The Final Chapter
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man webs up the deranged Green Goblin, but soon notices one last pumpkin bomb in the rubble. It explodes, causing the Daily Bugle building to collapse. Spider-Man holds up the building with its support beam, giving its occupants time to escape. Finally, he lifts the building’s remains and webs them into place. He then races to the hospital to warn Reed Richards not to remove the implant in Aunt May’s brain. Eventually, Reed figures out a way to remove the implant without setting off the DNA bombs. Later, the Green Goblin is taken to a padded cell. His doctors are shocked to discover what’s under his mask. The Scriers suddenly appear and confiscate the Goblin.
The Subplots: Jonah Jameson is more determined than ever to bring down Spider-Man after the Daily Bugle building is destroyed. After learning that May will live, Peter burns his costume and tells MJ that he won’t allow Spider-Man to interfere with their lives again. MJ tells Peter that her agent is helping them find a new apartment, and that she’ll make enough money to help pay for Aunt May’s medical bills.
Creative Differences: According to John Byrne, an earlier concept of this storyline had Peter Parker driven to the brink after a series of events, wishing for a simpler time. His wish was to be granted by the Shaper of Worlds, transforming his desire into reality, returning the teenage Spider-Man to present-day continuity. (See this Comic Book Legends Revealed column.)
Gimmicks: This issue comes with two covers, at no extra cost. One is the happy ending cover, and the other depicts the “end” of Spider-Man. Some copies have the happy cover on the front, others have the “death” ending stapled on top.
Review: Naturally, this title is cancelled as well, although it’s one of the “fake” cancellations. Peter Parker, Spider-Man will continue with the same creative team and a new #1 in only two months. Ending Peter Parker, Spider-Man at #98 just comes across as bad planning, doesn’t it? Why not end Sensational or Spectacular an issue or two earlier, and then allow PPSM to reach #100? It’s surprising that Marvel passed up on an opportunity for a big anniversary issue, although I guess they reasoned that the new Peter Parker, Spider-Man #1 would be an equal, or better, commercial draw. Why not have both? End this era of Spider-Man with a giant-sized Peter Parker, Spider-Man #100, and then launch into the new Peter Parker, Spider-Man (vol. 2) #1 a few months later. Better yet, just retire Peter Parker, Spider-Man and make the companion title Spectacular Spider-Man, the original spinoff. Ah, well. The numbering issues are the least of the titles’ worries at this point.
It’s obvious by now that the remit for the relaunch is “back to basics.” Not only is John Byrne rebooting the first year of Spider-Man continuity in the Chapter One maxi-series, but the new status quo established this issue has a sickly Aunt May back from the grave, Spider-Man rejected by the public, Jonah Jameson out for Spider-Man’s blood, and Peter Parker ready to throw away his tights forever. I believe this is the first time the Spider-Man titles simply embraced nostalgia so unashamedly. (Nostalgia was likely a partial motivation for introducing Ben Reilly, but it seems as if the creators also wanted to try something new at the time.) Fan response was mostly negative, to say the least, and it’s not hard to discern why. For decades, the focus on the Spider-Man titles was the Life of Peter Parker. The direction Peter’s life should take was always up for debate, but I don’t recall any significant segment of fandom wishing that the status quo could just revert back to the 1960s. After Bob Harras left as editor-in-chief, Marvel seemed to veer away from the retro-approach for a few years, but any attempt to progress Peter’s life was ultimately futile. Nostalgia wasn’t the culprit in the 2000s, however. For the sake of synergy with the movies and cartoons, Spider-Man couldn’t be allowed to move past his “classic” status quo, which means the basic setup isn’t going to vary much from the Stan Lee days. Spider-Man in a crappy apartment, can’t get a date, can’t keep a job…the seeds of the retrofitting begin here. Marvel wasn’t willing to go quite that far in 1998, but it’s not hard to guess how much they wanted to.
Ignoring the debate over whether or not Spider-Man should be stuck in this loop, “The Final Chapter” is tasked with providing some kind of transition between the old-new and new-old approaches. It’s a miserable failure. This issue opens with the revelation that the final few pages of the previous chapter were only Osborn’s fantasy, since he’s actually the one granted madness by the Gathering of Five. It’s a predictable move, and Mackie’s attempts to write “crazy” dialogue are unbearable, but it could be argued that the creators are playing fair with the reader. We’ve already been told that the Gathering’s gifts aren’t what they might initially seem to be, so within the context of the storyline, revealing that the previous chapter’s over-the-top cliffhanger was a hallucination isn’t a total cheat. The rest of the issue doesn’t generate even that much goodwill, however. The ultimate goals of this storyline are to revive Aunt May, recast Spider-Man as a public pariah, reignite Jonah’s hatred of Spider-Man, send Norman Osborn offstage, and get Peter to a place where he’s willing to hang up the webs once again. It's all competently rendered by Romita, but can anyone argue that the story has succeeded in dramatizing any of these ideas?
Aunt May’s resurrection is laughably absurd, and needlessly complicated, all because no one wanted to type the word “clone” at this stage. Jonah’s justification for hating Spider-Man turns him into even more of a lunatic than he ever was in the Silver Age. The basic idea of Jonah hating Spider-Man after the Bugle’s destruction is fine, but not when he clearly sees that Spider-Man a) is not the aggressor in the fight, and b) is risking his life to preserve what’s left of the building and save innocent lives. (In a multi-page tribute to Amazing Spider-Man #33, of course.) The public turning on Spider-Man again is just thrown in there, with a crowd gathering outside of the Daily Bugle, already carrying placards, and dutifully following the script. Norman Osborn’s story ends in a cliffhanger, one I’m willing to bet was never satisfactorily resolved whenever he next appeared. And, finally, Peter throws in the towel yet again. This might actually be the most coherent scene in the issue, since it’s somewhat defensible that Peter would be motivated to quit after seeing how his life as Spider-Man nearly killed Aunt May. Heck, I’ll be charitable and not complain too much about that one, even if Peter’s dialogue is wooden and unconvincing during his big dramatic moment. But the rest of this…what’s the excuse? This isn’t just a lame ending to a specific storyline, it’s the end of an era of the titles, the final issue of this series (sort of), the prelude to the brave “new” direction of the books…and it’s an outright bomb. Only the most hardcore of fans, or the morbidly curious, could possibly want to come back for more of this.