While it might not be close to a year since Superior Spider-Man Annual #1 was released, featuring a controversial story about Spider-Man torturing Blackout, Marvel has decided to use the “Goblin Nation” storyline as an opportunity to release another of their yearly books. The rules behind Marvel’s annuals have never really been established and it looks like this new annual will be the only one in the Superior Spider-Man series this year, so why not?
While Superior Spider-Man Annual #2 might be more of a one-shot that continues the “Goblin Nation” story than an annual, it is an incredibly good one and it one actually counts! Fans of Spectacular Spider-Man (vol. 1) #80’s story “I Cover the Waterfront,” that featured a story that followed J. J. J.’s exploits as a reporter, will feel right at home here. In this sense, the book, despite its modern setting, feels like an issue of Spider-Man from the early 80s.
Superior Spider-Man Annual #2 focuses on Ben Urich, who was recently fired from The Bugle after his nephew was revealed to be the Hobgoblin (now Goblin Knight). The story, entitled “Blood Ties,” finds Urich coping with what he perceives to be a colossal mistake in his reporting duties and his obligations as an uncle. How could he, the reporter who “wrote the book on Norman Osborn,” miss that his own nephew was operating as the Hobgoblin?
As the Goblins tear up New York City, Phil reaches out to Ben, in the only way he knows how, to let him know that he is safe under Phil’s protection. Ben reads this as Phil’s humanity cracking through his Goblin Knight persona in a desperate plea for help. Soon Ben is at Parker Industries trying to figure out if it is possible to cure the Goblin serum. The journey tracks slowly through Ben’s grief over the slow realization that Phil’s transformation is complete and that his nephew’s humanity may be forever lost.
Javier Rodriguez reinforces Christos Gage’s subtle writing with some truly stunning pencil and color work, similar to what appeared in Superior Spider-Man Annual #1. Rodriguez sets pages up with wide, room-spanning images that allow the characters to move inside of them. The characters appear several times through each image, giving the sequences a sense of movement and dynamism. The action sequences are electric, especially when Phil uses his “goblin blast,” and the dramatic scenes are filled with a sense of desperation, particularly when Carlie jumps around the room in a fit.
Gage’s writing nails all of these characters and when put with Rodriguez’s pencils the results are potent. The reveal of Phil’s face and its effect on Ben is terrifying and sad. Even Carlie’s Goblin Monster is sympathetic, as she switches between personas without any control. The only real confusing element about the story is how it fits between Superior Spider-Man #29, which ends with Spider-Man trapped by Jonah’s spider-slayers, and Superior Spider-Man #30. Here Spider-Man shows up at the last second without any mention of the deadly robots.
The back-up story, “Chasing Ghosts,” follows the actions of Captain Watanabe’s Wraith persona as she seeks out answers about Peter Parker and Carlie Cooper at Parker Industries. The back-up isn’t nearly as interesting of a character piece as the first one but manages to move the “Goblin Nation” story forward in a way that will undoubtedly influence the series’ finale.
The more interesting and questionable element of “Chasing Ghosts” isn’t that the Living Brain gets beat-up again but is that Sajani and Captain Watanabe are able to cure Carlie of the goblin serum. A Goblin has never been cured before, though the effects have often waned and the insanity subsided on its own. It seems this story element was where the “Goblin Nation” story was headed anyway, but the goblin cure is an introduction to the Goblin mythos that is a bit odd.