Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Biggest Surprise of the Season...

There is a persistent oral tradition that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko disagreed about the identity of the Green Goblin, and that it was this artistic disagreement, rather than any dispute over wages or credits, that  ended their partnership.

How well does Stan Lee's version of events, half a century after the fact, match what we know about what was going on at the time?

I had a big argument (1) with Steve Ditko, who was drawing the strip at the time. (2) When we had to reveal the identity of the Green Goblin, I wanted him to turn out to be the father of Harry Osborn, and Steve didn’t like that idea. (3)  He said, ‘no, I don’t think he should be anybody we’ve seen before.’ (4)  I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Well, in real life, the bad guy doesn’t always turn out to be someone you’ve known.’ And I said, ‘Steve, people have been reading this book for months, for years, waiting to see who the Green Goblin really is. (5) If we make him somebody that they’ve never seen before, I think they’ll be disappointed — but if he turns out to be Harry’s father (6), I think that’s an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories.’ And Steve said ‘Yeah, well, that’s not the way it would be in real life.’ And I said ‘In real life, there’s nobody called The Green Goblin.’ And so Steve was never happy about that (7) but since I was the editor, we did it my way. (8)” 

(1) When is this conversation supposed to have taken place, given that, for the final months of his tenure on Spider-Man, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee were not speaking to one another?

(2) Ditko is relegated to illustrator of Stan Lee’s work; even though he was at this time credited as “plotter” and even though Lee says he is happy to regard him as co-creator. Anyone who is not well versed in comic lore would take “drawing the strip at the time” to mean that Ditko was one of a number of hired hands who had illustrated Stan's words. And in any case... Ditko was not drawing the strip at the time the Green Goblin’s identity was revealed. John Romita was. 

(3) Stan Lee presents himself as putting forward plot ideas, and Ditko as challenging them. But by Lee’s own account, Ditko was by this point coming up with plots completely without input from Lee. And any way...under the Marvel Method, Ditko wouldn't have needed to argue with Stan. Artists could and did simply ignore plot ideas which they didn't like. 

(4) Lee was perfectly happy for Electro and the Crime Master to turn out to be “no-one we’ve seen before”. (On both occasions, Spider-Man remarks on how different real life is from from whodunit stories in which the Butler always turns out to have Done It.)  Why would Lee have put his foot down over the Goblin, particularly if he knew it was likely to be a deal breaker when he had relented on two previous occasions?  

(5) The history of Spider-Man printed in Marvel Comics' in-house FOOM magazine in 1974 (less than a decade after the events) concurs that Lee and Ditko disagreed about the identity of the Green Goblin, but states that Lee still wanted him to be an Egyptian mummy, and Ditko wanted him to be, not an anonymous figure, but Peter Parker’s love-rival Ned Leeds. 

(6) As we have seen, a figure who looks like Norman Osborn is introduced in issue #23, and appears several times thereafter, always as a member of J.Jonah Jameson's businessman's' club.  Harry Osborn is introduced (as an antagonistic character and wing-man for Flash Thompson) in issue #30. Norman Osborn is only introduced by name, and revealed to be Harry’s father in #37. Jonah refers to him as "my fellow club member" in issue #37, so he is clearly meant to be the same guy. In #37 and #38 Norman Osborn is specifically trailed as character with a secret -- #37 signs off with the promise of ”more on the mysterious Mr Osborn " in a future issue. In issue #39, Ditko quits Marvel (seemingly without even finishing his last cover). The very next issue confirms that Osborn is the Goblin. Either we are to believe that Ditko obeyed Stan Lee’s instructions to foreshadow the big reveal but walked out in preference to drawing the unmasking scene itself; or else the argument must have been about whether Norman Osborn should turn out to be the Goblin, or have some entirely different secret. (If we can spend three issues foreshadowing Foswell as the Goblin and then reveal that he’s Patch the informer, there is no reason why we couldn’t have spent thirteen issues foreshadowing Osborn as the Goblin only to reveal that he’s Baddie McBaddieface.) 

(7) Again, a casual reader would think this meant that Steve stayed on the book for some years, grumbling about the Goblin; in fact, in left before the revelation happened and never spoke to Stan again

(8) It is hard to see how Stan’s editorial fiat could have been implemented, since (by his own account) all he was doing at this point was adding words to finished artwork. I suppose he might have demanded that Ditko redrew certain pages (although it isn’t clear how he could even have done this if they weren’t talking).  

I can only see one scenario which makes sense of Stan Lee's claim. Let's suppose that Steve Ditko always knew that The Man From The Club was the Green Goblin. But let's suppose that Ditko intended him to remain known to J.J.J. but unknown to Peter Parker. On this view, Ditko might have intended Spider-Man to have ripped the Goblin's mask off and said "Not again! I was sure this time it really would be the Butler, but I have never seen this guy before". Ar which point J. Jonah Jameson, and us readers, would be able to look smug and say "Aha! But we have...!"  What Ditko objected to was not the revelation that the Goblin was Osborn, but the revelation that Osborn was Harry's father.

Put another way:  when Stan Lee says “I wanted the Goblin to be Harry’s father” he doesn’t mean “I decided that an established character, the father of Harry Osborn, should turn out to be the Goblin.” He means “I decided that the man-from-the-club, who we already knew was the Goblin, should turn out to be Harry’s father. But Ditko felt that this was a coincidence too far."  

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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1 comment:

Andrew Rilstone said...

I really wish that this blogger has not left the rest of his article to buy for because just reading the excerpt about the Green Goblin made me curious enough and i cant explain my frustation when at the last line i read that i have to buy the rest to read it, not cool man not cool!!!!!

Of fuck off you odious little exam cheat.