The Gathering of Five - Part Three: Web of Despair
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Norman Felchle (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)
The Plot: At the Daily Bugle offices, Norman Osborn taunts Peter with information on a genetic bomb that’s killed dozens of innocent people. Jonah soon confirms this story is real, but is told by Osborn to drop the story or else his wife will die. Incensed, Jonah takes the gun from his desk and decides to deal with Osborn permanently. Elsewhere, Madame Web receives a telepathic message from Osborn, inviting her to join the Gathering of Five ceremony in order to regain her lost youth. Web telepathically contacts Spider-Man, tricking him into retrieving the necessary artifact and bringing it to her. She then receives a vision of Jonah shooting Osborn. Spider-Man races back to the Daily Bugle, but is distracted by a gigantic flame-breathing dragon. After webbing up the dragon, he enters the Bugle just as Jonah has dropped his gun and given up. Osborn now prepares to shoot him, but Spider-Man saves his life. Jonah, humiliated, refuses to thank him. Later, Madame Web joins the ceremony, and has a vision of Osborn killing the world with a genetic bomb.
The Subplots: Before Osborn enters the room, MJ brings Peter dinner and tells him about her modeling offer. Elsewhere, Alison Mongrain has abandoned Robbie Robertson. Osborn’s agent Creep attacks her, but she’s rescued by Robbie.
Web of Continuity:
- Madame Web hasn’t appeared in the comics since Amazing Spider-Man #239, although she was a regular in the ‘90s animated series.
- The previous chapter took place during the day; even though the story is now set at night, Jonah still doesn’t know that Robbie and Alison have returned from Europe.
- In the last chapter, Alison pressured Robbie into leaving Spider-Man during his fight with Molten Man in order to find Peter Parker as soon as possible. In-between chapters, Alison has given Robbie the slip and checked into a cheap motel room. Robbie has located Alison just in time to save her from the Creep (which is apparently his supervillain name).
- Norman Osborn claims he learned of the Gathering of Five ceremony while studying with the Scriers in Europe.
I Love the ‘90s: While fighting the dragon, Spider-Man comments on the box office failure of 1998’s Godzilla.
How Did This Get Published?: The dialogue and prose seem to be equally horrid this issue.
And from page sixteen:
“Huh?” Moment: This is the least of the issue’s problems, but MJ brings Peter a “Merry Meal” even though the art clearly shows the bag has a “Sappy Meal” logo.
Review: Any goodwill the first two chapters might’ve generated is utterly evaporated by the time you’re finished with this issue. I remember the internet’s apoplectic reaction to this issue, but I haven’t experienced the misfortune of reading it for myself until now. This isn’t just bad, it’s X-Men Unlimited #4 bad. It’s X-Factor #Whatever-Issue-Graydon-Creed-
Died-In bad. It’s Chuck Austen bad. Rather than devote entire paragraphs to every ill-conceived idea in the issue, I’ll spare all of us some agony and rely on the clean efficiency of a bullet point list.
- Any attempt to portray Norman Osborn as the cool, aloof behind-the-scenes villain is undermined every time Mackie is handed the character. Osborn’s idea of dropping subtle threats to Peter and Jonah is to describe in great detail something he’s already done. He’s confessing to multiple murders to people who work for a major metropolitan newspaper. Making this more insulting, there’s even a “You’d better kill this story or else” scene, as if no other newspaper in the world is going to report on a genetic bomb that causes people to melt mysteriously detonating in a random office building.
- Why is Osborn suddenly interested in murdering innocent white-collar office employees anyway? Traditionally, he wants to rule New York’s underworld and punish Spider-Man for standing in his way. He’s never been an indiscriminate killer before, has he?
- Mackie delivers perhaps his weakest scripting job so far on this title. (I’ve said that before, haven’t I?) Almost every page has at least one line of incredibly awkward, stilted dialogue. I don’t want to single Howard Mackie out for this quirk since a lot of writers do it, but constantly breaking the “that/which” rule isn’t only bad grammar, it also makes for some wretchedly pretentious writing.
- The Alison Mongrain/Robbie Robertson subplot feels as if it’s being continued from an entirely different storyline. What’s happened to them since the last chapter? Why is Alison in a motel if she wanted to see Peter Parker so badly? When did “The Creep” appear? Who is the Creep? There’s not even a clear shot of him during his one-page appearance. What is this?
- Speaking of “What is this?”…the entire structure of this issue is just bizarre. The story attempts to pay off Jonah’s rivalry with Osborn, foreshadow Osborn’s master plan in the “Final Chapter” crossover, revive Madame Web, continue the Gathering of Five plot, have Spider-Man locate the latest artifact, and develop the ongoing Robbie/Alison subplot. And for some reason, an unexplained dragon has to suddenly appear in the middle of the issue.
- Spider-Man’s efforts to retrieve the artifact for Madame Web are left entirely off-panel. That would be a disappointing anti-climax in any other comic, but Spider-Man even comments on what a “dangerous task” it was. Why is this scene totally removed from the story…especially when several pages are killed on that inexplicable dragon fight?
- Why is Madame Web suddenly obsessed with regaining her youth? Has she ever been portrayed as someone who would outright lie to Spider-Man, sending him on dangerous missions that only serve her own vanity?
- The big Jonah Jameson/Norman Osborn confrontation, which the titles have been building to for about a year, consists of Osborn threatening Jonah’s family (again), and Jonah responding by throwing his gun away. Right in front of Osborn, who of course picks it up and turns it on Jonah. We’ve waited a year for this.
- Osborn, in one of his unbearable monologues, claims that his plans are finally coming to fruition. I realize he’s saying this now simply because the creators are wrapping his story up before the relaunch, but since the story is going out of its way to broach the topic…what was the point of buying the Daily Bugle in the first place? Allegedly, it’s to rebuild his reputation, but how could one newspaper do that? And if it’s to destroy Spider-Man’s reputation, that’s already the Bugle’s M.O. -- so, really, what was the point of the past year?
- Seriously…a dragon?