Tuesday, July 28, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #440 - October 1998

The Gathering of Five - Part Two: A Hot Time in the Old Town
Credits:  John Byrne (writer), Rafael Kayanan (penciler), LaRosa/Ramos/Palmiotti/Kayanan (inks), Mike Rockwitz & Mark Bernardo (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man chases a seemingly brainwashed Molten Man across Manhattan.  Eventually, he realizes that Molten Man is on a mission to kill Alison Mongrain, who’s recently gotten off a tramp steamer with Robbie Robertson.  Spider-Man distracts Molten Man while Robertson and Mongrain escape.  Molten Man’s powers cause the docks beneath them to catch fire, and soon Spider-Man and Molten Man are both in the water, in the path of a giant boat.  Spider-Man escapes, but Molten Man disappears.  Meanwhile, Norman Osborn gathers one more piece needed for the ceremony from an antiques dealer named Maxwell.

The Subplots:  Alison Mongrain is adamant that she see Peter Parker immediately.  Meanwhile, Maxwell warns Osborn that the ceremony could impart one of five gifts: power, knowledge, immortality, death, or madness.  He also claims that the gifts “are never quite what they seem to be.”

Miscellaneous Note:  The recap page summarizes the previous ASM issue, which was essentially filler, as opposed to the first chapter of this storyline.

Review:  This issue was billed as an “early start” for John Byrne, who was allegedly so excited to be a part of the relaunch, he just couldn’t wait for the new Amazing Spider-Man #1.  Reader response at the time seemed to be mostly negative, and not only because Byrne would be simultaneously rewriting Spider-Man’s first year in the Chapter One miniseries.  As many fans pointed out, doing a soft reboot of the continuity and relaunching the titles with new #1s is utterly pointless if the storylines are just continuations of plots that begin before the relaunch.  That’s a valid point, but I now wonder how people would’ve responded if there were no transition issues and Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #1 simply dropped readers right in the middle of the new status quo.  The response probably would’ve been even more hostile.  

The early chapters of this crossover have actually done a decent job of hiding the fact that this storyline is about Norman Osborn gathering plot devices needed for a magical ceremony.  (Because Norman Osborn is always hatching those mystical schemes, right?)  I have to admit that John Byrne’s produced a script that’s far more readable than the bulk of the Tom DeFalco run.  The jokes are still largely terrible (While chasing Molten Man, Spidey remarks that the sewers stink “worse than J. Jonah Jameson’s gym socks!”), but Byrne seems to have a handle on Spider-Man’s character, emphasizing how much he wants to believe Molten Man hasn’t gone bad and allowing him to use his smarts during the action scenes.  Casting Molten Man as the villain is a decent choice, given that he’s been working for the Osborns for years now, so it’s inevitable he’s going to end up as a puppet in some plot Norman Osborn’s developed.  Byrne emphasizes the “molten” aspect of Molten Man’s name, establishing that he’s melting everything in his path, in addition to generating scalding steam that’s endangering anyone nearby.  He actually comes across as a credible threat for Spider-Man this issue.  I’ll also give Byrne credit for making it clear that something’s forcing Molten Man into doing this, so his reformation during the Gerry Conway years isn’t just tossed out the window.  The Molten Man of the past ten years isn’t ignored for the sake of a one-issue fight scene, and there’s no screwy continuity going on in order to justify a return to villainy.  That’s more consideration than Byrne will show Sandman in just a few months…

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