Chapter 1: Peter Parker
It was a busy morning for Peter Parker and his alter-ego, Spider-Man. After a breakfast of eggs and toast with his elderly Aunt May in their small Forest Hills home in Queens, he made his way across town to his chemistry class at Empire State University. He almost made it there without incident, until he saw The Vulture flying through the air. He luckily caught The Vulture by surprise and made quick work of him (the last time the two fought, the high-altitude battle was nearly epic). He was barely late for class.
Peter brushed his untidy brown hair back as he emerged from the shadows of an alley. His spider sense didn’t buzz in his head, telling him that nobody was paying him much attention. He seemed to have a stalker lately as Peter Parker, but he was able to evade whoever it was easily enough due mostly to his spider sense. The thus far invisible stalker still worried Peter a bit, but it had only been a slight buzz of his spider sense (the stronger the buzz: the worse the danger). Had someone found out his secret? Did someone suspect that he was Spider-Man?
The walk to The Daily Bugle’s offices was only a few blocks from where Peter changed. He could have gotten around town using the subway or the buses, but web-slinging across New York was quicker. Besides, Peter always did his best thinking while he shot across the sky as Spider-Man.
Peter walked through the busy offices of The Daily Bugle with his green folder in hand and his camera around his neck. He was aware that he didn’t need the camera to signify that he was a photographer, but he currently had nowhere to keep it when it wasn’t webbed to an eave or light pole taking pictures of himself in action. He was only a freelancer for the Bugle, so he had no desk to store it. He was allowed to use their darkroom when he didn’t have time to use the one in he built in his Aunt May’s basement, and he had come right after his class to develop his latest photos and bring them to the Bugle’s editor-in-chief, J. Jonah Jameson.
Peter walked up to Betty Brant’s large desk outside of Jameson’s office. “Good afternoon, Peter,” Betty said with a wide smile. She had dark red hair that was cut at shoulder-length and a dark red dress on to match. She took the time each morning to look impressive, and Peter knew this for a fact.
Peter and Betty had been an item for nearly a year until she broke things off because Peter refused to commit. In reality, Peter had projected himself as a stone cold jerk in order to protect her from the truth. Betty was attracted to Peter because he was a normal guy, and she lived through more craziness that any woman should. To top it off, she hated Spider-Man because her brother had died during a fight between him and Doctor Octopus. If she found out that the man she loved was also the man she hated, it would have destroyed her. Even though it had devastated him, Peter made it so Betty broke up with him, sparing her from the heartache of what staying together would eventually mean.
Peter and Betty had become close friends despite the breakup. She had even began dating Bugle reporter Ned Leeds recently. Peter didn’t feel the slightest bit of jealousy, having a new girlfriend of his own. In the end, the break up really was the best for the both of them.
“How is he?” Peter asked. Betty was secretary and right hand woman to Jameson. Nobody passed through the door to his large office without Betty’s approval. Jameson was likely to throw you from the window otherwise.
“He’s chewing out Ulrich about his Daredevil article right now,” Betty said with a slight roll of her eyes. “Ben’s claiming that there’s some kind of kingpin of crime and Daredevil is at war with him. Jonah strongly disagrees, of course.”
“GET ME SOMETHING MORE SUBSTANTIAL THAN RUMORS FROM THUGS AND LOWLIFE BARFLIES, OR OR I’M SCRAPPING THE ENTIRE SERIES!” Jameson bellowed. Peter’s head snapped to the sound, but Betty kept her normal composure.
“Of course,” Peter said. “I’d hate to go in there without J.J. being warmed up.”
“I hope you brought him something good,” Betty said. “Did you see Spider-Man and the Vulture this morning? I wouldn’t bother going in there if you didn’t get any pictures.”
Before Peter could answer, Ben Ulrich (a middle-aged, bespectacled reporter with sandy-brown hair that was rapidly turning gray) emerged from the office of the shouting J. Jonah Jameson. “If anyone comes looking for me, tell them I’m going out for a damn smoke,” Ulrich said, not looking at Peter or Betty.
“You’re up,” Betty said, raising an eyebrow to Peter. “I’ll catch you on the other side.”
“Thanks,” Peter said. He took a deep breath and entered Jameson’s huge office. Joe “Robbie” Robertson was standing near the round table that stood in front of Jameson’s huge oak desk. Robbie was a tall, gray-haired black man. He had more integrity than most men Peter had ever come across (save his deceased Uncle Ben).
In contrast to Robbie, J. Jonah Jameson had very little integrity in Peter’s eyes. He had spent every minute of every day trying to figure out how to spin every story of Spider-Man into something negative to turn the public against him. Thus far, he had been wildly successful. It seemed there were more and more people jumping on Jameson’s “Hero or Menace?” bandwagon.
“What do you got for me, Parker?!” Jameson nearly shouted. His hair was flat and black on the top and gray on the sides. He had a small mustache under his nose that shared the same mis-matched color pattern. Half of an unlit cigar rested in the side of his grimacing mouth. He grabbed the folder from Peter’s hand and haphazardly dumped the content on the round table. Robbie moved the photos around into some kind of order. “Anything of that masked menace Spider-Man and that Vulture character I can use for the evening edition?” he asked.
“He’s got one right here,” Robbie said, picking up the picture of The Vulture webbed up between the two buildings. He had a look of pure rage on his face. Peter thought the picture came out beautifully.
“What?” Jameson asked. “Nothing of Spider-Man shooting those webs through the air?”
“They were up really high,” Peter said. “And moving really fast. I was lucky the police couldn’t cut Vulture down right away. Otherwise I would have gotten nothing.”
“Put that on page eight,” Jameson said.
“The Vulture was a super villain fugitive at large,” Robbie said. “Spider-Man caught him only two days after he loudly escaped from The Raft. This is a front page photo!”
“I already have a front page photo,” Jameson said, dropping a photo on top of Peter’s pictures of the Vulture and a few extra Spider-Man stock photos. Jameson’s photo was of a maitence man kneeling next to a rooftop air conditioner unit, holding a piece of Spider-Man’s webbing.
“What am I looking at?” Robbie asked.
“Something that web-headed dope doesn’t think about,” Jameson said. “He nearly pulled that unit from the roof. Water got in the building, flooding the top four floors. Who’s supposed to pay for that? The building owner? The insurance company? The taxpayers?!”
“Spider-Man wouldn’t have had to pursue The Vulture above the roofs if he hadn’t fled,” Peter said, trying hard to keep a cool head.
“And the web dissolved in an hour!” Jameson exclaimed, ignoring Peter’s comment. Robbie stayed silent. He had long learned that it’s not best to interrupt when Jameson’s blood was up. “If the maintenance guy didn’t get this photo, there’d be no evidence at all! They never would have known that Spider-Man was the one that destroyed that unit.”
“It doesn’t look destroyed,” Peter said.
“FLOODED!” Jameson roared. “Four floors!” He held up four fingers for Peter to count.
“Are you sure that’s the angle you want to take?” Robbie asked.
“It’s my paper!” Jameson shouted. “Run both photos if you must! Here’s the headline: Spider-Man catches green birdman, destroying private property in the process! BETTY!”
Betty Brant came in the office with her pad and pen. “Take Parker’s pictures and pay him the regular fee,” he said. “Write down this headline: Spider-Man catches green birdman, obliterating private property before fleeing in cowardice! Four entire floors flooded!”
“Will all that fit on the front page?” Peter asked as Betty wrote on her pad.
“He’s called The Vulture,” Robbie corrected. “You just said it earlier.”
“How can I keep track of all of these characters?!” Jameson shouted. “Spider-Man! The Vulture! Doctor Octopus! What’s next… The Dastardly Dalmatian?!”
“Wasn’t the Dastardly Dalmatian a Saturday morning cartoon?” Peter asked.
“What are you still doing here, Parker?” Jameson asked. “Get lost! Next time get me some of that bug doing some damage, and I’ll buy you a hotdog with anything you want on it.”
“You’re as generous as you are well-groomed,” Peter said. “And spiders aren’t bugs. They’re arachnids. Eight legs. Not a bug.”
“Give Mr. Scientist his check and get him out of here, Betty,” Jameson said. “I’m much to busy to argue about what constitutes a bug.” Jameson slammed the door as soon as Betty and Peter exited his office.
“Think he’ll shorten that headline?” Peter asked, following Betty to her desk to collect his check. She gave him a smile as she handed him his check for his photos and walked back into Jameson’s office with her pad and pencil.
Peter bid Betty’s back a farewell, and walked back outside into the sunny afternoon. He was happy to get something decent from his picture of The Vulture. He was worried Jameson would scold him for not getting any pictures of Spider-Man, but he was telling the truth about being up too high to snap anything good. The aerial battle had, after all, been an impromptu one.
The first time Peter sold pictures of Spider-Man to Jameson was after his first fight with Vulture. Jameson had scolded him then too, but he also bought them and paid him handsomely. It wasn’t too long after that Jameson sent Peter down to Florida (on The Bugle’s dime) to take pictures of a half-man/half-reptile the locals had dubbed The Lizard. Spider-Man had fought The Lizard, transformed him back into Dr. Curt Connors (the scientist that had injected himself with lizard DNA to regrow an amputated arm), and brought back photos (which Jameson promptly destroyed while yelling that The Lizard was a proven hoax).
Peter would have felt bad about selling pictures of himself to Jameson, but he figured the universe evened itself out seeing that Jameson was using the pictures to do his character and reputation nothing but harm. Spider-Man knew the people he helped or saved knew the truth (even if the bulk of everyone else saw him as the menace that J. Jonah Jameson painted him to be).
Peter’s Aunt May, unfortunately, fell into the category that felt the same as Jameson did (just not as harshly). He took the subway home after feeling a slight tingle in his spider sense after leaving The Bugle. “Where have you been all afternoon?!” Aunt May exclaimed, fussing over Peter as soon as he walked into the door. “You haven’t been taking pictures of that Spider-Man again, have you?”
“No,” Peter said. “Just the notorious green birdman he captured this morning.”
“Good,” Aunt May said. “I don’t want you getting hurt chasing that lunatic. There’s enough problems in the city without guys in costumes and masks causing more trouble than they’re solving!”
Peter smiled as his aunt ran off into the kitchen (to get him a snack he’d get no matter how much he’d tell her he wasn’t hungry). May Parker was the sweetest woman Peter had ever known, and he was lucky enough to have her as an aunt. The two had been all each other had after her husband and Peter’s uncle was shot dead by a burglar. Peter had lost his parents when he was only six years old, and he didn’t have many memories of them.
Aunt May returned promptly with a ham sandwich and tall glass of milk. She set it down on the table in front of Peter, glancing at the envelope he placed near him. “What’s that?” Aunt May asked.
“My pay from the pictures I sold today,” Peter said. “Should cover a couple months worth of rent and groceries. Might even have enough left over for a little dinner on the…”
“Don’t you dare spend all of your money on me,” Aunt May said. “Besides, you should be taking Gwen out on the town. When am I going to meet her, by the way?”
Peter looked at his aunt, trying to remember how much he told her about his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Peter had tried to keep his distance from Gwen, but she had seen through his façade. She pursued him anyway, and Peter found it hard to put distance between himself and Gwen. Even with the looming threat of Spider-Man’s enemies, Peter couldn’t bring himself to break things off with Gwen for good.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Aunt May said. “She’s called here a few times looking for you. You think I would be rude enough not to introduce myself and have a little friendly conversation?”
“You’ve been sneaky,” Peter said, swallowing a bite of his sandwich a little too hard. “But I guess it probably wouldn’t hurt for the two of you to meet.”
“Just don’t scare this one off before I can meet her,” Aunt May said, clearing Peter’s plate and glass. “She seems really nice.”
“Yes, Aunt May,” Peter said. “I’ll try my best.”
Peter took the envelope when Aunt May was in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes. He knew how badly she could use the money. She took him in after his parents died and raised him as if he were her own. After his Uncle Ben passed when Peter was fifteen, she finished the job on her own. He sometimes felt guilty about swinging from his webs and fighting super villains behind her back, but he didn’t know how she’d react to the entire truth of everything. The worst case scenario is that she’d have a heart attack and drop dead upon hearing that her beloved nephew was actually the infamous Spider-Man. The best case scenario in Peter’s mind is that she’d just hate him forever.
There was another reason Peter kept the truth from his aunt.
When Peter was fifteen years old, he was endowed with the powers of a spider after he was bitten by a spider that passed through a field of radiation, altering his DNA and giving him the strength and agility of a giant spider. He also healed faster than any human could and gave him a sense of when danger was near.
But the reason Peter didn’t come forward to his aunt about his powers was because of what he chose to do with them at first and the consequences of his actions. He felt responsible for his uncle’s death after he failed to stop the very burglar that ended his life a few days later. Uncle Ben had gotten into an altercation with the burglar and took a bullet for his trouble.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” were the words that Uncle Ben lived by. It took losing his uncle for Peter to grasp what those words really meant. If Peter had understood them earlier, then his uncle would not have had to die to teach Peter that tragic lesson. Now, Spider-Man used the power fate had bestowed upon him with to stop criminals, saving the Uncle Bens of the world before they could even be in danger.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Aunt May asked, breaking Peter from his daze.
“Nothing,” Peter said, shaking the memories of Uncle Ben from his head. He didn’t want his Aunt to relive the tragedy of her dear Ben’s death. “I have a paper due this week. I probably should start working on it.”
“Just don’t study too late, dear,” Aunt May said, kissing Peter on the cheek. “And don’t think you’ll get me to forget about meeting this Gwen of yours.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Sure thing,” he said. “I’m seeing her the day after next. I’ll be sure to bring it up.”
“Run along,” Aunt May said. “Study up.”
“You got it, pretty lady,” Peter said, leaving the table and heading upstairs. Before long, he had his books laid out on his bed in front of him. He went back and forth between studying and tinkering with his web shooters and some trackers he dubbed spider tracers. His mind drifted from his studies to Spider-Man to Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy. He waited for the sound of his Aunt May going to bed, and he snuck out of his window to spend a few hours swinging around NYC before coming back home to get a few hours of sleep.