Long before the days of The New 52 and Marvel NOW!, there was another time where comic book companies, specifically Marvel, were relaunch happy; it was called the 90's. During the last half of the decade, Marvel began a slow campaign where most of their longest running titles were restarted with a new #1. Fantastic Four, Captain America, Avengers, Daredevil, Hulk, pretty much no one but the X-Men were safe; not even Spider-Man. By 1998, the web-slinger had four monthly titles going, and after "The Gathering of Five" and "The Final Chapter" storylines, all had been cancelled and two of them were relaunched. Now I had only started reading Spider-Man comics sometime after the relaunches, thanks to the Wizard Spider-Man special I had received as a present for my 8th birthday, where I learned so much about the history of Spider-Man. Now in 2013, Marvel finally released a paperback collection of the final issues in that era of Spider-Man that I had missed the first time around.
While comic books in the 90's get a lot of flak, reading these stories today brought back a feeling of nostalgia to me. Reading comics when I was younger, pretty much Spider-Man exclusively, was so much simpler. Heroes were heroes, villains were villains, and I read stories not thinking about the writers' or editors' intentions; not to mention I already missed all the clone stuff beforehand. Ever since the "One More Day" storyline erased Peter and Mary Jane's marriage and rewrote Spider-Man's history, I have found it hard to think of said history as fluid as it used to be. I entered Spider-Man comics when Peter was married to Mary Jane, and going back and reading those stories again, well, like I said, nostalgia takes over.
Nostalgia aside though, there were some things I couldn't really overlook. There were some grammatical errors, which as an English major I would notice, but nothing I couldn't get past. Another thing I seemed to notice was that some comic book stories years before are dragged out just as much as they are today. For example, in "Gathering of Five" Part 3 (Spider-Man #96), Spidey had to stop "some sort of prehistoric dinosaur" that breathed fire while on his way to stop J. Jonah Jameson from killing Norman Osborn. I mean, that just seems completely random. On a positive note though, Peter did make a jab at the 1998 American Godzilla movie during that fight, so that made me laugh. I think it goes along with the nostalgia I was feeling, seeing Peter reference things in the 90's; there was another instance in "Gathering of Five" Part 5 (Sensational Spider-Man #33) where Peter was singing "The Way" by Fastball while scaling a building to catch Override. As for another case of the story being dragged out was watching Peter do random things through New York while Osborn was putting things together for the Gathering of Five ceremony in Part 3 (Spectacular Spider-Man #262). That said, that would be the weakest issue of the collection; Peter didn't really sound like Peter in some parts of that issue.
There was one part of this storyline that is controversial though, and that is the resurrection of Aunt May, who was believed to had died years prior in Amazing Spider-Man #400. Apparently Osborn had had her held captive and replaced her with an actress who he had genetically changed to match May's appearance. Not only is that a ridiculous retcon, but it also diminished the emotional final moments of May's life. Another source on controversy from this was that Peter believed it was his infant daughter May that was being held captive, who was believed to have been stillborn since the end of the Clone Saga. Despite that, I once believed that Norman still had baby May alive and stashed away somewhere, most likely Europe. I mean, he kept his and Gwen Stacy's kids around so there was nothing to say baby May couldn't be alive too. However, due to the continuity changing of "One More Day", the likelihood of May's mortality has greatly diminished. On both counts though, they're things I would work to change if I ever get the chance to work at Marvel and on Spider-Man.
While the storyline isn't exactly perfect, I would say it would be the perfect ending to the original volume of Amazing Spider-Man and the other Spider-books. I mean, if you compared it to Amazing's recent "final" issue with Doc Ock declaring to become a superior Spider-Man, "The Final Chapter" story really seemed like that. Peter practically saved the planet from his archenemy (yes, Ock may have been the one to "kill" Peter, but I still consider Osborn to be THE archenemy) and only a handful of people would ever know it, and when it was all done, he burned his Spider-Man costume to try and live a normal life with his wife and newly returned aunt. If it wasn't for the final scene with the Scriers breaking Norman out of jail, it would have been perfect with no loose ends.
For the sake of completion, I, along with my nostalgia, would say "Spider-Man: The Gathering of Five" is a satisfying read for those who would want to see an in-continuity finale for the web-slinger.
STORY RATING: 6/10
RECOMMENDATION RATING: 8/10