Spectacular Spider-Man #178-183
Issue(s): Spectacular Spider-Man #178, Spectacular Spider-Man #179, Spectacular Spider-Man #180, Spectacular Spider-Man #181, Spectacular Spider-Man #182, Spectacular Spider-Man #183
Regarding Kraven's Last Hunt, granted this is billed as a sequel of sorts to that story ("Where Kraven's Last Hunt ended... Vermin's hunt begins!"). But the problem is that DeMatteis is parachuting in after four or so years after Kraven's Last Hunt and suddenly having Peter acting as if he was traumatized by those events. So it comes out of nowhere, although a little less so than the parents thing. So if you think about it in the long run (which of course is how i do) you have a Spider-Man that had certain events in his life, but continued to act like the normal Spider-Man that we all know until suddenly he had a long delayed reaction, and then when it's all over he again goes back to his old self. The result is that it feels like Spider-Man is being contorted into a role that doesn't suit him.
Granted the idea that it's subconscious guilt can do a lot of work. Theoretically it's Spider-Man's renewed contact with Vermin that is dredging some of this stuff up.
But it still feels sudden, and contrived. DeMatteis is praised for the psychological aspects of this story. But a good comparison is to Peter David's Hulk. David has some ideas about psychological scars in the Hulk's past but a) they were founded on stories that were already established and b) he spent four years or so building up to the reveal. DeMatteis becomes the regular writer on this book with this arc; he could have at least spent a little time building up to the story here instead of jumping right to it.
If you clicked on the link to where i said that this story was originally going to be for Batman, you'll see that it's only a comment that DeMatteis left on his blog, and that he doesn't seem to remember much about the original story and that whatever it was didn't get developed too much. Which is surprising because there are times in this story where Spider-Man actually sounds like Batman, as if DeMatteis had a full script ready to be transplanted over.
To be fair, Vermin has always brought out a horrible reaction from the heroes he encounters. For the first time, it's explicitly confirmed in this story that something in Vermin causes people to react that way.
On the other hand, at the point in the story where Spider-Man is talking about how all his villains keep crawling out of the slime, he hadn't been in direct contact with Vermin yet.
Vermin has been examined by Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic) and it's been determined that Vermin's problems are psychological, not physical, and it is later confirmed that Baron's Zemo's process involved dredging up psycholgical scars.
So Reed turned Vermin over to Dr. Kafka, who has been trying to reach the human buried inside Vermin's psyche. She felt like she was having some success, but Vermin subsequently escaped, killing multiple staff people at the asylum on the way out. Vermin is currently in the sewer, talking to a little boy that turns out to really be a hallucination of himself as a child.
Hands-down the most hilariously creepy sequence in the story is when Vermin makes his way to his old home and gets in bed with his father.
His father grabs a gun from the nightstand and shoots Vermin, chasing him away.
The third player in this story, almost unrelated to anything else except thematically, is Harry Osborn, who is dealing with his own psychological problems.
Things get twisted around in his head and he starts blaming Spider-Man - who he knows is Peter Parker - for his father's death, and that his father was a "good man". So Harry becomes the Green Goblin again and goes after Spider-Man.
Peter reaches out to Harry, but Harry is too unstable.
Harry captures Peter and hits him with some gas that forces him to live through his own suppressed psychological problems about his parents.
Not exactly subtle stuff. In fact it's enough to shake Harry out of his own problems for a bit.
Peter escapes and makes his way to Dr. Kafka, who explains to him all about suppressed guilt and how young kids blame themselves for tragedies because it gives them a way to feel in control of a situation. Meanwhile, it comes out that Vermin was sexually abused by his father as a child, so we are pulling out all the tropes (DeMatteis was simultaneously suggesting that Scarlet was sexually abused in his Moon Knight storyline).
After Spider-Man comes out of his own fugue, he goes after Vermin, who is in the process of attacking his father...
...and blaming his mother.
Harry shows up again during the Spider-Man/Vermin fight. Vermin is subdued, and his mother vows to stick with him going forward as he's taken to the hospital again. So it is down to Spider-Man vs. the Green Goblin. Peter tries to reach out to Harry again, but Harry says that it hurts too much to be Harry.
In the end, though, Harry can't bring himself to kill Peter, so he flies off.
We end with Peter at his parents' grave, telling them that now that he's faced his guilt, he can grieve for them.
As i've mentioned, i just don't think this works for Peter Parker. And the revelation that a bad guy had abusive parents was practically a joke at this point, and it's a weird place to go for Vermin, who already had a perfectly sound origin in that he was created and tortured by Baron Zemo. If it were a revelation that, say, Doctor Octopus (or, i don't know, the Joker) was the victim of sexual abuse as a child, i wouldn't think that it was necessary but i could see the point, since it explains how a normally rational guy could be so evil. But Vermin has always been depicted as basically an animal, so adding this additional layer doesn't really provide much. But hey, Vermin is DeMatteis' character, so what do i know?
I think the psychological noodling for Harry Osborn works best, since he has a history of such problems and a clear problem with his also-ill father. It does seem kind of cruel to bring this all up for Harry again, and this does lead to his "death", but of the three characters whose psyches we are plumbing, the results for him are the most logical, and the scenes of the "ghost" of his father criticizing the way he's raising his kid are the most powerful, to the point where i wish it was done separately from the Vermin story.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: In The Name of the Rose storyline in Web of Spider-Man #84-89, Spider-Man sees the Hobgoblin at one point and thinks for a second that it is Harry as the Green Goblin, and thinks to himself "Harry--! At last!". That seems to suggest that The Name of the Rose takes place after Harry has left his family, while Spider-Man is searching for him. And since The Name of the Rose takes place concurrently with Last Rites in Daredevil, this story needs to take place before that as well. Issue #184 of this series is an "Aftermath" follow-up to this storyline, but it takes place "days" after the end of this issue, and Spider-Man has not yet had any sleep. So probably no Spider-Man appearances should take place between this arc and #184. #184 leads directly into a story with a very different tone in #185, so i'll be including #184-185 in their own entry, separate from this one.
A footnote in this story, telling us that Spider-Man has recently "made peace with... all that Kraven did" to him, points to the Soul of the Hunter one shot.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
I agree that Peter's "subconscious guilt" over his parents' deaths and his hangups about being buried alive could have been introduced better. However, I still really enjoy this arc, if for nothing else than the return of Harry as the Green Goblin. Norman Osborn and his legacy will always be a key part of the Spider-Man mythos, and bringing Harry back as a villainous Goblin (and not the pseudo-hero Goblin from a year prior) was the right move, as it brings that legacy back to the forefront and essentially resurrects Peter's greatest foe without having to actually return Norman from the dead. Harry's previous mental issues during his initial run as the Goblin were never effectively dealt with, either, so this seems to be like a logical way to continue that story.
Even besides the Osborns, a lot of the issues addressed in this arc will come up again in the next few years. Spidey lamenting that all of his rogues gallery just keep coming back is a key conflict in Maximum Carnage. And, of course, bringing up Peter's feelings for his parents, however sudden, does foreshadow developments in next year's Amazing Spider-Man #365...
I do have to agree that DeMatteis went to the well a little too often with the "troubled childhood" trope for his villains. He would introduce similar neuroses into Electro's backstory during his "Light the Night" arc.
Posted by: TCP | November 20, 2015 3:30 PM
I laughed at Pete's flip-out being so completely over-the-top as to scare Harry sane.
Posted by: Mortificator | November 20, 2015 4:28 PM
Man, sexually abused AND mutated by Zemo AND giving of something that makes people hate him? Vermin might be one of the characters with the worst life in the Marvel Universe...
Kraven's Last Hunt was great, but I don't like how after that dark psychological stories kept being done with Spidey. Especially not since that all culminates in that whole "I AM THE SPIDER" nonsense. Say what you want about the Clone Saga, but at least it brought Peter back to a happy life and gave us Ben Reilly as a Spider who would could still crack a smile from time to time!
Posted by: Berend | November 20, 2015 5:22 PM
Harry and Peter's interactions in this story kind of remind me of this:
Statisfically, Vermin's multitude of traumas might seem unlikely, but honestly when you've got thousands of villains in your universe, it'd be just as unlikely not to get somebody with such a multitude of traumas.
Posted by: Max_Spider | November 20, 2015 6:25 PM
I remember not much liking the start of DeMatteis's run but loving it by the time we got to Spectacular 200. This story I somehow don't remember at all--it must have a sequel where Spidey clashes with Zemo, be ause I do remember that. (And it seemed go have a bit of psychological mischaracterization too--Zemo being worked up about his hands for once.)
Even the parts of the DeMatteis run Indon't like I still find head and shuolders above Round Robin, which seemed like the worst Spidey story I'd read in Amazing. Some sidekick of Moon Knight's that I, and most other Amazing readers, had never heard of was the villain? Generic cyborgs with generic motives, and guest stars without story logic--it was a meandering cartoony drag. DeMatteis at least tries to do something with character and theme, even if overdoes it here.
I'm not arguing my taste is right, though, just noting that there may be a lot of reader disagreement about the merits of these particular stories. Round Robin might as well be Capwolf, as far as I'm concerned.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 20, 2015 10:33 PM
Even Harry's reversion to being crazy was a little sudden- in that case, though, it was much better justified as a result of him accidentally poisoning Normie.
Posted by: Michael | November 21, 2015 9:20 AM
So it seems like the big complaint is the plot coming from nowhere. I tried reading comics by run instead of chronological order. Reading by itself, this seems like a very good story. I love how Buschema uses the sequenced frames to build the plot. My wife called it lazy drawing haha. But the small differences help display emotion. DeMatteis does a good job of making Harry crazy again.
Posted by: Ryan | November 21, 2015 1:19 PM
I agree that the Harry stuff probably should've been a different story in it's own right. While the ideas are loosely connected with the whole psychological stuff about the fathers, the actual story we're given is not. I mean, there's even a bit in the final part where we just take a time-out from the Green Goblin fight to wrap up the Vermin plot and Spidey even points out how he'd forgotten he was in the middle of fighting with Harry (who conveniently really politely relented his attacks so another plot could resolve).
Posted by: AF | March 4, 2016 7:08 AM
I'm torn between suspecting Vermin's role had this been a Batman story would have been played by Killer Croc, and thinking it'd be too obvious. Yet I doubt it'd have been the Joker (I can't see this story's bones meshing with the Going Sane arc at all). It doesn't really fit more collected villains like Penguin, Poison Ivy or Riddler either.
Perhaps Two-Face? De Matteis would use a few similar abusive father story beats in his later Two-Face: Crime and Punishment graphic novel, but then that story seemed to drink from Andrew Helfer's Eye of the Beholder origin story in the very early nineties.
Posted by: OverMaster | June 13, 2017 9:11 PM
The hallucinogenic gas Harry uses in this arc is probably the same stuff from Norman Osborn's "Psychedelic Pumpkin" in Spectacular Spider-Man (magazine) #2.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | July 8, 2017 10:00 AM
Just to add a little extra detail on the Batman origins of the story, DeMatteis said he originally intended for this to be about Batman and Two-Face, but before he got the chance, a Batman graphic novel called "Night Cries" came out and DC said they didn't want another Batman story about child abuse.
When he was then invited to write Spider-Man, he decided to amend the idea so it was about Peter and Harry, and the story became "much more interesting, because Harry had this insane and abusive father. I also liked the idea of the hero and villain being best friends (...) You can't ask for a better dramatic conflict."
Presumably he then decided to add Vermin into the mix for another contrast, and used some of the abuse origin he'd intended for Two-Face with Vermin instead.
So for all its origins as a Batman story, I think the Batman story would have been somewhat different. It is out of the blue to have Peter having such strong feelings about his parents but even though Peter was raised by his loving aunt & uncle, it is probably equally unrealistic that he's always seemed to have no feelings of them until now, as if he never thought about them before that annual & then pretty much forgot them again. I imagine most adopted children, no matter how much they love the people who raised them, must occasionally wonder about their biological parents. (Not that I'm advocating for Peter to have another thing to continually be miserable/guilty about.)
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | May 21, 2018 1:31 PM
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