“I’m going to be just like you, Dad. I’ve been taking the Goblin serum.”
It’s Normie Osborn’s birthday! Did The Lizard and Spider-Man bring him presents, or are they just there to crash the party?
WRITER: Ryan Stegman
ARTIST: Nathan Stockman
COLORIST: Jesus Aburtov
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTISTS: Nathan Stockman & Jim Campbell
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Allison Stock
EDITOR: Darren Shan
SPIDER-MAN created by STAN LEE & STEVE DITKO
STORY: It’s Normie Osborn’s birthday, so he does what any freshly minted 11 year old would do-go to work. At an Oscorp warehouse in Staten Island, Spider-Man and Spiderling are embroiled in combat with The Lizard and his son, Billy, who is now a mutated lizard, too. The Lizards get away, but not with what they came for. At work, Normie fires the person who ordered his birthday cake for his surprise party. Peter and Annie, meanwhile, are enjoying Daddy-Daughter Day, until they get another fix on The Lizard and rush after him. As Normie contemplates his father, The Lizard breaks into the very Oscorp building he is at, looking for Regent tech to cure his son. Normie attempts to retaliate with Pumpkin Bombs, but Lizard overpowers him. The Web-Slingers burst in, saving him. Spiderling captures Billy, as The Lizard and Spidey continue to tussle until Normie tosses a Pumpkin Bomb at them, taking out a wall and the two combatants, if only for a moment. Spiderling is furious at Normie, but still manages to subdue The Lizard and save her dad. Normie flashes back to the night Harry died. Peter wishes Normie a happy birthday after webbing up Lizard and swings off, angering Normie. In his furor, he steps on and breaks a framed picture of he and his dad. Crying out, his mind turns to vengeance against Spider-Man!
THOUGHTS: If you’ve read my review for RYV #5, you may recall that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Nathan Stockman’s art. While he has talent, it wasn’t really my cup of metaphorical tea. As such, I’m not too big a fan of the cover, although I like the idea of Normie smashing his action figures together in play battle. He did this all the time during J.M. DeMatteis’ run on the original volume of Spectacular and I appreciate the callback, intentional or not.
So, let’s talk about the art. I’m still getting a cartoony Frank Quitely vibe. I keep going back and forth on appreciating it and being turned off of it. Just when I find it too simplistic and childish, I marvel at how a shot is composed or the emotion on Normie’s face and little Normie emoting is the lynchpin of this issue. Stockman nails the last page of this book as Normie makes his transition to the “green” side.
Flying solo on writing duties, Stegman crushes it as much as he does when he is on art. Be it little character details, like Normie hiding his teddy bear, a TPS joke during the “surprise” birthday party, Billy Connors being alive in this reality and not eaten by his dad, or Normie’s excitement over some real action on his birthday, this issue is chock full of little things that made me happy and was far deeper than I expected it to be.
Stegman gives us a very introspective Normie. Whether or not it’s his true nature or something brought about from him routinely taking the Goblin formula, that’s for the reader to decide. There’s a little of Damian Wayne or Smallville’s Lex Luthor to him. He may seem surface evil, but there’s a tragic heart beating underneath.
Juxtaposition is used to highlight the differences between Normie and Annie. Spiderling, being intuitive in the first fight with The Lizard, gets nothing but loving praise from her dad. Normie is surrounded by sycophants, employees that he loathes and has contempt for. When we do see him spend time with Harry in flashback, it’s a very bitter man, in the thrall of the Goblin formula, raving about the media and Spidey, leaving an impression on his son that Spider-Man meddles where he isn’t needed, something reflected in the current events unfolding before him. Yet somehow, he still thinks of his dad as being happy, even though the only proof we have of that is a photo emphasizing a one panel flashback to a prior birthday. It’s rough seeing the earlier birthday set in a home with banners and presents and friends and then cutting to the present where we find a spartan boardroom with employees blathering about work, with no interest in the young man before them. Is there any wonder as to why Normie reaches the conclusion he does at the end?
It’s hard to read this issue and not think of the work J.M. DeMatteis put in on developing Harry back in The Spectacular Spider-Man and that’s before we get to the flashback from Spec #200. With Harry alive again in the 616, it’s been told in interviews that there are so many story possibilities now that he’s been resurrected, but here we have an excellent story set in a world where he stayed dead that can only happen because of his passing. I actually started to tear up for the little guy at the end.
The last three pages of this book are comic gold. Again using juxtaposition, we see Normie remember Harry’s death as he sees Spidey and Spiderling embrace, briefly stopping the anger that is rising inside him. Paternal Peter is perfect as he takes away the Pumpkin Bomb, serving as the dad Normie no longer has. The story hits you with a jab as Spider-Man wishes Normie a happy birthday, following it with the proclamation that his dad loved him with all his heart. Then the right cross comes as a furious Normie accidentally cracks the picture of he and his father, causing him to ball his eyes out with abandon. I’m right there with him. The moment is so tragic and perfectly told. Stockman’s art sells what Normie is going through dramatically and I love as he closes in on his grief, then breaks it up into panels as we see the sad little boy morph into something evil, twisted…and green.
I also thought of the What If? story that brought us the MC2 line and the May Day Parker Spider-Girl. She, too, had to deal with Normie as a Goblin and we are on the cusp of jumping forward in time to a teenage Annie May Parker. Will Normie still be crushing on Spiderling after this? Aging Annie up so soon seems a bad idea, not only because we’re missing out on exploring new ground and dynamics, but we’re getting into May Day Parker territory. This may come off to some as Marvel needling those fans who already feel upset that May Day was overlooked with the creation of Annie, thereby alienating them from what so far has been an excellent Spider title.
I’m finding it hard to put into words how much I wound up loving this issue. Stockman continues to sway me to his side with panels like Normie bristling when Lizard mentions his dad or uses onomatopoeia in his web-lines. I wasn’t expecting Stegman to go so deep and heartfelt, reaching back twenty four years to one of my favorite stories, but this has fast become one of my favorite comics of the year. I wasn’t sure how his transition from art to writing would go, but he seems to be every bit the master. I don’t know what the future holds for this title, but this is certainly one of the best issues in its young run. Even if Stockman’s art isn’t to your taste, the story alone makes it worth your $3.99 as we get an intimate look at the tragedy of Normie Osborn’s life.
MY GRADE: A
JAVI’S HUH?: MJ’s at an all day doctor’s appointment. Is this a check up to see how being bonded to the symbiote affected her?