The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Thoughts on a Thing

Posted by Matt on January 18, 2011

What, I’m still allowed to make some fun posts every once in a while.

An expansion on this old piece of shit.

I still happen to think that the Green Goblin is a super-silly villain (so, pretty much on par with 95% of the Spider-Man rogues gallery) who was somewhat arbitrarily chosen to be a ‘Big Bad’. Norman Osborn makes sense as a major bad guy for Spider-Man, but there’s no real connection between his psychosis and dressing up as a Halloween-themed criminal, unless you are to consider that the norm in the world of Spider-Man. So basically you have a cognitive dissonance situation where the evil mastermind who is your best friend’s dad and threw your first girlfriend off a bridge is also a guy who dresses up in a D&D costume, carries a purse, and flies around on a bat-shaped flying wakeboard throwing jack-o-lantern-shaped explosives. I can accept this idea, but it just means I have a hard time taking anyone’s argument that Green Goblin as a major villain seriously.

But that was then. Let’s talk about now. I think GG/NO’s status as a major part of an influential story has hurt the character in the long run. Technically, there shouldn’t even be a long run for the character…he died at the end of ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’, impaled on his own glider. And he stayed dead for a good long while, at least 25 years. From that, we got some interesting character development for Harry Osborn, leading to the semi-obvious conclusion of him donning the goofy Halloween gear himself. And then he died too, and that should have been the end of that. Hobgoblin and Jack-o-Lantern essentially stole all the Green Goblin’s gimmicks, so there was really no goblin-shaped void left in the Spider-Man mythos, either.

But then the Clone Saga happened. Most comics fans know all about that, but for those out of the loop, this is here for you to gain all you need to know about it, and lots you don’t need to know. In brief, it was an infamous overextended storyline that many think irrevocably damaged Spider-Man comics for years and years to come. One of the things the storyline did, basically as a way to finally kill it after the writers, artists, and editors got fucking sick of it, was to bring Norman Osborn back to life as the mastermind behind the events of the previous years of stories. They saw it as thematically sensible, but it started a downward spiral for the Osborn/Goblin duo that goes on to this day.

Norman Osborn works as a Spider-Man villain because he was Peter Parker’s best friend’s weird dad. If I’m remember the characterization of him in the first Spider-Man movie correctly, then that is what I imagine he works best at: sometimes he fills the father figure role in Peter’s life, sometimes he’s just a plain old jerk. But in the end, he’s a good villain BECAUSE of that personal connection; the Green Goblin is just a standard early-era Spider-Man villain with a twist, but that’s perfectly okay.

But once you start turning Norman Osborn into a conspiratorial puppet master, it takes what should be a somewhat smaller-scale character battle and makes it ridiculous. It gets worse: after his revival and into the modern Marvel era, Norman goes even further, becoming an insane evil genius who manipulates his way into a top position and then starts wrecking the entire Marvel universe. It just completely warps the character beyond any level of recognition. I thought he was just an unscrupulous businessman with a weird pastime; now he’s off-brand Lex Luthor? What’s the point?

Well, I think the point was that ‘Hey! He was the bad guy behind that important story! He should be central to the Marvel Universe in general, even when it doesn’t make sense!’ It’s a weird fanboy mentality that tries to translate the meta-importance and memorability of a character into importance and memorability within the fiction, regardless of what that actually means within the text. It’s the same point brought up by the recent Red Letter Media review of Star Wars: Episode III about Darth Vader: just because he’s an important villain to us as an audience doesn’t mean you need to turn him into the central figure of the story’s mythology. They were trying to do the same thing with Obsorn, essentially making him Marvel’s Lex Luthor AND Joker at the same time, which many of the creative minds behind it probably think is essential to such an IMPORTANT character.

Here’s the thing: it makes sense for Lex Luthor to have the level of importance he does. Not only is he the archenemy of the most famous superhero in the world, but his characterization from day one made it a possibility, whether he’s the golden age mad scientist or the modern corporate overlord. You could probably argue that the Joker has been overblown in much the same way as Osborn, but even so, he could still make sense within the wider context of DC’s superhero line. Osborn/Green Goblin, on the other hand, are so essentially tied to Spider-Man as a character, that it just doesn’t feel right to have him battle the Avengers. And it doesn’t even make sense for them to, either; Green Goblin would barely register as a second-string member of the Masters of Evil in terms of the kind of threat he would pose someone like Thor or Iron Man.

Now that Siege is long over (digression: I find it hilarious how quickly that supposedly back-to-the-basics approach represented by the ‘Heroic Age’ has been replaced by another dark crossover story) and Osborn is no longer the head of the most powerful agency in Marvel’s comics, I hope the creative forces at Marvel recognize some of these issues and can fix some of them. Of course, they’re probably not going to kill him again, so the central issue will remain.

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