The Many Faces of Spider-Man is a feature, posted the second Monday of every month, that explores the Marvel Multiverse and the many Spider-Men or Peter Parkers who dwell within.
It is said that people are a product of their environment, and what fortune had the Spider of Earth 311 to be born into such a world as rich as Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602. In 2001, Neil Gaiman was approached by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and asked to write a book. The book he produced (published in 2003 and illustrated by the outstanding Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, with covers by Scott McKowen) was a sweeping tale of historical fantasy.
Marvel 1602 is set in the last months of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England in a world that is falling apart at the seams. A transdimensional bridge between two worlds was created and cosmic energy now flows through, starting the Heroic Age far ahead of schedule in a new but familiar form. The X-Men are now “Witchbreed,” hunted by an inquisition that sees them as an affront to God’s divine plan, Stephen Strange becomes the good Queen’s physician and chief magician, and our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is… not exactly present.
Instead we have mild mannered Peter Parquagh, who was orphaned and then raised by his aunt and uncle off-page until friend of the family and Master of Spies Sir Nicholas Fury took the boy under his wing and made him an agent in Her Majesty’s secret service. Though young and inexperienced, Peter is quick to catch on to the spycraft lessons Fury teaches him and is quick to carry out assignments given to him. He is also an inquisitive character, fascinated by the natural world that surrounds him. Particularly the spiders that follow him throughout the story and always seem to imperil him with the threat of their bite.
This association with Fury drags him into a secret war between the villainous Count Otto von Doom, the crown of England, and an unnatural force that threatens to destroy the world on which they stand. Through these events he meets the young Virginia Dare who had been sent to England to request aid for the slowly failing Roanoke colony, and who has the ability to turn into wild animals. Virginia is actually based on the real first child born in the British Americas, though her trip to England was undertaken by her father.
The two youths immediately hit it off, but their plans are immediately derailed by the murder of Queen Elizabeth and the ascension of the dastardly King James I, a man who sees the colony as a waste and Sir Nicholas as a traitor. Virginia returns to Roanoke, and Peter is imprisoned in the Tower of London until he is approached by the King with an offer: help kill Sir Nicholas or suffer execution along with his aunt and uncle. Peter accepts the offer and sets sail with the King’s new Master of Spies, David Banner, to the Roanoke colony where Fury had fled.
In the New World Peter soon finds Fury waiting for him. Fury talks of the day he came to take Peter away and how much of himself he had seen in the boy. He had long been fighting wars, both open and secret, and was tired and told Peter to go ahead and kill him since he no longer cared whether he lived or died. Peter leaves his former mentor alive and goes off in search of Banner. Fury goes on to close the transdimensional bridge and the story ends with Peter and Virginia walking off into the new world together as a last spider descends to give its transformative bite.
Peter Parquagh and company would return two years later in 2005 in Marvel’s 1602: A New World, written by Greg Pak and illustrated by Greg Tocchini. A New World is set two weeks after the end of Marvel 1602 and Peter has recovered from his spider bite to find he has gained an incredible strength and stamina (surprise, surprise), is dating Virginia, and has found employment at the colony’s printing press owned by the crotchety Jonah Jameson.
The colony itself has declared independence from England and formed its own country, though it is beset by foes both from without and within. David Banner, transformed into the Hulk by the collapsing dimensional bridge rampages through the countryside and a colonial Norman Osborne rallies the other colonists against the Indians who have been long suspicious of the British newcomers. Meanwhile, Spanish nobleman Anthony Stark has been sent to the erstwhile colony on behalf of King James to retake the colony and bring Banner back for trial. It all quickly comes to a head and Peter dons a familiar looking mask and throws himself into the fray, trying to end the conflict before too much blood is spilled.
The next time the renaissance Spider appears is in the 2009 series Spider-Man 1602, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by Ramon Rosanas. Virginia Dare is murdered early on by Norman Osborne and sparks Peter’s departure from the New World and on a transatlantic and cross continental battle against Baron Octavius and his army of superhuman experiments. Along the way he mourns for his lost love and finds a new one in Marion Jane Watsonne, the red headed star of an acting troupe from Parquagh’s own home town, now touring Europe.
The last appearance of this web slinger was only back in May of this year, in a segment of the 2014 Free Comic Book Day Guardians of the Galaxy book, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli. The book is a lead-in to the upcoming “Spider-Verse” arc and shows the wall-crawler has joined the Watsonne troupe and is performing at the Globe Theater. Alas, the good times weren’t to last as the Spider was attacked by the dimension-hopping Morlun and killed on stage. While the “Spider-Verse” series has yet to be concluded (or indeed, truly start), it is likely this Spider’s decade-long adventure is over.