I bought this, my second regular issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN on one of my regular weekly Thursday trips to the spinner rack at the 7-11. I had started following the wall-crawler’s adventures the previous month but I was still somehow a bit lukewarm on them. It wasn’t until I wound up buying a copy of the second AMAZING SPIDER-MAN POCKET BOOKS collection in a few months that everything would click about the character to me. Still, I had enjoyed the prior issue well enough, and it had been continued, so why not invest 35 cents into seeing how everything came out in the end?
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had a distinctive look throughout most of the 1970s, and that look was the work of Ross Andru. Ross, along with his partner inker Mike Esposito, had been a long-time professional in the field, and was art director John Romita’s choice to take over the strip when he had to step away from it–John was a huge fan of Ross’s work. And Ross definitely made the strip distinctive. In particular, he did impressive work on making New York City feel legitimate, including referencing actual landmarks from throughout the city. But he was also very stylized in a particular way, and his version of Spidey and Peter Parker and the cast could be divisive–some fans liked it, others hated it. I was lukewarm to it, but in retrospect it was one of the reasons, I think, that I hadn’t quite connected with Spidey properly. Not that we knew it when this issue came out, but Ross’s long run on the title was starting to wrap up, and in a few more issues he’d be gone, switching over to DC where, as an editor, he would kill off the Flash’s wife Iris Allen. But more about that later.
This issue opens with Spidey, the Green Goblin and Silvermane in the longest fall from the top of an atrium in recorded history. Seriously, these guys have a full conversation on the way down–and the fall appears to almost kill Silvermane, taking him out of the story. The Goblin, though, survives, and knocking Spidey out, carries him off. As we learned last issue (though it was no great surprise) this Goblin isn’t Harry Osborn, son of the original. Rather, Harry has been a captive of this new Goblin for several issues. But having freed himself now, he decides to suit up in Goblin garb and go hunt down his attacker. Elsewhere, we get a page of J. Jonah Jameson reacting to the news of what’s just gone down and the possibility of Spider-Man’s demise. In a story with this few pages, it’s remarkable that writer Len Wein burns off a full 1/17th of his real estate for this vignette with Jonah. But it shows how important both Spider-Man’s supporting cast and humor was considered to be to the success of the series.
For no particularly good reason, the Green Goblin flies Spider-man all the way out to Brooklyn, intending to throw the web-slinger into the same incinerator chimney that Spidey had once used to dispose of the body of his unwanted clone. (Yeah, that didn’t work out all that great, as we’d learn fifteen years or so after this.) But Spidey wakes up, and a patent-pending marvel fight breaks out between the two characters. Spidey still hasn’t worked out that his opponent isn’t his sometimes-friend Harry Osborn, but he’s not about to let that stop him. And this Goblin hasn’t been juiced up by Goblin formula, so Spidey is able to get the upper hand relatively swiftly and unmask him as Harry’s psychiatrist Bart Hamilton. Hamilton was pretty much the only possible suspect for the Goblin’s identity here–he had been introduced as a supporting player, counselling Harry, and his capture of Osborn was staged so as to make it appear as though Hamilton was the one who was being captured. The fact that this reveal happens in the final panel of a ten-panel page gives you some ideas as to how impactful it was.
His identity revealed, Hamilton tells Spider-man chapter and verse about his origin: how under hypnosis Harry revealed the location of the Green Goblin’s secret stashes of equipment, how Hamilton planted a post-hypnotic suggestion that caused Harry to follow Spidey and take the incriminating photos of him dumping his clone into this very smokestack that were a running subplot for several issues, and his ultimate decision to take on the power of the Green Goblin for himself. Everything’s all wrapped up, right? Wrong! Because a second Goblin shows up, in the person of a fighting mad Harry Osborn, and he demands satisfaction from Hamilton. Spidey is knocked to the side as the two Goblins engage in a duel to the death.
The battle ranges all across the grounds and sky above the incinerator, finally climaxing on a conveyor belt where materials are tossed into the furnace to get rid of them. Ultimately, Harry rejects his legacy as the Goblin, tearing his costume and telling Hamilton that if he wants the identity, he can have it. But bonehead Hamilton isn’t satisfied with this, and he’s got one last weapon–a bomb secreted in a ballpoint pen he’s been carrying. So angry is he at how Harry disrespected him and the identity of the Goblin that he doesn’t realize that he’s approaching the top of the conveyor belt–and he falls into the shaft, where his bomb explodes, apparently killing him. As he did years before with his father Norman, Spider-Man strips the Goblin costume off of the unconscious Harry and disposes of it, giving him a chance to move on past his villainous life.
In an epilogue, we see that Harry has repressed his memories of much of what has occurred, and Peter Parker fills in the gaps, changing the details just enough so that the Goblin part of Harry’s psyche remains dormant and buried. Harry also gets to have a nice reconciliation with his fiance Liz Allen, whom he was awful to a few issues earlier. It’s a nice little happy ending, and as a capstone to his 30-issue run as writer/editor, Len orchestrates things so that the final page of the issue is a splash of Peter Parker walking off into the night with the spectral image of Spider-Man reflected in the skies above him. This was Len’s swansong on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN–like Ross would shortly, he was switching over to DC, where he’d work as both a writer and an editor, helping to bring some much-needed flavor of Marvel to the DC assignments he handled.