Peter Parker: Spider-Man #96 (October, 1998)
“The Gathering of Five, Part Three: Web of Despair”
Writer – Howard Mackie
Guest Pencils – Norman Felchle
Inks – Scott Hanna
Colors – Gregory Wright
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Today we reach the halfway point of The Gathering of Five… which has been kind of a mixed bag up to this point. This issue is written by the man who will helm both Spidey books post-reboot, so it’s here where we might get a taste of what’s to come.
Worth noting, and this isn’t going to be a mind-blowing revelation to most of you. Pre-Byrne/Mackie Reboot, there were four monthly Spider-Man books:
- Amazing Spider-Man
- Spectacular Spider-Man
- Peter Parker: Spider-Man
- Sensational Spider-Man
We open at the Daily Bugle, where Peter Parker is burning the midnight… err, evening oil. He is joined by Mary Jane, who has brought him something either called a “Merry Meal” or a “Sappy Meal”… seems as though creative couldn’t make up their minds on this one. Anyhoo, she’s more or less here to test the waters with Pete about her perhaps getting back into the world of modeling… and, ya know, quitting school. Peter is quick to ask her if she’s “asking his permission”, which seems to really tick her off.
As MJ leaves, Norman Osborn enters. He’s the co-owner of the Daily Bugle at the moment… so, it makes sense that he’s here. He’s also a beloved member of society at this point, so it’s not looked at as weird that he’s now a prominent businessman. Strange how Norman and Lex Luthor shared this odd trajectory around the turn of the century, isn’t it? Anyhoo, Norman’s an a-hole to Peter… and shares with him a “hypothetical” story about people receiving a poison package, and basically melting… which really gets under his skin…
… so much so, that Pete grabs Norman by the lapels and asks him what he’s done. Osborn shrugs it off, and more or less laughs in Peter’s face. Basking in his newfound “belovedness”, Norman tells Peter he’s powerless in pretty much any situation they’re in together.
We shift scenes to… oh boy… Madame Web. I can’t be the only one who rolls their eyes when she enters a story, can I? Anyhoo, she’s “dreaming”… and is visited upon by, well Norman Osborn. He makes her an offer she can’t refuse… that of a return of her youth… or, immortality. All she’s gotta do is take part in The Gathering of Five. He tells her to find that “shard” anyway she can… and her mind instantly goes to Spider-Man.
Back at the Bugle, Peter heads into Jonah’s office to thank him for letting him use the computer (what year is this?). Jonah reveals that some news just came over the wire… a building full of people were just killed by melting after receiving some sort poison package. Hmm. Norman enters the office and tells Jonah he ain’t runnin’ that piece… and there’ll be no questions asked. He even tells Jonah to “think of his family” before he makes his next move. Wow, Norman’s a pretty bad-ass baddie, eh?
Peter jams out of the office and changes into his work-clothes which really tickles Norman. He’s seeing just how easy it is for him to play Parker like a fiddle.
As Spidey swings, he happens across a pair of nogoodniks attempting to mug a skinny nerd. Peter can relate… and so, he stops in to lend the wimp a hand. Once that’s wrapped up, Peter gets a psychic distress call from… Madame Web.
Back at the Bugle, Jonah is stomping around his darkened office… he knows he’s gotta do something to stop Norman Osborn. And so, he reaches into his desk, and retrieves… his gun! Knowing this might just be a one-way trip, JJJ leaves a sealed envelope addressed to Robbie in his desk.
Speaking of Robbie, let’s check in with him and Alison Mongrain, eh? They’re at a run-down hotel… where the latter is being attacked by some creep… named Creep. Robbie manages to kayo him after smacking him with a piece of furniture. He tells Alison that she’s gotta stay put… r’else she gon’ die.
Back with Peter and the Madame, the old lady tells him that she needs him for something… something very difficult and dangerous. Pete figures, ehh… she’s helped me before, so why not?
One page later, Peter delivers her the Shard. Wait… what? Did we skip an issue? How did he just get the shard? Wow, that was underwhelming. Maybe these things aren’t as important as we’ve been led to believe? I dunno. Anyways, Madame Web has a “vision” of J. Jonah Jameson putting a gun to Norman Osborn’s head. She tells Spidey he’d better get over to the Bugle to intervene.
So, let’s do that! Over at the Bugle, Jonah enters Norman’s office.
Ya know what would really suck right now? If, instead of being able to get back to the Daily Bugle to diffuse this situation, Spider-Man got stuck fighting, say… I dunno… a dragon on the streets of New York City? Man, that would suck… good thing nothing that stupid would happen here.
So, back at the Bugle (feels like I’ve typed that a dozen times today)… Jonah confronts Norman. Norman ain’t sweatin’ none’a this. He tells Jonah he doesn’t have the “stuff” to kill him… and even presses Jonah’s gun into his own forehead… daring JJJ to squeeze one off. This is some pretty good Norman.
Jonah drops the gun, proving Norman’s point… that he just doesn’t have it in him to kill. Norman, however, does not have that same issue. He snaps up the piece, and points it at Jonah. He even mocks JJJ’s hatred of Spider-Man, claiming that he only hates him because he’s everything Jonah himself isn’t. Pretty good stuff.
Before Norman can perforate Jonah, Spidey swings in and webs up the pistol but good. Jonah, it’s worth mentioning, is cowering like a child… it’s not a good look for ol’ flat-top.
Norman, being a black-belt-level a-hole doesn’t even let this stop him from running at the mouth. He mocks Spider-Man… reminding him that he’s now in a room with his two worst enemies. He even dares him to take the gun and shoot them both right there. Spidey turns to Jonah and offers him help… only to be pushed away. Norman laughs, “Nary a friend in sight”. He tells Spider-Man that his suffering will end… soon enough.
We wrap up later that evening with… Madame Web handing over the third “shard” (and fourth piece, overall) for the Rites of the Five. Norman is pleased… the Madame is not.
What a weird issue.
It’s not often I’m left this conflicted when writing the “review” portion of a piece. There was a lot about this issue I liked, a lot I didn’t… some I wanted to like that I didn’t… and some that I didn’t want to like that I did! Such a strange issue.
Let’s start with the strongest part (in my opinion). This was some great Norman Osborn. I really enjoyed his scenes… and watching him put Jonah in his place was oddly satisfying. It’s not often we see JJJ in such a vulnerable state. It’s also not so often we see him try and take a situation into his own hands. This entire scene was a lot of fun… though, the dialogue was perhaps a tad on the stilted side.
Norman taunting Peter was also very well done… though, again… his “hypothetical story” might’ve been a bit “much”, ya know? Taking the “does any human actually speak like this?” factor into consideration might hurt how one receives this bit. I do like the taunting though… it actually feels like Spidey’s back is up against the wall here.
I compared the Norman Osborn of this era to the Lex Luthor of this era during the synopsis… and I’m sure I’m not the first (nor last) to do so. They were both on this same weird trajectory where the public was beginning to look at them as “good guys”, “saviors”, “model citizens”, even. Heck, they both took over prominent newspapers in their respective universes! Lex at the Planet, Norman at the Bugle. Weird stuff… but, I enjoyed both of their stories!
Let’s talk Madame Web. She’s a bore. She’s also a pretty lousy pre-cog, if she actually saw Jonah murdering Norman. That entire bit was so weird. She needs Spider-Man to undertake the dangerous and difficult task of retrieving the shard, right? He does it between panels! Wha–? Doesn’t that just sorta suck the significance right out of the thing? It’s not like we were “out of pages” here… I mean, we wasted two or three on Spidey fighting a friggin’ Dragon! The hell is this all about?
Okay, now the Madame’s motivations… are sound. I guess. She’s ancient, and likely not long for the world… and so, the possibility that she might become immortal after the ritual is pretty tantalizing. The risk is worth the reward for her. Fair enough. I still think she sucks.
Mary Jane gets a blip here, seemingly only to remind us that the marriage is kinda rocky… and that she and Peter might want different things outta life at this point. It was still nice to see her story-thread picked up on here.
Alison and Robbie get a very short bit here… fighting off the creep named Creep. Yeah, I guess that happened?
The art, as with yesterday’s look at Amazing, was… uneven. Some good stuff, some not so good. J. Jonah Jameson looks like he’s been killin’ it in the gym… I mean, dude’s got broader shoulders than Thor here. Overall, the art here was far better than in ASM… though definitely not as good as Joe Bennett’s work in Sensational.
So… yeah, this is a weird issue, and a weird “review”. I really don’t know how to capsule-ize my feelings. I think I walk away from it with, err, net-positive feelings? What can I say, I really dug the way Norman was portrayed here.