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[personal profile] thehefner posting in [community profile] scans_daily
My favorite Spider-Man writer of all time is J.M. DeMatteis, and not just for the masterful Kraven's Last Hunt (which was posted here, but you really should read it as a whole if you can).

I think that I like him so much because he writes villains like broken people rather than evil monsters, essentially treating them the way Batman: The Animated Series treated its own villains. In fact, I dare say that DeMatteis wrote the definitive stories for not just Kraven, but also Harry Osborn. But between both characters is a lesser-known, little-loved original creation of his named Vermin, which brings us to this story.

1991's The Child Within is the missing link between Kraven's Last Hunt and Harry's death, and yet it's inexplicably never been collected and reprinted! It's a damn shame. Even besides the significance it has to both stories, and lays the foundation for Harry's final bout into Goblinville, it's a surprisingly raw and powerful look at abuse. Hopefully some of that will come across in the scans I've included here from this densely-packed epic.

Note for mods: scans are from Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184.

In case you don't know this charming fellow's history, Vermin is an original creation of J.M. DeMatteis from that writer's great and unloved Captain America run, where the rat-monster was a creation of (and henchman for) Baron Zemo. At this point in the story, Vermin's escaped the Ravencroft Asylum for the criminally insane, leaving a path of mutilated corpses in his wake.

Spider-Man's position isn't unjustified, but as you later discover, there's a reason why he's being uncommonly-unforgiving when it comes to Vermin. Speaking of Vermin, we see him wandering through the sewers just like he was in Kraven's Last Hunt: seething with fear and hatred, refusing to be caught again, ranting about how much he hates everyone... when he encounters a small child, just standing in the sewer, trying to find his way home.

For some reason, Vermin doesn't eat the kid. Oh, he thinks about it, sure, but something stays his hand... possibly the fact that this sweet innocent child actually trusts him. He doesn't see the monster in the man. And when it comes to that, he's not the only one...

There's so much I love about those panels. Not just the way they're paced, but their expressions. Peter, filled with anger and frustration, and still reeling from the trauma of what he went through with Kraven and Vermin. And Harry... poor, confused, tormented, worried Harry.

While Vermin helps the child find his home, Peter visits the graves of his parents with Aunt May and MJ, tormented with visions of being buried alive by Kraven. Something about being there, at the graves of parents he never really knew, triggers whatever it is that's already under Pete's skin thanks to Vermin. Meanwhile, across town...

What's really unsettling to me about these last two scenes with Harry, Norman, and Normie is the pattern we're seeing. The kindly father, snapping in seemingly-inexplicable rage and violence, and then snapping to super-happy-fun "Here, I'll make everything better!" mode. Even before he puts on the costume, Harry's unwittingly continuing the cycle.

Watching this video with Dr. Kafka, Spider-Man expresses disgust at the fact that she actually offered a kindly embrace to that creature. At this point, we learn that Peter's revulsion is actually caused by Vermin himself, who actually exudes a kind of "psychic poison" which strikes at the subconscious mind of anyone he encounters. If they have any deep-seated psychological issues or fears, Vermin unwittingly stirs them up.

Vermin shows up at the office seeking Dr. Kafka's help, not expecting to find Spider-Man there. Peter tries appealing to Vermin's humanity, even to the point of calling him Edward. Vermin thinks, "Edward? Don't call me Edward! Edward wasss weak! Edward wasss afraid! Edward let it happen!" And to Spider-Man, he snarls, "I'm. Not. EDWARD!" They fight, and Spider-Man becomes so engulfed with rage--with Vermin's psychic poison--that he loses control and almost beats Vermin to death.

And so Vermin goes back to the sewers, to the company of the only companion he has: the little boy, who just wants to find his way home.

"... leave me alone?!" Harry pleads to the two phantoms flaking him. The poor guy can't even enjoy his photo album in peace!

Snapping back to reality, Harry melts down into rage, tearing the photo album to shreds. Finally broken, he becomes the Green Goblin once more, and goes out hunting for Spider-Man. They two fight, and he manages to knock Peter out. Strangely enough, while all this anger and fighting is going on, Vermin is enjoying a rare quiet moment with the child, although even that is short-lived...

Of course, that's a promise she simply couldn't keep, as Vermin discovered before too long.

Which is what led to how and why Vermin escaped in the first place, after slaughtering the orderlies who tried to subdue the raging man-rat. But where they failed with Vermin, Harry Osborn succeeded with Peter Parker. "I'm sorry, Peter..."

I'm kind of surprised that Harry isn't using the logic that it was Peter's own webbing which snapped Gwen's neck, but then again, I like how that particular aspect has tastefully been left to ambiguity. Still, if they really wanted to give Harry an excuse to absolve Norman for Gwen's death in his own mind, that'd do it.

Harry puts Peter through a psychological gauntlet of horrors and guilt, playing upon all of the people who have died in Peter's life: Kraven, Nathan Lubeski, Ned Leeds, Norman, and of course Uncle Ben, who shows up personally in the nightmare to torment Peter with his deepest fear, his greatest guilt and shame, buried deep within Pete's psyche:

In a blind panic, Peter starts smashing everything in sight, leading to the poignant moment where Harry snaps out of Goblin mode and back to being Peter's best friend:

Fleeing the hideout, Peter swings out in a frantic haze, finding just enough sanity to make it to the one person who could help him: Dr. Kafka.

"MAN!" he shouts, snapping out of it and realizing that he's been in Dr. Kafka's office the whole time.

Meanwhile, Vermin finally confronts his parents, starting with his mother:

In case the nature of Edward's abuse wasn't clear before, there it is now. This might be the first example of a mainstream superhero comic dealing with child molestation. As for the voice off-panel, that would be the father himself--who happens to be a Judge--with a gun in hand, ready to shoot his own son. Or rather, the creature he helped turn his son into. But with a little help from his furry little rodent buddies, Vermin gets the upper hand, and puts aside his usual animalistic nature to issue more human justice by turning the Judge's own weapon against him:

Spider-Man bursts in, providing a relief to the tormented Vermin who now has someone he can safely hate without being torn and confused. But their battle is interrupted not just by the police, but Harry as well. Vermin is defeated and taken in, and his mother vows that she'll finally be there for her son now. Harry and Peter finish their business in the woods. Peter tries to reason with Harry, who only wants one thing: "I WANT YOUR LIFE!"

Harry flies in for the kill while Ghost!Norman cheers him on, getting closer and closer, until...

"There's so much good inside us... and so much monstrous evil. I've seen my share of both over the years... and it seems that evil always gets the upper hand..."

For those who remember what happens soon after this--the return of Peter's parents--and the fallout thereafter, this just twists the knife even deeper in retrospect.

In the epilogue, we see Vermin recovering in Ravencroft, morphing back and forth from Edward back to Vermin, threatening murder until he gets knocked out with gas by Dr. Kafka, who thinks that this is a good sign.

And DeMatteis does eventually "kill" Vermin later in this same run, as a last act before the final Peter/Harry confrontation. Really, this whole run is perhaps the greatest unsung epic in Spider-Man's history, which is now essentially written out of continuity thanks to Brand New Day. Speaking of that...

Peter/MJ forever. What else is there to say, really?

The rest Harry's powerful story has thankfully been mostly reprinted in the Son of the Goblin trade paperback, but I urge you to track down DeMatteis' entire run of Spectacular Spider-Man from issues #178-200. It's a run that deserves more love, especially if the two recent posts about DeMatteis' Vulture story--the greatest Vulture story ever written, IMO--have gotten only a handful of comments each.

Eventually, I'm going to take a look at DeMatteis' Batman/Two-Face: Crime and Punishment, which feels to me like a condensed version of The Child Within. With that in mind, I think Vermin and Harry's stories shed new light on the nature of Harvey Dent's madness, especially as told by DeMatteis.

Date: 2011-12-24 05:02 am (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
And here is why the Clone Saga and OMD are awful: they threw out a rich history that had been built and built over time. The key to Spidey is not super-heroics, it's that tragedy--tragedy the millions of, say, Bruce provide no easy solution for--is an inextricable and necessary element of a good Spider-Man story, going all the way back to the very first one. The point of Spidey is that no matter how much power you have, you can only hope to do the best you can, and that there are some things you JUST CAN'T FIX. And have to live with. And survive.

Matter of fact, a comparison of how Bruce and Peter dealt with the deaths of their parents(granted, Bruce had to watch) is interesting. Bruce, a spoiled child of privilege, could not ever get over it. Because of his class he was in a position to not have to. He could dedicate the rest of his life to what happened to him when he was a little boy. (in the films--the Nolan ones--at least they provided a moment for him to actually get past it to some degree and realize the bigger picture, and Scott Snyder with BATMAN 4 also has pointed in that direction too) While Peter? Peter is lower middle class. He HAD to get over it or at least push it down. (was this the first time you saw Peter even ADDRESS his parents' deaths?) When Uncle Ben died, it didn't make him obsessed with revenge, it made him grow the hell up, and fast. And to never forget responsibility, as the saying goes.

Both deal with survivor guilt. But Peter's is more like it would be for most people. Though a lot of people--because of their place in prominence--tend to think of Spidey and Supes as counterparts, it's really Peter and Bruce who are more related. But when you look at what Peter has endured and borne, you tend to think, "Bruce, get over yourself." I mean, Bruce wouldn't even allow any replacement of his parents; even Alfred was never allowed to get as close to him as a surrogate. While Peter has May and Ben. Peter wants to get over it. Bruce seems to think if he gets over it his identity will be no more, on some level.


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