The Trouble with Harry: Kelly on "American Son"

SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "Amazing Spider-Man" #599, on sale now.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can be harmful to a person's wellbeing. Peter Parker's best friend Harry Osborn is a living example of that. His father Norman Osborn is one of the most manipulative and dangerous men in the Marvel Universe, and has been responsible for much of Harry's personal troubles. In "Amazing Spider-Man" #599, the final part of the "American Son" arc, Harry finally did something about his relationship with dear old dad. But did Harry make the right choice? Will he pay a price for his actions? For the answers to these questions and more, CBR News spoke with "Amazing Spider-Man" writer Joe Kelly.

In "American Son," Harry Osborn entered Avengers Tower under the false pretense of going to work for his father, who heads the Dark Avengers. His real goal was to rescue his former fiance, Lily Hollister, a.k.a. the supervillain Menace, who he believed was pregnant with his child. As it turns out, Norman was actually the father of Lily's baby and Harry entering Avengers Tower was a form of bait to trap Spider-Man. This was just too much for Harry, and he donned the experimental "American Son" battle armor and attacked his father. It was a fight that proved to be an emotionally liberating experience, but it could have been psychologically disastrous for Harry because at one point he almost killed his father.

"As crazy as Norman is, he's still a charismatic guy and Harry, whether on not he said he did, wanted his father's affection on such a primal level. The events of this story forced Harry to look at his father and finally and definitively say, 'I really don't want this anymore.' There's no, 'I wish Dad was sane and I could be back with him.' That's over," Joe Kelly told CBR News. "That was a huge hurdle for Harry to overcome. And not only that, he walked away from his father rather than let his rage and all these other issues bubble back up and kill Norman when he had him on the ropes. I think that's him proving himself too. It's him saying, 'Not only do I not want to be part of this guy's life, I'm not him. I want to be better.' For Harry the lingering questions were always, 'Can my father be saved? And will I become him? I think we've definitively said no to those."

When it looked like Harry might kill Norman, a very wounded Spider-Man spoke up and pointed out what would happen to Harry if he murdered his father. "If Spidey hadn't gotten involved in this story and showed up at that critical moment Harry wouldn't have had a second voice to dissuade him from making a choice that would have ultimately been a huge mistake," the writer said. "To have resolved things by killing Norman would have done much more damage. He would become Norman and I think that's where Spidey gets the win and that's really the whole point of the story. To watch those two guys beat each other up is fun but we wanted that final fight between Harry and Norman to be about who do you want to be and what do you really want? If Harry had killed Norman he could have gone to jail and ruined his life, but he also could have taken Norman's place. Lily is already there. He could have had this bizarre family and become king of the kingdom, but he turns his back on that."

Amazing Spider-Man

"Amazing Spider-Man" #600 on sale now

Spider-Man was there to talk Harry out of killing Norman. Indeed, all the Webslinger's actions in "American Son" were motivated by Peter's refusal to abandon the increasingly distraught Harry. In "Amazing" #599, Kelly showed where that feeling came from in a flashback sequence to Peter Parker and Harry Osborn's college days. In that sequence, Harry told Peter that he wished they were truly brothers, because he was so lonely being Norman Osborn's child. Peter told Harry they were brothers and that Harry would never be alone.

"That flashback scene shows up where it does because I like to put some of the key incidents of a relationship close to the end of a story," Kelly said. "Peter and Harry's relationship is sometimes taken for granted. It's like, 'We were best friends in college.' But if you go back and look at the early 'Amazing Spider-Man' issues, it took a long time for them to be friends. So I wanted to have a moment that sort of encapsulated why Pete couldn't let things go in this story. Pete knows that Harry has his own problems and in some ways is fragile, but in this case Harry had his act pretty together. But when Harry told Pete to back off, he just couldn't do it. So that flashback was sort of critical for me. I needed to show that Pete felt like he made a commitment to Harry to never let him be alone and this is how it was going to play out -- for better or worse."

The other motivating factor behind Spider-Man's actions in "American Son" was guilt. Had Spidey done something sooner, Norman Osborn's **Dark Reign** would never had come to pass. Joe Kelly thinks that the events of "American Son" have helped to alleviate some of that guilt. "Spider-Man realizes that this is so much bigger than him. As much as he'd like to think that he'd be this huge golden bullet that would take down Norman Osborn things have just become too huge and that just wasn't going to happen," Kelly said. "This victory though because it was so personal to both him and Norman was the one. This was what he was going to live or die for and it worked out. So I think he certainly feels that the world is a creepier place because he didn't take out Norman earlier in his career, but this victory here with Harry outshines that."

But did Spider-Man really help save Harry Osborn? Harry may have walked away from his father, but it looked like he was marching right into the arms of another one of his personal demons: drug addiction. "That last scene with Harry getting the drugs really showed that the revelations about Lily and the true father of her baby really hurt Harry in a big way, and he's definitely been struggling with his recovery, as we've seen in some other Spidey issues," Kelly explained. "He couldn't say no when a doctor offered him Oxycontin, so now the next step in Harry's journey is examining if he's traded his obsession with his dad for drugs again. That's what we'll see as things move forward."

Harry Osborn wasn't the only person making big decisions in "Amazing Spider-Man" #599. In earlier installments of "American Son," Norah Winters, Peter's colleague at the newspaper "Front Line," snuck her way into Avengers Tower and began gathering evidence for an expose on the misdeeds of Norman Osborn. Sadly, the former Green Goblin discovered what she was up to, and he's unforgiving when people meddle in his affairs. Winters was forced to sit on her story.

"Norman sent her a message that what she was doing in Avengers Tower was definitely seen," Kelly confirmed. "I don't know that he has more than her face, but he is Norman Osborn and certainly could make Norah disappear if he wanted to be a jerk. So for her this was the first time she got to step up to the big leagues, which she had been crowing about, and see what happens when you do go up against somebody that powerful? It's kind of a wake up call for her. Osborn isn't afraid of someone like Norah. He doesn't need to kill her or get his hands dirty. All he needs to do is scare the crap out of her, which he's done pretty effectively. So we're going to see the personal repercussions of that for her.

"The next time I use Norah, in my upcoming Black Cat story, you'll see that the guilt of sitting on a story gets to her because it shook her confidence. All this time she's wanted to get off the community pages of the paper and she had this humungous story sitting in her lap, which she chickened out on for fears of her own safety."

The final page of "Amazing" #599 depicts Norman Osborn talking the unborn child that Lily Hollister carries in her belly. It's clear that Norman loves the baby, but does he feel the same way about the child's mother? Or is Lily Hollister just the mans to an end? "That certainly remains to be seen," Kelly stated. "The romantic in me would say he's got some kind of sick love for Lily, but the realist in me thinks that the idea of a sustainable heir that he can mold from the beginning and that's not going to become some crazy clone or an abomination that grows up too fast is something Norman really wants. So she might be a means to an end.

"That said, she's sort of taken him into her on many levels. Like with the Goblin Serum. So I think he does see a kindred spirit in her. It will be interesting to see as things go forward. That's definitely one of the stories coming down the pipe. She's going to have a baby and when that finally pops a lot of this stuff is going to come to light."

The effects of the Goblin Serum that changed Lily Hollister into Menace may have affected her sanity, but her shocked look on the final page of "Amazing" #599 seems to suggest that there still is some rationality within her. "I don't think Lily is completely insane. She's been seduced by the power of the Goblin Serum, which affects your mental state, but even with the Goblin Serum there are moments of clarity," Kelly explained. "I think that page is a moment of clarity for her but whether it's enough to make her go, 'I've got to get the hell out of here,' is something we'll find out going forward."

For "Amazing Spider-Man" #599, Kelly collaborated with Stephen Segovia, who drew pages #1-5; Marco Checchetto, who handled pages #6-19' and Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos, who took care of pages #19-23. "Everybody did such an amazing job with a huge challenge. Scheduling on this book can be a bear and my editors Steve Wacker and Tom Brennan do an incredible job," Kelly said. "We were getting down to the wire and this was the way we needed to go. I really got to hand it to Steve, he did such a fantastic job of deciding which artist was appropriate for which scene. It's sort of shocking how even though these artists all have clearly different styles the book flowed really well together. And these are really talented artists, so it was an embarrassment of riches. Everyone chipped in to make sure the book came out properly and they're all really great guys."

Now that "American Son" is finished, Joe Kelly is relieved and satisfied with the way his first big, multi-part Spider-Man arc turned out. "As far as my intent going in and the way it was executed, I'm very happy. I think the story played out pretty well," the writer said. "The funny thing is, because we work so far in advance, my next big arc comes out next year but I've got to start on it pretty soon. We want to make sure all the art and other elements are ready for it. The nice thing is with my upcoming Black Cat two-parter and one issue with Deadpool, there's little bits to have fun with while we're building the next big arc. I do like doing these big stories, though. It's fun when you get to play with the big toys like Norman Osborn or the characters in my next big arc which has a ton of toys in it that I'm excited about. You do the mainstream stuff so you can play with those elements and that next big arc is going to be a lot of fun."

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