The Goblin Nation is in full swing, bringing about the fast and furious end of Superior Spider-Man, but there are so many characters and plotlines being juggled in Dan Slott’s main book that there’s rarely a chance to breathe. It’s good for ratcheting up the tension, but sometimes you need a guy like Christos Gage to come in and do what he does best – focus on character moments with the ones who need it. That’s what made his Avengers Academy so compelling, and it’s why we’re thankful whenever he gets to spin a yarn or two alongside Slott.
Superior Spider-Man Annual #2 picks up on some of the side stories that need to be fleshed out. The main story is the aftermath of Ben Urich, the reporter who initially exposed Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin back in the day, finding out that his own nephew Phil Urich was operating as the Hobgoblin right under his nose, and he had no clue. Neither did Norah Winters, who actually slept with the guy and collaborated on the Hobgoblin stories he would gather footage of – in traditional Peter Parker style, except, you know, supervillainy. Norah lost her job as a reporter, so resorted to writing a book about it, and called Phil a loser on the press circuit. Ben’s feeling much the same about himself. Thing is, Phil’s now hopped up on Green Goblin serum (the man we think is Norman had him dead to rights and basically forced him into it) and he’s been the happy henchman ever since. Yet there’s still enough of him left that he’s out to protect his uncle – just as there’s enough of the serum-soused Carlie Cooper left to struggle for control long enough to let Sajani Jaffrey of Parker Industries to try and suss out a cure. But it’s a struggle.
Sajani has an experimental serum that she’s not willing to test on Carlie, but Ben is willing to test on Phil. Then comes a confrontation between uncle and nephew about whether or not there’s anything left of Phil to salvage, or if he’s finally become what he always wanted to be. Plus, there’s an actual Superior Spider-Man cameo that makes him seem like a Big Damn Hero, thanks to some fantastic and kinetic artwork from Javier Rodriguez.
The backup story is Gage working with Philippe Briones to follow up on Wraith, who we last saw being trapped unconscious in a bear hug by the adorably old-school evil robot The Living Brain. It doesn’t take long for her to outfox that ol’ bucket of bolts, but soon her search for Carlie is ended with a surprise twist for her, as she had it all figured wrong, and has to make amends, because it may have cost her partner in crimefighting her life.
Gage did a bang-up job maintaining the frenetic pace of Slott’s plotting in last week’s issue of Superior Spider-Man, and he does a bang-up job of switching gears and giving us some supporting cast time and allowing everybody else to catch up to Otto’s cacophony of rapid-fire disasters. Slott and Gage complement each other well, as one is a dense plotter who moves his stories at a mile a minute with layers upon layers, and Gage helps make sure he can maintain that pace without sacrificing character bits and can stay on the crazy twice-a-month schedule.
Superior Spider-Man has been some of my favorite Spidey business in ages. I can’t wait to see how it all comes to a head.