PROLOGUE: A New Normal

Park Avenue 56th Street, New York City

May 2nd, 2014

The day began like any other in the Big Apple. People going about their daily lives, visiting loved ones, reading a newspaper outside in front of their favorite café, heading home from work, getting a bite to eat at the nearest pizza shop. Today would have been just another one of those days, if not for the sounds of machine gun fire and the panicked people running in the streets.

Chaos and confusion abound as the police stand between a mechanized man and a crowd of bystanders, both raining down a hail of hot lead on the other. The thunderous roar of the storm of bullets is silenced as a young boy dressed up in a red webbed suit races up to the front lines of the confrontation. Police, horrified by this new development, call for a ceasefire as the bank robbing mecha-man mocks the young child's bravery.

Onlookers can do nothing as the man quells any attempts at interference with an answering hail of fire. "Brave boy, eh? Does Aleksei scare you little boy?" The boy steels his resolve as the crowd is helpless to stop the former Russian mobster from advancing towards the young man.

A blur of red catches the eye of one of the crowd. A gasp escapes her lips. The telltale thwip of a hero the city needs draws the crowd's attention. "Hey!" one man blurts. "Huh?" "What was that?" the crowd observes. The helpless officers smile in relief as Aleksei Sytsevich stops in his tracks and frowns.

"Hey, Spider-Man." A voice calls from behind the young boy. He turns around slowly, only to see the previously missing hero of the city, New York's own Amazing Spider-Man! Lifting his mask, the boy joyfully exclaims "I knew you'd come back!"

Kneeling, Spider-Man affirms. "Yeah, thanks for stepping up for me." A laugh adorning his words, he praised the child. "You're the bravest kid I've ever seen." The bespectacled boy smiles, an adorable grin on his face.

Pointing behind himself, "I'm gonna take care of this jerk, you go take care of your mom. Okay?" Offering his fist, the young man gratefully accepts the fist-bump. "Alright, get out of here, go. Go." As the kid rushes off into the arms of his mom, tears of fear and joy running down her face as the onlookers cheer and whoop.

Spider-Man hops on top of a police car, wordlessly asks an officer for a megaphone.

"YOU'LL FIGHT ME? You'll fight me, now?! Eh?" the man says as he comically pulls up his fists in a threatening posture.

Turning on the megaphone, Spider-Man quips. "On behalf of the fine people of New York City and real rhinos everywhere, I ask you to put your mechanized paws in the air!"

Enraged, Rhino aggressively states "NEVER! I crush you and kill you! I destroy you!" as he punches the asphalt causing a small shockwave that blows debris in a small radius around his suit.

Amused, Spider-Man replies questioningly "You want me to come down there so you can kill me?"

Reaffirming his intenion, Rhino exclaims "YES!"

"I'll be right there." Spider-Man says as he tosses the megaphone. Almost with a sigh, "Ah, there's no place like home…"

Rhino gets ready to engage, shifting his suit into physical combat mode, the guns retract back into their holding docks, the armor plating covers any exposed areas as the Rhinoceros head descends down into place over the armored glass with a heavy metallic clang, and he charges towards Spider-Man, before slots on the shoulders open, firing off 3 rockets towards the web-head.

Thinking quickly, Spidey leaps forward, rolling over towards a manhole where he rips it up, before blocking one missile that explodes upon impact. Leaping up just as fast, grabbing the manhole cover with his webs he swings it around in an arc, the second missile being deflected, followed by the third as they spiral over and explode on the pavement. Using the momentum of his twirl, Spider-Man meets Rhino head on and slams the manhole cover into the head of the suit, briefly stopping Aleksei in his tracks, knocking him to his left, the impact resounding with a massive 'bong' as Spider-Man rolls between the legs of the suit as it stumbles, landing behind it.

Crouched down, Peter contemplates his next move. Deciding on the approach, he takes it. Just as Aleksei recovers, Spider-Man leaps up into the air and webs the missile bay shut. "Sorry, 'Rhino', can't let you keep crashing this party with your party poppers! Somebody might get hurt! Then the party would have to end early!" he quips. Flipping over the top of the suit, Spidey lands in front of the aggravated man-in-a-suit. Planting his feet, he launches a fist up at the center of gravity, connecting without much of an impact. "Ah, crap." Peter groans.

"My turn, Spider!" Aleksei bellows. Cocking back his arm, Spider-Man tenses and just as the arm moves forward, he leaps into action, dodging the punch and spring boarding off the suit, Peter slings a web to a nearby tall building, lifting himself into the air with a swing. Aiming before Aleksei can refocus on him, while upside down and ascending, he fires off four web blasts at the legs, constraining them together before using his momentum and sling-shotting himself towards Rhino once more, and landing a solid punch that sends the Rhino stumbling and trying not to fall over.

Peter winces from the pain of punching metal but shakes it off, landing in one of his chosen crouch positions. 'One more ought to do it' Peter thinks. Slinging two webs on either side of himself, Spider-Man quickly backs up, building tension in the web coils before letting go and flying toward Rhino once more. Rhino prepares to throw another punch, but Peter using his quick wits dodges to the right while spinning a web line to the other building and using his forward momentum to effectively clothesline Rhino using his own punch. The suit tumbles backwards due to being unable to step back and falls with a heavy sound while the crowd cheers.

Peter turns to face the crowd, basking in their admiration when his spider-sense kicks in, alerting him to danger. Spider-Man turns around, a moment too late as Rhino wraps his suits arms around Spidey in a wicked bearhug. Groaning in pain, Peter nevertheless quips "See, Mr. Criminal, I knew you were a hugger!"

Aleksei releases the headpiece, the glass cockpit opening. "Told you, Spider! I crush you!" he snarls before tightening his hold.

Choking on his pain, Peter desperately ponders a way out of this. 'Here goes nothing…' Mustering all the strength he has, Peter growls in effort and powers out of the hold, agonizingly pushing the arms loose enough for him to slip out of it. Coughing and catching his breath, Peter dodges as Rhino charges him again. Running into some poor guy's work van and impaling it with the horn which gets stuck. Capitalizing on it, Spider-Man webs up the legs once more, much to the vocal displeasure of Aleksei. Turning around, Rhino launches the van at Spidey who ducks under, webbing it and slamming it down to the ground before it can do any damage.

"That is it, Spider! Enough game, eh?! You die or they die!" Rhino roars. Turning to face the crowd, Rhino charges, horn lowered and pointed at the crowd. The thundering of the mechanical suit overpowering the crowd with fear. Peter panics, and races to intercept. In his haste he doesn't notice that Rhino had slowed down and started turning. Before Spidey knew it, Rhino had gotten back on both feet and launched a punch at him, to which Peter could not react in time due to the shock that such a brute thought that far ahead. The punch lands, hitting the web-head right in his face and resulting in the hero being sent sprawling.

"Ahaha! Aleksei too much for little Spider? Well, this is end, now!" Rhino gloats. Marching over to where Spider-Man lies, reeling after the hit. "You die now, Spider!" Aleksei raises both arms in a double axe-handle. The crowd of pedestrians gasps in horror. "Get up, Spider-Man!" a little boy screams. "Look out, Spidey!" belts out a woman. As if hearing their pleas, his Spider-sense kicks in, time slowing to a crawl. He opens his eyes in a flash, observing the form of Rhino with both arms raised and starting to come down towards him.

In a fraction of a moment, Peter's muscles act on instinct. His legs pulling up to his chest and shooting outwards as he performs a kip-up, the forward momentum he turns into a somersault roll just as Rhino's attack impacts the ground, shattering the glass of nearby buildings. Spider-Man swings out of there to land on a nearby billboard.

Frustrated, Rhino roars out his rage. "Why won't you die, Spider?! Stay still so I hit you!"

"I guess you'll have to call me a poacher, because I'm not going to give you a fighting chance!"

"No more joke! I am done with joke! You will not take me seriously? I will make you take me seriously!"

Rhino turns towards the crowd, before ripping the webbing off both the arms. "Oh no- he wouldn't!" Peter exclaims, just as the arms open up and release the machine guns from their docking bay. Peter is enraged, his blood boiling as adrenaline pumps through his system. "Don't do this!" Peter screams, readying his web slingshot.

Rhino opens fire on the crowd, at first aiming for the police officers shielding the civilians, before the bullets start hitting the crowd one by one. Officers falling back and ducking to avoid being shot as the crowd seeks cover. Peter releases, careening towards the Rhino who has just taken aim at the civilians. "Noooo!" Peter cries, slinging around to and in front of rhino, using his momentum to acrobat his way without losing speed. Just as Peter sees his exact target – Jorge, the little boy who he saved from the bullies, Peter snaps, diving towards Rhino whose sick grin he sees hiding behind the bulletproof glass. Using his webs to turn his dive into a spin, he impacts the glass with a corkscrew kick, shattering it and hitting Aleksei in the face which wipes the heinous look off his face. Knocked out, the residual force and momentum of the kick sends the suit onto its backside with Spider-Man crouch-posed on top, panting and surging with adrenaline.

Peter snaps out of it, hustling over with his webs to the crowd to check on the people. Landing in a soft pose, he surveys the state of the amassed group of watchers "Is everyone alright!? Is anyone hurt?!" Checking on the people who were almost fired upon, aside from being slightly shell shocked, and a few officers being wounded, everyone is mostly fine. Thankfully officers wear bullet proof vests which minimized the penetration. And Aleksei's already terrible aim was made worse inside the mechanized suit. "Anyone here a doctor? These officers need medical attention! Call an ambulance!"

Slightly over 1 Hour Later, 6:39 PM

The police have managed to extract Sytsevich from his suit and have him in custody. Spider-Man has helped get the more critically wounded officers rounded up and sealed their wounds temporarily with his webbing to prevent any bleeding out. Federal agents have come to claim the discarded Rhino suit, transporting it in a large trailer. Peter swore he saw an Oscorp logo on one of the cars that drove off.

Making sure everything else is taken care of, he follows the cruiser carrying Rhino to ensure nothing happens. The crowd cheers as he leaves, yelling their thanks for his return, and forgiving him for leaving. Swinging through the city as he escorts the cruiser, to their destination. Saluting to the officers as he leaves, he heads home with a lingering thought on his mind. 'I almost couldn't save them. Just like…' Repressing his negative thoughts, he swings into his neighborhood in Queens, to his open window. Landing on the side with an 'oomph!', he crawls inside, making sure to be silent as he undresses from his Spider-suit and places it in his closet before getting dressed in his casual clothes, and hopping out of his window.

Heading towards the front door, he contemplates earlier events. "If that happened again, I don't know if I could forgive myself." Opening the door, he's met with May on the couch watching the television. "Welcome home, Peter. You're late for dinner! I made crispy chicken with fettucine alfredo and broccoli. It's on the counter."

Stomach rumbling, Peter sighs. "Thank you, May. I don't know what I'd do without you." He smiles.

Smiling back. "You're welcome, Peter, dear."

Peter takes his dinner to the microwave to reheat it, before sitting down at the table. Sticking a fork full in his mouth, May calls out to him. "You know, Peter, on the news earlier there was an incident in Midtown. Some Russian wacko in a robotic rhinoceros suit robbed a bank and started a shootout with the police!"

Swallowing. "Oh wow. Really? That's uh, pretty weird. What happened after that?"

"That's the thing, before it could get worse and people died during the shootout, Spider-Man appeared!"

"So he's back, huh?" Sticking another al dente and crispy bite into his mouth, still savoring the rich, creamy taste.

"Sure seems to be. I'll tell you, the timing is wonderful! You take a step outside into the world for the first time in months since Gwen passed, and Spider-Man reappears in the same day. If that's not a sign that things are going to get better for you, sweetie, I don't know what is!" She happily exclaims. "Just keep your chin up, Peter. Everything is going to be alright."

Swallowing and taking another bite. Peter remains silent while he stares down at his food. "I like to think of Spider-Man as a symbol of hope for this city. As long as he's out there, you can dream that someday, things might just get better."

'What about when Spider-Man needs that hope? Who inspires him when he has no-one? Not anymore at least…' Peter wonders darkly.

Surprised by arms wrapped around him, he looks up to see May sadly smiling at him sadly. As if sensing his internal depression. "It'll be alright, Peter. It's gonna' take some time. You'll just have to slowly ease into your New Normal. I'll be here for you every step of the way, just lean on me. Kay?" May suggests with a loving motherly smile. Peter shoots a small smile back. "I'll take you up on that."

"I love you, Peter."

"I love you, too, May." He caresses her hand, before hugging her back. Her smile deepens. "Now you finish up your plate, I'm gonna take a quick shower and get ready for my next shift at work in about 15 minutes."

Still chewing, he opens his mouth mid-bite, his words coming out muddled. "Another shift? May, do I need to talk to your manager about overworking you?"

May pauses, tense. "Oh, no it's fine, sweetie. It's not that bad. Besides, more money can't hurt! And don't speak with your mouth full!" she admonishes him, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

He swallows. "Sorry. Are you sure? Because, if it's not then I wouldn't be opposed to-"

"I'm sure, Peter, don't worry. I can handle it!" May reassures him.

"Well, alright then." Peter concedes with a nasally sigh.

May heads to the shower while Peter finishes his dinner. 'She tensed up, I think she's hiding something from me. She got like this too when I went to wash my suit and she insisted she was my laundry too.' He ponders. Ruffling his hair, he takes his empty dish to the sink and washes it, placing it in the drying rack when he's done. Catching a glance at the television, the news is re-running the battle at Midtown with the headline "Return of the 'Amazing' Spider-Man: City forgives previously missing wall-crawler for disappearing act, welcomes back with open arms and an ovation." Grabbing the remote, he turns the television off, before heading to his room to listen to music.

Ravencroft Institute, 45 minutes earlier

Harry Osborne is patient. Staring at himself in his mirror, lounging in his tiny cell with deep bitterness plastered all over his face at his infuriating predicament. With a thirst for vengeance, he awaits news since he sent the Gentleman out to set up a test run.

Hearing footsteps and the various reinforced doors opening, he's giddied to see what progress has been made. "Mr. Osborn. It appears the plan will be a success after all. The results speak for themselves. Look for yourself." Fiers hands off his smartphone, showcasing the battle between Spider-Man and The Rhino. "He did better than I expected. No brains but his brawn had Spider-Man on his knees."

"So, it would seem. Shall I assemble the next group?"

Inhaling deeply, Harry takes a moment. "You know? On second thought, I think I would rather take a little more…personal approach to all this." He smirks. Turning away, he states "I thought that I'd want to do this under the radar, but then a thought occurred to me! If I'm not personally there beating down that fraudulent man with my own bare hands and making the Parker family rue the day that they ever crossed me and my father – then there wouldn't be much point in participating would there? And with all that said – "

Harry looks up. "I'm tired of staying locked up in this asylum for the insane. You see…" Turning back around, Harry looks horrific as his Goblin genes have shown up again, with a sinister smile on his face. "I know exactly what I'm doing, and exactly who I'm going to do it to." The Goblin cackles, bursting forward and grabbing the Gentleman by the throat, choking him to death. "Peter Parker is mine to destroy, I know you were just using me and my resources to get to him! I don't give a damn about your history with the Parkers, I'm gonna take everything away from Spider-Man, and nobody is going to stand in my way!" The Goblin cackles maniacally as the man dies in his hands. The guards shouting and calling for backup all the while as the Gentleman dies. Harry Osborn turns his maniacal gaze towards the door which the guards have just opened, uttering a low cackle as they come in with tasers and stun batons.