Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Following a recent increase in mob violence, the mayor declares war on guns. Spider-Man does his part by helping the police stop gun traffickers. As Peter Parker, he meets Betty Brant at the Daily Bugle to discuss the gun story. They run into Norman Osborn and his grandson Normie outside of the elevators, shortly before Nitro appears. Nitro detonates, forcing Peter to shove Betty into the elevator for cover. The elevator falls to the ground, trapping everyone inside. After enduring Osborn’s taunts, Peter finally uses his super-strength to move the rubble and enable everyone to escape. Luckily, Betty is knocked unconscious and Normie looks away, ensuring Spider-Man maintains his secret identity.
The Subplots: MJ tells Peter that their finances have grown too tight. She also mentions that Aunt Anna is considering moving back to Florida. Meanwhile, Kingpin delights in the mayor’s crackdown on guns, boasting that it makes his life easier. While Osborn is attacked, other crimelords are also targeted by the Kingpin’s hitmen. Later, Osborn tells a mystery figure on the phone that it’s time for the “gathering of the five” to begin.
Web of Continuity: Peter has to check into the hospital for broken ribs after escaping the elevator. While there, Jonah informs him that Fortunato is at the same hospital, near death, following a mysterious attack. This was perhaps an effort to write Fortunato out of the books, because he seems to disappear after this point.
How Did This Get Published?: Witness Peter’s speech to Norman on page nineteen. Yes, it is “painful for us all.”
I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man comments on the unnamed mayor of New York’s focus on “quality of life” crimes, which was a staple of Rudy Giuliani’s term as mayor.
Howard Mackie had recently been named as the sole current-continuity writer of the titles following the relaunch, so there was more of an effort on Marvel’s part to push his work on this book. I recall a few online critics picking up this issue after months away from the titles, and the results weren’t pretty. It was hard to find anyone willing to defend Peter Parker, Spider-Man at this point. I’m willing to forgive the clumsy opening pages that focus on the gun crackdown; I realize that they’re mainly there to provide a few pages of Spidey-in-costume action and to give Peter an excuse to go to the Bugle. I’m willing to overlook the shockingly bland characterization Kingpin has received since returning to the titles, since he’s playing a small role this issue. I’ll even keep my mouth shut when MJ makes yet another comment about how young she and Peter are (MJ is at least less shrewish this issue.) But don’t dedicate virtually half of your issue to Norman Osborn if you absolutely cannot write Norman Osborn. This Norman Osborn isn’t clever enough to get underneath anyone’s skin, nor is he particularly intimidating. He also isn’t the sweaty-browed, borderline loon from the Stan Lee days. I have no idea what Mackie was going for when scripting Osborn’s dialogue, unless he was honestly under the impression that Osborn is some form of robot. Then again, practically every cast member in this book now talks in some unnatural, stilted speech pattern. And those giant blocks of text…not even Tom Orzechowski could make this pretty.
Even if you’re able to forgive Howard Mackie for not being David Mamet, the plot mechanics of the issue are also a problem. Yes, we’re presented with a great predicament for Peter to get out of, but the story immediately gives him a series of copouts that kill the drama. How will Betty respond when she sees Peter lift the girders? Who knows, since she was knocked out as soon as Nitro exploded. What will little Normie see? Nothing, since Peter tells him to turn his head. Are the security cameras still working? Let’s check…nope. They’re not. So, you’re all clear, Peter. Give a thoroughly unsatisfying speech and just get the story over with. I’m not naïve enough to expect Peter’s secret identity to be revealed before the issue’s over, but shouldn’t the story have some tension running through it? And if Norman Osborn is going to be the main villain of the titles again, shouldn’t he become a compelling antagonist in some way? And have schemes that consist of more than just throwing little barbs at Peter while they’re in public? Okay, that last complaint will be dealt with soon enough, but I'd like to meet the human being who thinks "The Gathering of Five" is a classic Norman Osborn story…