Harry Osborn
The Goblin Prince
Part 1
Goblin Genesis

The majority of this series was written before Harry Osborn’s “return from the dead” in the pages of Brand New Day, so bear with me in the face of contradictions and potentially obsolete information. Most of what is presented in this series shouldn’t change much, except for the obvious references to Harry’s death in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. So, without further ado…

Harry Osborn's life was complex and contradictory. He was the best friend (of his own age) that Peter Parker ever had. He also became his worst enemy. He once believed that only by killing Peter could he be at peace - yet his final act before his death was saving Peter's life. He wanted to be the man his father was, yet his father was a sociopathic murderer. He overlooked his wife and son's unconditional love in an obsessive quest for his father's never realizing that the man from whom he sought it was incapable of giving. All he really wanted was to be a good son, a good husband, and a good father. But he could not escape his destiny.

Spider-Man's history is one of great triumphs and sometimes even greater tragedies. The life of Harry Osborn covers that entire spectrum. Considering his controversial “return from the dead,” in the wake of Brand New Day, this seems as opportune a time as any to examine the life and times of one Harold Norman Osborn.

If the Legacy of the Green Goblin is a three-act play, Harry's story is the entire second act (with the first being Norman Osborn's first run as the Goblin up until his "death" in Amazing Spider-Man #122, and the third his return in the post-Clone Saga era, beginning in Peter Parker #75. And while this series is about Harry Osborn, it is also about fathers and sons and the maddening things they do to each other and treat each other - all in the name of love - which means we're going to talk a lot about Norman Osborn as well. The father/son relationship is probably one that women are clueless about considering how little they seem to understand men. But then again, we don't understand them either or their love/hate relationships with their own mothers. Hey, I've been married almost 20 years and have a daughter -I've earned the right to say that. My son and I head into the basement to hide when mother and daughter go at it - we just know better than to try to introduce rationality into their discussions.

The questions (in no particular order here or throughout the series) we hope to answer in this series are as follows:

The "Origin" of Harry Osborn
Well, first there was Mr. and Mrs. Osborn, a bottle of wine, a lack of protection, and the back seat of a Chrysler LeBaron....

There are two stories from Spider-Man history that we must begin with to examine the events that shaped Harry Osborn - Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 (1994), plotted by JM DeMatteis and Tom Lyle, and written by Ann Nocenti and D. Blaise (this many cooks means the story must have had serious problems), and the Revenge of the Green Goblin miniseries (2000), written by Roger Stern. The Spectacular story is from Harry's perspective and Revenge of the Green Goblin is from Norman's. Placed side by side, they appear to be contradictory tales (which in reality, they are, but where would the fun be to simply leave it at that?), particularly concerning the time and circumstances surrounding Harry's mother's death and the origin of the original Green Goblin. However, taking that old MadGoblin spin, where nothing is contradictory and everything is part of a vast, cohesive tapestry, we can see that these stories actually compliment each other and give us a weird, almost Rashomon-like tale from two different psychotics who have altered reality to accommodate their individually distorted perceptions of the events of their lives.

DeMatteis, with his penchant for psychological tales, was one of the most significant contributors to what we know about the Osborn Legacy, and the relationship between Harry and his father. During his watch on Spectacular Spider-Man, we saw Norman's ghost torment Harry (more than likely the inspiration for that scene near the end of Spider-Man 2 when Harry sees Norman talking to him in the mirror), get our first look at Harry's mother (although we really learn nothing about her at that time), watch as Harry slowly goes mad, and finally obtains the Goblin powers that poisoned and killed him. In Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14, we even get a look into the factors that shaped the psychosis of Norman Osborn. This story occurs after Harry's death, with Peter Parker still grappling with his conflicting emotions on the matter (glad that the Green Goblin is dead, or sad that his best friend is?), and whether or not he owes Harry's widow Liz, and his son, Normie anything. Liz, whom Peter has known since high school, is desperately reaching out to him, but Peter, smarting over Harry's last vicious turn as the Goblin, and unable to punish Harry for his own actions, seems determined to exact his vengeance from his surviving family. During some routine webslinging, Spider-Man happens upon an old, abandoned Oscorp building. Knowing that the Osborns are famous for maintaining hideouts throughout the city, Spidey scours the place to see what Harry has left behind, and gets more than he bargained for. An aggressive computer literally attacks Spider-Man with tentacles that implant Harry's recorded memories (as he perceives them) into Pete's brain (which is why we see a small Peter Parker standing in place of young Harry Osborn as the memories play out). Peter essentially travels back in time over four decades where he sees a financially ruined Amberson Osborn abusing his wife and young son, Norman, during a paranoid ranting about how his enemies have stolen from him and destroyed him. In this brief scene, we can see three key factors that set the future course of Norman's (and ultimately Harry's) life:

A frightened and angry Norman Osborn rushes out of the house, and is greeted by the family dog. Unlike most children, who might clutch the animal and sob into its fur, Norman turns on it and clubs it to death in a gruesome attempt to work out his pain and rage, and then burns the corpse as his survival of the fittest mentality takes hold. It's a sick and disturbing moment, but illustrates the first steps of Norman's decline into madness. Animal cruelty is considered one of the early signs of a budding serial killer and psychopathic personality.

But Amberson Osborn isn't done torturing his young son. After the family home is foreclosed upon and the Osborn family evicted, Amberson forces Norman to spend the night in the abandoned house (see Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 #25 and Peter Parker volume 2 #25 (January 2001). Tormented by his own personal demons and fears, as well as his family's failures, young Norman spends a terrifying night in hell. By the time the morning rolls around, the damage is complete, and perhaps it is at this time that the Green Goblin is truly born.

However, the murderous legacy of the Green Goblin could still apparently have been averted, as one woman held the destiny of the Osborn family in her hands. As we learned in the miniseries Revenge of the Green Goblin, interwoven with my own speculations in the article Goblin Love, the future Emily Osborn met the troubled young Norman in college. She must have been a remarkable young woman, for she was able to fill the tremendous void that existed in Norman's life, and obscure some of the anger and hatred he felt towards women. She took to this brooding, emotionally distant, yet intellectual powerhouse with tremendous potential and he fell completely under her spell, treating her as he treated no other - as his equal.

Another one of Norman's most important future relationships was also established in college. According to Tom DeFalco's book Spider-Man - The Ultimate Guide, Norman studied chemistry and electrical engineering (and no doubt business administration) in college and one of his professors was none other than Mendel Stromm. Stromm's forte was robotics and artificial intelligence, and it's likely that Stromm was probably no more than 10 years older than Norman (I base this on the fact that Norman is currently in his mid fifties (per Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12), and from what we've seen of Stromm, while older, he seems to be a contemporary of Norman's). With a mutual passion for the sciences, and each excelling in different areas, their relationship soon evolved beyond Professor and student - and Stromm and Osborn became close friends.

While other young men were bonding at fraternity parties and watering holes, Osborn and Stromm probably spent long hours at the science building arguing over scientific philosophies and formulas, each madly scribbling on the chalkboard pushing his own pet theories and lamblasting the other's, and having the time of their lives while doing it. I can see Emily storming into the science building on a late Friday or Saturday night because Norman has absent-mindedly forgotten a date while either debating Stromm or working on one of his own elaborate experiments. However, Norman's primary goal is to achieve wealth, power, and rebuild the Osborn financial empire and return credibility to the family name. He realizes he can't do that by working for someone else and needs to strike out on his own. Between he and Stromm, the two have expertise in several scientific disciplines, boosted by Norman's keen business sense and competitive spirit. Stromm will spend most of his time on the science side, working with Norman, but leaving most of the business negotiations and financial wrangling to Osborn.

After college Norman and Emily marry. So now, Norman is getting his life together and has most of the elements in place to launch himself - a good woman at his side, a close friend and partner, and a business of his own. Only one thing is now missing: a son. It's important to realize just how desperate Norman was for a male heir. Norman was actually born a blue blood, as his great grandfather, Alton Osborn, was an industrialist in the mold of Carnegie and Rockefeller, and was probably a contemporary of those legendary business giants (see Revenge of the Green Goblin #1). Each succeeding Osborn had a first-born male heir to take over the family business, which worked for generations until Norman's father destroyed the empire through mismanagement and alcohol dependence. The latter clearly fed Norman's disdain for people with chemical dependency issues, such as Flash Thompson, and his own son. It isn't just coincidence that Norman cripples Flash (see Peter Parker: Spider-Man #4X) first by force feeding alcohol down his throat and getting him intoxicated, calling him a freak. Norman's perspective was also molded by paternal chauvinistic thinking, and he himself had to have a first-born male heir to assume the new Osborn Empire that he was rebuilding. Another factor in Norman's desire to have a son as soon as possible was that he was also desperate to create a father-son relationship to supplant the failed one he had with his own father. Only this time, by god, it was going to be done right.

But Norman was running into a problem: money. He didn't have enough. While he probably earned a full ride science scholarship to ESU, like another young man who would follow him years later, and worked throughout college, it still was not enough to give him and Stromm the capital they needed. And the Osborn name was now mud with the bankers and venture capitalists due to the crash of the empire and the busted debts it left along the way - debts that Norman had determined he was going to finish paying one way or the other. And once he had done that - he was going to exact revenge on each and every institution and mogul that turned him down for financing. Norman, being the big he-man that he perceived himself to be, preferred that Emily not work, but stay home and make babies. Yet their financial situation did not allow it. Emily had to work to meet their personal living expenses, which elevated Norman's love and respect for her. She was willing to sacrifice whatever dreams and ambitions she had once had on her own in order to make his dreams come true. As a result, Norman allowed her to wield an amount of influence over him that no other human being would ever be allowed to have. Because, you see, Norman Osborn is still an angry, mentally ill young man forever scarred by his upbringing and his own personal demons. Emily is smart enough not to be fooled into thinking that Norman will be all right without professional help, as he still has the frightening mood swings and a violent temperament that causes people to literally cower in his presence, and more than once she probably had to restrain him from literally beating the crap out of someone who had ticked him off. Another one of Emily's virtues is that she also provides Norman with the mothering that he never really received from his own mother - who had been broken both physically and emotionally by his violent, abusive father and was unable to stand up to Amberson or protect Norman, and ultimately died young. Perhaps this is also what drew Emily to Norman, the challenge of nurturing the angry, scared child within the brilliant scientist and businessman. Prodded by Emily, Norman even agrees to take medications and seek counseling to moderate his psychological disorders. At work, Stromm is amazed, and probably even a little appalled to notice how quickly and effectively a visit or phone call from Emily (which Norman always takes) defuses many an Osborn tantrum. In this context, it is very easy to see how Norman could have fallen so quickly and so hard for his nurse, Kolina, in Revenge of the Green Goblin. We can only speculate what Emily's occupation was, but if she was a nurse, for example, then the situation in that story arc becomes even more eerily similar. So, the Osborns are struggling, but their future is bright. And then something happens that throws the stability they have achieved right out the window: Emily becomes pregnant, which turns into a good news/bad news situation for the Osborns.

How old was Norman when Emily became pregnant? Not too old. In Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12, we learn that Norman is 55 years old. Since Harry and Peter were college freshman the same year, we can safely assume that the two were the same age. In Spider-Man 101 Part 6 I speculated that Peter is 30 years old (most other conjecture places him at 28 or 29). Therefore, Norman was probably 24 or younger when Emily becomes pregnant. That may not be too young to some people (and my father was even younger), but considering that my own children were born when I was 31 and 38, respectively, 24 or 25 is still pretty young. What that means is that Norman has not had a whole lot of time to get his business firmly established. It is curious that Norman didn't wait until he had "made it" before he decided to have a family, since some people (such as myself) delude themselves into thinking that they'll have kids when they're ready and can afford them. This is a joke, as you eventually realize that that moment never truly comes so you might as well go ahead and do it before you get too old. But such is Norman's zeal for a son.

The name was probably picked out early: Harold Norman Osborn. "Harry" was more than likely a name from Emily's side of the family, another indication of her influence, since there's probably little doubt that Norman originally pushed for Norman Amberson Osborn III, but agreed to a compromise with Emily. She may not have had to argue very hard, since Norman's contempt for his father didn't give him a particularly strong desire to carry on that name. Once Emily became pregnant, Norman the obsessive planner probably had mapped out Harry's entire life from cradle to grave, and really stepped it up into high gear once the ultrasounds showed that the baby was going to be a boy. I can see Norman excitedly showing Emily his "master plan" for his son, such as (1) where he would go to school (2) what subjects he should take (3) what extra-curricular activities he would be involved in (4) when he would begin working in the family business, how he would work his way up to the top and when he would succeed the old man and (5) even the type of girl he should date and marry. If you think (5) is a stretch, all you have to do is review Spider-Girl where Fury, the Goblin Queen details Norman's matchmaking plans for his grandson, with little Norman to marry the daughter of one of his Scrier cronies.

But here's the bad news: it becomes apparent early on that this is going to be a very difficult pregnancy, with Emily bedridden for much of it. She is unable to work, and had not worked long enough to qualify for some of the major health benefits, combined with the fact that self-employed business people have little or no health insurance. So, the medical expenses are beginning to mount, and Norman and Stromm still haven't gotten their big break.

And it gets worse from there...for many of Norman's plans have rested upon the shoulders of one very fragile woman....

Did Harry Cause his Mother's Death?
And now we come to the first of two apparently major contradictions between the recollections of Harry and Norman Osborn. The first of the contradictions involves the circumstances surrounding the death of Emily Osborn. In Revenge of the Green Goblin, as Norman tells the story, Harry is but a baby when Emily dies, and it is giving birth to Harry that kills Emily. And here, perhaps more so than any other time we grasp the magnitude of Norman's loss. He explicitly states "not even a male heir was worth the loss of the finest woman I have ever known." Whoa. That seems a little harsh, even given Norman's flare for the dramatic, but as we noted earlier, Emily was much more to Norman than simply his wife and a vessel to give birth to his heirs. Emily loved Norman when no one else did, when he had no parents, no friends, no money, and the tainted legacy of a failed financial empire. She helped him deal with some of the emotional scars of his youth, forced him to seek help for his psychological problems, financially supported him as he was trying to get his fledgling business started with Stromm, gave him the son and heir he always wanted, and the new beginning to his life that he craved. When you run through the list of deaths that have resulted in turning points in the Spider-Man mythos - this one ranks right up there - even though it was an "off-panel" death. Had Emily Osborn lived, there's a good chance there would have been no Green Goblin. That's not to say that Norman Osborn still wouldn't have built a criminal empire - because in no situation do I ever see Norman being a truly good man. Even under the best of circumstances, I see Norman being an imperial presence, a Kingpin of sorts, presiding with an iron first over something - just not necessarily a madman with an affectation for green and purple chain mail tossing pumpkin bombs.

Norman also tells Peter, in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #40 that Harry's mother died when he was a baby. However, based on Harry's recollections in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14, he doesn't appear to be a baby, but a young boy of anywhere from 5-8 years old at the time of Emily's death. He clearly remembers how shattered his father was, and how even the mention of her name threw him into violent fits of rage. In Spectacular Spider-Man #180, he remembers his family as happy at one time. He is looking through a photo album which includes pictures of a smiling Mrs. Osborn in the park and at the fair with her baby boy. So whose recollections are the correct ones if any? Well, they're both right to a degree, with Harry's version of the events more closely approximating reality than Norman's, which really shouldn't surprise anyone. A clear example of how Norman distorts history can be seen in Peter Parker volume 2 #44 (July 2002), the first part of Paul Jenkins' stunning "Death in the Family" story (one of the top Green Goblin stories ever told). While visiting Harry's grave and "talking" to him, Norman tells Harry that he died of a drug overdose "just to spite him." Of course, we know better than that; and actually, so does Norman. We know that Harry died from the toxicity of the enhanced Goblin formula; something even Norman admits to in The Osborn Journals.

The truth of the matter is that strict adherence to continuity was never one of Jenkins' strengths, but we can bend things a bit to make everything seem logical and coherent. As time passed, Norman conveniently altered the facts to fit his distorted worldview. After all, he continued to blame Peter for Harry's death, even telling Mac Gargan that Peter killed Harry. He blames Liz Allen for enabling Harry's weaknesses, coddling him, preventing him from becoming a man. As paranoid as Norman is, not only can he not accept any responsibility for his own actions, such as his poor parenting, but neither can the control freak in him accept that sometimes bad crap just happens. And that may very well have been what happened to Emily. For the longest time, due to the vagueness surrounding the circumstances of his wife's death, I surmised that Norman actually killed her, either in a fit of rage, or by accident, such as being careless in an automobile accident (just as an example). I never believed that the actual explosion that gave Norman super powers caused his insanity, which has often been assumed since the beginning. Not that a brain injury couldn't drive a person insane - because it can - but the explosion causing Norman's insanity was 1960's comic book science, just like getting super powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider. It was a convenient excuse for Stan Lee to avoid the reality of dealing with someone with the dangerous knowledge that Norman had - that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Clearly, Spider-Man could not kill the Goblin - nor could Stan likely envision Norman going to jail and staying quiet about what he knew (that took almost 40 years, Brian Bendis, and Mark Millar to tell that story). Plus, in the old days of the comic book code, good always had to overcome evil, and you just couldn't end the story with Peter letting Norman walk away (that also took 40 years and Paul Jenkins to tell that story) without being punished for his crimes. That was unthinkable. But if it turned out that Norman wasn't really responsible for his career as the Green Goblin - if it had been all the fault of that darned explosion, and that he really wasn't a bad guy when he had amnesia and didn't remember being the Goblin - it becomes more acceptable.

But, since I never bought that theory, I had to come up with another one for why Norman went irrevocably insane. And there's been too much written about Norman over the years that clearly demonstrates that he was on the path of criminal, if not highly questionable ethical behavior, well before the Goblin formula exploded all over him. Anyway, under my old theory, Norman would have transferred the blame for Emily's death to Harry because he could not accept his own role in whatever caused her death. However, as time passes, I have amended that viewpoint due to a couple of things we learned during Mark Millar's run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man.

I believe that Harry's birth did not directly kill Emily, but it made her quite ill (explaining Norman's presence at her bedside holding an infant Harry). Emily's health could have always been at such a precarious state that her doctors told her that any pregnancy would be high-risk, one that could have potentially fatal implications for both her and her unborn child. God forbid that I admit I ever saw this movie, but I was in college with little money, less sense, and nothing better to do, so I went to the movies with friends and saw one of those awful, male-hating, emasculating chick flicks where all the women are good and wise and all of the men are either evil, philanderers, ineffectual buffoons, or outright idiots Steel Magnolias. Julia Robert's character had a severe case of diabetes, was warned about having child, had one anyway, and subsequently went into renal failure that a subsequent kidney transfer failed to alleviate. Thus, Emily could have survived for a few years after Harry's birth, but lived in constant pain and difficulty, and still died as a result of complications brought on by the childbirth. Norman's subsequent feelings of "responsibility" could have had two very discernible reasons:

Remember in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12 when Peter and Norman are exchanging insults over how neither one did what they should have with their genius? Peter stated "You could have cured cancer by now if you hadn't wasted your time with this Green Goblin crap!" And Norman's response:

"I don't give a rat's ass."

This also puts another later action of Norman's into a different and now more fathomable light. In Marvel Knights Spider-Man #6, Peter comes to him under the delusion that Norman was actually going to help him find some insight into the person who kidnapped Aunt May (before finding out that Norman was actually behind it). Rather than merely telling him to go screw himself, he tells Spider-Man the story of the prison guard's wife. While in prison, one of the guards came to him, and described his wife's medical condition, a condition which physicians couldn't seem to properly diagnose. He hoped that Norman, being a bioengineering genius, might be able to come up with an answer. And of course, Norman did correctly diagnosis the wife's illness; except he had no intention of helping her. Rather than give the couple the means to arrest and cure the problem, Norman misdirects them, cruelly providing them with false hope. The wife's condition temporarily improves, but then takes a turn for the worse, and she lapses into a coma and dies. Because you see, when Norman Osborn lost the woman he loved, the rest of the world could go to hell for all he cared. Everyone else could suffer like he suffered. If he was to be denied the life and the woman that he wanted and needed - then no one had the right to that kind of life. Even the murder of Gwen Stacy, the woman Peter Parker loved, takes on a different meaning when looked at through this prism. After Emily's death Norman's and Stromm's research took a decided turn, from humanitarian purposes, to instruments of chaos and destruction.

But that wouldn't have been the only thing that affected the focus of Oscorp. Emily's years of poor health and constant medical attention further exacerbated Norman's financial problems, as well as the expense of providing round the clock attention and care for Harry, since Norman was too busy and Emily, with rare exceptions, too weak. Can you imagine Norman Osborn changing diapers, or trying to potty-train his son? It seems funny, but it's actually rather tragic. Norman Osborn, the master planner, had no contingency plan for this turn of events. Emily was always going to raise Harry, and then essentially turn him over to Norman when he became old enough to become involved in the family business. More reasons for Norman to blame Harry for the negative turns his life was taking. There was increasing interest in Norman's and Stromm's work from financiers, but their price was always the same - they wanted a piece of the action - either a formal partnership with Oscorp or a healthy share of the royalties. That's how business is done in America.

But that's not how Norman Osborn wanted to do business. He remembered the day his father came home and took out his business failures on the family in a wave of physical and emotional terror, how he sobbed at his wife's feet about how he had been cheated and robbed, his inventions stolen from him. No - Norman remembered - and there was no way he was going to let anyone take any part of his company from him. This created increasing tension between Osborn and Stromm, the latter with financial problems of his own, and desperately wanting to take the best capital injection deal out there, or just sell the company altogether. Stromm was aware that the military was interested in some of Oscorp's discoveries for military applications, but the government was reluctant to deal with a company that had a predecessor with a tattered financial reputation, was unable to obtain support and capital injections within the business community, and had a CEO that was becoming increasingly difficult. Stromm wasn't the only one to notice that after Emily's death, Norman was becoming increasingly irrational, paranoid, and violent, and so he began to conduct research on his own to enable him to break away from Osborn, but using Oscorp facilities and even Oscorp funds. He would pay Norman back when he was able - but for now everything hinged on Norman remaining clueless about what Stromm was doing.


Norman knew. So now, he had not only been betrayed by his best friend, but he was also being blackballed by his peers in the business community whose offers he had spurned. In retaliation, they turned others against him so that Osborn had no where to go. They hoped this would bring Osborn to his knees, bankrupt him again, and allow them to swoop in and pick up his inventions and patents for a song. And Norman remembered all of their names, recording them in his journals, as well as detailed plans of revenge that he would pursue once he had the means. His journals included all sorts of sordid information that he had picked up throughout the years, knowledge of bribes and other criminal behavior, and personal indiscretions as well. Years later, the HobGoblin would use the information in these journals to blackmail Norman's former country club members. However, he was reluctant to part company with Stromm at this time, for Mendel was a valuable intellectual resource who could not be easily replaced.

And then - a miracle happened.

If you read Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9, you remember that during World War II, groups of superhumans, including Captain America, had been essential in turning the tide against the Germans and the Japanese. But once the war was over, these "superheroes" began to turn their attention to domestic rather than international bad guys. Common criminals and Mafia hoodlums would be no match for super powered beings who could not be done in by conventional bullets and other weapons. Before long, with crime largely eradicated - the superhumans would look for other avenues of injustice to fight - which would bring them into the business and political arenas

This would not do.

A group of select businessmen were willing to look beyond profit and see that action needed to be taken to prevent vast changes in the social order - an order which they currently dominated. For lack of a better term, I called them the Businessmans' Secret Cabal (BSC for short, just to keep further references quick), and they approached Osborn (and others in various industries) with a proposition. We don't want your patents or your company, but we do want you to create a product for us, a product that will make use of your various gadgets and toys and weapons - the "super"villain.

The BSC wasn't particularly interested in using rocket scientists or ambitious criminals as their tools. In fact, the dumber the better. They just needed Osborn and the others to create enough straw men to keep the superheroes busy, give them enough of a challenge to keep their attentions focused on crime in the streets rather than the backrooms. They gave Osborn enough cash and connections to ensure his success in obtaining legitimate contracts with the government and other companies, and he in return gave them the likes of the Scorcher and the Headsman (as we saw in Kurt Busiek's Untold Tales of Spider-Man) - goofballs with gadgets who were just annoying enough to keep the superheroes chasing their tails. However, once you disabled the toys, you disabled the villains, and it became apparent that some of the superheroes had either been born with or accidentally obtained changes in their physiology which gave them natural superpowers. What was needed to counterbalance this was an army of supervillain Captain Americas - chemically created bad guys who would be harder to defeat. Osborn and Stromm set to work on a formula which could be injected into the bloodstream and give the recipient natural superpowers.

By and large, the supervillain program was a success. For every supervillain that Osborn or his counterparts created, it inspired someone else totally unconnected to the BSC to don ridiculous costumes and gadgets simply to keep up - sort of like a supervillains arms race. Osborn was far and away the best of the lot, and he reaped the financial rewards. The rest of the supervillain contractors were happy to cash the BSC's checks and remained unconcerned whether or not their products were capable of actually beating any superheroes.

But not Norman. When a villain got thrashed using Oscorp equipment, Norman took it personally, as if he were being defeated. None of the subjects were smart enough to make full use of his equipment's potential, or to challenge the superheroes intellectually. Norman's prodigious output, which pleased the BSC, was largely due to his frantic attempts to find someone who could actually beat the superheroes, which made it all the more essential that the formula he and Stromm were working on succeeded. There were several failures, but fortunately enough poor, desperate, or otherwise stupid people for Osborn and Stromm to experiment on. However, Osborn found himself needing the services of certain elements in "Waste Management," who were expert in the surreptitious disposal of bodies and toxic chemicals. Norman loathed dealing with these people, particularly since the more he used them, the more vulnerable he became to their blackmail, or of being exposed if they screwed up. Eventually, the only way that Norman saw this arrangement working in the long term was to take control of the mobs himself and turn the relationship around to something that put him in the driver’s seat. However, he couldn't do it as Norman Osborn, rising corporate magnate, and public figure. So, even before the Goblin formula exploded in his face, the seeds of Norman becoming the Green Goblin had already been planted.

Not the All-American Dad
With Emily Osborn dead, many of Norman's painstakingly detailed plans were worthless. He had imagined a future of fame and wealth, with his wife at his side, and his dutiful son learning the business, waiting in the wings to take over the empire. Now, it became even more imperative that his son faithfully follow the script that his father laid out for him.

But that didn't happen. Rather than move in perfect lockstep with his father's wishes, poor Harry, like any other child, started to develop his own personality, and his own set of needs and wants.

This did not meet with Norman's approval.

Like many parents who aren't psychotics, Norman confuses providing love with providing financial security. It's also one of the most frequent charges (among leaving the toilet seat up) against husbands by their wives. He buys Harry a bicycle, but doesn't spend any time helping him to learn how to ride it. He takes him to baseball games, but doesn't bother to discuss baseball with him. When Harry isn't a good boy, Norman strikes at him and screams, calling him names and denigrating his self-worth and self-confidence. When Harry breaks down in tears at his father's abuse, Norman responds by calling him a "little girl" and a "faggot" (Norman is certainly not politically correct) and tells him to be a man. Sometimes, Norman realizes the horror of what he is doing, how he is becoming the monster that he always perceived his father to be. He promises Harry he won't do it again, buys him stuff to make him feel temporarily better - but before long he settles into the familiar routine of anger and abuse, and is less and less sorry and apologetic as time goes on. After awhile, it simply becomes Harry's own damn fault that he needs a thrashing every now and then. But once upon a time Norman Osborn himself was a sensitive child, one who wanted to be a writer, one who read comic books and science fiction novels (see Peter Parker #96) who cried at his father's abuse and who begged and pleaded with his father not to lock him in that cold and abandoned house. Beyond the fact that Norman is not adequately equipped to raise a child, and doesn't have the time to give Harry the love and attention he needs, Harry commits another terrible sin in Norman's eyes - he all too uncomfortably reminds himself of the child he had been - a scared, weak, and powerless child. And that Norman can not deal with.

History was repeating itself.

Now that we're a few years along, we can focus more on Harry and less on his old man.

Growing up, Harry Osborn is a lonely young man on the brink of trouble. His loving mother dying when he was young leaves him to be raised by an abusive, emotionally distant, increasingly psychotic father. Perhaps it is fortunate for Harry that Norman has become so obsessed with his growing business and hunger for wealth (and his growing role in the Businessmans' Secret Cabal) because that means the less time Harry has to spend in this nutcase's company. But Harry doesn't see it that way. He wants an attentive father and is growing increasingly resentful that he isn't getting one, particularly when at school he hears stories of other dads doing cool things with their sons, like riding bikes, shooting hoops, and playing on swing sets.

With Emily gone, Norman has to make arrangements for Harry's care, which also promotes seething resentment in Norman. His plans for a family were based on Emily staying home and raising the children, allowing him the freedom to pursue his goals. Now he must make arrangements for someone else to do so full time, and that costs money, money which Norman didn't have due to the start up costs of his business and the costs of Emily's prolonged health problems, at least until the checks from the BSC started to clear. Like so many other professionals, Norman probably used undocumented workers to tend to his house and son. However, working for Norman Osborn in any capacity can't be easy particularly since every time you do something he doesn't like, he threatens to call the INS on you. So, he likely goes through a succession of workers. Between the rotating help and the language barrier, Harry is unable to form a significant bond with any of them, thus becoming increasingly isolated and troublesome. Of course, Norman doesn't want to hear about any of Harry's problems, either from Harry or the help, because he has his own issues to deal with. This is a recipe for a disaster - and that's exactly what happens.

Did Harry create the Green Goblin and is he responsible for Norman's psychosis?
This is the other major contradiction between Harry's recollections and what we know about Green Goblin history. In Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14, Harry would have us believe that out of anger at his father's lack of attention, he meddled with Norman's experimentation with what would eventually become known as the Goblin Formula. Supposedly, it was Harry's tampering that made the chemicals volatile and caused them to explode in Norman's face, dousing him in the formula and giving him the strength and mania of the Green Goblin. I don't believe that's true, since we can easily disprove this by reading Amazing Spider-Man #244 (1983), an early story in the original HobGoblin Saga. Roderick Kingsley's dupe, Lefty Donovan, is seen working from Osborn's own notes on the Goblin formula. The formula subsequently explodes in Donovan's face, just as it did Osborn's, without the intervention of an unhappy schoolchild. It's fairly easy to explain this particular discrepancy. Harry did tamper with the formula when Norman had left the room, but that's not what caused the explosion. More than likely, when Norman came back to his experiment, he realized that something had happened with the chemicals. However, since he had not been there to document exactly when the chemicals began to exhibit a reaction, the experiment was worthless to him. Thus, he discarded it and started over. And of course, history documents what happened later. Unfortunately, Harry was the one who heard the explosion and found his father, burned and almost mortally wounded, and therefore assumed that it was his tampering that had caused the explosion.

The impact of all of this upon Harry for the rest of his life cannot be underestimated. Watching his father, comatose, struggling for his life for the next several weeks must have nearly destroyed him. It isn't easy to see a parent vulnerable and near death, and it had to be worse for Harry considering that he believed himself to be responsible. And then, when Norman awoke from his coma, he seemed different - colder - harder. Again, Harry would have believed himself responsible for the personality change. It has long been taken for granted that the explosion drove Norman insane, but I think what really happened is that once Norman realized the new powers that he had been given, his god complex kicked into overdrive. Now, he really didn't have to play by the same rules as everyone else, and he simply became more openly contemptuous of the rest of humanity, and of his weakling son. This adds weight to why Harry was so devastated over his father's death and why he could never completely reconcile himself to believe the truth about the depth of Norman's evil and depravity, and why he transferred the blame for his father's death and Gwen Stacy's death to Spider-Man. The truth as he saw it could be confided in no one, not his wife, not his best friend, no one but a cold videotape; that he was responsible for the career of the Green Goblin, and for all of the deaths and chaos that the Goblin had wrought upon the lives of so many. Considering how sensitive and nervous Harry was already, we probably can't begin to the magnitude of the burden he carried. What Harry could never really understand, and what took Peter Parker far too many years to comprehend, was that Norman Osborn was who he was. Norman was not a good man gone mad; he was a bad man gone nuts. Yes, there are turning points in Norman's life that influenced the man he was, but it's very likely that Norman would have been a criminal and an evil person no matter WHAT happened to him - he just wouldn't have paraded around the city wearing a tacky costume and tossing pumpkin bombs. Although Emily did have a moderating influence on him, Norman was still obsessed with wealth and power, still a control freak that wasn't happy unless he could exert total control of the world around him, still determined to overcome the black eye that his father's mismanagement had left upon the Osborn name, and nothing would change that. He still would very likely have been approached by the BSC, still would have had to deal with mobsters in disposing of chemical wastes, still found himself competing and mingling with the likes of Justin Hammer, Roderick Kingsley, Wilson Fisk, and others. He would still have been a ruthless businessman, and still would very much have had an ends justify the means philosophy. However, he probably would have been much cooler and saner in going about his business, still a criminal, but without the wild mood swings and dangerous psychosis. But I seriously doubt that anything could have swayed Norman Osborn from his unique destiny. Harry, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. Harry did not have to share the murderous Osborn Legacy, did not have to assume the dementia of the Green Goblin. Harry had enough positive influences in his life that he could have taken control of his own destiny. But he didn't.

Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 is an important story in the legacy of the Green Goblin and our understanding of the Osborns, so for Goblin fans, it's essential. But frankly, for anyone else, it's an utter waste. There are 57 pages of comic story in this annual, but only 32 are Spider-Man. The other 25 pages are WASTED on two totally and completely forgettable stories featuring B-List villain, master assassin The Foreigner and some D-List character called The Shroud in yet another example of Marvel's relentless obsession during the 1990's with saturating the comic buying public with as many characters and titles as possible. It reminded me of the craptacular Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 in which half of the issue was devoted to the origin of the "new" Captain Marvel, another lesser light in the Marvel Universe. Revenge of the Green Goblin is another essential buy for Goblin fans, but even though the author was Roger Stern, creator of the HobGoblin and one of the top writers in Spidey's history, it still seems like it was less than it could have been. But let's change our focus in Harry's life from his father to his other relationships - his friends - including one who turns his life around at least for awhile.

Fast Times at Standard High
Remember in the first Spider-Man film, Norman tells Harry that he got kicked out of every private school "I sent you to?" Movie Harry is clearly a troublemaker, paying no attention to his studies, with little regard for the rules and undoubtedly poor social skills since Norman never really bothered to teach him any. He is an unlikely candidate to even graduate high school, which we learn when Norman tells Harry that by actually graduating "You made it. It's not the first time I've been proven wrong." Norman might not quite mean it like it sounds, but it's clear that he expected Harry to fail, something which isn't lost on the younger Osborn. But what kept Harry from spiraling off into failure and darkness, at least at this time? Clearly, it was his friendship with school nerd Peter Parker, something that Norman is clearly cognizant of when he says "you've been like a brother to Harry." In many ways, Harry and Peter couldn't have been more different, yet also very much alike. They are kindred spirits in their isolation and friendlessness, Peter because he's the nerd and Harry because he's the troublemaking scion of a wealthy man who's always too busy to pay attention to him. Also, with Harry losing his mother and having an absentee father, and Peter having lost both parents, they also have that in common. It's not hard to envision how the first gesture of friendship was made. Peter probably noticed that Harry was seriously struggling with something in chemistry class, and being a pretty decent kid, offered his help. Harry was likely a loner, like Peter, and therefore not part of Flash Thompson's gang of thugs, so Peter wouldn't have had a problem reaching out to him. Either that or they simply drew the short straw as lab partners. Regardless, Harry is struck by Pete's brilliance at making complex scientific concepts understandable, but more importantly, he does it with a complete lack of condescension - something that his equally brilliant father could never have done. You would think that with the brilliant Norman Osborn as his father, science would come second nature to Harry, but it doesn't, probably because every time he asked his father for help, Norman (1) either was too busy or (2) totally frustrated that Harry had difficulty grasping the concepts. With Peter and his best buddy and next door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson, whom Harry starts to develop a fondness for, the younger Osborn begins to have a sense of belonging previously missing in his life, which helps him through those troubled teenage years.

Now let's get back to comic book continuity. Harry is headed down the same troubled path, but this time, there is no Peter Parker to help pick him up because Peter attends Midtown, whereas Harry is enrolled at Standard. So who in Harry's life fills this essential role as best friend? That’s not a very hard one. It's Gwen Stacy. Evidence? In Untold Tales of Spider-Man #8 we see a high school age Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy talking together like they are close friends who have been that way for some time, and this story takes place well before the first appearance of the Green Goblin in the regular continuity.

Before Gwen became bland during the Lee-Romita Sr. years, it's clear that she was a pistol - strong willed, temperamental, and definitely not one to stand by when she sees injustice of any sort (remember in Amazing Spider-Man #70 when she slaps a fellow student who calls Peter a coward). She was probably even that way as a child. One day, a young Gwen Stacy probably noticed that fellow classmate Harry Osborn was being tormented by the usual suspects. She intervenes on Harry's behalf and gives a verbal blistering to the bullies, who skulk away more than a little intimidated by Gwen's intelligence and brashness. And she could probably kick their butts. As she grew older, her looks and her father's position with the New York constabulary gave her considerable social status. And we know that Gwen was no slouch in the scientific department. I suspect she would have pursued a career in forensic science, growing up to become Marg Helgenberger. But, that's a subject for another time. So, with her ability to help Harry with his studies, as well as her social status which allowed her to extend her social acceptance to him, young Mr. Osborn was temporarily diverted from a life of trouble. Temporarily. As we'll find out later, trouble still seemed to find Harry.

Probably around the same time, their respective fathers also met each other's acquaintance. We can figure that once Norman put together a few bucks, he joined a swanky country club, probably the same one his father belonged to, in order to make the necessary business contacts and restore his family's legitimacy. But Norman was an angry young man who deeply resented most of the membership, and everything he learned about them went into his journals for use at a future date. However, I think it's safe to say that while George Stacy apparently had a few bucks (probably due to thrift, shrewd investments, and having his only child later in life) and a few connections, he was a self-made man, certainly not a blue blood in the snobbish sense. He remained a cop, lasting well past the retirement age of most of his peers, and really only semi-retired as he seemed to be constantly on call in one way or another for advice and counsel. So imagine this: George Stacy and J. Jonah Jameson, already friends, are at the golf course and one of their foursome turns up missing. Needing a fourth, they ask Norman Osborn, who's furiously smashing long drives on the driving range. Stacy tells him that Gwen mentioned knowing a Harry Osborn in school, and the rest is history. As we know from Peter Parker Flashback -1, (the negative issues being another Mighty Marvel Goofy Gimmick), Norman Osborn and George Stacy were relatively close friends, with several references made to that fact. George mentions to his brother Arthur that Norman has been to his home (One of the criticisms of "Sins Past" was that a history between Norman and the Stacy family had to be invented to make the story work. Regardless of one's opinion of the tryst that ultimately occurred, there already was a history, and was not invented for that story, nor made up by me). Norman was also close enough to George to hire his troublesome brother Arthur as head of security at Oscorp, when no one else was willing to give him a job because he was a paranoid conspiracy nut. Interestingly enough, in this Flashback issue, Arthur is ranting and raving about mutants and super powered beings among us, which is dismissed by his brother. Looking back, Arthur could have actually been one step ahead of everyone when it came to suspicions about the BSC's supervillain program. The major problem with using Flashback as a source is that while it appears to take place approximately 20 years ago Marvel continuity time, George Stacy is still too young to have aged into the older man that we all recognize from the John Romita, Sr. period.

That George Stacy, Norman Osborn, and J. Jonah Jameson formed a fast friendship really shouldn't surprise too many people, since for all of their personality disparities, they shared one thing in common that was not typical of men of their generation. They were all single parents who had raised, or were raising their children without mothers.

Let's put this in the context of the times the characters were first introduced, the mid 1960's. This would have made Norman and George single fathers in the 1950's and 60's in an age when men were only single parents in the event of the death of or abandonment by the spouse (John Jameson was an adult when we first met him back in Amazing Spider-Man #1, so he was not a contemporary of Harry and Gwen). You didn't see that too often. And fathers almost never got primary custodial rights to children in those days; only if the mother were a lunatic committed to an insane asylum would the father get custody. Even today, it isn't that common, and the three would instantly have had subjects on a personal level to discuss. What's also interesting is that none of these men ever actively pursued a relationship with another woman. We never saw George Stacy with another woman. JJJ was remarried to Marla Madison, but he only initially made her acquaintance when he hired her to build another spider-slayer robot for him back in Amazing Spider-Man #167. Prior to that, he was never seen with another woman. Norman had two other relationships that we know of, Gwen (we won't get into that now) and Kolina, his nurse, in Revenge of the Green Goblin - but those were both times of extreme circumstances and emotional vulnerability (in the first, he thought he was dying and his judgment impaired by extreme headaches; during the latter, he was recovering from a bout of extreme insanity). While the truth of George Stacy's wife and Gwen's mother is currently shrouded in mystery, we can see that both Jonah and Norman were completely smitten with their respective wives. Revenge of the Green Goblin is our source on Norman, and although there are several references to Joan Jameson, JJJ's affection for her is probably best dramatized in Zeb Welles' terrific "Behind the Moustache" in Tangled Web of Spider-Man #20, as well as his grief in being on assignment when she died.

Conversely, Harry and Gwen probably bonded over the fact that each was without a mother, and also that they were the children of accomplished and powerful men, and could share with each other the trials and tribulations that go with being the offspring of such men and the fear of disappointing them. Also, it seems apparent that Gwen was her father's primary caretaker, and as totally devoted as she was to him, she probably didn't get out as often with the other young girls like most girls her age would. So, it's no real stretch of the imagination that they became close friends, probably best friends, although not boyfriend/girlfriend. Harry wasn't Gwen's type. But that's for later. It is interesting that when Harry did get married, to Liz Allan, it was to another blond.

Harry's relationship with Gwen was probably one that had Norman's complete approval and he would have had no objection if it developed into a romantic relationship. Beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed daughter of a prominent New York City authority figure, a man that Norman himself actually liked...sounds like the type of girl Norman would have in mind for Harry. She was clearly capable of keeping him on his toes and shaping him up if the relationship had gone in that direction, although we have no real evidence that Norman was even remotely interested in Harry's personal life or relationships, and the one time Harry did come to him for advice on women Norman threw him out of his office (we'll get to that later as well).

It's somewhat interesting that Harry does not appear to have been particularly close to Captain Stacy, as Peter became. However, although Norman was an absentee father, Harry did have a father, and was focused on winning his respect and affection, so he wasn't really looking for a father-figure substitute.

So with Gwen's help and support, Harry makes it through high school and enrolls at Empire State University. As we discover from Untold Tales of Spider-Man #25, Norman is an alum of ESU, hosts various science fairs, and no doubt contributes a great deal of money (he probably even had his name on a building before being outed as the Green Goblin). So, for the first time in his life, Harry is actually realizing what the Osborn name can do for him. He clearly has more of a swagger when we see him in issue #25 as he offers to show Gwen around campus.

And it isn't long before both Harry and Gwen make the acquaintance of the man who will have the greatest impact on their lives other than their fathers, an acquaintance that will ultimately lead to both of their violent and untimely deaths.

So, with the help of his best buddy Gwen Stacy, Harry makes it through those turbulent high school years. But the ivy towers of Empire State University will be another matter as Gwen's focus is about to shift dramatically from Harry to a new classmate.

The first time that we actually meet Harry in the regular continuity as it originally unfolded was Amazing Spider-Man #31, Peter Parker's first day at college. Harry introduces Gwen to Flash Thompson and the two begin to size each other up immediately. However, the fact that Gwen is being scoped out by an obnoxious, muscular athlete, and doing some gentle flirting of her own in return doesn't seem to bother Harry. No, what really snarks off Harry is Gwen's reaction when Peter Parker walks through the door. Gwen makes the connection between the name and the ESU science scholarship and effusively exclaims "he must be brilliant!" Harry's disposition immediately turns sour and he grumbles "He looks like any other frosh to me." It's interesting that Harry himself looks more like a pencil necked geek than Peter Parker, but he bonds quicker with Flash than Peter. Of course, Harry, who more than likely has had a crush on Gwen all of these years (which we'll discuss in more detail later) has realized over time that hot to trot Gwendolyn likes the smart boys.

I envision that whenever Norman Osborn would visit the Stacy household (and remember, he did per George's own comments in Peter Parker -1 for those of you who think Sins Past invented a relationship between the Stacys and Osborns), Gwen would be insatiably curious and pester Norman with all kinds of questions about science and his business interests. Once back home the older Osborn would probably turn to his son and ask "Harry, why aren't you as interested in these matters as Gwen is? Why aren't you as smart as Gwen? She's a g**-damned girl for Christ's sake, and she runs circles around you!" So, when Gwen begins to gush over another intellect, Harry just doesn't see a potential romantic rival, but some deep personal wounds are re-opened. Naturally, he can't turn on his father (and the one time that he did had disastrous consequences, ala the exploding formula, which he believed that he caused), but this Peter Parker guy? He doesn't look so tough.

So, while Harry is already predisposed not to like Peter from the moment he met him, these feelings are reinforced when Peter, pre-occupied with another one of Aunt May's illnesses (this one the result of his radioactive blood from an earlier transfusion making her sick), appears to blow off their greetings. Peter's standoffishness continues in chem lab, causing Harry to mutter that if there's one thing he doesn't dig, it's a swellhead who thinks he's better'n anyone else. He also notes that he and Flash both hate squares. Harry clearly misses the irony of wearing a bow tie and using terms such as "swellhead," yet calling someone else a square. But, it was the 60's; I guess you hadda be there. Also, does Harry like other kinds of "swellheads," except for swellheads who think they're better than anyone else? Although no dummy, it's likely that Harry wasn't a scholar, so like the rest of the students, he naturally assumed that Peter's cold shoulder had something to do with the fact that he was a scholarship student with a free ride. What's interesting is that the method that Harry chooses to take Peter down a peg involves botching one of his experiments, which just happens to be the way he tried to strike back at his arrogant, indifferent old man, a story which was told years later in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14. O.K., O.K., there's no grand scheme really at work - they're pranks of opportunity. Harry's gonna mess with their experiments much more likely than he's gonna egg their cars or toilet paper their houses, but indulge me. Plus, Harry's actually feeling empowered for once in his life. With a convenient target like Peter Parker that no one likes, and with the beautiful Gwen Stacy as a close friend, he's actually one of the in-crowd. He revels in his newfound power of inclusion and exclusion when he tells Pete that "don't think you can become part of the crowd anytime you feel like it." Of course, what's really at the core of the problem is that Peter Parker reminds Harry of a younger version of his old man. This is hinted at in issue #37, when Gwen, trying to mask her interest in Peter, and growing frustrated with Harry's insecurities that are leading him to constantly rag on Peter, tells him off "oh, you haven't any use for anyone who's smarter than you are, Harry!" Next issue, #38, Harry lets another clue slip by saying "Look at Parker trying to make like a scientist! My old man forgot more about science than he'll ever know!

Speaking of the old man, we first officially meet Norman Osborn in issue #37 (not counting his "face in the crowd" appearances at the Bugle or JJJ's country club in earlier issues). Harry is at Norman's offices surveying the damage done by one of Mendel Stromm's robots (part of Stromm's attempt to square things with Norman for railroading him to jail 10 years ago). Harry shows that all that he really knows about Spider-Man is what he reads in the papers, since he initially thinks Spidey attacked the plant and speculates about the wall-crawler working a protection racket.

And now we come to Amazing Spider-Man #39, where everything changes, particularly the change from Steve Ditko to John Romita, Sr. as artist. Nowadays, a change in artist doesn't really mean as much as it did, unless the artist is "hot" and can boost sales of a title. And even then, the direction of the title won't necessarily change, as it might with a writer. But this was a seismic change. The tone of the entire series shifts from an angry Peter Parker-against-the-world to a more collegial atmosphere with more soap opera elements. When Steve Ditko created the Goblin (I think we can honestly say that Ditko created the Goblin. Stan came up with the name, but it was Ditko who made him a costumed crime lord wannabe rather than the evil spirit Stan had originally conceived), neither Norman nor Harry Osborn had been conceived (in the literary sense). In fact, while Ditko did state once that he wanted the Goblin to be someone close to J. Jonah Jameson, and the circumstantial evidence points to Ned Leeds (in my opinion, although I'm sure there are problems with this as well), we really don't know where Ditko intended to take the character. And when Norman Osborn was introduced, he clearly was not meant to be the Green Goblin, so Ditko's original plans for Norman also remain unknown. No, I do not believe that the Goblin's identity was the breaking point in Steve and Stan's relationship, as interviews around the time suggest that it was already broken, Steve just didn't get around to turning in his keys until about this time (apparently the two were no longer even talking to each other well before it became time to reveal the Goblin). In issue #39, when Stan and John Romita, Sr. make Norman Osborn into the Green Goblin, and turn Harry and Peter from antagonists into friends, a core component of the entire Spider-Man mythology is created.

We start to see in this issue that the Osborn father-son relationship is not a happy one, nor has it been for some time. Norman verbally humiliates Harry after dropping him off at school, which throws the younger Osborn into a serious funk. Up until this time, Peter has likely thought of Harry as a spoiled rich kid living off what his old man has given him. However, seeing Harry coming into class totally devastated after the conversation with Norman in issue #39 (which he did not witness), as opposed to hurling insults his way, Peter realizes that Harry's silver spoon has a bitter taste. When he reaches out to Harry, the latter first begins to give him some lip and then backs off, which tells us that it's not Peter, and has never been Peter that he's really been mad at, but his father. Learning that Peter doesn't even remember having either a mother or a father also gives Harry a reality check. But then again - reality was never one of either Osborn's strong suits. In issue #39, Harry recollects that his father and he were "real pals," until a few years ago when he started to change. And in issue #40, as Norman is telling a captive Spider-Man the history of the Green Goblin, he says that he was a good father and did his best to be a pal to his son. However, as we see the visual representation of Norman's memories, we see that his perspective is distorted. He never was a "real pal" to Harry. He never had time to simply talk to him or help him with his homework or any of the myriad of little things that cements a good father-son relationship. As we mentioned earlier, he gives Harry the trappings of a good relationship, but none of the substance. For example, in one of the panels, Norman is shown buying Harry a new bike, but he clearly didn't help him learn how to ride it. And it's clear that Harry has only been fooling himself. We can see that exposure to the Goblin formula did make Norman harder and crueler, but it's also clear that he was never a particularly nice person. Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 showed us a physically and verbally abusive Norman Osborn in the days right after Emily Osborn died. Harry's comment about being "real pals" with his father was only a relative one. Norman's increasing anger and belligerent behavior after becoming the Green Goblin just made those earlier years seem better than they really were.

Issue #40, while a classic, is also pretty goofy in spots. Norman uses his "retro scope helmet" to recreate images of all of the previous battles between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, a terrible time waster, which of course allows Peter time to work through his bonds. It's a classic monologuing (thank you Incredibles) moment where the villain would be able to permanently dispense with the hero if he would just shut the hell up! This is such a dopey scene that it is usually excised from modern re-tellings of the tale, most notably in Spider-Man: Blue. Second to Norman sending his own Goblin Glider straight at himself in Amazing Spider-Man #122, this is one of Norman's Dumbest Moments. However, we actually see how deeply conflicted Norman is about Harry. For a brief moment, there is no Green Goblin, just a scared and distressed father, who in a moment of clarity, realizes that he simply does not have a clue how to express his love for his son, and what a lousy and horrible father he really has been all of these years - as bad or worse than his own father had been. That revelation nearly breaks him.

And this moment is loaded with irony. Could this have been Peter Parker's best chance at getting through to the man behind the Goblin mask? Remember in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #6 when Spider-Man visits Norman in jail, and muses aloud that he was hoping that there was still a human being behind the mask? Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but it is interesting to ponder what would have happened in ASM #40 had Peter sensed that instead of antagonizing the Goblin and needling him, that his best plan of attack would be to prod him further down the path of introspection. But before long, Norman receives a severe electro-chemical shock that completely re-wires his brain and submerges his psychotic personality, reverting him to a pre-goblin formula state. But we know this doesn't last too long.

Needless to say, Harry is overjoyed. He's not only getting the father that he wanted, but at this moment, his father needs him. Harry, like most other children, didn't just want to be loved by Norman; he wanted to be needed by him as well. His reaction when he suspects that Norman is having problems (issue #39) is that he wants to help. When I was growing up, I wanted to feel like I was a viable contributor to the household, not just some parasite who sucked off what he could get out of the old man. In the movie version of Spider-Man, it also explains Harry becoming such good friends with Peter Parker. After all, what's a rich kid like Harry, particularly when portrayed by a good looking young man such as James Franco, doing hanging around with a dweeb like Peter Parker? He could buy friends with his money. Plus, Peter is probably unlike the troublemakers that Harry used to hang around with at the other schools, a real square of a kid who didn't drink or do drugs or bust out windows or slash tires or any of that fun stuff. But Peter desperately needed a friend, and Harry needed to be needed by someone. In the film, when they meet at the steps of Columbia University's Science Center, Pete's eyes light up like the proverbial Christmas tree when he sees Harry roll out of the Osborn limo. Peter is the one person who is genuinely happy to see him, and that's not lost on Harry, who is equally pleased to see Pete.

Back to the comics, Harry takes a low profile for the next few issues, ostensibly to administer to his father's needs, but this leads to more thawing in his and Peter's relationship. Now, I'm not a big fan of Spider-Man: Blue, which I realize is a minority opinion among Spider-Man fans. My reasons are largely spelled out in the 2002 Year in Review However, it is reasonable to assume that some of the events dramatized there did take place (although unseen) in the original continuity, such as Peter visiting an ailing Norman in the hospital. We know that Peter is acting largely in his own self-interest rather than any notions of friendship or support. He wants to see if Norman really does have amnesia, or if he still associates Peter Parker with Spider-Man. But Harry doesn't know this and is touched what he perceives as a gesture of kindness by someone who he hasn't treated very well. When Flash drops in to see Norman and begins to rag on Peter, Harry tells him to piss off. In the regular continuity, in Amazing Spider-Man #42, when Peter has to duck out of a party thrown by Gwen (because he promised Aunt May that he'd meet none other than Mary Jane Watson) and once Flash starts to mouth off, Harry responds "Pete's probably got his reasons."

After we meet Mary Jane in issue #42 and watch the subsequent impact of that red headed bombshell's entrance into the Spidey universe, Stan takes us back to Harry and Peter's budding friendship. In issue #45, Harry reacts to Peter's comments about needing money and suggests that he hook up with his father about a job as an intern. And in the next issue, Harry makes Pete the offer of sharing an apartment. He had been commuting from the Osborn home in Westchester, and finally convinced Norman that it takes too long to drive to and from school. So, Norman rented a two bedroom apartment close to campus "and if you wanted to share the place with me, Pete, I'll bet we could have a ball!"

Let's take a step back so I can do a little bitching and moaning, which I am wont to do, as well as needle a few folks. One of the frequent complaints about the events in the Spider-Man titles in 2005 and 2006 involves Spidey's membership in the Avengers, and his living arrangements, with May and MJ, in Tony Stark's swanky building. Pretty good accommodations if you can swing them, eh? Well, how does that reconcile with Peter's and Spidey's "common man" persona? I suppose it doesn't. But then again, how is that much different than just so happening to meet a rich guy on campus who takes a liking to you and lets you to move into a fashionable apartment on Manhattan Island with him at no cost to you? Frankly, I'd wonder if I was being setup for a Brokeback Mountain moment. There are a lot of Harry/Peter slash fans out there that see just that. And how about years later, when the same rich guys lets you and your spouse live in a convenient loft in the fashionable Soho District of New York City also at no cost to you? Harry has offered Peter free digs in New York City, not once, but twice. But that's cool. It's not cool if Tony Stark does it, though.

Anyway, it's interesting that Norman rented a two-bedroom apartment. Why two bedrooms? Why not just one? It'd be cheaper wouldn't it? Of course, availability of apartment space in New York, particularly close to a college campus, probably has as much to do with this as anything. Norman got whatever was available. Or, if you want to have a little more fun with it, you can assume that even in Norman's more rational state after the explosion in issue #40, he still knows that he has a teenage boy who would be living on his own, unsupervised, for the first time in his life. I can see Norman saying "O.K. Harry, but if I want you to find a roommate, SOMEONE RESPONSIBLE." "Dad, I know just the guy. He's science scholarship student." And don't think for a moment that when Norman Osborn found out that Peter Parker was going to be his son's new roommate, that he didn't spend a couple of nickels finding out all he could about this young man. And for the most part, everything looked good, orphaned as a child, straight-A student, science genius, lives with his aging Aunt, went to work at 15 for J. Jonah Jameson, and seems like a go-getter and a responsible young man. Norman probably even called up Jonah and asked about Peter. Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation? JJJ would probably start off with something like "Parker? Why do you want to know about that lazy, good for nothing..." with Norman telling him to knock off the overblown crap and give it to him straight. Norman probably regrets not having his favorite low-rent private investigator, Mac Gargan, available to do some investigating for him, but what are you going to do? So, Norman has to be feeling pretty good about Harry's choice - except for that one little interesting incident that came up in the police records after he called up another old friend, George Stacy - when Peter was unmasked as Spider-Man during a confrontation with Doctor Octopus (Amazing Spider-Man #12), the latter who was holding Betty Brant hostage demanding an appearance by Spider-Man. Of course, it was always assumed that he was just a lovesick fool who was just pretending to be Spider-Man since he didn't even put up a real fight (of course, this was because he was quite ill).

That aside, Norman gives Harry the go-ahead, and looks forward to meeting this Peter Parker, who seems almost too good to be true. In fact, he even sounds like the kind of son Norman always imagined that he would one day have with Emily. Of course, stepping back a moment, the idea that Peter Parker was the son Norman really wanted is a big old fat retcon, first promulgated by Roger Stern and Paul Jenkins (and I'm not entirely sure that they didn't borrow this concept just a little bit from Batman and Ras Al Ghul) in 2001 during the Revenge of the Green Goblin miniseries and the subsequent two part story that finished off the tale in Amazing Spider-Man #25 and Peter Parker #25 (volume 2). The first Spider-Man film, perhaps coincidentally, helped make this an accepted part of the Spider-Man canon as if it had always been there. Stern wrote the story where Norman sought to make Peter his heir in Revenge, and Jenkins took it to its logical conclusion that it was more than just an heir Osborn was looking for - it was a son. In none of Stan's original stories is there even a hint that Norman views Peter this way. Additionally, with Norman's obsessive work schedule and Peter's extracurricular activities, it's highly unlikely that the two even saw each other much at all outside of their costumed battles. It is a good idea, and has added another layer of complexity to the Osborn/Parker relationship. But it originally didn't exist, just like Mary Jane didn't originally always know that Peter Parker was Spider-Man.

Being friends to Peter fulfilled a couple of serious needs with Harry. The first and simplest is that he wasn't the strongest scholar and could really use help in that area. But also, it's likely that Harry really wanted and needed a "guy" pal to do guy things with and talk about stereotypical guy stuff, such as sports (doubtless Norman had season tickets to Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Jets, and Giants games), cars, motorbikes (this is around the time Peter bought his cycle), and most important girls. Heaven knows he didn't get any of that from Norman. And Flash was a fun guy, but not too deep, and certainly not a roommate that Norman would have approved of (this was before his life, particularly military, experiences matured him). Gwen was likely his best friend in high school, but I doubt that Harry could have too many conversations with her along the lines of "look at the (insert immature male slang for human female mammary glands here) on that babe!" Yeah, it's dumb, but come on - we're guys, we talk about those things, particularly if we're 18 years old! Harry obviously wasn't very athletic, so he wouldn't have fit in with the jocks, he wasn't a brainiac, so he wouldn't have fit in with the nerds, and it's highly unlikely he would have fit in with the other rich kids, either. For one, Norman clearly didn't run around in those circles when Harry was a small child. Norman's obsession with becoming rich indicates that he wasn't yet. And Norman always felt that the other rich folk looked down on him, as indicated by Harry's comments in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. The Osborn family's financial ruin, coupled with Norman's own abrasive personality and lack of female companionship (with no spouse, no girlfriends, and no use for women in general Norman would have stuck out like a sore thumb at couples events and I can't see him bringing someone along as eye candy, either), probably ensured that neither he, nor his son, socialized with other rich people very often, except at the country club- which was probably a male only bastion.

So, Harry probably never really had the chance to develop a real "buddy" relationship. This also explains Harry's apparent disenchantment and resentment of Peter as time goes on. He was counting on a friend to "hang" with, and of course, Peter had other things going on. But then, Harry soon found other distractions as well

Norman and Peter officially meet in their civilian identities for the first time in Amazing Spider-Man #47. Harry's first close encounter with Spider-Man also happens in issue #47 when Spidey rescues him from the clutches of Kraven the Hunter, who's looking to settle a score with Norman Osborn (believing that Osborn was a front for the Green Goblin, not suspecting that Osborn was himself the Goblin). Osborn rushes to the scene and is nabbed by Kraven, but ironically, is saved by none other than our friendly neighborhood wall crawler.

So, the die is cast, to drag out a really old cliché. Peter and Harry are becoming best friends, and Spider-Man is slowly becoming a much larger part of Harry's life than even he suspects at first. You know, it's always fun to go back and read these old stories, but the dialogue seems like it gets creakier every year. While I was born in the early 60's, I really didn't come of age until the next decade or two (my wife will tell you that I've never matured), so I'm not intimately familiar with the slang of the time, but did people really talk this way? Harry and Peter referring to each other as "Son" or "Dad" grew pretty old and lame after awhile. And let's not even get started on Mary Jane's loopy dialogue.

Speaking of Mary Jane...

IN PART 2: Harry thinks he finds love, but only comes up hurting. The decisions he makes in dealing with his pain will haunt him for the rest of this life. This, and the deaths of Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy, Harry's first run in the green and purple ensemble, true love in the form of Liz Allan, and yet another goofball in green as our series "The Goblin Prince" continues.

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