By Ben Morse
From the beginning, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN has been the story of Peter Parker growing up and learning to accept the great responsibility that comes with great power. But beneath the brightly colored costumes and clever quips, a second, more tragic tale has also developed: the saga of Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, and his son Harry.
Debuting alongside Peter and company in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1, scientist and industrialist Norman Osborn played a key role in the birth of Spider-Man as his power-boosting OZ formula, an attempt at re-creating the circumstances that led to Captain America's birth, combined with an genetically-altered spider bite to transform Peter Parker into the wondrous webhead. Soon after, trying to replicate the accident that birthed the Wallcrawler, Norman injected himself with OZ and emerged as the insane, monstrous Green Goblin. Ever since, Norman, in both his civilian and villainous personas, has made Peter's life a living hell. Tightening the web, Peter's best friend Harry, Norman's son, got involved in the nightmare, turning into a goblin creature himself thanks to Norman experimenting on him.
Now writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen have begun to wind the Osborn opus to an epic conclusion in the "Death of a Goblin" arc currently weaving its way through ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. With the penultimate chapter set to drop with issue #116 on November 28, we took the time to speak with Bendis about the genesis of Ultimate Norman Osborn, what his relationship with Peter Parker has meant to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and why his story must come to a close.
Marvel.com: Before you were "Brian Bendis: Comics Professional" and were just a guy reading Spider-Man comics, who was Norman Osborn to you?
Brian Michael Bendis:
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Well, you know I'm a ['60s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN artist John] Romita, Sr. baby. That to me was when it was the most dramatic stories.
Norman Osborn is the guy who killed Gwen Stacy. This is the guy who caused the most trouble. It really is kind of seen today as, not cliché, but sort of standard fare... However, at the time, the villain knowing Spider-Man's identity and having such access to hurt him was pretty major stuff. Then there was Daredevil when the Kingpin really got to him, but they did it first in Spider-Man.
Norman always represented a real threat. He's real crazy and as we know from our real lives, when you're faced with crazy it's really hard to work against it. I mean crazy is crazy. Applying rules of logic when there are none is very frustrating, especially when someone's out to get you. And that's what Norman represented. So I kept that part and the part where Norman is very connected to Peter. Peter becomes a representation of everything Norman needs to destroy. Norman is very attached to him.
Marvel.com: It was kind of like while you had all these exotic Spider-Man villains like Kraven and the Vulture, the Green Goblin was the one guy really meant to scare you.
Yeah, absolutely. Also what I like about him was that we got to watch him evolve. He started off as one of those goofy villains and then you could see him turn into the guy—you could see the wheels turning on that idea and within a year he's someone Peter knows and it's really scary.
I like when you see an evolution of that, when something silly turns into something scary.
It's funny that Romita Sr., who was primarily a romance artist and admitted to always struggling with the superheroes, was able to take that villain and turn him into something scary. The combination of [subsequent artist] Gil Kane and John Romita made such an interesting villain archetype for Spider-Man.
Marvel.com: When ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN started up, whose idea was it to tie the Osborns, and specifically Norman, so closely to Peter and his transformation into Spider-Man right from the onset?
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If memory serves, because I had come into the project late, there were other writers attached to the draft—it was called GROUND ZERO: SPIDER-MAN, which would have been a marketing nightmare a few years later....
At the time it was a [then-Marvel president] Bill Jemas baby and he was working with other writers and it just wasn't coming together. What they were working on was primarily a watered down version of AMAZING FANTASY #15, which honest to god if I hadn't read their version of it is probably what I would have done. "If it ain't broken…"
I was grateful that they had already gone through that so that when I read it I realized, "Oh no, don't do that." I was able to look at it with more objective eyes.
What Bill had in his notes—he had a crazy pile of notes of every idea he had—I sifted through them and pulled out what I thought was the good stuff. That was pretty much close to what I would have done.
In there definitely was the dual story of Norman and Spider-Man birthing out of the same event. That was fantastic. That was great stuff.
Even when you watch the first Spider-Man movie, they try to do that.
I thought that Bill's idea to mirror them right off the spider was much more successful as a piece of drama. I really thought it was exceptional so I definitely gravitated towards that. I think I just completely wrapped my story around that premise.
I remember he had a subplot about Norman feeding the football team OZ-spiked Gatorade and the whole team turning into Goblins that Spider-Man had to fight. I'll buy the spider-bite and the super-powers, but I'm not going to buy the whole football team, that's a little much.
It's funny... There's a line where you go, "Okay that's entirely way too much."
Bill had some really outstanding things so I just grabbed it and took it from there. I think Bill was very happy with it and I kinda realized Bill was Norman. So I wrote Norman as Bill—not that Bill's crazy but as a Norman that can function and had a Bill-ness to him. And I wrote Peter as me.
So there you go. [Laughs
] Bill's trying to kill me.
Marvel.com: What did you want to change between Marvel Universe Norman and Ultimate Norman?
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There's always that connection between Norman and Peter that even in the movies was Norman gravitating towards Peter. There was always a bit of conceit. We believe it because Norman believes it, but I wanted there to be a physical connection.
I thought that if that spider that bit Peter was Norman's spider, Norman can take credit for Spider-Man.
That comes up in future issues where he says to Peter, "You're the only proof left that I'm a genius. I made you, I did this. No matter what else I do, I made Spider-Man."
And Peter's whole point of view on that is he's feeling he's an accident—you can't take credit for it.
So there's a genuine psychotic connection between the two. Plus, Norman made the arrogant mistake of juicing himself up and he didn't get what Peter got.
There's definitely that whole, "If I can't have it I'm going to kill it" feel to it.
Marvel.com: How did this closer connection between Peter and Norman affect the series as it evolved?
What I like about it is Peter has no feelings for Norman Osborn, zero. And as time goes on, the relationship is Norman coming to Peter and Peter going, "WHAT?! COME ON! LEAVE ME ALONE!" So he's a complete stalker threat situation.
I think the Norman issue I'm most happy with is when we show the whole thing from Norman's wobbly point of view. Peter's seeing it one way, but look how crazy Norman's world is. Norman's got these little visions, little creatures, prodding him along. OZ really did a number on him.
Marvel.com: What stuff from classic Norman did you want to make sure got carried over to the Ultimate version?
Well, his relationship and feelings about Peter. And that he's not stupid, he's actually sick. It's much more difficult to write intelligent characters off the edge than dumb ones. Just the air about him. He's not just a nutcase, he's a genius that never gives up. He's willing to die for it, whatever that is. He will go the distance for it.
Marvel.com: Switching gears a bit, how did you envision Harry Osborn's role in the series?
What I liked about the Peter and Harry relationship is that, you have these friends in your life, and there's good things and there's bad things about them. There's this very Shakespearian drama between Harry and Norman that brings out this hyper drama of Harry and Peter's relationship.
Then there's Peter who wants to help Harry but there's only so much he can do.
What can he do? He's a 15-year-old kid who's been poisoned by his father for lack of a better word.
I wanted Harry to be much more tragic.
I know it's kind of a bummer how the suicidal supervillain in mainstream comics is, but it's just the logic of where the story was going. Look what's happened to him.
Marvel.com: Also, while in the old continuity Peter and Harry didn't really meet until Peter was in college and had kind of shed a lot of his nerd image, in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN they knew each other in high school and Harry was the guy who stuck up for nerdy Peter.
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They were genuinely friends. Harry was that friend you have in high school that's not from your clique but for some reason you guys are just pals. No one's going to tell you not to be pals and it makes your friendship even stronger. That's definitely what it was. They would have been friends forever.
Marvel.com: And while Harry always protected Peter, Peter couldn't protect Harry…
And that's the struggle for Peter... He wants to save Harry and he definitely owes him that thing, but what can you do? Tragic family. I've said this before, but this is Shakespearian level tragedy.
I've never brought this up to Stan [Lee], but I'm fascinated by the father-son relationships in the Marvel Universe that kept repeating themselves over and over and over again in the days when the Universe was really birthing itself.
There's Kingpin and his son, Norman and his son—even Peter lost his father. Daredevil lost his father—it's all about fathers.
I'm fascinated by it. I want to know, if I ever got the courage to ask these guys who created these characters, if they were aware of the feelings of the fathers in the comics.
There's a lot of yelling at the fathers, and whether they're aware of it or not, it's fascinating.
I think about my life and my relationship with my father now that I am a father and how that is certainly a subject I can go back to a thousand million times from a million different points of view.
I definitely know that if there's one element of this story that completely fascinates me, it's that aspect of it. How real that was then and how real it is now.
It's a human truth and they can take that to such a Shakespearian level of tragedy, I thought that in this arc that we're talking about now, that was the only place for the story to go.
Marvel.com: What were Norman's goals when ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN began, before Peter even got bit by the spider, and how have they shifted over the years?
Some of this will be more illustrated in ULTIMATE ORIGINS, which is coming out next year, where we're actually going to tie things up into that first scene in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1, as far as who was Norman talking to on the phone in that first issue.
Norman was working on his version of the super soldier serum. The arms race of the 21st century in the Ultimate Marvel Universe was the race for the super soldier serum. A lot of the bedlam and craziness that's poured out of the books has been about that—chasing the legacy of Captain America that can't be duplicated...
Norman's the big knocker in the world of genetic hyper-business and now he's all juiced up and wacky and he's turned it into a revenge-take on Nick Fury who he blames. He can't blame himself because that flies in the face of arrogance.
"I can easily blame myself for this, I am the person to do this, but I will lash out at Nick Fury, I'll lash out at Peter, I'll lash out at my son."
Marvel.com: Where did the idea to reinvent the Ultimate Green Goblin as a hulking monster as opposed to a guy in a fright mask and green suit come from?
That comes from my very first meetings about that stuff.
I do believe that was a Bill idea but I'll tell you why it went forward—we had to have to have an overall point and feeling and theme to [the Ultimate Universe] so it would last longer than most imprints. These imprints don't usually last a couple of years, and here we are making another imprint very aware of the bloated suffering carcasses of all the other imprints.
From a literary and dramatic point of view, we had a legitimate theme and an arc and point to do this that wasn't just "Here's Spider-Man again."
Me and [ULTIMATES creator] Mark [Millar] and [Editor-in-Chief] Joe [Quesada] and Bill had definitely decided that the regular Marvel Universe was completely birthed out of nuclear paranoia. Every single story is about the bombs dropping, and it's all mutations and radiation, it was all nuclear paranoia.
So we were like, this generation doesn't have nuclear paranoia, but it certainly has some semblance of genetic paranoia. There you go—instead of an irradiated spider, it's a genetically altered spider, it's super soldiers with genetic alterations, all the pieces just come together very quickly.
The Hulk is a genetic alteration—it's all genetics instead of nuclear. And if that's the case, then the Green Goblin is a genetic abortion. It's a horrible genetic version of whatever Captain America was supposed to be and it's a main line genetic disaster of Spider-Man and it looks like a goblin—and it's got a little Hulk to it... Particularly in the first arc, as he's having trouble talking.
Logically, it just comes from there.
Then Peter's like, "Am I going to Hulk out like that one day? All that is in my blood. That's not good."
Norman's the anomaly, the nightmare version of what Peter could become and what everything in the Marvel Universe could become.
I hit that button a little bit in ULTIMATE SIX, where Cap is like "Oh this is my legacy, great. I'm really glad I woke up."
Marvel.com: And in this day and age the Goblin you guys created can definitely be scarier than a guy in a mask…
Old school Green
Well I'm certainly not against the guy in the mask. But that had been done as well as possibly could be done and we thought, "Well there's no reason to do that."
The cool thing about a mask is you get to pull it off and do the reveal—we weren't doing that kind of thing. That's a big reason why.
Marvel.com: Have you had a far-reaching plan for Norman from the start?
I initially liked the idea of the book because the two major stories that continue through the series were Norman and the Kingpin and they both represented to me different kinds of stories for Peter to learn about the big lessons of life.
The Kingpin story being, "Hey guess what, life ain't fair and rich people get to do whatever they want."
That lesson is obvious when you're older, but the first time you learn it, it really sucks. You go, "Oh, that's not fair."
I did know that the Norman story would come to an end. I jotted down six or seven arcs that had a unique take on that character that were not repetitive, that built to this finale.
We're also aware that there's a lot more Normans out there—the movies, the TV show and other books.
There is only so much Norman you can put out there without people going "Whatever. Seen it. Done it."
I wanted to make sure our Norman stories were really unique and special and this would be the last one we did.
Marvel.com: Did Harry also fit into the story the way he did in your overall plans?
Yes. Harry was always the lost cause of the story. Harry had given up. I had gotten a hard time for that during the Hobgoblin arc. People like Harry, and they didn't like that about him.
I had to point out, because we're all comic book fans, we've seen people genetically altered all the time.
However, getting back to a more real version of it, if that happened to you, you'd be like "Killl Meee
." It's not like, "Oh I can go back to college now."
Your life is over and when you find out your father has completely abused you on every conceivable level, it's tragedy at the highest level.
Marvel.com: Why is "Death of a Goblin" the ultimate—lower case "u," not upper case—Osborn/Goblin story?
Because it's such a finale and a huge payoff for everyone who's been with the book since the first issue. This is the exclamation point. This is it. The one good thing about the Ultimate Universe is we're able to say it with conviction—none of that in six months, "Oh he's back haha." This is really it.
Marvel.com: How does Peter Parker emerge from this arc changed?
never truly escape
We're not going to hit you over the head where he looks out to the sky and goes, "Today I'm a man," but this and some other things that happen in future issues are really going to alter who he is.
We're going to have a little fun right afterwards with the "Amazing Friends" stuff.
But the big arc after that is "War of the Symbiotes."
It's a big story about Eddie Brock and Gwen Stacy, Carnage and more dramatic stuff happens where Peter is really forced to grow up in a big big big way and it's that and this arc together that really change the tone of the book for the better, just gives it some more gravitas.
Yeah, he's growing up. We're going to chop off his arms and give him robot arms.