Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #649

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This story is part of an Arc: "Big Time"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

This review was first published on: Dec 2010.

Background...

The “Big Time” arc aims to establish the new status quo on Amazing Spider-Man for the foreseeable future, so there is a lot of background to cover. I heartily recommend that you read the review of Amazing Spider-Man #648 before diving into this review. (Or, y’know, the actual issue itself.)

And by the way, this issue itself contains at least one gasp-inducing Big Reveal. Anyone reading this review in late 2010, please go read the issue itself before reading this review, as we’re all about the spoilers here, and you don’t want to spoil this for yourself if you can avoid it.

But for those who choose to disregard these suggestions, I’ll do my best to provide a quick recap. Deep breath...

Spider-Man is a big deal with the Avengers, but Peter Parker’s life has been a very small deal lately - money problems, girl problems, respect problems. But all that is changing! Peter and Carlie Cooper have committed to a steady relationship, for one thing. For another, thanks to Marla Jameson, Peter received an opportunity to meet Max Modell, big-time scientist that funds blue-sky research. Peter impressed the big guy and got himself a full-time job as a research scientist in Modell’s company, Horizon Labs. This new job seems to promise big pay, interesting work, and flexible hours. It looks like Peter may be able to combine a well-paid job doing interesting science with his extracurricular activities as Spider-Man!

And it looks like the two will combine sooner than he thinks, because Wlson “Kingpin” Fisk has designs on some of Horizon’s research work, and has retained Roderick “Hobgoblin” Kingsley to obtain it!

In Detail...

"Kill to Be You"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #649
Jan 2011 : SM Title
Summary: Hobgoblin (Kingsley) killed
Arc: Part 2 of "Big Time"
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Tom Brennan
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Humberto Ramos
Inker:  Carlos Cuevas
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgardo
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Articles: Black Cat, Green Goblin IV (Phil Urich), Hobgoblin I (Kingsley), Winters, Norah

As far as I know, the last time we saw Roderick Kingsley, he was chilling on a beach enjoying the sweet life. He nursed grudges against Spider-Man and Norman Osborn, but wasn’t particularly exercised about acting on them. So what has he been up to in the interim?

Seems his retirement was cut short during Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, when Osborn - out of spite? - found some way to bankrupt the financial company holding Kingsley’s assets. Or that’s what Kingsley thinks, anyway; perhaps it was just the global financial crisis at work. Forced to un-retire, Kingsley’s been doing what he knows best: hiring himself out as muscle to crime lords, just as he did back in Roger Stern’s day. Only this time the crime lords are drug runners seeking to eliminate the competition. Kingsley’s clearly on hard times, as he can’t afford (or has run out of) pumpkin bombs and razor bats, and is forced to rely on more conventional gear: assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and grenades. He does hand-paint jack-o-lanterns on the grenades, though. Way to keep up the theme! He also seems to have anger issues, given that he makes a point of pumping his targets full of lead, even after they’re dead.

This Kingsley is hardly the calculating and debonair schemer I remember from the 1980s. But hard times can change a man, I guess.

Word finally reaches Kingsley that Osborn is out, and Fisk is in. Offered another shot at “the big time” (zing!) Kingsley jumps at it, even if it’s on Fisk’s terms. Kingsley takes a meeting with the now black-garbed Kingpin, who makes sure that Kingsley knows the score. “If you’re going to traipse around the city... it shall be as my Hobgoblin. Is that understood?”

“Sure,” says Kingsley.

“Say it.”

“...I’m your Hobgoblin.”

I bet that stings. But Kingsley’s taking what he’s given ‘cause he’s working for a living.

Kingsley is now armed (metaphorically) with a dossier explaining his assignment. So all he needs is to be armed (literally) with some cutting-edge Goblin tech. So he travels to one of Norman’s abandoned Goblin lairs for some “one-stop shopping.” Surprised there are any of these left? Kingsley isn’t: “Ohhh [sic] Norman. For someone who was running the world for a while, you managed to keep busy, didn’t you? Look at all of thse wonderful new Goblin-toys.”

New Goblin-toys? Yes. There’s a flying harness, rather like the one the Vulture uses. “Someone better call Adrian Toomes’ lawyer,” Kingsley murmurs. There’s a flaming sword, boots with grappling claws, all sorts of neat stuff. Including... a freshly-brewed cup of coffee?

Uh-oh.

Kingsley uses his enhanced sense of smell (!) to sniff out the intruder. It’s Phil Urich! Desperate to make time with Norah Winters, who’s working the Goblin file for the Daily Bugle, he came to Norman’s lair to grab some loot she might find impressive. “Bad break, kid,” says Kingsley. “Wrong place. Wrong time... I can’t have some second-rate, wannabe-Goblin complicating things.”

This looks bad for Phil; Kingsley has the kid by the throat and he’s readying his fiery sword. Phil, knowing he’s about to die, is overcome by the manifest injustice of it all. He’s going to be killed for the crime of being a wannabe Goblin by Roderick Kingsley, of all people? That makes him want to... laugh? Oh, right. Phil has a sonic scream. “The Goblin Laugh. Out of all the Goblins, that was something only I could do.” Kingsley reels and coughs up blood. He drops both Phil and the sword, which Phil picks up. “Bad break, pal!” he cries. “Wrong place, wrong time.”

And with that, Phil Urich decapitates Roderick Kingsley.

Wow.

While the readers mull that over, we pass over a re-cap page to check in with Norah Winters. She’s hanging with some white-supremacist bikers, trying to get the story on why they’ve suddenly adopted Norman Osborn as their hero. She’s too intellectually aggressive, though, and the bikers catch wise that she’s not what she seems to be. “You wanna learn how Goblins roll? I’ll show you!” one grunts. “We got a special ritual for how we treat pretty little blonde things.”

Enter Spider-Man, who is less fazed by that remark than I would have expected. With the Black Cat at his side, the (ahem) dynamic duo make short work of these bikers, bantering all the while. Cat explains that she’s pulling sidekick duty in the hope that “some of Spidey’s Avenger cred will rub off” on her, prompting Norah to ask, “And that’s the only thing Spidey’ll rub off on you?”

Hey, kids! Comics!

Having saved Norah from herself - it’s never explicitly stated, but it is implied that Spider-Man is keeping an eye on her, so this drop-in isn’t coincidental - Peter heads off alone to his suite at the Waldorf Hotel. I guess this is temporary until he finds a long-term rental? He’s only just arrived when Carlie arrives for an unscheduled night in. Peter is happy to see her, but worried she’ll uncover his secret identity, given how careless he’s been with the evidence: a batch of cooking web-fluid, his costume, and so forth. Thankfully Carlie is called away to do forensic work at the scene of the biker brawl. “It’s a superhuman crime scene, so I’ve gotta check it out.”

So for once Peter’s activities as Spider-Man are forcing other people to sacrifice quality time with their friends and loved ones. How ironic!

By the way, doesn’t the mystical whammy Dr. Strange cast in One Moment in Time mean that no one can accidentally uncover Spidey’s secret identity? And doesn’t Peter know that? Sounds like Dan Slott is quietly pitching that story element over the side. And good riddance to it!

Across town, Joe Robertson is about to launch the new, “aggressively digital” Daily Bugle. I take this to mean they’re an Internet-news site now. Not sure there’s any more money in that than in traditional dead-tree journalism, but hey, no one is looking to Amazing Spider-Man for analysis of these sorts of issues. We come for moments like this: Phil Urich, dressed to the nines (in a purple suit, natch) and full of brio after his takedown of the Hobgoblin, acting tongue-tied and lame in front of Norah Winters. Norah casually dismisses his clumsy attempts to hold her attention, and immediately begins making time with her current boyfriend, Randy Robertson, while Phil watches. Norah doesn’t think anything of this, of course, because she’s not thinking of Phil at all. Ben Urich is, though. “How’s my favorite nephew?”

“Fine, Uncle Ben,” mutters Phil.

Hmm. So Phil can bring the pain to supervillains, but his personal life sucks. And he has an Uncle Ben. Remind you of anyone?

Let’s underscore the point a bit more. When Ben asks Phil if he needs a job, Phil declines, saying he “has a line on a pretty sweet gig,” and glances at an envelope in his pocket labeled “Horizon”. I think we can see where this is going.

Let’s turn our attention to the other half of the equation. Back at the Waldorf, Peter is being rousted out of bed by Aunt May. She came up to Manhattan to Peter’s hotel just to make sure he wouldn’t be late for his first day of work. She escorts him to the lab site at the South Street Seaport (gateway to Brooklyn) and watches him go inside. As she does, she thinks back - way back, to a panel that looks pretty Ditko-esque - to a time when Peter wanted to quit school, and she refused, on the grounds that “your uncle dreamed of you being a scientist some day!”

“He did it, Ben,” she murmurs. Touching!

(No, seriously, this is a good moment. Top marks.)

Next, we readers nip away for a brief interlude at City Hall. Steve Rogers would like JJJ to present Spider-Man with the key to the city, on the grounds that it was Spidey, not the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, who resolved the Octo-bot problem last issue, i.e., Amazing Spider-Man #648. John Jameson chimes in to support the suggestion. Sure, he (John) was to have gotten the key to the city in advance of his upcoming space mission, but he’s happy to cede the honour to the web-slinger. JJJ hates the suggestion, but does he go along? I guess we’ll find out next issue, because we’re got another story seed to check, namely Mac Gargan. Having been incarcerated in the Raft and deprived of the Venom symbiote, Gargan is dying, slowly and painfully. Abner “Mach-5” Jenkins, who’s stationed at the Raft, knows why: back when the two of them were Masters of Evil under the names “Scorpion” and “Beetle”, Gargan was bonded to his Scorpion battlesuit, and ultimately came to rely upon it, just as he later came to rely upon the symbiote. Now Gargan can’t live without external support; without some “hi-tech” assistance, he’ll simply expire.

Speaking of “hi-tech”, let’s return to Horizon Labs, where Max Modell is giving Peter the grand tour. As we found out last issue, Peter is one of seven golden children at Horizon that are given carte blanche to research as they please. We met Sajani and Grady last ish, so now let’s meet the rest: Bella Fishbach, blonde and bespectacled hippie chick (“I specialize in green technology. Earth-stuff, not gamma-rays”), and Uatu Jackson, ten-year-old prodigy whose parents made an unfortunate naming choice. “My folks,” he says, “thought the name would inspire me to know everything.” I guess it worked.

That’s four of the seven, and Peter makes five. “Juergen is offsite working on the Vertex shuttle”, so he’s not around, and Peter won’t get to meet “Number Six”, who works at Horizon on condition of strict anonymity. Mysterious!

Finally, Peter gets to see his own lab, which looks large, sophisticated, and well-appointed. He’s got a triple-monitor computer layout with auxiliary laptop; a big red hydraulic thingamajig; and a “black box”, a secure storage area that no one except Peter - not even Modell! - can open. Modell expects Peter to keep his special projects in it, but of course Peter’s planning to keep his costume there. Modell concludes by making Peter promise that he “will never do anything here in secret that could jeopardize the safety of good work of anyone here at Horizon.” Peter so swears, and immediately dives in! Finally, a chance to work without limit or constraint!

So naturally he comes up with nothing. As is so often the case in life, lack of constraints means lack of parameters, and Peter, despite all of his efforts to come up with something spectacular (or even amazing) draws a blank. Finally, the revelation: “If it weren’t for my Spidey-life, I wouldn’t have invented half of my gizmos and doodads. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a spidey-problem right now...”

The sound-effects guys know an entrance line when they hear one. KTHOOM. In a nearby lab, a wall explodes, and in flies Hobgoblin VI! Is this Phil? Oh, yes. The Horizon guys conveniently point out that he’s got the “high-energy plasma construct”, i.e., the fire sword, and the shoulder-mounted “strong magnetic fields,” i.e., the faux-Vulture wings. Looks to me he’s even got the grasping boots. It’s Phil.

But is he really a supervillain now? Sure, he killed Kingsley, but that was self-defense, arguably. Maybe he hasn’t gone bad?

Yes, he has. He uses some classic Hobgoblin razor bats to murder Modell’s security guards, and he plans to follow that up by slicing Modell into pieces with the fire sword. Thankfully Peter, who’s changed clothes and ditched his civvies into the black box, intervenes.

It’s not much of an intervention. He pulls Modell to safety and trades a few quips with the Hobgoblin. Spider-Man isn’t sure who he’s dealing with: is this Kingsley, or the anonymous Hobgoblin from Secret War? Wrong on both counts: it’s the one Goblin with a sonic scream, and he plays that trump card now.

Just like Kingsley, Spider-Man falls to the ground, disoriented and nauseous. Just like Kingsley, Spider-Man gets smacked around a bit, taking him further off of his game. And just like Kingsley, he slumps, helpless, as the fiery sword is raised for a killing blow.

In General...

It says “Big Time” on the cover, even though the title of the story is “Kill to Be You.” But both titles work. Last month, Peter the sad sack hit the big time. This month Phil the sad sack does the same thing. I haven’t scouted the Internet to gauge fan reaction to this, but I can imagine that somewhere, some people are pretty steamed about this issue, specifically Phil Urich turning to the dark side and murdering Roderick Kingsley. Certainly some of my colleagues here at SpiderFan find this twist to be... problematic. I haven’t asked them about it directly - we have a no-spoiler policy for recent issues - but I suspect they object to this turn of events because it represents a massive waste of potential: two characters’ worth, in fact.

Maybe I’m off base, but I suspect the argument for the prosecution goes like this. The Hobgoblin, whose identity was eventually established as Roderick Kingsley, was the premiere Spider-villain of the early 1980s. Malevolent, ruthless, and smart, he was a perfect foil for our hero, and distinctly different from the rest of the rogues’ gallery, that collection of goofy scientists, jumped-up thugs, or maniacs with personal vendettas against Spider-Man. The mystery of his identity was such a compelling plot arc they went back to revisit it ten years later in Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives. Sure, he was out of the picture for a while, when Norman Osborn returned to centre stage, but with Norman gone, he could come back and it would be just like old times. Why squash him at the moment you can finally use him again?

And what about Phil Urich? He’s been a supporting cast member since the 1990s. He’s a former hero. He’s an important player in the M2 universe and, in that continuity, a beloved mentor to Mayday Parker and a hero in his own right. So we’re going to spit all over that? Slott is wrecking two characters to make a new one that’s a shadow of his constituent parts.

Now let me make the case for the defense. The beloved 1980s Hobgoblin died in the 1980s as Ned Leeds. Bringing the character back as Kingsley was a nice tip of the cap to beloved Spider-writer Roger Stern, but come on: the fact that he’s been away since Hobgoblin Lives (barring one interim appearance) shows how little potential he has. He’s Norman Osborn watered down: okay, where Norman bobs right to crazy and obsessed, Kingsley bobs left to calculating and narcissistic, but that’s it. Otherwise, they’re both ruthless businessmen who change from three-piece suit to Goblin suit when they need some leverage. With Norman back to stay, Kingsley has nothing to bring to the table.

And neither does Phil. He’s been a bit player ever since his own title folded after thirteen issues back in the 1990s, and the only reason people remember him today is because Tom DeFalco had a soft spot for him and wrote him into the M2 stories. If he’d never appeared in Amazing again, I doubt anyone would have missed him. Who is Phil Urich? He’s a Peter Parket knockoff: a young guy who got a lot of power by accident, and tried to figure out what to do with it. There’s nothing more to him than that.

So what do we have now? Instead of two characters who have outlived their usefulness, we’ve got one character that has real potential. We take the iconography of the Hobgoblin, which is still effective, and dispose of the hollow shell of a character we’ve got filling it. We take another, sympathetic character, one that’s been around for long enough that readers can have a stake in his fate, and put him into that suit. And by doing so, we use the character’s one trait - he’s a doppelganger of Peter Parker - and use it: this is what happens when a powerless person gets a lot of power, and makes the wrong choice. Phil Urich is the answer to the question “what if Peter went bad?” He’s a dark reflection of Spider-Man. He’s the Villain Who Could Be You.

Suffice to say, I loved this issue. The big reveal caught me completely off guard, but I think it’s an exciting and rich plot development. As I said in the review of last issue, I like the direction things are moving in Peter’s life, with the steady girlfriend and the Horizon Labs. These percolate nicely this issue as well. And I appreciate the fact that Slott is preparing the ground for his future stories: I look forward to reading about the inevitable clash between Spider-Man and the Sinister Six... in space! With John Jameson, Steve Rogers, and the Vertex Shuttle mixed in for good measure.

And, gosh darn it, I think Humberto Ramos continues to deliver great artwork. I know what I like, and I like this.

I’d say something about how almost every page has a good wisecrack on it - Slott honed his comedy chops back in the day on She-Hulk vol. 3 and She-Hulk vol. 4 - but I think I’ve spilled enough ink already.

Overall Rating...

Great writing, great art, and it’s funny. And it features a scene that made me gasp, I was so surprised. Five webs, without doubt.

Footnote...

The cover text reads: “From the Shadow of Evil’s Past... the Hobgoblin!” Anyone who knows what that caption means, please write in and explain it to me. Bonus points if you can account for that apostrophe.

UPDATE: Gabor took me up on my offer and helpfully pointed out that the caption refers to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #238, i.e. the first appearance of the Hobgoblin. As you will see if you click on the link, that cover's caption read: "In the Shadow of Evils Past!"

So it's a continuity reference for the long-time fans. I get it now - very Slottesque! Thanks, Gabor. I only own that issue in trade, so the cover reference passed over my head.

I will note, however, that the second caption still doesn't make sense. Hobgoblin I was a product of the Green Goblin, who was at that time thought to be dead, meaning that his crimes were purely historical. Thus the story of Hobgoblin I's emergence was indeed told "in the shadow of evils past." Changing the proposition from "in" to "from" makes a hash out of the statement's meaning. And throwing in an errant apostrophe only confuses matters more.