Author's Notes:

Here's another chapter. Fair warning: this chapter has quite a bit of strong language and violence.

Enjoy!


SPEC2CULAR

by Mythril Moth

BOOK ONE: HEROES ON THE RISE

Chapter 3: Cobwebs and Castles

Pounding bass shook half the block.

At the epicenter of the powerful noise pollution, a group of teens and young adults lounged around an old car with huge spinning rims and a lowered suspension. Some of them were smoking, others were shooting dice. A few were drinking. They were all dressed in similar colors.

A shadowy figure approached the edge of a nearby rooftop. The end of a cigarette glowed in the darkness. A scope lit up atop a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher.

None of the bangers saw. None of the bangers heard the warning beeps.

The rocket slammed into the car, which exploded in a towering fireball. Three of the bangers were killed in the explosion. The rest were thrown clear, either dazed or wounded. Those who were still conscious looked around in confusion, drawing their own guns and knives. "What the fu—"

Gunshots split the night. Brass shell casings rang as they landed on the rooftop.

The remaining bangers fell to the ground.

As sirens screamed and wailed, the man on the roof took a deep drag of his cigarette and walked calmly away. By the time the police arrived on the scene, the only thing left on the rooftop was a jet black business card with a white skull on the front.


Following his dip in the East River, Peter was laid up in bed for three days with a high fever, full body aches, and enough mucus coming out of his head to fill a football stadium. His friends had texted him, of course, though some of the texts had been a bit strained—Liz had texted him once, Gwen had texted him a few times and always seemed to want to say more than she actually did, and Harry...

Well, Harry's two texts had been unusually clipped and insincere. Even Flash had given him a warmer well-wishing text than Harry!

In between bouts of fitful sleep and Aunt May fussing over him, Peter had kept an eye on the news, watching for anything about Dr. Richards and his company. There had been coverage of the crash, of course, and reports that "four unidentified astronauts" had been rescued, but little else. Then the news had turned to a series of bizarre gang-related murders in Hell's Kitchen. He'd made a mental note to check into that once he was back on his feet.

When he finally got the all-clear to go back to school, the first voice he heard upon shuffling through the front doors of Midtown High was Rand Robertson's enormous, booming voice. "Hey Parker, welcome back! Glad you're feeling better, man."

Peter smiled. "Thanks, Rand," he said.

"Yo Parker! Don't you know the East River Challenge is in July?" Flash Thompson called teasingly, earning laughs from his crowd of hangers-on and an eyeroll from Sha Shan Nguyen.

"Shoulda done us all a favor an' stayed there, ya geek!" Sally Avril called tauntingly. Liz Allan frowned and nudged her, then gave Peter a half-wave and a not-meeting-your-eyes look.

When he reached his locker, he found Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson waiting there. "Hey Tiger," Mary Jane said. "Glad to see you back on your feet." She flicked her eyes from Peter over to Gwen meaningfully and made a subtle ushering motion out of Gwen's line of sight.

"Thanks MJ," Peter said. "Uh...hey Gwen."

"Hey Pete," Gwen said. "Um, I'm glad you're back. We...we missed you..."

"We all missed you, Pete," Harry Osborn's voice intruded silkily as he slid up behind the girls and placed his hands on Gwen's shoulders. She shrunk back against him and turned her head away, her lips puffing out.

"Thanks guys," Peter said again. "So, uhh...what'd I miss?"

"Oh, the usual," Mary Jane said airily. "Homework, gossip, talking about how nobody's seen Spider-Man for the last few days...oh, and that spaceship that came down in the East River is still pretty hot news."

"Yeah, I've been keeping up with that while I was sick," Peter said. "Crazy stuff, huh?"

"Say, Pete," Harry said, "you got sick when you were at the East River taking pictures of the bug, right?" He leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. "Pretty funny, how you both disappeared around the same time."

Peter drew back. "Um, well...y'know, Spidey fell in the river too, and that water is freezing. I mean, he probably got sick just like I did!"

"Yeah, probably," Harry said. "C'mon, babe, we need to go to class," he said to Gwen, squeezing her shoulders. She stiffened, casting Peter a guilty, sad, and pleading look.

"Y-yeah..." They left together.

Mary Jane frowned as they left, then turned to Peter, hands on her hips. "Get her out of that mess, Tiger," she said.

Peter's mouth suddenly felt terribly dry. "Y-yeah," he said hoarsely.


After a long, exhausting day of school, Peter suited up for a quick swing around the city. On a whim, he decided to swing by the Baxter Building to check up on the four astronauts. As he approached, he discovered an observatory on the roof; the dome had been retracted, and a giant, hand-painted sign taped up underneath it that read "DROP ON IN, SPIDEY!"

"Huh, nice to have an open invite for once," Spidey muttered to himself as he dropped through the open dome. A door at the back of the observatory led to an elevator, which helpfully had a floor guide posted next to it. "Richards Research," he read aloud. "Alright then."

A short elevator ride later, he stood outside a massive set of cargo doors with a huge security panel set up beside it. He approached; a camera swiveled to face him.

Welcome, visitor. For security purposes, please state your identity and reason for visit.

"Uhh...Spider-Man, and just checking up on Dr. Richards and friends."

One moment please...

Several seconds later, the doors opened with a pneumatic hiss. Spidey strode through them, looking around curiously.

The space within was cavernous. Half of the floor was the most advanced laboratory he'd ever seen. The rest could best be described as some bizarre combination of a doctor's office waiting room, living room, and airport lounge: small tables with plastic chairs dotted the floorspace, with potted plants placed seemingly at random here and there, while two long leather sofas and several comfortable recliners were placed haphazardly around the space. An enormous stone bench took up a good chunk of the floor space in front of the biggest plasma TV Spidey had ever seen. Ben Grimm sat upon this bench with huge bowls of pretzels and popcorn to either side of him. In one corner, there was a wet bar with multiple bottles and glasses and...well, bar stuff Spidey was too young to know anything about.

"SPIDEY!" Johnny Storm jumped up out of one of the recliners, rushing over and offering a fist for a fist-bump, which Spidey returned readily. "You really came!"

"Well, yeah," Spidey said. "Wanted to check up on you guys, see how you're settling back in. And, um, how you're coping with the whole superpowers thing."

"That what you wanna call it?" Ben Grimm grunted. "Cuz I don't much feel super lookin' like this."

Spidey sighed. "Yeah, I can see that," he said. "But if it helps, you hit like a freight train!"

Ben shrugged. "Ain't worth this," he said.

"Spider-Man, welcome," Reed Richards called from the lab. Spidey ambled over in his direction. Susan Storm was sitting in a chair in the lab area, holding a cotton wad to her arm. Reed had a test tube full of blood in one hand and was peering into a microscope. "Make yourself at home, I'd like to talk to you as soon as I get this next lab series started on Sue's blood." As he spoke, his arms idly weaved around the lab, doing things at different stations some distance from his body.

"Wow, looks like you're really getting the hang of that whole stretching thing," Spidey pointed out as he found a barstool to perch on.

"It's an intriguing physical anomaly," Reed said. "I fully intend to discover a way to cure myself and the others, but in the meantime, I'm studying this aberration in my own physiology through both clinical and practical observation."

"In other words, he's stretchin' all over the place while he runs blood tests," Ben translated. With a chuckle, he added, "He managed to get his neck tied in a knot yesterday. Sue hadda untie 'im!"

"Yes, it's been...an interesting experience," Reed said with some embarrassment.

Spidey chuckled. "Yeah, I remember having a few really weird days when I first got my powers. You get used to it pretty quickly."

"Well I'm not getting used to it," Sue said ruefully. "I mean, I can more or less control whether I'm visible or not now, but it gives me a headache whenever I change from one to the other. Also, there's the...other thing..."

"Other thing?"

Sue held out her hands; a crackling ripple of energy formed between them. "I can make...what did you call them, Reed?"

"Psionic forcefields," Reed said. "That's an aberration I'd like to study in more detail, if we can find a safer venue with less sensitive and expensive equipment."

"Huh, cool," Spidey said. "And Johnny? What about you?"

Johnny scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, so, it turns out I can light my entire body on fire just by thinking about it. Umm...thing is, any time I do that I end up setting off all the sprinklers in here, which ticks everyone off, and also, well—"

"It burns up all his clothes," Sue said with a frown.

"Yeah," Johnny finished. "I melted some two hundred dollar kicks yesterday. I'm...not lighting up again until Reed can figure out a way I can do it without burning up my whole wardrobe."

"Well, there's always finding a safe place to strip naked first," Spidey suggested.

"I'm thinking something more along the lines of a fireproof suit," Reed said. "Or, preferably, avoiding anything related to Johnny being on fire in the first place."

"Does it hurt?" Spidey asked.

"Nah, it feels...weird," Johnny said. "Pretty sweet actually. I'd love to try and cut loose with it if I could find someplace safe."

"Rooftops are good for that," Spidey said. "Especially in the warehouse district. Warehouse rooftops, nobody's gonna see you or bother you."

"Is that what you did?" Johnny asked eagerly.

"Among other things," Spidey said with a shrug. "I needed a lot of space and high-up places to test my powers out when I first got them."

"Yeah, all that webswinging you do needs lots of space, huh?"

"Actually, I just mean my actual powers," Spidey said. "The whole webbing thing came later."

"Your webs aren't innate abilities?" Reed asked curiously.

"People think that, but no," Spidey said, tugging off one of his gloves and showing the homemade device which covered his forearm. "I designed these webshooters myself, as well as the formula my webs are made from."

"Do you mind if I take a look?" Reed asked. Spidey took off the exposed webshooter; Reed stretched his arm out to collect it, then brought it over to his workstation, turning it over in both hands curiously. "Remarkable design," he said. "Pressure-sensitive trigger? You can control the firing pressure, duration, and spread just by varying the trigger pressure?"

"Wouldn't be useful any other way," Spidey said.

"Looks like you kitbashed it together in your garage," Sue said.

"Aheh...yeah," Spidey said, scratching the back of his neck. "I've got like, no budget for equipment, so I have to improvise the best I can."

"This is absolutely incredible," Reed said. "If you can do this much with scraps and salvage, imagine what you could do with a real lab and specialized materials!" He looked up at Spidey. "And the webbing? What's the formula?"

Spidey pulled out a spare webbing cartridge and tossed it over to Reed. "Here, have a free sample," he said.

"Looks like Reed found a new best friend," Sue said with a musical laugh.

"Hey yo webhead," Ben grunted from the massive stone bench. "You hear about them gangtown murders they been talkin' about on the news?"

"Yeah," Spidey said. "I'm actually planning to check into that later. I doubt the bangers in Hell's Kitchen will be happy to see me since I've put a bunch of their friends in prison, but whatever's going on down there is putting the public in jeopardy. That, and murder is a pretty high number on Spidey Claus' naughty list."

"Hah! Spidey Claus!" Johnny cackled, slapping his knee. "Dude, do you love this guy or what?"

"Yeah yeah, he's a regular Jerry Seinfeld," Ben said with a roll of his eyes.

"Isn't it dangerous?" Sue asked. "Going to a place like that? With so much violence going on?"

"Hey, danger comes with the territory," Spidey said with a shrug. "I've tangled with every single supervillain that's hit this town since I shot my first web. Bangers and some trigger-happy banger killer, I can handle."

"You're very brave," Reed said, returning Spidey's web-shooter. "But I'd be lying if I said what you do doesn't bother me. You're a vigilante, taking the law into your own hands. That's just as illegal as the crimes committed by the criminals you catch."

"Dude, Spidey's a hero," Johnny said. "If I could do what Spidey does? Man, I'd—"

"Use those powers to show off all the time," Susan interrupted. "And you know it."

"Well, yeah," Johnny admitted. "But I'd do, y'know, some good too..." He grinned and snapped his fingers, producing a small flame. "Hey, check it! I could be a human lighter! People need a campfire lit, or a fireplace, or a barbecue, or their pilot light, I could totally take care of it!"

"Great, so you're finally almost as useful as a disposable lighter," Ben said with a grin.

"Superpowers, for want of a better word, are an anomaly," Reed said. "They're an aberration to be studied, isolated, quarantined, and if possible, cured. Exposing the public to powers you barely understand and can't control, even if you mean well, is dangerous and irresponsible."

"Hey, I understand my powers perfectly," Spidey said as he finished reattaching his webshooter and pulled his glove back on. "And have total control."

"Are you sure?" Reed countered. "How can you be sure you won't further mutate into some sort of giant spider monster that preys on innocent victims?"

Spidey blinked. "Okay I wasn't worried about that before, so...thanks for the nightmare." He shook his head. "And on that happy note, I think I'll swing over to Hell's Kitchen and check things out." As he reached the nearest window, he paused, turned, and said, "Hey, Dr. Richards? Food for thought: With great power, there comes great responsibility. You look at your powers and think you have a responsibility to hide them from the world, keep them under wraps. I look at my powers and see that I have a responsibility to use them to help people." He looked away. "I learned that lesson the hard way." With that, he jumped out the window and swung away into the urban jungle.

"Huh, webhead's smarter than he looks," Ben grunted.

Reed sat silently for a long moment, contemplating his words. "Could these aberrations we've been afflicted with...help people?"


As the sun set over Hell's Kitchen, Spider-Man watched from the rooftops as groups of gang members took to the streets, their colors and weapons in plain sight. They were visibly tense and angry. An hour into his patrol, he came across groups from two different gangs clashing in a back alley.

"It's you guys doin' this!" a Puerto Rican brandishing a butterfly knife accused. "This is all your fault! Our homies are dead because of you!"

"Hey yo, it's your homies killin' our crew, man!" an Asian banger countered. "We ain't done shit—"

Spider-Man's Spider-Sense started screaming. "EVERYBODY DOWN!" he yelled, flipping out into the open and spinning in a somersault while firing web bursts that pinned every banger to the walls of the alley a split second before machine gun fire echoed off the walls.

"What the fuck?!"

"What IS this shit?!"

"Hey, it's Spider-Man!"

"It's the Spider! He's the one—"

"Hang on a sec, fellas," Spidey said as he flipped up onto a roof. A second later, Spidey and another man dropped onto the pavement with a loud thud. Spidey flipped back, landing on his feet a few feet from the second person, who stood up and glared at him.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular white man anywhere from his late thirties to early forties, with tanned, weathered skin and a jet black mullet that spilled halfway down his back, held back by a camo headband. He wore a black vest of kevlar body armor with a white skull painted on the front, a heavy cargo belt whose front pouches had also been painted white to form elongated "teeth" for the skull, camo cargo pants, and black combat boots. A suede duster completed his ensemble. He had a submachine gun in one hand and a rifle slung across his back.

"Gentlemen, may I present your mutual problem," Spidey said.

"What the—?! Yo man, who the fuck is this asshole?!" one of the Puerto Ricans yelled. The other bangers grunted general agreements.

"Bad language, good question," Spidey said as he idly webbed the bangers' mouths. "Who are you?"

The man spat, taking a moment to light a cigarette from which he took a long drag. "Punisher," he growled in a gravelly voice. "Stay outta my way, freak. This doesn't concern you."

"Dude. You're wandering around the city gunning down people and blowing up cars with a rocket launcher," Spidey said. "What kind of friendly neighborhood Spider-Man would I be if I didn't stop an unfriendly nutjob like you?"

"Suit yourself," Punisher grunted, pointing his submachine gun at Spidey and opening fire. Spidey jumped straight up, shot out a web line to snag the corner of the building behind Punisher, then used it to pull himself into a horizontal diving kick to Punisher's head. As Punisher staggered, Spidey yanked his gun away and webbed it to a wall. Before he could web up Punisher, though, Punisher recovered and, to Spidey's surprise, caught him with a fast, vicious standing uppercut which sent him flying.

"Not gonna say it again," Punisher growled. "Stay outta my way." He unlimbered his assault rifle and took aim at Spidey. Spidey yanked his feet out from under him with his webs, then grabbed the rifle and tossed it onto the roof. He stuck to the side of the wall and tried to web Punisher down, but Punisher rolled to the side and ran up the corner of the building at an angle, grabbing hold of a retracted fire escape and pulling himself up. In five seconds, he was on the roof.

"Oh, gonna play that game?" Spidey muttered. "Because I love that game!" He leapt up onto the roof and chased Punisher down. "Hey, Punisher! Come on, man! Let's sit down and talk this out!" He dodged as Punisher fired a handgun at him without breaking stride or even looking back. "You know you don't have to use guns and bombs to punish gangbangers! You could, I dunno, maybe carry around a giant paddle? I know if I was a gangbanger I'd—"

Punisher suddenly stopped, turned, and rammed Spidey with a shoulder tackle. Spidey skipped back, launching himself forward and trying to scissor-kick Punisher, but Punisher twisted out of it and dropped Spidey with an elbow to the kidneys. Spidey grunted, but rolled out from underneath and webbed Punisher's eyes, then sent him flying with a punch.

"You know, you don't strike me as much of a Punisher right now," Spidey said. "More like a Take Punishment...er." He tilted his head. "That sounded better in my head."

Punisher stood up, wiping blood from his lip. "Why," he hissed, "are you protecting that SCUM?!"

"Look, dude, I get it," Spidey said. "Gangs don't exactly help with the crime rate in this city. But you're not the solution, you're part of the problem. What you're doing? You're a gang of one, starting gang wars in the streets, and for what?! Why all the killing and violence?"

"I had a wife, two kids," Punisher said, bowing his head and closing his eyes. "She was driving them to the dentist, got cut off...took a wrong turn. Had to go through gangland to get back on the main road." He clenched a fist. "Buncha punks high on meth shot up her car, killed my whole family." He grit his teeth. "They all gotta pay. They all gotta pay."

"Whoa, man, that's harsh," Spidey said softly. "Look, I...I feel you, alright? I know what you're going through. My uncle was killed by a crook right in the street and I couldn't stop it. I wasn't...didn't do what I should've done. That's why I became Spider-Man. But this? What you're doing? This isn't the way. You're just—"

"IT'S WAR!" Punisher snarled, firing off two shots at Spider-Man. "It's war, and all these doped-up scumbags...they gotta pay, man. They gotta PAY!" He pulled a grenade out of his pocket, ripped the pin out with his teeth, hurled it at Spider-Man, and tucked into a combat roll in the opposite direction.

Eyes wide, Spidey snagged the grenade in his web and flung it straight into the sky as hard as he could. It exploded harmlessly high above the city, startling a flock of pigeons. "Dude, I'm allergic to pineapple!" Spidey quipped. "Also, I—" He froze at a sudden spike of danger from his Spider-Sense. "What the—"

A billy club passed through the spot where Spider-Man's head was a split second earlier. Before he knew what was happening, a foot snagged his left ankle and dragged him to the ground, and a knee was planted on his chest. Spidey looked up, eyes wide, into the blank white lenses of a dark red cowl.

"We don't throw hand grenades in my neighborhood, pal."


Spectacular Spider-Man is the intellectual property of Marvel Entertainment, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Greg Weisman. Other properties appearing in this story are the intellectual property of their respective creators. This intellectual property is used without permission with no intent to profit from said use. The unique content contained on this page is the property of Mythril Moth, and redistribution of this content without express permission is strongly discouraged.