Tangled Webs: Unresolved Spider-Man Storylines


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Right now, there’s a lot of speculation of what storylines Dan Slott is building on for the Clone Conspiracy and the upcoming showdown with Norman Osborn. It seems an appropriate time to consider Spider-Man stories that were never resolved; a few from the comics, and some from other media.

A Murder In The Fly’s First Appearance

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, plotted by Len Wein and scripted by Bill Mantlo, featured the first appearance of the Fly, introduced as an injured criminal who takes scientist Harlan Stillwell hostage, and compels him to provide him with superpowers. Stillwell later calls Jonah to talk about a major development, but when Jonah arrives he discovers that the scientist has been shot to death. Spider-Man then gets into a fight with the Fly, who has kidnapped J Jonah Jameson. During the fight, Spidey accuses the Fly of the murder of Stillwell. An editor’s note promises a no-prize to whoever figured out how Spider-Man knew, but that part is never established. Brian Cronin notes that no such explanation has ever been published, and wonders if it was just a for a cover-up for a plot hole.

What did Peter see at the end of Spider-Men?

In the mini-series Spider-Men, the Peter Parker of the Classic Marvel Universe went to the ultimate universe and met Miles Morales. At the end of the mini-series, when Peter was back in his world, he started looking up Miles Morales on the internet to see if the boy existed on his world. The final panel reveals that he was astonished at what he found.

Peter teamed up with Miles again in Spider-Verse and Hickman’s Secret Wars, which ended with Miles Morales waking up in the regular Marvel Universe. But readers never did learn what was going on with the other Miles. The graphic novel Spider-Man Season One retold Peter’s origin, and had him rescue a child who was quite similar to Miles (and had the name Morales on the back of his jacket) but the degree to which this story was in canon was questionable.

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What was up with Barker?

In Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham’s run of Peter Parker Spider-Man, a new supporting cast member was Peter’s neighbor Caryn, introduced as a potential romantic interest during Peter’s separation with Mary Jane. A subplot introduced in the original Fusion storyline was that Peter was asked to dogsit for her. However, Barker really weirded him out, and there were hints that there might be something strange about him. He was not acting like a typical dog.

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Caryn disappeared from the book, and we never quite learned what was up with Barker. Jenkins stayed on Spider-Man for a few more years, although the focus shifted from smaller character-based stuff to TPB length storylines about Spider-Man’s greatest enemies, which didn’t leave much room for the neighbor’s dog.

The Secret Identity of Facade

In Terry Kavanagh and Alex Savuik’s four-parter “Live and Let Die” the mystery villain named Facade killed longtime Spider-Man supporting character Lance Bannon. The top suspects were new character industrialist Arthur Bryce—a new character—and John Jameson, who had been part of the book since Amazing Spider-Man #1. We never got a resolution, for a variety of reasons. Kavanagh stuck around for another seven issues, most of which were Clone Saga crossovers, so there wasn’t as much space to continue his storylines, especially since Ben Reilly essentially becamr the lead of the title.  The arc was not well-regarded, popping up in Spiderfan’s worst of the worst series, with a scene considered one of the worst moments of comic books in 1994 as Betty Brant ran from a supervillain to an armory in her closet, and also switched her clothes to take on a super-powered murderer. Due to the low quality, this wasn’t a story anyone had an incentive to follow up on .

Facade’s identity became a bit of a joke, first referenced in a Dark Reign one-shot where one of Norman Osborn’s flunkies claims to have solved the mystery after years of research. In the two-parter “Tomorrow Never Dies” a busy Spider-Man defeated Facade, but didn’t have any time to unmask him.

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What exactly do people remember about Spider-Man’s unmasking?

There has to be a distinction between stories that weren’t resolved at all, and stories that weren’t resolved to a reader’s liking. Many discussions about unanswered storylines end up being about perceived plot holes, in addition to alternative explanations. An example would be the theories about Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter being alive, which technically isn’t an unresolved storyline since there were on-panel explanations for what happened. That gets especially thorny, when combined with questions about how One More Day changed Spider-Man’s history in the context of the Marvel Universe. However, there is one big unresolved question about how characters see the world, and remember recent events in the aftermath of One More Day.

In Civil War, Spider-Man unmasked as Peter Parker. One Moment in Time revealed that Doctor Strange, Reed Richards and Tony Stark worked together to remove the public’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity, creating a spell that prevented people from realizing that Peter was Spider-Man, unless he revealed his identity and powers to them (that part of the spell was erased during Spider Island.) The way it worked was that people would connect the dots in different ways, coming up with explanations that don’t involve Peter being Spider-Man.

The question then is what characters remember from Civil War. Do they not remember anything that happened as a result of Spider-Man taking off his mask? Do they remember Spider-Man being someone else? Do they think Peter Parker was pretending to be Spider-Man for whatever reason? Do they all remember different things? In addition, what are the explanations for all the recordings of a major news event? Did all copies of that week’s issue of Time magazine disappear from libraries?

Spider-Man the Manga

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The publishing was a little weird for this series. In the 1970s Marvel gave a Japanese company the rights to do their own version of Spider-Man, and they got a decent creative team for the series. Artist Ryoichi Ikegami would go on to illustrate Crying Freeman and Mai the Psychic Girl. Marvel translated the Spider-Man manga in the 1990s when manga and anime started becoming popular in the United States, although this predated the peak of the manga boom by several years. Each volume of the original manga was converted into a three issue saga (or a six issue saga in the case of stories that were longer).

The series didn’t sell very well, so it’s not a surprise that they cancelled it, although the timing was a bit strange. The adaptation lasted for 31 issues, meaning they cut off at the beginning of a new storyline. That issue had Yu Komori—the Japanese Spider-Man—encounter a young woman who seemed to be able to affect her environment in dark ways. It ended just before the story even reached its second act. Towards the end, the volumes were also translated out of order, so there were references to events that never happened, including the death of a supporting character.

Amazing Spider-Man 2

This is probably the unresolved storyline that most people are going to be unfamiliar with, given the sheer number of people who have seen the movie. Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends with a mysterious villain with ties to Norman Osborn assembling a collection of supervillains. He passes through material that appears to be the gear for the Vulture and Doctor Octopus. He was introduced speaking with Curt Connors at the end of the first Amazing Spider-Man film (making crpytic references to the truth about Peter’s parents) and meets with Harry Osborn at the end of the second film. Nothing comes of it, because the movie universe was rebooted so that Spider-Man could be introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which was not necessarily a bad trade.)

The 1990s Spider-Man Cartoon

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This one may be most painful to readers of a certain generation. A big part of the 1990s Fox Spider-Man animated series was Peter’s romance with Mary Jane. In a storyline which borrowed elements of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” Mary Jane was trapped in an alternate dimension after being kidnapped by the Green Goblin. She eventually returned, and even married Peter Parker, although it turned out that she was a duplicate with connections to Hydroman, meaning the real Mary Jane was out there somewhere.

In the final episodes of the series, Spider-Man teamed up with Madame Web to go to other universes, but was never able to save Mary Jane.  The creative team of the animated series offered an epilogue reuniting the two as a rewards bonus for an indiegogo for another project, but that did not end up getting funded.

The MTV Spider-Man Cartoon

The MTV cartoon also ended in a weird way. In this case, it was a cliffhanger meant to be part of a regular season finale. It all ended with Peter retiring as Spider-Man after his girlfriend Indira was seriously injured in the aftermath of an encounter with supervillains. This was meant to be in the same world as the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, so one explanation is that Peter just changed his mind after the events of Spider-Man 2, and just didn’t think about Indira again.

Do any other incomplete stories come to mind? Is there anything especially disheartening? 

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(13) Comments

  1. Chris

    The end of "Family Business" with the DNA test is an open plot line. Not sure if that story is in continuity.

  2. Al

    Mets. Graphic Novels and mini-series by and large are not canon at all until acknowledged by a main monthly ongoing series. Even then it depends upon how well they fit into established continuity. Season One is thus non-canon. Regarding Peter and MJ’s daughter the on-panel explanation was confusing and contradictory. Nothing explicitly stated that Peter and MJ’s daughter was never conceived and statements by Marvel and entries into some official info books (like one I’ve technically worked on) have claimed that still happened, even indirectly by stating EVERYTHING happened but they weren’t married. Other sources have claimed the opposite but that raises yet more unresolved questions such as what then happened in the clone saga as the absence of the baby creates immense plot surrounding things which revolved around MJ being pregnant. Mets wasn’t the explanation for Civil War that they remember Spider-Man unmasking but don’t remember the face or name attached to it due to the mind block? This is one of the biggest clusterfucks of OMD and Civil War because even fi they don’t remember Peter was Spider-Man wouldn’t they remember Mary Jane, Aunt May, etc? And after Spider Island wouldn’t they be able to fill in the obvious Peter Parker shaped hole in their memory and figure it out. Like why hasn’t Norman Osborn figured it out. He remembers killing Gwen but doesn’t know why that was a victory for him? It’s dumb.

  3. hornacek

    @xonathan - But in CA:CW Cap has found his friends, he broke into the prison and is there in front of the doors - he's going to get them out. At the end of the 90s show Spidey and MW go off to find MJ, but she's somewhere in the multi-verse, we don't know where she is. MW says she knows where MJ is but should we trust her? She's jerked Spidey around all season. To me, it's like if I only had issues 1-11 of the original Secret Wars and when I asked Marvel for the last issue they said "Oh, we didn't make that issue. They defeated the bad guys and went home."

  4. xonathan

    IMHO saying that Spidey did not rescue MJ at the end of TAS is like saying Captain America didn't save his friends in CA:Civil War at the end of the movie. Madame Web strongly implied she knew where MJ was. Anyways, I was not interested in watching an episode where Peter had to explain to the real MJ that he married a water clone of her. I understood what Semper and Co were trying to do, but it got way too convoluted and out of canon. So to me, it ended well.

  5. Crime Master

    In regards to TAS, it is a shame that we never got to see MJ rescued, sure we know Spider-Man will find her, but it's just not emotionally satisfying unless we see it. The last storyline was a near-perfect finale as a whole, doing the Spider-Verse storyline a billion times better than Slott, getting in some digs at the clone saga, a re-appearance from Uncle Ben that honestly got me pretty emotional, and the Stan cameo at the end all made it feel pretty special. It's just a shame that it also feels incomplete. As for the MTV Spidey cartoon, we can't actually make any assumptions based on the films, as while the intent was for them to be in the same continuity, the fact that Dr.Conners becomes the Lizard and dies chronologically before Spider-Man 2 means it can't be. If only there were some more communication between Raimi and the makers of the show, though I suppose no one cared much about it ultimately.

  6. [rant]

    @hornacek I had heard about the planned S5 of TNAS as well. I was bummed that it never came to be when they said Carnage was going to be Jack The Ripper. Even though they had a strict no-killing thing going on, it was neat to see one of Spidey's most lethal foes on the cartoon.

  7. hornacek

    @jack - I don't know, I've read that Semper planned for the 5th season to be Spidey travelling through time investigating Jack the Ripper in 19th century England. So it doesn't sound like a quest to rescue MJ was in the cards. It would be like if the original Star Wars ended with the rebels launching their ships from Yavin to stop the Death Star and the film ending there. And when people would have asked Lucas what happened, he would have said "Well obviously they went and blew up the Death Star."

  8. Jack

    Stan's answer was as good a solution as he could offer. Peter would never leave MJ stranded and alone in the multi-verse; Madame Web pledged to help him find her, and she had the paranormal powers that could possibly locate her. It was a set-up to a "quest" storyline, that never was completed, but you can see what they were setting up.

  9. hornacek

    I thought I read that Bendis is/was planning on following u the Spider-Men ending in a future story. Of course, maybe Bendis' solution went out the window with Morales coming to 616 post- Secret Wars. I remember Stan Lee being asked about the ending of the 90s cartoon and how Mary Jane's fate was left unresolved, and he said something like "Well I thought it was obvious, Spider-Man went off and rescued her!" as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. Even though at the end of that final episode, Spidey has no idea where MJ is. If I remember, Madam Web is with him and says she'll help him find her, so I guess we're supposed to assume that MW helps him find MJ. But it feels like the start of a multi-episode story, not "And then they went and found MJ, and everyone lived happily ever after." If you look back at all the Alison Mongrain scenes, there's no way it was intended that she was looking after Aunt May instead of Baby May. There are multiple scenes that show her next to a stroller or crib. So in my opinion Baby May is still out there, OMD be damned.

  10. Doc Folsome

    Been a long time since i've posted at CS, i've missed this site! Agreed that the 90s cartoon loss of MJ was so painful to experience first-hand and reread here. As soon as i saw the title of this post and the pic of Madame Web i knew right where you were going with that. I think what made that so unsatisfactory was just how long MJ was 'missing' during that series...you just felt like they had a plan to reunite them since it was such a long plot thread. but alas, we were left hanging...argh, still hurts to this day! that cartoon was what converted me into an avid spidey fan, so its holds a special place in my heart...just wished they made spidey cartoons half as good these days :) Baby May to me is just as painful (there's no bigger Baby May fan than yours truly) , and its clear that where the original story was headed (OSborn steals baby, ALison Mongraine watches over her) was drastically altered by a status quo change mandate (ie, bring back Aunt May)...thus rendering all the 'clues' in earlier issues nonsensical...just as tragic as 90s cartoon MJ Great post Mr. Mets!

  11. [rant]

    The whole Spider-Men ending has been killing me since I've read it. But in the new Spider-Man, Miles gets captured and it's revealed there's no record of his existence. No birthday certificate, no social security number, etc. Until I'm given a better explanation I'm going with Peter's surprise being that he was given the uber rare, "No results found.". I'd react the same way. It's like winning an online No-Prize!

  12. Andrew_C

    Yeah. Alison Mongraine kidnapping Baby May and then Kaine killing scriers and trying to rescue Baby May in the late 90's. I don't care what anyone says, that was NOT Aunt May being wheeled out of the maternity ward of a hospital and then kept for months in a crib on Alison's yacht. So ridiculous. So pretty much the whole baby thing. The whole fiasco with baby May just being quietly written away is the SECOND most infuriating thing to happen to Peter after OMD/BND of course. (And coming up third would be Sins Past imo)

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