Amazing Reviews: “American Son” (Amazing Spider-Man 595–599)

Updated on October 24, 2019
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Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.

The cover image.
The cover image. | Source

American Son is the volume where Brand New Day really starts to heat up for Spider-Man’s world. We’ve come through multiple volumes of mysteries and world-building, and all that is finally starting to pay off big. One of the best Spidey story lines of all time—in my opinion—is edging ever closer, so some seeds are beginning to sprout while others dig deeper into the soil. Writer Joe Kelly brings his wit and attention to detail to this volume. We'll be hearing a lot from him in the future, so it's nice to have him add his flair here.

It's been fun reading these different writers, and it's cool to see that each of them have their own voice to contribute:

  • Zeb Wells tends to steer towards darker material.
  • Fred van Lente tends to be more humorous.
  • Mark Waid makes his characters sound like real people
  • Joe Kelly is funny and a little sinister at the same time.

The others have their own trademark tricks, but these are just a few examples. It's a diverse bunch of writers with a heap of talent, and the upcoming Gauntlet will showcase those skills tremendously.

The Land of Oz-born

As I’ve said before, Harry Osborn’s been through a lot recently. A short while ago, he purchased the Coffee Bean, a favorite hangout of his when he was a high school student, and started running it. If the pressures of owning a business weren’t difficult enough, his father became an incredibly powerful government official, he tried creating a cure for his brother-in-law the Molten Man, and his girlfriend turned out to be the newest Goblin to terrorize New York known as “Menace.”

And now Daddy Norman’s come back into the picture, and he’s brought his Thunderbolts with him.

"And a toast to my incredible cornrows."
"And a toast to my incredible cornrows." | Source

Norman offers Harry the chance to join his Thunderbolts—er, I’m sorry, his “Avengers”—to become something Norman can actually be proud of after all these years of seeing Harry as a disappointment. In his mind, he cannot imagine why the son of a rich business mogul like him would open a dinky coffee shop. So Norman extends an offer for Harry to make something of himself. Join his Avengers, be a hero, make Dad proud.

Which is something Harry wants no part of, because he’s come to realize how absolutely crazy his father actually is. Spidey knows too and, seeing this confrontation between the two Osborns as Peter, turns into Spidey and kidnaps Norman, evoking this cool image.

"And, gosh darn, I forgot my camera too!"
"And, gosh darn, I forgot my camera too!" | Source

This image is fantastic, mainly because it's an homage to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man 39:

"Ah, the days when we were drawn by John Romita!"
"Ah, the days when we were drawn by John Romita!" | Source

This cover is for the first of a two-parter by Stan Lee and John Romita, written in the '60s, where Spidey and the Green Goblin learned each others' identities. It cemented the Goblin as Spidey's archenemy and escalated the war between them. Even though, in the Brand New Day setting, Norman no longer remembers Peter is Spider-Man, he still holds hatred for the hero.

It's a great nod to this classic cover, especially with the role reversal of having Spidey tug Norman around as he was once suspended by the Goblin. We've seen a few of these touches already—such as the "elevator scene" Guggenheim writes in the Election Day volume—and it's an awesome way to remind readers that, while this is a "brand new day" for Spidey, it's indebted to all the stories that came before it.

A Venomous Disguise

Spidey’s sick of Norman twisting people, threatening him pretty good. But just as the hero’s laying down the law to his arch-enemy, Norman gets a phone call. It’s Harry, with a sudden change of heart. Or maybe not so sudden. Turns out, Lily’s back, and she’s pregnant, meaning Harry’s gonna do everything he can to protect his family, even if it means joining Norman’s side. He's a father now; he's got responsibilities. And we all know about responsibility, don't we?

Now, things are grim. This is exactly what Spidey’s been trying to avoid. So he hatches a scheme. With the help of Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, he corners and captures Mac Gargan, Venom, using a suit made out of unstable molecules to replicate the symbiote Gargan’s wearing. Thus adorned as a super-freaky alien supervillain, Spidey fits in alongside Norman’s Avengers, stationed in their Avengers Tower, ready to bust out and help his buddy Harry.

Cause "Walloping Web-Snappers!" just doesn't cut it sometimes.
Cause "Walloping Web-Snappers!" just doesn't cut it sometimes. | Source

At the same time, Norah Winters, reporter for the Daily Bugle, is preparing to do some sleuthing of her own, becoming an employee at Avengers Tower to see what secrets she can uncover. Harry, meanwhile, discovers that Norman is keeping Lily, and his child, at the Tower and makes an attempt to rescue her before she gets the drop on him. She wants to escape, for the three of them to run away, but Harry declines, saying he’s primarily there to find a serum for her. If he can cure her of Menace, they’ll be happy. But he’s gotta hurry; her body’s physically changing after transforming into Menace so many times.

Side Characters

There’s nice tension here, and Kelly does a great job putting all the side characters into this story. There’s even an interlude where Aunt May and Jay Jameson discuss their upcoming wedding, as well as some sinister scheming by some tiny robots that look like . . . octopi? Wonder who that could be.

Kelly balances these characters well, giving each time on the page to flesh out what’s happening to them. His pacing here is tight, and you get the sense the story flows naturally. There’s not a moment where you turn a page and—boom!—something blows up or someone suddenly dies or New York gets teleported to the Negative Zone. While the story itself is more down to earth, Kelly doesn’t feel the need to push the “wow!” factor any. He’s just telling a story, and he moves it down all the right paths.

"I'm here to tell about our lord and savior Norman Osborn..."
"I'm here to tell about our lord and savior Norman Osborn..." | Source

Sins of the Megalomaniac, Goblin-Juiced Father

Inevitably, Spidey’s deception gets discovered, and he fights Daken—the clawed son of Wolverine—before being wounded by Bullseye and shot in the head by Norman.

Boy, that was a fun run, huh? Bummer of a way to end it, just shy of 600 issues, but it was quite enjoyable while it lasted.

Kidding. Spidey’s okay; he’s just rendered unconscious. Fortunately, the unstable molecules in his costume protect him, but Norman captures him, giving Bullseye free reign to do whatever he can to remove the mask and finally discover who Spider-Man is. Spidey undergoes a lot of torturous pain, but the mask never leaves. All the while, he sticks to his convictions, despite the pain, that he’s there for Harry, to get him out of this mess.

When Bullseye fails, Spidey and Norman have a little chat, where Norman reveals that the reason Daken discovered Spidey wasn’t really Venom was because Harry told him. Instead of feeling betrayed, Spidey takes his anger out on Norman, breaking free and racing to rescue Harry. Again, he sticks to his guns. At the same time, Harry learns from Menace she’s not pregnant with his son, but his baby brother.

This is Sins Past all over again, isn’t it?

A (Dumb) Twist

Though admittedly a slightly dumb twist (which will be made rather pointless later on, as you’ll see after several posts to come), it gives Harry the edge he needs to rebel against his father. No point in staying to help Lily and her child if they aren’t really his family. So Harry becomes the Avengers-level hero his father wanted him to be: American Son, counterpart to Norman’s Iron Patriot (a total Americanized ripoff of Iron Man and slightly different from the version in Iron Man 3).

"Spidey! Help Harry! He's the one in the Star-Spangled armor!
"Spidey! Help Harry! He's the one in the Star-Spangled armor! | Source

Things go crazy from there. Not “New York is teleported to the Negative Zone crazy,” but we’ve got ourselves a bona fide Battle Royale on our hands, ladies and gentlemen. Iron Patriot and American Son duking it out, with Spidey intervening, despite Harry’s wishes. Somehow, he still hates Spider-Man, but Spidey fights for him nevertheless, because he understands, as Peter, how important Harry is to him as a friend and how sick and tired he is of Norman twisting his life around his finger. No more puppets.

Menace, naturally, makes an appearance, now sided with Norman instead of Harry. It’s a pretty crazy brawl, and it ends with Norman on the ground, Harry standing over him, and Spidey telling him to just kill Norman and end it all. Harkening back to a conversation he recently had with Wolverine, Spidey suggests he has the opportunity to do it and should take it.

This seems completely out of character for Spidey, but that’s only how it looks. The point he’s really trying to make is that, if Harry kills Norman, he will become the son Norman’s always wanted. There’s probably nothing more that Harry wants than to kill his father, stop all the really terrible things he’s been doing for the past several years. And Spidey, no doubt, wouldn’t shed a tear if Norman was gone, considering all the awful things he’s done to him too. But if Harry kills him, like he really wants to, he’ll be no better than his father. It’s a bit of a cliché argument, but it works, and Harry leaves, having cut himself off from his father.

"Keep your junky Iron Man-ripoff armor, Dad!"
"Keep your junky Iron Man-ripoff armor, Dad!" | Source

Phil Jimenez and Paulo Siqueira help Joe Kelly with detailed illustrations; we last saw Siqeuira’s work on the Kraven’s First Hunt story line, and while it was decent, there seems to be an improvement here. It’s more polished in places, faces are more defined I think. I like it, it’s good art, and it only helps to improve the overall story.

Thus ends the Osborn legacy for a time. Harry’s been a central character since the inception of Brand New Day, so it’s cool to see the writers bring a long-running arc to an end. It’s gone through some crazy stages—Harry’s resurrection, Norman and his Thunderbolts, Lily’s revelation, the child that isn’t his—and finally reached an arc. It’s a satisfying conclusion that marks a shift in the Brand New Day world.

Psycho Goblin

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Amazing Spider-Man: American Son

3 stars for Amazing Spider-Man: American Son

© 2017 Nathan Kiehn


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