Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #32

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This review was first published on: 1 Oct 2017.

Background...

Norman Osborn is many things to many people and most recently he was a face-altering weapons-dealer poised to rule the eastern European country of Symkaria. Unfortunately for Osborn, Spider-Man decided that he was not going to allow Norman to continue his arms-dealing ways, so he put a stop to the former Green Goblin’s reign of terror over Silver Sable’s homeland. The final confrontation left Osborn, once again, on the run from the law and vowing to reclaim his Goblin Formula-induced strength (and madness!) in order to achieve whatever nefarious goal he has planned next…

In Detail...

"Personal Demon"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #32
Nov 2017 : SM Title
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Greg Smallwood
Cover Art:  Alex Ross
Lettering:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Jordie Bellaire
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Editor:  Nick Lowe
Associate Editor:  Devin Lewis
Assistant Editor:  Allison Stock
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Review

Deep within the confines of one of his infamous Goblin Hideouts, a frustrated Norman Osborn self-administers another experimental trial of an amped-up version of his Goblin Formula. Norman is determined to use the Formula to overwhelm the nanites circulating his system that are preventing him from accessing his Goblin alter ego (recall that at the conclusion of the Goblin Nation story arc, Spider-Man used nanites to depower Norman and rid his body of the Goblin Formula). Unfortunately for Osborn, this trial also fails leaving the former Goblin to lament, “I can’t go on like this, I need [The Goblin].”

Having failed to regain his Goblin strength during his self-administered trials with the Goblin Formula, Osborn opts to try a few alternative strategies to access his inner demon. Seeking help from a medical doctor, a psychiatrist and even an acupuncture therapist Norman attempts to reverse the effects of his systemic nanites. These professionals also fail to help Norman reach his goal, however the acupuncture therapist recommends an ‘unconventional’ approach.

The story then shifts to Osborn climbing to the top of a snowy mountain (most likely the Himalayan Mountains, although that is not explicitly stated) toward a trio of Tibetan-like monks. To get a good feel for this scene think back to Bruce Wayne’s climb toward Raj Al Ghul’s temple in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005).

Atop the mountain the three monks (Master Ox, Master Hawk and Master Snake) praise Osborn’s determination and commitment to finding their temple. Norman asks if they can ‘fix’ who he is on the inside and the monks seemingly agree to help. Their assessment of Osborn begins immediately and his first test is centered around the Emerald Oracle of Ikkon. The monks instruct Osborn to place his hand upon the gemstone and “it shall reveal [his] true potential…as a practitioner of the mystic arts.” After Norman places his hand on the gemstone, the green rock glows and the bright light emitted from it encompasses the room. The monks are astounded by the gemstone’s response and they conclude his training must begin immediately.

Indeed Norman quickly becomes a pupil for the monks and a series of reading, physical training and meditation exercises under the guidance of his new mentors proves to be incredibly fruitful for the former Green Goblin. At some point later, Master Ox informs Osborn that although his story parallels that of the powerful mystic practitioners that preceded him, the personal demon that “he must overcome” makes him unique and drives him to achieve more than “any man [he and his brothers] have ever known.” That’s quite high praise!

Later, Norman poses a question to one of his gurus in regards to his namesake, in other words, why was he called “Master Ox.” The master explains that every man has a spirit guide, a totem, that connects them to the world and the energy all around. He goes on to say that that spirit guide will eventually seek Norman out. Indeed that is what occurs a short time later while Osborn is meditating. He is approached by a tiger, presumably his ‘spirit guide.’ Norman informs the monks of this development and they agree that it is time for Norman’s final test. More specifically, its time for Osborn to bond with his totem in the most sacred room of their temple.

Osborn is then led through a hall filled with masks and his trio of mentors instruct Norman to “reach out and accept [his] destiny.” Norman, at first, reaches for the tiger mask but then concedes, “I accept nothing. I am Norman Osborn…and I choose my destiny.” He then grabs a Goblin mask and chooses to bond with it instead (which begs the obvious question of who left a Goblin mask in the sacred hall?!?). As to be expected, after Osborn bonds with the Goblin mask all hell breaks loose. He uses his sorcery skills to summon Spider-Man to the temple. Spidey, who was transported in such a way that left him completely surprised, quickly realizes he’s being attacked by Norman Osborn (because of the cornrows!) and that Norman now has sorcerer supreme-like powers.

Spider-Man tries to match Norman's sorcery and grabs a Spider-mask to bond with, however, Osborn’s skills are too much for Spidey and he’s quickly defeated. As the webslinger lay unconscious on the ground, the monks try to make the most of a bad situation and they acknowledge that although Norman did not choose the totem the universe had selected for him, at least he had defeated his personal demon. But Norman does not stop there, he uses his sorcery to convert Spidey into a spider and then he eats the spider! Osborn then sets his sights on the three monks and claims that since Spider-Man is out of the way nothing can stop him, but the monks fight back and…

The panels fade out to white…

The story returns to Norman’s initial test with the Emerald Oracle of Ikkon as Osborn suddenly realizes that everything that had transpired after that initial test was all a dream (or illusion). The monks inform Osborn that this was his first and only test and the one that demonstrated his ‘true potential.’ They go on to say that all other orders will be informed and that “these ways” are not for him. The temple and the monks then disappear.

A distraught Osborn kneels down on the snowy mountain top in disbelief over what could have been…but he does not stay down for long. Norman shifts from regret to jubilation as he realizes that he can be the Goblin again and that the Goblin is still inside him! As the story ends, Osborn vows to find a way to let the Goblin out…

In General...

I was fairly critical of the The Osborn Identity story arc when it wrapped up a few months back (if you don't believe me, go back and read the reviews). My criticisms hinged on two key flaws: 1) The story lacked a strong personal connection between Osborn and Spider-Man and 2) The notion that Norman was somehow more of a threat without the Goblin Formula (because he was 'sane'). Those two flaws collectively rendered The Osborn Identity impotent, especially with Spidey's sole motivation throughout the arc being that he 'needed a win' so he attacks the arms-dealing Osborn. The Osborn Identity, in my opinion, never matched the deep-seated personal vendettas that have made Spider-Man/Green Goblin stories so great in the past.

However this story, which basically serves as the epilogue to The Osborn Identity, really impressed me, particularly in the subtle manner with which it resonated so true to established Goblin-lore. For one thing, this story does in one issue what The Osborn Identity could not do in four issues...demonstrate that the key to Osborn's dismantling is always Osborn himself!

Let me explain this further, as Norman goes through his training at the mystical temple, Master Ox tells Osborn that his "personal demon" drives him "to achieve more than any man [they] have ever known." Basically confirming to Osborn that he has tremendous potential. Yet in the 'hall of the masks' (not sure what to call that room), Norman can't help himself from ignoring his chosen totem (the tiger) and opting instead to bond with the Goblin-mask. Of course, Norman exclaims, "I choose my own destiny!" Osborn's hubris is his downfall as the key to his unraveling is his own conscious decision to disobey his masters. He is his own worst enemy and as the old saying goes, you can't save someone from themself. The lure of the Goblin persona is too much for Norman to ignore, which is why he rarely wins in a duel with Spider-Man.

The Green Goblin is not Osborn's liability, its Norman. Which brings us back to this notion from The Osborn Identity that Norman was more of a threat without the Goblin Formula. This story demonstrates that that is not the case at all, it is Osborn himself that is his foil. The Goblin is simply an extension of Osborn. It is a subtle but powerful point that is executed really well by the creative team. They delineate a notion that Goblin Fans have known for years, that the Goblin Formula simply amps up a series of characteristics that lie within Osborn...in other words, the Goblin never really left him after he was depowered. Therefore Osborn himself can't be more of a threat than the Goblinized-Osborn, because they are one in the same!

To further drive that point (that the Goblin has always been inside Osborn), check out the panel below:

As Norman removes the Goblin mask, Greg Smallwood (the artist) depicts a wrinkle-faced Osborn with ears distorted in such a way to make them look like Goblin ears. Point being, Osborn removes the Goblin mask and yet he resembles a Goblin. That imagery is brilliantly executed and flows with the premise of the story itself...that Norman and the Goblin are one person...(Back in my review of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #27 I pointed out the connection to Osborn's depiction during the Earth X mini series, the same holds true here as well)

Of course, Norman proceeds to then eat the spider residing in his palm...which I thought was a combination of absurdity and brilliance at the exact same time. And for those of you who may not recall that Norman does have a history of mutilating spiders as a result of his hatred for the webslinger, check out this panel from Spectacular Spider-Man #252.

As evidenced in the panel above, Osborn has given up his nicotine habit but not his penchant for killing innocent arachnids...

The only flaw to the story was that it didn't immediately follow The Osborn Identity, this could have very easily been part five of that arc. Of course, that's not really pointing out a mistake in the story's execution, but rather the consequence of having to shoe-horn in the Secret Empire crossover that pervaded the Marvel Universe. Nevertheless, it's worth pointing that out.

One comment about the artwork throughout this book. For one, I feel like Alex Ross' covers have been so consistently phenomenal throughout this series that we sometimes take for granted how brilliant his work can be. I don't want to make that mistake, so I'll state clearly that this Osborn/Goblin cover is an amazing piece of art! And Greg Smallwood's interior art is great as well, capturing perfectly bizarre world with which this story takes place.

One last interesting point, this is the first time in Spider-history that Norman Osborn was the sole focus of an entire issue of a main Spider-Man title. I'm not sure if folks appreciate how rare that is, so I wanted to mention that bit of trivia.

Overall Rating...

This story featured an off-beat, yet creative, plot device to peer into the psychology of Norman Osborn. It found a way to stay true to what makes Norman the Green Goblin and even built some intrigue for the next time he arrives back into the Spider-verse. Even though Spider-Man himself was barely featured in the issue, the creative team did a great job making Norman "Norman" again...4.5 webs.

Until next time...keep on Goblin!