Poison in the Soul
Written by Glenn Greenberg
The Plot: Peter learns from Harry Osborn that their classmate Marty Shultz has committed suicide. Peter immediately flashes back to weeks earlier, when Marty reached out to him, only to be stood up when Peter had to go into action as Spider-Man. Still uncomfortable with his guilt, Peter skips the funeral and goes on a Daily Bugle assignment to find the Shocker. After a brief altercation, Spider-Man follows the Shocker to a cemetery. He soon realizes that the Shocker is Marty’s brother. He allows Shocker to visit Marty’s grave before taking him back to prison.
The Subplots: Peter has recently proposed to Mary Jane and is waiting for her answer at the beginning of the story. In the closing paragraphs, the story shifts ahead a few weeks after she turns him down. Spider-Man travels to the Brooklyn Bridge and reflects on moving forward with life.
Web of Continuity: The Continuity Guide lists this story as taking place “around the events of Amazing Spider-Man #183-184.” Aside from giving the Shocker a younger brother, the story also reveals that his parents died when they were young, leaving Marty alone as Shocker pursued a life of crime.
Review: “Poison in the Soul” is one of the book’s best stories, with a spot-on characterization of Peter Parker and very real emotional sequences that take advantage of the subject matter without crossing the line into mawkishness. Greenberg’s also chosen an interesting era for a story that confronts Peter with young adult suicide. The most obvious choice for a story following Peter’s failed proposal to MJ would be some form of romance, while Greenberg’s focusing instead on a larger issue. Peter is graduating college and entering true adulthood. His love for MJ has given him the courage to move on after Gwen’s death, and now he feels confident enough in their relationship to reveal his secret identity and begin a life together. Marty, for the reasons the story never makes clear (understandably, since he was only an acquaintance of Peter’s) can only see more pain and bitterness in his future. The Shocker is squandering his by refusing to give up crime. Spider-Man gives him an inspirational speech (which is nicely written, even if we know that Shocker won’t listen to a word of it) at the end and makes his own peace with Marty’s death.
There are two flaws that are hard for me to ignore, though. I always hate the massive coincidences that connect Peter Parker’s personal life to one of his villains somehow. This isn’t that bad of an example, since it’s the Shocker’s brother and not the Shocker himself that Peter went to college with, but still…Peter Parker’s freshman lab partner just so happened to be the Shocker’s brother? My other complaint is one that Greenberg himself mentioned in the “Life of Reilly” serial -- the Brooklyn Bridge. Again. There aren’t any supervillain fights this time, thankfully, and the story itself is about moving on so it’s a fitting place for Spider-Man to say goodbye…but can we please never see this bridge again?
Written by Steve Lyons
The Plot: ESU student Marcy Kane is allowed to conduct experiments on Electro, confident that his powers can be contained by an electrical circuit. Practical joker Steve Hopkins is removed from the project by Marcy, but not before he insults and mocks the captive Electro. Later, one of Steve’s pranks causes a brief power outage, allowing Electro his opportunity to escape. He takes Steve hostage and is soon confronted by Spider-Man. When Electro has Spider-Man pinned, Steve knocks him out with a plastic skeleton he was saving for a future prank.
The Subplots: Peter Parker is forced to call off his date with Deb Whitman in order to keep an eye on the Electro experiment. His lie that he needed to cover the story for the Daily Globe is blown that night when a Globe reporter and photographer arrive.
Web of Continuity: This story takes place shortly after Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #45.
Review: I guess someone had to step up and represent the long-forgotten days of Marcy Kane, Steve Hopkins, and Deb Whitman. Unfortunately, the story is even less memorable than the era that created this supporting cast. With no real emotional hook for the story, the most interesting event is obnoxious prankster Steve Hopkins coming face-to-face with Electro just a few hours after he viciously insulted him. That is funny, and there’s a cute meta-joke about Spider-Man and clones (one of the few decent ones I’ve ever read), but that’s really it. I just discovered that Roger Stern wrote many Spectacular Spider-Man comics from this era; I imagine he would've been a better choice to represent this chapter in Spider-Man's history.