Here’s the thing about superhero/villain relationships that have been depicted with the level of personal animosity and fraught passion as Spider-Man and Norman Osborn has been depicted over the years (and while we’re talking about it, Spider-Man and next issue’s featured villain, Otto Octavius): you can never expect a true resolution. The circle will never be completed. The door must always be left open for the next time these two characters are engaged in a bitter conflict that is advertised as being *the one.*
Because of that fact, creative teams have to tread carefully when they set out to use these characters together in order to tell new stories. Expectations should be tempered because there’s no way some story in 2017 will ever truly be *it.* Still, creators need to find a way to successfully advance their story (and the characters) so we, the readers, will remain engaged when the relationship is inevitably retreaded down the line.
Part of what makes Amazing Spider-Man #28, by Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen — and has made the entirety of “The Osborn Legacy” arc for that matter — so successful is the way this creative team has been able to so effortlessly manage expectations, advance the story of Spider-Man and Norman Osborn, and leave the door open for future stories. Even with its 2017-izised bells and whistles (Spidey even cracks a joke in this issue where he compares the drama of his current predicament to some of Slott’s past epics like “Spider-Island” and “Dead No More”), “The Osborn Legacy” clicks on so many levels due to its sheer simplicity and its adherence to many of the tried and true rules of sequential art storytelling. Interestingly enough, this storyline was never promoted as one of Marvel’s current “blockbusters” like so many of its Slott-scripted predecessors, and yet it feels augmented and emboldened because of that fact. It’s a story that rests on its own merits, an impressive mix of a strong, character-centric narrative and some of the most dynamic, breathtaking artwork this title has seen in years. No high-pressure sales pitches or rage-baiting interviews/solicitations/press releases needed.
No joke, it’s the first time in as long as I could remember when I reached the final page, of the final installment of a Spider-Man arc and was so desperate to get more of this story. Sure, I guess that smacks somewhat of disappointment, but that’s the best kind of disappointment.
And this sentiment comes even as I braced myself for the wrong kind of disappointment. As ASM #28’s plot starts unfolding in its opening pages, things are initially pitched as the Silver Sable show. In one sequence she even takes “lead” of the situation in Symkaria over Spider-Man and Spidey cracks a self-effacing joke about how he should have expected such a changing of the guard. In that moment, visions of some of the more intolerable parts of “Spider-Verse” and the vast bulk of ASM vol. 3 were at the forefront of my cerebral cortex. But it ends up being some expert narrative sleight of hand from Slott, as he rightly allows Sable to participate in the resolution of her story while Spider-Man swings off to participate in his. From that point on, all is very right in this world.
It needs to be said that as classic and timeless as the Spider-Man/Osborn dynamic has been for the past 50 years, the mystical secret identity “mindwipe” that accompanied “One More Day” in 2007 has sadly cheapened most of the Spidey/Norman confrontations that have since followed. Osborn knowing Spider-Man’s secret identity and being able to lash out in the most personal way possible at Peter was what long set him apart from any of Spidey’s other villains (and is a big reason why Doc Ock has arguably surpassed Osborn as THE arch-nemesis in recent years). Marvel sorta dealt with this problem by evolving Osborn into the big bad of the entire Marvel Universe for a bit. But any of those Spider-Man/Osborn encounters, like in “New Ways to Die” or “Goblin Nation” felt just so underwhelming because at the end of the day, it was never apparently clear why these two characters still hated each other as much as the reader was told that they did. In both instances, Slott more or less rested on the laurels of some of the past great stories that featured these two characters, relying on the reader’s knowledge of those tales as his exposition and not advancing beyond them in any meaningful way.
In ASM #28, Slott seemingly evolves beyond this easy-to-fall into trap and both leverages the past while also introducing new reasons for these characters to want to make each other suffer. Osborn, who we are told over and over again is no longer under the sociopathic influence of the Green Goblin and instead is presented as being both sane and pathological, was just off doing his thing, without a worry in the world before Spider-Man had the impulse to resume their rivalry. As a result, his desire to fight Spider-Man sans, technology, powers or abilities added a level of rawness and realism that had been missing from their other encounters the past decade. Suddenly the conflict wasn’t about costumes or archetypes, but rather the anger and vengeance between two vulnerable humans.
Immonen, as he’s done throughout this entire arc, stages the conflict with such innate artistry, you would think he was sitting in the Marvel bullpen besides Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr., back in the early 70s when they were discussing their idea to have the Green Goblin kill off Gwen Stacy. Immonen’s ability to capture even the most subtle actions and movements makes the bare-knuckled brawl between Spider-Man and Osborn crackle. And his sense of setting and mood adds to the overall atmosphere and aesthetic of desolation. Immonen’s art perfectly captures how even when Spider-Man is teaming with other heroes, the character works best when his struggle is against an isolated foe, whether it’s fisticuffs and Osborn, or tons of steel pinning him to the ground.
The lack of a clean resolution in this arc likely signals that despite some of the speculation in recent years that his time on the book might be nearing its end, Slott is going to be around for the long haul, likely harvesting the seeds planted here for some major event or arc down the line. While I’ve certainly been critical of this writer over the past few years, and have suggested that perhaps some new voices need to enter the fray, Slott has proven here that he still has the ability to spin an engaging and enthralling story. I look forward to the next chapter.