Monday, September 21, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #98 - November 1998

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.


Tim Roll-Pickering said...

As someone who came on board the Spider-Man titles full time with the relaunch I found it very confusing. If, as I recall, Byrne arrived early purely to take over from other creators bailing prematurely then he can't be the main culprit but it was a big mistake to build a relaunch on the back of the preceding storyline with the result that if you hadn't read it (and the whole point was surely to get new readers after it) then it was hard to know what was going on.

Contrast this with the Heroes Return Avengers and Iron Man where Kurt Busiek deliberately sidestepped addressing all that came out of the Crossing until the relaunched titles were fully established. Yes it left long term readers wondering for a while but it allowed the books to move forwards and upwards rather than sink into clearing up pre relaunch stuff.

Anonymous said...

Plus, the Avengers and Iron Man plots were such a mess before the Heroes Reborn relaunch, that it was really a relief to a lot of long-term readers that it seemed like a full reboot of the titles.
Teen Tony Stark issues were some of the worst comic books I had ever read, and I was so glad to see Busiek just starting fresh after Heroes Reborn, as if The Crossing never happened.

Reading about the events of this Spider Man event (which I had dropped the Spider-titles before this point), it seems like another case where starting fresh and distancing the books from what came before after the relaunch would have been good idea with the Spider-books as well.
I wasn't interested in the relaunch because it was the same creative teams on the Spider Man comics, unlike with Avengers and Iron Man, so I figured it would just be "more of the same".

Anonymous said...

There's also the visual impact of having the Avengers, Thor, etc. come back looking like themselves, free from all the changes they'd undergone pre-Onslaught: Wasp was no longer mutated, Thor was no longer shirtless, Scarlet Witch had her tiara back. All you had to do was look at the cover and you could tell things had gone "back to basics" since the last time they were in 616.

Spider-Man and his world hadn't undergone the same kind of visual change, so there was no obvious visual hook that would let us know something was different this time around.

Arion said...

I have a few issues from this run, but I remember I lost interest at the time and stopped buying it. By the way, I just read your post about Wolverine and it was great. I just wrote about Rucka's run in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



Unknown said...

It’s funny because I never really thought about it but in retrospective this really was the end of Spider-Man for me. From this point there no longer seemed to be a natural narrative to Peter Parker’s life. Instead it has become a series of dramatic shifts in search of a status quo that sells well. You had “Totem” spidey, Avenger spidey, Brand New Day spidey, Superior spidey, and now Peter is a high-tech CEO spidey.

Which isn’t to say all the stories were bad. J. Michael Straczynski’s first Morlun story was actually well written. But it tried to add all kinds of mystical elements to the character that just don’t fit a street-level hero. It is almost as if they tried to go back to basics and it didn’t work so they’re now throwing whatever they can against the wall.

I mean, look at this:

Peter is basically Tony Stark now (ironic considering MJ has been made a supporting character in Iron Man). As bad as this story was and as badly executed as the reboot that followed was I’d take Mackie and Byrne back in a second in the face of the current status quo.

Matt said...

I'm kind of with Unknown on this, though I'm not sure I'd go so far as wanting the Byrne/Mackie team back on the titles. But I do believe Spider-Man isn't Spider-Man anymore, and hasn't been for about the past fifteen years. I have my own ideal status quo for the character, as I think most fans do, and the closest Marvel got to that set-up since 2000 or so was the beginning of "Brand New Day", but it still wasn't perfect and it went sour pretty fast.

My take on the bullet points of the relaunch:

- Bring back Aunt May: Terrible idea, made even worse by the way they did it. She should've stayed dead.

- Turn public opinion against Spider-Man: Great idea. Spidey works best when everyone's afraid of him and the police are always trying to arrest him.

- Keep Peter and MJ married: I really don't care, but if there was ever a time to find a way to split them up, this would've been it. I do think there are more dramatic possibilities for Peter if he's single, but I grew up with married Spider-Man, so I can take it either way.

- Remove Osborn as Spider-Man's Lex Luthor: Awful idea. I loved him in the evil businessman role.

Harry Sewalski said...

Admittedly, I haven't read much of JMS' run or the post-Final Chapter stories - I only really started reading modern Spidey around the Brand New Day era through trades - but personally I've never really seen what was so good about JMS'. Aunt May finding out about Peter I like, and definitively putting Mary Jane and Peter back is fixing a problem which never should have arisen in the first place, but aside from that, it doesn't seem that appealing to me. The Mystic Totem stuff is adding mysticism to a superhero who's traditionally worked better as a street-level hero, the Avengers stuff - whilst admittedly not JMS' fault - doesn't work for me, as I prefer my Spidey a bit of a loner, and let's not get started on Sins Past.

Whilst there have been some real clunkers post-Brand New Day - and don't get me wrong, One More Day is a horrible idea and horrible execution - I've found that for the most part, it's worked well. The quality has dropped from around the end of Spider-Island, I'd say, but overall I think Spider-Man's been fairly great since Brand New Day.

wwk5d said...

"Instead it has become a series of dramatic shifts in search of a status quo that sells well."

To be fair, you can say that about just about any Marvel title post 2000/2001...

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