Tuesday, June 21, 2011
An Ending: Amazing Spider-Man #122
Amazing Spider-Man #122 (July 1973)
"The Goblin's Last Stand!"
Gerry Conway-Gil Kane/John Romita/Tony Mortellaro
Karen: I think that both of us here at BAB approached this story with a bit of trepidation; seeing as how it's the most significant story of the bronze age -the true initiator of said age? - we want to give it our best effort. Sometimes when we go back and read classics, they unfortunately don't hold up. But that's not the case at all with this story. In fact, last issue's ending was like a punch to the gut all over again. The impact was still there.
Doug: These two issues, Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122, are indeed classics, as you stated. You know, there are very few stories that "hold up" to the re-read as this does. I'd have to list Fantastic Four #'s 48-50 (and indeed you can stretch that five issues or more on either side, because the Surfer/Watcher/Galactus trilogy is in the midst of the best run of any comic book ever), Avengers #'s 57-58, and X-Men #'s 56-63 as ranking right up there with this 2-parter.
Karen: I have a confession to make: due to the spotty distribution of comics at the time, I got the first part of this story when it hit the stands, but not the second. I had to wait for a reprint to find out the end of the tale! But knowing Gwen had died was enough. It really changed the whole demeanor of the title for quite some time. It seemed like anything could happen; no one was safe, and while that was a little upsetting, it was also exciting.
Doug: I saw this issue first; had a friend who had a copy of it. I had no background at all for this, but remember being disturbed by the ending scene in the battle. Definitely rated R to my elementary-aged brain.
Karen: This issue picks up with Spidey cradling Gwen's body, then taking on the Goblin, filled with rage like we've never seen before. Unfortunately, it makes him reckless and the Goblin manages to get away. When Spidey then spots the police and a crowd gathering around Gwen's lifeless body, he flips out and comes between the cops and Gwen. He tells them to back off. One of the cops assumes he has killed Gwen, but another realizes that Spidey is grieving. Peter begins thinking about Gwen and Kane puts together a nice one page spread of Gwen and Peter together in happier moments.
Doug: As I said above, I saw this book first and didn't know much about Gwen. But the one panel in the lower right corner of Pete playfully chasing after Gwen, while Harry and MJ follow in the background spoke volumes for what Pete had lost. Even as a little kid, I'd seen enough Room 222 and Love: American Style to recognize a romance when I saw one.
Karen: But his memories of Gwen soon turn to guilt, as Peter blames himself for Gwen's death -and that of her father, Capt. Stacy. After the ambulance takes Gwen's body away, the police try to take Spidey in for questioning, but he tosses them aside like rag dolls.
Doug: Here's an everyday thought for you -- who would have made the arrangements for Gwen's funeral? We know from our reading of ASM #123 that there was a funeral, and attended by the entire cast of characters, but it's just sad to think that she had no siblings and no parents by this time. If you've ever had to do this, then you know there are a lot of arrangements to make in a short time. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do in a city the size of New York.
Karen: After the ambulance has departed, a visibly enraged Peter goes to Osborn's townhouse to finish things, but Osborn isn't there. He thinks he may get some info out of Harry, but Harry is still tripped out on the acid he took the day before. The two pages showing Peter seeing Harry, and then abandoning him, are pretty disturbing. Harry clearly needs someone, but Peter is focused on revenge. This was really not the Peter we knew at all -then again, he'd never been in a situation like this one before.
Doug: One, Gil Kane draws such smoldering eyes on Peter throughout this scene. The intensity of his anger... the reader can almost feel Pete about to burst. And two, I thought it very sad, and almost sickening (mostly because I knew what was coming), when Harry remarked that if Peter left, he'd be all alone. Moreso than you can imagine, Harry. Stuck in the midst of a crisis of "I think, therefore I am", Harry didn't know which side was up.
Karen: Peter- as Spider-Man - gets some help tracing Osborn to a warehouse from Robbie Robertson. I've said it before but I always thought Robbie knew that Peter was Spider-Man. He always treated Spidey with a lot of understanding.
Doug: I like Spidey as much as the next guy, and I know comics have to be organic and change. While I don't favor any of the changes that took place from the mid-1990's onward, I understand that a book can't get stagnant. My point is, that in my Spider-verse, you're right, Karen -- Robbie does know, and he becomes that aide to our hero as Ben Urich did for Daredevil. And one could mine a whole lot of material from a relationship like that. Funny -- Peter would continue to try to hide his ID from Robbie and JJJ, but Robbie would also have to hide his relationship with Spider-Man from Jonah. Lots of triangle relationships in there, huh?
Karen: Cue to Osborn inside his warehouse, ranting and raving. He hears a noise and thinks Spider-Man is waiting to ambush him from the front door. Of course, Spidey's too clever, and is actually waiting at the back door. He whacks the Goblin and mangles his glider. The Goblin grows furious that Spider-Man damaged his glider. This just makes Peter even more angry -he's lost Gwen, and the Goblin is upset over a machine? To make it even worse, Osborn begins to put down Gwen: "A simpering, pointless girl who never did more than occupy space." This infuriates Peter and he lays into the Goblin. Even today, the panels showing Spider-Man just pounding the Goblin almost make me flinch. You can feel Peter's anger and pain; never have we seen him so brutal.
Doug: I mentioned above the changes that have taken place in "modern" Spidey comics. Bringing Norman Osborn back ranks as one of the top two egregious resurrections (Bucky would be the other) Marvel's perpetrated. And look how differently Osborn's portrayed today, as this super-villain/godfather. I look at Osborn in the scene you mention above, and I see some wingnut on the verge of bankruptcy with no coping mechanisms, no way out of it -- not even through crime, and no future at all. I know that the Goblin started out as a rival to the Big Man and the Crimemaster, but think of Wilson Fisk in the late Silver Age: Osborn just is not in his league. So to think that after 25 or so years that he'd re-emerge as some sort of mythic dark lord capable of manipulating the Marvel Universe... fish ain't bitin' here.
Karen: I agree completely. At some point Marvel decided they wanted their own Lex Luthor and somehow Osborn became it. But I've always thought of him as a deluded psychopath, who could at times barely figure out how to drive to the supermarket, let alone be a criminal mastermind.
Doug: We mentioned last issue that it was hard to believe how Spidey was cutting loose against the Goblin; it's moreso here. He is really hitting him hard. And Osborn deserved every bit of it. Let's face it -- there's legal justice, and then there's just justice. Could this story have ended any other way? It's sort of the type of resolution Jim Shooter would demand for Jean Grey a decade hence -- the punishment would have to fit the crime. There was simply no way Osborn could be allowed to live to menace again. That's harsh, and borders on anarchical, but I think the creators here were right on.
Karen: Of course, being a good person at heart, Peter stops himself before he goes too far. He doesn't want to be a murderer like Osborn. As he backs away from the reeling Goblin, we see the twisted glider raise up in the air. Osborn has it under remote control, and it's headed straight for Peter's back. His spider sense alerts him in the nick of time and he ducks. The glider instead impales the Goblin to a wall, killing him. Peter realizes that the Goblin's death has brought him nothing. He walks away, feeling empty.
Doug: What a powerful scene, and intensely violent. I guess it never occurred to me until this particular read, but if you look at the subtle sputter of the glider's engine after it's impact on Osborn's chest, you have to realize that the engine is still driving the machine forward. So not only has the sharp, bent "head" of the glider pierced Osborn's chest, but it becomes further imbedded in each of the subsequent panels. There are four of these drives, and then when the engine finally dies Osborn falls on top of it, again with it embedded in his chest. It's really quite a horrific death, and one I'd argue is more violent than the bloody end shown in the Spider-Man film, where the blood did all of the work. Here it's your mind, and like the soundtrack in Jaws, that's good writing. Let your mind tell you the story, not your eyes.
Karen: The final page of the book gives us a glimpse of the future. Peter returns to his apartment, where Mary Jane has been waiting for him. She tries to tell him how sorry she is about Gwen but Peter snaps at her, saying she doesn't really care, and tells her to leave. At first she heads towards the door, in tears -but then, she turns back, and stands by a sobbing Peter. A new direction had just begun for the book.
Doug: I didn't get that scene when I was little, but as I said I didn't have all of the backstory. What a watershed moment not only in the Bronze Age of comics, but in the life of Mary Jane Watson. Pete, although cruel, has her pegged perfectly. And then she goes and does exactly what she's not "supposed" to do. Gerry Conway made a nice save of a tragic situation with that last panel or two, although I know the fans certainly didn't see it that way at the time.
Karen: This was a devastating read. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to read it at the time. There's no happy ending, no real victory -just shock and emptiness. Even in this issue's letter column, there was a special bullpen note that said the events of the last two issues had cost Peter much, including his innocence. That's exactly how it feels. The real costs of being Spider-Man are made plain here. And yet... Peter continued to be Spider-Man. He struggled with Gwen's death but never gave up his role as a super-hero. Of course, Marvel had a title to put out, but I like to think it demonstrates Peter's ability (and by extension, all of our abilities) to overcome terrible losses.
Doug: Don't shoot me, because I know you can't believe what I'm going to say... This storyline could have been greatly enhanced by some decompressed writing in the next few issues. Instead we got Luke Cage wanting to beat our hero's brains in, and then the Man-Wolf 2-parter. Both are good stories, but how about some Spidey angst? As characters we've loved, why not take the opportunity to delve into the way each member of the cast dealt with this loss? How about the Torch or DD coming to Spider-Man for succor? Again, can't believe I'm saying this, but I could have used a 6-issue trade paperback that would have been very emotional and psychological. Maybe if you had to have the hero angle, Johnny and DD could have pinch-hit against some of Spidey's rogues. But perhaps this is an "untold tale" yet to be written. Anyway, it was just back to "Biff! Pow!" in 30 days, and I'd have liked to have seen more of the funeral, Pete's grieving process, maybe to have read Gwen's obituary, etc.
Karen: I'll put these two issues up there with anything before or since as one of the most powerful and moving stories in comics history.
Doug: Here, here and Amen.