Sensational Spider-Man #32 (October, 1998)
“The Gathering of Five, Part One: Acquisitions”
Writer – Todd DeZago
Pencils – Joe Bennett
Inks – Ralph Cabrera
Colors – Tom Smith
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Okay… we’re going to dip back into the old blogging bag o’ tricks. What do we do when we’re stuck? What do we do when our focus is shaken? What do we do when we don’t know what to do?
Well… we start a project.
I don’t know if we’ll see this one all the way through… I hope we will, but I can’t make any promises. This is a comics topic I would file under “unfinished business“… as it was something I would threaten Reggie with regularity while we were working on the show(s).
The subject of Spider-Man would come up during our recordings, and I’d say, “One day we will get around to… (imagine thunder and lightning sounds here) the Byrne/Mackie Reboot!” And so, starting today, that’s exactly what we’re gonna do. I figured we’d start with The Gathering of Five storyline that leads into the big wrap-up of the Spidey Volume Ones. I probably could’ve gone back further… or, heck, just started with the first issues of the Volume Twos… but, I think this is probably the best place to begin to give us just enough context.
A little housekeeping before we hop over the hyphens… I’m still going to be sharing audio offerings here with regularity, but I haven’t decided if those will just be “Spidey-skip-days”, or if… heck, maybe I’ll just have two posts on those days. One thing I’m coming to learn (and accept) is that there ain’t no such thing as rules here anymore. Somehow, still haven’t missed a day though.
And now… let’s get ready to reboot.
We open at the Aleister Building, where inside Norman Osborn is trying to cut a deal with one Hamilton Cromwell, a… ahem, fifth-degree maegis of the Elite Dark Chamber. Woof. Turns out there are a fivesome of MacGuffins, which when put together hold the potential of doling out some “great power”. Guess who already has one of these tchotchkes? Norman shows Cromwell a piece that resembles a spindle. The other four pieces, by the way, look like quarters of a circle… so, when assembled, they… ya know, actually assemble. Cromwell, by the way, has one of those “quarters”.
Here’s the thing, though… he isn’t keen on the idea of performing the “Gathering” ritual… or, the “Rites of the Five”. After showing Norman exactly where he keeps his piece… he kicks him out. Something tells me that Norman isn’t going to give up… well, actually, Norman himself tells us that he’s not going to give up.
We shift scenes and, hey look, it’s Spider-Man… and he stops swinging through the skies of New York to deal with a mugging. All he has to do is disarm the baddie… because the fella he was holding up is, well, built like a house.
Next stop, Peter and MJ’s house (Aunt May’s house, actually, but she’s dead at the moment), where the latter is studying for some “difficult” Psychology classes she signed up for over the Summer. Her Aunt Anna enters the room to inform her that she’s got a phone call… it’s her old modeling agent! He’s got a gig for her, if she’s interested. She stops to think it over, even noticing a Parenting magazine on the table next to her… which, starting a family was one of the reasons she left the “biz”… buuuuut, decides she’s back in the game!
Back to Spidey as he’s clung to the side of… I wanna say Grand Central Station… or something that looks like it. He’s waiting for his “usual” bus to head back home to Queens. Before he can, however, he notices one of Osborn’s armored goons causing havoc in the streets… this is Override!
Spidey gives chase, tracking Override all the way to that Aleister Building from the beginning. The baddie busts his way in, and even kills a pair of Security Guards… then, makes his way down to that super-secret sub-basement where Cromwell keeps his MacGuffin sliver… only, it looks like a full-on round chocolate chip cookie here.
At this point, Spidey confronts Override… and, well, they fight for a few pages. The baddie manages to give Spidey the slip for a second… but, before long our man’s back on the trail. They somehow wind up in “The Menagerie” of the Building… which is to say, a room full of horror-containing canisters. Override is stopped by, uh… balaclava-wearing security? Okay.
Once Spider-Man arrives, the horrors are let out. So, we get a page of Spidey battling some generic beasties… while Override beats a hasty retreat.
Spider-Man is eventually able to overcome… but, it’s too late. He knows Norman’s likely already got that weird cookie Override stole out of the basement. Speaking of which, that’s pretty much exactly what’s going down on the other side of the city! Override hands over the MacGuffin… which, again… does not look like it did at the beginning of the issue.
Here, Override reveals that he only took this job because his wife is very ill. He knows a thing or two (literally, just a thing or two) about this Gathering of Five Ritual… as in, it might bestow “great power”. Also, that it requires five people as well as the five trinkets. He asks Norman if he himself might get a seat at the proverbial “table” for the Rites… hopeful that whatever “great power” he might receive will help him cure his wife. Norman gives the big ol’ thumbs up. See? He’s not such a bad guy!
We begin our wrap up with the revelation that Norman’s in cahoots with… aw hell… the Scriers. How did I forget about that? Good grief. You ever wanna tune me out of a Spidey story… toss a Scrier in it! He learns that Kaine and a woman named Mongrain (who he had hired during Mary Jane’s pregnancy to swipe the Spider-Fetus) are now on the table as pawns in all this.
We close with the revelation that Alison Mongrain is hiding out in Paris… and has just been located by ol’ Robbie Robertson!
Ya know, I feel like when people stop and think about infamous eras in the Spider-Books, their minds immediately go to The Clone Saga, or Sins Past, or One More Day… and, trust me, if I were discussing any of those, I’m sure this piece would get far more engagement than it actually will. The Byrne/Mackie Reboot, in hindsight, trumped all of those stories… again, that’s with near a quarter-century of hindsight.
Now, after reading this first part of the lead-up… ya know, this wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Again, this is only one issue… and, for this project, we’ll be looking at over fifty… so, it isn’t saying all that much. But for a start, I was okay with it. I remember not being so on-board back in 1998… and let’s talk about why that might’ve been…
The main complaint I remember hearing about The Gathering of Five (as well as elements of a lot of Spider-Man stories of the mid-late 90’s), was that it didn’t feel like a Spider-Man story. It wasn’t “street-level” enough… it had to do with weird mumbo-jumbo, mysticism, and other very un-Spidey stuff.
I wonder if the, in my opinion, very un-Spidey stuff we got from the Spider-Man “brain trust” in the 22 years since has kind of desensitized me to the inherent “badness” of this storyline? Just think about everything that happened to Spider-Man after the turn of the century…
- The Osborn/Stacy Twins
- Deals With the Devil
- Becoming a wealthy tech wizard
- Having like a dozen other Spider-Heroes running around
… to name a few.
Very… to me, un-Spidey stuff. Almost makes the odd trappings of The Gathering of Five seem like “just another day” in Peter Parker’s life, dunnit? I guess if “exceptions” are around long enough, they eventually become “the rule”?
Anyhoo, let’s actually look at this issue instead of kvetching about much of what came after (though, no promises)…
For the most part, I enjoyed this well enough. There was plenty of action (though, it was pretty shoehorned in), blended with soapiness, angst, and greed… everyone’s motivations are pretty clear, and we have a kind of “direction”. I tell ya one thing, I think we got more out of this Part One than we ever would in a Part One from “current year”.
Override… pretty lame villain, though was fleshed out decently enough here. They gave him an altruistic reason for wrapping himself up in Osborn’s business. That’s fair enough. We’ll learn more about the Rites of the Five as we move along… so, I won’t go into the risks/rewards of participation just yet. I do like, however, that he’s purely motivated out of desperation and far-flung hope. We get the impression that, outside of his wife, he’s really got nothing to lose here.
Mary Jane. Hmm. Almost feels like they’re trying to turn the reader against her, dunnit? Nah, probably all in my head, right? She and Peter were in full-on “settling down” mode not too long before this. Ben Reilly was Spider-Man, MJ was pregnant… and with Aunt May’s passing and nothing keeping them there, she and Peter were goneski from New York City. She’d lose the baby, and Peter would pop under the webs again, of course… but, it seemed (at the time) like they were going to continue pursuing a semblance of a “normal family”.
That kind of goes out the window here, doesn’t it? Mary Jane does take pause when offered the modeling gig… to consider the life-altering decision she’s about to make… but, ultimately appears to forgo becoming a mother for now. Were we readers supposed to see that as a sort of betrayal? A sign that maybe she and Peter aren’t ready to be grown-ups just yet? There’s a lot we can read into from that scene… especially with everything that has happened since.
Then there’s Norman. He hasn’t been back on the table all that long at this point (relatively speaking)… but he’s definitely aiming quite a bit higher than he did in his prior life. He’s not dressing up like a cartoon goblin, for one. For another, he’s exploring some pretty dicey hoo-doo in order to procure some nebulous “great power”. Feels like he’s being “leveled up” a bit with this story. They’re showing us more of a cerebral Norman… he’s really the “straw that stirs the drink”, and retroactively, he always has been. Not a bad look for him as the “big bad”, though I could certainly do without the Scriers.
Overall… yeah, not bad. I’m actually surprised! It’s been… err, twenty-two years since I last cracked the cover on this… so, maybe it’s just faulty memory… maybe I’m softening in my old age… or maybe, this is a comparable “breath of fresh air” from what would come later… but, yeah… not bad.
Worth noting, this era of comics is probably on my absolute favorite paper stock. It’s like a perfect blend of newsprint and gloss… and, hoo boy, the smell (while likely toxic) is amazing!