By Jim Beard
Not every parent's able to pick and choose their child's friends, though they may certainly wish they could.
Take Norman Osborn for example; he observed as a friendship grew between his only son and his greatest enemy and stood powerless in preventing it, to his eternal shame and regret.
The ties that bind Harry Osborn and Peter Parker together may exist in spite of Norman—or in direct response to him—and once again come into play in "American Son." This latest and greatest chapter of a most infamous friendship receives a very public reading this May and June, stretching over AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #595-599.
The popular, well-heeled Harry entered Empire State University destined to become BMOC—"Big Man on Campus"—but stumbled upon the nerdish bookworm Peter Parker during his climb. "Instant dislike" comes to mind to describe their first meeting but somehow these two students from two very different worlds hit it off. Go figure.
"In a way, they were both orphans, so I think that there was an initial attraction there," says "American Son" writer Joe Kelly. "Also, they complimented one another—Peter being a smart introvert, Harry being a simple extrovert. They have a genuine friendship, though, not so easily boiled down to simple terms; sometimes, you just like who you like, and those are the bonds that last forever."
"When we first encounter Harry, as Peter enters college, he's kind of a jerk, clearly trying to be more like his father," explains Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort. "He's dismissive of Peter, and scorns him alongside Flash Thompson and others as a way of fitting in and feeling in control.
"But when Harry's troubles at home began to become apparent, it was Peter who was empathetic, who offered his support. I don't think Harry ever quite had anybody like that in his life—his father would have taught him to be cautious about such people, that they would only be trying to take advantage of Harry and use him for his money."
Norman Osborn disapproved of the two youths' friendship, naturally, but centered his real attention on his business—and his secret career as the Green Goblin. Ironically, as Peter and Harry discussed girls and grades during the day, Peter also slugged it out with the Goblin at night as Spider-Man. The father became his son's most outrageous opponent, though at first the three possessed no real idea of the magnitude of their shared involvement.
And sadly, while Spider-Man and the Green Goblin battled, Harry Osborn turned to drugs. A concerned Peter tried to get through to Norman for Harry's sake but an insurmountable wall lay in place of a heart.
"With Peter it's always about responsibility and guilt, so it's only natural that he'd take Harry's addiction personally, as if there was something he could have done to stop it," offers Kelly. "The truth is, no one can truly short-circuit an addict's path, but that doesn't register with Peter.
"It's why he gets involved with the 'American Son' story, really: Pete's inability to let people make their own mistakes."
Soon, the world surrounding the Osborns and Peter Parker crumbled; Norman discovered Spider-Man's true identity and in a rage-filled assault on him nearly lost his life. Acting swiftly, Peter performed perhaps one of his greatest acts of solidarity for Harry: he covered everything up. Norman's memories of the Goblin and all the secrets he grasped dissipated and Spidey made sure no one would ever know the truth. Things finally began to look up between the three.
Then, tragedy of tragedies. Norman's Goblin persona revived and Gwen Stacy, Peter's girlfriend picked up the tab with her precious life. Imagine: your best friend's father kills the love of your life in a fit of pique. Though death seemed too good for the Goblin, death's what he seemingly got, and in the aftermath Harry's mind shattered further, leading to the rise of the second Green Goblin. Like father, like son, and Peter watched as it unfolded.
"If Pete had come clean immediately and done his best to make Harry aware of all Norman's mania, I think that could have helped," Kelly muses. "But as I recall, Pete didn't have the heart to tell Harry the truth about Norman, which gave him room to build a narrative about Spidey and Norman. Since he was in a fragile state, this fueled Harry's need to please his now dead father, and the second Goblin was soon to follow."
"At the time, Peter was so messed up over Gwen's death that he wasn't really thinking all that straight, so he was oblivious to what was going on around him," adds Brevoort. "It seems patently obvious that the death of his father would be likely to drive Harry around the bend, and the fact that Harry learned that Peter was Spidey and that Spidey was involved in his father's death were all elements that could have been prevented had Peter's mind been firing on all cylinders. But he was all wrapped up in his own pain, and oblivious to Harry's as a result."
The new Green Goblin plowed into Spider-Man's life like a freight train and Peter's knowledge that his very best friend had followed in his father's twisted footprints only made their struggle all the more horrific. Harry eventually followed Norman into "death," but then into resurrection, too, and today the Osborn men appear hale and hearty. Friendships renewed and father and son reunited, yes, but the question remains: do sons still emulate their fathers?
The answer's to be found in the events of "American Son," beginning in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #595 on May 27 and continuing into AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #596 on June 3. What's stronger? Blood or friendship? Peter Parker's about to find out the hard way and you've got front row seats, Spider-Fans. Be there!
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