DisComfort Food Comics: Red Goblin: Red Death by Alex Smith-Petersen

It’s spooky season! So why not dig into one of Spider-Man’s most horrifying enemies? How about two? How about two of them combined? Norman Osborn put on the Carnage symbiote for a short time, and it was insane and looked awesome. The Red Goblin was created by Dan Slott and designed by Ed McGuinness at the tail end of Slott’s (incredibly lengthy) run on Amazing Spider-Man. He makes his first full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #798.

Primer for Red Goblin:

After a fight with Spider-Man rendered his ability to turn into the Green Goblin inert, Norman Osborn lost any sort of tangible power he held. For months, Osborn hunted the globe for power in whatever form it would come. He turned to magic and mysticism, he did whatever it took. This was Norman at his most dangerous, like an animal locked in a cage who will never see freedom if they don’t claw their way out, and fast.

Osborn gets his hands on the Carnage symbiote, pretty much the worst thing he could find for a power upgrade. The Carnage symbiote is one of the most deranged and sadistic killers in the Marvel universe on its own, a creature that finds merriment in murder and jubilation in eradication. When the symbiote joins with Norman, they take on a goblin form reminiscent of Norman’s old look, but with a hellish red flair, and it is bad. Ass.

The worst aspects of Norman are only made worse by the unrestrained tendencies of the symbiote. He’s more lethal and scarier than he’s ever been and, as if that isn’t enough, he infects his grandson Normie with the symbiote as well, turning him into a (mini) Red Goblin in his own right. Norman is infectious in the worst way. Nobody gets to know him without paying for the privilege, and the goblin always comes to collect. The years of turmoil and trauma gifted unto his own son, Harry, is evidence enough that no one is safe in his wake.

While the Red Goblin is short-lived in Amazing Spider-Man, he gets a one-shot in the form of Red Goblin: Red Death. There are three stories here, each taking place over the course of the last several issues of Dan Slott’s run on ASM, but before #800. The first of these stories is called “Great Responsibility” and is written by Rob Fee with art by Pete Woods and letters by Joe Sabino. It follows Norman and the Carnage symbiote as they “bond.” Norman didn’t want the symbiote so he could go on a killing spree, which is exactly what the symbiote has in mind. They reach a compromise of sorts, Norman will allow them one kill as long as it can’t be traced back to him, preferably someone who could go missing unnoticed. They zero in on a drug dealer, which seems like a good thing, right? Until someone sees them butcher him. The symbiote takes the reins and they end up burning down an apartment, with only one kid escaping with his life. Norman’s guilt as a result is only momentary, as the delight the symbiote feels overrides him. Norman and the symbiote are…closer, after their hunt. It’s great power, but without the responsibility, and it’s devastating. Pete Woods does a great job with the Goblin, making him a terrifying, dark creature of the night. Every inch of him looks deadly and…just straight up cool.

The next story is called “Big Mouth” which is written by Sean Ryan with art again by Pete Woods, and Joe Sabino back on letters. This story is more of a lead-in for Slott’s arc in ASM, but really does a great job fleshing out how petty and despicable Norman can be. Norman and the symbiote agree they need to figure out Spider-Man’s secret identity if they’re going to sufficiently destroy him. As Norman walks the streets, he’s interrupted by a man who seemingly knows him, who keeps shouting at him, trying to get his attention. Norman is visibly frustrated by this stranger, until he remembers him, as well as what he did to wrong him in the past. Norman’s frustration turns to joy, as he realizes what he can do to this person at long last, as revenge. Nobody wrongs Norman Osborn and gets away with it. Norman lures him into a trap where he turns into the goblin and rips him open by the mouth. It’s damn gross, but clever in how it makes me love the title of the story so much more. They get the idea that they can use another “big mouth” to get to Spider-Man, which brings them right to J. Jonah Jameson. Woods uses some heavy shadows and dark colors that really highlight the creepiness of this particular story. It’s grim as hell but fantastic.

The final story is called “The Wayside Darkness” which is written by Patrick Gleason, with pencils by Ray Anthony-Height, inks by Marc Deering, colors by Dono Sanchez-Almara with Protobunker, and letters again by Joe Sabino. This story focuses on the young Red Goblin, Normie Osborn, and takes place on Halloween(!). Right out the gate, Normie looks positively satanic, evil emanating right off him. He snaps a poor kid’s pair of headphones and calls him pathetic, you know, just like dear old Grandpa would do! The story is narrated by an adult man, trying to solve the mystery of what happened to his son on Halloween night. Normie turns into his goblin persona to terrify the bus driver, but the kid with the broken headphones spots him as well. Normie absconds with the child, delivering him to Grandaddy Red, who is disgusted with Normie’s weakness at bringing him there alive. The Red Goblin demands innocent blood be spilt if Normie is to stand by his side, taking over the legacy meant for his father. Normie must hunt the child through Norman’s house, and he tries to goad the child into making Normie pay for what he’s done. When the child shows what Normie believes is the strength his grandfather seeks, he decides to let the child go. As it turns out, that child is the one who went missing that the narrator is investigating. Crazy! Though crazier still, is that his headphones are somehow back together. That’s neat, good for him, he deserved a win. But how did they get fixed? Some sort of alien goo? Carnage’s symbiotic legacy continues, alas, but perhaps there is hope for Normie yet.

I think Norman Osborn is Spider-Man’s greatest villain, and this was one huge power trip for him from start to finish. He’s at some of his most indulgent here, which is perfect for Halloween. It’s a holiday that I think is all about being self-indulgent, and of course, celebrating monsters. It’s the best time of the year to explore some weird and spooky stuff, and this was about as weird and spooky as Spider-Man has gotten in quite some time. I loved it and I loved revisiting it. Happy Halloween!

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