Peter Parker: Spider-Man #97 (November, 1998)
“The Final Chapter, Part 2: Let the Heavens Tremble at the Power of the Goblin!”
Writer – Howard Mackie
Pencils – John Romita, Jr.
Inks – Scott Hanna
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft/SH
Colors – Gregory Wright
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Oh boy. Sometimes I just sit and stare at the “preramble” part of my screen… and wonder what’s I can possibly say to “hype” what’s to come.
Uh. I got nothin’. Please read on~! We got Romita!
We open… somewhere, and there are a group of men helping Norman Osborn get into his “greens”. They’re pretty star-struck and gobsmacked to be allowed to help him… and they inform him that Alison Mongrain did manage to contact the Parkers with her top secret information. Norman doesn’t seem too bothered, and takes his leave… not before pumpkin-bombing whatever the hell building they were holed up in.
We shift scenes over to Norman’s hunting lodge in upstate New York. There are signs that have been clumsily cut+paste to inform trespassers they would be prosecuted. I wonder what these signs originally said… because, this is one sloppy-looking edit. I guess that makes it fit in all the better with this storyline.
Once he breaches the perimeter, Spidey realizes that there’s something weird about the environment here. There’s no wind… the flora seems to react to his presence. It’s… I didn’t know that sort of technology existed… but, whattayagonnado?
We take a break from this, and hop over to the fashion studio of one Gianni Vermicelli. Mary Jane is being fitted for a very stylish (ugly) gown, while chatting up her good pal Jill Stacy. Hmm… I wonder if Jill Stacy is going to be forced down our throats when this volume officially “ticks over” to it’s new #1? Nahhh…
Back to Spidey, who’s still swingin’ through the windless skies. He happens across… uhh, beasts? Ya know, we just went through a cloak-and-dagger ritual, and somehow, this feels less “genuine Spider-Man” than that! At least Mackie’s banter isn’t as forced nor as bad as Byrne’s.
After dispatching the beasts, Spider-Man is met by our old friend Norman. Spidey suggests he get out of his way, as nothing is going to stop him from getting his baby girl back. Norman laughs… and we’ll soon know why. He also tosses Peter a book: the Osborn Journal.
Now, this is dumb. Spidey flips through the journal, which details all of Norman’s trespasses and misdeeds throughout the years. Here’s the thing though… the words in the journal suddenly change! Ya see, Norman was hoping Spider-Man would find this book, and hand it over to the police. The words change, to reveal that not only is Peter Parker Spider-Man, but that Peter poisoned his own Aunt May when she discovered his dual-identity. Does this whole bit feel… I dunno, a little contrived?
Back to Emjay. She’s in the middle of a press conference at a posh eatery… and, she’s lovin’ life. She actually stops for a moment to consider the possibility that baby May is still alive… and, eeesh, doesn’t seem like she’s all that pleased… she’d rather be modeling! I’ve asked this before, but… ya think they’re trying to make us readers dislike ol’ Mary Jane?
Back to the fight. Spider-Man breaks away, hot in pursuit of his baby girl. Norman’s all “yer kid’s dead”… he swears he had nothing to do with it. He says all this in between some raucous laughter, so it’s not hard to see why Spidey doesn’t quite believe him.
From here, we get a few pages of really good action! A knock-down drag-out between Spidey and the Goblin, that under Romita’s pencil, looks really darn good! They bash their way into Norman’s hunting lodge… and Spider-Man finally manages to down his foe. While the Goblin lay, Spidey absolutely empties his web-cartridges upon him!
Spider-Man looks down a long hallway (this is a very large “lodge”), and walks down to a closed door. He opens it, to find a darkened room… where he is clobbered over the head with a vase!
Y’all ready? He shakes it off, and looks back to find… May. Not, the May he expected… but the dottering old Aunt variety. She is petrified of Spider-Man, which flies in the face of the revelation that she “knew” Peter’s secret before her death (back in Amazing Spider-Man #400). We’ll talk more about the hows and whys of that as we move on… but this, dear reader, is where we leave off today.
Yesterday I expressed a bit of concern over how much “oomph” this May reveal might have lost over the past two decades… and, without a doubt, time has not been kind to this story. In fact, it’s aged like milk. I mean, talk to the most passive Spider-fan you can find… everybody knows about Aunt May. Comics characterwise, she’s up there in the rarefied air with Lois Lane as notable “mainstream” cast members.
I feel like, if you were to hand this story over to a casual Spider-Fan (which would be incredibly mean of you… so, please don’t), they would immediately assume the “May” in question was Pete’s Aunt. I’d bet most don’t even realize that a) Aunt May died in the first place, and b) Peter and Mary Jane had a stillborn daughter, also named May.
So, really… all we got is trying to remember how we all felt, as regular Spider-Readers (those of us who were) when Aunt May was brought back. I was in-and-out of the Spider-books throughout the 90’s… only coming back “full-time” after the Clone Saga wrapped up. I knew Aunt May had passed, and what’s more, I knew what a powerful story her passing occurred in. Poor J.M. DeMatteis, it seems like most of his excellent “final” stories just keep getting undone!
I feel like I was more bothered, not so much that Aunt May was back, but that it undid her “final” story. If you’ve never read Amazing Spider-Man #400 (it’s the one with the horrid gimmick cover that just looks like a gray slab), I’d definitely recommend you do so. The final chat between Peter and May is an absolute masterpiece… over three-decades in the making. You’ll smile, you’ll probably cry… it’s a beautiful scene. A rare-gem in the Clone Saga era.
Annnnnnd… it’s undone here.
One thing we know about John Byrne as a creator, he’s a huge fan of “back to basics” storytelling. That’s usually his “mission statement” upon taking over a property (not named Superman)… and that definition of “basics” is, uh, pretty nebulous and “Byrnian”. Since his fingerprints are all over this era of Spider-Man, it’s hard not to consider that he’s trying to bring Spidey “back to basics”. Aunt May, is part of that… perhaps the biggest part! Also, let’s make the readers resent Mary Jane… so we can massage Peter back into being a swingin’ single (much more on that later)!
What else can we say about today’s issue though? Um, it was a fight scene… a very well drawn fight scene (thank goodness Romita, Jr. has arrived!), but still… a fight scene. The Osborn Journal bit… oy… it was just a “loose thread” being tied off, but still… it was dumb. The mutant dog-beasts, or whatever… and the strange reacting environment? Also pretty dumb. This whole confrontation feels like it should’ve been more, for lack of a better term, “gritty”. Ya know? More personal, more down-n-dirty… rather than playing out with a strange supernatural backdrop.
The Mary Jane interludes… well, they served a purpose, I suppose. Emjay’s got her path set… she’s a model again, and she’s loving it. Hindsight, being what it is, tells us where this is leading (and ultimately, how little any of this actually mattered)… however, at the time, it felt as though the creators were trying to alienate us from her. I came away from this feeling like she was betraying Peter and their plans for a family. Maybe I was reading too much into it… or, maybe that’s exactly how they wanted me to feel?
Overall… this still wasn’t a great time, but it was worlds better than yesterday’s chapter. Whodathunk… if you were to ask me if I’d rather read Byrne or Mackie Spider-Man… and I’d have to say “Mackie”! Craziness. Up is down, right is wrong, dogs and cats livin’ together…
Next: The final issue of the second-longest tenured Spider-title, Spectacular Spider-Man
(Don’t call it a) Fold-Out: