Spider-Spotlight 01 – Jenkins/Ramos

January 2nd, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, it’s like this.

I love Spider-Man. I could give you five different reasons why your favorite hero is completely inferior to your Friendly Neighborhood Notaninsect. Your Superman is nothing. Behold, I teach you the Spider.

This is the Spider-Spotlight. Once a week or so, I’m going to headline a few of my very favorite Spider-artists, Spider-writers, and Spider-stories. Originally, this was just going to be an art feature, but comics are a visual medium, too, so the art and the words go hand in hand. I’ll do my level best to keep spoilers at a minimum, just in case i convince you to go out and pick up these books.

Don’t take this as a Best Of… list. It’s just some stuff I think is pretty awesome and that you should think is awesome, too, or else Slappy the Spider-Fairy is going to come down and eat your soul.

First up? Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos.

Now, like most Spider-fans, I have my own ideas about Spider-Man’s rogues. Some of them are extremely lame, others are awesome. If I had to pick one villain for Spidey to take on in my own special version of Spider-Man: The End, it’d have to be Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. Yeah, his resurrection was an extremely iffy idea, and the fact that, for a while, he was behind everything going wrong in Spidey’s life is stupid, but he is the quintessential Spider-villain. He’s got everything, from the pseudo-science origin to the ridiculous gimmick.

gobboPaul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos’s “A Death in the Family,” from Peter Parker, Spider-man #44-47, is not about Green Goblin vs Spider-Man. It is about Norman Osborn vs Peter Parker, and the fact that they have one of the more screwed up adversarial relationships out there. They’re bitter enemies, yes, but are still on speaking terms with one another. They each know each other’s secret identity and weaknesses, but that in and of itself guarantees that one won’t out the other. Instead, they’ve got a kind of detente. They’re practically playing a game with each other.

“A Death in the Family” takes place during this period. It was published a few years back, before Peter Parker was relaunched as Spectacular Spider-Man. It opens with a quote from Pascal, “All men naturally hate each other.” Peter Parker has been having a dream that’s haunting him, and the only person who could possibly understand is someone beyond his reach: Norman Osborn. He tries to tell his Aunt May about the dream, but falls short. he can’t find the words. He needs to tell Norman.

You always were a disappointment to us.Norman, of course, has problems of his own. He’s been teeter-tottering on the edge of sanity for years now, and arguably ever since he first put on the Goblin costume. We see him standing in the rain, talking to his dead son, Harry. Norman talks about how he could never really communicate with Harry, and possibly reveals that he had the same problem with his father at the same time. He says that he always wanted what was best for Harry, even though Harry was “so much like your mother in so many ways.” Norman goes on to say that Harry was “always a disappointment to us.” I don’t think that Norman is referring to he and his wife right now. I’m pretty sure that he means Norman Osborn and the Goblin.

Norman is clearly insane.

He soon gets to the point, though. Harry was a failure as a son and as an heir to the Osborn legacy. Norman once offered the keys to the kingdom to Peter… and Peter refused. “You know I can’t let that stand, Harry,” Norman says.

This is the crux of the story. Both Peter and Norman need each other. Peter needs to be able to talk about his dream and find some kind of balance, while Norman simply wants an heir. They both need each other, but neither of them are going to simply give in to each other. Norman’s idea of getting Peter’s attention is to dive bomb him in his Goblin Glider in full Goblin regalia and demand his attention. Peter wants no part of that. He pulls off his mask and tells Norman that he doesn’t want to talk to the Goblin, he wants to talk to Osborn.

What follows is a four part story that hits all the high notes. Central to each Spider-story is spider-angst, and there’s plenty of that. Peter’s strained relationship with Mary Jane is touched on, as well as his guilt over the death of Gwen Stacy. Things build to a head once Osborn puts one of Peter’s oldest friends (or is that enemies?) into a coma, just to hurt his feelings. The ending of the tale is probably my favorite Goblin/Spidey scene, bar none. It shows that Peter and Norman aren’t just enemies, but they’re certainly not friends. They both have a shared set of experiences that’s given them a bond that’s dysfunctional to be sure, but a bond nonetheless.

Right back atcha!
Paul Jenkins really nailed this story. I really enjoyed the tense dynamic he put into play between Peter and Norman. They alternate between a tense truce to outright hate to old school superheroic wisecrackery. Norman is fluid on his own, ranting and raving at one point, and delivering serious-as-cancer death threats the next. In the end, it all rings true. It works. Pardon my pretension, but this kind of thing is one of the highlights of the very nature of work-for-hire comics for me. I don’t think that Lee and Ditko (or any of the teams that followed) could have seen that Peter and Norman’s relationship would end up like this. You can tell that it wasn’t going to be normal from the point where we found out that Norman was the Goblin and Peter helped him out of a burning building, but this is something else entirely. They’re still antagonists, but it’s different. Peter is trying to come to terms with the lack of the hate that he should feel for Norman for killing Gwen, and Norman wants an heir, but hates that Peter turned him down.

Humberto Ramos’s art also makes this story go over well. He’s a very cartoony, big foot-style artist, but it’s a style that’s well-suited for Spidey. His style lets his action scenes can be high-impact without looking totally over the top. The scenes that we get in the rain throughout the story are beautiful and definitely build the feel of the story. His faces are properly expressive, and the full page we get of a teary-eyed and distraught Peter three pages into the first part is genuinely harsh. Combine that with Norman Osborn’s warped grin on the very next page and you know from jump that this isn’t going to be a knock-down-drag-out old-school brawl. There’ll be costumes, for sure, and there’ll be a good amount of blood-letting, but this is a story about the characters and their relationship first and foremost.

It’s excellent work, really. Easily the best Goblin story in years, though that isn’t really saying much. It’d be nice if all Goblin stories were this good, but the Goblins were so over- and misused during the 90s that the Goblin stories should probably only come along very occasionally.

Give it a go. It’s well worth it.

Spider-Man: Return of the Goblin, ISBN: 0785110194

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4 comments to “Spider-Spotlight 01 – Jenkins/Ramos”

  1. Just for the sake of being contrary, Ramos’s art never really grabbed me the way it did you. The dude’s living proof that you can in fact be too manga.

  2. Ramos’s art “manga”? Please

    Anyway, I agree totally. This story is the first arc of any “real” comic I’ve ever read, and is probably the reason I didn’t give up comics two years ago.

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