Amazing Spider-Man #40 is one of the most important Marvel comics ever published. It’s not mainly because of the creative team, even though it was the second issue with John Romita Sr on art and the conclusion of his first story. It’s not really due to the content, which included the revelation of the Green Goblin’s origin, in addition to Norman Osborn developing amnesia at the end and forgetting he was a supervillain, a decision which led to the Goblins being a permanent menace in the series, a throughline that would continue with his son Harry, and lead to the death of Gwen Stacy.
The most significant thing about the issue is that it introduced the best Spider-Man writer since Stan Lee to the character, which makes it a rather appropriate topic for the first entry of this series on Spider-Man history.
Roger Stern explained it in a text piece for the first issue of the mini-series Revenge of the Green Goblin.
This all happened in the pages of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Volume 1) #40, which I found on a comics spinner rack at Hayden’s drug story during the lazy, hazy summer of 1966. I had come onto the second part of a two-part story…not that it mattered, of course. Stan Lee and John Romita told the story so well, I could follow everything without any trouble. By the time, I finished reading the issue, I learned the origin of the Green Goblin, was quickly brought up to date on his previous run-ins with Spider-Man, and witnesses one fast and furious battle. That battle ended with the defeat of the Green Goblin, and the salvation of Norman Osborn (or so it seemed at the time.) After all that, I didn’t need to track down the previous issue, but I sure wanted to! It took me a couple of years in those pre-comic store days to track down a copy of ASM #39, but I finally did. And yes, it was absolutely worth the time and effort!
As he elaborated…
Anyway, that was my introduction to Norman Osborn and the dementedly diabolical Green Goblin- and to Peter Parker, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It was the second or third Marvel comic I had ever bought – and although I wasn’t aware of it at the time – it sort of changed my life.
I’d pretty much given up comic books a couple of years before, but that issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN really pulled me back in. Here was a series where the heroes and villains were equally interesting.
Stern would feature a flashback to the story in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #238. As an aside, the first time I read either of those stories was as part of an early CD rom package reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #39-40, and Amazing Spider-Man #238-239. The only way to access the first story was by a button in the flashback sequence on this page.
Some of you might think that’s interesting, but that I had promised that this entry was about the issue that turned the best of the post-Silver Age Spider-Man writers into a fan of the character, and Roger Stern — while one of the best Spider-Man writers — is not on the level of J.M. DeMatteis. Well, it just so happens that Amazing Spider-Man #40 also introduced DeMatteis to Spider-Man. He described it in an interview with Tom DeFalco published in the book Comics Creators on Spider-Man.
I was in the seventh grade when I had an almost religious conversion to Marvel. Everyone else in junior high school had already started going to Marvel, but I was still a die-hard DC guy. God forbid you should mention that you still read Superman! I had checked out Marvel when I was younger, and I was both attracted to the material and repulsed by it at the same time. The colors that Stan Lee would pick for the covers were vary garish, and Jack Kirby’s artwork was so raw and so different from the clean, pristine DC stuff that I was used to reading. I think I just was too young and couldn’t quite handle it. When I reached the seventh grade- and I guess part of it was peer pressure- I decided to check out the Marvel stuff again. This time I got totally, totally into it. It was like, ‘I am now a follower of Stan Lee, this is all I will read.’
I remember buying the second part of the classic Spider-Man/ Green Goblin story in Amazing #40. I remember clearly sitting in front of a church across the street from my house reading Daredevil #19, which was called “Alone Against the Underworld!” I got totally immersed in the fact that this was an interconnected universe.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Stern and DeMatteis would go on to write some of the most popular Goblin stories. Roger Stern brought back the mystery of the Green Goblin by introducing the Hobgoblin. The first time I saw it on a list of the best Spider-Man stories was in a 1998 Wizard magazine special. It wouldn’t be the last.
DeMatteis explored the legacy of the Green Goblin in a different way, with a two year storyline in which Harry Osborn remembered that he had been a supervillain, and attempted to avenge his father. The genesis of that arc was a little different. According to the interview with DeFalco, the story that became The Child Within was initially meant to be a Legends of the Dark Knight tale pitting Batman against Two Face. DC rejected it because they had just published the graphic novel Night Cries, and felt that the child abuse themes were too similar. DeMatteis was then offered a Spider-Man title. He initially believed that he had said everything he wanted to say about Spider-Man in Kraven’s Last Hunt, to say nothing of his Marvel Team-Up run, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with Spectacular Spider-Man artist Sal Buscema. He realized that Harry Osborn’s abusive father was better known to reader than Harvey Dent’s dad, and that Harry’s friendship with Peter adds a new dimension to the storyline. He would go on to tell the Two-Face story two years later in the Crime & Punishment one-shot.
The image from Amazing Spider-Man #40 of an unmasked Spider-Man at the mercy of an unmasked Green Goblin would pop up a few times in DeMatteis’s Spectacular Spider-Man run.
Later in their careers Stern and DeMatteis would write stories in which Norman Osborn was the villain. In the “Revenge of the Green Goblin” mini-series, Stern elaborated on the Green Goblin’s origin, and revealed the background of Norman Osborn. During his second run of Spectacular Spider-Man, DeMatteis brought Norman Osborn out of the shadows, and made the Green Goblin part of higher society, a status quo that would lead to the villain’s role in Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers.
I may be making too much of a small coincidence, but Amazing Spider-Man #40 seems like a great comic book to hand to a budding comic book writer. The situation is rather dramatic, with the superhero unmasked by his archenemy. This is not the kind of stuff that was happening in DC comics at the time. More importantly, a major part of the story has Osborn gloating about his previous victories, which has to be something that makes new readers who came this issue really interested in what happened back then. There are all sorts of interesting tidbits about those previous encounters: references to other villains like the Enforcers and the Crime Master, or to exciting events like the Human Torch somehow preventing Spider-Man from catching the Green Goblin. A modern reader who comes across this issue can quickly find the rest in some format. But in the days before there was much of a back issue market, and when the only option for reprints was the monthly Marvel Tales title, readers are going to have to rely on their imaginations for those details. And two of those readers did go on to write Spider-Man, and new encounters between him and the goblins.
Thomas Mets is an Education Masters student in New York City. He is also one of the moderators of the Spider-Man forum at Comic Book Resources. He grew up near Forest Hills Queens, and has been a fan of Spider-Man since coming across the character in the comic strip. While writing this piece, he learned that he had been spelling the names of legendary Spider-Man writers J.M. DeMatteis and Tom DeFalco wrong, by failing to capitalize the letter after the De.