Spectacular Spider-Man #262 (October, 1998)
“The Gathering of Five, Part Four: A Day in the Life”
Guest Writer – John Byrne
Pencils – Luke Ross
Inks – Al Milgrom
Colors – John Kalisz
Letters – Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Wow, two Howard Mackie days in a row? Well, if you look at today’s cover, you might think so… buuut, it’s wrong. Today we’re back with Byrne, for better or worse.
If you’re thinking having the wrong credits on the cover is a sign of the tight editorial eye on this book… well, read on…
Today’s issue opens with an “Interlude”… the first of, I wanna say three. In it, Norman is chatting up that weirdo from the Pawn Shop we met the other day, and we learn his name is Morris Maxwell. Heck, we might’ve already known that. Anyhoo, Norman is on the phone with someone named “Franklin”… who had agreed to be part of the Gathering of Five ritual, and now appears to have cold feet. Norman demands he come, even though the Rite states that all five must come voluntarily. Whatever the case, we pop over to the Franklin house and find out that someone had been listening in on that call. We’ll meet them soon… and, hoo boy, are they gonna be annoying.
Onto the “meat and potatoes” of the issue. Spider-Man is going about his regular patrol, when two dorks on bikes notice him swingin’ by, and decide to follow him and see where he’s headed. There’s a really forced running gag here about one of these goofballs being a henpecked fiancé or something… it’s really not worth breaking down.
So, these cyclists follow Spidey to a… nondescript store. Like, it’s literally just a doorway… where a ski-masked would-be robber gets punched the eff out.
Spider-Man saves the day… webs the crook up, like all the way… he looks like a mummy. No air-holes or anything! He is then thanked by the proprietor of the establishment, who is overjoyed that… Captain America saved him. The hell? That doesn’t make any sort of sense… would anyone in the world mistake Spider-Man for Captain America? I mean, Daredevil… maybe? Deadpool even… but Cap? C’mahhhhn… (another) bad joke, Byrne.
Next, interlude the second. Mary Jane reacclimates to the modeling world. It’s an “absolutely fabulous” scene… which is to say, everyone in it cannot help but to say “absolutely” and “fabulous” with every line. Emjay is handed her contract… and it looks to be a biggun.
Back to Spidey, who is swinging by a pick-up basketball game, where some grown-ass adults have swiped the ball from some kids. Welp, this looks like a job for Spider-Man.
Spidey challenges the grown-ups (who he addresses as “big kids”, even though they’re all drawn as adults) to a game… winner take ball. Spider-Man actually hurls one of ’em into a wall… I mean, from the looks of it… I don’t know if the poor goof even survived it. Feels sort of out of character for Spider-Man, dunnit? If he starts referring to himself as “The Spider”, I’m outta here.
After returning the ball to the little kids, Spidey’s back on patrol. Those idiot cyclists are still hot on his trail… and get this, they ride out into traffic without looking, causing a nine-car pileup!
They decide to press on, because, screw gettin’ in trouble for that. They don’t get far, however, as Spider-Man has set a sticky trap in their path.
One tries to get away, Spidey catches him, we learn these two geeks are lawyers for some reason (maybe Byrne had a bone to pick with lawyers around this time)… and they’re frog-marched back to the scene of the accident. Spidey leaves them with some officers, and swings through Central Park, where he overhears the a woman (the fiancée) trying to get a hold of the henpecked one. ell oh ell.
We wrap up with our third interlude. You lovin’ all this Gathering of Five content we’re getting? It’s pretty great, innit? Here, we hang out with Norman at LaGuardia… where he’s waiting for Franklin to show up with the fourth and final shard. Someone does show up… but, it isn’t the “Franklin” Norman had expected.
Man, what a great chapter of The Gathering of Five, right! Right? Uh… Right???
I mean… honestly, just what the hell was this, and why did we need it? We literally got four pages dedicated to the main story… a story, by the way, which will serve as a catalyst to reboot Marvel Comics’ flagship character for the first time in nearly forty years. There really should’ve been more care taken with this. The whole thing feels like an afterthought at worst, and filler at best.
What’s more, it’s another (poor) fill-in by Byrne! Spectacular Spider-Man was an important book in the Spider-family… leading up to this, it had been written by J.M. DeMatteis and Roger friggin’ Stern… where were they? Probably running as fast as they could in the opposite direction…
Okay, so try let’s break this down.
Let’s start with the stuff that’s actually important to The Gathering. Norman is reaching out to a “Franklin” to get that fourth ‘n final. Franklin is a bit trepidatious, which really, is the only way he should be when a) dealing with Norman Osborn, and b) putting his fate in the hands of a weirdo ritual. His child, however, listened in on the call… and it looks like they’re going to take his place in the ritual. Be prepared… this character is going to be wildly unpleasant. That’s… it. That’s the entire Gathering of Five portion of this issue.
We do touch on another bubblin’ subplot… pertaining to Mary Jane’s return to modeling, which really just felt like Byrne shoehorning as many Patsy and Edina-isms into dialogue balloons as he could. We get the impression that we’re supposed to find the modeling biz to be vapid and superficial… which may further alienate us from Mary Jane. Remember, we’re supposed to be able to relate to the superheroes and their families, right? That’s what Marvel Editorial has been saying since Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 came out, anyway!
For the rest of the story… like, literally the other 20 pages of it, we get Spider-Man swinging through the city, using his powers in… I dunno, sorta mean ways. He mummifies that one robber… no air-holes to be seen. Not sure if that was an artistic choice, or if Byrne had that in his notes. He beats up those basketball thieves… which, I dunno, feels sort of like an abuse of power. Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Spider-Man also takes great pleasure (perhaps too much) upon catching those cycling lawyers. Makes me feel like Byrne might’ve had a few run-ins with lawyers, and he was taking out his frustrations here. That’s just my postulating, however… it could all be in my head. Just seems weird that they’d draw attention to what these two losers do for a living. I mean, who asked?
Overall… this was a complete waste of time. The four pages worth of Gathering story could have easily fit in yesterday’s issue of Peter Parker if we removed the nonsensical Spidey fighting a literal Dragon on the streets of New York bit. Just such a waste… which, I hate to repeat myself, but… this story is setting up the Spider-Man reboot. This is Marvel’s flagship character… and they’re starting him over, in large part due to what happens in this story. They’re treating it as an afterthought, which does nobody (but Byrne) any good.
Oh, and it’s gotta be said… 1998 Byrne doesn’t write a funny Spidey story. I’ve read funny Spidey stories… this is not one of ’em.