Spectacular Spider-Man #263 (November, 1998)
“The Final Chapter, Part 3: The Triumph of the Goblin!”
Writer – Howard Mackie
Pencils – Luke Ross
Inks – Al Milgrom
Colors – Mike Rockwitz
Letters – Richard Starkings & Comicraft/SH
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Cover Price: $1.99
Now that there’s one ugly cover. I get the feeling that John Byrne might’ve been in a Rocky Horror state of mind when designing this Goblin, no?
Something I’ve wanted to mention, but didn’t quite know how to shoe-horn it in… or even put it into words, I suppose… is how this attempt at a “fresh” take on Spider-Man feels instantly old and outdated. It’s like if you took a property and gave it to your grandparents to “pep” up. It’s like Byrne and Mackie drew their inspiration from the Stan Lee Spider-Man newspaper strip or something. It just feels so behind the times, and it’s covers like this that really drive that point home.
It’s low-effort, it’s low-hanging… and it’s just plain ugly. What non-Spider-Man reader would ever pick this one up off the rack? This was 1998… Marvel Knights just kicked off (same cover month, in fact!), and felt like (mostly) a breath of fresh air… but Marvel’s “flagship” book… stinks like mothballs and Werther’s Originals.
Picking up right where we left off (well, maybe a few seconds later), Spider-Man is with a woman who looks a whole lot like Aunt May. The Green Goblin has un-webbed himself, and is there to really lay into Spidey. Aunt May is very confused, which I suppose stands to reason. Norman backhands the broad, sending her right into Spider-Man’s arms. Our hero ain’t buyin’ that this is the real-deal Aunt May… after all, we’re not too far from the Clone Saga that monopolized much of the 1990’s. Norman insists this isn’t a gag… and suggests that Spider-Man take his Aunt home, and spend what time he has left with her… because, ya see… tonight, Spider-Man dies.
Spider-Man takes his leave, and heads over to the Baxter Building… or wherever the heck the Fantastic Four were holed up post-Heroes Return. He asks Reed to give this old woman the once-over, to see if this truly is his dear Aunt May. Without a sample of the real-deal-May’s actual DNA, however, all Reed can confirm is that this woman is human.
Spidey’s got an idea… and tells Reed he’ll be back soon. Reed tries to stop him, because there’s this one teensy tiny detail he really ought to know, but Spider-Man ain’t willing to wait around.
We follow our hero back to his and Mary Jane’s house, where the latter is having a big fashion blowout or something. Lotsa “absolutely fabulous” people are present… though, thankfully since this isn’t a John Byrne script, none of them are actually saying “absolutely” nor “fabulous”.
Emjay hears something in the attic, and heads up to check. Naturally, it’s Peter… and he’s digging through some old junk. Ya see, Aunt May was a lotta things, including a packrat… and so, he had a sneaking suspicion that the answer to his problems might be up here. And, whattayaknow… it is! Peter happens across an old science experiment he did in Junior High, where he collected some of May’s DNA. What luck! He explains the sitch to Mary Jane, who… is dubious (and probably just wants to get back to her schmoozing and hob-nobbing).
We immediately shift back to Reed’s lab, where he confirms that the old bitty is indeed May Parker.
Then, we move onto that teensy tiny detail Reed really wanted to share earlier. Y’all ready for this? Aunt May’s got this “cylindrical object” implanted in the back of her brain… which, if not removed ASAP as possible, will kill her. Reed wants to operate… but needs the a-okay from her next of kin. Rather than unmasking, Spidey tells Reed that he’ll contact her family. We assume he just pops outside to the nearest payphone and calls Reed as Peter… but, we don’t see it.
We follow Spider-Man to… Osborn Industries Corporate Headquarters, where he comes crashing into ol’ Norman’s office. Norman starts mocking him straightaway.
Norman speaks of the Gathering of Five ritual (remember that?), and how it gave him the power of a god. Spidey insists Osborn’s gone insane… but, the baddie corrects him, claiming “Nah, this other guy got that gift…” We’ll put a pin in that for now. Spider-Man asks what Norman’s big plan is… to which, Osborn is more than happy to share.
Spider-Man is directed over to a big window overlooking a laboratory. He explains that these scientists were responsible for the weirdness at the hunting lodge (that dumb stuff regarding the flora and fauna). He also now has the “technology” to, well… make people melt down to their “component DNA structure” (which we already saw a few issues back). Fans of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion might be familiar with the Human Instrumentality Project… this sorta feels something like that. He demonstrates this before a shocked Spidey.
Ya see, Norman is planning to melt everyone down… and reshape the world in his own image. Hmm… maybe Spider-Man’s right, and Norman has gone insane?
They spend the next several pages fighting… and bantering. Well, Norman’s doing most of the talking. He explains a lot here… so, let’s get right into it. He talks up his philanthropy… and how he’s used several of the Osborn charities to distribute his “DNA Bombs”… which, oh yeah… is exactly the thing that was embedded into poor Aunt May’s dottering dome. What’s more, while it’s in her head, it’s basically inert. Only when it’s exposed to air will it “activate”. Very “damned if ya do…” sorta situation, no? In fact, it’s her DNA Bomb that will start the chain-reaction in setting off all the DNA Bombs.
So, you might be asking… how in all hells is Aunt May actually still alive? I mean, we all saw her die back in Amazing Spider-Man #400, right? Well… here we go. Ya see, Norman… who was retroactively made the mastermind of the entire Clone Saga (which was already in high-gear around the time of ASM #400)… kidnapped the real-deal Aunt May, and replaced her with an actress. This actress, reportedly, spent years learning Aunt May’s mannerisms and voice… and, what’s more, Norman even filled her in on all of Peter’s secrets… which is why they were able to have that touching final conversation atop the Empire State Building before she passed. Ya get it? This is one of those weird situations where… we don’t have to necessarily like it, but it actually feels like Marvel is trying. Nowadays they wouldn’t expend the effort!
At this point, the book goes completely bat-stuff insane. Well, insaner. The Goblin drops Spider-Man in the middle of a crowded New York City street… and unmasks him! The world now knows that Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker!
Norman ain’t done yet, however… after the… uh, humiliation (?) of the unmasking… he kills Peter Parker!
We close out this issue (and the volume of the second longest tenured Spider-Man title) with… the death of Spider-Man. How will we ever be able to walk this one back?!
So… we got a lot of information in this here issue, and very much to Howard Mackie’s credit, most of it sorta-kinda makes sense? I mean, it isn’t perfect by any means, but… the answers we get, are satisfying in the sense that… it feels like they actually tried. How did Aunt May come back to life? Why, she never died in the first place… that was an actress! How did Norman’s hunting lodge “come alive”? Well, ya see… this room full’a nerds saw to that… now watch them die!
Again, it isn’t perfect… and, honestly, it’s not even any fun to read… but, I can’t say that Mackie isn’t trying here. Perhaps it’s only with the couple-decades of hindsight… where the “hot writers” of “current year” don’t put in any effort to make their stories or character motivations make any sense, but I appreciated the attempt at making everything “fit” here.
Mackie and Byrne could’ve very easily said “None’a that ever happened”… and just picked up with Spider-Man as a swinging single, living with Aunt May, and snapping pics for Jonah while taking classes at ESU. But, this happened back when Marvel Editorial still had some respect for continuity… so, instead, we get an actual “work-around”. A clunky-as-all-hell work-around, but a work-around nonetheless. Kudos (I guess) for that.
Let’s look at that cliffhanger. Oof… how are they gonna walk that one back? Welp, we’ll find out tomorrow… I hope you’re all prepared for a pretty massive disappointment. I know I am! I did like seeing Norman get his big win. It really drove home his motivations, and illustrated just how personal this rivalry between he and Peter still is. I will say, however, this Green Goblin design? Uh, it… ain’t got no alibi. It’s ugly. U-G-L-Y. Ross’ pencils are pretty tight here throughout, but not even he could make this Goblin look good.
Next time, we’ll wrap up the pre-boot… and close out this “final chapter” with Peter Parker: Spider-Man #98.
(Don’t call it a) Fold-Out: