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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Spectacular Spider-Man #200

Spectacular200_coverIn this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993’s foil cover for Spectacular Spider-Man #200…

Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (published May 1993) – script by J.M. DeMatteis, art by Sal Buscema

There are few guarantees in this world: death, taxes, and a “double zero” Marvel comic book from the 1990s with some kind of cover enhancement. In the case of Spectacular Spider-Man #200, which marked the “final” battle between Spider-Man and the second Green Goblin Harry Osborn, that cover enhancement was shiny, reflective silver foil.

But what about inside the comic?

J.M. DeMatteis was arguably Marvel’s best Spider-Man writer in the early 1990s. While David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane (and later Erik Larson and Mark Bagley) had the higher profile gig on Amazing Spider-Man, DeMatteis and Sal Buscema quietly crafted superior Spider-Man stories during the same timeframe. Spectacular Spider-Man #200 was the ultimate payoff to the Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Green Goblin/Harry Osborn saga that was reinvigorated a few years earlier in DeMatteis/Buscema’s “Child Within” arc.

During this storyline, which also carried over into Spectacular #189 (complete with 30th anniversary hologram cover), Peter’s “best friend,” Harry is once again plagued by the insanity that caused him to don his father’s Green Goblin attire during the Bronze Age era of Amazing Spider-Man. As one of the only members of Spidey’s rogues gallery to know the hero’s secret identity, Harry was always capable of striking at Peter from a number of different angles. In this storyline, and specifically in Spectacular #200, DeMatteis explores Spider-Man’s vulnerabilities to Harry better than any other writer I can think of.

What made DeMatteis such an excellent writer was his focus on characterization. He wasn’t afraid to take the existing set of characters from Spidey’s world and put a brand new coat of a paint on them in a way that made them compelling (see also Kraven in “Kraven’s Last Hunt”). He used battle sequences as a way to elevate tension, not as a crutch when he ran out of things for his characters to say.

Case in point is the opening sequence of Spectacular #200. Poor Mary Jane, Peter’s wife, is out for a walk when the Goblin sneaks up behind her and abducts her to take her to the site where Hary’s father Norman killed Peter’s first love, Gwen Stacy. It looks like history is doomed to repeat itself, and even MJ accepts her fate, but the downward spiraling Harry surprises everyone by telling her that he’s just up there to talk. He takes MJ home when Spider-Man shows up ready to throw down.

Spectacular200_03

Again, it looks like things are going to escalate quickly after Spider-Man punches the Goblin, but Harry doesn’t retaliate and instead gently removes Spidey’s mask to leave Peter, MJ and Harry – three old friends – in the same room. Peter and MJ plead with Harry to get some help, but he tells them with great sorrow that it’s “too late” from him. Buscema knocks this moment out of the park, showing Harry’s vacant face and then juxtaposes it with the maniacal grin of his Goblin mask.

Spectacular200_02

The mind games continue as Harry randomly shows up to hound Peter as the Goblin, threatening to kill him, reveal his secret identity to the world, or both. Something that DeMatteis does masterfully here is demonstrating the parallels of Harry’s descent into madness with Peter’s. Harry is the “crazy” one who needs “help” from medical professionals, but Peter is the one constantly losing control whenever his old friend confronts him. In one scene on a rooftop, Peter quickly dons his Spider-Man costume and physically snaps. The Goblin appears ready to finally play ball and give Spidey the fight he’s expecting but then pulls the rug out from under him one more time, telling Peter he’s not going to fight him, but rather, “I want to make your life utterly miserable! And then – when you least expect it … I’m going to kill you.” The Goblin then leaves the scene, having defeated Spider-Man without ever laying a finger on him.

Spectacular200_04

Harry’s sadistic taunting is all a set-up for his final act of redemption, which like every other major character moment in this comic, is captured perfectly by DeMatteis and Buscema. He lures Peter and MJ to the Osborn Foundation townhouse and FINALLY, after an entire comic worth of madness, engages Spider-Man in battle. Harry paralyzes Spidey with a drug and is set to blow the two of them up inside the townhouse when he realizes both MJ and his son Normie are still in the house. Peter urges Harry to be the hero he physically can’t be in the moment and save MJ and Normie. Harry is ready to celebrate his act of heroism when MJ admonishes him for leaving Peter in the house. Harry rushes back in and rescues his best friend.

Spectacular200_01

Between the force of the explosion, and an experimental version of the goblin serum he took to become more powerful than his father, Harry collapses and starts convulsing. When Peter asks Harry why he came back for him, he says matter of factly, “you’re my best friend.”

As if this comic wasn’t sorrowful enough, DeMatteis and Buscema proceed to really drive how the emotional levity of Harry Osborn’s story by having his death sequence take place over two pages without a single word of dialogue. First there’s Spider-Man and Harry in the back of an ambulance and then the saddening scene of watching Spider-Man assumingly tell MJ (who’s still holding Normie) that their friend is gone.

Spectacular200_05

The comic’s last panel – an old photo of Peter and Harry sharing a laugh together during their college years – puts a pit in my stomach 20 years later. Harry’s death is completely earned, dignified and expected, and it still feels like a sucker punch each and every time I open this comic (and this is not because Marvel resurrected the character after the “Brand New Day” arc). If that’s not amazing storytelling, I don’t know what is.

Spectacular200_06

As someone who has read a lot of Spider-Man comics over the years, I’ve always felt the writers who capture the character best are the ones who understand that at its core, that Spider-Man’s story is one of love, family and loss. In Spectacular #200, we have a study of all three, as all of these characters come to terms with how their actions have done irreparable harm to each other. Harry is tormented by his father, and in turn, seems doomed to torment his son. Harry’s torment of Peter, turns Peter into a raging animal around the ones he loves. MJ’s desire to play peacemaker, ultimately turns Harry, Peter and Harry’s wife Liz against her. And little Normie quietly plays with his Spider-Man doll by ripping its head off (P.S., for you readers of Superior out there, I’m totally putting money on the fact that the “new” Goblin is Normie).

So whereas Spectacular #200 is just another “anniversary” double-sized issue with a cover enhancement, and the shocking death of a long-time character – such a cliché for 90s comics books – DeMatteis and Buscema carry out this otherwise tired story-type with such mastery, it still stands as one of my favorite Spider-Man stories ever.

Verdict: Good

41 Comments

A really great story ….
and the best story about the friendship between harry and peter

Agreed!

This was one of the very first Spider-Man comics I ever bought and left a lasting impression on me. JM DeMatteis is one of my favourite Spider-Man storytellers and this issue, for me personally, is the highlight of his entire run. Just reading this article makes me want to go back an re-read the entire arc from start to finish.

In a way, I found it a real shame Harry Osborn came back as I felt it ret-conned a perfect comic book character death. Beautifully written, I recommend this to any Spider-Man fan who hasn’t yet discovered this.

Oh, and I quite liked that foil cover!

It’s nice when one of the “big two” closes the story of a character, even if it gets a tragic ending like this one. And then it’s a shame when they rip it back open. Has anything significant happened with Harry since he was resurrected in OMD, other than him briefly wearing that “American Son” armor?

Stephen Conway

July 16, 2013 at 10:54 am

While I haven’t read this issue, the creative team alone should tell you this would be at least a solid issue. Seeing the piece you wrote, I might make the effort to track this down.

I love this story, but I like that they brought Harry back.

Peter has had enough failures in his life, what with the death of Uncle Ben, The Death of Gwen etc. It was nice in ‘American Son” to see him be able to save his best friend and put right one of his biggest failures.

I always felt really bad for Harry, and would like to see him have some happiness. I too was thinking the new Goblin might be Normie, but I hope not. Id hate to see the Osborn madness affect another character

Agreed. One of my favorite sad Spidey stories.

it deserves any praise it can get. This issue is really that good.
One of my first tears while reading a comic book.
Next time was actually Amazing Spider-Man #400.
It’s so sad, when Marvel is ruining it.
For a house of ideas, they seem to lack at least good taste and class sometimes.

Chakal, the common strand between Spectacular 200 & Amazing 400…?

JM DeMatteis.

It’s great, isn’t it?

Indeed yes, it is.

I’m not reading Superior Spider-Man, but is the new Green Goblin a child? If not, how could he be Normie? Unless he came from the future or something, Normie can’t be more than 7 years old. Harry and Peter are the same age and we all know Peter isn’t allowed to get any older. God forbid if he turned 30.

Jeez Buscema draws the crap out of this issue. Well, he draws the crap out of every issue. It took me a long time to really appreciate his line work and figures, but now that I’m older, I’m on board. I think I might like Buscema’s Spidey better than the utterly iconic Bagley Spidey

Here’s my take on this issue as someone who lived through 90s Spider-Man: I ab-so-lute-ly HATED this characterization of Spider-Man/Peter Parker (and still do for that matter), but the story wasn’t all that horrible, and the “death” scene at the end is actually handled really well and makes up for what is otherwise a largely mediocre comic.

Plus the cover itself actually looks half decent, which is more than can be said for most of these 90s covers.

@matthew — Sal’s work was the most (over) stylized of all the 90s Spider-Man books, but it had a really warm organic feel to it.

More than Todd McFarlane’s and Erik Larsen’s? Really?

I agree with Lorrie, Normie can’t be the current goblin — Normie is younger than Franklin Richards and all the Power kids. Franklin at this point isusually portrayed around 10, and Katie Power is only a year or so older than that. Normie should only be about 6 or 7.

@Jeff @Lorrie not that implausibility really needs to justified in comic books, but there are a ton of loopholes that can be cited regarding Normie in term’s of being an Osborn … in Sin’s Past didn’t Gwen and Norman’s kids age at an exponential rate because of Osborn DNA? I get what you’re saying but it’s not like Slott couldn’t explain this away.

Additionally, in every scene with the new Goblin so far, the artist has been very careful not to show his height comparative to an actual adult.

@Luis Dantas — Yes. Most people don’t seem to know the difference between “stylization” and “not being able to draw” anymore. (hint: the former doesn’t mean “not photorealistic”)

[…] write about one of the true great stories in the early 1990s – the death of Harry Osborn in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. Please check out the column, and for more of my Gimmick or Good articles, click […]

I’m afraid Normie isn’t the new Goblin–he was last seen (along with Liz) back in a tie-in to Fear Itself.

Was this story collected?

I’m pretty sure there’s a collection with this story in it, Acer. Can’t remember what it’s called, but I read it from a book at my local library.

Ah, here, it’s Spider-Man, Son of the Goblin

http://www.amazon.com/Spider-Man-Goblin-J-M-DeMatteis/dp/0785115633/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374038174&sr=1-1&keywords=death+of+harry+osborn

Man, what a way for Harry to go.

To Europe, I mean.

Was it publicly known back then that Harry Osborn was the Green Goblin? I only ask because it sounds utterly bizarre that a costumed super villain responsible (at least in the publics’ eyes) of murdering dozens of people would threaten to press assault charges and a press release if Spidey beat him up! Honestly, who would care? Weird.

Still J.M. DeMatteis was always my favourite Captain America writer and Sal Buscema is a legend. Outside of Herb Trimpe, he’s my favourite Hulk artist.

Still that “threat” is weird…

I think the Spectacular Spider-Man of J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema in that time were often considered the second rate Spider-man talent and that comic the inferior comic line for that character. While that particular Spidey comic didn’t usually have the action or top villains the Amazing Spider-man and Web of Spider-man did, what it did have were the psychological and interpersonal relationships of Spider-man and his alter ego, Peter Parker as well as feature more of his supporting cast like Mary Jane, Harry Osbourne. I loved the story lines with Debra “Deb” Whitman, the forgotten and emotionally fragile girl in Peter Parker’s life, I wish she was real, I secretly had a crush on that poor tormented girl! J. M. DeMatteis was often relegated to the titles and teams that were considered ‘second rate’ like the Defenders, because his character development was top notch. Sal was often overshadowed by other artistic talent, including his brother John, but I loved his work on Spider-man and the incredible Hulk! They deserve their due, great article!

This issue and these 2 creators dont get the credit they deserve for this amazing run.

Great post on a ‘double zero.’ I was never a big fan of Harry Osborn – he was always too wishy-washy for me – but this was a solid issue and a good example of the strong stories going on in Spectacular at the time. Reading through the comments, it’s funny to see that so many others had similar reactions to this title. I just put up part one of a two parter about Spectacular over at DDKR if anyone’s looking for a double dose of nostalgia.

Jimmy’s comment got me thinking. Even if Harry’s Goblin identity wasn’t publicly known…….. They drive in the ambulance to the hospital with him in the Goblin costume. Seems like people would have pieced it together at that point. Not too big a deal since he’s dead (except for his surviving family being hounded by the press), but then he returns, not dead after all……. So then wouldn’t the public say “okay, he somehow wasn’t dead like we heard, but wasn’t he the Green Goblin?” Not to mention that people got to start wondering about all these people that were dead, and then it turned out not so much. Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Aunt May, Turns out everyone thought she was dead but it was only an imposter. Don’t people wonder why a boring old widow like May would be kidnapped, replaced with an imposter all to fake her death???

“Was it publicly known back then that Harry Osborn was the Green Goblin? I only ask because it sounds utterly bizarre that a costumed super villain responsible (at least in the publics’ eyes) of murdering dozens of people would threaten to press assault charges and a press release if Spidey beat him up! Honestly, who would care? Weird.”

As far as I can recall, all Harry ever did as the Green Goblin was torment Peter. I don’t recall him ever committing any crimes that being busted for wouldn’t completely compromise Peter’s identity.

Story was solid but I’ve always hated Buscema’s art. Always.

The single best comic of my teen years.

[…] for writing some of my all-time favorite Spider-Man stories – “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” “The Death of Harry Osborn,” and “The Gift” (aka death of Aunt May). Given his attention to characterization and overall […]

[…] J.M. DeMatteis, who wrote such Spider-Man stories as “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” “A Child Within/Death of Harry Osborn,” and “The Gift,” sat down with Dan Gvozden and I at the Connecticut ComicCONN event in […]

I loved this when i first read it, but as years passes and I re read the whole of DeMatteis’ work i noticed a common plot started in Kraven’s Last Hunt. Take a villain, deconstruct him psychologically, kill said villain. He did this with Kraven, Green Goblin, Vermin, Doc Ock, The Vulture, and Kaine. He worked a variation of this with Aunt May. The real gimmick here is “death of a character.”

I remember reading this when I bought this story as a part of the trade paperback “Son of the Goblin.” I had gone on a Green Goblin TPB spree and bought this along with the Death of Captain Stacy and the Death of Gwen Stacy. This story was very moving and still stands as one of my favorite Spider-Man stories. In terms of personal favorites, it outranks those other TPB’s for me.

This comic is why twenty years later I haven’t stop reading Spider-man adventures. For me the Harry Osborn saga is the real opus of De Matteis on Spider-man, even better than Last hunt. I FEEL THE FEELS.

[…] as the Green Goblin storyline a few years later, showcasing the character’s descent into madness culminating in his death in Spectacular Spider-Man #200, but Michelinie does an admirable job with Harry in ASM #312. Throughout the comic, Michelinie’s […]

[…] lost in the shuffle. One of which was the fact that Harry Osborn, long-presumed dead since the epic Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (arguably one of my favorite single-issues of Spider-Man of all-time) was suddenly alive and well again, managing a Coffee Bean, and resuming his trademark tense and […]

[…] wrote extensively about this comic for my Gimmick or Good? column at the Comics Should Be Good Blog. In my mind, Spectacular #200 might be the greatest Spider-Man comics of the 1990s. JMD and Buscema […]

best spidey story of the last 20 years.

all we have after this were just bad storylines, awful gimmicks/retckons and so many out of character representation of peter that ruined my beloved hero forever.

i think that the best story someone could write at this point will be the reveal that norman osborn is the marvel editor that planned omd,sin past, reign, and all the crap we had…

The post is a year old, but I have to jump in because it was that great a book. The perfect end to Harry’s story.

So, of course, they had to screw it up.

It’s funny to see how Spidey can be stopped in his tracks by the threat of his secret ID being revealed, when later it would so cavalierly be revealed because, hey, Tony Stark thought it was a good idea….ugh.

Hi ! In last few panels I think Spidey just doesn’t say a word to MJ : silence is mourning enough.

Great story, great team, great cover. Great run, really.

And Buscema’s MJ is smokin hot.

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