Monday, May 9, 2011

GREENBERG GETS REPACKAGED

For the first time in a long time, a Spider-Man book published by Marvel Comics with my name on it will be out in stores this week. It's a trade paperback that includes material I wrote during my last year at the company that has never been repackaged before.

This book, Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, actually includes two major storylines that I worked on, both of which focus on the super-villain known as the Hobgoblin. I initiated and served as the hands-on editor of the first story, Hobgoblin Lives, which was written by Roger Stern—one of the best Spider-Man writers of all time—and illustrated by the equally awesome Ron Frenz (with inks by George PĂ©rez, Scott Hanna, Jerome Moore, and Bob McLeod). Originally published as a three-issue limited series, this story, which finally revealed the true identity of the Hobgoblin as Roger originally conceived it, was collected as a trade paperback once before, but has long been out of print.


The new edition of the book includes a second storyline, which I conceived and co-wrote. "Goblins at the Gate"—a direct sequel to Hobgoblin Lives—was published in The Spectacular Spider-Man #'s 259-261. It's the last Spider-Man story I worked on, and it's one that I'm still proud of.

I first learned of this new edition a few months back, when Roger Stern e-mailed me to tell me about it. Naturally, I was very pleased. I contacted the appropriate editor at Marvel and let him know that, if the company was interested, I'd be happy to write an introduction or a foreword or an afterword or some other kind of text piece for the book, with Roger hopefully contributing a new piece of his own. I received a very polite, "We'll get back to you" response. I never heard back. I guess the company just wasn't interested.

But it hit me today: this is the Internet Age. I have a blog. I can go ahead and write the piece and put it online, just in time to coincide with the book hitting the comic-book stores on Wednesday, May 11.

So that's what I've done. If you buy the book—and I hope you will, as I think both stories are really good reads and it's great that they're now together in one volume—think of the piece below as bonus content, at no extra cost.


MY HISTORY WITH THE HOBGOBLIN
By Glenn Greenberg

It was the Hobgoblin that made me a devoted Spider-Man fan. I remember that it was December 1982, and I hadn't been reading any Spider-Man comics for a while. As a pre-teen, I'd read most of the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stories in reprint publications, and I'd read scattered issues of the various Spider-Man titles over the years. But by late 1982, at the age of 13, I was focused on Batman, Detective Comics, The Incredible Hulk, The Savage Sword of Conan, and Marvel's Star Wars series. Spider-Man just wasn't on my radar anymore.

But a friend of mine, Anthony Bongiorno, a fellow comic-book enthusiast, asked me if I'd read the most recent issues of the two main Spider-Man titles, The Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man. When I told him no, he responded, "Well, you should. The new editor, Tom DeFalco, has done a great job reinvigorating those books. The latest issue of Amazing introduces a new villain who's going to really shake things up in the months to come."

I just kind of nodded and shrugged, not particularly interested. But the next time I saw Anthony, a few days later, he gave me a copy of the issue: The Amazing Spider-Man #238, written by Roger Stern and illustrated by John Romita Jr. and John Romita Sr. It was for me to keep. (Anthony was a very generous guy!)


Anthony insisted that I read it. I did. And from that moment on, I was hooked. I started buying both Amazing and Peter Parker on a regular basis. Anthony was right—under editor Tom DeFalco, the Spider-Man books were great reads. And this new villain, the Hobgoblin, was exactly the right hook to pull me in, seeing as how he was following in the footsteps of the Green Goblin, who had always been my favorite Spider-Man foe.

The Hobgoblin's true identity remained a mystery, though Roger Stern dropped hints and clues along the way. The mystery was building, the clues were piling up, it was all going somewhere... and then Roger left Amazing with #252, with the Hobgoblin's true identity remaining unknown. What a bummer! But Tom DeFalco took over as writer and kept the story going quite capably. In fact, Tom and his frequent collaborator, artist Ron Frenz, are responsible for some of the most memorable Hobgoblin stories of all time.

But by the time the Hobgoblin's identity was finally revealed in Amazing #289, Tom and Ron had been removed from the title and the storyline had been disrupted and knocked off course, due primarily to editorial interference and office politics. Peter David ended up writing the revelation issue and did the best job that could be done under the circumstances. But to many readers—myself included—the big reveal was a big letdown.


Fast-forward to circa 1994. At that point, I had been working at Marvel as an assistant editor for about two years. I read an interview with Roger Stern, in which he said that the Hobgoblin revelation story was nothing like what he had in mind for the character. News to me! Noting that most fans seemed to be dissatisfied with that story, Roger went on to describe how the details in Peter David's story essentially proved that the guy who was revealed to be the Hobgoblin simply couldn't have been the real guy. Roger stated that his original idea could still be done, if the folks at Marvel were interested, and he had already offered more than once to come back and do it. But no one had ever taken him up on it.

Fast-forward again to 1996. I was now working in the Spider-Man Group and we were looking for new projects to do. By that point, I had spoken to Roger on numerous occasions, in my attempts to get him back on Spider-Man in some capacity, but he and I just hadn't found the right project for him. But then I remembered that interview. I called Roger again to see if he was still interested in doing that Hobgoblin story. He was. I scrambled around the offices to try to get all the necessary folks at Marvel interested in doing it. They were—but with one condition. They needed to know beforehand who Roger was intending to reveal as the Hobgoblin. (He had actually managed to keep it a secret all those years.) I told all this to Roger. Trusting me to keep a lid on it, Roger explained the scenario to me. I then explained it to my bosses behind closed doors. They were satisfied enough to sign off on it.

The end result: Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, on which I served officially as assistant editor under editor Tom Brevoort—but Tom allowed me to act as the hands-on editor for this project and to work directly with Roger, artist Ron Frenz, and the rest of the creative team. I remain grateful to Tom for that. It was such a fun project to work on. I remember preparing for it by reading every single Hobgoblin story published up to that point, and comparing notes with Roger and discussing how to address various continuity conundrums and inconsistencies that crept in over the years. Of course, Roger did a masterful job taking all of that into account, using it to his advantage, and making everything seem like it was intentionally planned out that way from the start. I remember Ron Frenz's initial—and completely understandable—hesitation when I offered him the gig, as he wondered if too much time had passed to do this story and whether Roger could really pull it off. Nevertheless, Ron decided to take a chance and agreed to come aboard—and when he read Roger's plot for the first issue, his skepticism immediately turned to enthusiasm. The finished product is something I think everyone involved is still very proud of.




Fast-forward one more time, to early 1998. I was now an associate editor with my own titles to edit, and doing more and more writing work for the company. Ralph Macchio (the other one, not the Karate Kid) was the editor of the Spider-Man titles, and he found himself without a regular writer for the Spectacular Spider-Man series. Launched in 1976 as Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, this long-running title was winding down to make way for a major Spider-Man relaunch at the end of the year. But Ralph still needed someone to write the last batch of issues.

I had just recently helped Ralph out on a couple of issues of Spectacular, contributing a plot and two scripts. I guess he liked what I had done, because he strolled into my office one day and said, "Glenn, I need someone to take over Spectacular. Do you think you can come up with a three-parter to get me through the next three months, something big and attention-getting, that I can really play up in the marketing materials?" I paused for a second, thought about it, and then I looked up at Ralph and said, "Yes—but before I talk to you about it, I need to make a phone call. I'll get back to you in a little while."

And then I called Roger Stern. During the time we were working together on Hobgoblin Lives, Roger had mentioned to me that the next thing he would love to do with Spider-Man was a story that had never been done before, that could never have been done before: the original Hobgoblin vs. the original Green Goblin. But now it was possible. The original Hobgoblin, his identity now revealed, was back in play and could be picked up on easily. And the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, had recently returned to the Spider-Man titles after a nearly 25-year absence. The two characters had never met. There would naturally be plenty of sparks between them. I loved the idea, but there didn't seem to be any venue for it at the time. But now Ralph had just dropped this opportunity in my lap.

The thought that immediately popped into my head when Ralph came to me was "Original Hobgoblin vs. Original Green Goblin." But just as immediately, I put the brakes on. This was Roger's pet idea. I was in a position to do it, but I couldn't, not without discussing it with Roger first. My goal in making that call to him was to get his involvement, or at the very least, his blessing. If I got neither, I would not go ahead with it. I would have then concentrated on coming up with another story idea.

I remember that by the time I finished dialing Roger's number, I had already come up with the starting point of the story—the "inciting incident," if you will. But I had to stop myself from thinking it through any further—after all, this was a story I might have to just forget about. I got Roger on the phone, explained my situation to him, and invited him to join me in whatever capacity he wanted or had time for. He was totally agreeable to coming aboard. I mentioned to Roger the inciting incident I had come up with. He loved it and knew exactly where to go with it. We were perfectly in sync. I then went back to Ralph, pitched him the basic concept—and the participation of Roger Stern—and got an immediate thumbs-up.

Roger and I worked out a scenario in which we would hash out the plot for each issue over the phone, I would write up a full plot based on our conversation, then e-mail it to him, and then he'd provide notes, revisions, suggestions, etc. The revised plot would go off to the artist, Luke Ross, and once the art came in, I would write the full script and e-mail it to Roger for his input. The process was smooth as silk, and I have to mention that Luke did a wonderful job on the pencils. Since then, he's only gotten better, having developed into one of the best comic-book artists around today. I'd love the opportunity to work with him again.

Our story, "Goblins at the Gate," ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #'s 259-261, with beautiful covers illustrated by legendary Spider-Man artist John Romita Sr. I came up with the title for the story—it was a play on Barbarians at the Gate, a then-recent HBO TV movie about corporate intrigue. Seemed appropriate, given the tale we were telling, and I remember that Ralph Macchio got a kick out of it.




Roger Stern couldn't believe that I gave him top billing in the credits. He felt I did all the heavy lifting and that he was just along for the ride. But as far as I was concerned, it was a no-brainer. It was a privilege and an honor for me to be sharing a writing credit with him. The story would not have existed without him—he gave it his blessing and agreed to work on it with me. He made very important contributions to each plot—I learned a lot from working with him. And from a purely commercial standpoint, I knew that Roger Stern's name on a Spider-Man book meant a lot more than mine. I'm still fine with how the credits read.

For me, the one tiny blemish on the project is that our ending isn't what we originally envisioned. Roger and I were going to unmask and reveal the identity of the mysterious new Green Goblin working for Norman Osborn. I thought what we had planned would be a nifty, surprising reveal, and that it would have worked very well, particularly given the Spider-Man continuity of that time. But somewhat late in the process, we were asked not to go that route, to leave the new Goblin's identity a mystery for Spider-Man's regular ongoing writer to tackle in a future story. Roger and I complied—we still unmasked the new Goblin, but his identity remained unrevealed. It was disappointing to lose what would have been one of our Really Big Moments, but in the grand scheme of things, the change didn't really hurt the story, so it wasn't something that ever really kept me up at night gnashing my teeth.

When I look back on "Goblins at the Gate," I remember a very satisfying experience. I got to write a major storyline for one of the biggest, most iconic comic-book properties in the world, I collaborated on it with one of my writing idols, I wrote it for one of the most experienced and nurturing editors in the business, it was masterfully illustrated by a very talented artist, and all three covers were illustrated by John Romita Sr. What more could any comic-book writer ask for?

By the way, on the slim chance that Anthony Bongiorno is reading this—I still have that copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #238 that you gave me, Anthony. Thanks again.

9 comments:

  1. Gotta love those ROMITA covers!

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  2. Great stuff, Glenn. And you can be sure I'll be stopping by Cosmic on Thursday during lunch to get a copy--I'm sold!

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  3. Dood!

    So cool! Can't wait to grab a copy. Hope you get royalties on this!

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  4. Great write-up, Glenn. This really took me back. The HOBGOBLIN LIVES-"Goblins at the Gate" era was a really fun time to be reading the Spider-books. Post-Clone Saga but pre-Mackie/Byrne relaunch. These were some great stories.

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  5. "Goblins at the Gate" is one of the best stories from that era, Glenn--and that's saying something, because I always felt like the post Clone Saga, pre-reboot material was really strong.

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  6. Yeah, that really is a forgotten Golden Age of great Spider-stories. I'm glad it's being recognized more now (though I've already had most of the material from that era custom bound...d'oh!).

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  7. I'll make sure to include this trade paperback on my list.

    www.artbyarion.blogspot.com

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  8. Glenn, can you reveal who you had in mind for the "new" Green Goblin? Just got the trade from Amazon and really enjoyed it.

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  9. Hi Joel,

    Didn't see your comment until now, so there's a very good chance you may never see this. But in case you do, I'm very glad you liked the trade paperback. That's most gratifying.

    As for who we had in mind for the "new" Green Goblin--well, let's just say the idea eventually kinda/sorta made its way into the Spider-Man books anyway, but with no involvement from me or Rog.

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