reminiscent of the art in the animated Spider-Man books.
The one thing keeping this from being a true classic is Spider-Man's powers mysteriously disappearing and suddenly reappearing. The only explanation given is that it's psychosomatic, but that does not cut the mustard for me.