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 r
ead 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 an
d 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 fa
ther, 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 bo
ok 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 si
nce as one of the most powerful and moving stories in comics history.

Doug: Here, here and Amen.


Edo Bosnar said...

Great review, guys. You pretty much sum up my own thoughts on this truly outstanding story.
Just a few thoughts: while I agree with Doug's point about the potential need for a "breather" after this (instead of a slugfest with Luke Cage right after), I'm glad this story itself was "compressed". The fact that it was told in only two powerful issues is a testament to the craft of everyone involved.
Like I said before, I first read this in the Marvel Tales reprints a few years afterward, and I really liked that last page. To me, it really cemented the idea of Mary Jane as Peter's true one & only (even though they were having a sort of on-again/off-again relationship in the current Spidey titles at that time...)

david_b said...

Ah, our conclusion to this magnificent, comicdom-changing story. Also,one of my first comics.

Doug, Karen: Great thoughts and perspective. I totally understand what could be an extremely daunting column, commenting on 'greatness', but your ideas are as inspiring as usual.

Karen, I briefly reread your article for Back Issues, but couldn't verify how well the Osborne death was intended to occur so quickly after Gwen's demise. I almost think Gerry Conway waivered a bit on how to handle the mystery of the Goblin costume removal since, for a few panels, we had conflicting clues about who removed the Goblin costume (first Peter confessed that he shouldn't have removed it, then later scratched his head wondering who removed the costume..).

I totally agree on the depicted savagery of Peter's 'wumpin' of the Goblin. You can feel his years of hesitation, of fear, of worry, come out in each punch. Further depth was revealed in the police scene as Spidey held Gwen.

Doug, I see your point on the post-issue rest that should have been observed, and I agree that even the Osborne sub-plot perhaps could have surfaced more in the few following issues, since he was SUCH a major villain for nearly a decade. Funny that the Man-Wolf story came a few months after Spidey's run in with Marvel's Werewolf, but I know the Bullpen was plugging new potential titles, hence why the following Luke Cage story (while very enjoyable..) seemed somewhat out of place to me, especially immediately after the two dramatic deaths.

If I could slip it in here, the art in 121-122 is nearly flawless, with Gil's drawings and John's inking. The emotion, the sheer power of the fight sequences, you name it. Lots of great grittiness and shadows used to their full extent. I'd venture to say that this story is still the benchmark for all comic deaths to be compared to. All in all, not a bad feather in Marvel's cap. It's a shame Stan had to buckle to pressure by bringing Gwen back, but we've covered that too many times already, nor will I spoil my comments here to mention Norman's resurrection decades later.

But getting back to this tale, Karen you said it best: "A new direction had just begun for the book."


Doug said...

Edo --

I fully support your idea that it was best that this story was compressed -- told "old school". It gave it that emotional rollercoaster feel.


vancouver mark said...

As I said last week, these issues were my introduction to the title, and I was definitely hooked. I'd actually resisted buying Spider-Man to that point, even though I was buying FF every month and a few other Marvels. I knew Spider-Man from the cartoon and had found him annoyingly obnoxious. These two issues changed my impression pretty quickly.

But even at thirteen years, there were two things that didn't ring true to me - how could someone with such incredible super-strength beat another man's head so brutally hard without killing him, and would anyone ever use the adjective "worm-eating"?

Still, it was an incredibly powerful story. It was infuriating a year or two later when they did the Gwen Stacy clone crap.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Still digging that great Gil Kane art. His style was so fluid and dynamic. It was perfectly suited to Spiderman in this period. It's a pity actually he wasn't more of a regular artist for Spidey.

Doug said...

I am sensing that sooner or later we're going to have to do the Clone Saga around here. My Spidey collecting was real hit-and-miss early on. I can recall 137, 138, 141, and 146 pretty clearly. So the Clone Saga was going on through some of those issues, but it wasn't until I got my hands on the tpb years ago that I read the whole thing straight through (although that collection is a bit choppy, so as a collection I don't necessarily recommend it if you're a completist).

Keeping in mind that I was a johnny-come-lately to all things Gwen/Peter/10 years of backstory, I actually liked (and still do) the original Clone Saga. Saying that, I am very grateful that during the succeeding years of my comics-buying life that the Gwen-clone was never brought back. Do you think that was because of some mandate not to, or do you think later creators were deferential toward Conway's (and Kane's and Romita's) story in ASM #'s 121-122?


ChrisPV said...

When you read all of the old stuff up until this point, there's really nothing all that unique about the Goblin. His only real hook is that he knows Pete's ID, which was dependent on the whims of amnesia. He wasn't especially smart, or powerful, or even that visually interesting. This, right here, is where he steps out and becomes a major villain.

I've always said that the best thing he ever did as a character was kill Gwen Stacy, and then die immediately thereafter. He becomes the one who hurt Pete, and then is whisked away where he can't suffer any retribution. It made him into this larger than life figure, a force of nature who arrived in Spidey's life, wrecked it, and vanished never to return.

Hence why Marvel's resurrecting him was so, so stupid. Everything you see about Norman Osborn shows him as being fixated and totally incapable of not trying to kill Pete. If he had survived this, he wouldn't run off to Europe for fifteen years. He'd be back on the glider immediately. Hence why the whole Dark Reign thing rang so false. Osborn gets that kind of power, his whole day and night will be occupied with one project: find Spider-Man, make him suffer, and kill him slowly. Delayed gratification is not his strong suit, and amassing power hasn't been a goal in forever.

J.A. Morris said...

It's funny, I was too young to read these issues, my introduction to Gwen was 'Marvel Tales'#121, reprinting the first issue of the original Clone Saga. So Gwen was always "dead" when I read comics,Mary Jane was "the one".

Re Gwen's funeral:Gwen's Aunt & Uncle appeared in ASM #93, they could've planned the funeral. I'm guessing the Fraternal Order of Police or the NYPD would help plan funerals for family members of cops. The fact that the "planning" wasn't even mentioned in passing shows how much the creative team cared about Gwen as a character by that point.
I strongly recommend Mad Goblin's essays about the death of Gwen and the maturation of Mary Jane:

The resurrection of Osbourn was the worst thing to happen in Marvel's history. The revelation that he had a relationship with Gwen and she had his children was even worse. Norman HAD to die for killing Gwen.

I figure any day now, Spider-man will fight a villain who beats him within an inch of his life. The villain will then launch into a monologue, then unmask, revealing the face of Uncle Ben!

ChrisPV said...

If Gwen Stacy isn't back by the time the new movie hits, I'll eat my hat.

Andy said...

"Hence why Marvel's resurrecting him was so, so stupid. Everything you see about Norman Osborn shows him as being fixated and totally incapable of not trying to kill Pete. If he had survived this, he wouldn't run off to Europe for fifteen years. He'd be back on the glider immediately. Hence why the whole Dark Reign thing rang so false. Osborn gets that kind of power, his whole day and night will be occupied with one project: find Spider-Man, make him suffer, and kill him slowly."

And on the other side of the coin, I find it impossible to believe that Peter wouldn't go to all lengths, including sacrificing his own life, to bring Osborn down.

Fred W. Hill said...

Yow, wonderful overview of the 2nd half of this tragic classic. Conway, Kane & Romita were all in top form here, and it an emotional wringer. Like you, Doug, when I first read that last page I didn't quite understand what was going on either, I was a bit too young to figure out why Mary Jane closed that door, still inside, after Pete had just lashed out at her and told her to get lost. Re-reading it later, of course, it made perfect sense, and I'm so glad Conway didn't spell it out. Even re-reading the whole story decades later, I find my eyes tearing up (yeah, I'm too sentimental).
To be honest, I partly hate that they killed Gwen off, but on the other hand this was a well-told story with significant impact on Peter and his friends -- Harry becomes an enemy but Flash, a former rival, becomes more of a read friend as does Mary Jane, who of course also becomes more than just a friend.
As for the eventual resurrection of Norman Osborne, to my mind that happened in another Marvel universe, an insane place where Ms. Stacy willingly makes out with a smirking Goblin (ewww!).

Anonymous said...

Decompression?! Just what the doctor didn't order! I can appreciate wanting more of the story, but a little of what makes modern comics such a cheat could hardly improve upon perfection! We can all appreciate Mary Jane's growth in the issue, but she also went back to being the hip, happy honey in later issues too, before the wedding and Osborn's (still) ill advised resurrection turned the once venerable franchise in to a shadow of itself! Once upon a time though, there was magic in those pages!

William said...

One of the all-time great and shocking comic stories, IMO. A tragedy that could stand up to any other in literature. It had everything. A tale of true love. A petty villain driven by a need for vengeance. A lone hero facing unimaginable loss and a tragic set of events that leads to senseless death. Great and terrible at the same time. A true classic in every sense of the word.

Now, I have to agree with both of the last two posts. One of the things I like most about old-school comics is the fun and fast paced nature of the stories. Telling a complete and totally satisfying story in no more than two or three issues is truly a lost art today.

And I don't care what anybody says, none of that garbage with Gwen and Osborn ever happened in my Marvel Universe. Gwen getting busy with creepy old Norman was not the intention of the creators at the time. There is nothing that ruins comics for me more than major game changing ret-cons like "Sins of the Father", "The Other", etc. To go back and insert your ideas into someone else's work is the lowest form writing IMO. If your a highly paid "professional" writer you should be able to come up with your own original stories, and if you can't, you shouldn't be in the business.

Leave the classic stuff alone. No one would go back and ret-con Romeo and Juliet or Moby Dick. Those old Spider-Man comics are just about perfect the way they are, that's why they're called "classics"! They don't need to be "improved" by some modern day hack. Nuff said.

Doug said...

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.

I think everyone missed my point -- please re-read my comment above and put some emphasis on "in the next few issues". I never, ever, said that the story in #'s 121-122 should have been elongated. My comments were geared to the fall-out from the events of the two issues we've reviewed recently. If you've read those stories (#'s 123-125), and they are reviewed on this blog, then you'll know that there wasn't a heckuva lot of time for grieving. That, my friends, is what I'd have liked to have seen handled more slowly.


Fred W. Hill said...

I agree, Doug. Those following issues did include some powerful scenes of Peter dealing with his grief, such as that of Pete trying to get through a class but finally storming out or the one of him raging against yet another Daily Bugle headline accusing him of murder -- sure, his behavior and thoughts were immature, even self-pitying, but still all too human. Perhaps Conway made the right choice in not wallowing too deep into the pathos. Also, did it make much sense that after Peter left Harry a quivering wreck at the Osborne household, Harry was able to quickly pull himself together enough to make his way to Norman's hideout to witness that final confrontation and then remove the Goblin costume and put daddy in a business suit, which wouldn't have had the puncture wounds that killed Norman?
Truth to tell, those thoughts occurred to my 11 year old self when I first read those issues fresh off the newsrack, but still didn't detract from my enjoyment of them.
From our vantage point of nearly 4 decades later, I think we can view this as another step in the maturation of the superhero yarn in that Gwen's death was shown to have an impact on Peter's personality and outlook and she wasn't entirely forgotten within just an issue or two.

Matthew Bradley said...

Edo, you'll probably never see this so long after the fact, but just on the off chance that you do, I have to ask about your reference to the reprint. I've just read the version in MARVEL TALES #99 (January 1979), and after reading the post above, I am gnashing my teeth because the scene with Mary Jane that you mentioned wasn't there. It was one of several things they cut, including the "montage" of Gwen. What reprint were you referring to?

Anonymous said...

Very nice recaps! Interesting to look at comic books back when the characters were depicted as regular people with secret identities on the side.

Today the superheroes all seem thoroughly dysfunctional and impossible to relate to.

Retcons are why comic books will never be taken as seriously as the hardcore Comic Book Buys want them to be. The retcon about Gwen and Norman having an affair is just an untalented writer spraypainting graffiti on a work of art.

And Norman Osborn being alive and practically running the new Marvel Universe at times while Peter Parker just sort of shrugs and says "meh".

Marvel Comics paved the way for my adult interest in opera and other higer forms of art. Today's comics would hold no interest for my younger self.

MtlWebhead said...

Must have read these 2 more often than any other; it's like watching first Planet of the Apes; you know what will happen every step of the way but you are hooked; I got hooked via Marvel Tales serving as catch-up for early Spidey.
Only Daredevil 164, 181 had impact anywhere close to these two. Reading your reviews makes me wish I was 7 again.

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