Crawling Back: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2 Review (The Osborn Prelude, Part 6)
Though historically lightweight, this issue packs in an intense game of wits between Spider and Goblin
—by Nathan on January 29, 2024—
In 1968, Spider-Man was given a second title. Born from the success of Amazing Spider-Man a few years before Spidey's star-power would buoy another long-running series like Marvel Team-Up, the Web-Head was given a spectacular chance to throw his weight around…no, not in the twenty-two-year running sister series to ASM but in a short-lived experiment which produced a total of two issues in a magazine format.
The first narrative, "Lo, This Monster," is a tale written by Stan Lee and penciled by John Romita, presented entirely in black-and-white. The second issue, after delivering a colorless, single page synopsis covering Spidey's famed origin, brings out the entire rainbow to celebrate the return of a very famed foe.
Spidey (and readers) may have thought the Green Goblin finally defeated after their last climactic tussle, but as the Wall-Crawler would soon find out, the ghastly gargoyle sunk his claws deeper into Norman Osborn's psyche than anyone realized.
"The Goblin Lives"
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: John Romita
Inker: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Issue: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2
Issue Publication Date: August 1968
I had never read this issue until last week.
Yeah, I know, I'm surprised too.
I'd known about this "Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine," sure. I had heard about it, seen an entry in a Spider-Man chronology I've got sitting on my shelf. I knew it had something to do with Norman Osborn temporarily relapsing into his "green-and-purple with envy" phase. I was aware this issue existed, but for some reason, had never taken any interest in it…until about two years ago, when I was listening to a podcast where one of the co-hosts ranked it (if I'm remembering this correctly) as one of his favorite Stan Lee comics. That was enough to get me to buy the volume containing these two issues…
…but not enough to get me to read this second issue.
Until last week.
The volume's been sitting on my shelf for nearly two years, and it's been slotted as a potential "Crawling Back" entry almost as long. I was originally going to read both issues once I knew I should incorporate this volume into my "Osborn Prelude" series, but I changed my mind. No. These are reviews of Green Goblin stories. The first issue can wait for some future post.
I hadn't read this issue until now for a very simple reason, aside from eventually slotting into my "Osborn Prelude" series: the writing. As I've discussed time and again, Lee is a hard writer to wrestle with, his general wordiness engulfing the reader, drowning his audience in excess verbiage which reeks of the image of him thumbing through a thesaurus while sitting at his typewriter, looking for the most grandiose synonyms to slot into his script. The man could've made bank writing for those "paid per word" publications. Why describe something in two words when you can so eloquently elucidate in four? So the volume sat, untouched, and I put it off and put it off because I couldn't find a good reason to pour through it.
Until last week.
And I'm...actually really darn glad I finally read it.
But enough of you reading the story of how I finally read this story. This issue marks the first appearance of the Green Goblin following his and Spidey's seemingly final battle. Peter Parker's greatest fears are made known when Norman Osborn, through witnessing repetitive images of Spidey and the Goblin in battle, breaks through the shroud around his brain: he remembers he was the Green Goblin…no, he remembers he is the Green Goblin…and he remembers Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
From the jump, Lee and Romita write what I can only call a thriller. Tension permeates each page as Norman struggles with his memories and Peter struggles with his fear over Osborn recollecting their shared history. Moments where Peter inquires about Osborn's health are seen as genuine concern by his friends, the irony utilized cleverly by Lee to contrast the perceived reasons with Peter's real motivations. He's terrified of Osborn regaining his memory and remembering who he was. Even if you're aware of the outcome prior to reading the narrative, those first few pages are chock full of tense sequences. When will Osborn break and strike at his greatest foe? you wonder. When Peter's surrounded by his friends? When he visits Aunt May? When he's walking with Gwen Stacy? The moment Osborn remembers, scuttling off to one of his many secret lairs and donning the Goblin costume once more, the old cat-and-mouse game between him and Spidey is resurrected. Our hero can't even sleep for fear of the Green Goblin lurking around every corner.
This narrative works as almost the perfect sequel to ASM #39-40, representing a new phase in the Goblin/Spidey saga not dictated by a Lee/Ditko collaboration. Yes, Romita illustrated those last two issues, but those feel like a culmination of what the original creators had planned over two years of stories (though uncertainty remains regarding just how much influence each man had on those issues). With the "Who is the Green Goblin?" question finally answered, and setting the Goblin's somewhat awkward ambition to assume leadership of the New York underworld, Lee and Romita kick the conflict into high gear. This is all personal now, this war. The greenie meanie is driven by nothing but unfiltered hate.
The issue allows Lee and Romita the ability to unpack Peter's thoughts and fears better than their last two-issue tale. In ASM #39, Peter was blindsided by the Goblin, kidnapped and trussed up, before being inundated with the villain's origin. He spent much of ASM #40 tied up, let loose near the end of the issue to physically battle the Goblin. Lee and Romita work in much greater narrative tension here as Peter is allowed space to soak in just how dangerous the Goblin's return is. The madman's menace is allowed to settle into his bones. A brilliant scene part way through sees Peter, Gwen Stacy (who Peter was officially dating by this time), Mary Jane Watson, and Harry Osborn attend a party at the Osborns. It's a scene which directly influenced an episode of the 90s animated series and, almost certainly, impacted the Thanksgiving dinner scene in Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film. For the first time, Peter and Norman interact out of costume for an extended sequence, and through handshakes and subtle dialogue, wage a war of emotions while in the company of people fully unaware of their drama.
When the kid gloves come off (when the adults put their gloves on), Lee and Romita craft a sequence somewhat similar to the fights in the previous two-parter. The stakes are fairly the same, as Spidey must battle a foe who knows his greatest secret while also realizing he can't very well kill the father of his friend Harry. This "final" final battle includes some neat gimmicks–a spinning razor pops out the front of the Goblin's glider, the Goblin uses hallucinogenic gas against our hero–but leads to a conclusion that seems inevitable from the get-go. Some moral ambiguity plays into the finale, which Lee doesn't touch on whatsoever, to the issue's detriment. I'll forgo the details so as to avoid very specific spoilers, but the issue reestablishes the status quo. It may be one reason why I never tracked this issue down: you could easily skip over it and keep reading ASM and nothing of note would be different, at least not in the "significant developments between Spidey and the Goblin" department. It's not like the Goblin throws Peter's girlfriend off a bridge or anything.
Ah. I spoiled the surprise.
The issue is also impacted by some strange smaller narrative choices on Lee's part. An early sequence "recaps" the first final fight between Spidey and the Goblin, showing images which were never used in those ASM issues…in fact, I couldn't place a single panel as being drawn from any previous conflict between the two adversaries. Peter later has a flashback which accurately depicts the events of their last fight, but who the heck knows where these other images come from. And though the Peter/Osborn conflict takes center stage, Lee works in a few supporting cast members who play second fiddle to the ensuing events. We get some interesting moments where Harry worries over his father and Gwen worries over Peter…and though Lee could ramp up the danger to their lives during the issue's second half, he shunts them off to the side.
But these are minor complaints. Though the issue may seem easily skipped given its relatively minor impact on ensuing history, Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2 packs in one wonderfully tense moment after another. We're given those first sequences between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn–which I do regard as their first pictured "meeting" as the last time we saw them together, they were each in costume, even though unmasked. We're given a Goblin on the prowl, taunting Spider-Man and driving the young man a little crazy with fear. Peter's worries that Osborn's very existence threatens Aunt May are made somewhat manifest here, as is his concern regarding the Goblin's one-track mind towards Spider-Man's utter destruction. What could be played off as over-dramatization by Lee is actually played pretty seriously, heightening the threat the Goblin poses to Peter and his loved ones.
Though I had not given this issue much thought before slotting it into my "Osborn Prelude" series, I do believe SSMM #2 an intense chapter in the Spider-Man/Green Goblin saga. Yes, we're brought back to the status quo by the end, but the issue should be remembered less for its continuing impact on history and more for the narrative within. You want to witness a Green Goblin go full bore on his hatred for Spider-Man? Read this issue. You want to watch Peter Parker–years before looking over his shoulder for any sign of Venom–look for a leering verdant visage around every corner? Read this issue. Poor Peter has nightmares, jumps out of his skin at the mere brush of a child's toy airplane for fear its an attack by the Goblin. Our boy's a wreck in this issue, which I guess could explain his somewhat morally gray (not green) victory over his fearsome foe by issue's end. It's an intense issue, from start to finish, marking a shift forward from the Lee/Ditko era into the second phase of the ever-deepening devastation between these two enemies.