Untangled Web - Part 6

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As the second three-week cycle of Amazing Spider-Man comes to a close, we here at Broken Frontier present our second installment of a two-part feature examining the history of the various goblin-themed characters in the Spider-books over the years.

No goblin retrospective could be complete without the grandfather of them all: Norman Osborn. Created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Osborn transformed into the Green Goblin after taking a goblin serum created by his employee Mendel Stromm, a character who later popped up in Clone Saga and more recently in the Penance: Relentless miniseries. Rich industrialist and genius inventor, Norman Osborn took to the skies in his goblin glider with plans of conquering New York’s underworld.

After a number of thrilling confrontations with the webhead, Osborn eventually dropped Peter Parker’s then girlfriend Gwen Stacy to her death, and in the ensuing battle Osborn was thought to have been killed, impaled on his glider. However, during the colossal disaster that was the 1990s Clone Saga, this was changed by retcons (Osborn having been saved by a previously unrevealed "healing factor") and Norman returned as the mastermind who introduced Ben Reilly into Spidey’s life.

Another round of battles ensued before a brittle truce was called, and since then Osborn has been appointed by Tony Stark as head of the Thunderbolts, a S.H.I.E.L.D. sponsored team of former supervillains assigned to take down unregistered heroes. A looming battle between the Thunderbolts and Spider-Man has been hinted at for months over in that title, so fans anxiously awaiting the next Parker/Osborn clash hopefully won’t have to wait too much longer.

The Gray Goblin exists as easily the most controversial of the goblin characters. Introduced by J. Michael Straczysnki in 2004 during the Sins Past storyline, Peter Parker found himself under attack by two assassins, one of which looked exactly like Gwen Stacy. In a retcon that infuriated many fans, the storyline went on to establish that during Gwen Stacy’s briefly mentioned trip to Europe (circa Amazing Spider-Man #s 119-120) she gave birth to the two twins, after a previous liaison with Norman. Due to the goblin serum, their growth was accelerated, and Osborn raised them over the years to believe that Parker was the man behind their mother’s death.

With that in mind, brother Gabriel climbed aboard the goblin glider and dubbed himself the Gray Goblin (the one recently mentioned in ASM #549), confronting Spidey in New York. With the help of the other twin Sarah, who Peter managed to sway to his side, they were able to defeat Gabriel. Straczysnki has said repeatedly that it was always his intention to retcon this story out of the official Marvel timeline, but due to the editorial changes that affected his original ending to One More Day, the events of Sins Past still exist in current Spider-Man continuity.

With all the various goblins introduced over the years it must have been painfully obvious to Marc Guggenheim and the other writers of the Spider-Braintrust that if they were going to introduce another goblin character, they’d really have to work hard to differentiate him.

Unfortunately, they haven’t.

The biggest drawback of ASM #551 is the characterization of headlining villain Menace: namely that there is none. He has no motivation and no personality other than being a lunatic. I applaud Guggenheim and the other writers for trying to repopulate Spidey’s world, but if they’re going to introduce a new villain every three issues with plans on bringing them back for fleshing out at a later date, they at least have to tease the character’s traits a bit. Dan Slott did a solid job at this last month with Mr. Negative. We don’t know much about that character but at least I found myself intrigued. With Menace I’m indifferent at best. They might as well have had Spidey square off against some nameless, faceless foe because that’s about how much personality Menace has shown in his debut issues.

However, despite that shortcoming, issue #551 is still a solid cap to an otherwise awesome arc. As said in previous Untangled Webs, the best scenes from Guggenheim’s opening run have come from the interactions between Spider-Man and Jackpot and this issue is no different. For those fans, myself included, who expected a simple Mary Jane reveal, Guggenheim ends this issue with a bit of a cliffhanger. It looks like matters are a little more complicated than we all originally suspected. There’s also a shocker of a moment earlier on that not only recalls the greatest of Goblin battles past, but also proves to add an unseen wrinkle in the Jackpot/Spidey relationship. I never thought I’d say this at the start of Guggenheim’s opening run, but I can’t wait to see what happens with Jackpot next.

Salvador Larroca’s art seems to have improved with each issue as well. However, this is more due to the fact that each subsequent week showcased less soap opera and focused more on the superhuman conflict. The fight scenes look great, but once again, the moment we’re brought back down to earth, and actually see Peter without the webs, things turn a bit funky. One strength of the constantly shifting art team is that if a penciler doesn’t meet your criteria for a decent Spider-Man artist you only have to deal with them for a few weeks. With that in mind, I look forward to Phil Jimenez’s debut in two weeks.

Marc Guggenheim has managed to crank out an arc that could have been classic had it not been for the poor handling of Menace. I’m sure this character will receive his time in the spotlight in the ensuing months. I can’t help but wish though, that instead of rushing straight onto the next villain, that the Spider-Braintrust could instead take the time necessary to develop these villains one by one in uninterrupted segments. I still want to know what Mr. Negative’s reasoning is for running a soup kitchen and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he, or Menace for that matter, will be returning for at least another two months.

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