Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Story Title: “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin”
Published: 9 April 1964 (cover-dated July 1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
In 1962, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee followed up on his success with the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man; his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles and Spider-Man’s popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comics. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most devious and iconic enemies is the Green Goblin; although a number of people have assumed this elf-like guise, the most famous face behind the mask is Norman Osborn, industrialist and father to Peter’s best friend. Stan Lee’s initial pitch was very different from what the Green Goblin turned out to be, and he continued to clash with artist Steve Ditko over the character’s true identity. Although his identity was initially a mystery, the Green Goblin would go on to be a central figure in many of Spider-Man’s most prominent storylines and a recurring figure in Spidey’s life both in and outside of comics.
According to the issue’s first splash page, the Green Goblin came about after a concentrated effort by the Marvel writing staff to deliver “the greatest 12¢ worth [they] can” and wastes no time in introducing readers to “a really different villain” by opening with the shadowy wrongdoer hard at work in his high-tech basement laboratory. There, the mysterious Green Goblin puts the finishing touches to his “flying broomstick”, a rocket-powered flying device that completes his fearsome, colourful costume. With his look complete, the Green Goblin meets with the Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and Ox), a trio of the city’s most notorious gangsters, and coerces them into working for him to defeat Spider-Man (who previously got the Enforcers arrested some time prior to this story) by intimidating them with sparks shot from his fingers. Strangely, the Green Goblin’s plan involves offering struggling filmmaker B. J. Cosmos the chance of a lifetime: a sure-fire action movie with the Green Goblin and the real Spider-Man as the stars!
We then catch up with Peter Parker, who’s in a far better position, socially at least, than usual; not only did he get a 100% score in his last exam, but his intelligence earns him the admiration of Liz Allen, who not only coos over him but actually stands up to Eugene “Flash” Thompson when the football star continues to mock Peter for his lack of physical acumen. Peter’s surprise at seeing Liz leap to his defence and joy at seeing Flash taken down a peg or two is cut short when he hears news of the Green Goblin flying around the skies of Manhattan, so he quickly dashes off to confront the garishly garbed goblin as Spider-Man. Rather than getting into a fist fight, however, the Green Goblin tells Spidey about the movie opportunity and, despite his better judgement, the web-head goes to check it out and finds that the filmmaker is willing to pay him $50,000 to star in a movie that pits him against the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. Despite the fact that the last time he cashed in on his spider powers, Peter learned a harsh lesson about using his abilities responsibly, Spider-Man actually agrees and signs a contract since the cash would allow him to provide for his beloved Aunt May. Although receptionist Betty Brant isn’t best pleased at her man socialising with Hollywood starlets, and Aunt May worries about him making a big trip out to California, Peter is not only given license to get out on his trip but even assigned to cover the movie shoot by editor J. Jonah Jameson, thus promising even more profit from the gig.
Upon arrival, Spider-Man is amazed at B. J.’s make-up effects and doesn’t suspect that anything’s amiss (so much for his much-lauded spider-sense…), but quickly learns that he’s blundered into a trap when the Enforcers attack him during a “rehearsal”. Spider-Man’s agility and spider-sense help him to largely avoid the trio’s attacks, but he’s several disorientated when the Green Goblin tosses stun grenades at him and deftly avoids his web shooters thanks to his…*sigh*….rocket-powered broomstick. This gives the Enforcers the opportunity they need to dog-pile him, pummelling him mercilessly and leading to a common sequence where Peter musters all of his spider strength to throw them off and then whips up a “man-made dust storm” to temporarily blind his foes. The story then jumps back over the New York to find Aunt May already writing a letter to her nephew, Liz again standing up for Peter to Flash, and Betty continuing to suspect that Peter’s cheating on her over in Hollywood; I guess the point of this is to show that the never-ending drama in Peter’s life continues to churn over even when he’s not around, but the leaps in logic these characters make never fails to astound!
Thankfully, the story quickly returns to Spider-Man’s plight; the web-slinger takes cover in a nearby cave to catch his breath and ends up being trapped inside by, and with, the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. One by one, Spider-Man picks off the Enforcers; he nabs Montana, webs up Fancy Dan, and knocks out Ox with a single punch to the jaw, but the Green Goblin is not so easily ensnared thanks to burning away Spidey’s web net with his broomstick. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, who else should randomly appear in the cave but Doctor Bruce Banner’s enraged alter ego, the Incredible Hulk! Naturally, the Hulk attacks Spider-Man on sight and goes on a rampage, much to the Green Goblin’s glee. When Spider-Man’s attempts to reason with the Green Goliath fall on deaf ears, he’s forced to rely on his agility to avoid the Hulk’s attacks, stunned to see the beast tear through his webbing, and succeeds only in almost breaking his hand when he wallops the Hulk in the face! Realising that he can’t reason with or out-fight the Hulk, Spider-Man puts his health (and life) at risk by tricking the Hulk into smashing the boulder and freeing them from their confinement.
Now back out in the open and able to swing again, Spider-Man turns his attention back to the Green Goblin; however, he’s too weak to properly overpower the Goblin’s broomstick and ends up falling to the water below. When he spots the Hulk heading back into the cave, Spider-Man is duty-bound to rescue the Enforcers before the Green Goliath can find and hurt them, and flees the scene to confront B. J. over his business associates. B. J. is aghast that the army would arrest his stars, but quickly hits on the genius idea of trying to sign the Hulk to an exclusive contract as a replacement antagonist. When Spidey arrives to talk about his fee, the web-slinger is left out of pocket due to the film being cancelled and given just enough money to cover his trip back to New York. Rather than be concerned about the Hulk being free out in the desert or question his willingness to sell his abilities out for fame and fortune, Peter returns to the city and ponders where and when the mysterious Green Goblin will strike next. Speaking of Spidey’s fiendish new foe, the story ends with the Green Goblin returning to his lair and lamenting his failure to destroy the web-spinner and position himself as the new head of a worldwide criminal syndicate. Still, the experience (and the unexpected appearance of the Hulk) teaches the Green Goblin the valuable lesson that one can never think of everything, but he consoles himself in his anonymity and resolves to strike even harder in his next criminal escapade.
Um…okay, so…Marvel claim, right from the first page of the story, that the Green Goblin will be this big, impressive, unbelievable new foe for Spider-Man and the fiend’s big debut plot is to trick Spider-Man into signing on the a film so the Green Goblin and his unimpressive goons can try and beat him up. I mean, as far as villainous plots go, it’s hardly tossing your girlfriend off a bridge or murdering countless innocents! While the Green Goblin would eventually live up to his hype and become arguably Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain ever, you’d never know it from this first issue; and you can’t even say that Marvel didn’t know how to debut new Spidey foes at the time as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus made a much more impressive debut that same year some months prior and he came across as a far more formidable foe.
Just about the only thing that the Green Goblin has going for him is the question of his true identity; when he’s not wearing his mask, his face is constantly obscured or in shadow and I can imagine this was incredibly intriguing at the time as it was uncommon for us readers to not know who Spidey’s villains were behind their colourful costumes. Rather than flying his iconic glider, the Green Goblin straddles a ridiculous rocket-power broomstick and tosses stun grenades instead of his trademark pumpkin bombs; he doesn’t seem to exhibit any superhuman powers, and yet is able to intimidate the Enforcers just by causing some sparkles to fly from his fingers (an ability that doesn’t show up again this issue and appears to have no actual function). The Green Goblin barely even fights with Spider-Man; instead, he sets the Enforcers against him, and these three are incredibly underwhelming characters. Sure, Ox is a brute and Montana has his trusty lasso and I guess Fancy Dan is supposed to be quite agile, but they’re never really portrayed as an actual threat even when they have the numbers advantage.
Then there’s the nonsensical inclusion of the Hulk! Now, I get it; Marvel loved to cram in random cameos from their other characters into stories at the time, and it’s incredibly possible that there’s more context for his appearance in his own comic, but all he really does is completely overshadow the Green Goblin and the main plot. Not only that, but Peter acts really out of character here; he signs up for a movie deal without hesitation despite his vow to use his powers responsibly rather than for personal gain and is not only easily duped by the Green Goblin but is spider-sense is unreliable, at best, at warning him of the obvious dangers around him. The action is pretty good, to be fair, but then it always is in Spider-Man comics; ultimately, this is a good showcase for Spidey as you get to see him hold his own against the Hulk, but the entire selling point of the story was the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and we get so little of that that the Goblin may as well have not been in the story at all. This is the very definition of style over substance; the Green Goblin is mysterious and colourful but hardly makes a great first impression and the story is full of filler, nonsense, and overshadowed by the Hulk. This could have been a cool opportunity to have this strange, maniacal imp-like villain torment Spider-Man and constantly give Spidey the slip but, instead, we get this weird plot about him duping him with a movie deal, and then Spidey just checks out of there rather than trying to chase after him, resulting in an inauspicious first appearance for someone who would become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes.
Could Be Better
What are your thoughts on the Green Goblin’s inauspicious debut? Were you a fan of the villain at the time or did he win you over in a different story (and, if so, which one?) What did you think to Peter’s willingness to sign up for a movie deal and shirk his responsibilities? Who is your favourite Spider-Man villain and why? What did you think to the Hulk showing up in this story? Whatever your thoughts on the Green Goblin, sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!