With my search for X-Men: The Draco still underway (see note at bottom), I decided to move down my list of “infamously bad comics.” I chose to tackle Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past because the problems lay in the writing, not the art. If the book is visually unreadable, I just give up, which is why it took me forever to get past the Liefeld-drawn part of Heroes Reborn: Avengers. Mike Deodato Jr.’s art is easily the best part of Sins Past, and his Norman Osborn seems almost familiar given his later work on Thunderbolts. It’s just a shame that the context for Osborn’s presence is so bizarre.
The cover is the first indication that something isn’t right: Gwen Stacy is back! No, actually, that’s her identical daughter, Sarah. I’m convinced that the hair band is part of Gwen’s DNA, as it appears both on her clones and her daughter. Within the book, Sarah is joined by her brother, Gabriel, who looks like Peter Parker. If you’ve already guessed the ending, well, you’ve figured out what J. Michael Straczynski intended: Gabriel and Sarah Stacy were supposed to be the illegitimate children of Peter and Gwen. Both of the kids have enhanced strength and speed due to chemically-enhanced blood.
Had JMS kept this in place -- had Gabriel and Sarah actually been Peter’s kids -- then there could have been some actual, lasting change in the Amazing Spider-Man title. Imagine how Mary Jane and Aunt May would have reacted. How would the kids interact with the rest of the superhero community? Spider-Man would join the Avengers shortly after this story; would he tell them about his kids? Their rapid aging is a problem, as is the fact that they hate him for abandoning them and killing their mother. Peter has long felt an intense guilt over his part in Gwen’s death -- the infamous “snap” -- and the kids’ anger almost feels justified.
But then, the editors had to step in. They decided that kids would age Peter. They decided to take drastic measures to keep Peter young and hip. If this sounds oddly familiar, it’s because Sins Past is, in retrospect, a dry run for One More Day, complete with character-destroying effects. You see, Peter isn’t the father. Norman Osborn is.
Before we even get into how out-of-character the whole thing is, let’s use my Amazing Spider-Man Official Index and my copy of The Death of Gwen Stacy to look into the situation as it stood in 1972-73. Norman Osborn kept remembering and forgetting that he was the Green Goblin, while Gwen was thinking about potentially marrying Peter. Apparently, a hurt and vulnerable Osborn lured Gwen into his bed, and she gave birth to her accelerated-age children during her vacation in Paris. We see a post-delivery Gwen confront Norman Osborn during Harry Osborn’s famous descent into drug addiction is ASM #97. The window for this to occur in is extremely slim, but more to the point -- it shouldn’t have occurred!
Norman’s motives are made very clear: he wants an heir, and he thinks that Harry is too weak. In the old comics, Norman had a difficult relationship with his son, but it never went this far. But out of all of the people ... Gwen Stacy?! He knew Gwen somewhat well; considering how paternally Norman felt about Peter in his saner moments, she could have been his daughter-in-law in spirit. Why would he take such a risk? Why not find some random woman to bear his children? Hell, if he wanted super-powered children, he should have had a relationship with Mystique (which would be a much more interesting story). There’s nothing special in Gwen’s genetics, unless the hair band really is her mutant ability; all of the kids’ abilities come from the Goblin Serum. (I still call BS on the Goblin Serum and the entire Final Chapter, but that’s another review entirely.)
The character assassination continues with Mary Jane, who knew the whole time. I ... no. I can’t think of anything to say about this, except that I’m amazed Mephisto didn’t bring this up as a reason for Peter to give up his marriage. This comes barely a year after MJ returned from being apparently killed in a plane crash, and to the credit of JMS, it feels very tacked-on and editorially-mandated. This is a scene that wouldn’t exist if the kids were Peter’s. In fact, they didn’t even change it quickly enough to fix the art so that Gabriel would have the trademark Osborn red swirl hairstyle; he still looks like a clone of Peter. Thank God Aunt May didn’t find out about this.
It’s not like Gabriel and Sarah do anything interesting. After learning about his heritage, Gabriel becomes the Grey Goblin. There’s another costume for Sarah, but due to some odd light, I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be green or not. Gabriel gets blown out of the sky, gets amnesia, and both he and his sister turn up in one more story in Spectacular Spider-Man. Then they’re tossed aside in the ill-thought-out superhero children bin with Marcus Kang and Equinox. I’d go into issues of how this negatively portrays women in comics, but it’s not worth the effort with this garbage.
Amazong Spider-Man: Sins Past isn’t the worst Spider-Man story ever written, mostly because Spider-Man isn’t much of a factor. It’s almost entirely about Peter Parker, and even then, it’s mostly him reacting to MJ and the Osborn children. Peter actually comes out pretty well, and Norman Osborn’s creepiness is vaguely in character. It’s Gwen and MJ who have their characters ruined. Had JMS kept the original story in place, Sins Past would have been very controversial, but it could have opened new opportunities. What we got was very controversial and very stupid.
Save your money and go buy the Amazing Spider-Man Official Index and my copy of The Death of Gwen Stacy instead; they’re worth the investment and won’t make you want to reach for the brain bleach.