Spider-Man 2004:

The Fall of Norman Osborn

For many years, businessman and industrialist Norman Osborn has preyed upon mankind, by day in his civilian identity as a ruthless captain of industry, and by night as the deadly costumed menace known as the Green Goblin. Only the repeated interference of his most hated enemy, Spider-Man, whom Osborn knows is secretly Peter Parker, has successfully thwarted many of Osborn’s heinous plans. However, Peter has paid dearly for his victories over the Goblin, the heaviest price being the love of Peter’s life, Gwen Stacy, murdered by Osborn. The insanity and ineptitude of his late son, Harry, who briefly assumed the Goblin identity, nearly compromised Norman’s secrets – but through fear, intimidation, diversion, and the best lawyers his money could buy, Osborn was seemingly able to convince law enforcement and the general public that he had no connection to the Goblin.

As a result of their last encounter in Paul Jenkins' stunning Death in the Family which ran from Peter Parker volume II #44-47 (see my analysis of this tale in the article Norman Takes a Ten Count), Osborn and Parker had reached an uncomfortable and unspoken truce, returning to their deadly standoff where the exposure of one would result in retribution from the other, to the likely ruination of both. Unfortunately for Peter, maintenance of the truce is dependent upon a madman's ability to conduct himself according to the laws and moral codes of society at large, of which Norman Osborn has had nothing but contempt…

The Story
Daily Bugle reporter Terri Kidder (a Superman homage - think of two recent actresses to play Lois Lane) has a problem. Deadlines are approaching – and she has no story – a dire situation for a reporter working for a major metropolitan newspaper. She fears that unless she comes up with one, and pronto, her next job will be wallowing through pig shit reporting on 4-H Fairs in Terre Haute, Indiana. During a lunch date with a friend who works in the accounts payable department of chemical and manufacturing conglomerate Oscorp, Terri learns that people at various levels of the company are mysteriously disappearing. Sensing a big story, Terri decides to go directly to the top, confronting the owner of the company, Norman Osborn, with her questions. Terri's ticket gets punched all right, but only as far as the shallow pond where her mutilated, waterlogged corpse is discovered the next day.

Bugle reporters Ben Urich, Kat Farrell, and recent hire Jessica Jones (who has just been hired as a "consultant" on J. Jonah Jameson's new weekly supplement to the Daily Bugle, The Pulse which will focus on the superhero community), begin to investigate Ms. Kidder’s last days. But when Urich intercepts a worried call from Kidder’s friend at Oscorp, the veteran reporter realizes that he has once again stepped into the nightmare world that nearly destroyed his career and his life several years ago, the world of – the Green Goblin. Urich thought he had definitively proven that Osborn was the Green Goblin in a book, Legacy of Evil, written after Harry Osborn's death, and while Norman himself was assumed to be dead. However, as we all know, Norman was definitely not dead, and used his vast resources to shred Urich’s case, credibility, and career. But before Urich puts everything, including the very future of the Daily Bugle itself, on the line, he has to convince himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is on the right track – and the only way to do that is to confirm the information with the one person who would know for a certainty whether or not Osborn is capable of these crimes – Spider-Man. Urich's desperation forces him to reveal a card he has held for some time - the knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity - because after all - what is the easiest way to contact Spider-Man if not calling Peter Parker?

After expressing his irritation at finding out that someone so close to him has pierced the veil of his double life - Spider-Man confirms the two things that Urich needs to hear (1) that Norman Osborn is indeed the Green Goblin and (2) that he is more than capable of the crimes for which he is suspected.

After convincing Jolly Jonah Jameson that they must share the information with the police, and then publish the story, a swarm of police officers gathers around Norman Osborn’s office to take him into custody – except Norman is not in a mood to go quietly. The Green Goblin appears in a cloud of fire, killing several people and wounding others (including the aforementioned very pregnant Ms. Jones). Attacked by both Spider-Man and Jones (a former superhero), the Goblin barely escapes, and then tries to play his last legal move as Norman Osborn, surrendering himself to the police. However, Luke Cage, the father of the wounded Jessica Jones’ child, attacks Osborn. Between the efforts of Cage, and Spider-Man (in a battle which we see parts of in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1) Osborn is finally subdued and captured – and it appears that after many long years – the nightmare of the Green Goblin is over.

Or is it?

The above has been a recap of The Pulse #1-5, Brian Michael Bendis’ latest effort in his diabolically sinister master plan to either write or influence the course of events in every title published by Marvel Comics. Of course, I really only summarized a fraction of the story for you. The Pulse is designed to focus on the Daily Bugle staff as they report on the chaos that is the Marvel Universe, seen through the eyes of Bendis’ original creation, Jessica Jones, formerly the headliner of the late Alias (no relation to the Jennifer Garner TV series) MAX series. Despite being one of the most significant stories told in the Spider-Man Universe over the last several years, as it deals with the exposure of Norman Osborn, the bulk of the story is actually consumed by the yawn-inducing examination of Jessica Jones's and Luke Cage's relationship as they deal with the upcoming birth of their child and Jessica's new job. And since the name of my column is not Jessica Jones Kicks Butt, for all intents and purposes I won't talk much about her.

Norman Gets Exposed? After all These Years? That Sucks, Doesn’t it?
Well, yes. Yes it does. One of the cool things about the Norman Osborn/Green Goblin character was his clandestine duality. Norman was the wolf in sheep's clothing - the monster who walked in our midst with only our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man aware that one of the most powerful people in the city was a sociopath predator.

But - considering how often Osborn was appearing recently, it was beginning to defy logic that he could continue to get away with his behavior, if not as the Green Goblin, then as a corrupt businessman. Bad guys, no matter how good, who constantly get off the hook can actually begin to grow boring after awhile - because the corollary of them constantly escaping justice is that the hero is constantly failing. Or, the villain gets so irredeemably evil and disgusting because he keeps doing more and more hideously evil things that the hero, no matter what his moral code, begins to look totally irresponsible in continuing to let him victimize society. I can't even read a Batman/Joker story anymore without thinking "Jeez, just kill the sonofabitch already!" Or at least systematically break every bone in his body and permanently cripple him. Or look the other way as someone else is about to do it. There's a fine line between being a moral person who doesn't want to cross "the line," and a foolish and naive putz.

After all, even the Kingpin was eventually brought down, and Wilson Fisk was always a lot more stable than Norman Osborn. Plus, although I’m not familiar with all of the Kingpin’s exploits, Fisk always seemed to have enough sense to not kill or intimidate people who were not connected in one way or another with "the business." The Kingpin had an old-style mobster’s sense of honor (which may or may not have really existed – it’s hard to tell because of the Hollywood inspired tendency to glamorize punks and murderers), which usually meant you don't kill innocent people (even then, as I recall, Fisk put out a contract on Foggy Nelson after Daredevil forced the Kingpin to pull support from his hand picked mayoral candidate). It's hard to muster a lot of public support against mobsters killing other mobsters. But even at that, Fisk had made so many enemies, including members of his own family, that his fall was inevitable.

Osborn has no honor - and if there was any doubt of that - it was forever removed after the events of Marvel Knights Spider-Man when he reneged on his deal with Peter when the latter busted him out of prison. And although he invested a considerable amount of effort prior to the reboot to disassociate himself from the Green Goblin – he still had to be a prime suspect in the mind of anyone who had some sense. First of all, he was perennially tempting fate by hiding in plain site of Peter Parker, for one, and the staff of the Daily Bugle. I doubt that J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson, for example, were ever really fooled, particularly since Norman had essentially given himself away that Halloween night when he corralled everyone at the Bugle intending to kill them all, which was chronicled in Peter Parker volume I #75 (December 1996). Jonah and Robbie had also compiled a considerable amount of incriminating evidence against Osborn on his non-Goblin business dealings. The Kingpin himself knew enough about Osborn that he put out a contract on him in Peter Parker volume I #95 (September 1998). The Punisher still has an unfinished score to settle with Osborn, and then there's Miles Warren and Roderick Kingsley, who although rendered less effective than they used to be, are still a couple of very dangerous men who know all about Osborn and his alter ego. Norman was also known to employ some rather unsavory types, such as the Trapster, in murder for hire schemes. Of course, there was also that little matter of his son adopting the Green Goblin identity for awhile.

And it’s not like Norman was the most cautious person about his dual identity anyway. Even years ago, he used to enjoy the tease - as witnessed in Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2 (1968), later reprinted as Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9 (1973), where at a dinner party with Harry, Gwen and Mary Jane, Norman taunts Peter about having "strange secrets known only to ourselves." (Fans of the 1990's animated series will also remember this scene in the episode "Turning Point"). One of the most inexplicable things was that he always seemed to keep his Goblin gear close by him, even in his own office! It wasn’t just in this story where this occurred. In "Death in Family," we also saw not only Osborn’s closet full of Goblin goodies, but he was also partially dressed as the Goblin in his office while he took phone calls! In "The Final Chapter," prior to the reboot, Osborn is seen sitting in his office dressed as the Goblin. Also during this time period, Osborn often flaunted his dual identity with his odd color combinations, including green suits and purple ties. Yes, I'm sure this was merely an artistic choice - the nature of comics requires the use of certain color schemes that would be laughable and impractical in real life - but let's have some fun with it. Simply put, unlike some other supervillains who deep down don't like being super villains, Osborn reveled in it. He was too proud of himself and the things that he did as the Green Goblin to be able to keep a lid on it forever.

And think about it – Norman already had money and power in his capacity as a businessman, particularly one who was part of a secret cabal in the business of creating super villains to keep the super heroes distracted (again as we learned in Marvel Knights Spider-Man). He didn’t need to obtain super powers for himself, he didn’t need to try to gain control of the underworld as he did during the early days of his career, and he certainly didn't need to adopt a tacky green and purple costume and fly around on a broomstick first, and then the more practical glider. But he chose to do these things because they intoxicated him and gave him a power high and an ego trip that he couldn't get by other means. Even someone else of considerable business acumen and probably bolted down a lot tighter, Roderick Kingsley, who actually had the sense enough to quit the supervillain lifestyle for awhile, simply found the unrestrained use of raw physical power too much to resist.

Plus, Osborn is clearly an egomaniac and a glory hound. After his "return from the dead," he began making big splashes all over the place. Admittedly, a lot of it was going on the offensive to reclaim his reputation and throw people off the scent of his dual identity. But writing a book, going on the talk show circuit, purchasing half of and becoming the public face of the Daily Bugle, he was doing some of these things because he clearly liked to do them. Again, not something you would catch Wilson Fisk doing.

But Norman Osborn wasn't just an egomaniacal businessman - he was also a deadly predator, which is how he was described upon his capture in issue #5 of The Pulse. While I wouldn't go full fledged into calling Norman Osborn a serial killer, he was a psychopath and a predator, and predators are notoriously proud of what they do, sometimes deliberately drawing attention to themselves even when it may result in their exposure (although their egos usually make them think they are so much smarter than everyone else that they won't get caught)! Here's a couple of real life cases right off the top of my head:

From a story perspective, something dramatic clearly needed to happen to justify using the Green Goblin again (although as I have stated before - I didn't think there was a need to bring him back so quickly) after the Death in the Family storyline. Since his return from the dead, Norman had repeatedly gone head to head with Spider-Man, losing each time, the last time very decisively, to the point that there really was no way that he could return to supervillain business as usual. Peter had completely and totally humiliated him and taken away "the fun" Norman had in being the Green Goblin.

Of course, that didn't mean he still wasn't a deadly psychopath...but it was going to have to be something BIG and different to bring the Goblin back.

Norman's exposure and jail time (although pretty inconsequential compared to his crimes) also partially removes a sore point for a lot of people who thought that since he came back from the dead, he was "getting away" with Gwen Stacy’s murder (and Ben Reilly's) and never really paid for his crimes (although in real life - justice is very often denied).

It wasn't as if Osborn didn't anticipate this eventually happening to him. As we know, the events of Marvel Knights Spider-Man kicked into high gear as a result of his capture, and he probably had other plans going back years before that. After all, Harry nearly compromised him right off the bat in Amazing Spider-Man #137 (October 1974) when the younger Osborn blurted out that he was the Green Goblin in order to lend credence to his declaration that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Fortunately for Norman, no one believed Harry.

Getting outed may actually have been a good thing for Norman. He was likely becoming increasingly bored being a pillar of corporate society (as we'll see later - he had too much time on his hands since he wasn't playing the Green Goblin) and he may even become more dangerous now that he no longer has to maintain the façade of the upstanding member of society.

But why was Norman Stupid Enough to Start Killing his own Employees? And in his own Office?
Well, the first thing we have to do is dismiss Bendis’ explanation of "he got crazier - crazy people do that," which is simply not a sufficient explanation. Yes, broken down to it's core, it's a true statement, but a lazy one, particularly for a talented writer who made his mark writing gritty crime fiction, getting into the heads of the whackos he often wrote about (that's why I think we may eventually see more from Bendis on this particular issue - but it's still disheartening that he didn't put more into the story up front).

There's no doubt that Norman's psyche was deteriorating, but just why was it deteriorating? He had been able to keep up the lie for years - even going long periods of time without becoming the Green Goblin (such as when he was in Europe), which for Norman, is almost as essential as breathing - why start losing his grip now when he had done such a masterful job of keeping himself out of trouble in the past?

The most likely explanation is that when Norman has a lot on his plate to satisfy his insatiable psychopathic cravings, he is very focused and can keep himself out of trouble. The best example of this could be right after his "death," in Amazing #122 (July 1973). Here's just a sample of all of the convoluted plots he had going on:

But after Norman rolled the dice, drew the losing card in the Gathering of Five ceremony, and finally regained a measure of his sanity and self-awareness, he was in a different world. For one, he had cleared himself of being the Goblin, and had resumed day-to-day management of Oscorp. Check that off. Harry was now dead. There goes that mission. The Clone Saga had played out. Check. The "real" Scrier actually came back and took control of his organization from Osborn, leaving him with only a handful of pudgy middle-aged followers. Oops. Gwen’s twins were now fully grown due to their accelerated aging and were ready to be turned loose on Peter Parker. Check. As for Peter himself, he walked away from their last confrontation, determined not to be baited by Osborn anymore.

Damn.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop they say – and relatively speaking, Norman Osborn suddenly had a lot more free time on his hands. As Mac Gargan mentioned, Norman’s hideout is a cornucopia of plans and counterplans. That’s how Norman’s mind works – he always had to be up to something - but now his primary target had rendered all of those plans useless.

So what was he going to do now - take up needlepoint? He had to have another outlet to satisfy his psychopathic needs. His favorite playmate, Spider-Man, got sick and tired of playing "let's beat the crap out of each other," and took his toys and his little red wagon and walked out (a slightly simplistic rendering of the events of Death in the Family from Peter Parker volume II #44-47). But when you're a dangerous sociopath, you've got to terrorize and torture someone - yet - why in the world would Norman be so dense as to starting killing his own employees - and then a Daily Bugle reporter trying to investigate why Oscorp employees are suddenly turning up missing?

First of all, we have to understand that despite whatever pretensions he has made in the past, Norman has never, ever cared about his employees. In fact, he seems them as insignificant and interchangeable, probably not even fully human. Witness, for example, in the Legacy of Evil one-shot from 1996 (which we'll discuss in more detail later), how the director of human resources at Oscorp described Norman's attitude toward employees as "if you were brilliant, you didn't last and if you weren't, you were run ragged till you quit." Former employees described Osborn as a "hardcase," and "if he wanted something, he took it - if you were in the way, too bad." In "The Final Chapter," Osborn uses his own employees as guinea pigs to demonstrate to Peter the power of his DNA Bomb.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure that Norman Osborn would qualify as a textbook definition of a "serial killer," (even though that’s what Jessica Jones calls him), he is a predator, and to understand why Norman would kill people who would otherwise present no threat to him, we have to understand the basic motivations of killers and predators. It isn’t just the act of killing that they enjoy – it’s the fear that they can generate from their prey and the power that their actions give them over people, which satisfies their control freak tendencies - and Norman is definitely a control freak. A police detective in Legacy of Evil described him as a "standard issue psychopath - if the super thing hadn't happened, it would have been something else, embezzlement, cutting up women - the guy was an accident looking for a place to happen."

I doubt that this is the first time that Norman randomly killed people who weren’t otherwise in the way of a particular objective of his, but it is probably the first time since he actually assumed the Green Goblin identity. I speculated that right after Norman first received his super powers that he probably carried out a furtive killing campaign in New York’s dark underbelly, preying upon the homeless, the helpless, and miscellaneous scum just to test his powers and get his jollies. Once, however, he changed his focus to creating a separate identity, and a purpose for that identity (control of the New York underworld), that sufficed as a proper outlet for both his formidable physical and intellectual prowess. Also, as his obsessions with Spider-Man and Peter Parker grew, he was able to feed off the fear that he created in Peter, the fear that he would one day expose him, or murder everyone close to him. After all, during those times that Osborn became the Goblin and remembered who Spider-Man was, he could have readily killed Aunt May, or Gwen, or MJ, or anyone else anytime he wanted if it was the simply act of killing he enjoyed. But, he was probably more turned on by Peter’s fear that he might do such a thing, and no matter how many times that he might actually get the crap beat out of him by Spider-Man, he always retained a certain amount of power over him in that he knew his secret identity – which also explained why he also never revealed it to anyone, except Mac Gargan, and then only as part of a contingency plan (as far as why Osborn would choose Gargan – that’s something best left to another discussion).

But then, in "Death in the Family," Peter dealt Osborn a nearly mortal blow – he stopped being afraid of him. When Peter realized that Osborn wanted to die – and that he wanted Spider-Man to be his executioner – it became apparent that Osborn had become a prisoner of his own pathetic behavior and paranoia. When Peter walked away from him after "Death in the Family," Norman could see that there was no longer any fear, at least at that moment. For many years, even when defeated, Norman was still always in control of that relationship. He stated as much in Peter Parker #44 when he told Peter "I call the shots in this relationship. I decide! Me! I say where it begins and ends and you're just along for the ride!" And for most of that story, Norman remains in control, jerking Peter around just like he planned. But then when Peter walked away from their last confrontation, the balance of power in the relationship shifted, and Norman actually experienced a sense of powerlessness for the first time in a very, very long time.

And here's something that I said in my analysis of "Death in the Family." Yes, I really did write this three years ago:

I'm actually indebted to The Crime Library for providing me with some background on how murderers allegedly think (I say "allegedly" because psychopaths are notoriously difficult to pin down). According to one noted serial killer expert, killers can be triggered into action by events called "stressors." They can be "conflict with females (Sins Past, anyone?), parental conflict (or with a child - such as Harry tripping on acid), financial stress (which also brought on the deadly events of Amazing Spider-Man #121-122), marital problems, conflict with males, birth of a child, physical injury, legal problems, and stress from a death (the death of Norman's wife, Emily, is as much a pivotal event in the creation of the Green Goblin as his exposure to the Goblin formula)...As the killer grapples with frustration, anger, and resentment, the fantasies of killing can eclipse reality...Many triggering factors center around some aspect of control" states the expert. O.K., I know that some of this seems so obvious as to invite a "DUH!" because usually people who kill aren't very happy people, and the above explanation pretty well covers the gambit of why most kinds of anti-social behavior occur. But it's the loss of some aspect of control that caught my attention - and at the end of "Death in the Family," Norman lost control of probably his most important relationship - the one with Spider-Man.

Now powerless to control his relationship with Spider-Man, and no longer able to inspire that same sense of fear in Peter that he could in the past, Norman turned to other targets. Just because his primary prey took himself out of the game doesn’t mean that Norman would simply say "oh well," buy himself a Winnebego, and start cruising around the country taking advantage of the senior discounts on all those restaurant breakfast buffets out there (we learned that he is 55, which is the starting age for many senior discounts). As far as why Norman would choose his own employees, when that would exponentially increase the risk of being exposed – well, this was the group from whom Norman could probably generate the greatest amount of fear from. Of course, he could pick unknown people at random to torture and terrorize, but that simply wouldn’t provide him with the "high" he would need. Norman probably enjoyed the sense of betrayal and fear in his people’s eyes once he turned the tables on them. Imagine you’re a mid level manager, or a grunt in a large corporation – going nowhere – and then all of a sudden the owner, one of the most powerful, charismatic, and recognizable people in the city – comes to you and tells you that he has noticed you and what a terrific job you’re doing. He asks you about the family, your interests, makes you think you're the most important person in his company - and you begin to trust and open up to him. And it’s really going well, and you’re feeling terrific – and then all of a sudden – he begins to change right in front of you. You can almost see the switch turn on – the hackles on your neck rise as you begin to wonder what’s going to happen next and you want to get away, but then realize you can’t – and then...

...you realize that you’re not leaving the room alive.

Fear - pure, unadulterated fear.

While Norman's crimes are not sexual in nature - in fact - when Norman is in full Green Goblin mode - he seems almost completely devoid of any sexual feelings whatsoever - he clearly shares with serial killers the desire to dominate, control, and "own" the person. In fact, Norman's statement after he kills Terri Kidder "I own your soul now," seems a perfect illustration of this pathology.

And imagine the thrill that gives to the predator. And his jollies don’t stop there with the killing. He gets to watch the chaos that the events create when relatives or others begin running around like chickens with their heads cut off looking for the missing loved ones.

Sure, it was sloppy for Norman to do what he did – but like a junkie, he had to keep upping the ante, the danger to others and to himself in order to get the high. Again, referencing The Crime Library "the autonomic nervous system of intensely violent people is sluggish . . . . They need a higher level of thrill or stimulation in order to have an intense experience." The murder of Terri Kidder in his office may have simply been Norman upping the ante again. It would seem ridiculous that Norman would kill her right there, in earshot of his secretary, and where you would think that the killing would still leave plenty of forensic evidence. Why didn’t he didn’t just offer to meet her somewhere and then kill her off premises? Norman probably figured that he was a good enough scientist that he could easily wipe the place clean and make it appear that she had never been there. Plus, the thrill of killing someone right there in his office – with people just outside – probably really got his rocks off. In a manic state, the psychopath is fearless and thinks he is omnipotent (which may also explain why he dumped the body in a public place to be readily found - although I suspect he was really sending a not so subtle message to J. Jonah Jameson - since Norman did not realize that Terri was acting on her own without Jonah's knowledge).

So, really, it was just a matter of time before Norman lost control and essentially outed himself. Again, it was a shame that this occurred, because it served a number of dramatic purposes for him to keep his dual nature a secret, and as I'll discuss later, it should have happened in the context of a different and better story, but for a psychopath such as himself, there was no other outcome possible.

Ben Urich knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man?
Shifting gears just slightly to cover the other major event of this story - I know that for some fans it’s a bit distressing to see yet another person discover Spider-Man’s secret identity. It happens all of the time in the Ultimate titles, and it seems to happen with more and more frequency in the regular titles. However, the foundation for Bugle reporter's Ben Urich discovery was actually laid a long time ago. In Spectacular Spider-Man #225 (June 1995), Urich came darn close to the truth which he did a background story on Peter after the latter was charged with the murder of a police detective (it’s a Clone Saga story – Killer Klone Kaine really did it - but I don't want to go into the details here) and notes that "something" had to have happened in high school to give Peter courage and confidence, transforming a bookworm into a crime photographer who specialized in shots of supervillains and heroes - but what?

Soon after Urich began working on his book about the Green Goblins Legacy of Evil (1996), which was also the name of the one-shot written by Kurt Busiek. Harry’s young son, Norman is kidnapped (this was the first time it happened – after that it became an annoying regular occurrence) by a trio of robot goblinettes who have come to give the boy his "legacy." Urich investigates the history of the Green Goblin in order to discover just what the "legacy" is – and of course, you can’t investigate the Green Goblin without talking to his most hated enemy. Ben notes that Spider-Man becomes increasingly agitated when talking about the death of Gwen Stacy, and finds out that one of his key assumptions was wrong. Ben had always assumed that Harry Osborn killed Gwen Stacy because the Goblin’s motives shifted from wannabe crime boss to deranged obsessed lunatic about the time that Harry entered college, and Ben assumed that at this time Harry took over the role. The fact that Spider-Man insists that it was Norman Osborn who killed Gwen Stacy, and the fact that Spider-Man appears to know, but refuses to identify, the key event that finally drove Norman Osborn off the cliff sends Ben on a course of speculation that he resists stating "I have a suspicion where it would lead - I don't need any more stories I’ll never write - let the man keep his secrets." It’s also curious that while Ben Urich interviews everyone close to the Osborns – he never interviews the late Harry’s best friend – Peter Parker - although I think the latter was just carelessness on the writer's part.

Sadly, when Spider-Man confronts Ben about knowing his identity – Ben offers none of this up – only the stuff from recent (Bendisized) Marvel history – that Ben became suspicious when Peter essentially admitted that he knew that Matt Murdock was Daredevil (although the fact that this automatically clicked in Ben’s head meant that he probably was developing a line of thought towards that very conclusion anyway). It's also hard to believe that Urich didn’t know that Gwen and Peter were an item (which appears to be the case in this story), considering all of his prior investigations into Peter's background and Gwen's death. An inexplicable and inexcusable slip-up.

Of course the question remains – why has Joe Robertson, who probably knows that Peter is Spider-Man - not breached the wall - when there have been plenty of desperate times that he could have done so? What is difference between Ben and Robbie? Well, primarily because Robbie is in a position of authority at the Bugle, unlike Ben. Robbie is largely the one who has handed out photo assignments to Peter, and processed his vouchers for payment. To suspect that Peter is Spider-Man is one thing – to know and admit that Peter is Spider-Man - well, that would be a breach of Robbie's journalistic ethics. He could in good conscience no longer work at the Bugle as long as Peter was there if he ever admitted to Peter that he knew or even suspected that he was Spider-Man. This topic is particular is too involved for the matter at hand right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if Robbie has a sealed letter to Peter in a safe deposit box somewhere to be opened in the event of his death - that tells Peter everything.

What was That Goofy Crap Norman was Saying at the end?
You know, when Norman was with his lawyer in the limo, and while the lawyer is trying to talk some sense into him, Norman is staring out into space saying, "It will burn off their clothes and sear their flesh and they will scream. I will hear those screams. Gwen Stacy knew this."

I have no bloody idea what he was talking about. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I’m not the most well read person on the planet, but considering that I poked fun at the name "Sin Eater," (the killer of police captain Jean DeWolffe) only to find out that it was a legitimate cultural reference, I’m hesitant to jump all over this. Still, I haven’t heard any interpretation of it from Bendis or anyone else, so I’m afraid that it was just made up – which is a shame. If it really meant something, then it would be an interesting insight into how Norman’s brain works – but it looks like it was just dialogue stuck in there to make Norman seem even crazier.

But it’s interesting that of all of the people whom Norman has killed over the years, it is interesting that he specifically mentions Gwen Stacy. When Spider-Man and the Green Goblin met in what was at that time their final battle in Amazing Spider-Man #122, Norman would have had us believe that to him, Gwen was totally insignificant, as he mentioned "What is the life of a useless, simpering girl?" Some may think that Norman's rantings in the limo was an oblique reference to the events of "Sins Past," which chronologically takes place after not only this story, but also the Marvel Knights Spider-Man epic – but I don't think so. But something about Gwen’s death has stuck with Norman. For example, in the alternative universe Earth X series, which begins with Norman Osborn as President of the United States, the chief villain of the piece, a young man with powerful telekinetic powers, known only as "The Skull" is making his way to New York to overthrow Osborn. The Skull is accompanied by a creature called the "Spiders-Man," who looks like a combination of Spidey and the Lizard and has the power to cast illusions. When the Skull confronts Osborn, the Spiders-Man casts an illusion to confuse and distract Osborn – and this illusion is Gwen Stacy confronting him at the infamous bridge. "Gwen" then shoves Osborn through a window, and he falls to his death. Why would Osborn seemingly be haunted by the memory of Gwen Stacy?

I really don’t believe that Osborn had any residual feelings for Gwen, despite their brief dalliance. I think that was truly an accident that occurred between two people who knew each other, who were very vulnerable for different reasons, and who had just had a highly emotional shared experience. Whatever Gwen might have done for him that day, whomever she might have reminded him of at that time (I suspect that Gwen reminded Norman of his wife, Emily), he was long past that point. However, for years prior to the death of Gwen, Osborn shifted back and forth between his alter ego and the Green Goblin, each time forgetting the other identity. After the death of Gwen, however, Norman never again lost his memory, which he seemed to do repeatedly when exposed to physical or emotional traumas up to that time. He subsequently has taken a glider to the chest in Amazing #122, crashed and burned after being hit with a bag of exploding pumpkin bombs in Peter Parker #75, went completely whacko after the "Gathering of Five" ceremony, and got clobbered by both Cage and Spidey (the latter nailing him with a mail box in MK Spidey #1). Each of these incidents in the past would have been enough to induce Norman’s amnesia again – but they didn't. I'm not sure where I'm going with this.

It is interesting, though, that the death of Gwen Stacy, not only was a turning point for Peter Parker, but also appears to have been a turning point for Norman Osborn as well. On the surface, we can just say that it permanently upped the ante between himself and Spider-Man, turning their relationship into something deadlier and sicker than simply superhero vs. supervillain, but I'll have to meditate on that one a little longer. Plus, I'm running out of gas and you're running out of patience.

Conclusion
This could have been a great story, a character study inside the mind of Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, and of the forces that contributed to his own self-destruction – but it got lost because of Bendis’ predilection to play with his favorite characters – such as Luke Cage and his own creation, Jessica Jones. Of course, The Pulse is essentially a continuation of his Alias series, so no, it is not going to be about Spider-Man. But this is one of the more significant stories in Spider-Man history – the exposure of his deadliest foe – the thing that Spider-Man was terrified of doing himself because of the potential repercussions to him and his family. However, this is merely a subplot in a larger story that is about neither Spider-Man nor Norman Osborn. They are only supporting players in one of their most important stories! It therefore should have been told in one of the regular Spider-Man titles.

I do like a lot of Bendis' stuff (I think his run on Daredevil has been great), but simply can’t believe that after all of this time, and after all of the grief and misery that Osborn caused Spider-Man, that he would allow anyone to take Norman down except Peter. But that’s exactly how Bendis was going to end it – with Cage pounding Norman into submission and Spidey standing there like a frightened schoolgirl with his hand over his mouth aghast at Cage’s "outburst." See? That's exactly what happened. Damn piece of shit is what this is. You would think at the very least that Spider-Man would have appeared secretly thrilled that someone with even fewer moral compunctions than himself and whom Osborn couldn’t hurt (by revealing his i.d., for example) was beating Osborn to within an inch of his life. However, Mark Millar sort of came to the rescue on this one – since his Marvel Knights Spider-Man story started out with the Green Goblin – there had to be a reconciling moment where Osborn apparently got away from Cage and then resumed his battle with Spider-Man. However, when you read this story, it’s clear that Osborn’s escape was just "tacked on."

And while I could understand how Norman could have been reckless and careless enough to get caught (I just spent the whole article talking about it), it didn’t quite make sense why he didn’t sit back and let his high priced legal staff try to get his ass out of trouble. You could say that Cage forced his hand by attacking him – but Norman knows Spider-Man well enough, considering how well he has played him all of these years, that he would know that Spider-Man would be there, and would know that Spidey would have (or should have) stopped Cage from doing too much damage to him (besides, there is that awesome healing factor of his). Besides - why would Spider-Man even let Cage get this close to Norman. If I were Spidey, I would have told Cage "Back off! Regardless of what he's done to you - you have no f*****g idea what this sonofabitch has done to me - what he's taken from me. And that means that if anyone beats him to a pulp - it's me!" And then maybe Cage could simply have clocked Spidey into Brooklyn and resumed pounding on Norman - but at least that would have made sense in the context of what has gone before and consistent with Spider-Man's character.

But no, he just stands there like a little pussy.

Ultimately, as we know now, Osborn gets away again and has disappeared for parts unknown for the time being – hopefully for a long while. But, frankly, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a "Trial of the Green Goblin," story arc, watching as Norman and his lawyers spun web after web of deception, scaring Peter that he might very well beat the rap again.

Now, my gripes don't mean that taken objectively, this wasn't a good story in some respects. It's cool as we watch the web begin to tighten around Norman, and it was frustrating that this mag went bi-monthly, forcing us to wait even longer for the story to be resolved. Bendis gives us a great characterization of J. Jonah Jameson - the man who blisters Terri Kidder's ass for coming up with a lame story idea one day - and the next is so emotionally devastated upon hearing of her murder that he has to have Joe Robertson make the announcement to the rest of the staff. Unlike many other writers, I think Bendis actually understands just what a complex character that J. Jonah Jameson is - and refuses to treat him as the one-dimensional loon that so many other writers do as they crank him up for another anti-Spider-Man campaign. Plus, Bendis and artist Mark Bagley give us a marvelous creepy Norman Osborn scene - as we watch Norman process Kidder's question about the missing employees at Oscorp - and then literally turn into the Green Goblin (sans costume) right before our eyes - going from calm and distinguished corporate magnate to psychopathic murderer with no dialogue necessary.

Another couple of parts and some more judicious editing and refocusing of the primary conflict - it could have been a classic. As it is, it's a frustrating "coulda woulda shoulda" been.


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Copyright © 1998-2007 by J.R. Fettinger. All rights reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.