What’s this? 2014 isn’t even over, and there’s another annual of The Superior Spider-Man a mere five months after the first one? I mean, what’s next, Marvel ending Superior Spider-Man and relaunching Amazing Spider-Man? Why that’s just “crazy-town banana pants!” Oh, and don’t believe the solicts for this Annual, either. Because the main character of this isn’t the one-time heroic Green Goblin and former Hobgoblin, Phil Urich, aka the Goblin Knight, but rather his uncle and ace reporter for the Daily Bugle, Ben Urich.
WRITER: Christos Gage
PENCILS: Javier Rodriguez
INKER: Alvaro Lopez
COLORIST: Javier Rodriquez
LETTERER AND PRODUCTION: VC’s Clayton Cowles
EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
WRITER: Christos Gage
ARTIST: Philipe Briones
COLORIST: Veronica Gandini
LETTERER: VC’s Clayton Cowles
EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
SENIOR EDITOR: Nick Lowe
COVER ARTIST: Michael Del Mundo
STORY #1:Ben Urich sees Norah Winters interviewed about her views on the Goblin army and her tell-all book about her relationship with Phil Urich. Norah blames herself for ignoring the obvious signs that Phil was a psychopath, calls him a loser, adding, “I guess that makes me a loser for trusting him.” This makes Ben wonder how he can still call himself a reporter if he couldn’t see that his own nephew was a super-villain. As he goes for a walk, Ben gets a call from Mary Jane, who warns him about the Goblins coming after friends of both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. But after Ben’s call with MJ ends, he gets a surprise visit from Phil. Phil promises Ben is safe, and, before he leaves, tells him to stay off the streets for his own protection. Ben then goes to the Daily Bugle to warn Robbie Robertson. Robbie thinks Phil will go after Norah for revenge, and, because Norah still won’t talk to Robbie after his firing her, asks Ben to check up on her for him. Ben goes to Parker Industries and is told by Sajani Jaffrey that Peter is dead. Ben knows this is only a cover story and says he needs Peter’s help, offering up notes he’s collected on the Goblin Formula for Peter to create a possible cure. Sajani, however, says she’s already working on one, and shows Ben Carlie Cooper, still in her Monster form. Carlie begs Sajani for the cure, but Sajani says that because it hasn’t been tested, it might kill her. Carlie points out that since Ben is desperate to help Phil, she suggests Sajani’s cure can be tested on him first to which Ben agrees.
Phil arrives at Norah’s apartment to kill her only to find Ben waiting for him. Ben tries to convince Phil to turn himself in and almost injects with him the cure, when Phil’s Goblin minions bring in Robbie, who had been following Ben to see what he was really up to. Ben tries to convince Phil this isn’t a trap and offers Phil the cure. Instead, Phil smashes the vial and, taking out his flame sword, slashes Robbie across the chest. Ben goes to window and yells to the nearest spider-bot for help and, when Phil’s lackeys try to silence him, Phil kills them instead, then demands Ben tell him where the rest of the cure is located. At that moment, SpOck arrives and during his fight with Phil, shatters Phil’s goblin mask. Seeing Phil’s face, Ben realizes Phil, unlike Carlie, enjoys being a Goblin. SpOck is able to stun Phil and Ben finds that Robbie is still alive but needs immediate medical attention. Phil says that if they wants to save Robbie, they’ll have to let him go. Having no other choice, SpOck and Ben allow Phil to escape, then take Robbie to the hospital. The story concludes with Ben now realizing he’s lost his nephew for good and that he has to learn to accept it. But he also concludes he hasn’t lost everything: he still has the truth.
STORY #2: Captain Yuri Watanabee, aka the Wraith, wakes up to find herself in Parker Industries being attended to by the Living Brain. Wraith attacks the Living Brain and escapes. Meanwhile, Carlie demands Sajani to give her the cure for the Goblin Formula, but Sajani reminds her they still haven’t tested it yet. Carlie starts to lose control again, and at that moment, the Wraith arrives. Carlie, because she’s a goblin, is still invisible to Wraith’s facial-recognition lenses, but Wraith is able to find and attack Carlie via hearing her laugh. Sajani tried to get Wraith to stop, as she’s only making Carlie lose control faster, but it’s too late—Carlie has fully succumbed to the Goblin Formula. As Carlie is about to kill Wraith, Sajani is able to sneak up on her and inject Carlie with the cure. Slowly, Carlie reverts back to human form, and thus Wraith is finally able to see her. Carlie then slips into a coma, but not before explaining to Wraith it was the Green Goblin, not Peter, who abducted and transformed her. Wraith, now realizing she’s been going after the wrong person for Carlie’s disappearance, and, after removing and crushes her eye-lenses, leaves to go after the Goblins and make them pay.
THOUGHTS:In Robert Redford’s film adaptation of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, one of the characters, after an incident involving her wayward brother, asks, “Why is it the people who need the most help… won’t take it?” I’m sure all of us, at one point in our lives, knew someone close to us, be it a friend, spouse, lover, or family member, who kept getting themselves into trouble, and yet, try as we might, they would refuse to either get help or let us help them. And although the circumstances in the main story are of a more fantastic variety, we can all relate to Ben Urich in his need to save his nephew, unaware that Phil doesn’t want saving and that it’s far too late for him to be saved.
As a follow-up to Phil’s public outing as the Hobgoblin in Superior Spider-Man #15 and #16, “Blood Ties” is terrific as it is necessary. Christos Gage’s characterization of Ben Urich a man struggling to come to terms with what his nephew has become, trying to make amends for what he believes is his own failure as a surrogate father for Phil, is excellent and an example of how the lives of Spider-Man’s supporting cast are just as rich and dramatic as its titular hero’s. In addition, liked the way Gage depicted the other supporting players in this story. All of all of her appearances since “Big Time,” this is the best depiction of Sajani Jaffrey so far, in that underneath all her sarcasm, is someone dedicated to looking out for the well-fare of others, and this story is great example of her storytelling potential. And although Robbie’s role in the story is somewhat limited, his being gravely wounded by Phil took me by complete surprise, and I was quite relieved to learn he still survived.
Equally impressive is the art and inking by Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez respectively, as the lighting and shadow effects throughout the story is stunning and fitting to the overall tone of the story. The two-double page spreads detailing SpOck and Phil’s fight is particularly noteworthy, another fine example of showcasing Spidey’s speed, and in this case Phil’s, via depicting them in multiple places at once on the same panel.
Unfortunately, what prevents “Blood Ties” from getting a perfect “A” is two-fold. First, it’s clear this story is taking place between the events of Superior Spider-Man #28 and #29, which means that SpOck’s appearance and involvement, strangely enough, doesn’t fit. Presumably, SpOck is the middle of heading towards Empire State University to go and save who he assumes to be Anna Maria Marconi from the Green Goblin, and as Superior Spider-Man #29 showed us, he was so determined on saving her that he all but ignored innocent bystanders being attacked by the Green Goblin’s army, trying instead to get the police to handle it. So then why would SpOck, based on his depiction in that issue, go out of his way to go after Phil in this one? Sure, the subtext is that SpOck plans to capture Phil and exchange him for Anna Maria, but then, mere panels later, he says he has no time for Phil because he’s just the Green Goblin’s pawn. In short, while it doesn’t harm the story, SpOck coming to Ben and Robbie’s rescue feels a bit too plugged in.
The second drawback is one that’s the focus of the second story: the cure for the Goblin Formula. As I stated in my Superior Spider-Man #29 review, I hoped that Carlie being Monster wouldn’t lead to some “cockamamie cure.” That’s because I felt a cure for the Goblin Formula, especially after so many decades worth of stories which implied that taking the Formula resulted a permanent and incurable transformation and/or psychosis, would undermine any potential impact of Carlie forced into becoming a super-villain. And not only does the second story, “Chasing Ghosts,” cure Carlie of being “Monster,” it ends with the all-too convenient and all-too often used plot-device of having her fall into a coma. Which means, of course, the only other person who knows that Doc Ock has taken over Peter’s mind and body is, once again, prevented from telling anyone else the truth, thus reinforcing the notion that Peter, even after he returns, will still get all the blame for what SpOck did and no one will believe him when tries to explain what really happened.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if this same cure will also be the very thing to stop whoever is the Green Goblin for good and turn him “back to normal.” And if the Green Goblin does turn out to be ‘Lil Normie Osborn, this cure will also be, in part, what will absolve him of all culpability, especially since putting him in a coma allows for a possible cover story to hide the truth from the public.
Furthermore, “Chasing Ghosts” is another one of those stories in which an otherwise observant and deductive character succumbs to the “punch first, ask questions later” syndrome. Granted, it does tie-up some loose ends from the subplot of Captain Watanabee investigating Peter as a “person of interest” for Carlie’s disappearance, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Watanabee, despite being a ranking officer in the NYPD, behaved like such a clueless fool. Plus, it’s only after she finds out Carlie was Monster and that SpOck was not involved that Wraith only now realizes the Green Goblin was the bigger threat, as if him sending his goons to rampage throughout the city wasn’t a big enough clue? I mean, it’s not as if she was wearing those facial-recognition lenses that made all the Goblins invisible to her the entire time, right?
But the most annoying aspect about the second story? It’s obviously more integral the plot of “Goblin Nation” and will probably be referenced more in the last two issues of Superior Spider-Man and upcoming issues of the relaunched Amazing Spider-Man than the first story. Which means, if you want to get the complete plot of “Goblin Nation,” you can’t exactly opt to skip or ignore this. At least Philipe Briones art is somewhat decent, so it’s not a total loss.
In short, if you want to pick up this annual, do so for excellent “Blood Ties,” which gets a well-deserved A-. Unfortunately, “Chasing Ghosts” is only worth a D+, and thus brings the final grade point average for the annual down to a:
- Poor Pedro “Ollie” Olivera. Still being virtually ignored and taken for granted by his new girlfriend, Mary Jane, as she keeps talking about her ex who has the same first name as him. Notice that, in her call to Ben Urich, MJ makes no mention of Ollie whatsoever, and the look he’s giving her while she’s making this phone call. Hey, Ollie—has it sunk in yet that maybe MJ is just not that into you, and is only going out with you because you’re a watered-down version of the guy she wishes she could still be with?
- Ben Urich has always been depicted as a skilled and resourceful, old-fashioned journalist, but wow! Compiling “a near-complete chemical analysis of the Goblin Formula” from his notes? He’s got better contacts and sources than SHIELD, The Avengers, and the Fantastic Four combined!
- So Sajani warns Carlie that if she doesn’t control herself, she’s going to have no choice but to strap her down again. Which raises the question: why did Sajani free Carlie from her restraints in the first place? After all, Sajani knows full well how potentially dangerous Carlie is in her Goblin Formula induced state, and even Carlie herself has repeatedly said that she can barely stay sane. Yet Sajani, in spite of being a brilliant scientist, decided the most logical course of action was to let someone who could go into an uncontrollable homicidal rage roam around free in a high-tech research lab.
- And now, a moment of silence as Carlie Cooper, whose transformation into Monster was arguably the best thing that ever happened to her since becoming a giant spider in “Spider-Island,” is once again back to her ordinary, dull self. (Cue your humble reviewer playing “taps” on an air trumpet.)