"The Last Stand": Part 4
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Terry Dodson (p), Rachel Dodson (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Over the years, there have been a great many Green Goblin stories which seek to recapture the thrilling sense of danger and shock that became synonymous with the character during the classic “Green Goblin’s last stand” storyline from Amazing Spider-Man, in which both Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn met their sticky end. Some writers have been more successful than others, but one fairly recent effort which stood out for me was Paul Jenkins’s “Return of the Goblin” storyline from the now-defunct Peter Parker: Spider-Man title. That arc harnessed the terrible menace of the Goblin and the cold, calculated, businesslike persona of Norman Osborn and used them to tell a classic but fresh-feeling story of the Goblin once again taunting Spider-Man and threatening some of Peter’s loved ones. However, whereas “Return of the Goblin” took a surprising, unexpected route in its final act – showing Peter acknowledging the repetitive, relentless nature of his and Osborn’s conflicts, and choosing to beat the Goblin down with his words and ideals instead of his fists, leaving him a psychologically broken creature, undone by Spidey’s sheer force of will and humane spirit – this final issue of Mark Millar’s yearlong opus takes the easy, predictable route of rehashing the most overused and cliché Green Goblin/Spider-Man moment of all time, but blunting its edges into a truly inconsequential and bland finale.
This new title has been a mixed bag under Millar’s yearlong reign, providing some moments of real interest and occasional innovation (the superb Electro fight of issue #3 was perhaps the highlight, or maybe the sly and creative conspiracy theory outlined at the beginning of this final mini-arc), alongside other instances where the writing and plotting is so predictable and derivative that the reader would be forgiven for losing all interest in where the story is going. However, by the end of issue #11, Millar had managed to shed much of the baggage that had accumulated throughout his run, and pared down his story to a simple final battle between the costumed hero and his ultimate nemesis. The question was posed as to whether the writer could deliver a punch to his ending that wrapped up all of his story threads convincingly, whilst providing the impact that such a large-scale story demanded. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. The huge build-up of the last year is wasted on a derivative bridge-top tête-à-tête in which Spider-Man again has to save his loved one from falling off the bridge which was the stage for the death of Gwen Stacy all those years ago. If this sounds familiar then maybe you’ve read JMS’ recent “Sins Past” arc in Amazing Spider-Man, in which our hero has to recreate his famous neck-snapping debacle with a little more success; or maybe you read the Ultimate Spider-Man story in which Mary Jane took the place of the regular MU Gwen Stacy, but survived; or maybe you’ve simply witnessed variations on this story so many times that you can’t imagine not knowing where the story is going.
Either way, the repetitive nature of comic-book storytelling coupled with the editorial restrictions which pin cash-cow characters to a certain status quo should have warned even the most innocent reader that this story was going to struggle to replicate the impact of the story that it so heavily references. Even when a completely knackered Spider-Man takes on a cackling, confident Goblin in a fight to save Mary Jane’s life, there’s very little dramatic tension to really excite the reader; and any tension which might have still existed is sucked out of the issue by Millar’s decision to take the denouement completely out of Spidey’s hands, sending a drugged and brainwashed Doctor Octopus to interrupt his fight with the Goblin at a crucial moment, before having a bolt of lightning strike the two villains down in an almost literally deus ex machina conclusion to the epic battle. It’s sloppy (almost comically bad) writing, it’s lazy plotting, and it completely throws away all of the possible potential of a year-long build-up to the classic hero-and-villain pairing facing off against each other once more. The story only serves to convince me further that there is very little mileage left in Norman Osborn as an effective villain, and it might have been in everyone’s interests if he had stayed dead the first time he was killed.
However, the book does have some redeeming features: the Dodsons’ art is energetic and suitably dark, adding a true sense of scale to some of the sequences, with the dark inking meshing well with the atmospheric colours of Avalon’s Ian Hannin to create a real foreboding mood which serves the story quite well. Millar’s writing also has some high points in its smaller moments, whether sensibly following the rule of drama that if a gun is shown in the first act it should be fired in the third, or giving a lot of thought to some of the less obvious aspects of the Spidey mythos (what exactly was wrong with Spidey’s strategy to save Gwen, and what could he have done differently? Millar provides a possible answer here). He also writes some of the character dialogue well, with Spider-Man’s opening exchange with the Goblin – in which he laments the waste of Osborn’s undeniable genius – ringing particularly true. The letter at the end of the issue also underlines the depth with which Millar understands the characters’ relationship, only making it all the more disappointing that he couldn’t think of something more interesting to do with them. Unfortunately, the slew of bad elements (of which the complete anticlimax of the Aunt May story thread is yet another) undermines the issue’s good points by quite a long way.
The way to capture creative lightning in a bottle isn’t to retread old storylines until we’ve seen so much of them that we lose any sense of the impact they might once have had. It isn’t to trot out classic villain after classic villain in the hope that the sheer volume of bad guys will amount to some kind of palpable, tangible, and epic threat to our hero. What Spider-Man fans want to see is new ground being forged, new ideas explored, and old relationships given new life through examination from a fresh point of view. Sadly, Millar’s Spider-Man is pure Spidey-by-numbers, with nothing remotely novel or interesting to offer the longtime Spider-Man fan. Perhaps the writer has been constrained by his own sense of awe for the character and misplaced wish to be overly loyal to Spidey’s roots: as he admits in his afterword, Millar just wanted to get all his love and enthusiasm for the character down on the page – apparently with little regard for creating a decent story around it. The result is a ‘best-of-Spidey’ approach which tries to echo many of the character’s best-loved moments, but misses the mark through its sheer predictability and uninspired nature. Longtime fans will feel they’ve seen it all before, and newcomers could spend their money far better in exploring the wealth of classic Spidey stories which remain in print today. They would find far more freshness and classy storytelling in those reprints than this mere imitation could ever provide.
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