Fathers & Sons & Spiders: Joe Kelly Talks "American Son"

SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Amazing Spider-Man" #595, on sale now.

Amazing Spider-Man

"Amazing Spider-Man" #596 on sale this week

Norman Osborn's Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe has given him almost everything he wants. However, one thing the villain doesn't have s the love and support of his own son, Harry. Norman's got a plan to win Harry back, but to accomplish that he has to go through his archenemy and Harry's best friend -- Spider-Man -- which is something that makes the plan even more appealing to the former Green Goblin.

This is just one of several exciting threads writer Joe Kelly began to explore in "Amazing Spider-Man" #595, which kicked off the series' latest story arc, the five-part "American Son." CBR News spoke with Kelly about the revelations in the issue as well as his further plans for the story.

"In the past, Harry has been played as so spineless and emotionally obliterated because of his father. Peter always refers to Harry as his best friend but there's not a ton of evidence to support that," Kelly told CBR News. "I felt the guys working on the book before me did a good job of making Harry likable, though. I was surprised I liked him and I felt the centerpiece of this story is the triangle between Peter, Norman, and Harry. So you've really got to dig Harry; otherwise the story kind of loses its guts. You can't always have him always be about his addictions or that he's miserable."

Along those lines, Kelly included in "Amazing Spider-Man" #595 scenes depicting Harry Osborn in a great mood and demonstrating why he's a good guy and friend. Harry helped Peter Parker score the phone numbers of some pretty girls, and he brightened up Peter and Aunt May Parker's dinner with a special guest, the new mayor of New York City, J Jonah Jameson.

Elsewhere in the Spiderverse, specifically the offices of the "Front Line" newspaper, Peter fumed about Norman Osborn's sinister rise to power, which made him even more intriguing to his co-worker, reporter Norah Winters. "Norah is her own little weird force of nature and Peter is definitely in her sites," Kelly confirmed. "I'm not exactly sure what it is about him that she digs. I think it's partly because his buttons are so easy to press, but the fact that he's so fired up does inspire her. She really does want to be a real journalist. Even though she's been breaking in via the community pages, she wants to go for the big fish and there's no bigger fish than Norman Osborn. So hearing Pete get all riled up about him has given her a few ideas."

Peter also had a talk about Osborn with his New Avengers teammate, Wolverine. "Like everybody, I love Wolverine and one of the things I really like about him is he's one of those interesting cats that can fall into a mentor-type role without being old and staid," Kelly remarked. "He and Spider-Man have been through a lot together. With their relationship in the Avengers and with Spidey being gun-ho to take Norman down, he's like, 'This is the guy I want to talk to.' He knows Wolverine doesn't take no for an answer and will cut his way through anything to get to his goal.

"Yet here he is in this scene as the voice of reason; saying, 'You've got to think this through. You can't be an idiot about it.' I thought that was interesting. Also, for all his continuity and experience, Spider-Man is sort of immature. He's dealt with a lot of responsibility but his default mode is not always thoughtful and cautious. He leaps before he looks and he's knuckle-headed in a lot of ways. So I like juxtaposing him and Wolverine."

Wolverine also told the web-slinger that if he had the chance to end things with Norman Osborn that he should do so -- "permanently." "I think he knows Pete is sort of half serious in that scene. Spidey wants to go kick some butt but he hasn't thought through what it all means," Kelly explained. "From Wolverine's point of view there are some guys you can't go up against and pull your punches. So he's saying, 'If you're going up against Norman and you feel like the world would be a better place without him, you better kill him.' And that's a big cross for Spidey to bear."

If Spider-Man got angry enough, Joe Kelly thinks the hero could kill Norman Osborn, but that the guilt from such an act would eat him alive. "That really is the dichotomy of his character. It always has been," the writer said. "He might make a stupid decision in the moment but then he has to live with it for the rest of his life. Since that day he let the robber get past him he's been trying to think through his decisions, which can be pretty impossible. He knows the guilt of making a poor decision, so he does what he can to sort of dodge that."

Peter Parker's blood lust for Osborn came to a boil in "Amazing" #595, where he sat down to dinner with Harry, Aunt May, her fiancee J. Jonah Jameson, Sr., Jay Sr.'s son and Peter's future cousin, J. Jonah Jameson, Jr., and a final dinner guest: Norman himself! Having all those characters in a room together reminded Kelly of the final scene of writer Marc Guggenheim's earlier Spidey arc, "Character Assassination," where Peter observed to Harry that they and most of the people in their lives had either no father figures or notably broken ones.

"J. Jonah Jameson as Mayor is a really fun dynamic and he is one of the worst father figures that Pete could have and Jay Sr. is such an interesting and fun character. I love to see that dynamic," Kelly said. "Then, if Jonah is bad for Peter, we add Norman into the mix and he's much worse. He technically was a father figure for Pete too for a really long time. It was really compelling to have them all together at the same time and watch Peter navigate that stuff."

During J. Jonah Jameson's tenure at the "Daily Bugle," his relationship with Norman Osborn was tumultuous at best, which left many longtime Spider-Man readers wondering why New York's new Mayor invited Osborn to dinner. "Jonah understands politics. He knows the Avengers being in his city is huge and I think he's a bit shortsighted too. He goes for the bright shiny pennies, whether it was as Editor-in-Chief and who he wanted to crucify and now as Mayor," Kelly explained. "That said, he's not a dumb man. Jonah didn't wind up where he is because he's stupid. When it comes to Norman, he might be in the 'Keep your enemies closer' mindset."

Peter Parker wasn't happy to see Norman Osborn at Grace Mansion, but what really made him furious was that Norman used occasion to tell Harry that he wants his son back in his life, and that he'd like him to come work for him and his Avengers team. "Norman has everything now except Harry. He's such an emotionally broken guy that in a lot of ways he feels, 'There's no way my son couldn't love me now! He's going to take me back as his father because look how great I am!' I don't think he'd ever articulate that though," Kelly stated. "That's his subconscious and you'll see as the story progresses that he definitely has an agenda for Harry."

Norman's sudden appearance promoted Peter, Harry, May, and Jonah Sr. to make a quick exit, leaving Osborn to dine alone with the Mayor. On the way home from Gracie Mansion, Osborn's limo was attacked by Spider-Man, and in an image that paid homage to the classic cover of 1966's "Amazing Spider-Man" #39, Norman was lassoed by the Web-Slinger and pulled into the air. The two landed on a nearby rooftop, where Spidey proceeded to open a king sized can of whoop-ass on the former Green Goblin.

"I try not to go for the über-fanboy moments, but I couldn't resist with that scene," Kelly confessed. "When you know there's this inevitable conflict in a story, it's sometimes fun to do it right up front. Then you're forced to make new choices and see where else the story can take you. We knew that Spidey was going head to head with Norman, so why not just do it? He's pushed to the edge and the scene at Gracie Mansion really sets Pete off. He knows that no matter what he does, Norman is going to go after Harry, so he breaks down a bit and decides to go for it by beating the hell out of Norman Osborn, which he does an awesome job of. And that scene with Pete lassoing Norman just felt like a really fun way to introduce that and [artist] Phil [Jimenez] did a great job."

While Spider-Man was playing punch-up with Osborn, he was clearly in an irrational state of mind. He told Norman to stay away from Harry and mentioned that Osborn's presence at Gracie Mansion set off his Spider Sense; two careless slip-ups that are bound to make Osborn curious about the Webslinger's secret identity. "We'll see how that plays out in the future," Kelly teased. "It's like I said before, Pete doesn't always make the best decisions in the moment and he does let his passions get the best of him at times and this is a good example of that. He's coming close to the line of blowing it and has got be very careful moving forward."

"Amazing Spider-Man" #595 ends with Harry Osborn's reunion with his ex-fiancee Lily Hollister, who's also the Goblin Serum-enhanced villain known as Menace. The revelation that Lily is pregnant leads Harry to accept Norman's offer of coming to work for him. Readers shouldn't mistake Harry accepting that offer as a sign of weakness, though. Just like Peter and his father, Harry's got plans of his own. "Harry isn't folding in that scene by accepting Norman's offer. If anything, seeing Lily pregnant and knowing that he has another child is motivating him to take charge of the situation," Kelly said. "We'll see how that plays out next issue."

Readers will also see Kelly's interpretations of Norman's Osborn's Dark Avengers team in "Amazing Spider-Man" #596, which is in stores this week. "This has been a fun arc to write and in the current Marvel Universe you can't have Norman without the Avengers, so they're definitely involved," Kelly said. "I like the new Spider-Man/Venom and Wolverine/Daken. He's an interesting cat, but the most fun to write is Hawkeye/Bullseye."

While future issues of "American Son" will be about the relationships between fathers and sons, they'll also explore the theme of obsession. "When you become fixated on a problem, you often become blind to dangers and the realities around you," Kelly explained. "Both Peter and Harry are going to go through that during the course of the story and get themselves in dangerous positions in order to do something that maybe they should have just let go off, especially Peter. Peter is injecting himself into the dynamic between Harry and Norman and A) he doesn't understand all the rules those two have in their crazy relationship and B) You'll see in the second issue of the story Harry telling Peter very frankly that he's got things under control and that Pete should just let him do what's got to do."

"Peter's inability to let that go because of the guilt I mentioned and his own fears about Norman Osborn really play out over the course of 'American Son,'" Kelly continued. "I don't think Peter really trusts Harry to make the right decisions. For Peter, I think it's going to be a tough learning curve of what Harry's capable of and when he should have backed off."

"Amazing Spider-Man" #595 featured artwork by Phil Jimenez. Kelly was happy to collaborate with the artist and feels he kicked off the arc in a spectacular fashion. "Phil puts his heart into everything. His pages are gorgeous. The thing I love most about Phil is that his storytelling ability is unbelievable. He's so good with the acting and when you need him to bring on the action he delivers. He's such a great guy to work with and he's a friend."

Like the past Spider-Man event arcs "New Ways to Die" and Character Assassination," "American Son" is a story that's been in development for some time. Indeed, Joe Kelly originally thought one of the other Spider-Man writers would tackle the tale. "We were talking about a story that lead up to Spider-Man #600 and in a lot of ways it was dumped in my lap!" Kelly laughed. "It was like, 'Okay, who's telling this story?' and I was the least busy so I was like, 'Okay, I'll give it a shot.' It wasn't one of the stories I pitched, but when somebody in the room described it as 'The Last Temptation of Harry Osborn' I was like, 'That's cool. I can tap into that. Because as fun as it is to see Spider-Man go up against Norman Osborn in the Iron Patriot armor, that doesn't spin my wheels. When that father-son dynamic and the triangle between Pete, Harry and Norman became the parameter I was totally excited."

Besides, Kelly continued, "My editor Steve Wacker was very nice about letting me do my two part Hammerhead tale to get my feet wet, but everybody has been pulling their weight and swinging at these larger arcs and I knew my turn was coming. It's intimidating because Spider-Man is a character I genuinely love and have loved since my childhood. To bring that kind of joy and make sure it's in a story that lasts five issues is a little bit intimidating, but Steve and Tom Brennan are great editors and it's been fantastic working with them."

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