Waiting for the Trade: Deathmatch

Deathmatch: (2) A Thousand Cuts.

by Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno

collects Deathmatch 5-8

 Why I Bought This: A couple years ago Deathmatch #1 was one of the Free Comic Book Day giveaways and it read well enough that I decided that one day I would read the rest of the story, particularly because it was written by Paul Jenkins, who was one of the best Spider-man writers of all time. Cut to a couple months ago, where BAM was selling all three trades that make up the entire miniseries brand new for $4 each and I grabbed them all on the spot.

The Plot: Earth’s major heroes and villains find themselves on an alien prison with no memory of how that got there and forced to battle each other in an arena to the death. Most of the characters are analogs to the major DC and Marvel heroes. In the finale of volume 1 the Lex Luthor analog hacked the prison’s computer to eliminate the guards (constructs of living light) and power dampeners, before being seemingly killed by the Batman analog.

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – Spiderman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Spider-man: Return of
the Goblin

by Paul Jenkins &
Humberto Ramos

collects Peter Parker:
Spider-man (vol. 2) 44-47.

 
Why I Bought This: Over
a year ago I bought the trade for a Spidey vs. Venom story called “The Hunger”
by Paul Jenkins and it was astonishingly good: like by far the best Venom story
to be told outside of the character’s first few appearances. Paul Jenkins in
general seems fairly well-regarded for his work on Spidey and after the reading
that Venom story I wanted to sample some more of his run. It seemed like
stories tackling Spidey’s other major foes would be the best pick-ups in that
regard so I grabbed both this Green Goblin story and a Doc Ock trade off
Amazon.

 
The Plot: Norman once again makes a
run at Peter through his friends and family. The story features a lot of
psychological back and forth so there’s no way to recap without heavy spoilers.

Chapter 1 – Norman visits Harry’s grave and vows vengeance
on Peter for refusing an offer to join together in a prior story. Peter
meanwhile is being tormented by a recurring dream that we don’t get to see and
tries to talk about it with Aunt May. Norman
dons the Goblin suit. Peter calls MJ but can’t find the words to speak to her
(apparently they are separated at this time), so he goes web swinging in the
rain to clear his head. And then he comes face to face with the Green Goblin.
The Goblin beats on Spidey pretty good. When Spidey turns the tables he asks
Norman the point of it all, saying “you can’t make me do anything I don’t
want;” to which Norman bets him $5 and a pizza that he can before stabbing him
in the shoulder and inviting him to a “family funeral.”

Chapter 2 – Pete flashbacks to Gwen’s death, then turns on the TV to see Norman
has released video footage of her death that implicates Spider-man as
responsible (via the infamous “snap” after Spidey weblines her in trying to
save her after the Goblin tossed her off the bridge) causing Pete to break his
TV. Next Norman
approaches Flash with a job offer. We cut to Norman
at a business meeting when Pete barges in and makes a scene to prove he can
bring the fight to Norman’s
civilian life just as easily. Of course Norman
then responds by threatening MJ and Aunt May so maybe not quite as easily.
Spidey then goes to Jameson to confront him for running the Goblin’s
allegations on the front page but that gets him nowhere. Meanwhile Norman has
his goons force alcohol down Flash’s throat then sticks Flash behind the wheel
of an Osborn Truck (as truck driver is the job Norman allegedly gave Flash) and
causes the truck to ram into Peter’s class at Midtown High (this is during the
science teacher era). Pete puts two and two together and races to the hospital
where from outside the window he overhears that Flash has “irreversible brain
damage.”

Chapter 3 – Pete is feeling guilty about Flash. When he goes
into the work the next morning he again finds Norman waiting for him; this time
playing the rich philanthropist by paying for all the damage that ‘unfortunate
drunk new employee’ caused to the school. The two exchange veiled threats in a
pretty fantastic scene as the principal gives Norman a tour of the school,
ending with Norman telling Pete which warehouse to meet him at to finish this.
Spidey stops by the hospital to visit Flash first and then we get a viscous
battle between the two. Spidey tries to pull back when he feels it has gone too
far, at which point Norman threatens to kill his own grandson (and Pete’s
godson) toddler Normie Osborn for being weak like Harry and unworthy of
inheriting the company. This causes Peter to vow to kill Norman.

Chapter 4 – Spidey and The Goblin are still going at it and Norman ups the stakes
again by saying when he finishes with Pete tonight he’s going to order hits on
every person in Pete’s life that he cares about. Spidey’s rage makes him
reckless allowing Goblin to get the upper hand. Goblin tries to drown Pete in
toxic waste, but at the last moment Pete mounts the babyface comeback and then
just pummels Norman,
breaking his ribs and putting him on the defensive. Pete is about to strike the
killing blow–and Norman even asks him to do
it–but Pete can’t commit murder and in fact realizes that Norman’s goal along has been to use Pete to
commit suicide. In a state of exhaustion the two collapse and talk to each
other, sharing a laugh before Pete reveals his recurring dream to Norman: that he sees Mary
Jane dying in a plane crash but when he gets to the body it ends up being Gwen.
Pete then says he already lived through the worst thing Norman can do once before with Gwen and if he
didn’t kill him Norman then, he’s never going to. Pete then explains to Norman how their lives are
different and walks out on him. The next day Pete visits Flash in the hospital,
while Norman
returns to his office all alone and looks over a gun in his desk drawer.

 

Critical Thoughts: The
human chess between Pete and Norman is great in chapters 2 and 3 and Norman comes across as
really diabolical and underhanded throughout the whole story making this a
gripping read at times.

I’m not sure I fully buy into Norman being suicidal–probably
because we don’t expect arch-villains to be that vulnerable or really anything
but threatening and megalomaniacal in most super hero stories–but it’s not so
far-fetched as to say it couldn’t happen: after all Norman was at least a
sociopath before he even became the Goblin and over the years his mental
problems have been exacerbated by chemical means, head trauma and even mystic
inducement so who is to say that his insanity would never manifest into
depression, particularly after the death of his son. If we go with the premise
that Norman is suicidal
I certainly believe that he would want to die by Pete’s hand both for his own
ego and as a final revenge on Pete since he knows Pete well enough to how
guilty Peter would feel if he ever took a life. Certainly Jenkins puts a lot of
work into the story to make the premise plausible, with the ending showing how
alone Norman
is. I think Jenkins writes villains exceptionally well so when he has one of
the major ones like Venom or Norman
he writes stories that excel both psychologically as well as on the visceral
action level. It also helps that Jenkins has a good grasp of Peter and his
supporting cast, and how being in the presence of these psychopaths day in and
day out affects Peter.

As a general criticism, I will say I don’t like Ramos’ art.
I never have and still don’t even with his current ASM Spidey stuff. Most of the time he’s okay drawing the costumed
stuff but his civilian facials are terrible. This however was a step-up from
his usual. There’s a few panels where Aunt May looks weird but overall he does
an adequate job on this story.

 

Grade: B-. An
unusual direction for Norman but overall it’s a compelling read from beginning
to end, which you can find for a ludicrously cheap price on Amazon.