Monday, November 18, 2019

Identity Crisis!

A running mystery during the years of 1964-66 in the Amazing Spider-Man book was: Who is the Green Goblin? Always donning or discarding his fright mask in shadow or standing behind an object that occluded his face, the Goblin's identity (and the nature of the Goblin himself) appeared to be a point of disagreement between writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko--with Lee reportedly feeling that the character should turn out to be someone that readers would know, in order to take advantage of the dramatic moment when his face was finally revealed; while Ditko is credited for changing Lee's original interpretation of the Goblin from that of a mythical demon to a costumed human villain.

In hindsight, of course, we know that the Goblin was chemical industrialist Norman Osborn; but, back in the day, while his son Harry had become a mainstay among Peter Parker's high school ensemble of characters, Osborn wouldn't be introduced until two issues before Ditko's departure. In terms of the Goblin's secret, that introduction turned out to be timely, indeed--for it was when artist John Romita Sr. replaced Ditko on the book that readers would at last discover the identity of the figure who had been kept under wraps for twenty-five issues. And from the looks of things, there was more than one identity that would be revealed for all to see!

We'd already been made aware of Osborn's feelings toward Spider-Man--feelings also cloaked in mystery, with Osborn becoming concerned that the wall-crawler was a danger to his plans and must be dealt with. But in what would be the character's last shrouded appearance, it's the Goblin who resolves to deal with Spider-Man once and for all, and with a twist that's bound to bring no small amount of worry and fear to the life of Peter Parker.

And as if to underscore the Goblin's words, a brief scene involving Peter and his Aunt May's doctor acts as a portent of the possible repercussions to come should the Goblin carry out his plan in full.

But there is another family on shaky ground--ironically, Osborn's own, though for much different reasons which involve his relationship with Harry. We've previously been witness to proof that Osborn thinks little of his son, which could well have been chalked up to the pressures of Osborn's business difficulties; yet even though this issue provides another such scene between them, there's no reason as yet to make a connection between Osborn and the green-garbed maniac that will soon make his move against Spider-Man.

And that time comes at last, when the Goblin concocts a scheme to rob the web-spinner of one of his greatest defenses. From there, the Goblin is able to trail his foe with impunity, until he is able to confront him literally on his home ground--a development which surely must be Peter's worst nightmare.

Good lord, Stan! "And the award for outstanding alliteration goes to..."

Understandably distracted and forced to fight defensively in light of the Goblin unquestionably having the element of surprise, Peter's battle is a losing one, though it provides a chance to gauge what Romita brings to the table as the character's new penciller (having already received a nice preview three months earlier in the pages of Daredevil). And if you're wondering why Aunt May (to say nothing of those in her neighborhood) doesn't see anything going on despite the strange sounds outside, we can thank the Goblin's smoke screen, which she attributes to a "peculiar dense fog," bless her naive heart--prompting her to worry about her "frail" nephew being out alone in it.

Frankly, this one time he might be inclined to agree with her.

In spite of the Goblin's victory lap here, he's really only accomplished part of his goal--putting Spider-Man at his mercy--while neglecting to capitalize on the fact that he's in a position to reveal Spidey's true identity to the world. Let's assume for the time being that he intends to savor the moment, perhaps taking a more calculated approach to his revenge. As he relocates with Peter back to his hideout, we get the sense that appears to be the case--but not before he taunts his captive with the secret of his own identity.

With Osborn now exposed to Spider-Man and to the reader, the Goblin's origin can now be provided, thanks to a little goading on Peter's part as he attempts to buy time to free himself. With the gaps being filled in here, it's important to remember that we can't lay all of Osborn's faults at the door of the Green Goblin's emergence. Even before the lab accident which caused Osborn's abrupt personality change, the man was hardly a saint, having neglected the upbringing of his son while pursuing his business interests, in addition to ruthlessly forcing out his business partner when the opportunity arose. The brain damage resulting from the creation of the Goblin only served to magnify traits and feelings that were already ingrained.

After further goading, Peter gets the time he needed to be on the verge of freeing himself--but Osborn is one step ahead of him, and relishes the chance to draw first blood in their final battle, if only psychologically.

From here, Spider-Man knows he must prevail, if only in the physical sense; he's still faced with the problem of how to deal with Osborn and what he knows once the battle is done (that is, assuming that Spidey is the one left standing). But until that moment comes, we have ample opportunity to see how the book's new artist would distinguish himself in an extended battle sequence, one that would also reveal how adeptly Lee would adapt to the scenes provided to him. It's a fine first effort for this new creative team in the four pages that depict the battle raging.

A slight slip up on Lee's part that has the Goblin referring to the "broomstick" that he originally used to jet through the air, having since redesigned it both visually and functionally to what we see here--though a minor point in light of the fact that the Goblin, having lost his mobility, must now hold a fast and agile foe like Spider-Man at bay on the ground, with things obviously not going well for him in that respect. That leads him to unveil a device which would bring this fight to its climax, though not at all the one the Goblin was expecting.

So the moment comes at last: What will Spider-Man do here? Has he only delayed the inevitable, when Osborn reveals his foe's identity? Yet with evidence of Osborn's activities as the Goblin all around them, you might expect Spidey to propose a mutual arrangement where both men keep mum on what they know of each other--admittedly an option fraught with risk for Peter, since that only gives Osborn time to cover his tracks and plan for another attack, this time taking into account information he'll have gathered on Peter's aunt and other connections.

Fortunately for Peter, fate steps in to lend a much-needed hand--with an assist from Peter himself, whose relationship with Harry has only recently begun to turn into friendship.

A rash promise from Spidey, who has no real reason to believe that Osborn's memory loss is permanent--but that will all unfold in due time, time that this ending from Lee and Romita has cleverly provided.

From 1971, artist Sal Buscema's depiction of this story's two-way reveal.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 39-40

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Romita
Inks: Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo)
Letterers: Art Simek and Sam Rosen


Big Murr said...

It's hard for me to imagine those days when there was one Goblin with that sort of major mystery. Marvel has tried mightily to keep the Goblin idea a vital force in the Spider-Man Rogues' Gallery, but the years have certainly created quite the pile of Green Goblins, Hobgoblins, Goblin Kings (fill in any royal title) and, most recently, Red Goblin.

I had a moment's appreciation at seeing the scene with Osborn and Stromm. In a (relatively) recent Spider-Man, Peter Parker needed a security code to keep an Osborn secret Goblin Cache/hideout from self-destructing (with him in it). Harry Osborn suggested "Try 'Stromm'. He was the first business partner my dad ever screwed over. He's sentimental like that."

I admire when a writer does his due diligence with a callback like that.

Anonymous said...

I always loved those covers where somebody says "NO - it can't be YOU!!" :D

The first Spidey story I ever read was The Kingpin vs. The Schemer (which had its' own revelation shock) so the true identity of the Green Goblin was old news by the time I first encountered him - but the Goblin pulling off his mask must have been quite an event for Spidey fans!

Comicsfan said...

Murray, I honestly thought those old Goblin hideouts (complete with backup gear, weapons, costume, a spare goblin flyer, and probably a wine cellar) had long since been uncovered and put to bed; but it's clear Osborn had far more fully-stocked hideouts that presents under the tree for his son on Christmas. I suspect that as long as there's a [insert color here] Goblin, there will always be Goblin hideouts to dust off.

Colin, I enjoyed that Schemer story a great deal--I'll have to give it the full PPC treatment, one of these days.

Big Murr said...

Oh, I hear what you're saying. Seems in NYC a fellow would be hard-pressed to find a block of the city that didn't harbour any super-villain hideout/stash spots.

In the case of the Goblin's hideouts, though, the writers do try to backfill the idea. The distinct inference is that whenever Norman has the means and mental capacity, he spends a percentage of his time creating new Goblin stash points for himself. Which others promptly find.