Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Like Unstable Father, Like Certifiable Son

After the death of the original Green Goblin, it took some time for the powers that be at Marvel to admit that, for sheer, cackling, calculated villainy, only Norman Osborn was capable of filling his own shoes. There have been a few others who tried, including but not limited to a psychologist (who by definition should have known better), the nephew of a "Daily Bugle" reporter, and, most notably, Norman's son, Harry, who first took over the identity of the Goblin following his father's death, which had involved Spider-Man--a/k/a Harry's friend and roommate, Peter Parker.

With Harry discovering Peter's identity as Spider-Man, as well as being convinced that Spider-Man murdered his father, we only have to add Harry's poor mental state to the mix to have all the ingredients necessary for Harry to pursue a mission of vengeance against his former friend. And since Harry had also become aware of his father's double life as the Green Goblin, it seemed inevitable that Harry would be the one to whom the torch would be passed, and pick up where his father left off with Spider-Man, and with Peter.

This two-part tale from the fall of 1974, written by Gerry Conway and pencilled by Ross Andru, doesn't have the scope of a typical story which features the threat of the Green Goblin, though that threat is certainly apparent given Harry's actions and the danger to Peter's loved ones; but with Conway virtually capsulizing this story and ending it so tidily, with Harry handily dealt with and Peter et al. none the worse for wear, you may tend to discount the danger inherent in a title such as "The Green Goblin Lives Again!" Had it been Norman we were talking about here, there's little question the story would have been a tension-filled page-turner.

Yet because it is a Spider-Man tale, which often includes the book's cast of supporting characters as part and parcel of Peter's life, well-handled by Conway, it's a fine return for your 50¢; and while to this day I wince at Andru's stiff handling of Spider-Man in action, I can appreciate the fact that his run on the title was obviously backed by Conway, editor Roy Thomas, and likely a considerable number of readers, with those issues putting on display Andru's extraordinary talent as a storyteller as well as his skill at depicting characterizations--two constants that were evident throughout his tenure.* By all indications, they were elements Conway appeared to enjoy quite a bit, fitting so well with his own style of storytelling.

*Notable in Andru's work on ASM is the presence of not one but two inkers for those issues where he's credited with doing full pencils rather than breakdowns--mostly with Dave Hunt partnering with Frank Giacoia, which we're treated to in this particular story. Occasionally we'll come across a story with two or three (or even more) finishers contributing to a story--but it's remarkable to see it occur on a regular basis.

As for the story itself, it begins innocently enough. At this point in time, Peter and Mary Jane Watson are dating (and apparently oblivious to the fact that they're both casually walking in traffic), and Peter and Harry are still roommates in their Manhattan apartment--though Peter has noticed that Harry has been intentionally putting distance between them, perhaps chalking it up to his dating Harry's former girlfriend. But both Peter's living situation and his relationship with Harry are about to take an abrupt (and nearly deadly) turn for the worse.

With his discovery of a detonating fuse at the scene, Peter assumes the worst and believes that both he and MJ have been targeted--the same modus operandi (if not the method), he realizes, which was used by the Green Goblin in going after Gwen Stacy and then himself. From there, the pieces fall disturbingly into place.

With the Goblin's involvement confirmed, as well as his intent toward Spider-Man, it becomes apparent that Spidey faces a formidable foe, rather than the untried roommate he was expecting to go up against--a development which would be necessary for Conway to sell this meeting as a serious threat which follows on the heels of prior battles between the two (ergo, Harry has been doing some off-panel training to become adept at using his flyer as well as his weaponry). On that note, Andru makes an interesting choice by limiting the Goblin's attack to continual firing from his finger blasters, with not a single pumpkin bomb being hurled (at least at Spider-Man)--perhaps thinking that the detonation at Peter's apartment was sufficient to satisfy the reader on that front. (And the story's finale will bookend things in that regard.)

Since this tale is a two-parter, we won't see this affair wrapped up in this initial standoff. But Conway and Andru handle it believably enough--because while Harry apparently hasn't double-checked his blaster weaponry as his father might have (it probably goes without saying that using those blasters exclusively for the duration of this battle didn't help matters), Harry uses a Norman-like stratagem to deal with Spider-Man in order to make his escape.

Spidey only has to wait another 48 hours for the other shoe to drop as far as the Goblin's plans for him. In the interim, the Goblin has made a raid on a truck hauling atomic materials, including a clean nuclear fusion device; what he hasn't done, to Peter's relief, is to reveal to anyone what he knows about Peter's life as Spider-Man, at least for now. But when Spider-Man narrows the likely places of the Goblin's location to one--Norman's old townhouse--he's fated to discover not only how the Goblin intends to exact his revenge against him, but how that revenge will reach out to affect the lives of those closest to Peter Parker.

Credit where credit is due, it's a nice series of scenes by Andru, Hunt, and Giacoia, with Andru making a point throughout this story of having the Goblin constantly employ tactics designed to keep his quarry on the run--which only makes sense, given that Harry assumedly hasn't undergone the process which gave the original Green Goblin his super-strength and must therefore prevent Spider-Man from closing on him. But once dislodged from his flyer, all bets are off for the Goblin--though, fortunately for him, he has one last card to play.

(I might have chosen Joe Robertson for that chair over Flash Thompson, but I suppose that's just me.)

By the look of things, Spidey has one in three chances to guess correctly as to which of the bomb threats is genuine. Luckily, the Goblin has unknowingly tipped his hand--and so the wall-crawler heads for Grant's Tomb, where he finds...

Which leaves only Harry's fate for Peter to deal with--and perhaps his own.

As we can see, Conway has all but tied a bow on this situation for Peter--putting the Goblin under wraps for all intents and purposes but making him available to be used at a later date down the road, while giving Peter a breather in regard to his secret staying secret, at least for the time being. And with his friends and family safe and sound, it's not a bad mark in the win column for Peter, and for Spider-Man.


What a curious closing scene for Part 1 of this story:

In addition to these closing panels taking the wind out of the story's sails, you can only wonder why Peter's hostility toward J. Jonah Jameson extends to Betty Brant, who, aside from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, hasn't done a thing to merit being thought of as prying or offensive.

Cut to three issues later, where, even more confusingly, no apology whatsoever is forthcoming from Peter when they see each other again--in fact, both of them are all smiles, the pals they always were. If it weren't for the footnotes referencing the time frame, you'd think Peter's harsh words had never been uttered.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 136-137

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: Frank Giacoia and Dave Hunt
Letterer: Artie Simek


dangermash said...

Re those two bits at the bottom. When I was aged 8-13 and reading these Spider-Man comics in U.K. reprints I never noticed what a jerk Peter Parker could be. Makes me wonder whether the writers were equally oblivious (it's only a superhero comic, not real life, nobody notices these things,...) or whether it was deliberate on their part.

Oh, and Captcha has gone rogue. Very difficult to post comments on any websites that use it at the moment. I've even had to remove it from my business website.

Comicsfan said...

I couldn't agree with you more about Captcha, dangermash. At least they've made it a little less annoying by no longer replacing a grid that's been checked with a new image to be checked again, though maybe they haven't implemented that across the board.

Tiboldt said...

Looking back at the UK reprints and them being published weekly, we got through an amazing amount of stories in a short time - we were virtually mainlining Marvel! It's not surprising that some of the subtler details got overlooked.

I always thought of Ross Andru as an okay artist - he certainly drew SM for long enough to make his mark. I felt his Spider-Man was very upright and didn't portray the wall-crawlery "elbows and knees" aspect that was part of Spider-Man's standard pose.

Anonymous said...

"A small shaped-charge clean fusion nuclear bomb"
I realize its a bit late in the day to question super-villain tech in comics - especially of the nuclear variety - but c'mon, really?
Thats a small nuke going off in the river?!?
(I understand theoretically fusion weapons can be quite small, but even so...)


Comicsfan said...

Well, Sean, I suppose all those adjectives were meant to reduce the threat of both the bomb's destructive capability and its fallout. On a more positive note, the Hudson was reportedly so polluted at the time that there was probably little to no marine life left to be affected by whatever radiation such an explosion might have released; just the same, I hope Spidey notified the proper authorities to advise the public accordingly.

RickH said...

Thank you thank you for your take on Andru's art. His run was right at the height of my comic buying as a young teen. I've always considered him the absolute worst artist for Spider-Man, which was my favorite comic. Then again, some of the writing was sub-par in my opinion. Hammerhead? Tarantula? The Spider-mobile? Ugh. But it was Andru's horribly stiff, bland art that killed it for me.

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