With the release of the new Amazing Spider-Man movie, I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite storylines that ran through Amazing Spider-Man when I was in middle school. You might even call this my first monthly book since, in one of those door-to-door subscription offers, I had it shipped monthly to my house for over a year (my corner store also carried Classic X-Men which I bought on a regular basis and I read and bought any current issue of Uncanny X-Men I could get my hands on, but these were never super consistent as Amazing Spider-Man).
The first storyline I think I ever received ran just before the Clone Saga, so I think people might not remember it as fondly as I do. The issue featured the classic Spider-Man villain The Vulture. Adrian Toomes sounds much more like a villain from The X-Files than a credible threat for the wallcrawler. The fun of this story is: it kind of addresses that. Sure, Toomes is smart and built himself a flying harness to do major acts of crime, but he’s old and his original harness gave him cancer. He starts the story in jail, using a makeshift harness of mostly spare radio parts to escape (kind of an awesome jailbreak scene, actually). His master plan? Pilfer the research of a scientist working out of ESU (Empire State University, where Peter Parker attends natch) who is working on a way to reverse the aging process. Toomes gets to be young again, but more importantly cure his fatal cancer as well.
This sets the scene. Spider-Man intervenes when The Vulture attempts to steal the tech, but as you may have guessed... Adrian is able to sap Spider-Man’s youth and feels even more powerful because he just chowed down on a superhuman. There’s even a cute scene where elderly Peter Parker (who deals with some real “what the hell will I do if I’m stuck this way?”esque dilemmas in just a few short panels) meets his already-supposed-to-be old Aunt May. It’s cute. But the effects turn out to be temporary, so Vulture needs to try to track down Spider-Man again for seconds.
While all this nonsense is happening, Aunt May has been having Peter’s resurfaced parents investigated. This is what brings The Amazing Spider-Man movie to mind since the film also deals with Peter’s estranged parents who you surprisingly hear very little about. In the comics, they were presumed dead, but they popped back up in Amazing Spider-Man during the nineties, where their efforts to establish a relationship with a now-adult son they never knew becomes a fairly cute emotional backstory for our hero. But when they mess up an anniversary date and get a few other things wrong in conversations with May, she suspects they might be imposters. She shares this with Peter who dismisses her as a crazy old lady who is going senile.
Then he abruptly tells his parents he’s Spider-Man.
This is a comic book story, so of course May is right. His parents are indeed not his actual parents, who did in fact die like the original story says. But Peter’s in kind of a fragile place after spending the better part of an afternoon as one of the elderly, and with May possibly losing his marbles, his parents were one of the few support systems he had left. So, it’s legitimately tragic when we discover the parents are actually sophisticated synthetic automations created by The Chameleon to infiltrate Parker’s life. Think T-1000 from Terminator 2. I think it might have made more sense to have had them as criminals who had been altered to look like his parents, but we want a big Spider-Man fight in the end so we have to make them superpowered baddies, right?
But there were two of them. Peter’s fake mom, although a machine, has bonded with her “son.” Revealing his secret identity to her legitimately touched her, and despite her partner’s insistence that they report to The Chameleon with what they have learned, keeps stalling. Peter, swayed by May not dropping the fact the ‘rents are lying, finally follows them... right when they are reporting to one of his deadliest foes. Oh, and The Chameleon followed the whole Vulture debacle that was going on, so he decides to team up with him and try to find a perma-solution to that whole “live cancer free and be young forever” thing.
Peter dispatches The Chameleon’s hired goons, fights The Vulture again, then faces off with his dad who becomes a goopy kill machine. Maintaining half his dad’s face, Peter predictably has trouble fighting him. “Dad” gains the upper hand, but just as he is about to deliver the killing blow, “Mom” steps in and electrocutes the f@# out of him. As she moves in to apologize to Peter, Vulture grabs her and sucks out her artificial “youth.” As she dies, she tells Peter she loves him, and he basically goes batshit crazy with grief. The Vuture is nabbed by the cops in the end, and Peter remarks how he now seems artificial himself, unable to respond or react in a human way to the world around him. His blank, black eyes are awesome.
Chameleon gets away. Spider-Man follows him in the 4-issue “Pursuit” storyline, that ran in each of the four Spider-Man titles at the time (self-titled, Amazing, Spectacular, and Web of, respectively). As a fun ending, you learn Harry Osborn, the second Green Goblin who had been dead for a number of years, set the whole thing up before he died just to mess with Peter’s head. He leaves a video for his old friend to find, basically saying “Now you know what it was like when you killed my dad.” The video then repeats “Gotcha” a bunch of times while showing the Goblin’s face on a bunch of monitors. Super creepy, but effective, and probably my favorite Spider-Man story (arc?) of all time.
"Lifetheft" ran through Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) # 386 through # 388.