He decided to run the mask through two more rinse cycles than he ran with the rest of the costume. Washing the head-piece was usually the most important part of laundry day. He spent so much time breathing in his own breath through the thing that he really didn’t need a three-day-old body-funk included. He knew this from experience. Peter Parker had been cleaning his own Spider-Man costumes since he was fifteen.

It had been absolutely necessary back when he was just a kid living with his aunt in Forest Hills. There was no way May Parker was going to miss a pair of red and blue spandex tights mixed in with all those yellow sweater vests. When he was living with the gorgeous Mary Jane Watson years later, the reasons for washing his own suits were something else entirely. MJ was a “dry clean only” kind of girl. The image of her bent over a clothesbasket with a Spider-Man costume in hand was the height of whimsical fantasy.

There were only two other people who’d ever cleaned his spider-duds. He generally tried not to think about one of them because the reason she had to do so was absolutely mortifying. Of course, the fact that it had led to some fantastic, life-affirming sex shortly thereafter made his night with Batgirl the kind of thing Peter actually ended up thinking about a lot… even all these years later.

His most recent launderer, however, had been the Avengers’ butler, Edwin Jarvis. Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May had briefly lived in Avengers Tower after Peter had joined the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They hadn’t stayed there long, but in the brief time before the insanity of the superhero “Civil War” forced them to flee, Jarvis had absolutely insisted on taking Peter’s costumes while he handled the rest of the Avengers’ laundry. And Jarvis brought them back so fresh, clean, and downright fluffy that Peter saw little reason to argue. Of course, it was eventually revealed that this particular Jarvis was, in fact, an alien imposter who’d probably used the genetic material scraped from their unclean clothes to help his warrior race of shape-shifting Skrull to duplicate the Avengers’ various powers, so Peter had once more embraced his D.I.Y. philosophy of spider-washing.

This is why, Peter found himself locked in the basement laundry room of Avengers Mansion, naked, hating his life. It wasn’t cleaning his own clothes that put him in such a funk. Hell, this was a nice, quiet bubble of sanity in a life that got crazier and less certain with each passing day. And while the wall-crawler had long been prone to a substantial amount of self-loathing, this particular Peter Parker pity party happened to occur at a definite low-point in his long career as Spider-Man.

Something like ten years had passed since Peter had been bitten by that radioactive spider, but he swore sometimes it felt closer to fifty. Just an endless blur of goblins and symbiotes and lizards… oh my!

Ever since he’d joined the Avengers, his life had become one mega crap storm after another. That civil war over the Superhuman Registration Act — which demanded that every masked vigilante step forward to reveal their true identity or face federal prosecution — had torn his life apart in a way that made the Skrull’s secret invasion of Earth almost pleasant by comparison. The decisions he made during that impossible imbroglio had almost cost Aunt May her life… and they seemed to cost Peter the love of his own, as Mary Jane had left him and New York City behind when it was over…

Battling the Skrull months later had been dangerous and more than a little confusing, but that was pretty much business-as-usual for the web-slinger by now. It was the aftermath of the Skrull attack that really blew his mind, as his greatest enemy, Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, was appointed the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. — the world’s premiere intelligence and covert ops agency. Stormin’ Norman rebranded the operation as H.A.M.M.E.R., proclaimed himself the new leader of the Avengers, and spent half a year zipping around the world in a repainted suit of Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor, calling himself the Iron Patriot while backed by a handpicked team of unrepentant supervillains. And all Osborn had to do to get away with this was dress them up in old Avengers costumes! Daredevil’s old sparring partner Bullseye was the new Hawkeye. Moonstone was the new Ms. Marvel, and Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion and current Venom was the new Spider-Man… the new Spider-Man who was inexplicably more popular than the original. Osborn’s public relations team was something else, alright.

Oh. And somehow during all of this, J. Jonah Jameson, the man who’d spent the last decade declaring the web-head a public enemy in 40-point font in the Daily Bugle, was elected mayor of New York City. Mercifully, up until the election, the usual gang of threats and menaces that plagued Peter’s life as Spider-Man had been absent. Then, in a flash, they were back and worse than ever. Doctor Octopus took technological control of the city. Electro destroyed the Bugle building. Two different Rhinos fought to the death in the middle of Manhattan in a gruesome street brawl and Spidey hadn’t been able to stop it… just like he failed to stop Curt Conners from murdering his own son as the Lizard.

This relentless gauntlet pushed Peter to his breaking point, and that’s when Kraven the Hunter — the man who had once left Spider-Man buried alive before killing himself — came back from the dead to bring Peter’s life to a new level of hell. The wall-crawler had barely wrapped up that nightmare before the Blackest Night descended upon him.

Peter didn’t learn most of the details until later, but apparently some dread, cosmic death god named Nekron brought back the dead as Black Lantern zombies bent on the end of all life. Spider-Man still wasn’t certain whether or not Kraven’s return had been a part of Nekron’s design, but there was no question that it was one of the worst nights of his life. He endured the return of damn near everybody who’d ever died under his watch, fighting their cosmic-powered corpses in the streets of New York.

There was Sally Avril from high school… NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff, one of the few cops who would work with him before she was murdered by the Sin-Eater… Even Ben Reilly, the genetic double that had filled-in for Peter as Spider-Man when both of them thought Ben was the original and Peter himself was merely a clone of the one, true web-head.

Despite the abject horror of that dark night, Spider-Man fought his way through them all. Because as soon as he realized the Black Lanterns’ strategy — gorging themselves on the emotions conjured up by the living in face of the dead — he realized he had to get to Aunt May, because it was only a matter of time before they’d both come face to face with his greatest regret: Black Lantern Ben Parker. He found them at the house in Forest Hills, his poor aunt terrified as she confronted the gentle face of his beloved Uncle Ben, twisted in rage while spouting all of his widow’s worst fears while trying to tear out her heart and eat it. Spider-Man did what he had to stop him…

If it had just ended there.

Saving May from his undead uncle was a breeze compared to confronting a space zombie Gwen Stacy. Peter should have expected it, but he tended to remember Ben as the good man who raised him and Gwen as the first girl who loved him wholeheartedly. And honestly, after all these years, he’d been able to put so much of the guilt he’d felt for Uncle Ben’s death behind him. Because Ben had died because Peter failed to act — he’d let the burglar who shot his uncle run right past him. But as Black Lantern Gwen was all too quick to point out as their battle raged across two boroughs, she had died because Peter acted.

“Trust me, Peter, this is a terrible place to die,” she said, as the chase brought them atop the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man hated that goddamn bridge but somehow he seemed to end up there every couple of months, forced to relive some ridiculous rehash of the worst night of his life…

“It’s not just the fact that I died because I was Spider-Man’s girlfriend that kills me,” she had told him. “I can even almost forgive you for never telling me your secret. It’s the fact that you snapped my neck with your carelessly casted webs that makes me hate you, Peter.”

He’d tried to tune her out. She wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t heard a million times before, whether it was from the Green Goblin taunting him or in his own guilt-ridden head and shameful heart, but this was different somehow. This was Gwen‘s voice accusing him. Her bright blue eyes fixed on him in hate as she pinned him down. Conflicted with a broiling mix of fear and love bound by compassion, Spider-Man was almost ripe to sate her hunger. She just needed to push him a little bit further.

“How long did it take you to fuck that slut Mary Jane after you killed me?” that evil thing asked him then. “Were you lusting after her the whole time we were together? Would you have saved me if I put out like she did? Sorry, Peter. I was waiting for a real man…”

That’s when the uni-beam tore a hole through her torso and sent her spiraling toward the rough waters of the Hudson River below. Spurred by instinct alone, Spider-Man actually found himself sprinting toward the edge of the suspension tower. He was just about to dive after her before he stopped himself.

“You’re just lucky I’m going to need you for this, Spider-Man,” the Iron Patriot said, landing beside him. “If the fight I just had with my dead wife is any indication, I’m not going to be able to handle her by myself.”

Before the web-head could say anything, Gwen was flying up toward the tower, reforming her gaping chest wound as she tore into them.

As it turned out, Norman Osborn had actually risen to the challenge of leading his evil Avengers in an attempt to take New York back from the Black Lanterns. In the ultimate irony, Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, who had his own twisted, gut-wrenching history with Gwen, was just as vulnerable to her attack, but together, they managed to defeat her.

Peter beat Gwen. With the Green Goblin’s help. The thought alone still made him gag.

He suspected it was the fight with that depraved cosmic abomination that pushed Norman over the edge, because the next day, after the battle with Nekron was done, the Iron Patriot began his psychotically misguided assault on Asgard. H.A.M.M.E.R. engaged the stronghold of the Norse Gods, floating above Broxton, Oklahoma, as Osborn’s last crazy power play. The attack didn’t end well for anybody, as Asgard crumbled, but at least Norman was finally revealed for the dangerous whack job Spider-Man had always known him to be.

Osborn’s failed siege had done a few more favors for the forces of good and iconic spandex underoos: Norman had finally been thrown back in jail, the Superhuman Registration Act had been repealed and Steve Rogers, the original Captain America — who everyone thought had died shortly after the end of the Civil War — was in charge of everything the Iron Patriot had run into the ground. Things were relatively quiet. Unless you counted the Avengers fighting Kang the Conqueror as all of space and time collapsed around them… Or the New Avengers watching Doctor Voodoo, the freshly minted Sorcerer Supreme, sacrifice his life to save our dimension from the all-powerful vengeance of Agamotto… Or that mess Spidey found himself with Doc Ock over Harry Osborn’s baby…

Things hadn’t been going so well for Peter out of his Spidey duds, either. J. Jonah Jameson had only pursued the mayor’s office because he’d been pushed out of his top-spot at the Daily Bugle by some bow-tied billionaire named Dexter Bennet. When Peter realized that working at the new DB wasn’t really for him, he finagled a job in the press corps at City Hall. Between that and freelance work with Front Line, the online news source where the vast majority of the Bugle‘s former staff had found new work, Peter was actually managing to make ends meet for a while. Then Mayor Jameson caught him doctoring a photo — a pic Peter’d created specifically to save Jonah’s political career by clearing JJJ of charges of which he was clearly innocent — and His Honor exposed Peter’s fraud to the world, blackballing him from any future work in news photography. So Peter was dead broke and unable to find employment in the one field in which he’d really made a name for himself.

He knew he deserved it. His time at the Bugle with guys like Joe Robertson and Ben Urich had impressed upon him the importance of journalistic integrity, but journalism had never really been Peter’s passion. He loved science. A couple years back, when photographing his fights as Spider-Man hadn’t been enough, he’d taken a job at his old high school as a science teacher. It was the closest he’d come so far to professional fulfillment. Too bad even joining the teacher’s union hadn’t been enough to help him keep that gig. Guess it didn’t help that he’d taken so many sick days to recover from tussles with totemic spider-gods and missions with the Avengers.

Peter was slowly starting to worry that the only thing he was actually good for was punching bad guys. And while that was a perfectly valid career choice for some — Wolverine and Hawkeye totally swore by it — Spider-Man couldn’t even get paid for his time with the Avengers like everyone else. Not if he wanted to keep his secret identity, and he’d learned the hard way that he had to do just that… for the sake of Aunt May or anyone else he cared about.

Besides, Peter had always hoped that there was more in store for him than fist fights and late night patrols. Guys like Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man seemed to make it all work for them. He always thought he’d figure out something like that for himself. Peter Parker: Superhero Scientist. But it looked like his fractious life as Spider-Man would always mean he’d never really get his dream job, and Peter would just have to accept that.

Right now, Peter Parker needed to worry less about his career and more about just finding a job — any job — that would help him pay the rent.

He was washing his Spider-Man costume right now because he’d spent the last two nights at Avengers Mansion. After the SHRA had been repealed and everyone was friends again, Luke Cage bought the place off Tony Stark for a buck so that the New Avengers had a base of operations. Cage told Spidey that he was more than welcome to move in if he wanted, but the wall-crawler declined.

Spidey had his reasons. Right now, only a few of the New Avengers knew who he really was, and considering the lengths he’d recently gone through to regain his secret identity, he really couldn’t risk it getting out again. Especially since Victoria Hand, who’d served as the deputy Director of H.A.M.M.E.R. during Osborn’s administration, was now working as their liaison with S.H.I.E.L.D. There was no telling when she’d be wandering the halls, which is why he tended to stay in full costume while on the premises. He didn’t trust her. This was a woman who’d accepted the Gospel According to Norman Osborn, after all. Even if Captain America or Commander Rogers or whatever title Steve was going with now thought Hand was okay, Peter couldn’t let that go. Living in Avengers Mansion meant putting his private life in jeopardy. It was as simple as that.

But after that crazy fight with Agamotto, he’d decided to crash in a guest room in the mansion’s east wing. He hadn’t slept in something like 36 hours — an unsettlingly typical occurrence in his life — and found himself collapsing into one of the plushest, most comfortable beds he’d ever been in. Then he did it again the next night.

He would have to go back to his own apartment eventually, but he wasn’t in any rush. His roommate, Michele Gonzales, was a bit of a handful most of the time. She had this odd expectation he’d actually pay his half of the rent every month, which was all but impossible now that he was unemployed. Life with Michele was a far cry from the last time he’d lived with a woman, as M.G. hadn’t really liked him to begin with, and sleeping with her the night Aunt May married the new mayor’s father, J. Jonah Jameson Senior, hadn’t eased tension in the least.

It was a mistake. He was drunk. Mary Jane had chosen May’s wedding as the perfect opportunity to return to New York after moving out to L.A., and faced with confronting his ex, Peter used it as an excuse to hit the open bar a little more freely than he usually would have to disastrous results.

So here he was, hiding from an angry, 5’8″ Latina lawyer in the safety and comfort of the Avengers’ laundry room. Victoria Hand was meeting with Steve Rogers over in Avengers Tower, but you never knew who was going to stop by the mansion, which is why he went so far as to web the door closed while he went about the delicate task of rinsing his delicates.

Doing his laundry at the mansion was a total revelation. The Avengers’ drier was sophisticated enough to dry his costume without shrinking it… not the kind of equipment Peter used to encounter in his desperate, laundromat days. Hell, he was tempted to risk swinging over to his apartment to grab his civilian clothes. It’s not like he was rolling in quarters these days. But that meant leaving the room. That meant going out in the world. That meant confronting whatever new problem the universe had waiting for him. So Peter had plenty of time to sit there and watch his tights tumble while his mind wandered.

He wondered how it all had gone wrong between him and MJ, but then he remembered that she had recently dropped by his place to sit him down and explain exactly where, why and how it went wrong. It had been a good talk. Absolutely. He was glad that they had it. Mary Jane had told him that it was time for him to find someone who was strong enough to be with him. And he thought he was finally ready to do just that.


It wasn’t like Peter didn’t have options. There was Michele, of course, but smoothing things over between them would take a Herculean effort he doubted even his pal Hercules could pull off. It’d been a hell of a campaign just to get to their current state of civility. And it’s not like they had a lot in common…

Spider-Man had resumed his relationship with Felicia Hardy, the semi-reformed cat burglar who operated as the Black Cat. Felicia had been very clear, however, that they had a strictly physical, friends with benefits arrangement. And while that was fun — and who was Peter kidding? It was fantastic! — when it came right down to it, she didn’t want to share her life with him, and he wanted a partner in something other than crime. No matter how carnal. That and the usual trust issues that cropped up between them had cooled things off since that craziness with the Kravinoffs.

Then there was Norah Winters, the spunky young reporter at Front Line who loved to push Peter’s buttons, but she was dating one of his friends, Randy Robertson. And even though she tried to make it sound like a casual fling, Peter suspected Norah was just kidding herself. Randy was one of the good ones. Besides, Peter’d been down that road back in college with his best friend, Harry, Norman’s son. While Peter doubted trying to wedge his way between Norah and Randy would lead him down the same trail toward betrayal and pumpkins bombs, why tempt fate?

Especially when there was Carlie Cooper, the fetching young crime scene investigator who had actually gone out on a few dates with him already. Peter had known since Harry had introduced them that Carlie was interested, but he had been keeping her at arm’s length. This was something Carlie had called him out on more than a few times. Peter liked her. He really did. She was smart, cute, funny, and all-too importantly, fairly forgiving. But he was afraid to push things too far…