Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #14

Background

Once upon a time both Norman and Harry Osborn were dead. Although times have changed in recent years, both of their ‘deaths’ were traumatic events in Peter’s life when they occurred. And both Osborns took something with them before they 'died'. Norman, of course, took Gwen’s life while Harry had fooled Peter into thinking his parents were actually alive. Peter had always thought that his parents had died as international spies over in Europe. But soon after Harry died, Peter discovered that the people he thought to be his long-lost parents were in fact robotic constructs created by Harry to fool him. Those damn Osborn’s and their posthumous plots!!

Harry’s death left Liz Allan Osborn a widow and she had to face the daunting task of raising young Normie Osborn on her own. Moreover, Harry’s beyond-the-grave schemes left Peter quite bitter toward his long-time friend, so much so that he couldn’t even face Liz as she struggled to come to grips with the loss of her husband. Peter’s shunning of the Osborn family exasperated the stress Liz was under, creating a very fragile domestic situation. The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 addresses the rift between Peter and Liz and also gives us some insight into the Osborn family history.

Story 'Cycles & Circles'

One evening while making his routine patrols through the city, Spider-Man takes a detour and finds himself outside the home of Liz Osborn and her son Normie. Peter is immediately conflicted because he feels guilty for not going inside to check on her to see how she’s coping, but his resentment toward Harry prevents him from doing so. He has yet to recover from the pain of discovering his parents were genetic constructs, a revenge plot devised by Harry. Peter eavesdrops on Liz who is on the phone, ironically, calling Peter. Liz leaves a message in which she says that she’s lonely and afraid and that she needs to see him. But Spidey leaves resolving never to return and he claims he’ll never forgive Harry. After snapping at Normie, Liz soon turns to alcohol as a coping device. But young Normie intervenes, asking his mom to throw out the ‘bad bottle’. Liz complies as she dumps the booze down the drain and hugs her son.

Spider-Man continues to make his rounds through the city and soon spots a group of drug dealers. After he dismantles the group leaving them webbed up for the authorities, Spidey finds himself directly in front of an abandoned Osborn Industries building! Peter cannot walk away from that kind of a coincidence and he eventually makes his way into the old Goblin hideout therein. While perusing the hideout, Peter finds a CD-ROM inside of a folder entitled ‘Norman Osborn – A Life, by Harry Osborn’. Peter immediately boots up the CD and soon Harry appears on the computer monitor. Harry states that this is a ‘record of the Osborn family tree’ and within minutes Spidey is bombarded with subliminal messages. The subliminal audio weakens Spidey and soon three robotic tentacles pop out and attach themselves to his head!

In what can best be described as a virtual experience, Peter finds himself reliving events of both Norman and Harry’s life from their perspective. First, Peter finds himself as a young Norman, witnessing his abusive alcoholic father lashing out at the young boy. Norman’s father, Amberson, claims to have had an invention stolen from him and as a result he’s now broke. Amberson screams at his son and even smacks his wife for intervening. The stress from his father’s tirades forces the young Norman to kill the family dog, because that would be ‘one less mouth to feed’. The gravity of these events shock Spidey back to reality and he is able to free himself from the virtual experience by removing the robotic tentacles from his head. Peter is overwhelmed with pain and he smashes up the computer in the Goblin hideout. Soon Peter returns to his senses and he decides that these events don’t excuse Harry’s (and Norman’s for that matter) behavior. Spidey leaves the hideout and claims this is the last goodbye to Harry, having still not forgiven his friend. Unbeknownst to Peter however, the power surge from booting up the old computer eventually causes a gas line to explode that destroys the entire building.

The explosion sends Peter back into the virtual experience (the tentacles were apparently not necessary) and Peter is soon in the shoes of young Harry Osborn. He observes the pain both Norman and Harry had felt from Emily's death as well as the resulting abuse from Norman toward Harry. This experience is fleeting though and Spidey quickly finds himself back in reality on the rooftop of a nearby building. The fire from the explosion has spread into a residential area and Spidey swings over to rescue some civilians from the flames. While saving a young boy, the virtual experience kicks-in and he finds himself once again experiencing young Harry Osborn’s life. Taken back to the infamous day in which the Goblin Formula was created, Peter finds that Harry had evidently tampered with the chemicals in Norman’s lab. As a result Harry feels that he had inadvertently created the Green Goblin, by screwing with his dad’s work. Peter once again pops back into reality and he saves a young boy and his dog in the nick of time from a burning building.

Peter returns home and shares his experience with MJ who consoles him and then plays Liz’s message from earlier in the evening. After listening to Liz's plea, Peter resolves that someone must bring an end to this cycle of madness and he decides to finally go visit her and Normie. The story ends with a warm moment as Peter brings a toy dinosaur to Normie and re-establishes his friendship with Liz.

General Comments

Despite being an annual from a discontinued series, this book features some landmark events in Goblin lore. The problem is that the information is based off of Harry’s perspective, so its reliability is suspect. Here’s a quote directly from Harry, “The memories that follow may not be…totally accurate…but they are true! As true as memory can be...”. Harry pretty much debunks his own account but at the same time presents a George Costanza-esque scenario, “it’s not a lie if you believe it”. If Harry believes this to be the Osborn family history and that has governed his future actions, then it almost doesn’t matter whether or not they’re historically accurate. Of course, if you are in the business of documenting the life and times of Norman Osborn (like myself), then you probably want to be able to discern fact from fiction. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The title of this story is Cycles and Circles, so the theme of cyclic behavior is prevalent throughout. Let’s start with Norman’s past. His father was verbally abusive, taking his emotional pain out on his innocent son. This pattern of behavior directly parallel’s Norman’s abuse of Harry after the loss of his wife Emily, so clearly Norman had succumb to the same weakness as his father. Another cyclic behavior worth noting is that Norman’s father Amberson had had an invention stolen from him. Norman probably learned from that and it most likely led to his development of ruthless business tactics. Remember that Norman had Mendel Stromm arrested for embezzlement and then went on to develop the Goblin formula that Stromm had originally synthesized. So Norman may not have repeated his father’s behavior, but he certainly learned from his father’s mistakes and capitalized on them.

This story also supplements the classic Amazing Spider-Man #40 in which Norman presents the origin of the Green Goblin formula. If you recall from that book, Harry requests his dad’s presence for Parent’s Night at school, but Norman refuses to attend claiming that he’s too busy. Here we learn that Harry secretly went into Norman’s lab and tampered with some of the chemicals Norman had kept there. Of course, Norman eventually creates the Goblin formula, which explodes and the rest, as they say, is history. Since Harry had tampered with the chemicals, he feels as if he’s responsible for creating the Green Goblin. Could that be historically accurate? My gut feeling is no, but this is something that is certainly debatable. We know that the Goblin formula is inherently unstable because of the efforts from Roderick Kingsley to duplicate it. Lefty Donovan had the unfortunate experience of having the Goblin formula explode on him back in Amazing Spider-Man #245, and Harry obviously didn’t tamper with that. Given the theme of this story and the consistent verbal abuse Harry received as a child, I would venture to guess that Harry is feeling something similar to victim’s guilt. Certainly Harry was a victim of domestic abuse and an unfortunate aspect of that type of abuse is that the victims feel that they themselves are somehow to blame for the violence they’ve received. It’s a strong possibility that that is the extent of Harry’s meddling with the formula, simple undeserved guilt. But I do believe that Harry did go into Norman’s lab, and it would be interesting to see somewhere down the line if there were true ramifications for the tampering he did that night.

Still, questions remain. In this annual, Harry is depicted pulling his father to safety after the infamous Goblin formula explosion. Was Harry really there that night after the explosion? If so, why couldn't he put two-and-two together when his father ‘changed’ as he states back in Amazing Spider-Man #39? If someone I knew ‘changed’ around the time that had been in an explosion, I would assume the explosion was responsible for that 'change'…but hey, that’s just me! Also, if Harry were able to recreate Norman’s childhood, that would mean that Norman would have had to give Harry that information. For some reason I find that very implausible since Norman was most likely guarded around Harry. I just don’t see Norman opening up to Harry to tell him about his painful upbringing, so where did Harry get that information from? Or is it completely contrived? We know from the Revenge of the Green Goblin #2 that Amberson was cheated and did lose the family fortune, so Harry’s CD-ROM is corroborated by Norman himself. I just don’t picture him telling Harry those intimate details. Maybe Norman helped Harry create this while they were both in exile in Europe and presumed dead, since Brand New Day has given us that potential aspect of Osborn lore. Finally, at the conclusion of the story, Peter tells MJ about what he had uncovered regarding Harry and Norman and he even states “Why didn’t someone step in along the way? An aunt, an uncle?” This is very profound and it is something I’ve thought about on numerous occasions. When Emily Osborn died, were there no relatives on either side of the family to help Norman raise Harry? That seems to be the case, but it strikes me as odd that both Norman and Emily had no siblings or parents that would have been willing to aid Norman. Or maybe Norman knew of them but didn’t want their help…who knows, but I’m glad Peter pointed it out.

I know this is a Spider-Man title, so I should at least say some quick things about the web slinger’s actions throughout the story. I thought he was unusually cold toward Liz by shunning her and Normie, knowing full well she wasn’t at all responsible for Harry’s actions. I’m glad that he eventually came to his senses and made an effort to stop the cycle of neglect, after all, there is a young boy involved who has had plenty of trauma already in his life. I also loved the idea of Spidey saving the young boy and his dog from the fire, since earlier in this story we saw Norman brutally kill his family pet. This aspect of the story once again shows just how different Norman and Peter truly are, and how they are on completely different ends of the behavioral spectrum. So if you have Norman kill a dog, its nice to see Spidey save one!

Overall Rating

I’ve written so much already, so I won’t waste too much more of your time. But I really enjoyed this story, it deepens the drama behind the origin of the Green Goblin. Interestingly, there are 11 people on the credits for this one story (if you include EIC Defalco in there), I think that’s the most people I’ve seen on a credit list for one story, impressive! Point being, this team effort was well worth it in my opinion. Anyway, 5 webs and must have a for a Goblin fan!