The Resurrection of Harry Osborn

One development in One More Day mostly unrelated to the secret identity and the removal of the marriage was Harry Osborn’s return from the dead. Considering the speculation that even Gwen would return, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

While the storyline in which Harry Osborn died was possibly the best mega-arc in the Spider-Man comics, his death did leave a void in the supporting cast. He was Peter Parker’s best friend, in addition to a flawed individual with daddy issues, a combination that can make for interesting stories. The writers tried to shoehorn Flash Thompson into the role—with some success, especially in Dematteis’s second Spectacular Spider-Man run—but it wasn’t the same.

As the blogger A Less Than Reputable Source said…

Like much of Brand New Day, I wasn’t too chuffed about it to start with but then I got it: Peter Parker needs a best mate. The interplay between Peter and Harry is marvelous, even in the first issue of Brand New Day when Harry lends Peter money more to stop him whining on about the Parker luck than to actually help him out.

For about an year, there was a lot of speculation that Harry’s return was tied to Peter Parker’s deal with Mephisto in One More Day. An answer Joe Quesada gave in an interview suggested that—at the very least—this was something Marvel had considered.

And Harry? Well, there’s always a price to pay when you make a deal with the devil.

You could certainly make the case that Harry Osborn may not have died if Peter and Mary Jane had not been married, as he may not have snapped the way he did in “The Child Within.” Though that would have had some major repercussions for stories that required Harry to be believed dead. Had Mephisto been involved in Harry’s return, at some point, Peter might have been placed in the appalling position of possibly having to choose between the restoration of his marriage and his best friend’s life. It’s worth noting that Peter didn’t know Mephisto had the power to resurrect anyone, and did not ask the devil stand-in to do this, so I wouldn’t have had problems with the development.

Marvel chose to go in a different direction. The questions raised by Harry’s resurrection were answered within the year. While later writers could always decide that Mephisto was somehow responsible, there was nothing in the story of Harry’s death and return that couldn’t have happened if Peter and MJ weren’t married. The goblin serum that was supposed to have killed him only made it appear as if he had died. Norman Osborn was aware of this, but chose to keep his son’s survival a secret.

Continuity remained mostly intact. It’s been established that Harry was married to Liz, and that their son still exists. There was some premature speculation that the Harry Osborn in Brand New Day obviously dumped his wife/ the mother of his child because she wasn’t young enough, but there was nothing to support that. Eventually readers learned that Harry was on fairly good terms with his ex. Though Peter Parker’s continued friendship should also count for something when considering Harry’s character, even if they sometimes had their tiffs.

Amazing Spider-Man 53 Gwen

Some complained about the structure of Harry’s return, suggesting that it should have been a bigger deal. They’d have liked to see it as the payoff to a longer storyline, rather than an afterthought. It was a lost opportunity, but taking advantage of it would have come with significant disadvantages for the Brain Trust, the group of Spider-Man writers in the beginning of the Brand New Day era.

The equation for the Brain Trust was simple: one story was not as important as an year’s worth of stories, especially since Brand New Day started after a period in which Peter Parker had quit being Spider-Man. This meant that changes to the status quo could happen in the space between pages.

Harry’s return was a means more than an end. Incorporating some required beats: Peter Parker being surprised, Peter Parker being paranoid and Peter Parker being cynical would have delayed plot points which required Harry’s return to be widely accepted early in the Brand New Day era. Harry’s resurrection had to occur prior to Peter’s return as Spider-Man, so his role as a backer of Bill Hollister and relationship with Lily in the mayoral election wouldn’t be completely forced. There’s no one else who would have functioned as effectively as a link between Peter Parker and Bill Hollister, which was necessary for that mega-arc, which would otherwise have been delayed for some time—along with the planned conclusion with Mayor J Jonah Jameson—if Harry’s return had occurred as an “A” plot.

The writers could have changed Bill Hollister’s background so that he can be a candidate for mayor, somehow aware that Harry Osborn is still alive. Perhaps he could have been on the right congressional committee or something. That would allow them to establish a Lily/ Harry relationship prior to Harry’s public return, but it still requires a new link between Peter Parker and a prominent politician, and having someone else serve in the best friend role until Harry’s return.

Delaying Harry’s return would have complicated the introductions of Carlie Cooper and Vin Gonzalez. who were planned from the beginning as members of the supporting cast, given Carlie’s ties to Lily and Vin’s ties to Carlie. You’d need a new way to tie Lily into the series, or somehow delay the introductions of two important characters: a romantic interest for Peter, and his future roommate.

Making Harry’s return the payoff of the “A” plot would also have contradicted other plans, including focusing on new villains for the first six months. And if Harry’s return wasn’t the “A” plot, it would have overshadowed whatever the “A” plot was. That wasn’t a problem in One More Day, in which other events (Spider-Man Unmasked, the end of the marriage, Aunt May’s fate) were more significant than the revelation that Harry was still alive.

Sometimes writers and editors have to choose between two flawed options. Especially when time’s a concern, to say nothing of the further complications of four writers simultaneously testing a format that really hasn’t been done in mainstream comics.

There could have been a story later in which Peter suddenly became suspicious of Harry’s return, but it seems none of the writers was interested in telling that tale. As an aspiring writer, I don’t know how happy I’d be to be told that I have to write something that’s sure to be controversial. If on the brain trust, I really wouldn’t have minded Harry Osborn showing up alive and well with no explanation at the end of OMD—unless I came to the book with a story that required him to be dead. Nor would I have minded a gap between OMD and BND allowing me to set up the pieces to tell whatever story I wanted.

Some are upset that the reaction to Harry’s return was shuffled off into an issue of Amazing Spider-Man Family. On the other hand, the issue was written by the excellent JM Dematteis. It briefly raised the profile of that title, and gave those interested in the emotional fallout of Harry’s return a single-issue story exploring all of that. It wasn’t something that needed to be the main plot of several Amazing Spider-Man issues.

Harry Osborn left the series at the end of Brand New Day, but he’ll probably be back at some point. The character’s better alive than dead, considering all the stories that could be told with him and how well he could fit into the supporting cast. It’s possible that there was less need for him during the period in which Peter & MJ were married, as she could fit the best friend role, in addition to being the romantic interest. If a writer decides that Peter Parker just needs his best mate, they always have the option of bringing Harry Osborn back into the fold.

After all the discussion about what Quesada could have done, it’s time to look at what he actually did.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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