Friday, January 6, 2012

GN Review -- Spider-Man: American Son / Joe Kelly, Phil Jimenez, et. al.

I have a lot of pity for Harry Osborn.

Seriously, he's got to be one of the most tormented characters in comics.  First and foremost, he grew up with Norman Osborn as his father, which I think singlehandedly accounts for all the other terrible things that tend to happen to him.  He was the son who was never good enough for his father, causing him to virtually bleed the need for validation from everyone around him, which also led to his station as the rich, well-meaning, but mostly ineffectual friend.  Being such a pathetic figure eventually cursed him with a drug addiction, venture after venture to succeed his father as the Green Goblin, and a barely redemptive death that was eventually retconned by the travesty storyline, One More Day.

You'd think life got better for him after his return, but not really.  His attempts at sobriety appear tenuous at best, his string of successful coffee shops are sneered at by his father, and his hot new girlfriend, Lily Hollister, starts taking his dad's Goblin Serum and starts sleeping with the old man.  And then becomes pregnant with his child.  His close friendship with Peter is tempered by his intense hatred of Spider-Man, which often causes him to ignore or berate his friend.  After a while you wonder, is this guy ever gonna become his own man, or will he always be trapped in his insane father's shadow?

In Spider-Man: American Son, you get a fierce answer.

It's the time of the Dark Reign, when Norman Osborn is essentially the top cop in the U.S. and has his own team of (Dark) Avengers (among others) at his command.  Osborn, who calls himself the Iron Patriot now, has plans to bring his son Harry onto the team, infuriating Peter and causing him to try to infiltrate the team to figure out what his real plans are.  When he's found out, he's captured and tormented by Osborn and the Dark Avengers, as his plans for Harry demonstrate just how depraved, manipulative, and psychotic Osborn truly is.

It's a well-written tale, full of intrigue, danger, and discovery as we finally see Harry come to grips with one of the darkest, most humiliating realizations of his life and decide his path from that point.  Norman offers his son a great deal of power and comfort, even as he masterminds and attempts to orchestrate his eventual demise and impregnates his fiancee.  When Harry gives up Spider-Man to his father, it's a show of loyalty and trust that he comes to regret, and for which he quickly and effectively makes amends, donning the American Son armor and taking on his old man in the kind of one-on-one, super-powered combat that superhero fans just love to see.

Peter's concern for Harry and his hatred for Norman, while strident in this story, are fully justified when you know these characters' histories, both as an individuals and in relation to one another.  There's a memorable moment where, at one point, Osborn asks a captured Spider-Man about his interest in his son's welfare.  "Are you in love with my son?" he asks him.  In a sense, it's true, particularly when you consider that friendship is a form of love, and Peter's obsessive desire to keep Norman away from Harry is one manifestation of that love.  Why wouldn't you want to protect your best friend?

Of course, a story like this begs the question of how well a reader who doesn't know these characters so well will regard this story.  I personally think it stands well enough on its own: Norman manipulates Harry, fathers an unborn child with his fiancee, and essentially keeps her as a pet supervillain.  He berates Harry's life, and shows unequivocally how little he thinks of his son.  When Harry finally casts his father off, it's easy to understand why he does so, just in the context of Joe Kelly's narrative.  It's a testament to his deft characterization, as well as his ability to make a story interesting and engaging.

I enjoyed the artwork, but it's hard to give credit to any one person.  Still, the switching up of pencilers and inkers doesn't call undue attention to the artwork, and works to support the story well.  I did enjoy the visual of Harry, when he finally takes his first swing at his father, calling his American Son armor onto himself in preparation for their final fight.  I also think Harry walking away from a defeated, snarling Norman at the end is well rendered, and underscores both his redemption of character and his growth into his own man memorably.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story.  In Spectacular Spider-Man #200, Harry's redemption is barely there, mostly due to the fact that he died saving Peter.  In Spider-Man 3, he's given a much better send-off, more heroic and less of his own making.  It seems American Son is Kelly's attempt to top even that, with Harry taking on his own father, and surviving, to walk away from his influence forever.  Definitely a story for Spider-Man fans, and anyone who finally wants to see poor Harry come into his own.  Highly recommended.

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