Thursday, May 14, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #261 - September 1998

Goblins at the Gate Part 3 - Bad Business
Credits:  Roger Stern (plot), Glenn Greenberg (plot/script), Luke Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  The Green Goblin prevents Hobgoblin from unmasking Spider-Man, demanding he take his brother Daniel and go.  At their secret meeting place, Hobgoblin soon realizes that Norman Osborn already knows Spider-Man’s secret ID.  Osborn then reveals that he knows Hobgoblin was lying about having another copy of his journal.  When Osborn boasts that he’s already gained control of Roderick Kingsley’s corporate empire, Hobgoblin lashes out.  Their fight starts a fire in the warehouse, but Spider-Man is able to escape with Daniel Kingsley.  During the subsequent battle inside the warehouse, Spider-Man catches an obstructed view of the new Green Goblin’s face, Norman Osborn and the new Green Goblin escape, and Hobgoblin slips away while Spider-Man rescues firefighters from a collapsing wall.  Later, Roderick Kingsley relaxes on a Caribbean beach.

The Subplots:  An irritated Betty is unable to find Peter while she investigates the case.  Later, an exhausted Spider-Man is incapable of giving her a comment when he exits the burning warehouse.

“Huh?” Moment:  Hobgoblin doesn’t have time to unmask Spider-Man, but he does have time to grab some of Spidey's excess webbing, wrap it around his body, and pick Spider-Man up and fly away with him to his next destination.

Review:  Unfortunately, the finale turns out to be the weakest chapter of this arc.  I don’t mind the initial cheat that prevents Hobgoblin from unmasking Spider-Man (as the story points out, Osborn already knows his secret ID, plus the scene is a clever hint that the mystery Green Goblin is a friend of Spidey’s).  However, the subsequent cheat mentioned above is just ridiculous.  Hobgoblin has a good five minutes to take off Spider-Man’s mask, but instead he goes through an elaborate procedure to tie Spidey to his glider, just to (hopefully) unmask him later.  Would it really have been so unthinkable to actually reveal Spider-Man’s secret to Roderick Kingsley?  If you’re ending the story with Kingsley, again, retiring from supervillainy, that means the plot development isn’t going to have any immediate ramifications anyway.  It’s just a piece of info that Kingsley could file away for the future, a threat that lingers over Spidey’s head that could be paid off in a later story.  It would also add more significance to this arc, which is largely an exercise in illusion of change as it turns out.  The only real plot advancement is Kingsley’s release from prison, which merely leads to him retiring on the beach again (which I think is exactly where he began in Spider-Man: The Hobgoblin Lives!)

Another annoyance -- the identity of the mystery Green Goblin is almost exposed, but of course no actual revelation is made.  How annoying did this mystery Green Goblin plot turn out to be?  I’m not blaming Stern and Greenberg since I know they inherited this plotline, and it’s also my understanding that they actually wanted to resolve the mystery.  Someone at Marvel should’ve had the good sense to listen to them, because as a mystery, or just a basic story, this all amounts to nothing.  Osborn isn’t the Goblin anymore, a man in the shadows is brainwashed into taking his place, the stories hint that it could be either Flash or Harry Osborn, and then…nothing.  It’s time for a different series of half-baked mysteries that have no real resolution.

Making this worse, Norman Osborn never appears as the Green Goblin during the story arc.  He does get into a physical altercation with Hobgoblin, and appears in one panel wearing the mask and flying away on the new Goblin’s glider, but that’s all we get.  Was it unreasonable for me to assume that the first meeting between the original Green Goblin and the original Hobgoblin would involve a vicious battle between the two of them…as the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin (no stand-ins allowed)?  Did Marvel have an editorial edict that Norman Osborn couldn’t appear as the Green Goblin at this time?  If not, it’s hard to understand why this arc didn’t deliver on such a basic expectation.

So, yeah, the finale doesn’t live up to the promise of the earlier chapters.  I feel obligated to say that I didn’t hate this chapter, I just think it wimped out.  There are still moments to enjoy, such as Spider-Man’s efforts to save the firefighters even though it means letting Hobgoblin go, and MJ’s little speech to Peter at the end that eases his hurt feelings.  (Why other writers couldn’t realize that MJ works much better in this role than as his shrewish, no-fun wife I’ll never understand.)  Betty and Flash are also used well throughout the arc, even if the storyline ultimately doesn’t have an impact on either character.  The supporting cast is still present in the story, adding some humanity and making their presence felt.  Just like the previous chapters, this really does feel like “Classic Spidey,” regardless of my issues with specific plot points.


Matt said...

Hmm... I step away for a week and I miss "Goblins at the Gate!" I'm with you on pretty much all of this. The story does a lot right, but ultimately doesn't deliver. And I do think editorial had a lot to do with the problems. Stern himself has said that he and Greenberg were ordered not to unmask the Green Goblin stand-in, though with the titles ending and Osborn soon to become the Goblin again in "The Final Chapter", I can't understand the reasoning behind it.

I wrote about this story myself late last year and noted that it didn't feel like a big deal to me at the time, despite the hype, because the "Hobgoblin vs. Green Goblin" idea has never been something that appealed much to me. They're goblins of two different eras, and they don't look right to me on the same page together.

All that said, I think this was easily the strongest of the four titles' final story arcs and issues before "The Gathering of Five".

Harry Sewalski said...

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly sure that the Hobgoblin and Green Goblin don't get around to meeting/fighting again until Superior Spider-Man...and even then, it turns out that Kingsley was only using a stand-in! Seems someone in editorial really doesn't want to see them interact!

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