Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Should I put the Spider-Essays together into a great big book?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Before you go....

I want to say thank you to various other blogs, web sites, and human beings.

The Amazing Spider-Fan:

Fannish rather than analytical, but absolutely indispensable for checking facts and plot points.

Dial B For Blog

Fortunately takes a completely different approach from mine, but definitely contains the definitive account of Ditko as an artist. (Floorplan of his studio based on extant photos, anyone?)

The King in Red and Blue

I don't always agree with Sean's writing -- truthfully I don't always understand it -- but this is one of only a few blogs which takes Spider-Man fundamentally seriously.

Eruditium Press

This has changed the way I, and everyone else, think about Geek stuff, and I am sure everyone here is reading it.

And as ever, thanks to Andrew Hickey and Mike Taylor for being two of my most loyal readers and most consistent boosters.

And always to the 47 people who are kind enough to actually support me on Patreon. (We talk about "supporting my writing" and "paying for my essays", but if not for Patreon I would have to work more hours at my day job and wouldn't be able to waste my evenings working out Peter Parker's bank balance, shoe size and star sign.) 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Listen, Bud

The Spider-Man Project

A close-reading of the first great graphic novel in American

"Perhaps the most detailed study of a comic book ever attempted; will be to The Amazing Spider-Man what Revolution in the Head is to the Beatles."

"You may think you love these comics. But Rilstone loves them more and has spent longer thinking about them than you have." 

"Whether it's Flash Thompson's honour code; the connection between Jonah Jameson and Stanley Baldwin or all the times Stan Lee wrote a caption without understanding the pictures Rilstone will point out things about Spider-Man you never noticed before." (*)

Steve Ditko 1927 -2018

Stan Lee 1922 - 2018


How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Amazing Fantasy #15


Spider-Man - Freak! Public Menace!

Spider-Man vs The Chameleon

Duel to Death With the Vulture

Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus, the Strangest Foe of All Time

Nothing Can Stop - The Sandman!

Marked For Destruction by Doctor Doom

Face to face with the Lizard

The Return of the Vulture



Green, Green My Goblin Now

It is a fact that Steve Ditko stepped down as plotter, artist and co-writer of Amazing Spider-Man after issue #38. 

It is also a fact that the Green Goblin's long-concealed secret identity was revealed in Amazing Spider-Man #39. 

The conclusion is inescapable. Steve Ditko quit because Stan Lee had decided to reveal the arch villain's true identity. 

This idea has been in circulation for so long that it has become a received truth: here, for example, is the Guardian's obituary for Ditko: 

"But at his creative peak, Ditko abruptly left Marvel. The reasons may have included a creative battle over a storyline in which Lee wanted The Green Goblin to turn out to be Parker’s best friend’s father, while Ditko wanted him to be a random character. Lee’s instincts proved correct." 

But, as Captain Blackadder might have said, there is one tiny flaw in this version of events. It is bollocks. 

The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin (Amazing Spider-Man #14) begins and ends with the villain in his civilian clothes, but with his face pointedly obscured. This is repeated in issue #17, #26 and #27: we readers see the Goblin plotting against Spider-Man, but we are not allowed to see his face. This is a clear signal that if his face were not hidden, it is one we readers would recognize. There would be no point in hiding a character's face if it was not a face the audience already knew.

In issue #37, Once Upon a Time There was a Robot, Ditko introduces a new mystery, ostensibly unrelated to the Green Goblin. A businessman, Norman Osborn, is engaged in a longstanding feud with a scientist, Prof. Stromm. Osborn swindled Stromm out of some inventions and caused him to be unjustly sent to prison; Stromm therefore sends a flock of robots to destroy his electronics factory. But Stromm knows something about Osborn, and Osborn is prepared to commit murder to silence him. 

In #39, as everyone in the world knows, Stan Lee resolved both these mysteries. The Goblin, having unmasked Peter Parker, rips off his own mask and reveals that he is...none other than....[SPOILERS FOLLOW] Norman Osborn. 

Most of us cannot conceive of a time when we did not know that Osborn was the Goblin, any more than we can conceive of a time when we did not know the name of Luke Skywalker's father. But as a piece of narrative I don't think the Osborn/Goblin story line is very satisfying. The mystery of Osborn's feud with Stromm is not brought to a particularly satisfying resolution by the discovery that he is the Goblin; and the long standing puzzle about the Green Goblin is not satisfactorily resolved by the revelation that he is Norman Osborn. We never find out what inventions Osborn stole from Stromm; we never find out what secret Stromm was going to reveal. (He never knew that Osborn was the Goblin.) And "some science blew up in my face and turned me evil" is not a great back-story. 

If we only had the comics to go on, I would guess that Stan Lee wanted to resolve all Ditko's dangling plot-lines as quickly as possible. So he chose the path of least resistance. What is Osborn's secret? He is the Green Goblin. What is the Green Goblin's identity? He is Norman Osborn. Onwards and upwards. 

But it is more complicated than that. 

You knew it would be.

The idea that Stan and Steve disagreed about the Goblin was in circulation as far back as 1974, when Marvel's house magazine, FOOM!, claimed that Lee was still clinging to the old idea of the Goblin being a resuscitated Egyptian Mummy and Ditko was going for the scarcely less far-fetched notion that he was Ned Leeds. But as the years rolled on, the "some random guy" theory gained traction. 

Here is Stan Lee talking in an interview in 2014: 

I never knew why he quit in the first place. It might have had to do with the fact that I was trying to tell him how to do the stories. With the Green Goblin we didn't know who the character really was. I wanted him to turn out to be Harry Osborn's father. 

Ditko said, "No, I don't want it to be. It should be somebody we don't know." 

So I said, "Steve, the readers have been following the series for the longest time, waiting to find out who he is. If it's somebody they've never seen they'll be frustrated." 

Anyway, I couldn't convince him and he certainly couldn't convince me, so that might have been what drove him away. 

But he never told me and we don't see each other anymore.

And here he is, telling the same story in 2017

I had a big argument with Steve Ditko, who was drawing the strip at the time. 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, 

He said, ‘No, I don’t think he should be anybody we’ve seen before"’

 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. 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, 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, but since I was the editor, we did it my way.” 

This story is so full of holes that it could be served up as a cheese course in a Swiss restaurant. 

The suggestion that Ditko might have walked away because Lee was "telling him how to write the stories" is mind-boggling. It corresponds to nothing we know about the two men's working relationship. In his infamous 2007 interview with Jonathan Ross, Lee was perfectly clear: in the early days, Steve worked from a brief plot summary which he could change and embellish at will. In the middle period, Steve worked from a one or two sentence plot seed from Stan Lee. And at the end -- certainly from issue #25 and perhaps as far back as #17  Lee had no input whatsoever into the creation of the plots. Steve "would just go away and do whatever story he wanted". In 1966 Lee told the Herald Tribune:

"I don’t plot Spider-Man any more. Steve Ditko, the artist, has been doing the stories....We were arguing so much over plot lines I told him to start making up his own stories." "

And according to the accounts of people who worked at Marvel at the time the two weren't even on speaking terms. Ditko mailed finished artwork to the Marvel offices, or handed it to secretary Flo Stienberg or office manager Sol Brodsky. 

So — when and how is this perfectly reasonable discussion about a plot point supposed to have taken place?

Lee says that he "wanted the Green Goblin to be the father of Harry Osborn". But in 1966, Harry Osborn barely existed: he was a minor character, a wingman and foil for Flash Thompson. In later years, Parker would indeed make friends with Harry and become his roommate; and Stan Lee would insert flashbacks in which Parker's first reaction on seeing the Goblin's true face was "My best friend's father!" But none of this was true in 1966. If Lee had really wanted to make the Goblin's identity have a personal resonance for Peter Parker, why wouldn't he have insisted on him being the father of Gwen Stacy or Flash Thompson? 

It makes little sense to say that "Since I was the editor, we did things my way." "We" didn't do anything at all. Steve walked outwithout completing a cover or a splash page for his final issueand Osborn storyline was wound up by John Romita.

Certainly, Ditko did like stories in which the villain turns out to be an anonymous nobody. Three previous bad-guysElectro, the Crime Master, and the Looterturned out to be no-one Spider-Man had ever heard of. Did Ditko really want to do it a fourth time? I suppose it is just possible that this might have been the hill Stan Lee chose to die on. But why would he say "readers will be frustrated" rather than "no, Steve, we've done that before"?

But Ditko didn't have any absolute aversion to dramatic unmaskings and surprising revelations. In issue #31, he deliberately made us curious about the identity of the Master Planner (allowing us to eavesdrop on his monologues from outside his base, but not to see his face). In #32, the Master Planner turned out to be, not some random fella, but Doctor Octopus. In #19, Ditko had deliberately made us curious about the identity of the man-in-the-dressing-gown who was spying on Peter Parker. The following issue, the man-in-the-dressing-gown turned out to be, not John Doe, but J.Jonah Jameson. The last time we saw the Green Goblin, he was holding his mask aloft while his face was blacked out by shadow. That was how Steve Ditko chose to draw him. There is no way that this character was ever going to turn out to be Matt Dillon or Norman Fester or Lucky Louis.

If Lee's version of events is hard to swallow, Ditko's own account is not much more palatable. 

"I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be. I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessman's club, it was where JJJ and the GG could be seen together. I planted them together in other stories where the GG would not appear in costume, action. I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair style) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and storyline consequences.”

It is perfectly true that Norman Osborn had already been shown as a background character at J. Jonah Jameson's club before his first "named" appearance in issue #37. But it is a bit of a stretch for Ditko to say that he knew that Jonah's club-friend was the Green Goblin on day 1. The Green Goblin first appeared in issue #14; the Norman Osborn figure doesn't appear until issue #23the Goblin's third appearance (of four). And it is not quite fair to say that he showed Jonah and Club Man together in "stories" which didn't have the Goblin in them. He did so exactly once, in issue #25. "From the first appearance of Club Man, I knew that he would be the Green Goblin" is a plausible claim "From the first appearance of the Green Goblin, I knew that he would be Club Man", not so much.

Things got very sour between Stan Lee and some of his ex-collaborators in the 80s and 90s. (Jack Kirby once claimed that Stan never wrote a word and was functionally illiterate!) But if Ditko says that he always intended Harry to be Club Man's son and Club Man to be the Goblin I am inclined to believe him. It would be a very odd thing to lie about. 

The only way I can make Stan Lee's story make sense is to engage in a flight of fantasy  almost a piece of fan meta-fiction. Perhaps Ditko did indeed intend that J Jonah Jameson's friend from the club would turn out to be the Green Goblin. But he intended that Club Man should be known to Jameson but unknown to Peter Parker. Ditko intended that when Spider-Man pulled the Goblin's mask off, he would exclaim "I have never seen this guy before" but us readers would exclaim "Aha...but we have." (This is what happen in the case of Electro and the Looter. Peter Parker has never heard of Max Dillon or Norman Fester, but we  readers have.) Very late in the day, Lee insisted that Club Man should also have a personal connection to Peter Parker: that he should be related to one of his class mates. Ditko revealed that Club Man was the father of Harry Osborn, in issue #37, reluctantly and against his better judgment. His intention had been for the Osborn/Goblin story to be a slow-burner; a new cog in the story machine. Imagine all the ironic confusion that could develop once it was established that Jonah, without realizing it, knew both Spider-Man and the Goblin in their civilian identities. But Lee misunderstood Ditko's objection: he thought that Ditko wanted the Goblin to be someone who had never appeared in the strip before; whereas in fact, he merely wanted him to be someone Spider-Man himself did not know. And what angered Steve Ditko was not Stan Lee's decision to reveal that Osborn and the Goblin were one and the sameit was his decision to allow Peter Parker to find out far too quickly and easily.

A second story could go like this: Ditko did not intend Norman Osborn to be the Green Goblin: he had a quite different storyline in mind. For issue #39 he submitted artwork which continued the story from #37 and #38perhaps revealing what Osborn's current plans were and what secret Stromm knew. But Lee was so wedded to the idea that Osborn was the Goblin that he rejected the finished artwork. Ditko was so furious that he walked out. 

The difficulty with these two hypothesis is that there is not one shred or scintilla of evidence for either of them. But the alternative is to call the much-beloved Stan Lee a liar.

If Ditko had always known that the Goblin was Club Man and Club Man was Harry's father, I don't think he ever told Lee. We know how Stan Lee wrote: how much his characters brood; and how happy he is to allow the readers to listen in on their soliloquies. If he had known that Osborn was the Goblin I don't think he could have resisted the temptation to give him a thought balloon saying "Good...they suspect nothing!" or "They are talking about the Crime Master, but they don't suspect my secret!" And those first college episodes would have been improved if Nasty Harry had shared some of his inner thoughts about his own father with the reader. ("Why is Puny Parker blanking us all...just like Dad keeps doing to me.") 

Indeedto engage in another leap into meta-fictionperhaps Ditko didn't tell Stan who Osborn was because he knew that Stan would give the game away too early?

And so we crash into a brick wall. Lee's claim that Ditko wanted the Goblin to be Nobody is silly; but Ditko's claim that he knew who the Goblin was from the very beginning is hard to credit. 

In 1991 Ditko wrote:

"I know why I left Marvel, but no one else in this universe knew or knows why. "

Probably, we should leave it there. No-one in the universe knows what caused the final rift between Lee and Ditko.

Except possibly Jonathan Ross, and he's not talking.

"Robbie Reed", over on the "Dial B For Blog" site, writes about Ditko with an even greater obsession with minutiae than yours truly. And I think that that his guess about why Ditko left is as close to the mark as we are going to get. It wasn't the money: Charlton paid much less than Marvel. It wasn't editorial interference; he went and worked for Atlas which was the company Stan Lee's boss Martin Goodman founded when he finally parted company with Timley/Marvel. And it certainly wasn't the origin of the Green Goblin. But it may, perhaps, have been a point of narrative principal. 

Steve Ditko believed that heroes should be paragons: people to whom we look up; people we aspire to be. They shouldn't be overly burdened by human weaknesses and foibles. After he left Marvel, Steve Ditko wrote and drew the reassuringly one dimensional Captain Atom for Charlton; and moved on to do The Question and Mr. A, whose only superpowers were their moral clarity. He could cope with Peter Parker's whinging and insecurities as long as he was a schoolboy. He was telling the story of how a boy became a man. But he couldn't stomach the idea of him remaining a neurotic nerd forever. The infamous Herald Tribune essay identified "superheroes with super-problems" as Marvel Comics' unique selling point; and Stan Lee pretty much took that up as a company motto. He said that Peter Parker was the Woody Allen of the superhero world (shy, nerdy, nebbish.) He said that Spider-Man appeals to us, not because he is a hero to aspire to, but because he makes us feel superior. (We feel sure that we could do a better job of being a superhero.) Ditko couldn't live with that: and so he walked away. 

I don't know if I buy the whole story. But it is clear that the first great graphic novel in American literature tells the story of how the weak and dislikable boy from Amazing Fantasy #15 turned into the admirable young man from Amazing Spider-Man #33. The Final Chapter was the final chapter: Ditko couldn't go on telling the story of Spider-Man because, so far as he was concerned, the story of Spider-Man was finished.

So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop -- that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can. Most of the characters that perform in this book still live, and are prosperous and happy. Some day it may seem worth while to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be; therefore it will be wisest not to reveal any of that part of their lives at present.  

Mark Twain.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Amazing Spider-Man #39/#40

How Green Was My Goblin?

Norman Osborn / Green Goblin

Supporting Cast:
Dr Bromwell, Gwen Stacey, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Ned Leeds, J.Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Mrs Watson, Betty Brant.

Peter Parker's Financial Situation
Peter sells J.J.J. four pictures of Spider-Man fighting some crooks, and guesses that he is only getting half what they are worth.

In #33, he sold Jonah pictures of the Master Planner for $100 each, although Jonah admitted that they were worth twice that. So it appears that Peter Parker underestimates the value of his work, selling pictures for $50 a print, while believing them to be worth $100 even though their true value to Jonah is $200. If this is correct, he still gets $200 for the four pictures: not bad for an hour's work.

Peter has enough money to see a doctor with a simple cold; perhaps he has acquired comprehensive medical insurance as part of his college scholarship.

"A few weeks" have passed since Spider-Man's encounter with Prof. Stromm.

We have dated #38 to October 19th 1965; #37 (the Stromm story) took place only a few days earlier, which would place this #39
 in the second week of November 1965. 

However when Aunt May mistakes the smoke from the Goblin's glider for fog she says "It was a clear spring night not a few minutes ago!"

Amazing Spider-Man #39 has an August 1966 cover date, probably equating to June 1966 publication, in which case Lee was probably writing it in April of that year. (He announced Ditko's departure to a student audience in March 1966.) So although it will be published in the summer, and must logically be happening in the winter, Lee is writing it in the spring. 

The Goblin's Bag of Tricks
a: The Goblin glider produces a choking smoke screen
b: "Goblin blasts" in his gloves or fingers
c: Pumpkin shaped "stun bombs"
d: A bat that goes "whirr", function unknown.
e: Battery operated bats which disrupt Spidey's field of vision
f: A ghost shaped asphyxiation grenade; specifically said to be the same kind that put the Human Torch out of action in #14.



Title: How Green Was My Goblin 
A play on the 1941 John Ford movie How Green Was My Valley. The title has no bearing on the story apart from the colour "green": it could just as well have been called "There is a Green Goblin Far Away" or "The Green Green Goblin of Home". 

p2 "I've modified my rocket powered flying broomstick..." 
The Goblin's flying device has been referred to as a "glider" since the comics code ruled that broomsticks were a bit too witchy. 

p2 "If I didn't despise that miserable misanthrope so much, I'd almost pity him." 
A misanthrope is one who hates is fellow man. Spider-Man is if anything a philanthrope; he loves his fellow man and altruistically puts his life on the line for them. The Goblin is projecting his own feelings onto others -- accusing Spider-Man of being what he himself is. Or, possibly, Stan Lee has had another vocabulary malfunction. 

p3 "I'll leave my Spidey costume in my brief case."
The costume would quite easily fit into the little case he has been carrying on his back; but it is quite hard to see how it contained shirt, trousers, waistcoat, shoes, socks and (presumably) underwear.

p3 "Of course, it could just be an allergy"  
The idea that Marvel Heroes are so realistic they even suffer from allergies is something of a proverb: but this is one of the few occasions when it is literally referred to in a story. 

p4 "You've got a whopper of a cold, son..but some anti-histamine pills and a B12 shot will have you good as new again." 
Bromwell diagnoses Peter as having a cold, rather than an allergy, but then prescribes him anti-histamines (an allergy treatment) and vitamin B12 (usually a treatment for anemia or exhaustion.) 

p6 "You mean, you're an orphan? I didn't know that about you..." 
Harry seems to be using the word "orphan" in an old-fashioned sense of "fatherless", rather than in the more common sense of someone who has lost both his parents. Peter certainly hasn't told Harry that he has no living mother. 

p7 "Who's been giving you your boxing lessons lately — Woody Allen?" 
In 1966 Woody Allen was known primarily as a stand-up comic with a nerdy persona; his first movie came out in 1965. It isn't clear why he would instantly spring to mind as a bad boxing coach. 

p 9 "What would Soupy Sales say if he heard you." 
Soupy Sales was a children's entertainer and comedian; his regular kids TV show had just come to an end. 

p9 "There's something not kosher about all this..." 
"Kosher" was widely used to mean "OK" or "above board" and probably isn't a specifically Jewish reference — despite two Jewish comedians having just been mentioned.

p9 "What a sap I am" 
"Sap" = "fool". It may possibly be military slang for "sad and pathetic" or possibly even "sad-ass prick". 

p12 "I wonder if I'll get kicked out of the superhero union for not using a phone booth." 

Clark Kent proverbially changes to Superman in a public phone box, although examples of him doing so in actual comics are suspiciously hard to come by. Note that earlier this issue Peter Parker swapped clothes in a broom closet. 

p13 "My cold seems to have gotten better" 
On page 8 Spider-Man was still speaking wid a blocked up dose. ("I've a feel'g you looked id those glasses without payi'g your dime") but 4 pages later it is all clear. Powerful stuff, vitamin B12. 

p14 "Returning home from a late date" 
Not that late. Peter went into action as Spidey right after school; there were kids in the bank; and the Bugle offices were still open. If the fight really only took an hour, it can scarcely be later than 4.30pm 

p15 "The Green Goblin! You've found me!" 
Bad form, Peter. You could at least have said "My God! I knew that dressing up as Spidey for that costume party would land me in hot water" or "Where am I? Did that rat Spider-Man drug me" or "I was only rehearsing the lines for a play.." 


p3 "That's okay Dad, I understand" 
Harry told Peter that he and his Dad were great pals until a few years ago: but the flashback scenes show that Norman was a neglectful father long before he became the Green Goblin. 

p4 "Dad have you forgotten? It's parents night at school." 
Spider-Man first encountered the Goblin about two years ago, when he was in high school, presumably aged about 16. This is consistent with Harry Osborn looking about 15 when Norman becomes the Green Goblin. 

p5  "All sorts of scientific devices in my chemical company that I could use". 
In #37, he was said to run an electronics company. 

p6: "Now for my first victim..." 
Note that the Goblin is riding his bat-winged glider, even though the early Goblin rode a broomstick. 

p17 "I must see my son. I have to help him with his bio... "
Harry needed help with his biology homework months or years before Norman became the Goblin: it would have been more logical to say "where is Harry — I promised to go to his parents evening."

Amazing Spider-Man #41 was something of a reboot. The long absent Betty Brant comes home, and promptly walks away into the sunset with Ned Leeds. Peter Parker sulks for a whole panel before falling head-over-heels in love with the still demon-horned Gwen Stacey and simultaneously agreeing to the long delayed blind date with Mary-Jane. He morphs into a hipster and buys a motorbike. ("Lady, there's a lot you don't know about me!"). A new villain, the Rhino, crashes into the story; and a new sub-plot is introduced concerning J.J.J's long-forgotten astronaut son. Stan is quite up-front about what is happening. 

"BEGINNING: A great NEW ERA in the ever-changing life of the world's most amazing web-spinner: 
SEE the return of Betty Brant and the startling result that follows! 
SEE the surprise appearance of J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son! 
SEE the most exciting new purchase Peter Parker ever made!" 

And of course, SEE some kid called John Romita trying to draw as much like Ditko as possible. 

But Amazing Spider-Man #41 is two months in the future. John Romita arrived, with relatively little fanfare, in issue #39. Why did Stan Lee not herald that issue as the beginning of the exciting new era? 

Presumably, because Ditko had left unfinished business; business that Lee wanted to clear up as quickly and simply as possible. Amazing Spider-Man #39 and #40 are interim, transitional issues. #41 is the relaunch.

As has been noted previously: Steve Ditko nearly always put the "next issue" box at the bottom of the final panel; even if that panel was only one ninth of the page. This is also how Kirby did things; and it will be how Romita generally works. When the "next issue" box is placed on a quarter or half page spread -- as with Amazing Spider-Man #27 and #32, and indeed Fantastic Four #48 -- I will always suspect that this was not where the comic was originally supposed to end. When the first page of part 2 is simply the last panel of part 1 redrawn on a larger scale, I become even more suspicious. And when the "next issue" text partially covers the face of one of the main characters, my suspicions are totally confirmed. 

Amazing Spider-Man #39 and #40 must have been created as a single comic and then split in two. If you doubt me, read them consecutively, ignoring the "next issue" call out and skipping the splash page, and see how much more sense they make. 

"It's the real face of the Green Goblin...the face of Norman Osborn."

"Those features! That name! Of course -- you're related to one of my own classmates!! You're Harry Osborn's father!"

"You shouldn't have mentioned Harry! Why do you remind me of him?"

Did Stan Lee, at some point, intend to wrap up the dangling Ditko plot threads in an annual or a special; and introduce Romita with a big splash starting on #39? Is it even possible that Romita was brought in to redraw #39/#40 after Stan Lee rejected Ditko's version, and was asked to stay on as the regular illustrator when Ditko walked out?

We don't know. It is another part of the intractable enigma of Ditko's departure.

I will say this for Amazing Spider-Man #39: it has a wonderful cover. It hits us in the face with three sensational developments, and teases us with a fourth. The Green Goblin is back; the Green Goblin has defeated Spider-Man and the Green Goblin knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. A very small line of text, at the bottom of the page, promises us a fourth surprise: we are going to finally find out who the Green Goblin is. 

It is hard to convey just how shocking this cover is when your grandfather hands it to you on a Saturday evening, along with your weekly ration of mint humbugs. In latter days, quite a lot of people found out who Spider-Man really was -- in the movies he is happy to rip off his mask in front of anyone and everyone. But in those days it was still the ultimate taboo. In this single image the Goblin is transfigured from the one villain whose identity Spider-Man does not know to the one villain who knows Spider-Man's identity.

But, sadly, very little comes of this sensational set-up. The Green Goblin discovers Spider-Man's true identity but within a few pages he forgets it. And until 1968, there the matter rests.

There are three components to any Spider-Man story: the pictures, the dialog, and the plot.

No-one need have any complaint about John Romita's pictures. He does his best to invoke Steve Ditko's iconography. His college scenes and Daily Bugle scenes could pass for Ditko if you weren't paying close attention. But that particular New York back street noir that Ditko excelled at is gone for good: Romita's New York is pretty much just a collection of gray skyscrapers, a painted backdrop for a student production of West Side Story. Ditko's thrilling aerial ballets have also departed: Spidey nonchalantly dangles on his webs with no particular sense of momentum. On the other hand, Romita is pretty good at crowd scenes: the civilians who watch Spider-Man fight the bank robbers have consistent faces and definite personalities.

The dialog is quintessential Stan Lee. There is an awful lot of it, and it is nearly all snappy; swinging between the melodramatically tragic and the tragically hip. There isn't that much Spider-repartee: the stakes are so high that the Goblin mostly talks like a James Bond villain while Spider-Man has an internal monologue about how much trouble he is in. 

"My compliments, Spider-Man. Too bad your power is not the equal to your courage." 

"He's toying with me! He feels so confident that he's warning me advance!" 

Ditko used to draw stuff that wasn't in Stan Lee's plot synopsis; but we should remember that Stan Lee often writes stuff which isn't in the pictures. This issue feels exceptionally dense in that regard. Romita hasn't bothered to keep up the running joke of giving J.J.J. a new secretary every month, so Lee drops in a little speech bubble where he references an off-stage "Miss Brown". Romita shows a mother and child in the crowd during the bank robbery, and Lee uses text to create a tiny little sub-plot for them. 

"Don't look at them Selwyn... you're too young for such an awful sight."

"Aww Ma...that fight's tame next to the kiddie shows on TV"

And in the next panel

"Wait ma... lemmee stay! It's just starting to get good!" 

"Selwyn! What would Soupy Sales say if he heard you?" 

(There seems to be quite a laboured in-joke going on here. The first season of Adam West's Batman TV series, with its famously camp fight scenes, had just finished its first run; and Marvel was gearing up to release The Marvel Superheroes cartoon series in the autumn. There were inevitable complaints about TV violence -- the UK version of Batman had to carry warnings telling kids not to try and emulate Batman's stunts. Selwyn's Mum considers Soupy Sales -- and old fashioned pie-in-the-face children's comedian -- to be a much more wholesome TV star. But the previous year, Sales had himself been accused of being a bad influence on children when he jokingly suggested that they should steal money from their parents and send it to him.)

Perhaps the best example of words and pictures working in conjunction comes during the Goblin's long monologue in issue #40. As Osborn, he repeatedly insists that he was an excellent father to Harry, while the pictures tell a different story: he was a neglectful father even before he became the Goblin. (Stan Lee makes it quite clear that Osborn is an unreliable narrator: could we legitimately infer that Prof. Stromm's exploding green potion had nothing to do with the Goblin's genesis? Osborn was a bastard before the flask blew up in his face, and he remained a bastard afterwards.)

But the actual story -- the plot -- is feeble, internally inconsistent, and padded. Peter Parker has a cold; the doctor gives him some pills; but warns him to protect Aunt May from any shocks or surprises. He goes to college: Harry Osborn is uncharacteristically pleasant and tells him how distant his father has become lately. Spider-Man fights some crooks, who turn out to be in the pay of the Green Goblin: they spray him with an incredibly contrived McGuffin (literally described as "The Gimmick") which deactivates his Spider-Sense. The Goblin follows him to the Daily Bugle and back to his house. At the Bugle, Ned Leeds is uncharacteristically pleasant, and Peter agrees to step aside and let Ned marry Betty if and when she comes home. There is a medium sized fight outside Aunt May's house, which ends with the Goblin knocking Spider-Man out with a special knocky-out-Spider-Man weapon. Why he didn't use it in the first place, no-one knows. Everything which has happened in the issue is a mechanical set up for the final page. The only reason that Peter Parker has a cold is to establish that Aunt May will die if she discovers Peter Parker's secret. ("Now, more than ever, I must see to it that she never learns my secret identity!") The cold magically goes away once Doc Bromwell has dispensed his plot point. The only reason for the college scene is to remind us that Harry has a father and that his father is not very nice. And the only reason for the bank robbery is so the thugs can use The Gimmick. There was a time when Spider-Man could beat up six criminals in a couple of panels; but this fight is padded out to five pages. It takes Peter another whole page to get out of his Spider-Man suit and into his street clothes. 

The reason for this is not hard to guess. For a year at the very least, Stan Lee has not been writing Spider-Plots; and from the very beginning, all the legwork was being done by Ditko. Romita is a perfectly fine illustrator, but he is not a writer. Lee has, I suppose, presented Romita with a Marvel Method outline and Romita has illustrated that outline. But he is not Ditko. He doesn't put stuff into the story which Stan hadn't even thought of. He just draws what Stan gives him. And Stan has given him so little that he has to take everything very slowly. A trip to the doctor's takes two pages and a routine fight with some thugs takes six. Stan Lee can see what everyone else can see: that it looks very pretty -- maybe prettier, in any conventional sense, than Ditko -- but it's very thin stuff. So he goes all out with the dialog; with adjectives and subplots and digressions. Look at the first panel on page 8: I make it four different NPCs who speak; on top of two bubbles worth of internal monologue from Spider-Man.

The Green Goblin's whole personality has been subsumed in his hatred for Spider-Man. Back in #28, he swore that he would never rest until Spider-Man was defeated; he is now ranting that "merely destroying him....simply crushing him like a worm...will not give me enough satisfaction." 

There is really no way to reconcile this with Norman Osborn's rather cold blooded monologue in issue #37: "Spider-Man almost ruined everything...Now his suspicions are aroused he must be disposed of" and again in #38 "I'm prepared to pay handsomely to insure that Spider-Man never interferes with me again." Osborn regarded killing Spider-Man as a means to an end; the Goblin regards defeating him as an end in itself. (In #38, Osborn was disguising himself with a false beard and dark glasses before meeting the mob; but sometime in the intervening period he has openly met with the bank robbers as the Goblin to give them the special Spider-Man-Defeating-Gimmick.)

I do not say that these different stories cannot be harmonized: any two contradictory stories can be harmonized. It helps that the Goblin is mad, maybe even schizophrenic. Perhaps the Osborn of Once Upon a Time There Was a Robot is not consciously aware of his Goblin persona. I do say that I wouldn't be trying to think up harmonizations if I wasn't looking at two texts which obviously contradict each other. 

In future installments Stan Lee will extract a large amount of suspense from the fact that Osborn knows who Parker is. But in this issue the Goblin, having discovered Peter Parker's name, his address, and his place of work follows him home and starts a fight with him. Think of all the horrid things he could have done. Gone to his friend Jonah and sold him the secret for a billion dollars. Told Spider-Man that if he didn't help him become Kingpin of Crime he'd tell Aunt May on him. Murdered one of his best friends. (Gwen Stacey, to take a random example.) But no. They have a fight.

Having captured Spider-Man, the Goblin goes full Republic Serial Villain. He decides that he might as well tell Spider-Man the whole story since he will never be able to share it with anyone else. The whole story is not very interesting: Norman Osborn was a nasty businessman; while working on an experiment some Green chemicals blew up in his face. He went mad and decided he might as well become a gangster. While he is talking, Spider-Man is trying to get free; but the Goblin decides to free him anyway. They have another fight. Parker is a bit stuck: he can't kill the Goblin in cold blood, particularly not now he knows he is Harry's dad; but if he doesn't kill him, he will reveal his identity to the police. Fortunately his adversary falls into a pile of chemicals which explode, and he forgets having been the Goblin altogether. 

Can you say "deus ex machina"

Romita spends a whole page showing us Spider-Man changing back to Peter Parker after the fight. Stan Lee has to give Peter Parker something to say during that clothes-change, and it can't very well be "Gotta grab my yellow shirt. Left arm, right arm, now the buttons..." So he starts to whinge. And whine. And waffle. 

"I've got to get to my room through the back window and change up there! Poor Aunt May! If..if anything HAPPENS I'll never FORGIVE myself! It will be because she was worried about ME! Why must I HURT everything I touch?? Uncle Ben! Betty Brant!! And now...Aunt May! Betty's female intuition must have made her leave me! She must have FELT that I'd bring nothing but HEARTACHE to those I love! The Amazing Spider-Man! ! Able to climb FIGHT, to RUN to THINK better and faster than any dozen ordinary men! Even those who HATE me envy my powers! My POWERS! What a JOKE! I sometimes think they've proven to be nothing but a CURSE! I'd change place with almost ANY normal everyday man! At least AUNT MAY wouldn't have to suffer for my secret!" 

This really makes no sense in terms of what has just happened. Peter Parker hasn't done anything wrong; he didn't phone home because he was unconscious and tied up by a psychopath who wanted to murder him. It might be that Doc Bromwell's warning about not giving Aunt May any shocks should have caused him to quit being Spider-Man (again) but if that isn't possible then there is no point in going off on a self-accusatory aria about a curse. Ditko ended the story of Spider-Man with him casting off his guilt, literally and metaphorically; but Stan Lee has redefined him as the character who whinges and whines and is guilty about anything everything. The Master Planner Trilogy basically never happened. 

In a sense, this isn't Stan Lee's fault. It was always going to be the case that the Master Planner trilogy would have been scribbled out, erased and overwritten. By 1966 Spider-Man was no-longer an experimental graphic novel: it was Marvel Comics biggest meal ticket, an ongoing saga that would clock up fifty, a hundred, five hundred more issues. And if there is one thing which an ongoing saga can never have, it's a Final Chapter.

And come back in a weeks time for the very, very final installment of the Spider-Project.

A Prolegomena To Any Future Discussion of the Green Goblin

Where were were on the morning Ditko quit?

Spider-Man #9

First appearance of Electro.

The reader is told in flashback that Electro is an electrical engineer named Max Dillon.

When Spider-Man unmasks Electro, he exclaims: "If this was a movie I'd gasp in horror and then I'd say 'Good heavens! The Butler! But this guy I never saw before.'"

Spider-Man #10

First appearance of the Big Man.

Both the reader and Spider-Man are encouraged to believe that the Big Man is J. Jonah Jameson; in a last minute twist, he is revealed to be Bugle reporter Frederick Foswell.

Spider-Man #14:

First appearance of the Green Goblin.

The reader sees the Goblin in his "shadowy, basement laboratory"; but his face is obscured (by a shadow and a piece of machinery) when he takes his mask off.

Spider-Man Annual #1

The Goblin is featured in a portfolio of Spider-Man villains. His anonymity is treated as his Unique Selling Point: "Unlike most of Spidey's other foes, the true identity of the Green Goblin is still unknown." 

Spider-Man #17

Second appearance of the Green Goblin.

The reader once again sees the Green Goblin in his lair, plotting his revenge on Spider-Man. Again, his face his obscured (behind the same piece of hi-tech as before.)

We also get a back view of the Goblin in an ordinary brown suit and purple hat but his hair is blacked out, so we don't know what colour or style it is.

Spider-Man #19 

The reader sees a rich figure in a green dressing grown plotting against Spider-Man. His face is concealed from the reader by a shadow.

Spider-Man #20

The mysterious figure in a dressing gown is revealed to be J. Jonah Jameson.

Spider-Man #23

Third appearance of the Green Goblin (we do not see him with his mask off).

First appearance of The Important Man At J.J.J's club. He wears a purple suit, has distinct reddish curled hair, and doesn't get any lines.
Spider-Man #25

Second appearance of Curly Haired Club Man.

Peter Parker sees him leaving J.J.J's office (having just taken out an advert in the paper). J.J.J says "See you at the club tonight" and Peter Parker identifies him as "someone important."

Spider-Man #26/#27

Final appearance of the Green Goblin during the Ditko era.

The Green Goblin is said to have revealed his secret identity to the Crime Master; but the Crime Master dies before revealing it to anyone else.

At the end of the story the reader sees the Goblin holding his mask in the air, vowing revenge on Spider-Man. His face is obscured by shadow.

A false trail is laid suggesting to both Spider-Man and the reader that the Crime Master is Frederick Foswell. He turns out to be a gangster known to the police and Jameson but not to Peter Parker.

Parker says:

"It's kinda funny: in real life when a villain is unmasked he isn't always the butler or the one you  suspected! Sometimes he's a man you didn't even know." 

Third appearance of Important Curly Haired Club Man.

Spider-Man #31

First appearance of Harry Osborn.

Harry is a minor character who replaced "Seymour" as Flash Thompson's accomplice. He wears a bow tie and has Curly Red Hair.

First appearance of The Master Planner.

The reader hears the Master Planner making masterful plans. The reader does not discover the Master Planner's identity -- we appear to hear his monologues from outside his secret base.

Spider-Man #32

The Master Planner's identity is revealed: he is Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man #36

First and hopefully only appearance of The Looter.

The reader sees Norman Fester acquiring super strength and taking on the identity of the Looter.

When Spider-Man unmasks the Looter, he has no idea who Fester is, exclaiming "I never saw him before in my life...The police will know how to identify him."

Spider-Man #37

First appearance and death of Prof. Stromm.

Important Red Haired Man From Club identified as Norman Osborn, former business partner of Prof. Stromm.

Important Red Haired Man From Club also identified as Father of Harry Osborn.

Prof. Stromm has a secret which no-one else knows, but is murdered by Norman Osborn before he can reveal it.

Spider-Man #38

Norman Osborn places a bounty on Spider-Man's head. He disguises himself in a green business suit, dark glasses and false beard before doing so.

On the morning Ditko quit, the question of the origin and identity of the Green Goblin stood as follows:
  • No-one knows who the Green Goblin is. The one person who ever knew, the Crime Master, is dead. 
  • The Green Goblin is someone whose face is worth hiding from the reader.
  • The colour of the Green Goblin's hair might give us a clue about who he really his. 
  • Norman Osborn is the father of a minor character, Flash Thompson's wing-man, Harry. 
  • Norman Osborn is a close friend of J. Jonah Jameson.
  • Norman Osborn is Not Very Nice. 
  • Norman Osborn has some means of silently escaping from upper windows without a ladder or rope. 
  • Norman Osborn is strong enough to knock out Spider-Man.
  • Norman Osborn stole unspecificed inventions from Prof. Stromm, and then framed him for an unspecified crime. 
  • Norman Osborn has unspecified "plans" which he feels both Prof. Stromm and Spider-Man could interfere with.
  • Norman Osborn does not mention any previous history with Spider-Man, even in his internal monologues.
  • Norman Osborn has a big secret, one which he was prepared to murder Stromm in order to conceal.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Amazing Spider-Man #38

Just a Guy Named Joe

Joe Smith

Supporting Cast:
Tommy Tomkins, J. Jonah Jameson, Jameson's Latest Secretary, Ned Leeds, Gwen Stacy, some student protesters, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Aunt May.

Peter Parker's Financial Situation
Jameson has not paid Peter yet for the photos he sold him "last month". This probably refers to the pictures of the Molten Man from issue #35. (He left the pictures with the secretary and told her to mail him the cheque.)

#38 must take place shortly after #37 because Norman Osborn is putting his plans to get to get rid of Spider-Man into operation.

If last month's story took place in the second week of October 1965, this probably takes place in the third week of the same month. Peter remarks that it is a Tuesday, which takes us to October 19th 1965.

By our calculation, Peter sold Jameson the pictures of the Molten Man on or about September 20th, which is certainly "last month".

p1 "Gowan, laugh at me now! You won't laugh later!"
p5 "I hate everyone! Everyone always laughed at me! But they won't laugh any more!"
Like the Looter two issues ago, Joe Smith looks at the world the way Peter Parker did in high school.

p3 "Holy smoke! Old Jameson has got another new secretary! She must be the third this week! And it's only Tuesday."
Making five altogether. This is the third secretary we've seen; two others must have been both hired and fired on Monday.

p 10 "Awww...Your cousin likes Lawrence Welks!"
Lawrence Welks was a singer and accordionist; he had a reputation for bland, "champagne" music. The Lawrence West Show was in its eleventh year. Why it is an insult to say that Peter has a relative who enjoys easy-listening music isn't quite clear: the implication is that Peter himself is old-fashioned ("squaresville").

It sometimes used to happen that Japanese cartoons were dubbed into English by writers who didn't themselves speak any Japanese. They just looked at the images, worked out what must be happening, and came up with appropriate dialogue. (This was also famously the case with the early English versions of Le Manege Enchante.) Sometimes a plot development, presumably explained in the original dialogue, would completely baffle the translators, leading to characters saying things like "Remind me, why are we fighting this giant robot?" "I have absolutely no idea!"

I was forcibly reminded of this while reading Amazing Spider-Man #38. Stan Lee is doing his best to translate from the original Ditko; but he seems to have no clue what is going on. He may be annotating the illustrations he has in front of him; but he has no more idea than the reader what is supposed to be occurring off-stage or beneath the surface.

Look at the political demonstration on page 10. Ditko was not likely to have been depicting radical student politics in a positive light but he must have intended the scene to be about something. The students must have been protesting for some reason; Harry, Flash and Gwen must be angry for some reason; and Peter must walk away for some reason. And we would expect it to have some narrative consequences; either in this issue, or in some future issues.

But Stan Lee apparently has no idea where Ditko is going with the scene or what it is doing in the middle of the comic. So he fills the panels with dialogue of almost Pinteresque inconsequentiality. We are told that the students are "protesting tonight's protest meeting". (There would, in fact, be nothing particularly odd or funny about there being a demonstration and a counter-demonstration.) When asked to join in Peter doesn't say "I actually think nuclear weapons help to keep the peace" or "I simply can't decide if I ought to be a hawk or a dove regarding Vietnam". He says "I have nothing to protest about". ("What are you" asks one of the students "Some kinda religious fanatic?") Another student claims that he wants to save the world — he doesn't say from what — but then admits that he is only on the demo because it gives him an excuse to miss his lectures. And finally a lady with red hair and heart shaped glasses says

"If you join our protest meeting, we'll join one of your sometime. And if you've nothing to protest, that won't stop us."

It's total nonsense. At a time when Dr King was organizing protests aimed at ending slums and segregation, Stan Lee imagines students protesting for the sake of protesting. But he can't be blamed. He had to fill the space around the pictures with something.

On page 14, Lee signals a scene shift with the words

"And at that exact, precise, self-same split-second (not that it would really make any difference if it was a bit earlier or a bit later)..." 

On the same page he writes a long, redundant caption stating that Spider-Man has just arrived in the boxing gym (over a clear picture of Spider-Man arriving in the boxing gym) and adds "Or, how wordy can you get!" On page 11, he actually types "Students! All together now! Switch scenes — switch!" where a simple "meanwhile" would have done fine. Pages 16 and 17 again depict a Big Fight with no dialogue but lots of sound effects: and once again, Stan Lee draws attention to the fact that this is not part of the story, but a practical choice by the guy controlling the typewriter.

"Okay, it's sound effects time again...And now we end our scintillating sound effects smiling Stan thanks you one and all for the brief breather you've allowed him!"

Lee's captions are no longer about scene-setting or exposition. And he isn't even (as sometimes happens, to great effect) telling a parallel story, a verbal countermelody to Ditko's visual one. The text has eaten itself. His captions are about the process of writing captions.

At his best, Stan Lee seems to talk directly to the reader and draw us into the action: we are excited by and care about what happens because Stan is watching alongside us and he cares about it too. But at his worst, Stan Lee deconstructs the comic; renders everything static and unimportant. If Story Teller Guy doesn't care any more, why should we?

Did Steve Ditko know he was leaving?

He left without bothering to draw a cover: that much is obvious. Some staffer has had to cut and paste the figure of Spider-Man from page 13 above panels from pages 7, 12 and 15 or there would have been nothing to print under the logo. And it looks very much as if he left without providing a splash page. Where we normally get a symbolic tableau which sums up the story; or a single panel that tantalizes us with the first big cliffhanger, issue #38 plunges us straight into the first four panels of the story. There is no fanfare from Stan Lee, no warning that this issue is trying out something a little bit different: just a perfectly standard caption on panel 1 about where this month's mildly terrific tale is going to begin. (But, curiously, the story runs to a full 20 pages: if there had been a splash page, it would have been a page too long.)

Did Ditko know he was leaving?

Lots of plot threads continue to develop and dangle. Peter and Gwen carry on being outwardly horrid but admit in their secret thought bubbles that they are falling in love. Ned Leeds comes home; but doesn't know where Betty Brant is any more than Peter does. Aunt May sets up another date with Mary Jane, and Peter Parker literally just misses finally meeting her. And the Mysterious Norman Osborn continues to act Mysteriously. This month he mysteriously puts a $20,000 bounty on Spider-Man's head. Before going to meet the Mob he mysteriously disguises himself — with a false beard and mustache and dark glasses. The dark glasses are green, to match his green suit. I wonder if this colour could possibly have any significance?

All these plot biscuits will be munched up by Stan Lee over the next few issues. This month, Peter Parker punches Ned Leeds in effigy; next month the two of them are mutually apologizing and acting like perfect gentlemen. This month, Harry Osborn is still "one of Peter's nastier classmates"; next month, they will be burying the hatchet and having a heart to heart about fathers, dead and absent. Betty's location is still a big mystery, but three issues from now she'll be back home showing off her engagement ring. This is the last time a convenient pot-plant will hide Mary-Jane Watson's face; a few months down the line she and Peter will be dating. And as to the mystery of Norman Osborn.... Let's just say Stan Lee will wind that up very quickly as well. It doesn't feel like Stan is continuing stories which Steve started. It feels much more as if he is pruning — not to say culling — all the dangling plot threads as quickly as he possibly can.

But why would Ditko seed the comic with so many set-ups if he wasn't expecting to be around to write the pay-offs? Was he deliberate mucking up Spider-Man's life's as a parting gift, setting up cliffhangers for Lee to sort out? Or is he planting seeds which he never got to harvest and which Lee was not interested in cultivating?

If he knew this was his last issue, why all the dangling threads? But if we are to imagine him flouncing out of the Bullpen after handing over 20 pages of a barely finished comic book, leaving Stan Lee to pick up the narrative pieces, then we are entitled to ask — what pushed him over the edge.

Did Ditko know he was leaving?

Just A Guy Named Joe is not a bad comic book: not as good as the robots issue which preceded it; but very much better than the pointless fights with which filled the three issues before that. It doesn't look or feel like an issue of Spider-Man, but then, how could it? At this point "Spider-Man" still meant Peter and Betty and Flash and J.J.J. and Aunt May — and they've mostly dropped out of the story. It will be some issues before Gwen and Harry and M.J emerge as a replacement story-machine.

"Spider-Man" also means the great canon of villains which have been established over the previous three years: the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus and all of the others. This issue manages to introduce one Joe Smith, a failed boxer turned movie extra who Spider-Man fights without knowing the reason.

Joe Smith isn't that far removed from poor Norman Fester from the issue before last. Both of them are losers. No-one took Fester seriously as a scientist, because, er, he wasn't one; and no-one takes Joe Smith seriously as a boxer because he's not very good at boxing. Both of them have an entirely pointless and arbitrary accident — the one getting sprayed with Science from the inside of a meteor the other getting an electric shock while standing in a pool of chemicals — and both end up with entirely uninteresting superpowers. Doctor Octopus has extra arms. The Vulture can fly. The Sandman can turn to sand. The Molten Man is very strong. The Looter is very strong and has a balloon. Joe Smith is just very strong

Should we conclude that Steve Ditko, left to himself, was great at drawing alleys and chimney pots but really crap at creating villains? Maybe Steve truly needed the "dreaming up" component of the  creative process which Stan provided. Perhaps Steve had just burned himself out after creating a run of ten fabulous enemies and the Molten Man? Or maybe he is at this point so cross with Stan Lee that he has stopped bothering. That's what was going to happen between Stan and Jack a few years further down the line. Jack turned around and said, in effect "Okay, if you aren't giving me the credits, I'm not giving you any more characters. You tell me what to draw and I'll draw it." The final year of the Fantastic Four wasn't very good.

Or is it possible that Steve is working out is frustrations? Just a Guy Named Joe is an angry comic, but it is hard to see quite what the anger is directed at. The moment when Spider-Man turns around and punches the waxwork takes us back to the End of Spider-Man and to the very first issue. There is a sense that the universe has thrown everything it has to throw at our hero, and then just twisted the knife just a little bit more. But it isn't news that criminals want to kill crime-fighters, and it isn't that surprising that a powerful mobster (in a completely insignificant green suit) might put up a big reward for the person who brings him Spider-Man's head on a silver platter. Next month, Spidey will be punching baddies three at a time and treating it as an enjoyable self-indulgence. He has every right to be sad that Ned is going to marry Betty; but it isn't quite clear why it bubbles up at that particular moment. Peter and Betty have been breaking up on a regular basis for at least nine issues. Somehow the fact that some crooks have tried to take him in for a reward; and the fact that Joe Smith has become a success without earning it; and the fact that he has broken up with his first love are condensed into a single angry punch. Peter Parker who does the right thing gets nothing. Joe Smith who happened to tread in some electrified chemicals and break a lot of furniture gets a movie career. 

Take that, Ned Leeds.

And perhaps this impotent Randian rage, this lashing out at inanimate objects explains the otherwise entirely pointless appearance of the campus political demonstration. They are also not protesting about anything in particular.

What are you rebelling against?

What have you got?

Spider-Man tracks Joe Smith down to his boxing gym, and has a big fight with him. Lots of the other guys in the boxing ring know about Norman Osborn's reward, so they attack Spider-Man as well. During the fight, Joe Smith's powers go away and he comes to his senses. The TV company he was working for when he got zapped with superpowers give him his job back, and pay for the damage he's done. Spider-Man leaves the scene and is pursued by another mob of bounty hunters. He sees the waxwork resembling Ned Leeds and takes out all his frustrations on it. He goes home, entering by the back door just as Mary-Jane Watson is leaving by the front. Peter watches a news report about Joe Smith's success and starts to whinge.

"That takes the cake! Not only will become a big star...but I'll seems worse than ever."

Aunt May advises him not to watch the news in case it gives him a nightmare, and Peter Parker turns his back on the audience and walks up the stairs.

"Not much chance of that in my case!" he whines "I only have the when I'm awake."

And that's it. It's over. Forever.

Ditko has left the building.