Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 33

Oh, you were expecting PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75? Sorry, not yet. Even though these two issues came out after the aforementioned PP 75, in the interest of pacing, we're going to deal with them first. Besides, there are no spoilers contained in these issues so those of you who are waiting with baited breath to see how it all ends can relax. We're not going to ruin it here.

First up is 101 WAYS TO END THE CLONE SAGA. Written by Mark Bernardo (who, like Glenn, was an editor who experienced the whoooollle thing) and illustrated by Ben Herrera and Mike Christian, this one-shot sought to take a lighter look at the controversial Clone Saga.

The premise of the story is pretty simple: readers are taken into the offices of Marvel Comics to watch as the ending of the clone saga unfolds. Featuring appearances by Mark, Glenn, Bob Harras (Marvel's EIC at the time), Ralph Macchio, Tom DeFalco, Tom Brevoort and many, many more, the issue was done tongue-in-cheek, like the old "assistant editor" issues and behind-the-scenes gimmicks that Marvel used to do way back when.

Throughout the issue, while the editors wait for Spider-Man Group Editor Ralph Macchio to show up for work, the different editors, writers, marketing department guys and others throw out ideas to Bob Harras on how to end the Clone Saga once and for all, but also in a way that will make fans happy. The real treat of this issue is getting a glimpse at some of the ideas that were presented as a way to end the storyline.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I've said in previous columns, I kept all of the infamous "Spider-Clone" memos that had been passed around since the days when Bob Budiansky was in charge, and if you've been with us for a while, you know that I've included material from those memos in my comments. I supplied Mark Bernardo with copies of all these memos when he started writing 101 WAYS. When I gave him the package of memos, and he saw that it was thick enough to choke a horse, I think he started to have second thoughts about taking on this project! At the very least, it brought home just how much time, effort, thought, and paper had been devoted to solving this quandary. ]

One of the interesting things was that the storyline for WHAT IF: SCARLET SPIDER KILLED SPIDER-MAN was originally suggested by Howard Mackie as an ending to the clone saga, only in this one, Mary Jane is missing and presumed dead. Some of the more outlandish suggestions dealt with time travel and time and various other cosmic anomalies that were deemed too "sci-fi" for Spider-Man. I also thought that the suggestion by Tom DeFalco (he had just had enough, already), where Ben just degenerates out of the blue had a simplistic, if not ridiculous, charm.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : All of these scenarios were covered by me in previous installments. If you want to read about them in more detail, go back to those older columns and check them out. As John Belushi said in National Lampoon's Animal House, "It don't cost nothin'!" ]

There was one suggestion that wanted the end of the Clone Saga to tie into ending the Master Programmer saga, but this was nixed because the MP's identity was to be a major storyline plot point in a future issue. Interestingly enough, they showed just enough of this potential clone ending to spoil the Master Programmer mystery. The marketing ideas were interesting in that they tended to go for things that appealed purely to the dollar, without regard to story or fan reaction. One quickie suggestion was for Ben to get squashed by a Sentinel during Onslaught. They furthered the argument by saying they could do it as a special issue with a chromium cover and add real Spider-blood as the fifth color ink. This spawned the potential "101 Uses for a Dead Clone" one- shot idea where the purpose would be to show, obviously, what you could do with a dead clone: coat rack, passenger for the car pool lanes, etc.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Marvel came very close to actually doing a "101 Uses for a Dead Clone" one-shot. I'm glad we didn't. ]


This special issue ends with Bob Harras returning to find that no one has any idea on how to end the storyline. He tells the staff he doesn't care if they drown in paper as long as the Clone Saga is resolved by the end of the day. Someone mentions that the pressure must be getting to Bob since he's acting irrational, manic, insane: sort of like the Green Goblin. Then Ralph Macchio says, "You know…we may have something there."


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mark did a great job with this book. It showed that despite all the frustration and aggravation we went through, we could still have some fun with this clone nonsense, and even take some potshots at ourselves. ]

The next one shot, SPIDER-MAN: THE OSBORN JOURNAL, was written by our very own Glenn Greenberg and illustrated by Kyle Hotz, Jason Moore, and Al Milgrom. Ironically enough, Glenn had the pleasure/burden of explaining exactly how Norman Osborn came to live again and how he ended up manipulating everything from behind the scenes. Glenn also had the daunting task of making sure that all the pieces, mysteries and loose ends from the Clone Saga were wrapped up into one package.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Okay, now we're in for a loooong stretch from me. THE OSBORN JOURNAL was put on Marvel's publishing schedule for a December 1996 release, before anyone knew what it was. It was just a title that one of our execs came up with, but there was no concept. At a casual Marvel lunch one day, I suggested to Ralph what I thought the project should be: an explanation of the whole Clone Saga, and how Norman Osborn fit in with the previous 24 years worth of Spider-Man continuity, told in Norman's own words and from his point of view. My idea was to take a similar approach to how Marv Wolfman occasionally wrote issues of the classic TOMB OF DRACULA series from the 1970s, in which the stories were taken directly from Dracula's journal and were told from his point of view. Ralph liked the idea, and he suggested that I should be the one to write it.
But I turned him down.

While it had been a longtime tradition at Marvel, starting with Stan Lee himself, that editorial staffers could also write comics, Bob Harras had made it known after he became Editor in Chief that it was now considered a conflict of interest for staffers to do freelance writing and it would only be allowed on certain occasions. I certainly did not want to bring myself to Harras's attention by trying to go against his edict, so I advised Ralph to go with another writer, and I suggested Kurt Busiek. Kurt had just recently written the SPIDER-MAN: LEGACY OF EVIL painted one-shot that recounted the entire history of the Green Goblin, and was still writing UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN for Tom Brevoort and me. If there was anyone who knew Spider-Man's past and present continuity and could weave it all together to make it work with the notion that Norman Osborn had been alive all along, it was Kurt. Ralph understood my reasoning for turning down the assignment, and agreed that Kurt would be a good choice.

A short time later, Ralph came back to me and said that he spoken to Kurt about doing THE OSBORN JOURNAL, but Kurt turned him down. According to Ralph, Kurt said that having just written LEGACY OF EVIL, he didn't want to do another book focusing on the Green Goblin. Also, Kurt apparently wanted to start moving away from writing "historical" projects like MARVELS and LEGACY OF EVIL and even UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN. (Within a year, Kurt would find himself firmly rooted in the present, taking on both THE AVENGERS and IRON MAN after "Heroes Reborn" was over.)

With Kurt having turned the project down, I told Ralph that I'd love to write it, but I was still concerned about how Bob Harras would react to it. Ralph told me that he would talk to Bob and clear everything, so I shouldn't worry. Next thing I knew, I was writing the thing and never heard an angry word from Harras about it, so I guess Ralph came through on his end.

For a variety of reasons, I couldn't follow the format of the "journal" issues of THE TOMB OF DRACULA as much as I'd originally envisioned. The project became more of an illustrated sequence of events, with running commentary from Norman Osborn. But at least with Kyle Hotz doing the art, it was a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated sequence of events! Kyle really wanted to get into Norman's twisted mind with the visuals, as much as I wanted to with the words, and he did a wonderful job. Kyle added great little touches as he penciled the pages, little details and ideas that he came up with as he went along, and these really enhanced the project. It was an absolute pleasure working with him, and I regret that I covered up so much of his work with my damned captions and word balloons!

To get started on THE OSBORN JOURNAL, I wrote up a detailed time line of Norman Osborn's probable whereabouts and activities from his "death" in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122 up to his dramatic return in PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75. Once that was done, I gave a copy to Ralph for his feedback, to see if I needed to make any adjustments. Ralph told me he liked it so much that as far as he was concerned, my time line was an official part of the canon, and he sent copies of it to all of the core Spider-Man writers so they'd have it as reference for when they had to deal with Norman in their issues. I was off to a good start! ]


The story takes place the night before PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #75. Osborn is writing in his famous journal, reflecting on the events that led up to this moment. He thinks back to the day he was killed seven years ago, and how the formula which gave him super strength also gave him an incredible healing factor. Osborn gets off the slab he was laying on to find an autopsy report written about him, even though none was performed yet. He also spots his son, Harry, paying off the coroner for faking the autopsy report. Osborn sneaks out of the morgue, killing a homeless drifter of the same height and build as himself and having the drifter buried in his place.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : My original idea for the beginning of THE OSBORN JOURNAL was to show Norman bursting forth from his grave. But Tom Brevoort rightly pointed out to me out that an autopsy would have to have been performed on Norman before he was buried, and there's simply NO way he could have survived that, healing factor notwithstanding. So I had to work around that. But I soon realized that by addressing the autopsy directly as a story point, a door had opened for me that would allow me to bring in Harry Osborn and have him get involved as early as possible in terms of protecting the secret that his father was the Green Goblin. It was a way to show Harry beginning to take some real initiative, which would impress Norman. ]

Osborn ponders his situation. With the world believing him dead, he can go anywhere and do anything without being suspected. It would also be a perfect time to launch an attack on Peter Parker since he'd never see it coming. He heads back to his old warehouse hideout to find Harry promising to take his father's place as the Green Goblin. Thinking that his son is acting like a man for the first time, Norman decides to let him have his chance and goes to Europe, where he could move about freely.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Since I had already written a detailed time line for Norman, and that would serve as my guide for THE OSBORN JOURNAL, it was a breeze for me to write the actual plot. I had the entire framework for the plot laid out within a 25-minute bus ride from one part of Brooklyn to another to visit my parents! ]

In Europe, Osborn kept tabs on every aspect of Peter Parker's life, due in part to a personally created information network second to none. He also joined up with the Cabal of Scrier. Initially, Norman liked their appearance, which reminded him of a ghost, but eventually Norman killed their leader and therefore became the new leader of the Scriers. Soon, Norman got word that Harry was defeated as the Goblin and ended up being institutionalized. Norman decided to begin his own plan to destroy Peter Parker by sending a Scrier to visit an old acquaintance, Professor Miles Warren. The Scrier told Warren that he had the means to help him perfect the cloning process, for a price: the cloning of Peter Parker. The Scrier later finds one of Warren's assistants, Seward Trainer, stealing files on the cloning process. Trainer begs the Scrier not to tell what he knows to Professor Warren. The Scrier promises to keep the secret but tells Trainer that one day he'll call on him for a favor that he will not be able to refuse.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned in a recent column, Tom DeFalco retroactively established in the 1996 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL that there had been a connection between Osborn and Miles Warren, in anticipation of the "Revelations" story line, so it was fairly easy for me to just expand upon it and flesh it out. ]

Osborn goes on to recall that fateful day at Shea Stadium where Spider-Man battled his clone. After an explosion (due to a bomb planted by the Jackal), Parker and the clone were unconscious and the real professor Warren (the one who died in the explosion was just a clone) examined both Spider-Men to determine who was the clone. When he identified the real Peter Parker, Warren injected him with a drug that would simulate death. Unbeknownst to Warren, however, Scrier had Seward Trainer rig the tests so that the clone would show up as the original and vice versa, so the clone was the one given the "simulated death" drug.

After Peter dumped the clone in the smokestack, Warren retrieved the clone and put in another, earlier, failed clone as part of a long range plan to confuse Parker. Professor Warren thought he had the real Spider-Man in his clutches and not the clone. The Scrier ordered Seward Trailer to perform another act of service. Trainer was to keep tabs on the clone going by the name of Ben Reilly and periodically update the Scrier when he came in contact with him. Osborn didn't suspect that Trainer would bond so well with Reilly and develop a fatherly relationship with him.

Norman tried to focus on building his criminal empire in Europe but distractions from home were frequent. He learned of another Green Goblin (Bart Hamilton) who died after battling Spider-Man. About a year after that, Osborn got the most shocking news of all: his old partner, Mendel Stromm, whom he ousted years ago, is alive. Norman checks this report out and finds that Stromm tested the Goblin formula on himself before he "died." His body withered over the years, but he's still alive, in suspended animation. Osborn does his best to revive Stromm, and he does so to some success, but Stromm wants to know why he bothered to revive him. Osborn offers Stromm a chance to be restored to his former self in exchange for his services for an extended period of time. Outfitted with a special life support suit of armor and calling himself Gaunt, Stromm became one of Osborns's most lethal and effective operatives. Stromm's scientific expertise was put to use by creating holographic and special effects devices for the Scriers, making it seem like they could mystically appear and disappear at will.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : With Stromm alive and working for Norman, I had a way to more fully explain the technology that enabled Scrier to appear as one single being of great mystical power. Stromm had already been well established as a brilliant scientist and robotics expert, so it didn't seem like too much of a stretch to have him be the developer of the Scrier technology as well. ]

Things were going well but Osborn learned of something going on in New York that tempted him to return for the first time in the four years since his "death": the appearance of the Hobgoblin. Before he was able to deal with him, Osborn learned of something, or someone, more important: Dr. Judas Traveller. Traveller was a world renowned criminal psychologist who suffered a severe nervous breakdown. The breakdown triggered his latent mutant ability, which was the power to alter a person's reception of reality. The power extended to Traveller himself who now believed he was a god-like being who had walked the Earth for centuries. Osborn had one of the Scriers befriend Traveller, and become his confidant. He also supplied Traveller with a team of special operatives he referred to as The Host: more pawns under Osborn's control.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : In his first appearances, the original Hobgoblin raided Norman's old hideouts and stole his journals, his costumes, and his equipment. My feeling was that if Norman was alive when all of this was going on, there was simply no way that he wouldn't have taken action against his mysterious successor… unless there was something more important occupying his attention. I decided that it would have to be the discovery of Judas Traveller and his amazing power, which Norman would immediately recognize as a great asset. ]

Soon after, Osborn learned of Peter and Mary Jane's wedding. Osborn never forgave Mary Jane for rejecting his son and choosing Peter, but allowed the marriage to go on, knowing the more happiness Peter achieved, the more he could strip from him later on. Ironically, it was Harry who almost took that from Peter. He suffered another breakdown and became the Green Goblin again, threatening to expose Peter as Spider-Man. Harry had taken a new version of the Goblin formula, making him stronger, but it was toxic, destroying Harry from within. Since it was the formula itself that killed Harry, he wouldn't be coming back. Though he was a failure, Harry was still Norman's only son. He blamed Peter for driving Harry to use the new formula. He blamed Peter for killing him. Osborn gathered his operatives and began to plan his strike against Parker, but it seems that fate took some matters into its own hands.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : You know, having just seen the Spider-Man movie and watched the relationship between Peter and Harry played out on the big screen, I'm reminded of how great a character Harry was, and what a loss it was to the Spider-Man mythos when he was killed off. It's really a shame that he's not a part of the supporting cast anymore. But then again, Spider-Man doesn't really HAVE a supporting cast these days, which is also a shame. ]


May Parker suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma as Mary Jane became pregnant (which provided Osborn with the impetus to move into the next phase of his plan) and Ben Reilly found out about May, prompting him to return to New York. This saved Osborn the trouble of concocting an elaborate scheme to bring him back to the city. May died, delivering a major blow to the Parkers. Osborn's only regret was that he wasn't the cause of this particular tragedy. This statement, delivered by Osborn himself, will become even more important much later on in the Spider-Man comics. But in the end, Osborn's greatest need was fulfilled: Parker and Reilly had met and a sea of confusion, suspicion and resentment filled them.

GLENN'S COMMENTS: There's a SPOILER ALERT for this section, which involves stuff that happened after the Clone Saga. But I have to address this. I very intentionally established that Norman played no role in the death of Aunt May. The reason I did this was because when it was decided that Norman was going to be our villain, and that he had been manipulating many things from the shadows for years, Bob Harras became concerned that Norman was going to become too all-encompassing a figure in Spider-Man's universe. Bob issued an edict: "I don't want the Spider-Man books to become too Norman-centric. I don't want Norman to have been responsible for everything that's ever happened in Peter's life since 1972."

I totally agreed with that edict. I didn't think Norman should be some god-like figure who controlled every facet of Peter's life from afar. I felt there were certain things he did control, and other things he did not. At times, fate would intervene and end up working in his favor, or fate would work against him and he would have to adapt. That's how I approached THE OSBORN JOURNAL when I began putting it together.

As a result, I established that Norman played no role in the death of Aunt May, but he benefited greatly from its occurrence.

Later on, when Bob Harras decided that Aunt May's death had to be undone, he wanted it established that Norman had faked her death and was keeping her hidden the whole time. Ralph and I pointed out to Harras that THE OSBORN JOURNAL had clearly established that Norman had no role in the Aunt May situation, and that the main reason I established that in the first place was to follow Harras's own edict that Norman should not be responsible for everything in Peter Parker's life. Violating that bit of continuity would also raise the question: WHY WOULD NORMAN LIE IN HIS OWN JOURNAL?!?!

And it would raise another question as well: If he lied about that, what ELSE in the journal did he lie about? Can the journal as a whole even be believed anymore? What had once been enthusiastically accepted by Ralph as totally canonical was now about to have its entire credibility called into question.

Harras's response was that we couldn't be hampered by one line of dialogue that didn't even appear in one of the core books. He also argued, "Norman didn't lie in his journal. He said he wasn't responsible for Aunt May's death, and he wasn't, because she never really died." I felt that was just a fast rationalization that didn't even begin to take into account what I actually wrote and the context in which it was written. I even offered an alternative solution on how to bring back Aunt May while preserving the integrity of THE OSBORN JOURNAL, but it was dismissed. As far as Harras was concerned, the matter was closed.

Thus far, thankfully, the Aunt May aspect has been the ONLY thing to contradict what was established in THE OSBORN JOURNAL. ]


Unexpectedly, the Jackal was reborn at this time, too. Osborn didn't expect this, but the Jackal actually was playing into Osborn's hands, confusing the two Spider-Men even more. Nevertheless, Osborn decided to return to New York in secret. He couldn't let the Jackal run around unchecked. The Jackal's red herrings and lies prompted Peter and Ben to want to run conclusive tests to determine who was the real Spider-Man. Osborn had Gaunt pay a visit to Seward Trainer, telling him to rig the tests in advance. No matter what, Ben Reilly would be revealed as the real Spider-Man.

Osborn later learned of another new Green Goblin, who fancied himself a crime fighter. He wanted to send Gaunt to kill him, but even Gaunt felt that he was beneath their efforts and nothing more than a talented amateur.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This fourth Green Goblin was Phil Urich, nephew of Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, who starred in a short-lived monthly series edited by Tom Brevoort and me. Tom DeFalco was the writer, and the artist was Scott McDaniel, who would eventually leave GOBLIN to go over to DC to pencil their new NIGHTWING title.

I strongly felt that Norman should have taken some action against Phil for daring to take on the Goblin identity, and I had plans for this to happen in a later Spider-Man story line I wrote, called "Goblins at the Gate." The story line saw print, but the Phil Urich element was dropped at the request of the editor. ]


Osborn's plan to have Reilly revealed as the original Peter Parker worked perfectly. Peter went over the edge, for a time. Osborn was too occupied with the Jackal to enjoy Parker's pain, though. The Jackal had gone insane, threatening to wipe out all life on Earth and replace them with clones of his creation. Osborn sent a Scrier to deal with Warren and the Jackal was ultimately defeated and apparently killed. But Osborn knows all about the possibility of surviving death.

Norman became furious with the idea that Peter and Ben were able to overcome their problems. Each of them accepted their fates. Peter and Mary Jane moved to Portland to start a new life together and Ben Reilly stepped into the webs to become Spider-Man. Osborn still had another wild card up his sleeve. Through Multivex, Osborn purchased a certain factory in Brooklyn with a certain smokestack and ordered it torn down. Since the Jackal never got around to using the clone corpse in the smokestack, Osborn would. This brought Peter and Mary Jane back to New York and created more confusion.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And so, I got to finally solve the mystery of the skeleton in the smokestack… long after anyone cared about it. But at least it was finally addressed and finished. ]

Parker and Reilly agreed to work together in the hopes of finding the truth. Osborn was dealt a potential blow when he discovered that Judas Traveller had learned of Scrier's double-dealings. Osborn had the Host betray and capture Traveller, but the Spider-Men ended up rescuing him anyway.

Later, Gaunt came to Osborn to tell him that Trainer was ready to start the regeneration process for him. Osborn doesn't know what he'll do with Trainer after he fulfills his bargain and rejuvenates Stromm, but right now his attention is focused only on Peter Parker. Norman Osborn thinks to himself how he's done more to Peter Parker than anyone else and yet Parker perseveres. His only alternative is to take everything from him so he has nothing left to live for. With Mary Jane about to give birth, the time has come to strike. "'For everything you ever did to me, to my son…you're going to pay. Tomorrow night, Peter. Tomorrow night, the journey comes to an end. Tomorrow night is Halloween night. The night for ghosts…and Goblins!"


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I actually finished writing the script for THE OSBORN JOURNAL at around 10:30 PM on Halloween night. Appropriate, don't you think?
In retrospect, I wish I could've had more pages to create a real STORY to weave around the journal, some kind of dramatic arc with a beginning, a middle, and an end, similar to what Kurt had done in LEGACY OF EVIL. But based on all the feedback I've ever gotten on THE OSBORN JOURNAL over the years, from my editor, my peers, my colleagues, and the readers, I seem to be the only one who has this criticism about the book, for which I'm very gratified.

4 comments:

Michael said...

Well, it's been revealed now that the Goblin Formula actually helped to regenerate Harry after his 'death', and that Norman was there and had him taken to Europe. I've never read the Osborn Journal, but I assume this contradicts it pretty seriously.
If I haven't been misinformed, this resurrection of Harry was also forced into the book by the Editor-in-Chief. (It could've been worse. I heard that he originally wanted to bring back Gwen, but everyone was able to talk him out of it.)

I'm normally against bringing back dead characters (unless the death was purposely unclear), but one exception that I'd be willing to accept is if they could resurrect Gruenwald. Then he could be Editor-in-Chief and continuity would be important again. But I don't think even Marvel could figure out a way to bring him back.

Unknown said...

So Bob Harras was the one responsible for both Norman and Aunt May being brought back and their classic deaths being undone? Dammit. Harras has got to be the worst thing to happen to Spider-Man since Joe Quesada.

Ed Azad said...

Christ on a cracker. This retcon reminds me of Albert Wesker's expanded backstory. I'm sure Glenn is proud of tying it together and putting his stamp on it, as well he should, but it's still horrendous.

Phill Kirby said...

"Dammit. Harras has got to be the worst thing to happen to Spider-Man since Joe Quesada."

You're mixing your tenses there fella Quesada came after Harras.