“Threat Level: Red” failed to build up Dan Slott’s final story arc, “Go Down Swinging.” The failure of the lead up story arc can be pointed at the the sloppy execution of Norman Osborn’s evolution as the new host of the Carnage symbiote and return to being Green Goblin. Even though Norman Osborn is arguably Spider-Man’s #1 villain the set-up arc did not do him any favors. Now with Norman’s status not raised in the arc that was supposed to build him up can Slott turn things around to make the villain worthy of being the final antagonist for his epic run on Amazing Spider-Man? Let’s find that out with the start of “Go Down Swinging” in Amazing Spider-Man #797.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Norman Osborn, speaking as Green Goblin, shows the person he just captured his “old gentlemen’s club” that he live in. The person yells out for help but Norman tells them to use his indoor voice.
Norman then threatens to kill the person if they yell again. The person nods his understanding. Norman decorates his office with a pumpkin and says he wants to talk about Spider-Man, someone the capture person is close to.
Four hours earlier Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are making out in MJ’s apartment. As things heat up MJ breaks their make out session when she sees Peter is wearing his Spider-Man costume under his clothes. MJ says she can’t do the couple thing again with Peter knowing the impact Spider-Man has on their lives. Peter tries to argue that it won’t get in the way but MJ reminds him that the world needs Spider-Man.
Peter understands what MJ means and stops arguing. MJ then asks Peter to leave her apartment as Spider-Man since she doesn’t want rumors started that she and Peter are back together.
Spider-Man leaves MJ’s place with MJ silently apologizing. As Spider-Man swings away Norman notices the hero leaving MJ’s place.
Back in the present the captured person says he won’t tell Norman anything about Spider-Man. Norman captures a rat and eats the rat’s head in front of the mystery person. Norman then asks about who and where Spider-Man is again.
As Spider-Man swings around thinking of what just happened he finds Jimmy stealing another woman’s purse. He webs Jimmy up to a light pole and gets the woman’s purse back.
At the Daily Bugle Ben Ulrich complains that his nephew, Phil Ulrich the Goblin King, is putting him in a tough spot as Robbie says they have to mention their familial relationship in their articles. Robbie tells Ben that maybe Phil needs his uncle to reach out to him.
Peter hears this and wants to help Ben out but is pulled away by Rubylin to work on the Science section stories.
Peter gets a call from J. Jonah Jameson, who asks about getting some quotes on Spider-Man’s for a story on his blog. Peter tells Jonah he can’t say anything and says he has to go.
Back in the present Norman, while looking at a conspiracy board, talks about how everyone they know all lead back to Spider-Man being the obstacle in his way. Norman tells his captive that with their help he will figure out a way to make Spider-Man vanish.
Four hours earlier at Alchemax HQ Liz Allen calls Flash Thompson in to talk about the incident with the Goblin King. Liz is able to guilt Flash into using his Agent Anti-Venom identity to help track down Goblin King. Flash doesn’t like being manipulated and walks away.
Mark Raxton, Liz’s brother, comments that Liz really pissed Flash off. Liz smiles and says she enjoyed bossing her high school boyfriend around just like she is doing with her ex-husband.
In Central Park Normie complains that Harry is only paying attention to his half-brother Stanley. Harry hands Stanley to the nanny and says he wants to talk to Normie.
As the nanny holds Stanley she feels someone watching her. In the shadows it is shown that Norman is watching things from the shadows.
In the present Norman thinks about the secret player that is in the mix of their game but doesn’t give away who she is. Norman then hears a noise downstairs and goes to check things out.
Downstairs Goblin King is stealing all of Norman’s pumpkin bombs and gliders. Norman asks Goblin King if this is how he repay’s Norman for taking him under his wing, calling him Goblin Knight. Goblin King turns his fire sword on and says he is not Norman’s knight anymore. Norman catches the fire sword with his arm and uses the Carnage symbiote to stab Goblin King through his chest. Norman then mocks Goblin King not having the heart to kill him.
Back upstairs the mystery person asks Norman what happened. Norman just says he had to deal with a pest just like he is going to deal with Spider-Man.
Norman then starts putting on his Green Goblin costume as the person says that Norman won’t ever be able to beat Spider-Man. Norman then recollects him throwing a girl (Gwen Stacy) off a bridge and suddenly remembers that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
Norman rejoices as he now remembers Peter is Spider-Man and thanks Jonah, who is tied up as the mysterious captured person. Jonah nervously asks himself “What have I done?” End of issue.
The Good: Amazing Spider-Man #797 is exactly the issue that Dan Slott needed to start “Go Down Swinging” on a successful path. The spotlight on Norman Osborn properly builds the villain to be a terrifying threat to Spider-Man’s entire life. This makes up for the lack of character development that Norman got in the previous arc. At the same time, there was enough attention to Peter Parker’s personal life, including his supporting cast, that there is a dark tension to the events in Amazing Spider-Man #797.
The biggest problem with “Threat Level: Red” is the lack of attention Norman Osborn got. His minimal appearance in the previous arc hampered how effective his transformation into the new host of the Carnage symbiote was. Amazing Spider-Man #797 does a much more effective job getting us inside Norman’s head as the Green Goblin and Carnage part of him merge into one being. That transformation is enhanced by watching how the Green Goblin fully took over and played into the insanity of the character. That insanity made Norman’s use of the Carnage symbiote come off as even more terrifying as we saw how he had complete control of the symbiote when possibly killing Goblin King.
Adding to Norman’s character development was the fact that we actually learned what is motivating him to transform back into the Green Goblin symbiote. Slott bringing back the sub-plot of everyone forgetting Peter is Spider-Man was an important fact to get further inside Norman’s head. Since Spider-Island took away the spell Peter had put on him so everyone forgot, we all knew it was only a matter of time before Norman learned the secret again. It’s actually been very surprising to that we have gone this long without Norman re-learning Peter secret. Though the long-period makes the impact of Norman remembering Peter is Spider-Man an even more effective ending for Amazing Spider-Man #797 to close on.
It helps that Slott used J. Jonah Jameson to make Norman’s discovery even more important. This was the most effective use of the sub-plot involving Jonah finally learning Peter is Spider-Man since the revelation happened. Even though the reveal did not happen in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Slott was able to give weight to Jonah’s guilt over helping Norman discover things. The guilt Jonah felt made his early screaming at Peter for not giving him a Spider-Man quote something that actually makes you feel for the character. In that final moment you can see that Jonah realizes that his knowledge of Peter being Spider-Man is not something to be abused. That realization will make future interactions between Peter and Jonah have more mature rather than just the same-old banter-style relationship they’ve shared.
As heavy as the spotlight is on developing the threat of Norman Osborn, Amazing Spider-Man #797 does a very good job further establishing Peter Parker’s new personal life post-Parker Industries. Slott continues to do a good job putting Peter back into a spot that fans are familiar. Kicking off with Peter and MJ make-out session showed that no matter how much Peter tries Spider-Man will always put a strain on his relationships. Everything MJ said to Peter is absolutely true. What MJ had to say provided fans hoping for the relationship to be renewed with reason why it is not happening. From MJ’s side it is very understandable that, while she wants to be with Peter, she can’t put herself and Peter through the same cycle of problems they’ve had in the past.
At the same time, while Peter is back to being down on his luck status quo it does not mean he is a complete loser. Instead we are seeing Peter actually integrate himself with a job that is much more fitting with his background in journalism at the Daily Bugle along with his education. Being the lead of the Science section shows that Peter can’t just live as Spider-Man since he has some big responsibilities to fill.
The Daily Bugle setting also provided a good connection to continue the recent Goblin King incident. The problems that Phil Ulrich is causing his uncle, Ben Ulrich, at work shows how the Goblin King’s actions reach farther than just his villainous actions. Ben being unable to come up with a way to help his nephew makes you feel for him on a personal and professional level. Ben and Phil’s uncle-nephew connection makes Peter reaching out to the former something that will be meaningful to see, especially with the latter’s fate at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #797.
While the characterization of Liz Allen is questionable it did add to where Slott is going with Harry Osborn’s character development. At this point Harry has been beaten down by the world so much that all he has is his relationship with his son and ex-wife Liz. Seeing Harry trying to be a good father by spending time with both sons showed us how he is trying to live the best life he can. Normie speaking up on his jealous of his half-brother further emphasizes how delicate things are for Harry’s family life right now. That sets things up well for Norman to cause further chaos in his son’s life while aiming to destroy Spider-Man.
With the darker slant that “Go Down Swinging” is taking Stuart Immonen does a fantastic job creating a dark aura around everything Norman Osborn does. Immonen draws Norman in such a creepy way that you are left uneasy whenever he is shown turning to Jonah to speak. Immonen does a lot with the Norman’s smile that adds to the dialogue that Slott writes for him. At the same time, Immonen is able to make things lighter when need be, as shown with how he draws Spider-Man in action is more of what you expect from an art perspective for this title.
The Bad: The one continued problem that Amazing Spider-Man #797 can’t escape from the previous arc is the inclusion of Agent Anti-Venom. Though Slott is setting Agent Anti-Venom to be an important player in the latest Spider-Man vs Green Goblin conflict it does feel like he is not needed. There is so much backstory to the rivalry between Spider-Man and Green Goblin that we don’t need a sidekick character to help the former out in this conflict out. It actually takes away from how worried we are for Spider-Man and his supporting cast since we now have a deus ex machina in the form of Agent Anti-Venom to solve many problems. Unless there is some big development that deus ex machina role for Agent Anti-Venom will hinder what we see happen in this arc.
Making Agent Anti-Venom’s inclusion even worse is the way his scene continues to make Liz Allen a character that is completely hateable. Over the years there has been a lot of work done to make Liz more than just Peter’s old high school crush. That character work is being thrown out the window with how completely unlikable Liz has turned into again. Her manipulation of Flash Thompson and how she happily states she has Harry wrapped around her finger makes Liz someone that is hard to be interested in reading more about. Maybe that is the point but the execution of Liz’s character development adds nothing to the actual story going on.
While a small nitpick issue, it was odd that everything that happened in the past was shown to take place four hours before Norman capturing Jonah. Seeing how much happened made it odd we didn’t see some sort of countdown happen. It was such a broad time to use in every past scene that it made you wonder if Norman could be in multiple places at once. It would have been much better if we saw some sort of countdown whenever we got flashbacks to get a better sense of when everything was happening in the past.
Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #797 is exactly what “Go Down Swinging” needed to start off on a strong note. Dan Slott does an effective job getting inside Norman Osborn’s head as his transformation into a Green Goblin/Carnage hybrid is completed. All the developments in Peter Parker and his supporting casts lives added to the sense of danger that Norman Osborn presents to Spider-Man’s life as he learns an important fact by the end of this issue. Now with all the chess pieces in place Slott can potentially end his epic run on Amazing Spider-Man on a high note.