As Goblin Nation moves forward in SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, Christos N. Gage is given the opportunity to focus on the characters that aren't necessarily front and center at the moment. The writer opts to chime in on how Ben Urich is handling the revelation that his nephew, Phil, is the latest incarnation of the Hobgoblin and naturally, he isn't a nice dude. The second half revolves around Goblin Nation's side plot with Carlie Cooper aka Monster attempting to cure herself, and Yuri Watanabe aka Wraith's desire for revenge.
The first half of the annual is of course a more character-driven one. Ben isn't exactly a character that tends to get too much attention, so it's a nice change of pace to delve into the reporter's mind and witness firsthand how he's handling everything. Much of the actual investigative work is done off panel, but there's more than enough here to easily connect the dots. In spite of the cover teasing an issue about Phil, it truly is about Ben and his attempt to see whether his nephew capable of being saved. His thoughts and actions are well-written and Gage successfully gives us a humanized approach to the character. Javier Rodriguez artwork and Alvaro Lopez's inks suit the tone of this story well. As stylized as the character work may be, the highlight is easily how the two handle all of the lighting effects. Be it someone standing behind shades or a flaming sword illuminating someone's back, the attention to filling the pages with an impressive degree of shadows and lighting is a nice touch.
While the first half of this book is a character study, the second half is focused purely on developing a very specific aspect of Goblin Nation. Gage is given the task of making sure progress is made on the front with Cooper and Wraith, and he absolutely does just that. If you're a completionist or find yourself especially curious about this side of the tale, then you'll most certainly want to see how it unfolds. Philippe Briones and Veronica Gandini's visuals feels more akin to what we're seeing over in the regular SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN issues, so it's a pretty easy transition into this half of the book. Additionally, this side of the issue has more action, and thankfully, there's a greater sense of motion as characters leap, punch and get knocked around. That said, credit should be given to both art teams for making Monster legitimately creepy.
Despite being on the cover and playing a pretty big part in the issue itself, Phil's role feels somewhat familiar and predictable. Sure, it's more about Ben's investigation, but we're essentially waiting for him to have the same epiphany that we all had quite some time ago. And, as stated above, the dialogue is well-written, but the course of events has a lot of tropes. The hero jumping in at the last minute, the "you can get me or save him" act, so on and so on. It's a good study of Ben, but unfortunately, nothing around him is particularly exciting or gripping. It just feels safe.
In the first half of the book, the attempt to make the action feel more fluid by having it play out within single panels is fun, but it feels more like a missed opportunity because the character work comes off as stiff during fights. Instead of feeling like smooth and fast characters engaging in a fight, it seems somewhat static. This was also the case whenever Phil used his sword.
If you find yourself especially invested in Ben Urich or the Goblin Nation's plot with Monster and Wraith, then yes, this is a comic you'll likely want to check out and will probably enjoy a little more than I did. But for everyone else, $4.99 is asking a little too much for what occurs in this comic. Sure, there's a development with Monster and Wraith's plot, but odds are this will be swiftly detailed in the next issue of SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN's intro page or maybe even reduced to a line or two of exposition within the issue itself. It's an enjoyable annual and both halves certainly thrive for their own reasons, but nothing truly makes this feel like a mandatory read for fans of Goblin Nation, either.