Continuity. Although we may not all agree on how much of it you need to tell a good Spider-Man story, I believe most fans would acknowledge that keeping new stories in accord with old ones certainly doesn’t hurt. Moreover, whenever creative teams deviate from established continuity they usually catch a little flack from those of us deeply entrenched in it. But what happens in the unusual case when writers/artists adhere to continuity by accident? Sounds strange doesn’t it? But it must happen, that is, if writers can unintentionally muddle continuity, shouldn’t they be able to unintentionally adhere to it as well?
This rant cites two recent examples from the Spiderverse that illustrate what I’m calling ‘serendipitous continuity adherence’. So without further ado…
Example 1: The Goblin Tattoos
The events of Peter Parker Spider-Man #87 took place just prior to the Identity Crisis storyline, at a time when Norman Osborn had managed to tarnish the webslinger’s heroic reputation. But Norman’s schemes against Peter are rarely one-dimensional, so, as to be expected, Norman also attacked Peter’s family (this was back when Norman knew Spider-Man’s alter ego). Norman sent one of his thugs to kill Mary Jane, Anna Watson and Jill Stacy while Peter was distracted with (err…glued to) Paul Stacy. Luckily Jimmy-6, a Spider-Man ally and grandson of Don Fortunato, saved them from the thug’s attack. But before Jimmy could extract any information, the thug took a suicide pill and keeled over. Jimmy then lifted the sleeve on the arm of the dead thug revealing a ‘laughing Goblin’ tattoo, thus confirming the Green Goblin’s involvement with the assailant. Osborn loyalists bearing Goblin tattoos…how interesting a concept!
Fast-forward about 13 years, and we’re smack-dab in the middle of the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man comics, an era known for massive shifts in the status quo. Amazing Spider-Man #647 featured the return of Vin Gonzalez from incarceration (he had been arrested for his involvement in the Spider-Tracer killings) and, boy, is he a reformed man! After he intimidated Harry Osborn with a message from Norman, Vin showed Harry a tattoo he got while in prison...a grinning Green Goblin! Another Osborn operative with a Goblin tattoo doing Osborn’s bidding!?!
This Green Goblin tattoo became the calling card for the latest cult that worshiped Norman Osborn, yet these followers distinguished themselves from Norman’s prior cults. Most importantly, they appeared to be seduced by Osborn’s vision for the world, which he had put forth during his time leading the Avengers (i.e., his 'anti- mutants, aliens, etc tolerated on Earth' stance). So they seemed, at least on the surface, to be a bit more fanatical than the gun-for-hire-type thug(s) that Osborn employed back in Peter Parker Spider-Man #87. Still, one cannot deny the uncanny similarities between these two Goblin-tattoo bearing Osborn goons and it just screams of a connection (at least to me!).
Fred Van Lente is credited with writing the first story in Amazing Spider-Man #647, but I think it's safe to assume that Dan Slott, Zeb Wells and the rest of the Web-Heads all contributed to the idea behind this new Green Goblin cult. So, were they all aware of the Goblin tattoo-bearing killer from Peter Parker Spider-Man #87? Or was it complete coincidence? Imagine the possibilities if these two separate stories (spanning 13 years) could somehow be tied together? It could happen, but given the nature (and obscurity) of the original tattooed gunman it is unlikely we’ll see a connection made.
For completeness sake I don’t want to ignore the Green Goblin cult featured in Spider-Man: Revenge of the Green Goblin #2 known as The Order of the Goblin. These guys didn’t bear tattoos (to the best of my knowledge) so I left them out of this discussion. Still, they represent another fanatical sect of Osborn loyalists willing to follow him in a cult-like manner.
Example 2: Osborn and The Hand/A.I.M./Hydra
In the Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) Annual 2000, the infamous Scrier Junior (aka Rebel Scrier aka Mathew DeRoma) appeared on the scene and abducted Harry Osborn’s son Normie. Scrier Junior was a forgettable character during his first and last appearance in the Spiderverse, but he did mention one very interesting Norman Osborn fact. He described how Osborn caused a rift within the Scrier cabal when he formed alliances with The Hand, A.I.M. and Hydra. Some Scrier members felt that Osborn was corrupting the sanctity of the cabal by forming these allegiances and Scrier Junior was one of them.
Certainly the foundations for Norman’s desire to unite major criminal organizations can be traced back to the Lee/Ditko era during his earliest appearances as the Green Goblin. However, those attempts to unite the criminal underworld usually involved the generic ‘mob bosses’. But his relationship with The Hand, A.I.M., and Hydra are first laid out quite explicitly in this annual. Put it this way, Norman takes over the Scrier cabal and one of the first things he did (or tried to do) was make an alliance with The Hand, A.I.M., and Hydra. Keep that in mind.
Fast-forward about 11 years and Norman appears to be up to the same old tricks. In New Avengers (Vol.2) #16.1, members of The Hand, A.I.M., and Hydra rescued Osborn from prison! And these agents desired nothing more than to have Osborn lead them into battle against the Avengers. Did those murderous organizations remember Osborn reaching out for their allegiance all those years ago while he led the Scriers? Was Brian Michael Bendis aware of this connection between Osborn and those criminal organizations mentioned in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2000? Or is this another example of serendipitous continuity adherence?
I think most of us who read Bendis’ work are aware that continuity is not necessarily his strong point, so it may be safe to assume that he did not catch this tidbit from the Spidey annual 11 years prior. Still, for even the most robust fans of Spider-Man continuity this recent development for Norman Osborn works…it works pretty well actually.
I’ll leave everyone with these thoughts. How much credit should we give a writer that accidentally connects a new Spidey story with one from his past? How much credit should we give (via hindsight) to the original writer that left a nice ambiguous plot point just waiting to be tied together at some point in the future?
Til next time, keep on Goblin!