Harry Osborn The Goblin Prince:

Goblin at Rest?

The last time we saw our good friend Harry Osborn in Goblin’s Return, he was in the best shape he had been in a very long time – happily married with an adoring wife and son, and firmly established as the CEO of his father’s business empire. Unfortunately, he seized upon the dubious idea of redeeming his father's name and legacy as the Green Goblin by becoming a heroic Goblin (he was a few years ahead of Phil Urich in that regard). Considering that he had no superpowers, not a lot of experience, and was going into the business for the wrong reasons, this was not one of younger Osborn's smarter moves. At a time such as this, he needed the counsel of a good and caring friend. Normally, you would have thought Peter Parker would fill that role. But rather than sit down with his friend and have an honest conversation about himself, Harry, and Harry's father, Peter decided to become Spider-Man and knock Harry around for the sole purpose of demonstrating how inadequate he was, that a costume and high tech toys don't cut it in the gritty knuckle busting world of superheroes, particularly when one has a loving wife and child at home. Peter might have had good intentions, but they don't use asphalt to pave the roads to hell. And, as we found out at the end of Web of Spider-Man #67 (August 1990), all of Harry's memories had returned and he knew that Peter was Spider-Man. But Pete, who should have known that Harry knew (Harry tried to clue him in) - refused to come clean with him. Was it denial - if he didn't talk about it with Harry, Harry wouldn't remember? Stupidity? Arrogance? Or clichéd writing?

Whatever Peter's motives were for never reaching out to Harry on these issues, the repercussions proved to be devastating. His lack of honesty would soon contribute to the demise of Harry’s sanity, and then his very life, creating more misery for Peter Parker and his family for many years to come. It's ironic that years later, Peter Parker would (temporarily) come clean with the entire world about the secret of Spider-Man's identity, but not with his best friend.

Things were quiet on the Goblin front for awhile, and Harry actually had a major, non-Goblin role to play in one of Spider-Man's adventures. Long time spider-scribe Gerry Conway wrapped up his run on Spectacular Spider-Man with a three part Doc Ock story that ran through issues #173-175, and before the new writer (whom we'll talk about later) arrived, Kurt Busiek filled in for two issues beginning with #176 (May 1991) featuring a new villainess called Corona - who we can best sum up by describing her a glowing girl who flies. Corona was part of an obnoxious brother/sister scientist team who accidentally released toxic chemicals into the New York City water supply during the experiment that made her the flying glowing girl.

As the story progressed, Mary Jane, along with many other people in New York, began to succumb to a deadly, raging fever, as a result of the chemicals in the water. Corona’s brother created enough antidote to cure the infected denizens, using the chemicals that Corona sought to complete her conversion and boost her power levels. During one conflict, Corona accidentally destroyed the antidote, and all of the available ingredients necessary to whip up another batch.

While visiting a sick MJ in the hospital, Peter sees Harry and Liz Osborn come in with little Norman, who is also sick with the fever. Harry is going to pieces because when Normie told him that he wasn't feeling well, Harry's response was to give him more water, making Normie even sicker. Distraught with guilt, Harry suddenly hears a voice calling out "You poisoned your own child Harry Osborn! What kind of father are you?"

Harry looks around - but there's no one there.

This is not good.

We speculated earlier that Harry was likely slacking off on his medication and therapy due to the various stresses he was under (such as running a multinational corporation and dodging the occasional HobGoblin), and a misguided belief, like so many other sick people, that they don't need continued treatment once they reach a certain measure of stability. Harry probably rationalized this by surmising that having been a drug addict, relying on anti-psychotic medication was trading one addiction for another. Strong anti-psychotic drugs can also have unpleasant side effects. But people who need the drugs …begin to hear and see things that aren’t really there when they don’t take them…as we’ll soon find out.

With his recent humiliation at the hands of his best friend, who is still keeping secrets from him, and his son's sickness, for which he feels responsible, Harry is not far from falling apart. Being a father was the one thing Harry swore he would do better than the elder Norman Osborn - but now he feels he can’t even do that right. I've been through a couple of serious health scares with my own children (and been very, very lucky). I can pretty well guarantee that there isn't much else that has the capacity to destroy your marriage, your sanity, and your life than being faced with the possibility, or sadly for so many people, the reality of losing a child. Now let's transfer those feelings to someone like Harry Osborn, whose mental stability is held together with the equivalent of duct tape and baling wire.

Spider-Man, who has the fever himself as a result of being scratched by Corona during one of their fights, approaches Harry with a proposition to help save his son and everyone else infected. Through Oscorp, Harry is able to obtain what is needed for additional antidote, and as he displays his own scientific acumen in describing the process, Spider-Man, who has never seen this side of his friend, thinks "Wow! Harry's so businesslike - I'd never have guessed!"

Although Spider-Man grows progressively sicker, Corona is loose and out of control again, and he pursues her while Harry feverishly works on the antidote. Ultimately, Corona’s brother's goon squad takes care of her - and Harry successfully conjures up a cure. Everyone is saved, including Spidey, Mary Jane and little Norman and all seems right with the world. Until Harry hears the voice again - and now, he recognizes it (Willem DaFoe?).

This particular story is forgettable, but contains a heaping helping of ironies. For one, Harry doesn't act suspicious or fearful of Spider-Man (other than when Spidey initially startles him), but works with him in the crisis. Since he knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, the web slinger is no longer the mysterious boogeyman that has bedeviled Harry’s existence, but a man that he both knows and loves (in a non-gay way for you slashers out there). When Spidey falters, Harry comes to his aid and offers his support, and expresses concern when he is pushing himself beyond his physical limits. Harry's performance during this crisis proves that he was indeed becoming the man that his father always wanted him to be, strong in both business and in science - and demonstrating that he deserved to run Oscorp. Combined with a wife and child that adored him, Harry seems to have gotten his life together, banishing the ghost of Norman Osborn for all of time. Had Peter been wiser, he would have realized what a valuable ally Harry Osborn could have been in his own personal war on crime. Harry could have been his own Reed Richards or Tony Stark – not that Harry was in their class intellectually, but he certainly had formidable resources at his disposal. Additionally, working with Spider-Man could have given Harry the means to obtain the redemption he sought for his father’s name, and he wouldn’t have to wear a silly costume and punch out bad guys. Of course, that certainly would have been enough to cause old Norman to roll over in his grave. Well, if he were really dead, that is.

But Harry was about to run up against the one man whom he had no chance of besting, the man who held Harry's fate in his hands, the man who slowly and surely crushed Harry’s hopes and dreams, and indeed, the very life out of him.

That man was John Marc (JM) DeMatteis.

Frivolity aside, JM DeMatteis was one of the better writers to ever pen the webslinger's adventures. He first dabbled in Spider-Lore in the original Marvel Team-Up, but then made his bones on a story than stunned the Spider-Politic - "Kraven's Last Hunt," (certainly not a favorite of mine, but to be fair, one loved by many), where he not only buried Spider-Man alive, but added depth to a once laughable and cliched supervillain in Kraven the Hunter, who, of course, famously blew his brains out at the end of the story, cementing an indelible moment in Spidey history. DeMatteis also succeeded David Michelinie on Amazing Spider-Man just in time for the Clone Saga to pick up steam, and during that run he penned the beautiful "Death of Aunt May" story in issue #400,. It was a manipulative tear jerker to be sure, but one that spoke to the heart of anyone who had lost a beloved parent. He also had spun a complex web (pun intended because I'm being pretty lazy right now) of storylines in the post Clone Saga era of Spectacular Spider-Man, which included a new and deadly Jack O'Lantern, Norman Osborn's return as a recurring, menacing presence in Spider-Man's life, and a fifth Green Goblin whose identity (along with the new Jack's) was the subject of much debate. May’s subsequent resurrection to kick off the failed Spider-Man reboot of 1999, however, is said by many to have been the straw that broke the camel's back vis a vis DeMatteis' career with Marvel, although I have never read an official confirmation of this (and this appears to be thawing, as he is working on a new Spider-Man related story).

But let’s step back to 1991, when he was handed the reigns of Spectacular Spider-Man, and beginning with issue #178 (July 1991), he decided to swing for the fences right away, with a story that set off a chain of events that led to Harry Osborn's ultimate and tragic demise - "The Child Within."

According to an interview with Tom DeFalco in Comics Creators on Spider-Man (a valuable Spidey resource for all you addicts out there), DeMatteis stated that "The Child Within" was originally planned as a Batman story (which coincidentally, so was "Kraven's Last Hunt" with Kraven standing in for Batman's old foe, Dr. Hugo Strange) for Legends of the Dark Knight. Per DeMatties "It was intended to explore deep psychological ground regarding Batman and his inner child, that wounded little boy who'd been traumatized his parents' murders. Same for the villain of the piece, Two-Face." However, as DC recently had released a Batman graphic novel that dealt with the themes of child abuse (which as you’ll see, is the primary factor in “Child Within”), it didn't want to do another one. DeMatteis kept the idea rattling around in his head, and decided to use it when he got the Spectacular gig, substituting Spider-Man and the Green Goblin for Batman and Two-Face. What followed is a favorite Spider-Man/Green Goblin confrontation for many fans - but being the cranky old fart that I am - not for me - and of course, you'll hear me expound on that ad infinitum.

DeMatteis' writing often reflects that by and large, superheroes and villains are damaged people, and that what makes supervillains is really not that different than what makes ordinary villains. Even the heroes, who are already segregated from the rest of humanity by their unique abilities that for various reasons they must keep secret from the world at large, are often tortured by inner demons, driven to do what they do by compulsions difficult for the non-powered class to understand. And for the most part, he’s right. Unfortunately, while many times this makes for gripping storytelling, I have always felt that DeMatteis’ writing often became being preachy and pretentious - because sometimes - bad guys are just evil, irredeemable scumbags who deserve to get their asses kicked.

In addition to being almost twice as long as it needed to be, "The Child Within" also suffers from the writer not narrowing his focus strictly to Harry Osborn, Peter Parker, their tortured pasts, and mutual issues of guilt and parental abandonment, which were certainly strong and compelling enough to more than satisfy the demands of an important, multi-part story arc. However, he unnecessarily brought his own creation, Vermin the Cannibal Rat Man, into the mix, when this should clearly be Spidey’s and the Goblin’s story.

Vermin was originally a Captain America foe in the late 1970's. Edward Whelan was a geneticist working for Cap's nemesis Baron Zemo. In one of Zemo's experiments, Whelan was transformed into the Cannibal Rat Man (but if he's basically a rat on two legs - is he really a cannibal when he eats human beings?). DeMatteis created Vermin with Mike Zeck during his run on Captain America and used him again in Marvel Team-Up #128 (April 1983), which represented Spider-Man's first encounter with him. He obviously had great affection for this character, using him in "Kraven's Last Hunt," before bringing him in again for "The Child Within."

The story even begins with Vermin, who had just escaped institutionalization, where he was under the care of another DeMatteis contribution to the Spider-Man mythology, Dr. Ashley Kafka, who became the resident shrink in the Spider-Man title for years to come (and who would also mysteriously de-age from a middle aged woman nearly 50 years old to a 20-something babe in the late 1990's and become John Jameson’s main squeeze - but that's not relevant to this story). Vermin is running loose in the sewers babbling to himself, when he spies a lonely little boy who only wants to go home, and wants Vermin to help him get there (considering the tone the story was taking, it was pretty easy to deduce right away who this little boy was).

When Vermin escaped confinement, he didn't go away neatly, leaving a long, bloody trail of savagely butchered people in his wake. The magnitude of the violence disgusts Spider-Man, who believes that Dr. Kafka is a foolish for trying to cure Vermin. She believes the cure can be obtained by reaching into Vermin's psyche, reversing the transformation psychologically in addition to biologically. Unfortunately, the return of Vermin reawakens too many bad memories in Spidey of his defeat and burial by Kraven, the drama in which Vermin was a player, which feeds his growing anxiety and paranoia.

The final member of this Tortured Trio is Harry, sitting on the couch watching cartoons with little Norman. However, it is clear that Harry is not well. As his son sits transfixed by the television, Harry is pre-occupied by his own self-delusion, rambling about how he and his father were "real buddies," who would sit and watch TV together, and how his father really loved him and did his best for him after his mother died. But not matter how hard Harry tries, he cannot keep the truth submerged. Although his conscience memory tries to deny the reality surrounding Norman Osborn, his subconscious forces him to face it when it conjures up a ghostly apparition of the old man. As those who saw Spider-Man 2 & 3 know, Willem DaFoe's eerie presence in Harry's mind is 100% faithful to the comic book canon.

Norman's ghost mercilessly belittles Harry about his weaknesses and what Norman perceives as Harry's inability to command respect from his son, since like most small children, Normie (I’m going to get whiplash going between old Norman and young Norman), is a lot more interested in the television than what his old man has to say. Come to think of it, that describes most of us guys when our wives are talking to us. Harry then screams at his son and yanks him violently in order to get his attention, and then snaps back to reality aghast at his behavior when he realizes that his son is in tears.

Interspersed throughout the story are the videos Dr. Kafka watches of her earlier sessions with Vermin, where she tries to unravel the secrets of his past. During one such viewing, when Kafka quietly implores Vermin to think back to his life before Zemo, the creature suddenly becomes frantic as he refers to "the Bad Thing."

And the first time I read this, I knew exactly where that was going to go as well.

Vermin and the "boy" soon arrive at a mansion, which Vermin refers to as "home." Inside, in separate bedrooms, an elderly man and woman sleep. Vermin sneaks in and crawls into bed with the man and refers to him as "Daddy." However, "Daddy," who’s just as creeped out as the readers at the moment, is in no mood for this kind of family reunion, and pulls out a gun and shoots Vermin in the shoulder, forcing the creature to withdraw and retreat.

Harry's next “episode” occurs in Central Park, as the Osborn family is enjoying the merry-go-round. Harry once again appears happy and content when like the killjoy he is - Norman's ghost reappears - chiding Harry for indulging his son with all sorts of silly niceties, telling him that the sooner the boy learns that the world is a cold, cruel place, the better! Harry tries to tell "Norman" that they did the very same things together when Harry was a child, which Norman vehemently denies (and it is likely that Norman is correct – if Norman Osborn did anything like this with his son – it was only while Emily was still alive – although canon is a bit fuzzy on just how old Harry was when she died). However, this time, unlike the previous episode, Harry's self-delusion about Norman's behavior begins to win the battle as "Norman" begins to break and confess that he loved Harry. However, Norman soon collapses, a Goblin glider sticking in his back. He has been joined by another apparition - Spider-Man - who tells Harry that Norman was "a sick and vicious man. And you should be happy that he's dead." As this trip plays itself out, little Norman tugs on Harry, asking for his attention, and Harry turns on him, angrily demanding "What the devil do you want?" something that was no doubt asked of him in the same tone so many times during his own childhood. Once again, however, Harry snaps out of it, but not before Liz begins to look very...worried.

Obviously what's playing out here is the tortured reconciliation in Harry's mind of the disparate viewpoints of his father that he has struggled with his entire life. While Harry's conscience mind deludes himself about his father's "kindness," Norman Osborn's ghost is the buried part of Harry's psyche that reminds him of the s.o.b. that Norman really was. And just when Harry seems to be able to overcome Norman's “ghost” and impose his perspective upon it, yet another harbinger of the truth arrives in the form of Spider-Man, who once again reminds Harry of the truth, a truth that in his current mental state he doesn’t want to hear. And having once been a nurse, Liz should recognize exactly what is happening, and run straight to Harry’s medicine cabinet, or get on the phone with his doctor. But it seems that fear and denial rather than reason are winning the battle within Lizzie.

And later that night, as Harry tenderly puts his son to bed and gives him a gentle kiss, Norman Osborn returns yet again - with a special gift - and a command – that “it’s time.”

The scenes between Harry and little Normie are touching in a way that I have difficulty describing except that they’re on the mark. I don’t know if DeMatteis has children (his bio is rather vague), but considering that he has written books for children (his Abazad series); there is little doubt he feels affection for them. It also is a subtle reminder of how fathers have changed over the decades. It’s a given that Harry loves his son. He clearly dotes on him, isn’t afraid to let his son know how much he cares, whether through words or hugs, and doesn’t care who knows it. In contrast, the elder Norman Osborn was clearly of a generation that did not express such feelings. It simply wasn’t how they were raised. Norman probably never simply told Harry that he loved him, one reason because he likely never heard those words from his own father. I doubt that my own father heard them enough from his own – unfortunately I’ll never be able to find out.

My only qualm with these moments is that it almost implies that ANY time a parent gets mad at a child, it’s because they have “the devil” in them (in Harry’s case, “the devil” is Norman, not Mephisto). Children can inspire both an insane amount of love and rage simultaneously, a conundrum that only parents really understand.

It's no coincidence that Norman's appearances are not tied to moments when Harry is in emotional distress, as you might think - but rather, moments when Harry is happy, and enjoying his lovely family and the life he has. Norman Osborn made Harry feel weak and worthless during Harry's first 20 years or so, so often that Harry began to believe it himself. And now, in moments of Harry's contentment, Norman reappears to remind him of what Harry has always believed "You don't deserve this! You’re not worthy!" But there's another dark secret lurking in the recesses of Harry's troubled mind - a feeling that whatever he does have came at a very high price...

Harry is forced to confront that secret in issue #180, which begins with him looking through the Osborn family photo album, where we get our first look ever at Mrs. Osborn (who still remained nameless - she wasn't given a name until Roger Stern's Revenge of the Green Goblin miniseries in 2000). Harry is desperately trying to focus on what he perceives as the positive aspects of his life, but two warring factions in his mind are crushing his spirit - the truth as represented by Spider-Man/Peter Parker and the denial that is trying to keep Harry from realizing that truth - represented by the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn.

"Peter's" and "Norman's" argument moves back and forth like tennis players batting the ball, with poor Harry in the middle trying to make sense of it all ("Why won't you two let me enjoy my life?"). "Peter" finally insults "Norman" once too often and Harry strikes back, savagely pummeling "Peter." Once again, Harry's denial is winning out over the truth. And then, out it comes - the secret that Harry has forced so deep that he no longer consciously remembered it. It is the one thing that his father did, more than anything else - that Harry cannot live with. "Peter" cries out:

"He killed Gwen, Harry!"

Harry stops cold, a look of horror on his face. He has spent a lifetime rationalizing every act of cruelty that Norman Osborn visited upon him and others because he was "working so hard," or he "had so many enemies," or that "all he wanted was to make enough money to give me a good life." Norman Osborn’s ruthless crushing, or even murdering, of both business and criminal competitors can almost be explained away - particularly since many of the people that Norman took action against were not very likely to have been honorable in their own right. But there is one action that Harry cannot rationalize - Norman Osborn’s murder of Gwen Stacy.

In an earlier chapter of this essay, we examined just how important Gwen Stacy was to Harry Osborn. She wasn't just his friend, but his lifeline, his salvation when he was a troubled young man with no other friends, no mother, and a psychotic father. On his own, he was a loser and a misfit – but, latching onto her social coat tails - he was somebody when he was around Gwen Stacy. All of the other kids had to treat him with respect because Gwen, by virtue of her own personality and social status, if not verbally - demanded it. While it is likely that he was more than a little in love with her and would have been more than happy to have one day married her (what red blooded teenage young man wouldn't have?), she was far more important to him than a girlfriend or a lover. She was his big sister and best friend rolled into one. And that really didn't change even when Peter Parker entered their lives. Harry finally found a measure of peace and happiness (however short-lived) with Liz Allan (another blond – I’ve always wondered if deep down, Harry was looking for another Gwen) - but he never would have made it to that point if it had not been for Gwen Stacy.

And Norman Osborn murdered her - without pity - without remorse - without caring how much she meant to his son. Gwen’s late father had also been one of Norman’s friends. It was the ultimate proof, that no matter how much Harry tried to convince himself otherwise, that Norman Osborn really didn't give a DAMN about his son (which is also not quite true either - Norman did love Harry - but the truth is - he never expressed it in a way that Harry could truly feel it). But - Norman was still Harry's father - still the man whose love and approval mattered most to him.

But why did Gwen die that day at Norman’s hand? After all, Norman did not specifically seek her out for revenge. She was merely a tool to get at the person whom Norman really wanted to strike against – Peter Parker.

And Peter Parker was with both of them when they died. More than anyone else, he was the harbinger of their deaths. He was the keeper of the Osborn family secrets. Back in Amazing Spider-Man #249 (February 1984), when Harry first found out (post-amnesia) that his father was the Green Goblin (due to the original HobGoblin’s blackmail scheme), Peter already knew, yet pretended not to know. He had been there where Norman Osborn “died,” had watched the glider impale him, yet said nothing. He feigned sympathy for Harry during any of the few talks that they probably had, pretending not to know about the Green Goblin, assuring Harry that maybe things weren’t that bad – when he knew that they were! Was Peter laughing at him behind his back? Or did he just feel sorry for him? Either way, Peter had betrayed him.

And Harry finally cracks.

But it turns out that he’s not the only one dealing with crap at the moment.

Peter Parker is struggling with his own issues. Throughout the story, Peter has been inexplicably drawn to the graves of his parents and Uncle Ben, tormented by something he can't quite understand, something that manifests itself in the "You did it!" that tingles in the back of his mind.

But there's a wicked surprise waiting for him - the Green Goblin has returned. At first, Peter thinks that Harry is just playing around again, but before long he realizes that Harry is serious, and the situation is dire indeed. Harry gasses Peter for the next stage of his plan - not to physically destroy him - but to cause him mental anguish and suffering - to match that which Harry himself has suffered all of his life - to drag Peter down into the darkness with him.

Harry uses one of his father's patented hallucinogenic gasses on Spider-Man but not before Harry once again tries to rationalize that although his father would "ignore me - call me awful names - treat me like a doormat - he loved me!" (Spectacular Spider-Man #181 -October 1991- in the event you're following along at home). And then we learn of another burden that Harry has been carrying for all of these years - the belief that it was he who created the Green Goblin. This time Harry tells Peter that Norman Osborn became the Goblin because he loved Harry and wanted to give him a better life - but as we later learned in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14, after Harry's death - that Harry had far more tangible reasons, however mistaken, to believe that he was responsible for the Green Goblin and his father's psychosis (this has been discussed previously).

The gas forces Spider-Man to relive his recent agonizing ordeal against Kraven the Hunter, and then he finds himself surrounded by the graves of all of those who died while he was Spider-Man - George and Gwen Stacy, Uncle Ben, Ned Leeds, the list goes on. The guilt he feels is overwhelming, but the further the hallucination continues, the deeper it goes to the core of Peter's guilt - and like Harry before him, Spider-Man is forced to face the a "truth" that he has suppressed all of the years - an inexplicable belief that he was responsible for his parents' deaths. After all - there must have been a reason they didn't come home - right?

His emotions given free reign by the gas, Spider-Man goes temporarily mad. The ferocity of Peter's rage and pain is so powerful that it even temporarily shakes Harry out of his own psychosis - and seeing his friend in such distress - reaches out to help him. You get the feeling, that if they could have reached out to each other long ago with their mutual pain, perhaps they could have helped each other with the healing. But Spider-Man is now so delusional that he brutally attacks the Goblin and flees the scene.

And of course, we have to interrupt the story for our Vermin interlude. It is made as clear as it is going to be in the story that "The Bad Thing" is that as a boy, Vermin's father sexually abused him and that despite his fervent and tearful cries for help, his mother failed to save him. He returns home once again, attacks his mother, and threatens to kill his father.

Somehow in the midst of his dementia, Spider-Man finds Dr. Kafka's office and literally crashes in. Then, in issue #182, with Kafka's helping him, he relives the delusion that his parents "left" because they didn't love him and that somehow he was responsible for their "going away." Subconsciously, he is climbing out of a dark tunnel to the truth - that his guilt is illogical - that he was in no way responsible for his parent's deaths. He is finally able to admit that the feelings exist - but that they are groundless. Dr. Kafka states that it’s a common way of dealing with trauma. By taking on the "blame," the child can actually take control of the situation and lose the sense of total powerlessness.

Let's take a breath here. As some readers liked to point out in message boards after the debut of DeFlowering Gwen, my degree is not in psychology. Well, they got that right - because it isn't. And my mother and father, flawed creatures that they were, (how they raised a perfect son like me, I’ll just never know), were both good human beings and parents, staying married for almost 40 years until my father passed away in 2001. And miraculously enough, I think that they still loved each other even after all of that time together. So, I am in no position to speak of issues of childhood feelings of abandonment. Still, I find it bizarre, and dramatically forced, that Peter would even remotely feel any guilt about his parents' deaths, even deep in his subconscious. He was only a baby and his parents died doing their jobs as SHIELD agents, which would have happened regardless of whether or not he had ever been born. It was the Red Skull (or a fake Red Skull, if I recall my Captain America continuity correctly), who sent the Parkers to their deaths. Pete has enough guilt over the deaths of Uncle Ben, the Stacys, and many others that bringing his deceased parents into the mix seems like a real stretch. As Spider-Man leaves Kafka's office to confront Vermin again, he reflects that he feels "free" in a way he never has been before - of having faced "the monster" of his repressed feelings about his parents and no longer feels pain from them. I'm gonna need some help on this one - whether or not DeMatteis stepped out of the batters' box in trying to make Peter's story of parental abandonment parallel Harry's and Vermin, or whether people in this similar situation are really plagued by such repressed memories. And I'm sure that someone out there can tell me if I'm the one out of step here. This is where the original concept’s origins as a Batman story are felt, because unlike Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne was not a baby and was there when Joe Chill gunned down both of his parents. Such an event would inflict the psychological damage present in this story, whereas Peter’s connection with the events surrounding his parents’ deaths is much more tenuous.

As we rejoin the story, Vermin is attacking his parents, sorting through his own demons and finds that although he believes that he hates his father for what he has done, he can't hate without guilt, and he can't bring himself to kill him. Spider-Man arrives and gives Vermin an object he can focus his unfiltered rage on, but before he gets the upper hand on the wall crawler, Harry arrives and zaps Vermin, who finds himself at the mercy of the police who are looking for an excuse to ventilate him.

Of course, Spider-Chump, er Man, decides that since Vermin was sexually abused, that excuses him from having killed and eaten people, people who had families, and who had absolutely nothing to do with Vermin's misery, so he rescues him from what would have been a firing squad. Vermin is eventually tranquilized and taken back to the institution where Dr. Kafka promises to hold him and hug him and give him sugar cookies every day.

Spider-Man then turns his attention to an increasingly nuttier Harry. Now, especially sharp-eyed fans will experienced a sense of déjà vu when they look at the panels of the subsequent Spider-Man/Goblin battle. Peter decides he has had enough of Harry's delusions and is going to force him to deal with his psychosis once and for all. He strips off both their masks and tells him that this is not about Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, but two men named Peter Parker and Harry Osborn.

Now, let's flash forward more than a decade later to the end of the Clone Saga - the classic "Revelations Part 4" in Peter Parker #75 (December 1996). Norman Osborn has returned from exile in Europe after he was believed to be dead from the events of Amazing Spider-Man #122 and has plotted to blow up the Daily Bugle building, taking everyone that Peter Parker cares about with it. Despite Osborn's fury and determination to avenge the death of his son, Spider-Man refuses to knuckle under and gets the best of Osborn, telling him that this is not about Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, but Peter Parker and Norman Osborn.

Brrrr. Just gives you the chills, eh? It's highly unlikely that those involved with Peter Parker #75, even remembered that the previous confrontation between Peter and the younger Osborn existed. But like so many things in the Spider-Man mythology, disparate events have a way of weaving together as if they were planned that way from the beginning.

Harry continues flying further and further off the plantation, blaming Peter for Gwen's death and accusing him of framing Norman Osborn. Peter decides that even if he takes Harry down - what does he do with him? So, he stands his ground, and offers Harry a chance to kill him, gambling that he doesn't have it in him to kill. Prodded by Norman's ghost, Harry takes the glider on a direct course for Spider-Man, but at the last minute pulls up, unable to do the deed. Unfortunately, Harry has now passed the point of no return - even before he finally immersed himself in the Goblin formula. His confidence has been irrevocably shattered. He knows that no matter what happens now - Peter Parker is the better man. He always was and always will be the better man. Harry threw his best at him, and tried to break his will - but Peter came back. Harry has no such strength. To some degree, this is one of the things about Peter that bedevils Norman Osborn, knowing that regardless of what happens – Parker is the better man – always was – always will be.

But unlike the elder Osborn, he also doesn't have it in him to kill. And therefore, no matter what happens, he can never be the man his father was.

In Harry's mind, there are only the two extremes - Peter Parker - whom he knows to be a selfless and brave hero, something that he feels that he could never be - and Norman Osborn - who commanded great power and respect - which Harry also craves to command - but unable to kill Peter - he knows that he can never be that man as well.

So, tragically, where does Harry Osborn fit? No where. Once again, he finds himself to be a weak, worthless, and unworthy man. And so, having made clear that he will expose Peter is he tries to bring him down, Harry drifts away on his glider, desperate to sort things out, but vowing one day to return.

And ironically, I’m sure that to Peter Parker, Harry Osborn seemed to have it all, money, power, beautiful family, no secret identity worries. But even people who seem to have it all – and sometimes, especially people who seem to have it all, can spiral into hopelessness and despair, even if medicated. Although I will never say for 100% certainty – but for example, I am pretty sure, based on what little I know about these cases, that Marilyn Monroe and George Reeves each truly committed suicide – and neither was murdered as conspiracy theorists like to believe (although there is evidence that could support that Reeves’ death was accidental, the result of two drunken people having a violent argument). It’s easier for us on the outside looking in to believe that it was murder, because we look at the lives of people like this and say “Geez – what could be their problem?” What woman in that era didn’t want to be like Marilyn Monroe, not seeing the emotional toll that a string of busted marriages and drifting perilously close to middle age (which is often not very kind to starlets who rely on their looks and sex appeal for their fame) was taking on her? And how many of us guys would be more than happy to be paid large sums of money to wear a red and blue costume and pretend to be a superhero – and have rich girlfriends to boot? We see people who we think have everything going for them and have lives that we might envy (we might really not if we truly walked a mile in their shoes) – and we just can’t imagine them chucking it all in. But that clearly shows a lack of understanding just how miserable people can be miserable whether rich or poor, or how low depression can drag a person down, particularly if alcohol gets into the mix, or if mental issues are in the family (Reeves had two family members commit suicide, and Monroe’s mother was mentally ill).

No doubt at times Harry Osborn looked back on his life and said “I am rich, successful, the head of a multinational conglomerate, I have a beautiful wife who loves and adores me, and a cute son who would make any man proud. What the hell did I ever do to deserve it? “After all, his wealth was a product of his father’s blood, sweat, and tears – not Harry’s. Although Harry probably proved to be an adept CEO, the job was still largely handed to him by virtue of inheritance, not merit. And that same father was the murderous Green Goblin – and who knows how much of that wealth was derived from criminal activities – and how much blood was sacrificed? Especially that of Gwen Stacy, Harry’s best buddy from his childhood days.

And let’s not underestimate the prospect of a steadily growing and seething resentment of Peter Parker for keeping things from him. Oh sure – Harry could have told Peter one day that he simply knew – but he wanted Pete to come to him – in a show of trust and friendship – and share it with him. Besides, Peter was living in the loft above, and as both Harry and his father had known who Peter was – another villain could find out (Venom already knew at this time) – and come to Soho looking for Spider-Man and not care who else lived there. Didn’t Peter at least owe that to Harry – that he was indirectly putting their lives at risk? And it wasn’t like Harry was Aunt May, or totally defenseless. He still had the arsenal of the Green Goblin and knew how to use it – and had used it before. He wasn’t exactly helpless.

Plus, Peter was there when his father died. Didn’t Peter owe him his version of the events?

Frankly, I can see Harry’s side.

But in the end, Harry is not emotionally strong enough to overcome his own sense of worthlessness and feelings of abandonment. Rather than see his own family as a refuge - they are but another burden - another thing he must fear - because "if they found out what I was really like - if they found out how scared and weak I am - they'd leave me, too."

As far as “The Child Within” itself, those who think that Brian Michael Bendis invented decompressed storytelling in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man need to check out this six part story. As I mentioned earlier, the addition of Vermin really adds nothing to the tale, although the use of video and film does almost give the story a certain cinematic feel, as you can easily envision the characters watching certain events unfold upon the screen.

But rather than be content with making his points once, and then moving on with the story, DeMatteis makes them over and over and over again. Everything is spelled out, the characters leave nothing to the imagination in describing the depths of their pain. This is particular grating when Harry acts like a five year old, telling Peter in issue #181 "all I ever wanted since I was a little boy was for people to love me and no one ever did." It’s true that deep down, Harry is still that little boy, still desperate for love – but does it have to be so obvious?

Still, that Harry could have been helped – after all he had once before. But that was before he immersed himself in the Goblin formula.

"The Child Within," running from Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184, proved to be the swan song of the Harry Osborn we had known for the past 30 years, a decent yet tormented man who while flirting with the power and madness that is the Osborn/Goblin Legacy, had yet to be consumed by it. However, his last confrontation with Peter Parker in issue #183 (December 1991) was the straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back. Harry realized that he could not be the ruthless master of men that his father, the “late” Norman Osborn, was, but neither could he be the selfless hero that his best friend, Peter Parker, was. To embrace Peter as a friend would mean turning his back on his father’s memory, acknowledging once and for all the monster that Norman Osborn had been, and admitting the most horrible of truths, that his father had murdered Gwen Stacy, who may very well have been the most important person in Harry’s life besides his father. Seeing Peter, who had been the love of Gwen’s life, was a constant reminder of his father’s crimes. And he had spent too many years seeking the approval of Norman Osborn to let him go. It had been his life’s quest.

But there were other reasons why in his mind, Harry couldn’t just give up his father’s ghost and go back to his life, especially with Peter Parker still around. For one, he probably believed that Peter would never forgive him for going off his rocker like he did. But more importantly, he had been humiliated more than once by the power that Spider-Man possessed. The playing field was too uneven. Peter would always have the upper hand whenever the two were together, and Spider-Man’s power would almost always ensure that his will, his desire would carry the day, not Harry’s. It is difficult for a man to be in the company of another man knowing that he is the clear inferior in the relationship, particularly in Harry’s mind.

And there’s only one thing that would balance the scales.

Harry had always seen himself as weak. It was something his father always reinforced. How would life have been different if one day, instead of Norman knocking him around – Harry had the ability to knock the old man flat on his ass? But Harry never had that or any other kind of closure in his relationship with Norman. And he and his family had been threatened by two Hobgoblins – which made him feel especially vulnerable. And who’s to say that someone else wouldn’t come looking for his father’s secrets some day? How would Harry defend his family then? He had been lucky to have Spider-Man fighting the first Hobgoblin for him, and fortunate that the second Hobgoblin was an incompetent buffoon. And having Spider-Man living upstairs (and remember, Peter and Mary Jane were just living together in Harry’s building in Soho – they weren’t really married) – it had to be unnerving. Harry felt inferior to Peter in many ways – and this just exacerbated it. Even if Harry wasn’t losing his grip beforehand, superpowers is a tempting proposition for anyone.

And in Spectacular Spider-Man #188 (May 1992), we see that Harry has finally found what he was looking for – his father’s (or rather, Mendel Stromm’s) super strength Goblin formula, as he bathes in the chemicals that gave both his father and Roderick Kingsley, the first Hobgoblin, their powers. The narrative tells us that Harry is now totally insane, supposedly a consequence of immersion in the Goblin formula. As my faithful readers know, I never believed that it was the Goblin formula that drove Norman Osborn insane – that he was already nuts and the power that the formula gave him resulted in the release of his inhibitions. I think that the same can be said for Harry. However, as we will later learn, there was something a little different about this mixture.

Harry kicks ass
For Green Goblin fans, Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (June 1992), is a must have for a variety of reasons. For starters, it observed the 30th anniversary of Spider-Man (and here we are at 46 years - was the 30th anniversary really that long ago?), and like the other spider-titles that month came with a 3-D holographic cover. Eventually this would be just one of the many tiresome and overused cover gimmicks during the 1990's, especially since the holographic effects weren’t all that good and required some squinting and shifting to notice. However, this issue also included a nifty gatefold poster of Spidey in the black suit chasing the Hobgoblin, and nearly 40 pages of Spidey story material, most of which is devoted to the Green Goblin story. Unlike other larger or overpriced material, where you were stuck paying for 40% of non-Spider-Man material (or in the case of the recent “One More Delay” an extra buck for extraneous narrative readily available on the internet or other publications), this was well worth the $2.95 ($3.50 in Canada - don't want to forget my Canuck readers!) you had to shell out in 1992.

Appropriately titled "The Osborn Legacy," the story begins with Peter receiving a rather charming "Goblin in a Box" and Mary Jane finding an exploding Spider-Man filled with confetti in their bed. After a long absence, it is clear to Peter that Harry is back and messing with him. He also learns that that Liz and little Norman and Mark Raxton are nowhere to be found. So, it becomes imperative to find Harry - fast - before he really does something crazy.

Spidey finally tracks Harry and the others down to the Osborn family homestead, where Harry has spent the last several hours over dinner, regaling his family and Raxton with tales of how things will be different now that he has super powers, but that unlike his father, he won’t neglect his family. However, although now super powered, Spider-Man is able to gain the upper hand and knock Harry out. Later, the Guardsmen come to take him to the Vault and as he is being lead away, he drops the bomb that he knows Spider-Man’s secret identity and that he will tell the world – but not just yet.

Issue #190 (July 1992) begins with Dr. Kafka trying to reach into Harry’s psyche and help him, but he’s too far gone to be reached. And although incarcerated, Harry is still able to promote mischief by hiring the Rhino to terrorize Peter. The cops come and claim Harry and take him to the Vault, while Liz continues to be in denial about Harry’s problems and blames them on Spider-Man.

Harry's next appearance occurred during Liz's visit to him during his incarceration in the Vault in a backup story in Amazing Spider-Man #369 (November 1992). Harry is in a restraint due to his superpowers and is sweating profusely (our first clue that something may be seriously wrong with Harry physically). Liz tells him that since she won't testify against him, and most of the crimes committed by the Green Goblin were committed by Norman Osborn (this is our first hint that Norman has been outed as the Goblin, which wasn’t the first time, and which Norman has been able to overcome more than once), that he will likely be released. During their conversation, Liz mentions that Peter's parents are back - which genuinely seems to shock Harry - "They're dead! You don't see my mother and father crawling out of their graves!" (Well, at least not your mother...) But then the shock gives way to a large smile.

Harry breaks free from his restraints as the Vault guards underestimated his strength. He grabs Liz and tells her not to make little Norman weak so that he will not be ashamed of him as his father was of him. However, even though the Guardsmen zap him and place him in stronger restraints, he seems to be quite amused at the thought of Pete's parents being alive. What does this mean? Does this mean that Harry is formulating a scheme against them - or are they themselves the scheme?

Hmmmm. More on that later.

The Death of Harry Osborn
Harry's swan song begins in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man #199 (April 1993). After finishing a team-up with the X-Men, Peter returns home to the Soho flat to see the “Happy” Osborn Family, although it is clear that the happiness is a facade. Harry was released from prison since there was no evidence that he had committed any crimes, either as the Goblin or in his civilian identity. It is clear that all is not well in the Osborn household as little Norman is torturing a Spider-Man toy, Liz is paralyzed with fright and Harry's conversation is laden with double meanings as he vacillates between barely concealed rage and genuine sadness while he begins severely sweating again. Liz is in such denial that you want to shake the daylights out of her and scream at her until she gets a clue - but we have to remember what we discussed about Liz earlier - that she is by nature a nurturer. She took care of her step brother Mark Raxton for years, no matter how irrational he got, as the chemicals that coated his skin and made him the Molten Man helped drive him mad and began to kill him. And she is going to be there for her husband until the bitter end, no matter how crazy he gets – that’s just the type of person she is.

While walking the streets, MJ is suddenly grabbed by the Green Goblin, who takes her on his glider to the infamous Bridge of Death (35 years later and I still can't remember for certain whether or not it's supposed to be the Brooklyn Bridge or the George Washington Bridge, so I'll just call it the Bridge of Death). MJ thinks that Harry is going to toss her off just like his old man did to Gwen, but Harry is hurt by her suggestion. It turns out that this bridge haunts Harry as much as it does Peter, as it's the place "where all our hearts were broken - all our lives were shattered. I still miss Gwen - so much." Mary Jane tries to get Harry to face up to the fact that it was his father Norman who killed Gwen, but Harry cannot deal with the truth. However, he is willing to make a distinction that his father never did - he will confine his vendetta solely to Peter. He will not use Mary Jane or May as pawns in his struggle.

His pledge to not terrorize another man’s family does not appear to extend to his own, however unconsciously. When Liz suggests that Harry go to bed because of his obvious fever, Harry quickly puts his hands around Liz's throat telling her that he's an Osborn - strong enough to rule this family - this city! He's going to be the man his father was even if it kills him! (Be careful what you wish for, Harry...)

In costume, Harry stalks Peter, taunting him - making no secret of the fact that he's the Green Goblin (he's considered just a rich, harmless, eccentric). He also is heavily promoting something he started called the "Norman Osborn Foundation" dedicated to doing good around the world. (Fans of the series will remember Norman actually doing something similar in Spectacular Spider-Man #250 (October 1997), and donating money in Harry's memory because of his addictions - by the way - one of the best Norman Osborn stories). Harry is going to have a big kick off party at a townhouse renovated to house the Foundation, but he has a sinister motivation in mind. "I have plans for this city - I'm going to make my father look like an amateur by comparison!"

And then in one of two genuinely spooky scenes, Harry is standing next to a large picture of Norman Osborn and responds to Liz talking enthusiastically about the work Harry is putting into his new foundation. But rather than take the credit himself, Harry says that it's his doing - Norman's - that Norman is fueling his efforts. When I first read this all of those years ago, I thought that it was just too cool. That even dead, Norman Osborn's evil was so strong, it was reaching from beyond the grave. Even dead, he was still Spider-Man's greatest enemy - working through Harry. And I also remember thinking, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if Norman came back some day?”

Later in the evening is the second such scene. With little Norman sleeping nearby, Harry talks directly to the picture of the elder Norman Osborn, stating how he has invited all of New York's luminaries to the kick off celebration for the Osborn Foundation in the renovated townhouse, but that in the middle of the function, he's going to blow up the building! And with it will go all of the high and mighty jackasses who thought they were so much better than the Osborns - and the world will know that there's a new, even more ruthless Green Goblin in town. But he won't make the one mistake that the old man did - he won't forget his family! This is the closest that Harry comes to admitting that his father was something less than perfect.

I remember when I first read this being enthused at the direction Harry was taking. This was the line that Harry needed to cross in order to become an effective supervillain. He couldn’t just be a warped, frustrated, mentally ill man child who confined his agenda to simply making Peter Parker’s life miserable – he had to become a true criminal – and you had to believe that he really would kill anyone who got in his way. Ah, but little did I know what JM DeMatteis had planned for poor old Harry.

MJ goes to the Osborn Foundation townhouse to plead with Harry to give all of this Green Goblin madness up, to seek help, and to return things to the way that they were. However, Harry is beyond the point of reason. Coincidentally, Spider-Man arrives, ostensibly just to snoop around to see if there's something he can pin on Harry and put him away peacefully, but the endgame is joined.

Spider-Man and the Goblin beat the crap out of each other in a scene that is uncomfortably like hurt/comfort slash fan fiction. Harry decides to put an end to the fighting by drugging Peter, and then decides to blow up the building with both of them in it. "We leave nothing but pain in our wake. We're toxic" says Harry as he rationalizes his action.

However, after triggering the device, Harry sees that MJ and little Norman have walked back into the building - and Harry flies out on the glider and rushes them out of the building. MJ pleads with Harry to go back for Peter, and after a moment of indecision, he does. In this final heroic moment, Harry proves that no matter what, he is not the man that his father was, that he could never be the killer that Norman Osborn was. He just doesn’t have it in him. As he tells Spider-Man after he collapses to the pavement “I did it Peter, just the way you would’ve done it. A real hero.”

And in the ambulance, after a final moment in which Spider-Man and Harry exchange looks of forgiveness and friendship, Harry Osborn passes away, either because the Goblin formula was toxic to his bloodstream, or because it was too much for his heart, causing it to give out (both explanations have been given, and both are likely true).

It was a sad moment, touching, and tragic. As DeMatteis has stated before, he didn’t go into the story with the intention of killing off Harry, but that’s the direction the story took him.

In the short term, it made perfect sense for that story. But in the long run, it proved to be a huge mistake.

Should Harry Have Died?
No.

I fully agree with Joe Quesada when he said in one of his Newsarama “Joe Fridays” that killing off Harry was “stupid.” Although I really don’t blame DeMatteis that much, because a writer wants to write the best story he can – and frankly, as one begins to write this story – the death of Harry is really the only way to end it. Neither shipping him off to a loony bin (again) nor having him become miraculously cured of a lifetime of self-doubt and self-loathing necessarily makes for a fitting end to a story. And as the writer stated in the Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast , no one at Marvel said “boo” about killing Harry off. Plus, as we saw at the end of Spider-Man 3, the death of Harry, succumbing to injuries suffered in defending Peter against Venom, made for a powerful movie moment.

However, there's one rule for movie story arcs, and another for perpetual serialized fiction. But that’s where the editorial staff looks at the long-term impact on a title and says “this won’t work. This is not in Spider-Man’s best long-term interest.” Of course, we have to remember that this was approaching the time that Marvel was doing nothing in Spider-Man's best interest.

Harry's death left two huge voids in the titles - the first one was that he was Peter's best friend and had been a key member of the supporting cast since Amazing Spider-Man #31 (December 1965), a period of nearly 30 years. Harry, with his position as the head of a major corporation, his personal demons, his marriage to another long time supporting character, and his status as the son of the man who had been Spider-Man’s deadliest enemy and the keeper of those family secrets was a strong character not easily replaced. And the second was that a villainous Green Goblin had been a part of the titles since way back in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964), although he had been dormant for a long while. And while the original Hobgoblin as originally written could have been a worthy successor to the Green Goblin, he was gone now too! The Osborns and their travails had been a solid part of the Spider-Man mythology, and now it was gone.

But, then, as we know, a little thing such as death never stopped a vengeful Osborn.

Harry's Posthumous Schemes
Of course, any good Osborn always has a number of schemes going, and they’ve never let a little thing such as death get in the way. Harry had two, including one that began the bitter slide to the Clone Saga (which turned out to be the scheme of another Osborn)!

But before that, Harry had to play some mind games with Peter. In Spectacular Spider-Man #204 (September 1993), Harry’s friends and family gather for a reading of his will, which Harry had videotaped. He leaves Peter a jewelry box with a “surprise,” which drives Pete bonkers until he opens it – and all there is is a piece of paper that says “Gotcha.” This makes Spidey think that Harry is actually still alive, and it’s only after he rattles Liz by expressing this belief does he come to his senses (but good thinking Spidey, just a little premature).

The first scheme is what I call the “Robot Parents” saga, which began in Amazing Spider-Man #363 (June 1992), when a mysterious middle aged couple boarded a plane to New York City, with the woman fearing the impact of their arrival upon people, particularly one Peter Parker. In issue #365 they are introduced as Peter’s long believed dead parents, who weren’t really dead (boy, that seems to be a common theme in superhero comic books, doesn’t it?). Rather than dying in a plane crash, they had actually been kidnapped by Soviet agents who were looking to obtain information on the Red Skull (whom the Parkers were spying on for the US). They were kept in a series of internment camps as prisoners by the Soviets and released when the Evil Empire collapsed. However, Peter was naturally suspicious, as was Aunt May (who went so far as to hire a private detective to follow the couple around), but neither could uncover any evidence to counter their suspicions. Unfortunately, this subplot and the accompanying riddle went on for two years, dragged well beyond its breaking point. According to the writer of Amazing Spider-Man at the time, David Michelinie, the problem was with Spider-Editor Danny Fingeroth, who couldn’t make up his mind whether the parents were real or not, which must have been frustrating for a writer, not going where the story was going, and therefore unable to do any foreshadowing, or even really develop the characters since any development might not fit with the ultimate denouement.

It finally came to an end in issue #388 (April 1994) when it was revealed that Peter’s “parents” were really artificial life forms created by the Chameleon and inserted into Peter’s life. The Chameleon believed that Peter held information regarding Spider-Man’s true identity and that ultimately he would trust his “parents” with this knowledge (which frankly, seems to be quite a leap and an awfully round about way to get to where you want to go). The story ends with both “robots” destroyed, the Chameleon escaping, and Peter determined to hunt down the Chameleon and interestingly enough “whoever put him up to this.” The latter is curious because under no circumstances in the story were we led to believe that the mastermind of the plot was anyone but the Chameleon, so what led Peter to believe there was? Either this was a slip-up, or a clumsy bit of artistic license taken to hook the reader into believing there was more to the story.

After a chase that continued through a four part crossover (with references by both Spidey and the Chameleon of another player in the matter) through all of the existing spider titles at that time, the end came in Amazing Spider-Man #389, when Peter finds out that it was Harry who was behind the whole scheme.

But the late Mr. Osborn wasn’t done yet.

All things considered, even with one major flaw, our next story the one-shot Legacy of Evil (June 1996) was pretty cool - and was clearly meant to be the final word, the end of the Osborn/Goblin story when it was first conceived. Its timing is odd, since this is clearly the Peter Parker, and not the Ben Reilly, Spider-Man, and it takes place before the events of Green Goblin #1, where Phil Urich, the teenage nephew of Bugle reporter Ben, first stumbled onto one of Harry’s secret lairs. And as we found out in Life of Reilly, events were moving in the direction of bringing Norman back - so rather than the epilogue to the entire Osborn story – this now becomes just another chapter in the saga, and the genesis of Norman Osborn's grievances against Ben Urich and the Daily Bugle.

The art, by Mark Texeira, won't be everyone's cup of tea (damn clichés) - it's certainly different – and sometimes different is good - my only real problem with it was why middle-aged reporter Ben Urich comes out looking younger. He clearly appears to be modeled on someone, but I can't place it.

The story unfolds as Urich is about to interview Liz Osborn for his book on the Green Goblin (titled Legacy of Evil natch), but instead of finding Liz, he comes across a battle between Spider-Man and three female Goblins on gliders (Spidey even refers to this battle in Amazing Spider-Man #569). Spidey takes out one, but the other two get what they came for, Liz's son Norman (just his first of many turns as a kidnap victim). Although none of the Goblins spoke, Liz claims that she heard them "in her head" (which is key later) say that they were taking little Norman away so that he could receive his birthright - the Legacy of the Green Goblin! But what can that possibly mean? And so, between the three of them, Ben, Liz, and Spider-Man, they decide to piece as much as they can about the history of the Green Goblin and the men who took up the mantle, hoping that it will tell them what the "legacy" is and where little Norman could be.

As Ben conducts his research, he is joined by Mark Raxton, whom Liz has asked to serve as Ben's bodyguard (always a good idea to have some protection when you're snooping around in the depths of human evil). And curiously, the first thing that is done is to exhume Harry. Naturally, of course, this would be a first step - however, there is an interesting loophole if you think about it - Ben says that Harry's coffin is "exhumed. And opened. And it's confirmed. He's dead, all right." At first I noted the lack of any real forensic checks, such as dental records or DNA since we all know how supervillains have a way of faking their deaths, but then though better about it, since it was probably just best for the story to sum up the fact of the certainty of Harry’s death quickly and move on. It will be interesting to see whether or not Marvel decides to address this hurdle when the time comes to explain how Harry is alive in “Brand New Day” continuity.

But here’s a real question - why didn't they exhume Norman as well? I suppose the logic would be that there had never been an indication in the seven or so years (Marvel time based on the reference in Osborn Journal of the time between Gwen Stacy’s death and the end of the Clone Saga) that Norman has been "dead," that he was still alive and kicking somewhere. Looking back, though, you would have thought they would have hedged their bets.

Meanwhile, Spidey is shaking up the underworld trying to get a line on the Goblin and where he may be only to get the same answer “He’s dead.” Urich spends his time investigating Norman and Harry’s backgrounds and people who knew them (with two glaring exceptions) and develops an incorrect theory of the Goblin timeline when Harry first became the Goblin. He comes to the conclusion that Harry became the Goblin soon after entering college because the Goblin’s behavior becomes increasingly psychotic around then, (although not specified, Ben no doubt likely believes this parallels Harry’s drug abuse).

Eventually, Spider-Man deduces the truth, that Liz has been under the posthumous control of the Green Goblin, and finds that little Norman has been spirited away to another secret Goblin hideout where he is suspended in a cage above a vat containing the Goblin formula – the “legacy” of the Green Goblin and his “birthright.” It’s Spidey to the rescue again as he saves Normie from being immersed in what is more than likely the same type of Goblin gunk that killed Harry.

But Ben still has questions of Spider-Man about the Goblin; such as if Harry didn’t become the Goblin until after Norman’s death, then why did Norman become more psychotic? Spider-Man says “because he knew…and I knew…and he couldn’t stand the thought of …” before catching himself and realizing that the fact that they knew each other’s identities, and that Norman flipped out when he discovered that Spider-Man was living right under his very nose, is all part of the story that he is not ready to tell. However, it appears to be too late, as it is clearly hinted that Urich is on the right track to unraveling the entire mystery - but to do so would result in a situation similar to Daredevil - "another story that he'll never write."

The conclusion has Ben Urich putting the finishing touches on his book while nephew Phil looks on with interest, and the story of the Green Goblin, at least the villainous Green Goblin, has now come to an end.

Well, or so it seemed at the time.

The story is an interesting one, but unfortunately, the big glaring hole turns out to be why Urich never even considers talking to Peter Parker or Mary Jane Watson! They aren't even mentioned in the story! Peter was Harry's best friend and roommate, and MJ was his girlfriend at the time when he began his first trip down Insanity Lane. After all, Ben talked to Flash Thompson, didn't he, so why not Peter and MJ? Both of them would be in a far better position to comment on Harry's psychosis and his relationship with his father than Liz or Raxton - neither of whom would have even been likely to have even met Norman Osborn! After all, wouldn't Ben have been curious why the Green Goblin came into Peter Parker's apartment, and took Gwen Stacy hostage? Was it because Peter didn't catch Gobby’s good side in a picture? Ben Urich seems to be far too good of a reporter (remember, he eventually doped out Spider-Man’s secret identity anyway as we saw in The Pulse #4) to have so clearly overlooked Peter and Mary Jane’s connections to Harry.

Although not necessarily a full fledged scheme, it soon became apparent that while alive Harry was continuing to work on upgrades to the Goblin arsenal, including a new formula, a new costume, and new weapons. Phil Urich stumbled upon these in Green Goblin #1 (October 1995). This included a new mask with a sonic “lunatic laugh” that was enough to shatter eardrums.

And then there was the posthumous scheme that almost was but then wasn’t. Life of Reilly, of course, chronicles this far better than I could – but the original mastermind behind the Clone Saga was meant to be Harry Osborn, and not Norman. Once it was decided that Peter Parker was to resume the mantle of Spider-Man, there came the need to have a mastermind behind the Jackal, someone who had manipulated even the grand event of the “revelation” that Peter was the clone and Ben was the real thing. But who was a “big” enough villain for it to be – it couldn’t be just anyone – and this villain had to be one with a certain amount of scientific expertise or access to same, and had been around long enough since the original Clone Saga had taken place twenty years earlier. There were really only two (or three) depending on your perspective: a Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus (who was actually considered).

In fact, it was decided early that it wouldn’t be Norman Osborn because that meant undoing part of the classic Amazing Spider-Man #122. Oh, the irony.

So, in Amazing Spider-Man #411, a mysterious desiccated character in an environmental suit, named “Gaunt,” made his debut. It was intended that this character would have been Harry Osborn, who was not killed by the revised Goblin formula, but who was literally rotting away as a result of using it. However, then Editor in Chief Bob Harras decreed that Harry could not be the mastermind behind the Clone Saga, that it had to be Norman, because in his opinion Norman was far more believable as a villain sinister and manipulative enough to have managed the whole enterprise. Therefore, Gaunt was turned into Mendel Stromm, and in the employ of Norman, the true mastermind.

Could Harry have been the mastermind behind the Clone Saga? We’ll debate later whether Harry or Norman was the better villain, but yes, Harry could easily have been the mastermind. It would have required some tap dancing, although I suppose no more dancing that having the long-dead Norman be the plotter. Remember, when Norman "died," Harry's mind was fried from drug use, although he apparently recovered enough of his senses to follow Norman out to his final battle with Spider-Man, and strip the Goblin costume off his father's body. However, after issue #137 he was committed to a mental hospital, and then beginning in issue #151 when he returned, he forgot all about his father's connection to the Goblin, and assumed he was a bored rich kid with mental problems who was just playing supervillain. He did not realize that his father was actually the Goblin until issue #249, when the Hobgoblin sent him the evidence as part of a blackmail plot. And even then, he did not become fully aware of the whole history and secrets of the Green Goblin until around issue #312. As the convoluted ret-con that was Osborn Journals indicated, the mastermind behind the Clone Saga would have to have been actively managing the whole thing to keep it together (which included keeping tabs on Ben Reilly through Seward Trainer). While it could be argued that the Clone Saga was a plot that Norman had actually jumpstarted, and Harry just followed it - there still is the problem of Harry not being in a position to actually manage it. So, while it made less sense for Harry to be the mastermind, the fact that everything was stretched past the breaking point to make it Norman, it isn't inconceivable that a creative writer couldn't have come up with something that made sense in the twisted realm of Spidey pseudo-science. After all, once Harry's body was restored, the Clone Saga was over, and he was restored to the land of the living, his presence would have been accepted and the circumstances of his return conveniently underplayed or ignored, just as Norman's have been. As far as the story Legacy of Evil, where Harry's body was dug up and it was confirmed to be him? Well, that could easily be undone as well - after all - couldn't the mastermind behind the Clone Saga have created a clone to serve in the original's stead (not really, of course, because the clone's dental records wouldn't have matched Harry's, for one - although if that step was skipped and they went straight to DNA testing - I suppose the world could have been fooled. If you recall, in The Jackal Files, the Jackal claimed that he had checked to make sure that both Norman and Harry Osborn were really dead).

Harry or Norman?
One debate for Osborn lovers is which one was the better villain – Norman or Harry? I’ll admit, I’m biased, because I have always been a fan of Norman Osborn, and was thrilled when he turned out to be the mastermind behind the Clone Saga and therefore was back from the dead.

The appeal of Harry as the Goblin is the “my best friend is my greatest enemy,” take on the tale. It’s an irresistible lure to a writer and full of dramatic possibilities. Harry was not, nor had really ever been, a criminal unlike his father, who sought to take control of the New York mobs well before he became obsessed with Spider-Man’s destruction. For most of his history in the spider titles, Harry had been a neurotic, scared boy. Even as the Green Goblin, that’s still what Harry was deep inside, as JM DeMatteis so eloquently indicated during “The Child Within,” and “Best of Enemies.” Although Norman had once been wracked by fear and insecurity as a young man, that part of him died along with his wife, and only the monster remained. And what Harry ultimately wanted to be was a hero, as both his brief heroic turn as the Goblin, and his last words to Peter indicated.

Another aspect of Harry that distinguished him from his father was his humanity. Again, Norman’s humanity died the day that Emily Osborn did. And although Harry claimed to hate Peter Parker at the end, it really wasn’t Peter he hated, it was himself, but he projected that hatred onto Peter and Spider-Man because he felt inadequate to them both. Harry also made it clear that while he wanted to exact revenge upon Peter for the death of his father (and for how small he made him feel), that Mary Jane and Aunt May were excluded from his vendetta. As we all know, Norman Osborn has no such decency, as Peter’s friends and family have always been fair game. It is interesting what would have happened to Harry had Liz died – would he have lost his residual humanity just like his father? Would he have become a monster to his own son as Norman had been, and perpetuating the legacy of hatred and murder to yet another generation?

For Harry to have been an effective Goblin, however, he would have to have evolved beyond that scared child and into a true criminal mastermind, which he could have with skilled writing. With all that we have already discussed, Harry could have been a complex, yet still sympathetic character and villain.

But doggone it; I like Norman better because he is just plain evil in a way that Harry could never really be. Norman is simply a nasty piece of work who generates no sympathy and no compassion. Very little is beneath him. Harry is not in his class as a science or business intellect or as a megalomaniac. While Harry could have used and modified the technology of the Goblin, Norman was the one who invented it. Norman just seems to be the greater, more pervasive evil, and thus the better villain on a long term basis.

Should Harry Have Stayed Dead?
As everyone now knows, in Amazing Spider-Man #545 (January 2008) when Peter Parker awakens from his Mephisto induced slumber, he wakes up in a world where Harry Osborn is alive and well. Is this another blasphemy? Should Harry have stayed dead?

That’s a tough one.

I don’t have any trouble with supervillains coming back from the dead because that’s the sort of thing that supervillains do. Usually their body chemistry is altered in some way that they have some great healing factor (ala Norman Osborn), or their technology is sufficiently advanced to protect them (Doc Ock’s indestructible arms allowing him to survive a nuclear explosion in Amazing Spider-Man #132(April 1974)), or we just turn a blind eye without requiring any rational explanation (the Chameleon coming back after he hurled himself off a bridge in Webspinners #11). Even if the way they come back is totally lame (Doc Ock being resurrected by mystical ninjas in Amazing Spider-Man #427 (October 1997), we’ve already accepted a certain amount of absurdity to begin with when we accept that these beings can exist. And classic villains shouldn’t be killed off to begin with, although it’s hard to argue that Norman didn’t have it coming after he killed Gwen Stacy in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #121. That’s why I fully expect one day for the Quentin Beck Mysterio and the original Kraven to somehow shake off the cobwebs of death and return to the land of the living.

And sometimes the deaths of the supervillains are so stupid that it doesn’t matter how they come back because it’s to right a previous wrong. Bringing Doc Ock back after being killed by Kaine is a perfect example – he should never have been killed off. That’s also why the Quentin Beck Mysterio should come back, because there is no way that Kevin Smith should have been allowed to kill off a classic Ditko villain in the pages of another superhero’s magazine.

Even civilians come back from the dead these days – as did Aunt May (Peter Parker #97 (November 1998)) – although it turns out that it really wasn’t her that died in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #400 (April 1995) . I used to have a problem with civilians coming back from the dead because, after all, they don’t have funky super powers and the rationalization usually has to be even more absurd to bring them back, but this is a common cliché in daytime dramas (if you don’t see a body, they ain’t dead, no matter what) and is not exclusive to superhero comics.

The problem with resurrecting Harry is that his death actually served a strong dramatic purpose. For one, it was the logical end to that particular story. Secondly, when Norman Osborn came back, Harry’s death upped the ante in the conflict between Norman Osborn and Peter Parker. Both men loved him, yet they each blamed the other for his death. Rather than something that happened for a cheap dramatic effect and shock value (like I consider the death of Jean DeWolffe to be – that was a good character that should never have been killed – and her death has not served a dramatic purpose with the exception of the story she died in), Harry’s death, much like that of Gwen Stacy’s continued to resonate as the years went by. It was never far from the surface when Spider-Man and the Green Goblin did battle as each man believed that the other had taken someone they loved from them. Bringing Harry back removes that element of conflict, much like bringing back Gwen Stacy would do.

The difference between Gwen Stacy, who has stayed dead (although Joey Q almost brought her back), and Harry, who has come back, is that Gwen was replaced, arguably by better supporting characters (i.e. Mary Jane Watson and Felicia Hardy – I say arguably because the dear departed Ms. Stacy has a strong contingent of fans). Harry Osborn’s death left a hole in the Spider-Man mythology as he was never effectively replaced. After Harry died, either an existing friend, such as Flash Thompson, or a new character, should have stepped up into the role of Peter Parker’s best friend because as has been mentioned many times by the current Spider-Man staff, the story is really about Peter Parker, who happens to be Spider-Man. By killing off his friends and supporting cast members, you take away story opportunities for Peter Parker, and reduce the reasons for Spider-Man to return to his regular identity in the first place. After all, if he has no friends or family as Peter Parker, then he might as well be Spider-Man all the time.

Bringing Harry back serves a number of purposes (1) it gives Peter his best friend back and returns a strong anchor to his civilian identity. This was especially important since one primary anchor, Mary Jane as Peter’s wife, was removed (2) it brings back the reason that Spider-Man can never really bring himself to finish the Goblin off once and for all – he is his best friend’s father – and now we know for a fact just how devastating Norman’s “Death” was for Harry and (3) it gives us an interesting new (old?) dynamic in the relationship between Norman and Harry Osborn. For one, it gives Norman Osborn another character to have routine contact and conflict with other than Peter Parker and should serve to enrich that character.

In the final analysis, I’m glad to have Harry back. I just hope that the spider-writers actually use his character to its dramatic potential and not allow him to languish in the background.

Conclusion
In many ways, Harry Osborn is the most tragic figure of the Spider-Man mythology. Many would point to Gwen Stacy, but Gwen’s tenure in the Spider-Man saga was actually fairly brief, and what’s more, his demise as originally unfolded was due in no small part to the people that he loved the most, most notably his father and his best friend. Both were oblivious to his needs and had betrayed him in their own way – Norman through his cruel abuse, and Peter through his neglect and his horrendous mistakes in judgment.

Now, with Harry back, they each have another chance to rectify their mistakes. But will they?

And now that Harry is back, where will his demons and anxieties lead him? Will he overcome them, or will he allow them to consume him as they did before?

Legions of Spider-Fans will be watching.


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