Much of Dan Slott’s run of Amazing (and Superior) Spider-Man has been dominated by two returning, villainous presences: Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. We’ve seen these two villains hit Spider-Man from every direction: his personal life, global prospects, interior life, dimensional existence, geopolitical connections, and academic accomplishments. In Amazing Spider-Man #797, it was revealed that once again Norman Osborn would regain his knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity, positioning both characters to take serious, wicked, and violent actions against both Peter and everyone he loves.
Then, Amazing Spider-Man took a bit of a break from its biweekly schedule, leaving all of us in incredible anticipation for what would happen in the next issue of Dan Slott’s final arc “Go Down Swinging.” So many characters, including Peter, seemed to be positioned right in Norman’s sights: Jonah was tied up at the Gentleman’s Club, Mary Jane’s apartment was under Norman’s watchful eye, the Lyman’s nanny has been extracting blood from the children and awaiting orders from her boss, Ben Urich’s nephew had been violently murdered, and once again Norman had the advantage on Spider-Man with the opportunity to stack the deck in his favor.
The opening of Amazing Spider-Man #798 acknowledges these dangerous situations, joining Peter just as he’s reflecting on how his life finally seems to be coming back into order, now that Parker Industries has been put to rest. Readers will likely want to scream at Peter, hoping to warn him about the impending threat that is barreling towards the Daily Bugle. Even Peter’s spider-sense can’t seem to register danger (because of the Carnage symbiote) and the remainder of the comic plays out like the book’s biggest sucker punch against the character since the reveal of Amazing Spider-Man #678, exactly 100 issues ago!
This time though, the audience is along for the ride and the effect isn’t quite so potent, we’re just waiting for the shoe to drop and the Red Goblin’s grinning face to make its sinister debut. In the meantime, we are treated to some hair-raising Green Goblin antics at The Daily Bugle, as Spider-Man attempts to fend the costumed-cretin off of the fleeing staff, before a tritium bomb destroys the building. The Daily Bugle has been in this situation before (see “Revelations” in Spider-Man #75), but never with the fabulous pencils of Stuart Immonen, who stuffs journalists into the backgrounds of his panels if only to increase the stakes of this scene immeasurably. Immonen’s Goblin and Spider-Man both get incredible splash introductions that emphasize their airborne combat maneuvers, but it is his work with the horrifying Goblin, wide-eyed, goggled, and insane, that steals the scene.
Slott is also sure to check in on some of his other sub-plots, updating readers on Agent Anti-Venom’s investigation of the Gentleman’s Club, Jonah’s reflections on outing Spider-Man, and the duplicitous attack on the Lyman family. Each of these scenes does an excellent job of providing a character-centric look at Norman’s extended reach while also leaving just enough mystery about where each of these plots is eventually headed.
The reveal of the Red Goblin does eventually come, in a “death” scene that’s likely to be remembered as an all-time great villain reveal. I must admit that I don’t love the final design of the Carnage/Goblin combo with his devil tail, flaming mouth, and white eyebrows, though Peter’s immediate response to the reveal does a lot to sell his fear of him. One has to wonder, though, what’s with all the Mephisto references in both the marketing and design of this character? Colorist Marte Gracia smartly and dramatically shifts the somber color tones from dull greens to violent reds, as if the symbiote itself was illuminating the scene, and Immonen reveals that the entire world around the Goblin and Spider-Man is splattered with the Carnage symbiote. Slott’s writing also has the Goblin at his most devious, using his “death” as an opportunity to sabotage Spider-Man’s morality and exploit it as a weakness.
Spider-Man immediately assesses the incredible danger that the Red Goblin presents and does absolutely the right thing. He gets the heck out of there! Pursued by cartoonish Carnage-bombs that giggle, talk, bite and then explode, Peter is forced into an abandoned building (there are a lot of these in Marvel’s New York) while the Red Goblin lays out his threats and taunts Peter’s inability to mount a counterattack. Norman puts it simply, give up being Spider-Man or everyone in Peter’s life will be killed in the most torturous ways imaginable. Immonen yet again establishes that he’s the premiere artist to capture Spider-Man’s airborne movements, always lending a physical reality and momentum to the poses he chooses. Then, at the drop of a hat, Immonen switches this comic into a horror book, casting the Red Goblin in silhouette as he scrambles around on all-fours.
The threat is sold incredibly well by the entire creative team on this book. Yet, as excited as I am about seeing Peter live up to his role as the man in the Spider-Man costume, especially as a sort of culmination of Slott’s run’s emphasis on this, I’m also unsure of what it means that Norman doesn’t care about Peter but only Spider-Man. Yes, Norman’s motives have changed quite often during the history of the character, but one of his most defining characteristics is his obsession with Peter’s identity and civilian life, often obsessing over how Peter is the rightful heir to his legacy as the Goblin. In a story that is built on Norman rediscovering Peter’s identity, it’s a bid odd to see him downplay his interest in Peter (the person) in favor of Spider-Man (the identity). The real exciting thing about Norman’s gained knowledge was that the stakes could feel incredibly direct, not only to Peter but also to his supporting cast, and to read the end of this issue and see those stakes somewhat alleviated by Peter’s actions is a bit of a disappointment.