Monday, October 6, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #250 - October 1997


Citizen Osborn!
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green & Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  During Dr. Kafka’s hypnotherapy, John is forced to release his inner demons, which causes him to now literally become Man-Wolf.  Spider-Man restrains him and eventually John returns to normal.  Two weeks later, Norman Osborn holds a charitable gala to announce he now co-owns the Daily Bugle with Jonah Jameson.  When Peter and MJ return home, Aunt Anna informs them that their home has been ransacked.  Peter discovers his Spider-Man costume on the floor of his bedroom, next to a toy replica of the Green Goblin.  As Spider-Man, he travels to Osborn’s apartment and brutalizes him.  Osborn boasts that security cameras caught the entire event, forcing Spider-Man to flee.

The Subplots:  Norman Osborn tells Liz Osborn that he’ll be taking care of her son Normie.  Later, at the gala, a despondent Liz insults MJ and slaps her boyfriend Foggy.  Calypso attempts to seduce Kraven again, but is shocked to discover he’s actually the original Kraven’s son.  Flash Thompson is arrested at the hospital following his accident.  After he’s released, he flies off in a violent rage and attacks his father in his home.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Where this issue fits into continuity is hard to discern. has decided that Amazing #425-428, Unlimited #18, and Sensational #21-23 all take place “between the panels” of page seventeen (meaning the two weeks between the Man-Wolf fight and Osborn’s gala.)
  • Norman Osborn has established the Osborn Foundation in memory of his son Harry, who died in Spectacular Spider-Man #200.
  • Daredevil established Foggy Nelson and Liz Osborn as an item months earlier during the Karl Kesel/Cary Nord days.
  • Osborn’s (weak) explanation for not being dead is that he faked his death in order to hide from powerful enemies.  The only enemy he’ll publicly name is Spider-Man.  He dismisses Ben Urich’s book Legacy of Evil as lies, but admits that Harry did take on the Goblin identity while mentally ill.  Osborn also claims that Jonah knew all along that he wasn’t dead.
  • The Osborn gala explicitly takes place two weeks after the events at the start of the issue.  At the party, Osborn says that a man “claiming to be me” terrorized the Bugle staff “just a month ago.”  He’s referring to Peter Parker, Spider-Man #75, which was published a year before this issue.  Doing the math, that means that every Spider-Man story published in the past year has taken place over the course of approximately two weeks!

I Love the ‘90s:  Osborn tells Spider-Man that the video of him beating Osborn will make the Rodney King tape look like Sesame Street.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Flash is allowed to exclaim “Who the hell am I kidding?” during one of his drunken rages.

Review:  I’ll put my bias up front -- I still think resurrecting Norman Osborn was a bad idea.  I realize that villain resurrections are a part of the game in superhero comics, but Norman’s death was firmly established continuity for almost twenty-five years.  That’s longer than the bulk of the audience at the time had been alive.  More importantly, Norman’s death lead to countless new stories over the years, so even a neophyte fan had to have some idea of who Norman was and why his death was important.  I had only been reading for less than a year before I came across Norman’s Handbook entry, reprinted in the back of a Spider-Man digest comic.  There’s a clear line in Spider-Man continuity between Alive Norman and Dead Norman (and Gwen).  

If you’re going to alienate a large portion of the readership and revive this character, there had better be a brilliant plan in place.  Norman Osborn buying the Bugle (somehow, off-panel) is not it.  Gerry Conway already did a similar storyline with Puma not too terribly long before these stories were published, so we’re not exactly getting something new here.  I can understand the creators’ desire to connect Peter and Norman in their personal lives, but there didn’t seem to be any clear ideas on what Norman was going to be doing now that he owned the Bugle.  Playing up the idea that Norman knows Peter’s secret identity and can expose him at any time might sound promising, but at this point so many characters already know Peter’s secret it’s actually being used as a joke within the stories.  Also, after months of Norman teasing that he could expose Spider-Man but never going through with it, how could readers take the threat seriously?

These are all complaints relating to the overall status quo.  I have no idea how invested J. M. DeMatteis was in the resurrection of Osborn, if he genuinely wanted to explore the concept or was just being a good soldier, so I’m not holding anything against him.  The story he’s provided for this issue is actually quite enjoyable.  There’s a clear theme running through the issue, the dangers of repressed rage, that connects John Jameson to Flash Thompson to Spider-Man.  MJ is also written well, with an inner monologue reflecting on the past that humanizes her in a way we’ve rarely seen in the post-clone issues.  Having Spider-Man already fed up with Osborn and simply beating him senseless is a shocking climax for the story, and I’m glad the books didn’t wait forever to get to this scene.  Norman and Jonah also have an interesting dynamic, as Norman is holding Marla’s safety (and perhaps something else) over Jonah’s head, forcing Jonah to be unusually submissive.  That could get old fast, but for this issue at least, it helps to establish what Osborn’s capable of.  

The art serves the story quite well, except for a few pages where Ross’ faces are back to that rubbery, inhuman quality.  For the bulk of the issue, however, he handles the acting just fine, and I like his interpretation of the Green Goblin (who appears briefly in costume flying over the Parkers’ home).  My only real complaint with Ross’ art at this point would be his interpretation of Spider-Man, which is now halfway between McFarlane and a more traditional look.  He’s made the eyes smaller and simplified the web pattern on Spider-Man’s costume, but it reminds me of that old saying about “fish nor fowl.”  As a McFarlane Spidey, it’s a little off, and as a Romita Spidey, it’s way off.  Ross’ best renditions of Spider-Man tend to be of the McFarlane school, and I wish he would’ve pursued that direction.


Matt said...

It's hard to believe Osborn has been back for almost two decades already. I agree with you that resurrecting him was not a great choice, especially since no one has seemed sure what to do with him since. He's been Spider-Man's Lex Luthor as seen around this era, he's become the Green Goblin again multiple times, and of course he was the Iron Patriot, which I really had trouble swallowing.

But if Osborn is going to be out there alive, I tend to prefer the "Luthor" route. The problem is, if the Kingpin is in operation under his classic status quo, he fills that role to some extent. That wasn't the case in the late nineties though, so it worked for Osborn at this point.

I also think the writers of 1997-99 had the best grasp on Osborn's character. He was always unstable, but in recent years he's become almost Joker-level homicidal maniac crazy, which was never the case before. But I suppose that could be written off as the "gift of madness" he received from the "Gathering of Five" storyline, though I doubt any of today's writers have put that much thought into their characterization of him.

Harry Sewalski said...

I'll agree that Osborn's resurrection was probably wrong, but for my money, I think that we got some okay stuff out of his resurrection - A Death in the Family (haven't read it, but it's supposedly really good), Millar's Marvel Knights Spider-Man, and Ellis' Thunderbolts with Norman as the head of the T-Bolts. I quite liked this setup for Osborn and would have been fine with him staying as the head of the T-Bolts for a while - an evil Amanda Waller, as it were. I'll also add that I think that Ellis had a brilliant grasp on the character - slightly unstable and liable to snap given the right prod, but he tries to convince everyone - and himself - that he's sane, and he manipulates people whilst pretending to be completely innocent.

Another thing about his resurrection is that let's face it, Norman's always been the best Goblin. I think it was at Spidey Kicks Butt (well worth a read if you can handle some bad website design) where the author pointed out that aside from Kingsley, every other goblin after Norman has been lacking in one way or another (I like Hobgoblin, but he's just so different to the Goblin's normal modus operandi that you can't really call them the same character, or even that derivative).

Of course, at the end of the day the problem lies in the Clone Saga and the direction it went, since that's what caused Norman's resurrection...

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