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Waiting for the Trade - Spiderman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller


Spider-man: Return of the Goblin
by Paul Jenkins & Humberto Ramos
collects Peter Parker: Spider-man (vol. 2) 44-47.

Why I Bought This: Over a year ago I bought the trade for a Spidey vs. Venom story called “The Hunger” by Paul Jenkins and it was astonishingly good: like by far the best Venom story to be told outside of the character’s first few appearances. Paul Jenkins in general seems fairly well-regarded for his work on Spidey and after the reading that Venom story I wanted to sample some more of his run. It seemed like stories tackling Spidey’s other major foes would be the best pick-ups in that regard so I grabbed both this Green Goblin story and a Doc Ock trade off Amazon.

The Plot: Norman once again makes a run at Peter through his friends and family. The story features a lot of psychological back and forth so there’s no way to recap without heavy spoilers.

Chapter 1 – Norman visits Harry’s grave and vows vengeance on Peter for refusing an offer to join together in a prior story. Peter meanwhile is being tormented by a recurring dream that we don’t get to see and tries to talk about it with Aunt May. Norman dons the Goblin suit. Peter calls MJ but can’t find the words to speak to her (apparently they are separated at this time), so he goes web swinging in the rain to clear his head. And then he comes face to face with the Green Goblin. The Goblin beats on Spidey pretty good. When Spidey turns the tables he asks Norman the point of it all, saying “you can’t make me do anything I don’t want;” to which Norman bets him $5 and a pizza that he can before stabbing him in the shoulder and inviting him to a “family funeral.”

Chapter 2 – Pete flashbacks to Gwen’s death, then turns on the TV to see Norman has released video footage of her death that implicates Spider-man as responsible (via the infamous “snap” after Spidey weblines her in trying to save her after the Goblin tossed her off the bridge) causing Pete to break his TV. Next Norman approaches Flash with a job offer. We cut to Norman at a business meeting when Pete barges in and makes a scene to prove he can bring the fight to Norman’s civilian life just as easily. Of course Norman then responds by threatening MJ and Aunt May so maybe not quite as easily. Spidey then goes to Jameson to confront him for running the Goblin’s allegations on the front page but that gets him nowhere. Meanwhile Norman has his goons force alcohol down Flash’s throat then sticks Flash behind the wheel of an Osborn Truck (as truck driver is the job Norman allegedly gave Flash) and causes the truck to ram into Peter’s class at Midtown High (this is during the science teacher era). Pete puts two and two together and races to the hospital where from outside the window he overhears that Flash has “irreversible brain damage.”

Chapter 3 – Pete is feeling guilty about Flash. When he goes into the work the next morning he again finds Norman waiting for him; this time playing the rich philanthropist by paying for all the damage that ‘unfortunate drunk new employee’ caused to the school. The two exchange veiled threats in a pretty fantastic scene as the principal gives Norman a tour of the school, ending with Norman telling Pete which warehouse to meet him at to finish this. Spidey stops by the hospital to visit Flash first and then we get a viscous battle between the two. Spidey tries to pull back when he feels it has gone too far, at which point Norman threatens to kill his own grandson (and Pete’s godson) toddler Normie Osborn for being weak like Harry and unworthy of inheriting the company. This causes Peter to vow to kill Norman.

Chapter 4 – Spidey and The Goblin are still going at it and Norman ups the stakes again by saying when he finishes with Pete tonight he’s going to order hits on every person in Pete’s life that he cares about. Spidey’s rage makes him reckless allowing Goblin to get the upper hand. Goblin tries to drown Pete in toxic waste, but at the last moment Pete mounts the babyface comeback and then just pummels Norman, breaking his ribs and putting him on the defensive. Pete is about to strike the killing blow--and Norman even asks him to do it--but Pete can’t commit murder and in fact realizes that Norman’s goal along has been to use Pete to commit suicide. In a state of exhaustion the two collapse and talk to each other, sharing a laugh before Pete reveals his recurring dream to Norman: that he sees Mary Jane dying in a plane crash but when he gets to the body it ends up being Gwen. Pete then says he already lived through the worst thing Norman can do once before with Gwen and if he didn’t kill him Norman then, he’s never going to. Pete then explains to Norman how their lives are different and walks out on him. The next day Pete visits Flash in the hospital, while Norman returns to his office all alone and looks over a gun in his desk drawer.

Critical Thoughts: The human chess between Pete and Norman is great in chapters 2 and 3 and Norman comes across as really diabolical and underhanded throughout the whole story making this a gripping read at times.

I’m not sure I fully buy into Norman being suicidal--probably because we don’t expect arch-villains to be that vulnerable or really anything but threatening and megalomaniacal in most super hero stories--but it’s not so far-fetched as to say it couldn’t happen: after all Norman was at least a sociopath before he even became the Goblin and over the years his mental problems have been exacerbated by chemical means, head trauma and even mystic inducement so who is to say that his insanity would never manifest into depression, particularly after the death of his son. If we go with the premise that Norman is suicidal I certainly believe that he would want to die by Pete’s hand both for his own ego and as a final revenge on Pete since he knows Pete well enough to how guilty Peter would feel if he ever took a life. Certainly Jenkins puts a lot of work into the story to make the premise plausible, with the ending showing how alone Norman is. I think Jenkins writes villains exceptionally well so when he has one of the major ones like Venom or Norman he writes stories that excel both psychologically as well as on the visceral action level. It also helps that Jenkins has a good grasp of Peter and his supporting cast, and how being in the presence of these psychopaths day in and day out affects Peter.

As a general criticism, I will say I don’t like Ramos’ art. I never have and still don’t even with his current ASM Spidey stuff. Most of the time he’s okay drawing the costumed stuff but his civilian facials are terrible. This however was a step-up from his usual. There’s a few panels where Aunt May looks weird but overall he does an adequate job on this story.

Grade: B-. An unusual direction for Norman but overall it’s a compelling read from beginning to end, which you can find for a ludicrously cheap price on Amazon.