Spectacular Spider-Man #186-190
Issue(s): Spectacular Spider-Man #186, Spectacular Spider-Man #187, Spectacular Spider-Man #188, Spectacular Spider-Man #189, Spectacular Spider-Man #190
I know i'm in the minority, but i have a mixed opinion about J.M. DeMatteis, and by that i mean i have a mostly negative opinion of J.M. DeMatteis, balanced out by some decent individual stories from Captain America and the Defenders and the really great Kraven's Last Hunt. But i felt like DeMatteis was going back to the well of 'psychological damage' too quickly and too clunkily for the Child Within arc that preceded this one, basically trying to recreate the magic of Last Hunt and not succeeding (again, i know others disagree). And here we are again, doing the same kind of thing with Vulture for Funeral Arrangements, or so i thought. I actually like the idea of having arcs focused on exploring the psyches of all of Spider-Man's villains, but i don't want to learn over and over again how they've all had bad childhoods. So i didn't have high hopes going into this. Which may have helped rig the expectations game, because it turns out i think these issues are really good. A big part of that, though, is due to the unusual amount of restraint that DeMatteis shows when it comes to scripting. Normally DeMatteis is very wordy. Last Hunt distinguished itself in part by having multiple streams of narration, and while that worked well, a lot of DeMatteis' work is extremely heavy on text, with (when he's at his worst) massive paragraphs of expository dialogue or (when he's trying to be more artistic but coming across more like pretentious) lots of narration going into deep psychological or metaphysical themes that are kind of extraneous to the plot, or in some cases as a substitution for a plot (e.g. the Scarlet Redemption storyline in Moon Knight). Being overly verbose is a problem in comics in general, although to be fair to DeMatteis it's usually more a case of him trying to work in extra layers of meaning as opposed to the Roy Thomas problem of characters that just can't shut up or the old problem of narration panels explaining exactly what the art is already showing. But still, DeMatteis is usually very wordy, so i was surprised - both in a general sense, and specifically because these are DeMatteis issues - that this is actually very quiet, with DeMatteis often settling back and letting Sal Buscema tell the story, which he's perfectly capable of doing.
When there is dialogue, it's character oriented, and even then there's room for silence, which makes the conversation all the more powerful.
The story here is that the Vulture has been told that he's dying, so he's tying up loose ends, like killing Gregory Bestman, his one time partner that betrayed him long ago. Another loose end is getting forgiveness from Aunt May for causing Nate Lubenski to have a heart attack and die. This is actually a nice point of continuity, too. I don't think David Michelinie realized it, but it was pretty significant for the Vulture to be the cause of Lubenski's death'; the two were actually friends back in Roger Stern's run. So DeMatteis is tying up a loose end of continuity while using it for a character driven plot point.
The interesting thing is that while Aunt May often comes across as almost magical in her capacity for goodness, she does not grant the Vulture the forgiveness that he seeks.
After Aunt May chases the Vulture away, she calls Peter, who rushes over in a rage. He's shocked to hear May say that she thinks that maybe she died with Nathan. Peter responds just by hugging her, in another silent scene. The Vulture then returns, and Peter gives him a Spidey level punch while out of costume.
But Vulture recovers, and takes Peter as a hostage to escape from the police, who have arrived. The Vulture takes Peter to his barn silo hideout (last seen in Stern's run), and explains what he's going through. Peter begins to feel sympathy for him but that is lost when he sees Bestman's corpse. He then jumps out of the silo window, and Vulture thinks Peter is falling to his death and worries that now he'll never be able to convince Aunt May to forgive him. But Peter is of course really changing into Spider-Man.
Vulture pushes his flight harness into overdrive, giving him a short burst of power...
...but it quickly overheats and sets his suit on fire. Vulture wants to fall to his death but Spider-Man's web parachute prevents that. Spider-Man then brings the Vulture back to Aunt May. Vulture apologizes, but May still won't give her forgiveness.
Spidey turns the Vulture over to the police, and Aunt May gives him a surprise kiss.
Later, May visits the Vulture in the hospital. She takes back the worst of what she said above, but she still doesn't forgive him.
On her way home, she bumps into Harry Osborn, unaware that he's on the run. Harry gives May a gift to give to Peter. We then see him applying the process to himself that grants the Green Goblin level super-strength that his father and the Hobgoblin had, but which Harry hasn't had yet when he's been acting as the Goblin.
So that's it for the Vulture story. It's actually fairly "decompressed". With no subplots (until Harry at the end) and not a ton of main plot, three issues is on the long side. But for once the extra space is used wisely, for character moments and for Sal Buscema to amplify the moods.
As for the Harry plot, that is covered in issue #189. This is a 30th anniversary issue. All four of Spider-Man's books had anniversary issues graced with hologram covers. This is a double-sized issue, which doesn't quite justify the $2.95 cover price (compared to $1.25 for a regular issue). The page count includes the aforementioned back-up story, and we also get a fold out poster illustrated by Charles Vess (depicting Spidey in his black costume chasing the Hobgoblin, which has nothing to do with this issue). But ultimately you're paying for that hologram, so go ahead and pick up the book and wiggle it back and forth a few times to see it in all its glory. Get your money's worth.
The gift that Harry gave Aunt May was a jack-in-the-box with the "jack" having a Green Goblin head. Harry also leaves an exploding Spider-Man dummy in Peter and MJ's bed. And Harry also kidnaps his family: his wife Liz, her step-brother Molten Man, and baby Normie.
I've laughed at the sort of generic villain death-trap stuff that Harry does when he's the Green Goblin (e.g. Amazing Spider-Man #137). It's almost like he's acting like what he thinks super-villains are supposed to do. Jack-in-the-boxes...
...and cheesy kidnappings.
It's very corny, but i feel like DeMatteis is being corny deliberately, since in other aspects of the story he's writing intelligently, like showing how Normie isn't aware that his father has gone crazy and he's just happy to have the family back together.
Harry is now strong enough that the Molten Man is not a problem.
But Spider-Man is able to defeat him. The conflict with Spidey is more internal, accepting the fact that Harry knows his secret identity and that capturing Harry will mean that he gives the info to the police. But he decides to not let that hold him back.
But Harry decides to torment Peter by keeping that information to himself at least for a while longer.
Whatever happens with Harry, Spider-Man can prepare himself for a fight with another Osborn in about 15 years.
The back-up story has Aunt May wondering why he gave Spider-Man that kiss. She's always been afraid of Spider-Man since she saw him lurking around on the night of the death of Uncle Ben.
But she realizes now that Spider-Man has always been there to help her family.
Issue #190 opens with Spider-Man at the lab of Dr. Kafka, the psychiatrist who was previously working with Vermin. But the police show up to take Green Goblin to the Vault.
The detective leading the police is not named, but she is Angela Cairn, who will become Nocturne.
DeMatteis and Buscema go maybe a little too far with the silent panels in issue #190. If you ever wanted a page full of crazy Harry Osborn staring creepily at you, here's your chance.
The page is actually pretty effective. I am always a little wary when an artist just repeats the same image over and over again; it's something that should be used sparingly. Which it is in this case, and i admit it works here.
Why is that man smiling? Because he's arranged for the Rhino to attack Peter Parker.
Rhino isn't aware that Peter is Spider-Man, although at first it seems like he does know something.
But it turns out that he was just told to say those things.
Rhino is playing a kind of generic muscle-for-hire role here. He says that he needs money "so I could get home t'my family".
All in all, i think it's a very strong set of issues.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 207,533. Single issue closest to filing date = 206,100.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I guess a little time could pass between issues #188 and #189, depending on how long it takes for Aunt May to give Peter the gift from Harry, which he has at the beginning of #189. Issue #190 definitely begins directly after #189, with Spider-Man having accompanied Harry to Dr. Kafka's lab with the police. Liz and Molten Man talk about how it's been an "awful night" midway through #190.
This arc is referenced in Amazing Spider-Man #364, so it needs to take place prior to that.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
Now that Rhino's got a new suit from #344 and removing his old suit is no longer his prime motivation, I think it's a little contrived to suddenly reveal he has a family on the other side of the world that he's trying to help, which he's never talked about before. He certainly didn't seem bothered by his family when he was lounging around in Mexico for weeks at the end of DFOSM.
Posted by: mikrolik | February 25, 2016 12:41 PM
I personally love "gimmick" covers. At least this was given some effort as revealed in Marvel Age. The process was pretty cool for its time. It was much better than the "anniversary" covers for the Avengers.
Posted by: clyde | February 25, 2016 12:43 PM
Pardon me while I gush about these stories for a moment.
"Funeral Arrangements" might be the best Vulture story arc out there. It's definitely the best one since Stern wrote the character. I had issue #188 as a kid and read it over and over. I'm very glad that DeMatteis finally made reference to Vulture and Nathan Lubensky having known each other. The final moment between May and Vulture is also really poignant, and it's nice to see May being able to talk to someone her own age again. I also firmly agree with fnord that DeMatteis is at his best when using sparse language.
Issue #189 is among my favorite Spider-Man stories of all-time. You can feel the tension building in every single panel of the comic. Having been a child of a broken home, I can really relate to the awkward place that Harry puts Normie in - having to choose between his two parents as they argue. Harry's reliance on death traps and gimmickry is definitely consistent with his first run as the Goblin, though it makes a little less sense now that he has taken the formula. However, he is also still torn on whether or not to kill Peter, making humiliating and intimidating Peter his primary goal instead.
Finally, Harry's line at the end of #190 - "Gotcha" - would have a lot more significance in a few years. It's a nice bit of unintentional foreshadowing.
Posted by: TCP | February 25, 2016 1:01 PM
Normie Osborn is one of my favorite Spider-Man supporting characters. For me one of the defining characteristics of Spidey is that he will always do the right thing, even though the entire world mistrusts him. Normie, being an innocent little kid who nevertheless hates Spider-Man is a perfect example of the world looking down on Spidey. Even more than JJJ's rants or Aunt May talking about "that horrible Spider-Man".
Having said that, I do actually like Aunt May moving on from hating Spider-Man in these issues. As much as I think Spidey being unpopular is part of the classic formula, I also love character development, and this was long overdue.
Posted by: Berend | February 25, 2016 1:56 PM
I completely agree that these are superb issues. Excellent character moments for Aunt May and the Vulture.
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 25, 2016 3:25 PM
I, too, agree. Great stuff.
Posted by: Piotr W | February 25, 2016 6:04 PM
IIRC there was a problem with the hologram covers, that they all looked kind of dented or dimpled in the middle. It gets worse, though.
Posted by: Andrew F | February 25, 2016 9:46 PM
Maybe i just don't know what to look for, but the holograms on all of my Spidey anniversary issues seem to be in fine shape.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 26, 2016 7:34 AM
I think Sal Buscema's work on Spectacular is the best of his career, which is a rare thing considering we're almost at the end of his career and most artists have either fallen apart or (like Neal Adams) become a parody of themselves by this point.
I have the opposite opinion of fnord when it comes to DeMatteis. He's always done solid character work and, in my opinion, elevated team books like Defenders and Justice League that featured some not-so-great characters.
I will say that his melodrama on the Spider-man books in the 90s got to be a little much, culminating with all that "I AM THE SPIDER NOW!!1!" stuff right before the Clone Saga.
Also never much cared for Kraven's Last Hunt. It's an okay story with great art. I might feel that way about it because I read it after the fact as an adult. I bet it was pretty shocking and memorable for people who read it as it came out, though.
Posted by: Red Comet | February 26, 2016 12:41 PM
I am a huge fan of Sal Buscema, and I agree with Red Comet, he did some of the best work of his entire career on Spectacular Spider-Man when J.M. DeMatteis was writing it. Something about DeMatteis' plots seemed to really inspire Buscema to go the extra mile in dramatic layouts & storytelling and the rendering of moody atmospheres.
Buscema has also gone on record as acknowledging that in the late 1980s he was influenced to experiment a bit with his style after seeing the work of Bill Sienkiewicz. I think some of the results of Buscema stretching himself artistically are most certainly on display in his SSM issues.
One of the two times I met Buscema at a comic convention I asked him for a sketch of the Green Goblin because he did such a great rendition of the character in these issues.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 26, 2016 3:57 PM
Agree with you fnord12 about J.M. DeMatteis. Back in real time I avoided his work because it was full of long winded psycho mumble jumble. He killed Moon Knight with the unreadable Scarlet Redemption story.I didn't like his run on this book BUT.. these stories were decent.
Posted by: Grom | March 10, 2016 7:22 PM
Spectacular Spider-Man 189 may not have been the first comic I owned and read, but it was certainly the one that made me the comics fan I am today. Harry going off the rails while Liz and Mark are forced to pretend like everything's okay for Normie's sake makes for compelling reading. And that Jack-in-the-box motif comes off as so immature and disturbing that I think this is one of the few times we really see just how unhinged Harry's become without it being cliché. I still love this issue and SSM 200 is a really solid sequel to it.
Posted by: Jonathon | October 1, 2017 8:50 AM
Fnord, you mention Vulture's Staten Island barn silo hideout is th same used "during Stern's run", but actually Vulture has used that hideout as early as Amazing #2 and #7!
Posted by: mikrolik | January 4, 2018 5:46 PM
Thanks mikrolik. I've rephrased to "last seen in".
Posted by: fnord12 | January 8, 2018 2:27 PM
"Spider-Man can prepare himself for a fight with another Osborn in about 15 years."
Marvel are stealing your story ideas, Fnord. Normie obviously couldn't wait that long as he became the Goblin Child in ASM #799-800. It took longer than 15 years in real time, but in Marvel Time I think he's barely aged at all.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 23, 2018 10:09 AM
I haven't read these issues and can't comment on their quality, but I am disappointed that Harry is back to being a villain. I didn't think it worked the first time he became the Green Goblin. I didn't like it when they tried to use Harry as a "good" Green Goblin. And I certainly don't like this.
I think Harry works best as Peter's best friend. Two people who have had enough tragedy in their lives that they're there to support each other.
And I think it rarely works if a villain knows the secret identity of the superhero. It creates the obvious problem of why he doesn't reveal it, or use it to his constant advantage. It can be done, but it is hard to pull off. Which is why such characters always end up being crazy amnesiacs or lobotomized so they can be neutralized until a writer brings them back out to fight the hero. It gets old very quick.
Something like this works better for a Batman villain. I think DeMatteis is a skilled writer, but he has a major problem of having a story idea and forcing it into whatever title he is working on that moment instead of letting things happen organically.
Posted by: Chris | June 23, 2018 5:36 PM
While we're on the subject of ideas that don't work... Flash Thompson Venom isn't necessarily a bad idea. It could've been sold to me. But I just read the first collection of that series and find in 2011, somebody's secret identity is still causing them problems with Betty Brant. Who of course gets kidnapped on top of said problems. That was cute in a 1964 comic, but undermines any attempt at maturity today.
(There's also the obvious question of the symbiote telling Flash about Peter being Spidey but I haven't read any further.)
It might be a shame that Harry went bad but DeMatteis and Buscema pull it off nicely here.
Posted by: iLegion | June 24, 2018 12:57 AM
Yeah, I was no fan of the idea of HarryGoblin but DeMatteis did it well here in his Spectacular run. And it was inevitable really, Conway had Harry's mental instabilities return during Inferno & also he returned as the Goblin to fight Hobgoblin, then Conway had Harry trying to be a hero Goblin & in Web #67, Harry had remembered that Spider-Man was Peter. So DeMatteis was just continuing what Conway had set up.
The only problem was that DeMatteis was allowed to kill off Harry, which made a good dramatic end for the story itself, but no sense at all for the future of Peter's social circle. To this day I'm still surprised that editorial allowed him to do that, and they would try to resurrect Harry near the end of the Clone Saga mess before his eventual return after Spidey's deal with Mephisto.
As cliche as it would have been, they should have just made DeMatteis find a way that Harry loses his Goblin powers & memories at the end of the storyline. I'm sure someone else would have then brought HarryGoblin back after that but it's better than killing off one of Spidey's two best friends (following which I think Steven Grant does a story with his other friend Flash telling Peter they have nothing in common, so Peter ends up with no best friends).
(Re: Flash: I think the symbiote's knowledge of Peter's identity is wiped the same time as everyone else's, so it can't tell Flash. No spoilers but there were some developments with Flash & the symbiote in the recent ASM #800.)
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 24, 2018 7:04 AM
It's surprising that no one's ever simply done "Harry is sane, not a Goblin, and knows Peter's secret" as a status quo for the character.
But yes, as iLegion notes, writers generally had a hard time giving Peter a male friend after Harry's death here. There's a little while int he early 2000s where Randy Robertson fills the role, but it doesn't last very long, and later writers have tended to push Peter back towards "angsty loner" or "wacky cavalcade of love interests" when trying to write his civilian life.
More generally, starting with Gerry Conway, the Spider-books have developed an accelerating habit of cannibalizing the supporting cast for costumed adventure stories and ill-advised spin-offs. We're long past the point where there's any character from the Lee-Ditko-Romita era who hasn't either become a costume/super-character, been killed off or driven off by one, or been revealed to have one as a relative. That makes it hard to write the "Peter Parker" stuff well; he doesn;'t have any normal friends, so how can he be "the hero who could be you?"
*puts away soapbox*
Posted by: Omar Karindu | June 24, 2018 7:25 AM
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