Harry and Peter chat 60s-style, except of course thanks to the sliding timeline none of this ever happened in the 60s! So we’ll have to imagine what era-appropriate sex symbol Harry “really” referenced at this point.
Ah this is all so sad to read fifty years on, knowing what will be changed and retconned.
Harry and Peter flirt with Gwen, Harry somewhat more successfully than Peter.
Oh here’s Kraven! (He was introduced in ASM #15 if I remember correctly so readers of the time would’ve already known him.) But more importantly: romantic entanglements! I still don’t know what the relationship between Harry and Gwen really was at this point because dating just seemed to be different in the 60s? I think these days we’d call it like, a non-exclusive casual relationship I guess.
Whether or not they ever hooked up hooked up is up to you really but honestly I imagine they probably did.
In these panels! Harry reminds us he’s rich, the boys are awestruck by the girls dressed up, Gwen looks jealous of MJ in the background there and wow there used to be a time where women could hang out wearing short skirts in the middle of the street and not get sexually harassed so much they went back inside?
Uh, one way in which the early Marvelverse differs from ours I guess.
MJ and Gwen participate in a dance-off which the boys, ur, appreciate. Then in bursts a man wearing a dead animal and he wants Harry!
Flash attempts, with endearing bravado, to save Harry. Harry gets in a few punches but to no avail.
Ah, the days before Harry’s hatred for Spider-Man set in. Also awww, that panel of Gwen and Flash helping Harry is sweet. The Flash-Harry friendship is almost completely forgotten about these days but it was a nice one.
Huh Norman sure got there quickly.
Ahh if only Peter had tried that same technique with Gwen. (Too soon?)
Annnd there ya go, back in the days where Marvel could tell a story in one issue instead of six.
I have a feeling this story was given a retelling of sorts at some point in a much later comic, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.
Now at the end of the last one of these I said, since Vietnam is coming into the story now let’s find out what Stan Lee actually thought about the Vietnam War. And that’s the thing, that information is kinda hard to find. There’s an extent to which Lee has sort of I guess been a bit lionized over the years and plenty people think he was labelled more of a progressive than he really was. But I think he was progressive for his era, it’s just that that doesn’t always mean, “was good.” It means… well, it means they were progressive in the original sense of the word and that’s that. So that Washington Post article linked to there, here’s the cached version which isn’t behind a paywall, it says,
In the midst of the antiestablishment riots of 1968, he convened a panel for a failed talk-show pilot in which he repeatedly denounced radicalism; asserted that Black people needed to respect the law; and said the Vietnam War may have been immoral, but had to continue for the greater good.
But we don’t have any direct quotes from this so it’s still hard to pin down his exact opinion. Now on this Marvel site I found this quote from Lee:
Now it’s important that you bear in mind that this yarn [Iron Man] was written in 1963, at a time when most of us genuinely felt that the conflict in that tortured land really was a simple matter of good versus evil and that the American military action against the Viet Cong was tantamount to St. George’s battle against the dragons. Since that time, of course, we’ve all grown up a bit, we’ve realized that life isn’t quite so simple, and we’ve been trying to extricate ourselves from the tragic entanglement in Indochina.
And these comics we’re talking about here were written in 1967. Enough time for Lee to have grown up, I guess. And in the Stan’s Soapbox columns he apparently expressed hopes the troops would come home. Do any of the characters in these issues serve as his mouthpiece re Vietnam then? Does Harry? Well, let’s find out.
Here’s issue #44, where Harry and MJ meet for the first time. This one little scene and everything within it is going to have massive ripples throughout the Spidermanverse, many of which continue to this day, for better or worse. (Usually worse, let’s be honest.)
Harry is friendly here and Flash is…Flash, as has been the case for the past 4 or so issues. But the spectre of Vietnam is hanging over all this.
On to #45. Awww, all the boys have colour-coordinated their outfits, that’s nice.
Here we begin a long, nice tradition of Harry being super generous dude frequently prone to giving out jobs and, as we’ll see in a minute, apartments. Yes this lasted into the ’00s comics which I was always glad about, it’s a very intrinsic part of his character.
Now Harry appears to be dating MJ, or at least getting close to her. The first days of the Harry/MJ romance are actually something I don’t think ever got delved into that much in later comics, despite all the potential for great character moments there. The 1963 audience didn’t know it at this point and possibly neither did Stan Lee, but both are abused and damaged children frantically putting on masks.
This one little panel here sows the seeds for so much stuff that happens later. But more on that (and more on how even to this day MJ and her percieved shallowness is blamed for Harry’s downward spiral) in the future.
Now we’re in #46 and Harry has now secured Peter a job offer and a free apartment. Nice. Their friendship is cemented by this point, as you can tell, and it took under 15 issues! God I miss the much, much faster pace of Old Comics.
The gang exchange some wonderful 60s slang and plan a going-away party for Flash. “He’s the first one of the crowd to be drafted,” Harry says. But that makes me wonder, and bearing in mind that this is an era I know very little about except what I got via cultural osmosis… Did Harry and Peter expect to get draft notices too?
So, time to cram my brain with information about the draft system. The draft lottery didn’t start til 1969, so going back from that… If you were in full-time education, as Harry and Flash and Peter all are here, you didn’t neccessarily have to serve… if you were a good enough student.
These thousands weren’t selected at random. Instead, the Selective Service System (SSS) instituted a system of academic evaluation under which local draft boards would defer students based on intellectual ability. This ability was determined by two factors: class rank, and score on a national aptitude test known as the Selective Service Qualification Test. Undergraduates with a high class rank, or a test score above a certain cutoff, were draft-exempt. Everyone else could be sent to the front.
So I suppose the implication in these Spider-Man comics is that Flash wasn’t a good enough student to avoid military service. Peter as a science genius I guess probably would have been. (Remember this panel from a couple issues back?)
But Harry… was Harry a fortunate son?
“It ain’t me, I ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaires’ son…”
But Harry probably was. Norman’s exact wealth wasn’t actually stated in the early days I think, but it’s safe to assume he’s pretty dang rich. And, says the New York Times (surprisingly one of the sources of Vietnam War draft info not outright blocked or paywalled in the UK, christ I hate the modern-day Internet)-
It was no coincidence that those men who already fit the middle-class mold of domestic masculinity — those men who were college students or teachers or scientists — received deferments.
It was a very classist, racist system. I feel like writing anything more along the lines of “So how did Spider-Man and his best friend avoid the draft?” trivalizes that in a way, so we’ll be back to business in a minute.
Now comics-wise Spider-Man: Life Story tackled Vietnam quite a bit, but due to the Marvel sliding timeline Vietnam just doesn’t factor into the Spider-Man story anymore. Flash didn’t fight, Iron Man wasn’t there. And I sort of think that’s a shame, and one of the reasons I have very conflicting feelings about ongoing comics as a medium. If you’re going to tackle very real, very bad things that happened in real life you should commit to them, you know?
So back to Harry. For whatever reason you want to have in your head – his status as a student, his father’s wealth, something else (it actually feels pretty in character, at least eventually, for him to be an objector?) – he’s not going to Vietnam and neither is Peter.
But of course, even that one specific part of the story is far from done.
Well the awfulness of the current comics shows no sign of going away anytime soon, so let’s jump back into this! Where we left off, Harry’s father had just overcome his first bout of supervillainy, but it would be faaaaaar from the last.
Here’s Harry’s very brief appearance in #41. Looks like his school bully days are behind him thanks to the previous story’s events! Meanwhile, Peter’s getting interested in Gwen.
#42 shows Harry defending Peter to Flash! Hooray for character development! Also Peter loves his motorbike a little too much.
Harry and Gwen’s relationship is a bit hard to pin down during this point, are they actually dating in the non-exclusive way or just friends?
And here’s Harry’s last appearance in these three comics. You’ll note that once more he sticks up for Peter. But now we’ve turned a corner into the real world and a still very relevant era of American history, the Vietnam war. Now I admit I don’t know much about it, being neither American or Vietnamese, but I know the basics. Flash has already been drafted, and these three panels rather make it sound like Harry is distressed at the possibility of Peter too being made to go to war.
Stan Lee’s thoughts about Vietnam I don’t actually know, but I’m gonna see if I can find out before the next one of these posts. I’d be interested in that. Harry is absolutely correct here in that a young man forced to join the military and kill people in a war is nothing remotely humorous.
Here we are, the fallout from last week! The Green Goblin took his mask off and revealed himself to be… Peter’s high-school bully’s friend’s dad. Not exactly a “No, I am your father” level revelation… well, not yet anyway…
Peter begins by slagging off Harry, even though they’re teetering more to being almost-friends at this point. Oh sure he’s stalling for time! But I suspect in-universe Peter regretted those words once he came to love Harry.
Reading some of these lines in the present day, knowing the rest of the story, you just gotta go
or is that just me?
Here’s baby Harry, wearing the Spider-Man colours to boot. Norman tells this story as if he was a perfectly good father temporarily sidetracked, and maybe that’s what Stan Lee planned back then, but in the modern day comics this is… very much not the case.
See that red bike there? That bike will many years later play a starring role in a story detailing Norman’s abuse of Harry during this period.
“I couldn’t be bothered with him” could be the tagline for a heavy book titled “Norman Osborn’s Guide To Parenting.”
Many years later it would be retconned so Harry was responsible for the explosion in question. Which makes his thought bubble here kinda make no sense, except for the “It’s all my fault” bit.
“How did someone like me ever have a sniveling weaking of a son like you?” is the other, probably even more accurate tagline for Norman Osborn’s Guide To Parenting.
Poor Harry. It feels like that nurse in the background is looking on like, “hmm maybe someone should intervene to help that kid.” (ur, yeah.)
Norman just casually designing his supervillain suit to match that one pink satchel he already has.
One fight later:
He has… AMNESIA! This would be a get-out-of-jail card deployed by Spidey writers for quite a while.
“It would break his heart!” Told you Peter was SUCH A LOVELY KID, he barely knows Harry at this point and his initial impressions were nothing but negative.
Well today I remembered that there’s over fifty years of comic book history to get through here, so I’d better crack on.
Gwen, Flash and a random ginger kid who I don’t believe we ever see again are badmouthing Peter, who honestly has every reason to blank them at this point.
And here we get a glimpse inside Harry’s thoughts for the first time! He is, of course, angsting about his dad. Ah Harry, if only you knew how much worse it will get eventually.
Here we go! The moment they become friends! Or at least not enemies!
This moment, a BIG one in spiderhistory it would later transpire, gets revisited for the Harry-back-from-the-dead issue Amazing Spider-Man Family #4 in 2009. But we’re a looooong way from there yet.
Awww, how absolutely ridiculously lovely is Peter? Upon hearing that his school bully is going through a tough time he is GENIUNELY SORRY! Even puts his hand on Harry’s shoulder. This is the first time they ever touch and it won’t be the last.
Also note that Harry is wearing green here! Gosh I wonder why.
Harry claims here that he and Norman used to be “pals.” This would later be retconned to be THOROUGHLY not true, Norman was just a flat out abuser, but well since Harry has maintained love for his abuser (something depressingly accurate for abused kids in real life) right up to more modern issues of the comics you can handwave that line away.
I don’t know what a dutch uncle is either. Also yes Flash you’re right! Gosh these kids are all so dumb I love them.
Wait for it…
norman: tis I, your worst enemy peter: Holy crap! You’re…that one guy’s weirdly identical father?
Another BIG MOMENT! Told you this issue was full of them!
We’ll deal with this not-remotely-a-revelation-anymore next post…
Welcome back, true believers! Okay so the other day this happened in the spideycomicsverse and it reminded me to kick this little project back into gear.
So! Last post we met Harry for the very first time and he was, to be honest, incredibly meh. But only SO FAR! Because the man who would end up being the Big Bad of the Spiderverse is coming and Harry just so happens to be his son and heir.
But before any of that takes place, here’s ASM #34, in which Harry continues to be Flash Thompson’s rather uninteresting henchman.
Harry thinks Peter is a snob, which is kinda weird seeing as Harry is the son of a wealthy businessman and Peter is a broke orphan. You’d think it’d be the other way around. (I suppose he means intellectual snobbery.) Geez you’d never expect them to end up with one of the most enduring friendships in all Spider-Man media would you?
On to ASM #37 and this is the VERY FIRST TIME (I think) Norman Osborn is ever named. Humble beginnings and all that.
But first we meet Gwen’s Giant Hand.
Original Pre-Death Gwen is almost completely forgotten but she was hella cool. In amongst all the giggle-worthy Sixties slang you get the idea that geez it must really have sucked being a female science student in that era so no wonder she’s angry all the time.
And he’s a PRICK!
Even taking the very different approved fatherhood qualities of the ’60s into account Norman’s just a kinda a dick to his son here. Of course, we’ve barely scratched the surface of that yet, we have many issues and many increasingly disturbing modern-day retcons to go.
Now, in ASM #38 we’ve got Norman being more affable to his kid, and then dressing as the guy from Breaking Bad before Breaking Bad existed.
But this is primarily about Harry so what’s going on over at the college? Well, there’s a protest it seems.
This little scene remains a complete and utter mystery to me. What are they protesting about!? Based on the dialogue given to the student protestors Stan Lee does not seem to like them? For some reason? But there were SURE AS HELL things to protest about in the ’60s so this bit just comes off as really uncomfortable and Old Man Yells At Cloud.
(This is Lawrence Welk, by the way, and I don’t know what that insult is supposed to mean either.)
Man you sure can be clueless about a lot of history via comics! (No I’m not American.)
Anyway Harry in this issue is just a regular old weaselly coward, nothing’s changed there-
-but things are ABOUT TO! Stuff happens next issue which shaped ALL of Spider-Man comics to come!
So after making this post I thought, hey, why not make a little archive of all Harry’s comic book appearances? Obviously there’s an extent to which that might be IMPOSSIBLE, but years and years ago I did try and make a blog devoted to exactly that. It had like 6 followers after one year. So consider this the second shot I guess!
(I really doubt I’ll get further than like, the ’70s, but you never know I guess.)
SO! Come back with me to 1965, a time when I was not born, and let’s take a look at Harry’s VERY FIRST appearance in Spider-Man. Pre-Gwen’s death, pre-drug addiction, pre-Norman existing even!
It’s not much to write home about. Poor ‘ol Harry. He’s not good-looking, he’s as casually sexist as most of the Sixties were, and he wears a bow tie.
But hey this is also the first appearance of one Gwen Stacy, and pretty much the first detail we learn about either of them is that they’re friends! And this friendship will last a long time, including after death. (sob) Yet they’re not actually together romantically.
A frosh, apparently, is just another word for “college freshman” and not something incredibly insulting like I feared.
Doesn’t answer to a known school bully yelling “Hey c’mere?” CLEARLY they’re a HORRIBLE PERSON
Yeesh, Harry. Lay off the guy.
Man Harry is such a dick in his first appearance! He’s basically Flash 2.0. The sixties slang makes it more palatable though.
Okay so this is interesting because for a long time in Spider-Man canon (can’t remember if it’s still the case) the accident which turned Norman into Green Goblin was caused by a jealous, neglected Harry switching around his lab chemicals. So uh… whenever Harry is lashing out he turns to chemicals, one way or another.
Harry temporarily drops his mean shit for Gwen’s sake. That’s… nice I guess.
And so there ya go, Harry Osborn Version 1. He’s not a nice person and at this point one might think he would end up as nothing more than Flash’s henchman or a romantic rival for Gwen. But you would be wrong! VERY WRONG.
(Buckle up, there’s gonna be a LOT of comics to go through.)
(Though it’s up against some pretty stiff competition.)
Okay! This was in a comic called X-Statix Presents Dead Girl, issue 3. As far as I can gather the premise is, villains are coming back from the dead so assorted heroes, including the titular Dead Girl and Dr Strange, go visit the afterlife to stop them. Death is, as everyone knows, a VERY fluid concept in the Marvelverse.
I guess that’s the in-universe explanation for “If your character sells enough comics they’ll probably come back from the dead.”
And Harry is like, ur, the elevator guy… of Hell? This may not be a bad thing though cos lots of heroes end up there? I think?
Oh and also Gwen?! She’s in the background of the third panel.
So Harry and Gwen, best friends, each involved in the death/downfall of the other, are in the same room/elevator/dimension/whatever in this comic and THEY DON’T SPEAK. Sonofabitch. Hey! Howsabout you read this instead.
The other odd thing about this surprise Harry Osborn appearance is that this comic was released in 2006, long after Harry’s intital “death” in 1993. (of course his death was retconned in 2007, making it so he never died at all, so what’s he doing in an afterlife? COMICS.) He was never one of the most famous Marvel characters, even taking the Raimi films into account, so I guess another Harry Osborn fan was writing this particular story and decided to give our boy a cameo. Good on ya mate.