Wednesday, September 17, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #238

"SHADOW OF EVILS PAST!!"
Scripter: Roger Stern | Artists: John Romita, Jr. & John Romita, Sr.
Traffic Manager: Virginia Romita | Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Andy Yanchus
Editor: Tom DeFalco | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: As they leave a City office, Peter, Aunt May, and Nathan are nearly run down by a sedan full of bank robbers. Peter changes to Spider-Man and pursues, taking out all but one of the robbers, Georgie. When Georgie flees into the sewers, Spider-Man opts not to pursue, and heads home, little realizing that Georgie has stumbled onto a secret tunnel which leads him to one of the Green Goblin's old lairs. Later, Peter delivers photos of the morning's events to Joe Robertson at the Daily Bugle. Meanwhile, Georgie sells the Green Goblin's secrets to a mysterious figure.

As Robbie gives Peter a ride to Aunt May's house for dinner, word comes in that the Osborn Manufacturing warehouse where the car chase ended is on fire. Robbie and Peter head that way, and Peter discovers the recently looted Green Goblin lair beneath the building, which firefighters observe does not appear on the building's original blueprints.

That evening, the mysterious figure kills Georgie after all of the Green Goblin's gear has been unloaded from his van. He spends the night reading the Green Goblin's journals, and the next morning he tries out some of the deceased villain's gear and then dons a modified version of the Goblin's costume to become -- the Hobgoblin.

The Sub-Plots: Peter attempts to call Aunt May, but is unable to get through because she's on the line with her longtime friend, Anna Watson, in Florida. Anna's niece, Mary Jane, has been staying with Anna for several months (though missing from the series for years in real time) and puts in a brief appearance.
Later, Aunt May cryptically thinks to herself that "[Nathan] never lost a child like I..." Don't gold your breath for this comment to be addressed any time soon, however. Stern would not return to follow it up for about another thirty years!

Hobgoblin Clues: Georgie the hood sells the Green Goblin's secrets to a shadowy figure in a trench coat and hat, who is intelligent enough to rig a remote controlled bomb on a van, and cold-blooded enough to use it while Georgie is inside. The mystery man is also a Caucasian who demonstrates a head for business, or at least common sense, as he considers that Norman Osborn must have been insane since he kept the "goblin glider" to himself rather than marketing and selling it for a fortune (though he also immediately realizes the secret thrill to be had from being the only person to possess such a device).
He also knows how to mold a mask from a material called Plastex. He creates his Hobgoblin costume and tests the gear in what appears to be an apartment inside a run-down tenement, identified to be in lower Manhattan, though it's unclear if he lives there as the place is barely furnished and he claims to "well know" the need to escape from the constraints of society.

Continuity Notes: Peter notes that Aunt May opened her boarding house in MARVEL TEAM-UP #124. In the same scene he also recaps his origin, specifically what he perceives as his complicity in the murder of his Uncle Ben.
When Peter and Robbie arrive at the Osborn warehouse fire, they find that Lance Bannon is already present, having photographed the incident for the Daily Bugle.
A sign outside of the Osborn warehouse states that the company was established in 1962, possibly a reference to the Spider-Man first appearing that year (though if it were up to me, I would have chosen 1964, the year of the Green Goblin's first appearance). When Peter learns that the warehouse belonged to Osborn, he recalls the original Green Goblin's identity as Norman Osborn, father of his college roommate, Harry.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "To maintain [an] air of mystery, I didn't even name [the Hobgoblin's civlian identity] in the plot to ASM #238. To be honest, I hadn't really decided who he was when I described him to John Romita Jr. as a mysterious, shadowy figure. But then, a funny thing happened. As I was scripting that first story, searching for the character's proper 'voice,' I figured out who he was." -- SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES TPB afterword, Marvel Comics, 1997

John Romita, Jr. Speaks: "It was a thrill to be working with my father. I think it was a thrill for him to be working with his son. He made me look so good!" -- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2009

Tom DeFalco Speaks: "Originally, when Roger proposed the idea of the Hobgoblin, I think it was supposed to be the thief who found all the stuff. Now, the way I remember it, I said to Roger, 'Why don’t we keep it a mystery? The guy who finds the stuff, let him go to somebody else mysterious, and then we go from there.' I would love to take more credit, but the truth is, all the creativity came from Roger." -- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2009
The Spider's Web: This issue's letter column is actually a bonus feature for the Omnibus. Per collection editor Cory Sedlmeier, "ASM #238 had a letters page typeset and shot along with the rest of the issue's film, but it didn't see print." So Sedlmeier included it in the Omnibus three decades later for posterity's sake.

Among these lost letters from yesteryear are a long review of issue 233's first installment of the Brand Corporation/Tarantula story, as well as a couple shorter missives on the same topic. One reader also believed Ben Urich to have been killed in DAREDEVIL #179, and is urged to seek out issue 180 to see his survival (which means, since these letters were never printed, that poor reader probably still thinks Ben is dead to this day). Lastly, a blurb advertises the return of the Black Cat in PETER PARKER issues 74 - 76.

Also On Sale This Month: The Black Cat is grievously injured in PETER PARKER #76, then Spider-Man meets the Watcher (!) in MARVEL TEAM-UP #127.

My Thoughts: And so begins the mystery which captivated Spider-Man readers for the bulk of the eighties. Full disclosure: In the My Twelve Favorite Marvel Comics Runs post last year, Stern's Spider-Man made second place. I declared the run "...hands-down, the textbook for crafting the adventures of a solo superhero." And while I believe that about the entire series of issues in general and the full AMAZING run in particular, specifically I believe that the Hobgoblin storyline, running from here to issue 251, is the high watermark of Stern's time with Spider-Man. These early Hobgoblin stories (issues 238-239, 244-245, and 249-251) are easily the AMAZING issues I've read more than any others, by way of my battered and dog-eared ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade paperback acquired when I was around fourteen years old, back in 1993. It's the book that I lent out to anyone and everyone who wanted to know why I liked Spider-Man so much, and it's the book I kept going back to whenever I needed to remind myself why I was such a fan.

So, with the above disclaimer out of the way, let's focus on the issue at hand: It's a relatively "quiet" story, considering that it sets up a major new foe for Spider-Man. There are no colorful villains to be found until the last page, when the Hobgoblin reveals himself to the readers. The only action to be found is the brief chase sequence near the issue's start. Beyond that we get a look into Peter Parker's personal life, the advancement of a few sub-plots, the first on-panel, non-flashback appearance of Mary Jane Watson in years, and of course the debut of a new mystery character who calls himself the Hobgoblin.
But Stern pulls all this off so well, with a script that magnificently complements the dark and moody artwork by the Romitas, that this low-key story is just about perfect. The story feels important, like the start of something big. Most of the action takes place on a cold, dark, blustery afternoon or later on that same cold, dark, blustery night. The dismal weather sets the stage for the debut of a deadly new enemy, and everything comes together perfectly. The presence of John Romita, Sr., on inks -- a man who, while he did not create the original Green Goblin, certainly participated in the illustration of his most definitive appearances -- adds a certain sense of "officialness" to the proceedings (not to mention complementing his son's pencils beautifully).
On the scripting front, the main thing that I've always appreciated about this tale is how Stern gives us a seemingly innocuous flashback to the death of Uncle Ben as the story opens -- presumably as one of those "every-so-often" recaps for readers who may have come along recently and don't know Spider-Man's full backstory -- and then recalls the flashback later in the issue as Peter realizes that he may have done it again -- by leaving Georgie for the cops rather than continuing his pursuit into the sewer (something I've pointed out before as a common tactic for Spider-Man when he has better things to do and believes whatever quarry he's after will keep until later), he could be indirectly responsible for unleashing a new Goblin on the world. It's a great touch, turning the obligatory refresher flashback into an important story element.

Lastly -- this issue introduced me to the concept of an egg cream, as Peter, Aunt May, and Nathan are on their way to get one when the car chase passes them by. I remember reading that as a kid and thinking it was supposed to be "ice cream" but the letterer got it wrong. Years later I found out an egg cream is an actual thing, pretty much exclusive to New York, apparently. They sound interesting; I'd love to try one someday.

Next Issue:

3 comments:

  1. You omitted mentioning perhaps the most important Hobby Clue, namely that the most distinct change he makes to the Goblin outfit is dyeing the clothes part of it. And a gorgeous outfit it becomes.

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    1. Y'know, I'm not sure how I missed mentioning that!

      The funny thing is that Stern says he didn't figure out who the Hobgoblin was until he was scripting over Romita's finished art for this issue -- meaning that the Hongoblin's fashion sense turned out to be a happy coincidence!

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  2. You kind of can imagine Stern first scripting the business-like notions of Hobby, and then scripting his thoughts over the dye job, and it just dawning to him: "Oh no... the Hobgoblin CAN'T be HIM!".

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