Amazing Spider-Man #440 (October, 1998)
“The Gathering of Five, Part Two: A Hot Time in the Old Town”
Guest Writer – John Byrne
Pencils – Rafael Kayanan
Inks – Bud LaRosa, Jimmy Palmiotti, Rodney Ramos, & Rafael Kayanan
Colors – Mike Rockwitz & Mark Bernardo
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
We’re two-days into our deep-dive on The Byrne/Mackie Reboot… and, ya know… so-far, so-good, right? Well, least I think so.
Today we’re going to discuss an issue written by Byrne himself (and tomorrow we’ve got one by Mackie), so maybe it’s here where we’ll get a better “feel” for what we’re truly in for.
Let’sa find out.
We open with Spider-Man hot on the trail of… the Molten Man. Now, there’s a boring member of the Rogue’s Gallery, innit? The Molten Man is stomping through the streets of New York City… leaving a path of, well, moltenness in his wake. Spidey’s not sure what he’s up to, however, as he’s not like trying to steal anything or hurt anybody. Our man pops in to ask some questions… and it’s as though Raxton’s looking right through him. He’s in a trance or something. Worth noting, at this point Raxton has been on the “straight and narrow”… though, is working for one of Osborn’s companies.
Molten Man stomps through a department store, triggering the in-shop sprinkler system to kick on… which, when it hits him turns into a cloud of scalding steam. Spider-Man stops to evacuate all of the shoppers, allowing Raxton to slip away. Byrne has Spidey paraphrase a Superman tag-line, after which, he asks if he’s infringed on a copyright. And, yes, all of the jokes in today’s book will be just as forced and unfunny.
We shift scenes over to a seedy-looking Pawn/Antique Shop, where Norman is chatting up a creepy old man about the MacGuffins. Turns out, this fella has one of the “shards” (so, I guess that’s the technical term for them). It’s here we learn that during the Rites of the Five… only three participants will be granted that “great power”. We’ll learn a bit more about that in later on this issue.
Back on the street, Spidey is back on the Molten Man’s trail. It’s… ya know, probably very helpful that dude leaves a path of melted slag everywhere he walks, right? Anyhoo, Spider-Man realizes that Raxton has taken to the sewers… and so, he gives chase. Worth noting, the New York sewer system smells worse than Jonah’s gym socks. Oy…
Just like in the department store before, the sewer is suddenly filled with scalding steam. Stands to reason, right? Anyhoo, Spidey surmises that the steam is upwards of 200 degrees, and realizes he’s gotta get outta there before he cooks. Unfortunately, there’s a ledger truck set atop the nearest manhole cover. Well, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a call back to the Lee/Ditko “The Final Chapter”, but… it’s Byrne, so maybe? Whatever the case, he’s able to lift the truck and escape the steam.
Ready for another forced and awful joke? I know ya are! A bystander asks where Spider-Man came from, and… well…
At this point, Spider-Man swipes a map of Manhattan from a newsstand and tries to figure out his next move. Hasn’t he… ya know… swung through Manhattan every day for like decades at this point? Oh well, I guess this at least gives us a nice sight-gag? If only there were a Twitter or Tumblr to share this on back in ye old 1998.
Whatever the case, he somehow deduces that Raxton is headed toward the docks. As it turns out, at that very moment, Robbie and Alison Mongrain are arriving at said docks aboard a tramp steamer. So… we might assume this issue is happening like a week or two after the last one? Heck, I dunno how long it takes for a slow boat to travel across the Atlantic.
Just then… the Molten Man strikes… Super-Shredder style, right through the docks! Thankfully, he announces himself upon arrival. Wait, did I say “thankfully”, I meant to say “mind-bogglingly”.
Raxton tosses Robbie aside and b-lines it toward Alison. She takes off toward dry land. Robbie asks “what hit him”, so I guess the Molten Man’s proclamation one page ago that he is, in fact, The Molten Man wasn’t enough for him.
Robbie grabs a conveniently placed crowbar and smacks Raxton in the back with it. It is ineffective. Lucky for him, Spider-Man has shown up. In a neat bit, Spidey webs up his fists and feet so he doesn’t burn himself on the Molten Man.
While Spidey and Raxton beat each other upon the head and shoulders, Alison and Robbie plan their next move. Alison announces that they gotta find Peter Parker. Robbie protests, suggesting they stay and help Spider-Man (that’s cute, Robbie). Alison winds up convincing him that it’s best the flee the scene.
Spidey and Raxton fight through the dock (dude is molten, after all) and wind up in the drink. Spider-Man is almost pulled under a large barge… where he fears he might be turned into “Spider-Man pate”. Oy. He manages to escape the pull and return to dry land… however, the Molten Man is nowhere to be found.
We pop over to the Osborn Building, where ol’ Norman is still chatting up the old weirdo from the Pawn Shop. Their discussion is interrupted by a phone call from… good grief, the friggin’ Scrier. It’s… kinda funny seeing this Scrier holding a telephone, though I can’t explain why. Anyhoo, the Scrier reveals that the “mission” (referring to whatever the heck the Molten Man was supposed to do) has failed. Norman, as you might imagine, isn’t happy.
After hanging up on the Scrier, Norman and the Weirdo get back to their discussion. It’s here we learn some more about the particulars of the Rites of the Five. Ya see, there are four “shards” plus the spindle… that much we knew. There will be five participants all seeking “great power”… yeah, we knew that too. Only three of the five will actually get “great power”… we just learned that a few pages back. But, what is this “great power”… and what happens to the unlucky two?
Well, the “great power” includes, well… POWER. Also KNOWLEDGE and IMMORTALITY. So, there’s the lucky three. Those less lucky will be “gifted” with DEATH and MADNESS. So, it’s a 60% chance you get something good… buuuuut, there’s always the possibility that this might be one’a them “monkey’s paw” sort of situations. Annnd, that’s where we leave it.
So, this was… uh… less good than the first chapter? Fair to say? From soup to nuts, writing to art… this was definitely a far weaker outing.
Let’s get the Byrne out of the way. This wasn’t outright bad or anything, but some of these “jokes” were pretty cringy, forced, and felt like they were trying too hard to evoke of a different era of Spider-Man. I mean, quipping about Jonah’s sweat socks? The “daddy spider and mommy spider” bit? C’mahhhn. I expect a little more creativity when it comes to quips.
We did get from Point A to Point B, which was good. We got Alison and Robbie back to New York, we learned a bit more regarding the “gamble” of the Rites of the Five. Can’t much complain about that. Sure, back in 1998, the latter didn’t feel so much like a “Spider-Man story beat”, but… in 2020, it’s like those “street-level” rules don’t apply anymore. It’s far easier to accept this sort of tale nowadays.
The art… well… this certainly isn’t up to the standards that Joe Bennett set yesterday. This is quite a bit rougher… likely not helped by the four different inkers in play here. Heck, looking at the credits, Byrne himself is listed as a “Guest Writer”. Was there some sort of shake-up that made this issue a “last minute” sort of thing? Was there any reason why regular Amazing Spider-Man writer, Tom DeFalco couldn’t do this one? I just feel like, if you’re trying to establish a “new direction”, the lead-in story probably shouldn’t be treated as a rushed afterthought, no?
Oh well. I guess we can chalk this one up as being just “ehh”… and hope for a better Chapter Three.