Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best Of Enemies


The career of the second Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, seemed almost as tumultuous as that of his infamous father, with both shifting back and forth between identities and, of course, their enmity toward Peter Parker. In the 200th issue of Spectacular Spider-Man, the Goblin and Spider-Man were once again primed for a "final" showdown that would bring to a head Harry's bitterness toward Peter concerning the death of his father, whose role in the death of Gwen Stacy Harry is adamant about refusing to acknowledge. There's nothing new on the table in this regard, since Harry's mental instability has been a factor ever since his problems with drug abuse coincided with his father's unexpected death. (Having Norman Osborn for a father couldn't have helped his peace of mind, either.)

And yet, this story is scripted by J.M. DeMatteis, and so we can likely expect a different approach to the Spider-Man/Green Goblin clash. For one thing, despite the fact that they're in costume as Spidey and the Goblin, it might instead seem to you that the two characters who are going head-to-head here are Peter and Harry, whose friendship is long since passed but who seem repeatedly drawn to its roots. We've rarely seen the friendship between these two given more than lip service in past stories; they shared an apartment together in their school days, yet their interaction was limited, and they were little more than ships that passed in the night. But DeMatteis, who makes his mark on a story through characterization and sentiment blended in with whatever world-threatening crisis is taking a hero through their paces, shows us the relationship and bond that must have taken place off-panel--and not just with Harry and Peter, but also folding in Gwen and Mary Jane. And as we'll see, that lost friendship will have more of an impact on this battle than any blow.

Another thing you'll notice with DeMatteis's approach to a story is that he often avoids the typical structure of a comic book story. For instance, if you see a villain like the Green Goblin begin a Spider-Man story, usually the narrative will jump right in to the impending danger and the threat he represents, with maybe some maniacal laughter thrown in. So while the Goblin is indeed swooping toward his target--and, being that the target is Mary Jane, we're allowed a sense of dèjá vu from when Gwen Stacy was abducted--thanks to DeMatteis, perhaps the Goblin's words will have a deeper meaning than simply the portent of a greater threat.




At first, though, the Goblin appears dead-set to repeat history. Heading toward the same bridge where Gwen Stacy plunged to her death, it's easy to wonder if this 200th issue is going to sell us short by making adaptations of the same scenario. It's certainly the assumption that Mary Jane is making:



And yet, Harry's grievance is with Peter--not with Mary Jane, the woman he used to date and who remains a close friend. (Let's hope Harry doesn't remember how MJ totally used and took advantage of him while they dated--it's a lonnnng way down.) And his reaction is not at all what she was expecting.



It's clear that Harry only wanted MJ's ear to bend--albeit seeking privacy for the conversation in an unorthodox, inherently dangerous manner. There's obviously more going on with him in his current state than needing a friend--and MJ quickly finds herself being both sympathetic and cautious.




In a way, it's almost as if Harry's family ties are the one thing keeping him from going over the edge, even as his struggle to rationalize his father's actions drive him closer to the brink. Given the hard facts of the circumstances of Gwen's death, which even MJ seems unaware of, it's perhaps more accurate to say that the original Goblin attempted Gwen's murder. Harry is dead wrong in his accusation, regardless--but how the tone of this story might have changed if DeMatteis instead decided to factor in Peter's direct role in Gwen's death with Harry's state of mind.

In any event, Harry's talk with MJ continues, and it becomes clear to both MJ and to us the extent of Harry's fixation on his father and how it's affecting his behavior for the worse. And this time, there's no mistaking the portent of the coming threat the Goblin poses to Peter:




Perhaps you're thinking, If only MJ had used the opening Harry had given her: "I'd do anything for you."-- by asking Harry to drop this vendetta and seek psychiatric care. That of course wouldn't do, since we're just 10 pages into a 42-page story; but also, DeMatteis does a fair job of giving us the impression that Harry would reject that kind of suggestion in his frame of mind, and we'll see evidence of that as we go along.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man is canvassing the city, frantically looking for MJ while knowing that the Goblin is on the loose. And when he runs into some small-time thieves who have been conducting home break-ins, his state of worry has him transferring his anger and frustration, revealing just how deeply the situation with Harry is affecting him:




But while it appears that Peter now has a handle on things, he returns home still not having found his wife. (Gee, remember how great it used to be to read about Peter Parker and his wife?) So the next sight he sees understandably sends his agitation through the roof:



MJ hurriedly explains things, but that's a long way from clearing the air. Instead, the situation is now laid on the table for everyone in the room, and it wouldn't be surprising to be able to hear a pin drop.




As a result, both the Osborn and the Parker homes are girding for the next step. Peter and MJ, of course, have mainly uncertainty to deal with, with the Goblin's knowledge of Peter's identity effectively hamstringing their actions. Peter has not had the talk with Harry that MJ has, and thus has only seen the part of Harry who's reveling in being the Goblin and making implied threats. And so their points of view are going to be at odds with each other, with the only commonality being that something has to be done. Which leaves them no closer to a solution:





As for the Osborns, Harry has it somewhat easier, for all the wrong reasons. His wife, the erstwhile Liz Allan, is deeply in denial of Harry's condition, and easily managed by Harry; while his son, Normie, is showing signs that he's going to make a pretty good Green Goblin when he grows up, if his sadistic mumblings and how he's treating his Spider-Man doll are any indication. Harry envisions the ideal family life for the three of them, in what is perhaps a struggle to become the stable, normal family he never had; but his outbursts are making it clear that he's also wanting much more.




Harry then begins a cat-and-mouse game of stalking Peter, showing up as the Goblin at inopportune times and implying by innuendo that he could be a hairs breadth away from bringing Peter's world crumbling down around him. Peter, as Spider-Man, reaches his breaking point, for all the good it does him:




To add fuel to the fire, Harry decides to establish a charitable foundation in the name of his father, and is fairly successful at swaying public opinion in his favor, even in light of the unflattering past histories of both father and son. But for the scheduled opening gala, he plans to be anything but charitable to the attendees--and his disclosure of his plans leaves no doubt that Harry has embraced the legacy of the Green Goblin.



And so that leaves us at the point where Peter must make a choice as to his next step. And it only takes a subconscious detour to help him come to terms with the situation:



But Mary Jane is also involved in this, and she's also made a choice--one last, fervent try to reach Harry. Her words unfortunately have all the hollow ring of a soap opera plea, but it's her presence as Harry's friend that's likely to succeed, if anything:




At this point, Harry making the choice of being the Goblin comes as little surprise to us, though perhaps moreso to MJ. Particularly when his next words drive the point home in no uncertain terms:



It's fascinating to see the threat that Harry feels Peter represents while he's Spider-Man, as if Peter is the one with the vendetta--against anyone named Osborn, and certainly against the Goblin. Spider-Man irrationally pursued his father to his death, and now without cause or reason does the same with Harry. Up until now, we've seen glimpses of a Harry who might have believed otherwise--but with his instability escalating, the chance of reaching him has now seemingly vanished.

Harry's security has spotted Spider-Man at his recently completed Osborn Foundation building, attempting to get a line on the Goblin's plans. And it's there that Spider-Man and the Goblin finally come to blows, though even here it's on a personal level:





Spider-Man has noted that, with Harry now powered by the experimental Goblin strength formula, the two seem equally matched. But being the Green Goblin means having tricks up your sleeve (or just about anywhere else you can think of stashing them). And despite Spidey's speed, the Goblin manages to jab him with a drug that immobilizes him:



And then, an unexpected twist to the battle: the Goblin triggers the building's wired bomb, but fully intends to stay and die with Spider-Man, acknowledging how toxic their conflict has become. Peter, however, pleads with him to remember their loved ones whom they'll leave behind--to no effect, until the unexpected arrives:



Harry, to his credit, doesn't hesitate in his response. But there is another, more difficult choice yet to make:





With this story drawing to its close, we've now reached the point where the situation with Harry could go either way. The easy way out for the writer--and the more distasteful for the reader--would be to see this incident resulting in Harry, having found his conscience, snapping back to normal, and all of them returning home together. To an extent, DeMatteis puts Harry at least on the road to redemption; but the formula which has increased Harry's strength while further unhinging his mind may also now abruptly bring that road to an end:



And to close the story while making clear Harry's fate, DeMatteis has only to let the artistry of Sal Buscema provide the story's coda. Fitting... poignant... and a moment for someone backstage to whisper, "Curtain."





Buscema provides both pencils and inks for this 42-pager, and as usual goes a step beyond in showing a genuine feel for the story he's asked to convey--while DeMatteis has given noteworthy dimension to all the issue's characters, but in particular to Harry Osborn, a character who was going nowhere fast in his early days and who unfortunately didn't make a blip on the radar until he was saddled with drug abuse and drawn into his father's affliction as the Goblin. It's almost a pity that Spider-Man was unable to remove his mask in the ambulance, so that these two characters could have looked each other in the eye--for this story was about both of them. What a gut-punch it would have added to the ending if Peter had yanked his mask off with no regard to the EMTs there with them, while the medics simultaneously turned their heads away.

The efforts of DeMatteis and Buscema would regrettably be undone, thanks to the later return of Norman Osborn and his use of Mysterio's talents. It's a development that compels the reader to isolate this story from the Marvel continuity which follows--a story which succeeds on many levels, but which gains its real strength from coming to an end.

Spectacular Spider-Man #200

Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils and Inks: Sal Buscema
Letterer: Joe Rosen

2 comments:

david_b said...

I remember picking up this ish, solely for the Green Goblin, just to get an idea of what they've done since I stopped collecting back in the mid-'70s...

I never warmed to Sal's work on Spidey, but it depended on the inker. This art just seems totally devoid of any warmth, despite an incredibly awesome story being told.

Still, all-in-all, a later day classic worth picking up. I would have given anything for Romita, Sr to have drawn it.

Anonymous said...

Btoom! BTOOM! BTOOM!!! BAAAHHHTOOOMM!!!! BTOOM!

What happened to thkow? Thkow!?! I would have thought they would have slugged each other to thkow's came home!!!

The Prowler (creaks and pops just sitting still).

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