Monday, September 14, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #441 - November 1998

And Who Shall Claim A Kingly Crown? - The Final Chapter Part 1
Credits:  John Byrne (writer), Rafael Kayanan (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Mike Rockwitz & Matt Hicks (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Robbie Robertson and Alison Mongrain finally reach the Parkers’ home.  Molten Man locates them again, but is briefly able to fight off the device that’s been implanted in his brain.  Robbie realizes that the locket Alison wears is secretly a homing beacon.  Once it’s destroyed, Molten Man becomes peaceful again.  MJ meets Robbie and Alison in the street, and a feeble Alison informs her that May is alive shortly before she collapses.  Later, Spider-Man returns home and learns the news.  He leaves for Osborn’s hunting lodge, where May is supposedly being held, even though MJ thinks it’s a trick.  Elsewhere, the Gathering of Five ceremony begins.  When the ceremony is finished, Osborn is convinced that he has now been granted the gift of power.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Peter and MJ are assuming that the “May” Alison spoke of is their daughter, of course.
  • We’re led to believe this issue that the Gathering of Five ceremony has ended with Madame Web receiving death, Overpower receiving immortality, Mattie Franklin receiving knowledge, Maxwell (the antiques dealer) receiving madness, and Osborn being granted power.  Subsequent issues will reveal that, naturally, nothing is as it seems.
  • Mattie Franklin makes her full debut this issue.  She’s taken her father’s place after “his courage failed him.”
  • A flashback shows Osborn implanting a device in Mark Raxton’s brain and transforming him back into Molten Man.  Except…Raxton can’t turn his molten form on and off.  He is Molten Man at all times, and I don’t recall any story that’s ever deviated from this.

Forever Young:  Teenager Mattie Franklin is a huge Spider-Man fan, telling Norman Osborn that adults like him “are too old to get what Spider-Man is all about!”  This doesn’t come across as forced or awkward at all, does it?

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership lists average sales at 119,547 copies, and the most recent issue selling 115,530 copies.

Review:  Believe it or not, this is the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man.  Of course, Marvel acknowledges in this very issue that a new Amazing Spider-Man #1 is only a few weeks away, but this remains the final issue of the first volume of the book.  (And Marvel will never pull this renumbering stunt again, will they?)  What a way to go out…the opening chapter of a crossover, a fill-in writer and artist, a massive continuity blunder involving the story’s villain, and absolutely nothing for Spider-Man to do throughout the entire issue.  Marvel’s approach to this pre-relaunch material is mystifying.  It’s obvious that these final two crossovers are paving the way for the new direction, yet the overall execution reads as if no one’s really paying attention to what’s being published.  If you are curious about the relaunch and pick the crossovers up, the inconsistent material probably isn’t going to entice you into coming back.  And if you think it’s safe to ignore these final issues, you’re out of luck, since the stories provide origins for many of the new characters appearing in the relaunch, plus minor details like the resurrection of Aunt May are occurring.  Ideally, the final issues of the titles would’ve provided a smooth transition between eras, and the new #1 titles coming later could start off with new stories that aren’t closely tied to the previous era.  What we’re getting is the worst of both options.

Judging the issue on its own merits, the outlook isn’t much better.  The entire story is structured so that Spider-Man barely appears, which would seem to be a fundamental problem.  I can understand why Byrne would want MJ to be the one to deliver the news regarding May to Peter, but couldn’t Spider-Man be occupied by something else until we reach the climax of the issue?  Why are so many pages wasted on the Gathering ceremony?  It consists largely of characters that no one cares anything about, doing something with no visual appeal whatsoever (placing artifacts on a table.)  And the elaborate sequence designed to show which character received which gift is undermined by a previous issue telling us that the gifts aren’t what they appear to be anyway.  We’ve already been told a fake-out is coming, so devoting so much time selling results that we all know aren’t real seems like a waste.  There are also just basic storytelling issues that drag the issue down.  The scenes with Robbie and Alison aren’t so bad, admittedly, but it’s hard to ignore that both Molten Man and Alison Mongrain literally disappear over the course of the story.  I mean, one panel they’re there, the next they’re not kind of disappearing.  Alison might even be dead for all we know; the story’s annoyingly vague.  Perhaps Rafael Kayanan shares in the blame.  He draws some shockingly inconsistent faces from panel to panel this issue, so it wouldn’t stun me to learn that he was on a tight deadline and perhaps some story details were left out of the art.  Unfortunately, Kayanan is ending his fill-in stint with his weakest work so far in the book.  (Although that final shot of Spidey swinging away from the Parkers’ home is pretty impressive.)

By the way, what’s the deal with Alison Mongrain’s characterization?  She’s gone from being a coldhearted Osborn flunky to this brave, selfless woman determined to let the Parkers know the truth about May.  I can understand her turning on Osborn after he tried to kill her, but why is she suddenly so virtuous?  Couldn’t she go into hiding and just write the Parkers a letter?  

Finally, there’s the issue of Aunt May’s return.  I think people have forgotten exactly how much fans hated this idea, largely because it’s just been accepted by now that Aunt May will always be a part of the Spider-Man mythos.  I won’t get into the merits of reviving the character right now, but I will say that only using the name “May” as a red herring is a clever move on Byrne’s part.  Perhaps unnecessarily cruel, but it’s a great tease for the rest of the storyline.  I’d much rather read about Spider-Man’s search for his daughter (even if it is a red herring) than anything relating to this arcane ceremony that’s been dragging the titles down for far too many issues.


Matt said...

I really disliked "The Gathering of Five" for pretty much all the reasons you mention here, plus the fact that a mystical ceremony seems a little odd for a Spider-Man comic. I would've much preferred a more straightforward scheme from Osborn, who had never, to my knowledge, shown any interest in arcane artifacts prior to this story.

Comicbookrehab said...

I remember planning to avoid reading this storyline and just looking forward to the relaunch in October (18 years later - and I feel old typing that - it's deja vu all over again), then deciding to read it anyway, because Mackie had already hinted in an interview with Wizard Magazine that he intended to start fresh...then I picked it up anyway because the other comic books out that summer looked pretty boring..aside from Grant Morrison's JLA, the only "hot" comics in 1998 were Battle Chasers, Witchblade, Danger Girl, The Darkness, and least according to Wizard Magazine.

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