The fifth story in Untold Tales of Spider-Man is Michael Jan Friedman's look at the Green Goblin just weeks before he learns Spidey's secret identity in Amazing Spider-Man #39 (August 1966). But does he actually learn it sooner?
First, I'd hate to ruin this story for anyone so there is a
J. Jonah Jameson is lounging around his upscale club with his pal Norman Osborn. He tells Norman about "deep background", which he explains is "information we don't normally put in our newspaper stories, for one reason or another – though we don't throw it away either. We keep it in our files, just in case." Jonah is telling Norman so that he can get a jump on an impending bombshell about crooked Police Commissioner Maneely. He doesn't know that Norman is the Green Goblin and has other ideas of how to use deep background.
Later that night, as the Goblin, Norman flies his glider to a well-known New York newspaper's building and bursts through a window startling the night editor and four other employees including two reporters, a janitor, and "a teenager with a camera dangling from a shoulder strap". The Goblin notices that the teen has pictures of Spider-Man in hand. He takes them from him and crumples them. Then he demands the deep background information on Spider-Man. He figures to combine it with the info he has previously accumulated on the web-slinger and determine who is underneath the mask.
The reporters try to resist but the Goblin threatens their lives. Only the teenage photographer seems calm in the face of this danger. He reveals that he has "lost people close to me" and bravely saves a colleague by yanking the Goblin's mechanical bat from out of her hair. With the reporters still resisting, the Goblin grabs the janitor, promising a long and bloody ordeal but the teen-ager yells out, "That's enough", then confesses, "You want Spider-Man?...You got him...It's me. I'm Spider-Man. Just let everybody go and you can do whatever you want with me." Testing the truthfulness of the teen's claim, the Goblin tosses him out the window. But the teen doesn't save himself. Instead he plummets toward the street...until rescued by Spider-Man who is passing by. Not wanting to engage the web-slinger after using up too many goodies from his bag of tricks, the Goblin leaves the Daily Globe building and makes his escape. The young photographer tells Spidey he managed to snap some photos of him earlier and was so inspired by the sight that it made him do something heroic too. "I told the Goblin I was you" he says, "as if we had something in common." "Hey...you never know," says Spidey as he web-swings away.
Some writers have a knack for writing stories that best fit the medium in which they are writing. Michael Jan Friedman has written bunches of books in the Star Trek and Marvel universes as well as a number of comic stories (mostly for DC) and he seems to know the difference, if this story is any indication. In particular, he knows that the advantage comics have in containing words and pictures is sometimes its disadvantage too. As a result, he presents us with a Spider-Man story that would be very difficult to present as a comic book because it takes advantage of the blindness of the prose reader and carefully leads him by the hand in the opposite direction than expected. And it works magnificently. Anyone who reads this story and doesn't immediately assume that the newspaper is the Daily Bugle and the photographer is Peter Parker has been previously tipped off, I suspect. And unlike the preceding story in the anthology, this one knows exactly how long to be. It clocks in at ten concise pages; all of them necessary except, perhaps, the last which offers unnecessary explanations when the surprise was enough. But that's a quibble not worth mentioning except to highlight how good the rest of the story is. Oh, and Friedman continues the tradition of naming supporting characters after actual people, honoring Joe Maneely who might well have become one of the major artists of the Marvel Silver Age is not for his strange, premature death in 1958. Though I wonder if Joe would appreciate being the namesake of a crooked Police Commissioner.
The best story in the book and deserving of five enthusiastic webs.
Next: A house call from Dr. Bromwell.