Dr. Karla Sofen typed away contentedly at her computer, ignoring the sounds of the marching Guardsmen as they passed by her office. In the three weeks since the horrific jailbreak at the Ravencroft Asylum for the Criminally Insane, when the asylum's entire security system had been mysteriously disabled and all of its super-powered inmates escaped in a massive jailbreak, security at the mental hospital had been tripled. Rotating groups of no less than four Guardsmen watched over each of the major control areas that controlled the mansion's security system, which had been split into several separate and specially isolated mainframes. No single administrator could disable the entire security system by themselves anymore, with different administrators being given top-secret passcodes that only they were given.
Such procedures didn't bother Dr. Sofen in the least, given her appreciation of proper regulations and careful attention to detail. Indeed, she had been fascinated by the lengths to which the government had gone to reinforce security measures at the asylum. Money was no object, as state and federal coffers alike had been opened to pay for more guards and doubly reinforce security measures. Citizens who routinely groused about paying taxes usually tended to clam up when they were afraid that they would be in genuine physical danger, after all.
And then there had been the reactions of the supervillains, most of whom had been infected by Psyko's insanity and forced to continuously relive their worst nightmares over and over again, even as their bodies became puppets under Psyko's control. Some of them had been traumatized by the experience, and were just as horrified as any ordinary person, while others had simply shrugged it off before resuming their normal thought patterns. Many of the villains who had managed to avoid capture after Psyko's defeat had returned to the same types of crimes they had always committed, picking up their fights with their heroic enemies as if nothing had ever happened.
Shaking out her long blonde hair, Dr. Sofen leaned back in her chair as she reflected on these questions.
Almost instinctively, she fingered the bright golden pendant around her neck, which was normally hidden underneath her clothes.
In spite of herself, Dr. Sofen couldn't resist bringing the pendant out into the open when no one was around.
It was so beautiful, after all.
"BAD MOON RISING"
Groaning in frustration, Mary Jane Watson rose from her chair and stomped into the kitchen to get some coffee. As she made herself a fresh pot, she reflected on the irony of fighting crime as a superheroine being so much easier than trying to make sure one's bills were regularly paid on time. For the moment, she had the apartment to herself, as Kitty Pryde wasn't back from her afternoon classes. And to be honest Mary Jane was actually grateful for the solitude, as it gave her time to get caught up on her bills…her homework…her mother's alimony payments…her waitressing job…her lines for A Streetcar Named Desire…
Yawning wearily, Mary Jane checked her watch. To her surprise, it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, even if it had felt like much longer. She realized she had been up far too late last night, trying to finish her Biology assignment after she had spent much of the evening getting caught up in a hostage-taking at a local office building. With her help as Spider-Woman, the police had managed to capture the hostage-taker and release his prisoners…except for the fact that it took over six hours, cutting well into the time Mary Jane had intended to spend working on her Biology project. Between that and all the other work she had needed to get caught up on, she had been up until almost 2 AM.
Fortunately, she'd had the evening off from work, but tonight she was working the early shift, something that didn't please her at all. That realization had made Mary Jane more than a little grumpy, and she'd gone the whole morning with a fairly sour look on her face. Wisely, Kitty had realized Mary Jane wasn't in a talking mood, and had left her alone. Mary Jane's mood hadn't been improved by her having to work out her grocery bills, her half of the April rent, and the amount of money she still owed Kitty for paying the March rent…
Now, continually muttering under her breath, Mary Jane's nerves were rubbed raw and ready to snap.
The knock at the door was the final straw, as she stood up and marched over to answer it, ready to slam it in the face of whoever the hell was bothering her.
Anger turned to concern as she flung open the door, seeing the deeply troubled face of her old friend Liz Allan.
"…Liz?" Mary Jane started in confusion, before she regained her composure. "Is something wrong?" she asked gently, her annoyance gone in an instant.
"I need to talk to you, MJ," Liz said, looking down at the floor. "I don't know who else I can ask about this-it's…" she trailed off.
"Here, come on," Mary Jane said, leading Liz into the apartment and shutting the door behind them. "Now what's wrong?" she asked, sitting down with Liz on the couch.
"I know I haven't been around much," Liz started apologetically, "but with midterms and everything else, I've been so busy-"
"It's fine," Mary Jane assured her, waving away her concerns. "Now, what's the problem?"
"It's Harry," Liz said sadly. "I don't know what's wrong with him, but I just have a feeling something terrible's going to happen with him."
"What do you mean?" Mary Jane asked, trying not to sound too alarmed.
"I hardly ever see him anymore," Liz sighed. "He disappears for days at a time, meeting with these strange men I've never seen before, he's always involved with some kind of paperwork, and he…he…"
"It's okay, Liz," Mary Jane said softly. "You can tell me…"
"He just gets this strange look in his eyes when he mentions his father," Liz continued, worry evident in her voice. "He just goes crazy."
"Have you tried talking to him?" Mary Jane asked, not liking where this was going at all.
"He won't listen to me," Liz replied, tears forming in her eyes as she leaned against Mary Jane. "It's like I don't even exist anymore…"
Mary Jane hugged Liz tightly, patting her gently on the shoulder, but she was seething with rage on the inside as she recalled what Harry had told her.
"Don't even start with me, Harry," Mary Jane muttered, as she moved to sit down again. "I have enough problems without having to deal with your crap."
"Funny, I could say the same thing about you," Harry retorted, not backing down an inch. "And that's not the only thing-remember how you told me about how Liz was a saint in putting up with my bullshit? Well, you were right…but again I could say the same thing about Liz being a saint in putting up with your crap, too."
Mary Jane recoiled in surprise.
"…What do you mean?" she asked slowly, no anger in her voice this time.
"You know exactly what I mean," Harry told her bluntly. "That's all you ever do when you're with Liz, complaining about your problems and snapping at her when she tries to help you."
"I'll try talking to him," Mary Jane said determinedly. "He was right the first time, you know-you've had to put up with both our crap for way too long, Liz."
"I just wish I knew what I could do," Liz said, holding Mary Jane's hand. "I can't decide…"
"Let me try talking to Harry," Mary Jane assured her. "I've had some problems with my father too-maybe I can figure out what's going on."
"I'd really appreciate it, MJ," Liz smiled back. "It just kills me to see him like that."
Mary Jane felt just as bad, not just for Liz, but also for how poorly she'd treated Harry the first time she'd tried talking to him.
She was determined not to screw it up again.
The Bar With No Name was the place to be seen for New York's criminal community, a high-end club with drinks, dancing girls, music and all kind of other "pleasures", any of which could be had for the right price. Street gangs, drug dealers, pimps and other criminal lowlifes had been flocking to the Bar for years, but in the last decade it had become the bar of choice for the city's supervillain population. Patrons that walked in wearing bizarre and outlandish outfits were no longer seen as so unusual, and were in fact welcomed by the management, given how much money they usually tended to spend.
It was for that reason that the young blonde woman dressed in the golden body armor and silver boots, gloves and helmet was greeted more with smiles and waves rather than stares and shouts. Her long hair flowing free behind a face covered by an impassive mask, she casually walked up to the bar and ordered a drink, before looking around for a suitable candidate.
She soon found what she was looking for in the man in the green armor sitting by himself at a table. His boots and gloves were purple, as was the strange pod-like device on his back. A purple beetle-like helmet with golden eyes sat on the table next to his glass, marking him out to those in the know as the Beetle, a longtime enemy of Spider-Man and Daredevil and a respected member of the supervillain community.
"Mind a little company?" the Beetle looked up in surprise as he heard a husky feminine voice. Blinking in surprise, he was caught somewhat off guard by the young woman in front of him, the bottom of her face mask revealing a mouth and a lovely white smile.
"Not at all," the Beetle smiled back, gesturing with his beer as he invited her to sit down. "I take it you're new," he continued, "since I've never seen you here before, that you're new to the profession?"
"Just sounding out the details," the woman answered. "You are…the Beetle, I take it?"
"My fame precedes me," the Beetle chuckled. "I've tangled with Spider-Man, Daredevil and Moon Knight, though usually just the first two. Have you fought any heroes yet?"
The woman shook her head.
"Like you said, I'm new to the profession," she replied. "I suppose you could call me…Moonstone," she finally said after just the right amount of hesitation.
"A pleasure," the Beetle nodded. "Now, what can I do for you?"
"Well, like you said, I'm new to the profession," Moonstone explained. "And I was hoping to learn a little more about supervillainy before I get started. Truth be told, I've often wondered why costumed supervillains do the things they do. Ten years ago, they were just flights of fantasy in comic books, and now they're a part of real life."
"We also tend to be larger than life too," the Beetle laughed. "So, what exactly did you want to know?"
"I might as well start with the question most civilians would ask," Moonstone started. "With all their skills and talents, why do supervillains use them to rob banks or commit other crimes, when they could earn huge fortunes legitimately? If you have all this technology, or all these amazing powers, why not use them in honest work? That way, you wouldn't have to keep fighting superheroes, and you'd get to keep all your money without going to jail?"
"Of course," the Beetle sighed as he rolled his eyes. "I should have known you'd start out asking that. You really want to know?"
"You bet," Moonstone answered.
"Alright, here we go," the Beetle nodded. "Supervillains get asked that question all the time, and the answer is so boring we're usually tempted to come up with some sort of complicated Freudian bullshit to explain it all."
"So what is the answer?" Moonstone wondered, raising an eyebrow.
"The answer, quite simply, is that supervillains commit crimes for the exact same reasons that ordinary criminals who display remarkable talents, planning, resources and ingenuity have been committing their crimes for decades," the Beetle began. "Just look at the resources drug runners put into smuggling their product, the efforts counterfeiters put into producing funny money, the ingenuity displayed by purveyors of bogus sports memorabilia or art forgeries when they produce their fake merchandise, or the planning that goes into white-collar crime, like the looting of Enron and WorldCom a few years ago."
"The people who pull that crap off all showed amazing initiative and resourcefulness," the Beetle pointed out. "Most of them, hell probably all of them, could have made legitimate names for themselves without risking having to go to jail. Why are supervillains singled out for this kind of behavior, when non-powered criminals have been pulling the same kind of shit for years? Why do those ordinary criminals do what they do?"
Moonstone only shrugged.
"It's for any number of reasons," the Beetle explained. "Some of them are just greedy and want an instant get-rich-quick payoff, others enjoy the notoriety, some of them don't want to pay taxes on the money they make, some of them do it to mess with society. Some criminals see their crime as a stepping stone, which explains why you have low-level crack dealers peddling their trash on the streets when they could make more money working part-time at McDonald's without being shot at or going to jail. They do it because they want to become big-time drug lords. If you want a supervillain example, think of the Green Goblin terrorizing people as a means of trying to make a name for himself to seize control of the New York criminal cartels."
As she listened to the Beetle, Moonstone recalled a book she had once read written by a longtime FBI profiler named John Douglas, who recounted how one criminal bookie who was smart enough to make legitimate money said that he did crime for the thrill. He said that the bookie told him that Douglas couldn't stop him from doing it-in the criminal's words, 'it's what we are'.
"Really, the only difference between supervillains and ordinary criminals is that the ordinary crooks don't have special technology or superpowers to give them an edge," the Beetle concluded. "I used my technology skills to make my armor and give myself powers. The suit, the helmet, everything."
"So you never tried starting your own business, or patenting your own inventions and technology, or even just getting a job with a group like Stark Enterprises or ClarkeTech?" Moonstone asked in surprise.
"People talk about that as if it's a guaranteed success," the Beetle scoffed. "Starting your own business is a crapshoot when 90% of them fail. And patenting your technology is no guarantee of success either, when assholes like Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane will try and screw you out of your share of the royalties. That's what almost happened to the Shocker-Hammer would have ripped him off, and he wouldn't have gotten one red cent for all his hard work."
"So why not just get an engineering job?" Moonstone asked him.
"Because most of us hate those dull 9-5 jobs," the Beetle spat, his voice filling with venom. "You're stuck working for idiots who only got to where they did by sucking up to people who wouldn't even spit on them. You're at their beck and call whenever they want, they promote their fellow brownnosers over people with actual talent, they take all the credit for your hard work. And when times are tough, instead of cutting down on their first-class flights and expensive limousines, they fire the people whose work got them all that wealth in the first place. You really think most supervillains are willing to put up with that shit? That's the whole reason I became a criminal in the first place!"
Moonstone put her chin in her hand and leaned back in her chair as the Beetle finished ranting.
"How fascinating," she said, staring into the distance as she began thinking.
As he calmed down, the Beetle looked at Moonstone and was startled by the intensity of the expression on her face.
At first, Harry Osborn tried to ignore the insistent, repeated knocking. Unfortunately, the hammering continued, to the point where he finally couldn't take it anymore. Knowing full well who was disturbing him, he stomped over to the door and flung it open, sneering at the all-too-familiar presence of Mary Jane standing in the doorway.
"We need to talk, Harry," Mary Jane said firmly, holding out her hand as Harry tried to slam the door in her face. Despite shoving with all his might, Harry couldn't move the door, and ended up stumbling back in surprise as Mary Jane pushed her way in, shutting the door behind her. Staring at Mary Jane with contempt, Harry simply folded his arms and fell silent.
They stood in silence for several minutes, before Mary Jane finally spoke.
"Harry-" she began.
"What the hell do you want?" Harry demanded.
"You know exactly what I want," Mary Jane said calmly. "Liz is really worried about you. Why haven't you been answering her calls or e-mails?"
"That's none of your damn business," Harry shot back.
"Yes it is," Mary Jane replied unflappably. "Liz is my friend. She's our friend. And you're hurting her. What I want to know is why."
"Big talk, coming from you," Harry snapped. "You're the one always bitching to Liz. You're the one who nearly beat me up. And you're the one who always makes everything about you," he sneered. "You're just here because you feel guilty."
"You're actually right, you know that?" Mary Jane nodded. "I'm here because I've been treating Liz like crap too, and I'm trying to make it up to her. I never would have come if she hadn't come to me. She's done a lot for me, and I owe her. So what are you doing to try and make it up to her?"
Harry had no response to that.
"I…there's nothing I can do for her right now," he said, shame in his voice. "I need to…"
"Is this about your father?" Mary Jane asked. "And whatever it is you're trying to do to him?"
"You don't know what he's done," Harry. "You have no idea…"
"Actually, I do," Mary Jane replied gently. "I got a pretty good idea from all the times my dad used my mom as a punching bag, all the flings he had with women my age, the way he cancelled my tuition and left me several thousand dollars in debt, or the way he kicked us out of the house and forced us to move in with my aunt. I actually have a really good idea of what it's like," she said sadly.
Harry sighed sadly, before a scowl crossed his face.
"And what have you done to stick it to your old man?" he asked venomously. "Or do you just let him walk all over you?"
"I'm more worried about helping the people who really need it," Mary Jane replied. "Like my mom. And I haven't done what I could have for Liz, but I'm trying to make it up to her now."
"So you're just going to let him get away with it?" Harry asked incredulously. "After everything he did?"
"Look Harry, this isn't about me, it's about you," Mary Jane scowled, finally starting to lose patience. "Liz needs you, and she's more important than anything to do with your father right now."
"You don't realize how important this is," Harry shook his head. "Once I take care of it, then I can help Liz."
"Harry, you were the one who reminded me of just how bad I've been treating Liz," Mary Jane reminded him, sadness crossing her face. "You helped me realize just how selfish I'd been. Can't we help you?"
"No you can't," Harry sighed, frustration creeping into his voice. "No one can help me. I've got to do this myself."
"You know what?" Mary Jane finally snapped back. "Fine. If you're so obsessed with whatever your little crusade is-and I know you won't tell anyone, that's why I didn't ask-then you can do it yourself."
"Just remember, Harry-this anger may be a part of you, but if that's all you focus on and you let it consume you, you're going to suffer for it in the long run. I've been there, and in some ways I'm even still there. Just…please…don't forget about Liz, alright? Don't let your anger be the only thing that defines you."
"Mary Jane…" Harry began.
"I guess I can't convince you," Mary Jane sighed. "Just remember the one thing we have in common besides our fathers. We both have a friend with the patience of a saint and the compassion of an angel, who's cut us both a hell of a lot more slack than either one of us deserved. If you can't treat her better than you have, you don't deserve her."
Looking over her shoulder at Harry as she headed for the door, Mary Jane calmly closed it behind her, leaving Harry alone in the dark.
Mary Jane felt more than a little low as she walked home, unsure of whether she'd been able to connect with Harry at all. She just wasn't sure what else she could do to help Liz or bring Harry around, and couldn't help but feel as if she'd failed.
A fat lot of good my powers have been able to do, she thought glumly, before a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Hey, pretty lady," she heard a familiar voice greet her from further up the street. Looking up in surprise, Mary Jane saw Ben Reilly greet her with a smile.
"You seem pretty down," Ben said as he came over to greet her. "Anything I can do to help?"
"I doubt it," Mary Jane sighed."Not unless you know how to get bickering couples back together."
"I want to be Dr. Reilly, not Dr. Phil," Ben replied half-humorously, which brought a smile to Mary Jane's face. "I can probably offer an ear, though," he said more gently. "Want to get something at the Coffee Bean? I'm buying."
After they had gotten some coffee and Mary Jane had told Ben about what was going on, he only shook his head.
"You don't know the whole story, MJ," Ben said when she'd finally finished. "You said he's planning something to do with his father?"
"Yeah," Mary Jane replied. "He disappears for days at a time, he's always meeting with these strange men, and-"
"Is it anything that could be illegal?" Ben asked, slight alarm in his voice.
"I don't know," Mary Jane shrugged. "He says that it isn't, but I really don't know."
"You know, this is just a thought…" Ben began.
"What?" Mary Jane asked.
"His dad's that Norman Osborn character, right?" Ben asked. "The chemical tycoon?"
"Yeah," Mary Jane nodded. "He's even richer than my dad."
"See, that's something I don't understand," Ben rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Why would a guy with enough money to send his kid to Yale or Harvard instead send him to a public university like Empire State?"
"My dad's just too cheap to send me anywhere like that," Mary Jane muttered. "But you're right-it is curious, now that I think about it."
"Maybe not so much, if you think about how badly Harry's dad treats him," Ben realized. "You said Harry says Norman's called him a disgrace to the Osborn name, or something like that?"
Mary Jane nodded.
"Then you can't blame the guy for being pissed off," Ben pointed out. "It doesn't excuse the way he treats Liz, but I can't blame him for trying to get out from under his old man's thumb."
"Under his thumb?" Mary Jane asked in surprise.
"Yeah, I think that might be what's actually going on here," Ben said. "Harry might just be so wrapped up in trying to become his own man that he can't really focus on anything else. And whatever he's doing might not even be all that bad-I can't imagine he's happy about being dependent on a guy like Norman Osborn."
"…I never thought of it that way," Mary Jane finally said, after reflecting for several minutes.
"I could be wrong," Ben answered, "but I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case." Checking his watch, he threw some money down on the table and stood up. "I'm up to my eyeballs in homework tonight, and I should really get started. Nice talking to you!"
"You too, thanks!" Mary Jane called back to Ben, before she returned to reflecting on what he'd just said.
She was still angry with Harry for how he'd been treating Liz, but even so she found herself sympathizing with him a lot more.
(Next Issue: When Spring Break rolls around, Mary Jane uses the time to get caught up on many of the issues going on in her life, including the auditions for the play and her ongoing money problems. She receives a surprise when Ben Reilly asks her to be his date at a special charity dinner and dance. Mary Jane accepts the offer, but finds that she can't celebrate long when Jack O' Lantern invites himself to the party, intending to hold all the partygoers for ransom and make off with the charity contributions! Can Spider-Woman hope to rescue his hostages and capture the crazed villain? All this and more in Spider-Woman #17: Party Crashers!)