Amazing Spider-Man #441 (1998)
Amazing Spider-Man #441 (November, 1998)
“The Final Chapter, Part 1: And Who Shall Claim a Kingly Crown?”
Guest Writer – John Byrne
Pencils – Rafael Kayanan
Inks – Bud LaRosa
Colors – Matt Hicks & Mike Rockwitz
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Y’all ready for the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man? Hoo-boy, this is sure to be a monumental issue… I mean, this was before the days of nu-Marvel and the annual relaunch… at this point, Amazing Spider-Man only had ONE #1… and, check this madness out… it only had ONE cover too!
Ya know, I wrote that paragraph as a gag… but, it actually sorta-kinda made me gag. What an absolute s-show the “current year” comics biz is.
Least we’ve still got the old stuff to relish in… like this sure to be amazing final issue of ASM!
We open at the Osborn Building… or wherever it is that Norman Osborn works… and, check it out, it’s finally time for that thing the last story arc was named after: The Gathering of Five! Let’s meet our players: we’ve got Norman, of course… Maxwell, that creep from the Pawn Shop, Madame Web, Override, and… some young girl with ‘tude. This is the “Franklin” that arrived a few issues back at LaGuardia… that they didn’t want us to see. She is Martha/Matt/Mattie Franklin, daughter of the Franklin Norman was expecting. Not much of a reveal here, folks. Anyhoo, they’re all decked out in some geeky-looking robes for the ritual. Mattie and Maxwell butt heads immediately. Anyone care?
We shift scenes to Forest Hills, where a cab pulls up to the Parker home. Why, it’s Alison Mongrain and Robbie! Been a minute since we last saw them. Mongrain insists that there’s something she has to say… something she can only say to Peter Parker. Suddenly, steam begins to rise from the gutters.
Good grief, it’s the Molten Man… again.
Inside, Mary Jane is on the phone with Jill Stacy… and is wearing the first of several hairstyles/lengths (and outfits) she’ll be drawn with throughout this issue. She hears the ruckus outside, and is shocked by the scene.
Outside, Raxton looks to be quite conflicted… it’s as though he’s trying to stop himself from attacking Mongrain. He even manages to speak a little bit. And so, we get four pages of flashback where Norman Osborn embeds a chip into Raxton’s head. Four Pages. This is the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man… and we’re wasting like a quarter of it on the friggin’ Molten Man’s flashback?!
At this point, Mongrain… who is lookin’ roooouuuugh… realizes that, duh… she’s been wearing a locket given to her by Norman Osborn this entire time. You kidding me with this? There’s a dude tracking you to all corners of the planet to do you harm… and you’re still wearing his jewelry? C’mon. Robbie nyoinks the locket and tosses it into the street… and just like that, the Molten Man backs off… and heads over to the trinket.
At this point, Mary Jane rushes out to see what’s up. Mongrain, upon learning that Emjay is Parker’s wife… decides that she can tell her the big secret. And so, she whispers something into MJ’s ear…
… which shocks her to the core! Ya see, folks… May is actually alive! I fear this revelation might not have quite the same oomph it did back in 1998. If I’m talking about Spider-Man and say “May”, where does your mind immediately go? Well, here’s a bit of context: Not too long before this story, Mary Jane and Peter had a daughter who was stillborn. They named her May. See where we’re headed here?
We shift scenes back to the Osborns, and it’s finally time for the Ritual. I feel like I already said that. They each hold their shard over their head… and the room fills with electricity.
Madame Web goes first, placing her shard on the altar. She immediately dies… soooo, that’s the gift of DEATH. Welp, there’s one outta the way.
Mattie goes next… and her result isn’t quite as clear. There’s a buzzing in her fingers, and a numbness in her mind. Maxwell presumes she has received the gift of KNOWLEDGE. Norman then tells “Overpower” to place his piece. Overpower? Ya mean Override… the goofball we’ve spent like half of the last story arc following around? C’mon, there are three friggin’ editors on this book… and, it’s written by John friggin’ Byrne. We expect more… though, we probably shouldn’t.
Overpowerride Places his piece down upon the altar… and is suddenly flooded with power. The feeling, however, is fleeting. Maxwell posits that this means ol’ Doctor Greg received the gift of IMMORTALITY.
Maxwell himself goes next… and assumes he’s going to get that nebulous power of POWER. Only, moments afterwards, he begins foaming at the mouth like a lunatic. Y’see, poor Maxie got MADNESS.
Welp, that only leaves one… looks like the power of POWER is waiting for our man Norman.
And, he’s not going to accept it alone… he’s brought his goofy alter-ego along for the ride!
Back to Queens, where Spider-Man finally shows up in the final issue of his flagship comic! He greets Mary Jane, whose hair has grown about a foot in the time he’s been away. She brings him inside… and hoo boy, does the art take a massive dump here. I mean, some of these panels are almost criminal. Anyhoo, she tells him that MAY is alive… and being kept at Norman’s hunting lodge.
Spidey’s all “cool, that’s just a couple hours away”… but, Mary Jane’s all sorts of nervous. I wonder if she’s worried about what this might mean to her modeling career! Oof, I’m sorry, that was mean. In actuality, (in perhaps the ugliest panel ever committed to paper) Mary Jane informs him that she knows deep down that this cannot possibly be true. She “felt” their baby die. Spidey figures it’s worth a shot either way.
And so, the first volume of Amazing Spider-Man ends… with Spider-Man headed for Norman’s hunting lodge.
Woof. What a bad issue… a damn near criminal “final” issue. Felt like nobody involved was interested in making sure this felt like something special or monumental. I hate to harp on the importance of “legacy numbering” and stuff like that, but… to many of us, even the casuals, it matters. If you’re going to ditch an entire volume, especially one that has its roots in the seminal days of the Marvel Universe… ya gotta do it with a bit more respect and care than this.
Amazing Spider-Man, while it wasn’t burning up the sales charts during the late 90’s, was still Spider-Man’s (and arguably Marvel’s) flagship title. It had near forty years of history… plenty of memorable stories, characters, and creators… and to toss it all out for a literal “blip” of relevancy in the pages of Wizard Magazine and the like… is a damn shame.
Let’s look at the “care” that creative and editorial took with this landmark final issue. First, the art… suuuuuucked. Kayanan isn’t a bad artist, but this was some uneven-bordering-on-lousy work he turned in… especially toward the end of the issue. Not to be hyperbolic, but, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such bad art in a mainstream comic book. Scroll back up again if you don’t believe me! This isn’t how you close out a volume!
Spider-Man appeared on like three pages of his own final issue? Well, that’s a blessing and a curse… at least that meant we didn’t get saddled with balloons and balloons full of cringy and forced Byrne “banter”. But, still… I hope my point is well taken here. Spider-Man barely makes an appearance in the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man. That’s some crap right there. The Molten Man’s flashback to having a chip implanted in his noggin received more paginal real-estate.
Editorial was completely out to lunch here as well. They were likely too busy patting themselves on the back with the May revelation (which we’ll put a pin in for now… there’s plenty more of that to come) to realize they got names wrong and there were drastic changes in appearance throughout the issue for like half the cast. Not good, gang. The week you cashed your paychecks for your work on this issue… you were stealing money from Marvel!
A minor quibble, but a quibble none the less. We had this pretty big cliffhanger a couple chapters ago at LaGuardia Airport, right? Norman was gobsmacked upon seeing… a certain character we weren’t privy to. I wanna say he actually said something along the lines of “No, not you!”… annnd, here we learn it’s just Mattie Franklin? No pomp or circumstance… she’s just standing there in her ill-fitting geeky robe? You’d almost think there was going to be some sort of conflict… but, nope! She’s just here now. Yeesh.
This is the sort of story one might refer to as a “bag of hammers falling down a flight of stairs”… and, if you were to do so… you’d be right. This was not good. I was hopeful that, with 22 years of hindsight (many of those years full of pretty lousy Spidey stories), that I might’ve “softened” to this one. Doesn’t look to be the case! Maybe this being the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man can be looked at as a “mercy killing”… but, folks… we’re not anywhere near done yet.
I hope you’ll all stick with me… it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
3 thoughts on “Amazing Spider-Man #441 (1998)”
These issues of Spider-Man have been quite the ride. This is right up there with your epic recapping of Flash Forward or the woebegone days of Black Canary in Action Comics Weekly.
So what's the deal with this credit: "Guest Writer – John Byrne". Who was the actual writer that Byrne was guesting for? Here's a thought: what if John Byrne realized what a train wreck these issues were and insisted on the "Guest" credit to diminish his involvement? "Hey, I know these issues suck but I was just filling in."
It does seem like that this issue should've been the actual denouement of the Gathering of the Five. But given Spidey's lack of involvement, maybe that wouldn't work either. Who knows? Who really cares? Apparently not Spidey's creative and editorial team. There's a really strong sense of "let's just get this over with".
Seeing Spider-Man descend into hackery is a sad sight but one that I find fascinating.
I completely forgot Madam Web died in this issue. I think the only time I saw her since this story was when she helped Peter conduct a seance to contact Aunt May when she was in a coma. Was that during or right after Civil War? I can't recall.
Madame Web didn't die. Keep on reading. Nothing is what it seems.