Monday, October 13, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #245

"SACRIFICE PLAY!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Artists: John Romita, Jr. & Dave Simons
Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man begins his hunt for Lefty Donovan by speaking with District Attorney Blake Tower, but the D.A. is uncooperative. The wall-crawler next tries looking for info on Donovan at the Daily Bugle, but strikes out again. Finally, after additional weeks of searching, he visits Detective Lieutenant Lou Snyder, who provides Spider-Man with Donovan's file.

Meanwhile, a mysterious figure has completed Norman Osborn's strength formula, but it explodes in his face. He recuperates in the hospital while Spider-Man conducts his search, and then, after sneaking out and stealing a car, he heads for the Hobgoblin's former mansion on Long Island and enters a secret basement, where he dons the goblin's costume and heads for Times Square to get Spider-Man's attention at the same time the web-slinger is visiting Snyder.

Snyder informs Spider-Man of the Hobgoblin's rampage and the wall-crawler heads out to meet him. The goblin's strength gives him an unexpected edge, but Spider-Man soon regains the upper hand. He unmasks the Hobgoblin to find Lefty Donovan's face underneath, but just as Donovan is about to reveal the identity of the true Hobgoblin, his jet glider locks onto his feet and takes off, crashing him into a wall.

As the paramedics mop up, Spider-Man realizes that Donovan was simply a decoy, and the real Hobgoblin is still out there. And the Hobgoblin himself watches the news footage of Donovan's death, pleased that his guinea pig provided him with enough data to hopefully duplicate Osborn's formula again, this time without the resultant explosion.
The Sub-Plots: Betty Leeds finds Peter in the Daily Bugle's records room and insists that he join Ned and her for dinner. But when they arrive, it turns out the Leeds are trying to set Peter back up with Mary Jane Watson. Peter is evidently not over Mary Jane, as he thinks about both her and the Black Cat while they talk.
Additionally, as Peter and Betty leave the Bugle, they spy Jonah Jameson on his way out with a gym bag, which neither of them can believe. It's possible this was meant by Stern to be a Hobgoblin red herring, but Stern is on record as stating that being the Hobgoblin would be far too out of character for Jameson, so I'm listing the scene here instead of under "Hobgoblin Clues".
Hobgoblin Clues: The man behind the Hobgoblin's mask is still renting that summer mansion on Long Island, and has apparently retrofitted it with a secret sub-ground chamber housing a huge mainframe computer to monitor Donovan's vital signs via sensors. He has also rigged the place to explode and uses that capability when Donovan starts a chemical fire while working on Osborn's formula. The unmasked Hobgoblin wears a smoking jacket around the house and, seen from the back, has brown hair. Lastly, from the time he wakes up and escapes the hospital, Donovan is seen operating under a post-hypnotic haze as he becomes the Hobgoblin and challenges Spider-Man.
Continuity Notes: District Attorney Tower puts in an appearance here. For quite a while, back when Marvel cared to keep these sorts of things straight, he was a recurring character across the entire Marvel line. Here, Spider-Man tells him about the Hobgoblin, invoking issues 238, 239, and 244, but refusing to explain why the goblin has targeted exclusively Osborn facilities during his raids, out of loyalty to his friend, Harry Osborn.
The web-slinger tells Tower that he first fought the Hobgoblin "a few weeks ago" and additionally, three weeks explicitly pass within this issue -- a rarity for a Roger Stern Spider-Man comic, which are usually highly compressed to cover only a day or less per issue.
Spider-Man recalls learning in AVENGERS #235 that the Earth's mightiest heroes receive a stipend of $1,000 a week. Soon after, as he explores the Daily Bugle's file room, he thinks that no one has replaced Maggie McCulloch, the newspaper's previous librarian.

Lou Snyder puts in his final appearance of Stern's run here. Though not seen for some time, readers will recall that Snyder dates all the way back to Stern's early SPECTACULAR issues as a very minor supporting character, and one of the few friendly law-enforcement types in the wall-crawler's life. Snyder has apparently hit the gym since we last saw him, as he is much more trim and chiseled than the portly detective he once was.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "My original plan was to keep readers guessing [the Hobgoblin's true identity] at least an issue longer than Stan Lee had kept people guessing about the Green Goblin. Paul Smith (then artist of the X-MEN) told me that I should never reveal the Hobgoblin's identity. And I almost didn't." -- SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES TPB afterword, Marvel Comics, 1997

Tom DeFalco Speaks: "I told Roger, 'I’m going to keep a list of [Hobgoblin] suspects and I’m going to cross off guys as their times come, and when it comes time to reveal, you’ll tell me who you think it is, and if I agree, that’s who it’ll be. And if I don’t agree -- well, I’m the editor!'" -- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2009

John Romita, Jr. Speaks: "[Roger Stern] told me who he wanted [the Hobgoblin] to be, but it ended up being a different character anyway.

"I think at first it was Ned Leeds, then it was whoever it was in the book. I don't even remember who it was."
-- MODERN MASTERS VOLUME 18: JOHN ROMITA JR., TwoMorrows Publishing, 2008

Romita is almost certainly misrembering here. Stern and DeFalco are both on record as saying that Stern deliberately withheld the Hobgoblin's true identity from everyone (even Stern's own wife). Unless perhaps Romita is recalling Stern's original plan, per DeFalco (quoted in my review for issue #238), to have the hoodlum who found the Green Goblin's lair become the Hobgoblin.
The Spider's Web: More speculation as to the Hobgoblin's true identity! This time, readers suspect Jack O'Lantern, Donald Menken, Jonah Jameson, Lance Bannon, Kraven the Hunter, and "the mummified clone of Dr. Bart Hamilton's son's old girlfriend, who was killed by an allergic reaction to jet-glider exhaust fumes" (I can't quite put my finger on why, but I feel this one may be a joke).

Also, readers are mostly happy to see the Vulture back in issue 240, and one reader suggests that Amy Powell would make a good legitimate love interest for Peter Parker. Lastly, a dentist by the name name of Blumberg is happy to see that Kris Keating has an underling who shares that surname.

Also On Sale This Month: The Punisher is institutionalized in PETER PARKER #83, Spider-Man meets Jack of Hearts in MARVEL TEAM-UP #134, and then Spidey encounters the New Mutants in MTU ANNUAL #6.

My Thoughts: First off, I need to state that this issue is very special to me on a personal level -- it's the first comic book I remember owning in my life. According to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, it went on sale in July of 1983. I would've been a little more than four-and-a-half years old. Barely old enough to read the thing, but the pictures told me plenty. The scene in which Lefty Donovan drives back to the burnt-out mansion and descends into the Hobgoblin's mysterious lair stuck with me more than anything else as the eeriest imagery I had ever seen in my then-brief lifetime. I didn't quite understand the whole story, but I remembered it for years to come, so much that when I picked up the ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade paperback about ten years later, I recognized the artwork from this chapter as if I had just seen it the day before. And when something sticks with for that long, all through the haze of early childhood and into your teens, it's pretty amazing.
Stern continues to further the Hobgoblin storyline without actually bringing the Hobgoblin and Spider-Man into direct conflict -- but he tosses readers a bone with a fight between Spider-Man and a Hobgoblin -- just not the real deal. It's a nice way to satisfy those fans of costumed action while maintaining the Hobgoblin's mystique at the same time. And it's a very public battle, too. Until now, the Hobgoblin had remained a hidden figure, operating from the shadows, and in fact only participating in one fight so far, in the dead of night on a somewhat deserted street. Law enforcement has not even heard the name "Hobgoblin" until Spider-Man utters it to D.A. Tower.

But here, the goblin -- or at least someone in his costume -- appears in Times Square, makes the local news, and tests his strength against Spider-Man in front of numerous bystanders. And by the time the issue ends, the police are ready to close the book on him as a one-and-done costume lunatic who bit off more than he could chew and lost his life in the process. Only Spider-Man knows that Donovan was a patsy, having learned from Snyder's file that he was being questioned at the same time the wall-crawler had his first run-in with the real Hobgoblin. The plot has been furthered from the Hobgoblin's point of view -- he's tested Osborn's formula and seems confident he can replicate it without blowing up in the process -- but Spider-Man is back to square one, being the only person in the world who knows of the Hobgoblin's existence, not knowing when or how he will strike again. It's a nifty trick, advancing the overall storyline enough to satisfy readers while at the same time keeping your protagonist in a holding pattern so that he doesn't know too much, and Stern pulls it off quite nicely.

Lastly, this issue sets up an interesting potential plot point, which is sadly never revisited by Stern or anyone else. As Spider-Man leaves the District Attorney's office, Tower recalls that one of his earliest cases as D.A. was to clear Spider-Man's name in the deaths of George Stacy and Norman Osborn. And he now wonders why Spider-Man is chasing after a villain who has been exclusively raiding Osborn properties. I'm unsure if Stern intended this to be the seed for a future storyline, but I'm a little bummed it never went anyplace. An extended sub-plot featuring Tower trying to dig up dirt on Spider-Man and connect the dots between the web-slinger and the Osborns, possibly even leading to Peter Parker, could have been great fodder for the Spider-books of the era. But sadly, Stern's days on Spider-Man are numbered, and this plot is not to be.

Next Issue: Stern goes quirky in an interesting little tale called "The Daydreamers".

3 comments:

  1. Come to think of it, this issue is probably my family's earliest AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic possession (with exception to the MARVEL TALES reprints). Does your copy still have the cover and first two/last two pages?

    Y'know, I always liked the error of the Donovan-Hobgoblin's mask having red lips.

    J.M. DeMatties in his 'Diary of the Green Goblin' story in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL 14 had Harry Osborn's private demon be based on fiddling with his father's formula (as revenge for his neglect & abuse), with him believing the explosion/his father's madness and Green Goblin guise was all his fault. However, several people have noted Donovan's experience showed the Goblin formula's explosive effect as a natural side-effect in making the solution. Whether DeMatties' revelation was intentional (Harry's deep dark secret was much ado about nothing. What tragic irony!) or a continuity error is unknown.

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  2. Sadly my original copy of this issue is long lost. I mainly read it as part of the HOBGOBLIN LIVES trade paperback for years, then eventually re-purchased the single issue when I bought the entire Roger Stern run around 2000 or so.

    I didn't know that about the DeMatteis story. While I've read the vast majority of AMAZING issues from #1 to the high 500s, I have several blind spots in the sister titles. I've read some of DeMatteis' SPECTACULAR run, but not all of it. I would assume it's a continuity error, but your reasoning works as a No-Prize solution as far as I'm concerned!

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    Replies
    1. Oops, I meant the ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade, obviously, not HOBGOBLIN LIVES.

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