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Friday, September 14, 2007

The Green Goblin

The Green Goblin
Spider-Man Noir

Forget Norman Osborn, in fact, forget any version of the world of Spider-Man that followed Steve Ditko's (the artist who co-created Spider-Man with scripter Stan Lee) departure from the Amazing Spider-Man title in the late 60s. When the Green Goblin, Spider-Man's most mysterious villain in the 60s, was unmasked in Amazing Spider-Man #39 he was revealed to be Norman Osborn. Up to that point the Goblin had established his own personality. After the unmasking the persona of Norman Osborn took over the voice of the Goblin. The character was never the same impish fiend again.

Steve Ditko's final issue of the series, by the way was Amazing Spider-Man #38. It has even been reported that one of the reasons Ditko left the series was over a disagreement with Lee regarding the identity of the Goblin. Amazing Spider-Man #39 (along with issue #40 which completed the two part tale) is a masterpiece, it's the very comic that got me addicted to the craft and it is my second favorite Green Goblin story. But my first favorite, Amazing Spider-Man #26-27 features a very different Green Goblin in a crime st0ry set in a moodier more stylized world, none of which has been seen in a Spider-Man story since Ditko left.

The Tycoon or the Gangster?

Ditko's Green Goblin was a gangster. He was cunning and dangerous but he had a pathetic quality as well (not unlike Spider-Man). He was ambitious, he wanted to take over the mobs, but his goals were unrealized. He had a quirky characteristic to him. Like Batman's Joker with his clown persona, the original version of the Green Goblin had a playful elf-like persona, which made his evil all the more chilling. Norman Osborn, however, was a millionaire tycoon. He was already a power broker, in many ways more powerful than the Green Goblin had aspired to be and there was nothing pathetic about him. Why would Osborn pose as the Goblin to try to take over the underworld?

For a while this paradox was explained by establishing that Norman Osborn had brain damage from the accident that gave him his super strength and that the Green Goblin was a separate personality from Osborn. This presented Osborn as a more benevolent character (although still cutthroat in business) who was a caring father. The Green Goblin was his evil personality whom his good side tried fought against. The problem with the character was that, as the Goblin, he knew who Spider-Man was which limited the kinds of stories you could tell with him so in the mid 70s the character died. He was brought back to life in the 90s and since that time the character has gotten even further away from his original roots, doing away with the split personality aspect of the character and having Norman Osborn be an ultra powerful tycoon criminal mastermind (like we don't have enough of those already). The character now also has a personal vendetta against Peter Parker (Spider-Man's alter ego) and because of this (among other reasons) the Spider-Man comics have lost their ability to make Peter Parker a character with a normal life.

I love many of the versions of Spider-Man that followed Ditko's original run but every generation adds a layer and that layer gets ingrained into the mythos. Layer after Layer what Ditko (and Lee) had etablished has gotten lost in the mix. There have been attempts to take the time line back to recapture the spirit. Both Spider-Man Chapter One and Ultimate Spider-Man have gone back to the beginning of the earliest days of Spider-Man but both of these examples took much of what was added decades later and brought it with them in many ways reinforcing the new rather than recapturing what was lost from the old. There are great Spider-Man stories from every era. But there was something in that Ditko era that's yet to be tapped with a modern flare.

One of my dream projects I call (for lack of a better name) Spider-Man Noir. The premise of the series is that the first issue starts where Amazing Spider-Man #38 left off and only adheres to the continuity that had been established to that point. The Green Goblin's identity is still a mystery, Mary Jane Watson's face has never been revealed, Peter Parker's main love interest is Betty Brandt, Gwen Stacy isn't quite so sweet, and there's no Joe Robertson, Eddie Brock, Felicia Hardy, Kingpin, etc, etc. I'd draw the story with a Ditko-esque sense of design with the noir-like atmosphere of that great Green Goblin/Crime Master tale (Amazing Spider-Man #26-27) and I'd focus on mystery, crime, and Peter Parker. The covers would be painted homaging the famous The Spider pulp covers. Originally the Green Goblin was defined by mystery. Visually I would go back to Ditko's design for the Goblin and spice it up to really bring out that wicked impish fairytale-esque look. Oh, and Norman Osborn would die in the first issue, killed by the Green Goblin, whose identity would remain a mystery!