Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14: Cycles and Circles (1994)

With tomorrow’s ASM likely tackling the now infamous Harry-Peter-robot parents affair, let’s take a trip back to the mid-90s to explore the first time its aftermath was tackled in-depth! This is a very obscure Harry story, not least because he doesn’t technically appear in it, and also one of the very few co-written by a woman, Ann Nocenti.

And we’ve got the dream team of J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema back together!

This story opens on a tragic scene, Peter lurking outside Liz’s house knowing he has to talk to her but feeling unable to.

Pay attention to Normie, he’s a very important character in this.

Peter doesn’t go in.

This is probably the lowest point the Peter-Harry relationship has ever had, and hey, fair enough, it would be hard to forgive what Harry put Peter through with the “parents.” But this is, as it turns out, a story largely about forgiveness.

Liz isn’t doing well and is hitting the bottle.

Yep, this is also a story about substance abuse, most of the Harry-Goblin stories in one way or another, but more of that later. Liz is horrified at her son’s words and throws the drink away.

My colour-symbolism-loving self likes that Normie is wearing not quite green here.

Peter heads out on the streets, encounters some drug dealers, and gets a little too violent with them.

Well, no prizes for guessing what Peter’s really thinking about. Of course he’s thinking about Harry, who ruined both Peter’s life and his own.

Some lines laden with double meanings here. “Drug dopes make the same mistakes over and over” – is Peter talking about the dealers he encountered, Harry, or himself? And is he talking about himself again with “…like lots of things?”

No matter how much he may hate Harry at the moment, Peter is still desperate to understand him.

CD-Roms were the height of technology in the 90s, I remember, I was there.

They couldn’t do that though.

So here’s a question – do we think this is another artificial intelligence Harry, like the one who appeared in Legacy of Evil and the current comics? Kid loved to set up computer versions of himself. Or is it “just” an, um, magic recording?

Peter suddenly finds himself experiencing Norman’s childhood. (trigger warning for violence ahead, against women and children and animals)

It’s not pretty. Also I think this is the first time we ever see Harry’s grandfather Amberson in the flesh, as it were.

Norman reacts to his father’s abuse by killing a dog, which is extremely unsettling, and yet Spider-Man’s first instinct is sympathy.

Unsurprisingly, Peter can’t take this anymore. He tries to remember the good times with Harry, but it turns quickly back to rage.

“Like a sick dog” – like the one Norman killed?

Man the Harry/Peter relationship is so psychologically interesting. Even when Peter loathes Harry he can’t help but be drawn to him, over and over. You can see why people ship them. (I do too.)

Now Peter sees Harry’s own childhood and it’s likewise terrible.

Of course this was retconned a little in the future: Emily didn’t really die, just faked her death, oh and also around this point of Harry’s life his dad frickin’ SOLD HIM TO THE DEVIL, but it’s always been pretty consistent in the comics that Harry was abused.

Spider-Man snaps out of the hypnosis and encounters people trapped in a burning building. He sets about rescuing them, still lost in thought. You’ll note he’s back to calling Harry his old nickname “Har” now. And that last line there… that’s not something you think about someone you don’t care about.

Onto my favourite bit in this issue.:

A little boy falls out of the burning building crying for his father, but Peter sees him only as Harry, the Harry he could have saved. He catches him in much the same way he caught Gwen all those years ago, except this time the victim survives.

Peter has another flashback. One side of him wants to feel sympathy for Harry but the other side is still so angry.

Peter goes back into the building to find another lost boy, who’s also merged with Harry in his head. Then we get what’s actually a pretty big moment to the overall Osborn Story:

This is I believe the first ever time it’s established that Harry messed with Norman’s chemicals during his initial mad science experiment.

That being said it doesn’t make a huge difference, you know? For a start, it’s been retconned now that Norman becoming the Goblin was all Mephisto’s doing, and also Norman was a pretty horrible person even before he got superpowers.

Deeper in the building, Peter finds the kid… and a dog.

God, I love the idea of Harry as a spirit summoning Peter to help with lost/endangered children. That sort of thing is just my jam. It’s much better then Kindred anyway.

I don’t like that last panel because there really isn’t any previous evidence Harry ever hit Normie. Luckily you can read it as Harry raising his hand to him, not actually going through with hitting him, but I still don’t like it much.

(This is coming from someone who actually was smacked on the arse a few times as a child, it was considered appropriate discipline back then.)

Peter resolves to try and forgive Harry, and is able to save the child and dog. He heads home to talk to Mary Jane.

Peter asks the question we were all asking right from the dog-murder: why didn’t anyone step in? Peter is begrudging at having to do so-

-but he does it anyway. (One thing I’ve noticed about Peter over the years is that while he often says or thinks the wrong thing, he usually actually does the right thing.)

Normie is cold to Peter at first, but then warms up to him and the two play dinosaurs. The last panel is the Goblin’s face reminding of of all the terrible things in this family’s past.

“They just couldn’t,” Peter says, but Brand New Day proved that Harry could. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow whether that stuck.

3 thoughts on “Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14: Cycles and Circles (1994)

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