He did it for the shits and giggles.
He also did it because he would regret it if he didn’t.
WHO IS SPIDER-MAN?
The screen showed Peter Parker, sixteen years old and determined to prove the identity of Spider-Man over the course of the three-part documentary he was making, unknowing that it would become viral within days of the first part being released. Behind the camera, way off screen, was Harley Keener, Tony Stark’s other prodigy child, grinning like crazy as Peter started the documentary. Only a few people knew what was to come, and those few people were about to have a great few weeks.
“My name is Peter Parker, and with the help of my friends, Ned Leeds, Harley Keener, and my Aunt, May Parker, who provided me with a lot of red yarn for this project, we’re going to uncover the identity of Spider-Man.”
They started with videos, photos and newspaper articles of Spider-Man, Peter giving the important dates, such as when he showed up on the team, when he took down the Vulture, that time he was spotted fighting alongside Iron Man-
“Which begs another question, does Tony Stark know Spider-Man’s identity?”
The screen cut to an uncomfortably close shot of Tony, who was sitting in their makeshift interview space in the compound.
“No,” Tony replied. “I made his suit, absolutely, but I don’t know his identity.”
Peter’s voice sounded from off screen. “Have you tried to uncover it before?”
For a second, Tony looked nervous – a split second that would later be screenshotted and shown around as evidence that Tony knew the truth Peter was going to unravel – but the expression disappeared quickly, his usual façade reappearing.
“I haven’t looked too closely,” Tony said, his voice careful. He’d learned his lines expertly. “But I think it’s in everyone’s best interest if we don’t discover his identity.”
Tony waved a vague hand. “Everyone has the right to privacy, kid. But, I suppose, it feels like one of those things we’re not supposed to know.”
Then Peter and Ned stood in front of a cork board they’d set up. Tony had leant them a few empty conference rooms to use for their project – much to the chagrin of the officials and businessmen who passed the window, confused expressions on their faces as they watched the teens roam around.
“There were a few answers we ruled out immediately, despite how popular they were when we did a poll online.”
Peter had gained a little bit of popularity online, not just with his Instagram and the photos he took, but with his Twitter, because Tony Stark once posted a photo of the two of them in the lab, and Peter became and overnight sensation of who the hell is this kid? The only answer anyone found was Tony’s personal intern, but they continued to follow him anyway. Therefore, the poll that appeared on screen had in the region of eight thousand responses, the most popular two by far being ‘God’ and ‘Tony Stark’.
“We asked Tony if he was Spider-Man.”
“No,” Tony said, back in the interview chair. The camera was no less close to his face. He had surprisingly few pores.
“So, that’s that,” Peter continued.
“We can’t verify if God is Spider-Man,” Ned said, next to him, “but we can safely assume He isn’t, because, well, He’s God. He’d choose a cooler superhero.”
Peter shot him an offended look that would later become a reaction image to people saying moronic things online.
“So, with that out of the way, we had to start digging.”
Over the next twenty minutes, the boys covered a range of theories and debunked them to the best of their abilities. They showed images and videos of the vigilante, running around and fighting bad guys and started explaining their methods of tracking him using the Spider Watch Twitter account, that posted whenever any alerts about Spider-Man showed up, and showed the pattern of his appearances.
The graph on screen of times, dates and locations was largely fraudulent – but in such a way that it couldn’t be proven. While Spider-Man appeared mostly in Queens, they changed the locations to draw away from Midtown a little, and made some claims about the times he was spotted during school hours (which, yes, they made bot Twitter accounts, semi-regularly used them for a month, before adding the sightings as tweets, including videos or pictures they took themselves, to fake their proof).
At the end of the video, Peter sat in the conference room, the windows showing a dark sky outside. The room was orderly, balls of red yarn sitting in the corner, the corkboard on the wall and a whiteboard next to it with listed theories.
“He’s a little short,” Harley said, coming into the shot. The camera was mounted on the table, as if they were just recording their thoughts at the time. “Maybe he’s like, a kid.”
Peter scoffed. “A few people have said that before – with the voice and stuff? But you don’t get that jacked when you’re fourteen.”
Harley shrugged. This was actually their fourth take; they kept devolving into laughter every time Peter called himself jacked. “Okay, but you saw those ye-olde-photographs of Steve Rogers pre-serum.”
“Are you saying Spider-Man was made by a serum? Super soldier style?”
Harley opened his mouth to speak when Peter’s phone rang, shrill. Peter blinked, picking up his phone where it laid on the table, then hesitated.
“Who is it?” Harley asked. He had already turned to study the corkboard again.
“Unknown number,” Peter replied. He clicked it onto speakerphone before answering. “Hello?”
The voice that came through the speaker was low and ominous. In reality, it was Tony with a voice modulator, two rooms down. Pepper was stood in the hallway, out of sight, giving him the thumbs up when it was his time to call. She joined the project with reluctant enthusiasm and gave it extra authentication when she came on for an interview, fifteen minutes into the first episode.
(“So, have you met Spider-Man?” Peter asked off-screen.
“I have, once or twice,” Pepper replied. “I don’t know his identity, though.”
“Do you think he’ll be Avengers material one day?”
Pepper smiled her interview smile. “He was actually offered the position in the past but turned it down to focus on his neighbourhood for a little longer. So, I imagine he’ll make a great Avenger someday. One of the best.”
After the camera switched off, Peter said, quiet, “Are you telling me that wasn’t a test?”
Pepper laughed. “It wasn’t, but you made a very mature decision. Surprised everyone.”)
“Peter Parker,” the voice said on the phone.
“This is your only warning. Stop searching for Spider-Man’s identity.”
Peter climbed out of his chair, exchanged wide-eyes with Harley. “Are you – are you Spider-Man?”
“Do you work for him?”
The line went dead and Peter slowly spun in a circle, to face their corkboards. He let out a long breath, and the two boys stared at each other.
“That was creepy,” Harley said at last. “Like, really weird. Strange dude.”
“Oh my god,” Peter turned suddenly. “Did we get that on camera? We’re filming, right?”
The scene cut off, showing the words TO BE CONTINUED on a black screen. At school the next day, six hours after it hit 100,000 views and two hours after Harley woke up Peter with the loudest phone call of his life, Michelle approached him by his locker.
“So, you know who Spider-Man is yet?”
Peter shook his head. The phone call had only happened two nights before, but so far, nothing. “I think we must be going the right direction, though,” he said. “Ned and I are investigating tonight, wanna come?”
In part two of Who Is Spider-Man, it opened up with a ‘previously on’ section, in which the phone call was repeated. Then it cut to Peter, standing in front of his corkboard, looking a little tired and wearing an oversized MIT hoodie.
“So, things got weird,” he started. “Our search for Spider-Man’s identity felt like it was going to be easier than this – we have access to the Stark Industries labs and technology, and we felt like tracking a super-powered individual would be easier than this. Hell, if Tony Stark could do it, we could do it too, right?”
“First,” Tony said, in the interview chair again. He was wearing different clothes, but the interview had taken place on the same day as the last one, to save time. “You kids are bright, but you’re no Tony Stark. Second, I told you this search wouldn’t be worth it, and what did you do? You got a creep phoning and threatening you. We’re changing your number, by the way.”
“Understood,” Peter said from off-screen. He was reading from the cue cards Ned had printed out. “But doesn’t that just mean we’re on the right track?”
“In movies, maybe.”
“How did you do it?” Peter asked. “How did you get to Spider-Man in the first place?”
Tony rolled his eyes. The camera wasn’t cut in so close this time, as if Harley had learned how to zoom out at last. “I couldn’t find his identity or where he lived, but, just like you kids, I found the pattern; the streets he spends most of his patrols on and at what times. It was just a matter of going and waiting.”
“And you offered him the suit?”
“I offered an exchange,” Tony said with a shrug. “The suit for some help in Germany. He took it up, and the suit was a one size fits all kind of deal, so it worked well for him.”
“Hey, Tony?” Harley asked, and Tony looked right to the camera. To the viewer, it seemed unscripted. “You’ve been seen fighting on the same team as him before, and you don’t even know his name?”
Tony shrugged. “A good guy is a good guy, no matter what their name is.”
“Mr. Stark?” Ned’s voice joined in now. “Is there any possibility that Spider-Man is a robot?”
Tony blinked twice, his expression blank. “I don’t know his identity, so – yes.”
The scene cut out just as the kids all burst into laughter.
“Our plan,” Peter said, once again in front of the corkboard, “is to do what Mr. Stark did. We’re going to head out at Spider-Man’s usual patrol times and try to find him.”
The footage started showing Queens, blanketed in night. Street lamps glowed yellow and people walked down the street, cars driving quietly through the night air. Over the top of the footage, Peter spoke.
“The first two times we went out, we didn’t catch sight of him. There were reports, later in the nights, that he stopped a few muggings and caught a guy stealing televisions, but we’d already gone home by that point. Then, the third time we went out, something happened.”
On screen, the scene changed. It was still night time, but Peter was in front of the camera, smiling. “Hey! This is night three of our Spider Search – catchy name, right? Tonight, we’ve got the regular suspects – Ned and Harley.” The camera showed Ned and then flipped to see Harley, who was holding it. “But tonight, we’ve got a special guest – our buddy, Michelle!”
“MJ,” she corrected, sending a peace sign towards the camera. She wasn’t smiling.
“MJ is a bit of a sceptic about our whole project,” Peter continued, walking backwards through the street. “So, hopefully, we’ll spot Spider-Man tonight, maybe do an interview or something?”
“Let’s say you get that creepy phone call,” MJ said a moment later, “and it’s clearly threatening you – why are you just going in search of trouble?”
“Why are you joining us tonight, MJ? For the thrill.”
MJ rolled her eyes as Peter let out a bark of laughter, and the four of them set off into the night. Various clips followed, of Ned yelling “WE HAVE SPIDERS COME GET YOUR FREE SPIDERS” down an alley way (Harley saying, “I don’t think Spider-Man eats spiders,” right after), of MJ staring up at rooftops, pointing out places he’d been spotted before, of Peter on a rooftop, squinting to see into the distance.
“What if we all just mass hallucinated Spider-Man?” Peter asked.
MJ snorted. “Is that the only reason you can think of as to why he wouldn’t want to meet you?”
Peter hesitated, then nodded. “I’m delightful,” was his response.
The interesting part about the night was that MJ didn’t know it was all scripted. She didn’t know the shots they had planned on getting, nor the lines they wanted to deliver for drama. She also didn’t know about the cars.
The camera showed Peter walking quickly up the street to where the others waited for him. He glanced over his shoulder twice. “I think we should go,” he said when he arrived. “Go home.”
“What?” Harley asked. Ned was holding the camera and he turned to catch him on screen. “Why?”
“Yeah, Parker,” MJ said. “It’s barely even late. Like, only eleven PM.”
“Call me crazy,” Peter started.
“Crazy,” MJ replied.
“But I’ve seen those exact cars like, ten times tonight.” He gestured with his head back the way he’d came. “The black ones.” The camera zoomed in, catching a glimpse of two black cars, parked one behind the other. The headlights were off.
“You’re being paranoid,” Harley said. “They’re not following us.”
“They might be,” Peter replied. “Some dude threatened us, Harley. Mr. Stark had us stay at the compound with him for two days because of it. Even he couldn’t trace the call, and now black cars are showing up wherever we go? Nuh-uh, we’re going home.”
Peter started off down the road, then when the others hesitated, huffing and grabbed MJ’s wrist, pulling her along.
“It’s probably nothing,” she insisted as they followed Peter. “I mean, I don’t trust the streets at night – but they’re probably not after you.”
“Probably,” Peter replied. “Let’s get moving.”
There was a two second clip of the cars at the end of the road, their headlights lighting up right before they turned the corner. The viewers didn’t know that Happy and Vision in his human form drove those cars and they never would. Neither would MJ, for that matter.
The screen changed abruptly, the lighting bright in the conference room Peter had taken over. He was holding the camera himself, the corkboard behind him. Dark circles surrounded his eyes, his hair was all over the place.
“So, we went out to look for Spider-Man three? Four days ago now? I saw these black cars that night – they followed us from street to street and eventually we had to call Mr. Stark to pick us up, because we didn’t want to be followed home. MJ’s – MJ’s fine, by the way. We all stayed at Stark Tower that night, though, just in case. She called me a wuss like six times.”
The picture cut out, and Peter was in a desk chair in the same room. “I don’t know what to tell you. The same cars are everywhere. They followed me to school – I saw them right before I got on the train, and then they were sitting outside the school when I arrived. I never manage to catch their number plates, but I swear to you – they’re following me.”
Peter stood in front of the corkboard, and the camera roamed over the images and yarn. There were lots of photos of random people, people that seemed the right size and height to be Spider-Man. They piled on top of one another, seemingly moved from where there was now a space on the corkboard. The grainy image of the distant black cars was pinned there, with the words COVER UP? on a note.
“Let’s think about this rationally,” Peter said, “though I’m kind of done for rational thinking right now. I haven’t slept in two days. But, if I can have cars follow people, that means I’ve got backing, support. That means I have people willing to go out and watch and intimidate others.” The camera shot back to Peter’s face. “I’m not saying this is a government thing, because Ned thinks that’s crazy and maybe it is, but this is definitely someone with a lot of power and say.” Peter hesitated. “I’m gonna go ask Mr. Stark if he’s Spider-Man again.”
The image cut to Tony in his lab, rolling his eyes. “No,” he said, dry. “I am not Spider-Man. Though, I do agree this is weird. Maybe you should stay at the compound for a few days? Maybe you’ll feel safer.”
Over the top of the footage, Peter’s voice said, “But I didn’t. Especially with what happened that night.”
On screen, Peter paced the floor of the conference room while Ned span lazily in the office chair. The camera was propped up on the table.
“I know it could be a robot,” Peter said, “but I don’t think technology is at a place where we could make limbs look like that. You’ve seen how Spider-Man moves. I don’t think even Mr. Stark could manage that.”
Ned shrugged. “What about Wakanda?”
“What? You think Spider-Man is some Wakandan spy?” Peter asked. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Why? It’s totally plausible.”
“If Wakanda was going to infiltrate America – which, by the way, they would’ve and probably did do back before we knew them as a technologically advanced country, when they could’ve had freedom and lack of suspicion in their spying – they wouldn’t do it with a vigilante who’s not even an Avenger.”
“He was offered an Avenger membership-”
“Which he turned down. Come on!”
Peter’s phone cut through the conversation, ringing on the desk. Peter walked off screen to get it, then said, “Holy shit.”
“FRIDAY.” Peter moved back on screen. “Get Mr. Stark down here as quickly as possible. Can you trace this call?”
“Of course, Peter.”
Peter nodded and answered the phone with shaking hands. “Yes?”
“You didn’t listen,” the familiar ominous voice said.
“Are you Spider-Man?”
“I told you to stop your search. You don’t want to end up like the others, do you?”
Peter swallowed. “Others?”
“I’ve been informed you’ve noticed your tail,” the voice continued. “They’re just on the side lines, for now – but they won’t be if you keep this up. Peter Parker, you’re on thin ice.” The call cut out and Peter dropped the phone on the table.
“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.”
“Peter,” Ned said. “What the hell is happening?”
“FRIDAY,” Peter said, “Where’s Mr. Stark?”
“On his way,” FRIDAY replied from on high. “The trace was not complete. I have an estimated area but no specific location.”
“Peter, what do we do?”
The scene cut out, replaced with Peter rambling theories, his clothes in a mess, hair unwashed and the purple under his eyes growing darker. On the days the video claimed he skipped school, he actually did, requesting the work to be delivered to him. On those days, they didn’t film much, but actually got his school work done, with time to read ahead – Peter didn’t want this ruining his grades, of course.
But Pepper used make up to highlight the purple bruises, FRIDAY occasionally cut into his theories with, “Peter, may I suggest you take a nap? You’ve been awake for fifty-six hours”, and Peter’s friends came and went, looking less agitated than Peter, but still nervous. None of them had been name-dropped by the ominous voice.
“The compound security caught sight of the two cars near the property line,” Peter said at one point, addressing the camera he held. “They know I’m here. I just- how deep does this go? I think I’m close to the truth, and I don’t want to stop, but-” Peter huffed and looked away. “My aunt has been getting worried. I live with her, and she keeps asking me to drop it. I don’t know if I can. Spider-Man has done nothing but good for this city, but he’s hiding something. I just gotta know what it is.”
On the day he interviewed the remaining Avengers, the first part to the documentary had hit a million views. Peter was trying not to glow from it, but he was thrilled.
Due to the mess of the Accords, the only Avengers left were Mr. Stark, Vision and Rhodey. Clint – Hawkeye – was on house arrest somewhere but had agreed to do a Skype call after Vision had vouched for him.
“I don’t know who he is,” Clint said on screen. He was grainy from a laptop camera, and a small box in the corner held Peter and Harley.
“But you fought him, right?” Peter said. “In Germany?”
“Not much,” Clint replied. “If I remember rightly, he fought Cap a bit and stole his shield – I think he told Cap he was from Queens? If that’s any use? He fought Falcon and uh, Barnes, too, but I haven’t spoken to either of them since. I know he was a pain for them, though.”
“Yeah.” Clint leaned into the camera, and whispered conspiritually, “They won’t admit it, but I think he kicked their asses.” Peter laughed and the screen cut over to Vision and Rhodey, sitting side by side.
“Germany was our first time meeting him,” Rhodey confirmed. “Tony didn’t say who the guy was, how he knew them. Just said, hey, here’s a new guy. He’s going to fight with us today. Make sure he doesn’t die, alright?”
Vision nodded in agreement. Unlike Clint, they’d both been given lines to learn. Clint hadn’t known the documentary was a joke. “He is a stranger to us all,” Vision confirmed. “I believe Miss Romanoff may have garnered some information of his identity, what with her abilities as a spy, but she went dark a long time ago.”
“Yeah,” Peter said off screen. “Clint was the only one of the rogue Avengers I could reach – except from Ant-Man. I actually did talk to him, but all he said was that Spider-Man tripped him up with his webs when he grew to the size of a building.”
Rhodey nodded. “Yeah, it was a smart move. Like out of that Star Wars movie.”
Back in the conference room (which would later be analysed until the words STAR WARS FAN??? could be identified on the whiteboard), Peter paced the room.
“You’re going a little crazy,” Harley noted, light. “You know this is a three-parter, right? We can take a few days off, post what we have and come back with the footage of you being cold-blood murdered on the streets of Queens by guys in suits?”
Peter stopped pacing to send Harley a dead look.
Then, the camera was on Peter at night. He was holding it himself, marching with purpose through Queens. “Alright,” he said to the audience. “I know this is stupid, but I’m out here tonight – on my own, everyone else has homework – and I’m gonna find Spider-Man. This wasn’t even supposed to be a big thing, you know? It wasn’t supposed to be a conspiracy. We just thought we’d find out his identity and then maybe be paid to keep our mouths shut until it was announced to the world. That was it. If the dude’s becoming an Avenger eventually anyway, we’ll find out his name, you know?”
Peter huffed and the image changed. Peter was walking through dark alleys and swivelling in the streets to look for danger. He voiced his thoughts a few times, getting progressively more annoyed as the night went on.
Eventually, he said, “Maybe I should just commit a crime. Then he’d show up.” He paused then, eyes widening a fraction as he looked in the viewfinder. Then, Peter span to look behind him. “Shit,” he hissed, the camera alighting upon the black cars that just rounded the corner. “Shit, shit, shit.” The camera shook as Peter hurried off down the street. “Bad idea, bad idea, very bad idea. I should call Mr. Stark. Or the police. Or maybe my Aunt, to let her know that I’m gonna be murdered. Oh my god, I can’t believe Harley is gonna be right.”
The camera turned suddenly towards a darkened alleyway and then lurched to a stop as a figure landed in front of him. Peter, standing out the mouth of the alley, stared at Spider-Man, who stood half-shrouded in darkness.
There was a voice-modulator on the suit, changing the voice. “You need to learn to listen,” Spider-Man said.
“Uh, look Mr-Mr. Spider-Man,” Peter stammered behind the camera. The image shook, then the camera tumbled to the floor as footsteps echoed across the alley. It landed with a thump, staring at the wall as Peter’s yelp cut off. Somewhere, off screen, sounds echoed with movement and struggling (in reality, Peter and Harley, wearing Peter’s suit, were holding their hands over their mouths, forcing themselves not to laugh). Then the footage cut out.
Peter wasn’t seen at school the next day.
Ned appeared on camera, looking nervous. He sat in Tony Stark’s lab, Tony in the background, dutifully editing the video (as the credits did claim he did so).
“Alright,” Ned said. “I’ve watched the footage that you just saw like twenty times, and I still don’t know what to think about it. Peter didn’t come into school the day after that happened – in fact, no one actually knows where Peter went all day. Like, his Aunt said he wasn’t there, Mr. Stark swore he wasn’t here, and he definitely wasn’t at school. So that’s really weird. But, this morning, Peter said he wasn’t going to finish the doc. He said there was nothing to tell and told me that he wasn’t going to post this. But I think that’s - that’s ridiculous! Harley agrees with me – he’s off trying to get Peter to change his mind, right now.
“Anyway. We said this would be a three-parter, but we’re going to have to stop here at two. Not just because Peter claims there’s not even a mystery to be solved anymore, but because Mr. Stark has officially deemed this too dangerous to continue. He did agree to help edit the footage, but that’s as far as we’re allowed to go. Peter’s not saying what happened after the camera cut out, and none of the rest of us really want to follow this the whole way up. Not anymore. So, thanks for watching our documentary. Sorry it had to end this way, I guess.”
Ned looked over his shoulder, to Tony. “Is that everything I need to say?” he asked.
Tony looked over. “Stay in school, don’t do drugs, maybe let’s just - leave Spider-Man to his business. He’s done nothing but save people – you know, other than whatever happened to Peter.”
Ned scoffed. “Yeah, okay. Let’s leave Spider-Man alone. He seemed like a pretty chill dude until recently.”
When the camera cut out, the credits rolled, and not a single viewer was truly satisfied.
When Peter came to school the day after the second part aired, he received stares from everyone in the hall and pretended not to notice.
“Hey, Peter!” MJ said when she saw him. He nodded and joined her by her locker, knowing every ear in the area was straining to hear what they said. “So, you really just quit? You were so interested in the conspiracy.”
“Conspiracy?” Peter asked, a blank look on his face. “What do you mean? There’s no conspiracy.”
MJ eyed him carefully. “Are you sure?”
He tried to smile. “Ned asked me the same thing,” Peter replied. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Footage of that conversation hit the internet only a few hours later. Peter, when he got home, cackled, finally dropping his guard. May laughed with him, ordered take out for dinner, and congratulated him on the well-done prank.
He, Harley and Ned read comments in their spare time and Peter only responded to them with confusion, while the other two fed the flames however they wanted. Even Tony, when asked by an interviewer, what he thought about the conspiracy, said it was all there on YouTube.
Three days after the documentary finished, Peter received a text from an unknown number and had to remind himself that it wasn’t the fake one Tony used.
UNKNOWN: hey there, little spider. the ‘rogues’ are very proud of your project. very funny. -n.r.
Peter didn’t know how the Black Widow knew his identity and got his phone number, but he didn’t care. After getting invited onto Ellen and watching the Buzzfeed Unsolved episode about Spider-Man and Peter’s documentary, he couldn’t bring himself to mind about a lot of things.
(One day, Peter would reveal his identity alongside his announcement as the newest Avenger. The internet would have a fucking field day with that one.)