Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #599

Background

Norman Osborn has plans for his son. He wants Harry to finally take up the mantle of the Osborn name, and join the Dark Avengers as the symbol of hope and patriotism that Norman himself can never be. He wants Harry to be the Dark Avenger's version of Captain America, called American Son! Harry has gone along with his because his ex-fiancée, Lily Hollister, is pregnant and under Norman's power. Spidey smelt a rat and infiltrated Avengers Tower to try and help Harry. And he was right to be suspicious. The baby isn't Harry's, it's Norman's! Harry only discovers this after risking himself to "save" Lily - someone who evidently didn't need saving. Now Spider-Man is Norman's prisoner and whipping boy, and it is up to Harry Osborn to set things right. With the American Son armour forming around him it looks as though the scene is set for one last battle between Harry and dear old Dad.

Story Details

Spider-Man lies on the floor fading in and out of consciousness, as the Iron Patriot and the American Son do battle around him. His mind returns to a time in college when Harry got himself into a fight. It had been just after a visit from his father. Norman had made it perfectly clear that he would have preferred Peter was his son, and Harry felt he had to go and punch out his frustration on someone who wasn't Peter. Thing was that Harry agreed with his father. He wished he had Peter for a brother.

Part of Osborn cannot understand why Harry is so mad at him. Doesn't he want Spider-Man dead too? Hasn't the webspinner been a thorn in both their sides over the years? Peter is skulking in the shadows, wondering what to do now that the mask that Reed Richards gave him has disintegrated, when he hears Harry's revelation: that Norman is the father of Lily's child, and that he used her as a lever to bring Harry to him.

Now Norman understands. He still doesn't care of course. His moral compass is so off-base he just finds the whole thing rather funny. Harry uses the American Son armour to blast Norman out of Avengers Tower and dozens of stories straight down. Lily sees this and follows him.

Then Harry notices Spider-Man standing in the shadows. Spidey apologises for what had happened, he just didn't want to leave Harry alone in here with that monster. Harry is not moved. He says that he has deliberately shut off the sensors in his helmet so that he cannot see Spider-Man's true identity. He doesn't want to know. He hates Spider-Man, but this is nothing to do with him. This is between Harry and his father. He tells Spidey to go home, and stay out of his life.

Downstairs, the building is being evacuated. Norah says a quick good bye to the security guide she's been hornswoggling, she intends to head off and write up a story that will damn Norman Osborn. Of course, the story is still unfolding outside. Lily flies down to see if Norman is okay. Her concern is an irrelevance to him. He is pleased that the American Son armour was capable of throwing him this far.

Then Harry is on the scene, and the fight resumes this time with Lily as the bystander. Norman says that he had no choice. He has tried to mould Harry into the son he wanted, but Harry failed at every hurdle. The goblin serum in Norman's body prevented him from having any more children (although he tried). When Lily fell into his hands he thought that her unique physiology would make mating viable. According to Norman she was far from unwilling.

In brief: Harry is redundant. A chapter of Norman's life that is now closed. Norman stops holding back, and goes all out to kill Harry. One blow breaks the visor of the American Son armour, and Norman has his son by the throat. Enter Spider-Man. Despite being terribly weak from lack of blood, Spidey just manages to intervene and pull Norman away. He saves Harry, before he is carried out of fight by a protective Menace, who is guarding Norman like an attack dog.

Harry fights back. He was never Norman's son and never wanted to be. Menace throws the weakened Spider-Man aside and returns to help Norman. With the last vestige of his strength, Spidey webs Menace to her glider and the destroys its engine. The glider crashes taking Menace down with it. Spidey is not much better off as he lies prone on the ground. But he must see what happens next between Harry and his father.

Harry has the upper hand. Norman is helpless, and Harry can kill him with one blow. Spidey remembers Wolverine's words of wisdom from earlier in this arc - "if you have the chance to end it, then end it". What is Spider-Man to do. Stand back and watch his friend commit murder. You know that's not Peter's style. He speaks to Harry. He convinces him that if he kills Norman, then Harry will become the son that Norman has always wanted. Harry finally understands, and finally puts his father behind him. He walks away, leaving a furious and bloody Norman Osborn behind him.

Peter quickly goes and checks himself into hospital, where he visited by May and Jay Jameson. They've put off their trip to Boston, and Jay is covering all of Peter's medical expenses (from the "hit and run" that he suffered). He notices that Harry has sent him flowers. If only Peter knew where his friend was... at his doctor being prescribed opiates for severe pain. The first step on a slippery slope?

At her apartment, Norah is on the phone to Urich. She is watching video feed from Stark Tower, and is just telling her boss that she has the massive story that Peter wanted to break from the beginning. Then he sees what is happening. The security guard she stole the keycard from is being beaten to a pulp by Osborn. "I never forget people who mess in my affairs," Osborn says. Norah suddenly feels very frightened and very alone. Maybe the story isn't ready yet. Maybe she has to think about what she's going to do next. She'll let Urich know.

Over at Avengers Tower, Norman Osborn is speaking to his unborn son, telling him that his brother is dead to them now and that his little "goblin prince" is going to be worthy of Daddy's legacy. It isn't a pleasant and heart-warming scene. Lily looks down at Norman Osborn, his ear pressed to her belly and she is absolutely terrified.

General Comments

An excellent finale to the American Son arc, and a very good comic to boot. Despite the fact that this issue is little more than one extended fight scene, Joe Kelly manages to include a welcome number of asides and character moments. From Harry's trauma over everything his father has done to him, to Lily's misguided concern for Norman, to Peter's desire to see the goblin finished once and for all, to Norah's fearfulness... there's a lot going on in this issue, and Kelly manages to keep all the plates spinning nicely.

The resolution between Norman and Harry actually feels like a resolution, which is something of an accomplishment given the cynically cyclical nature of storytelling in comics. I honestly feel that father and son are going to go their own way from this point. Norman has another family to torment, and Harry can get on with his life (or not). Part of my certainty is due to Kelly's purple prose: Spidey says that he's seen planets shatter, but he's never seen anything as impressive as Harry walking away from his father. That might be over-egging the omelette somewhat, but it does lend the scene an added measure of gravitas.

In fact the story doesn't have many flaws at all, until you pull it out of the context of Amazing Spider-Man and dump it into the Marvel Universe as a whole. As we all know, Norman Osborn is running the MU at the moment. He's the head of HAMMER, the leader of the Dark Avengers and also the controller of the Thunderbolts. He's the big villain that everyone is gunning for. He's grown beyond his role as simply a Spider-Man villain, and that is a potential problem for this title down the road.

Obviously, the whole "Dark Reign" saga is going to end with Norman being removed from power. But who is going to do? I think it should be Spider-Man. No-one has a deeper history with Osborn than Spidey, and no-one has more at stake in a final battle than Spidey. But there are plenty of other heroes lining up to take a shot at the ex-Goblin. Everyone from Hawkeye to the X-Men to Moon Knight would be happy to strike the final blow.

If Osborn falls from grace in a limited series six months from now, and if Spidey doesn't play a critical part in his demise, then it's going to feel wrong. It's not going to matter one jot to the rest of the Marvel Universe, or the scores of other titles crossing into Dark Reign, but it is going to matter here in Amazing Spider-Man. Spidey's had so many confrontations with Norman recently that have been left unresolved, I worry that he has already taken his best shot, and that it'll be Wolverine or Iron Man or Emma Frost the turns the tables on Osborn. However, this is my bias, and doesn't detract from the story before us.

The art is more of an issue. Four artists on one comic? Were they running so far behind schedule that they had to have different sections of the comic drawn by different artists at the same time? The result is rather disjointed looking book. Marco Checchetto's two-page spread is particularly confusing. The inconsistent art doesn't ruin the book, but it certainly doesn't enhance it either.

And although this isn't the debut of her new look, I really have to stop and question what's going on with the redesign on Menace. Is it just because that now the identity of Menace is not a mystery she doesn't need to be ugly anymore? Now she can be all curves, and tight spandex and red pouting lips? Is the comic reading audience really that shallow?

It is the epilogue between Norman and Lily that raises the bar and makes this an exceptional, rather than simply a good comic. Kelly takes what would normally be an uplifting scene of parental bonding, and twists it into something horrific. Nothing illustrates Norman's madness better than the closing scene. Despite everything she has done, my sympathies are with Lily. I fear for her future.

Overall Rating

A well-paced comic, with some excellent characterisation and character development. Harry Osborn walks out of this a changed man, and Norman will never be the same again either. Four webs.

Footnote

Since posting this review, I've had an email from spiderfan Jay Hasell. He said this:

"In your review of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #599, Norman says he cannot have more children due to the goblin formula, but he did have twins with Gwen. I know that was before Brand New Day, but I feel it should have been mentioned in your comments regarding the issue as a matter of debate."

You know, that was on my list of things to mention in this review. I don't know how I omitted it from the final draft. If we are to believe the reassuring words of the Spider Office, then everything that happened before Brand New Day (besides the wedding) still stands, so the events of Joe Straczynski's controversial Sins Past still took place.

Now, I have a lot of time for Sins Past. The conceit of ageing the Stacey twins was a bit rubbish, the ending was poor, and the sequel (Sins Remembered: Sarah's Story) was diabolical - but it was still largely well written, and seemed to have something to say about Peter Parker. Many fans found it insulting to Gwen's memory, but as I only started reading Spider-Man seriously in the late 1980s, I never had a strong attachment to Gwen.

So, yes. This is an omission. I think we can deduce that Kelly either didn't know or didn't care about the JMS story. If he didn't know, then editorial should slap themselves on the wrist. He he didn't care... well, that might be more understandable. Many fans are trying to forget Sins Past as well.

Kelly evidently felt it was important for Norman to tell Harry that he had been trying to create a replacement son for years, with no success. Can we trust what Norman says here? Was it just a further twist of the knife from the master manipulator? Maybe Kelly doesn't mention the Sarah and Gabriel Stacey because there's no real need to in the context of the story, and to do so would just have slowed the action down?

I think I'm willing to cut Kelly some slack in this regard. He didn't need to open the whole Sins Past can of worms to get his story across. That said, to have Norman so worked up about an unborn child when he has perfectly servicable (and psychopathic) adult son out there does seem to be a lose end. It's not enough for me to change my rating of the issue but, personally, I hope it's something that's addressed in the future.