A Very Special Spidey Kicks Butt:
Confessions of Aging Goblin

Why am I here?

Each day after I wake up, I put my teeth in, rub Ben Gay on my stiff, aching joints, slowly stroll into the kitchen aided by my walker, drink my metamucil, eat my oat bran, strap on my emergency response monitor in the event I fall and can't get up, sit down in my rocking chair and wait to die.

For you see, I am more than 40 years old.

For those wondering about the "very special" reference, it's a riff on the "very special" TV series episodes, prevalent in the 80's and early 90's, of certain comedies - whenever they decided to tackle a serious subject it was a "very special" episode. "On a very special Blossom - Blossom notices that she has boobies." "On a very special Punky Brewster - Punky realizes that "Punky" is a stupid name - particularly for a girl - and she also realizes that a period isn't just a punctuation mark." Typical annoying network overpromotion along the same line of justifying reruns by saying "if you haven't seen it - it's new to you!" Anyway - why is this a "Very Special Spidey Kicks Butt"? Because it isn't as much about Spider-Man or the Green Goblin as it is about - ME! (O.K. let's gear up the Tobey Keith song "I wanna talk about me-ee-ee.....")

Anyway, there are many signs of advancing age, and I'm getting them. Gray hair, the middle age spread, aching joints and muscles - but you want to know when you're really getting old? When your brother, who can make custom action figures, tells you that if he made one of you, he'd have to use the body of the Penguin - man, that's when you know.

I honestly didn't think it would bother me (turning 40 that is - not having the body of the Penguin - because that's a SLIGHT exaggeration since my brother is jealous of my good looks and phenomenal success with women). Turning 30 didn't bother me. I made fun of the old man for 20 years because he was a huge pain in the ass as his 40th birthday approached. I don't have the time nor do you have the interest in me framing this in its proper context, but my father was a difficult man to live with until he retired. And for this same person to start going through a mid-life crisis...I don't know how my mother endured it. Looking back now, it's even funnier because he handled 50 and even 60 with a lot of grace and humor (which he certainly didn't have decades earlier), but 40 - that was a tough one for him to accept. For me, 38 and 39 passed by without any fanfare, and even 39 1/2...

But 40? Damn - my life is at least half over? And don't give me any shit about advancing medical technology making it possible for people to live past 100. The fact that my father, an otherwise physically active, substance-free, always-went-to-the-doctor-if-he-thought-something-was-wrong-and-still-died-at-61-only-50-days-after-those-f*****g-doctors-FINALLY-found-his pancreatic-cancer-after-dicking-around-with-ulcer-diagnoses-and-the-like...it's "oh shit," I may not have nearly as long as I think. He certainly didn't.

One of the common themes of people who have graciously taken the time to write to me about my articles is how much I obviously "care" about Spidey. Which I do. But why do I care to the extent I do? Why do I read comic books about a guy who swings around the city in his pajamas? I'm over 40 years old. I'm not a kid anymore. Even better yet - why am I taking time writing about this guy who swings around the city in his pajamas, and his arch-enemy who dresses like a deranged green and purple elf? And why do I write serious articles about these clowns? Long, serious, articles filled with self-importance, as if they had a bearing on Middle East peace, the rise and fall of the dollar, and nukes in Korea? Wouldn't my time be better spent researching and writing about Middle East peace, the rise and fall of the dollar, and nukes in Korea (or even Anna Nicole Smith)? Aren't there more important things for a man my age to care about? Why don't I spend the time I use writing articles to learn how to do my job better, manage my money better, calling my aging, widowed, prone to bounts of dementia and paranoid delusions, mother, or playing with my kids, or meeting my wife's emotional needs (scratch that last one - change that to - why don't I just spend my extra time putting bamboo slivers up my fingernails - that's less painful).

To be honest, I don't necessarily think I'll find all of the answers as I write this - but as in any quest, I might as well start at the beginning...

My Mother was White Trash
I thought about starting off by saying "I was born a poor black child," but I didn't think enough folks would get the riff of Steve Martin's movie The Jerk and would think I was simply being racially insensitive. So, I defaulted to what the title of my autobiography will be if I ever become famous enough to justify writing one.

So how did I get this way? They say that at some time in a man's life, when he looks in the mirror, he'll see his father staring back at him. Maybe I looked like him, but in many cases we were polar opposites. He was a man's man. In his spare time, he hunted, fished, played softball and basketball and worked out in his garden and shot his rifles and his bow and arrows and played tennis (always making sure he played with older men so he could beat them - heh - I made fun of him to his face while he was alive - so you think I'd change just because he's dead?). The only things that kept him from getting a laminated Official Redneck Card was that he didn't chew 'backy, wear a DeKalb cap, or have half a dozen huntin' dogs. He once made our landlord quiver in his little pink booties when he gave him the evil eye and told him that he was NOT going to raise our rent (and he didn't). I was interested in sports, and played baseball and basketball for several years myself, so I wasn't a couch potato. My neck was as red as his politically, but I just wasn't interested in all of the "masculine" pursuits that he was. The old man's father never made it past the 5th grade, and they were so poor that one year for Christmas, Dad received a note from his mother explaining that there weren't going to be any Christmas presents that year because they had no money. He told me almost nothing about his life before he met my mother, but he did tell me that story. He didn't grow up reading Spider-Man comics, or any comics at all, and certainly not at 40 years old. In his middle age he read Zane Grey and Louis Lamour, and books on American Indians and watched John Wayne movies and Indiana University basketball. Science fiction and superheroes were annoyances to him - he didn't understand them, and he didn't understand the people who liked them, especially his own sons. But, and this is a very significant but, he always took us to see these flicks for some strange reason probably he couldn't even fathom. Star Wars, the first Superman, the first Star Trek movie, etc. - he took us to them all - although he was frequently bored to tears and nearly fell asleep during Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The irony of that is, I happened to see that flick 20 years after its release, and upon second viewing, realized it was an elitist, pretentious bore of a film. The old man was ahead of his time. However, he did seem to like Buck Rogers (with Gil Gerard, not Buster Crabbe - I'm not that old) although according to my mother, that had more to do with Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her party dress than the quality of the movie. When retired, he golfed almost every day, came home, watched CNBC and meticulously documented the rise and fall of every single stock in his portfolio. I'm lucky if I keep the checkbook updated and reconciled.

I suppose that makes me more like my mother in many ways - strange visitor from another planet that she was. She was a voracious reader, saving her pennies to buy Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton mystery novels. She even flirted with the idea of being a mystery writer herself, and once many years later even showed me the envelope where she kept her childhood scribings. She was the primary reason that my brother and I were able to maintain and update our respective comic book collections. She was always on the lookout for them at the local newsstand while running her errands (back then you never knew when comics would be shipped - there was no Diamond shipping list on the internet back in the early 1970's). She even always seemed to remember what titles we collected and what issues we needed. Turned out she even read them herself after we had gone through them and committed every panel to memory.

I don't know why in the world those two hooked up, whether it was destiny or desperation. I do know that they were only 22 and 19 when they married, and whatever dreams or ambitions they might have once had took a distant second to raising their family. My father spent nearly 30 years at a job he loathed going to every single day, because it was the best way he could provide for us - and my mother spent the best years of her life taking care of him.

So why didn't I every really grow up? Why did I still keep my toys and my adolescent interests?

I hate to get existential on you folks, but - tough! Trust me, all of you will ask yourselves the same questions at some time.

How did I get into this mess?
I long ago lost all my original comics, which I know included a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #100. Makes me sick to think about, but whatcha gonna do? Can't even blame my old crazy mother for that one - I lost them on my own in a move that we made back in the early 70's - so I consider that to be a "lost" era and I don't turn the clock on my Spider-Man fandom until 1974, when I was 11 years old. What's funny is that it wasn't even me who first bought a new issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, it was that trouble-making little pinhead who no one could understand why I wanted to beat the living crap out of because they thought he was so cute and funny even though I knew him as a sneaky little white liar who pestered the living hell out of me and drove me out of my mind and who I could NEVER, EVER get the last word in on, not even to this day...my younger brother.

Anyway, before she was finally diagnosed as lactose intolerant after years of the doctors scratching their fat heads wondering why she was always so sick (no doubt related to the same geniuses who failed to catch my father's pancreatic cancer until it had ravaged his body past the point of no return - but I digress), my mother was in the hospital even more often than Aunt May. So my brother and I hung out in the hospital lounge and in the gift and snack shop so often that the hospital soon put up a sign on the door of the shop that said that unaccompanied children under 15 were not permitted inside. Assholes. And NO - we didn't cause any trouble!

Anyway, they had comics in that little shop- because believe it or not, at one time you could buy comics just about anywhere that books or magazines were sold and didn't have to visit your own version of the surly, unwashed Comic Book Guy. My grandmother, who, God rest her soul, had not long before lost her husband, was watching her daughter go through a lot of misery, was working for little more than minimum wage (which back then was a whopping $1.60 an hour) in a bar/restaurant in Petersburg, Indiana, and who certainly had more important things to spend her limited funds on than the two little hemorroids that my brother and I were, offered to buy us a comic book, or a magazine apiece.

I have long ago forgotten what I bought. It was probably a sports magazine, like Baseball Digest or something, although for some strange reason I considered that stupid issue of Superman where Perry White had super powers by smoking some sort of cigar that was the gift of a bunch of aliens. My brother got Amazing Spider-Man #127 (December 1973). And here it is in all of its ratty glory. I forgot how I wrestled it away from the little weasel, but knowing him, he probably got the best of me anyway. I had a basic knowledge of Spidey and his supporting cast, so I knew enough to be intrigued when I saw that Gwen Stacy had died, and that Harry Osborn was losing his marbles.

Months later, while doing some shopping at the late Thomas Newsstand in Petersburg, my mother told me that yes, I could buy one, but only one comic book. Faced with a veritable potpourri of choices and only a limited time to make my selection, I grabbed Amazing Spider-Man #134 in which Spidey faced the original Tarantula for the first time. I was drawn to Peter Parker's/Spidey's labored angst and self-introspection, particularly since I was entering those awkward pre-teen years in which I was undergoing a lot of that myself. The easy, cynical humor which was a stable of the title was also a draw, as well as the interesting supporting cast that included the cheap, cantankerous J. Jonah Jameson, and that rather smashing redheaded party girl by the name of Mary Jane Watson, who seemed so wrong for the serious-minded Peter, but then on the other hand, seemed so right...

Unfortunately, issue #134 was only the first of a two-parter, so I had to pick up #135 to see how the story came out. And then, while #135 wrapped up the Tarantula story, it ended with an increasingly psychotic Harry Osborn furtively entering one of his father's old lairs. I was hooked from then on.

Another moment of destiny happened in the barber shop. You know - barber shops - not beauty salons - barber shops with the pole and everything. Anyway, the old man was always the one who took my brother and I in for haircuts because that was his moment where he could loaf around with all of the other old codgers (ala the gang at Floyd's on the Andy Griffith Show) and talk Major League Baseball and Indiana University basketball. It's a sure bet all of that time he spent there wasn't getting his hair cut (in my dad's case "hair" was singular rather than plural).

Anyway, Bob King, who was the town barber (and as fate would have it - Bob died two days after my dad did - nothing would please me more than to think that Dad's loafing at Bob's shop again - this time with some actual hair to cut - hey, it is heaven after all) had comic books for the kids laying around in addition to sports mags for the old goats. And one of the comics he had was Spider-Man Annual #9 (1973), which was a Green Goblin retrospective issue. By this time both Gwen and the Goblin were dead, and this was a reprint of the magazine Spectacular Spider-Man #2. Man, did I think the Goblin was cool (big surprise, eh?). I mean, this guy could hit Spidey where it hurt. He was the only one at that time - villain, hero, acquaintance - who knew the truth about Peter Parker and his spandex clad alter ego. The tension in the room between Norman Osborn and Peter while each were still in their civilian identities was so thick that even Gwen, Harry, and MJ were getting a little spooked. This wasn't just good guy fighting bad guy, this was personal, the fight was brutal, and the resolution, with Norman having amnesia again, still left Peter uneasy and uncertain - and we all know the rest of that story.

I had to have that book - so I offered Bob a couple of old Batmans for it, which he willingly accepted. Best trade I ever made. And I still have that thing. As you can see, it also is a little bit worse for wear, but it's worth more in sentimental value than a mint copy of same could ever be.

After that, I started routinely collecting all of the Spidey comics I could get my hands on, including Marvel Tales, which at that time was reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #69, near the beginning of the Ancient Tablet Saga. I even began collecting Marvel Team-Up starting with issue #24, in which Spidey teamed up with Brother Voodoo, and the hopelessly low brow Spidey Super Stories, but dropped both not long afterwards because they sucked.

Getting back issues was almost unheard of at that time, at least for me. Back then there was no internet, no ebay, and not a whole lot of spare cash either. And there were also no comic shops in Petersburg, a town of 3,000 at its population peak. One had to drive to the veritable megolopolis of Evansville, Indiana - nearly 50 miles away (gasp!) to find a true comic book store with back issues. I commute nearly 80 miles rountrip to work and back on a daily basis now - but almost 30 years ago - 50 miles might as well have been 500 - particularly if you were only 11 years old and couldn't drive anywhere by yourself - at least not legally.

But I DID purchase an original Volume 1 Amazing Spider-Man #39 in which the Green Goblin was unmasked for the first time. I paid a grand sum of $4.50 for that classic at The Book Broker, the aforementioned Evansville store, and remember not wanting to answer my dad when he came home from work that day and asked me if I had gotten anything in Evansville because I didn't want him to know that I had paid the princely sum of $4.50 for a comic book. You can tell that was a long time ago.

So, I didn't spend a lot of time or money on back issues. I religiously collected Amazing Spider-Man until issue #220, when I dropped it because I simply could no longer tolerate Denny O'Neill's lame stories and villains. I was a little more faithful to Spectacular Spider-Man because I liked Roger Stern's stories, but would wind up with the occassional gap in the collection because I didn't subscribe (I tried it for a year, but the mailman kept folding the comics in half to stick them in the mailbox), and as my primary means of purchasing comics was a local newsstand there were some months, it simply would not get a shipment of my favorite titles.

When I attended college in another metropolis (Terre Haute, Indiana), a comic shop opened up downtown during my junior year, which allowed me to get back into collecting Spidey, although it helped that Roger Stern had by now moved over to Amazing and introduced the original Hobgoblin. I was also rather smitten with the Black Cat and enjoyed (for a time, till they deep sixed her intelligence) her stories with Spidey. When Stern left, I even liked the initial Tom DeFalco stories, particularly where Mary Jane first acknowledged that she knew Peter was Spider-Man.

But then the gaps became more prevalent. I for one, never have really liked long story arcs, and after the revelation of the Hobgoblin's ID kept getting drawn out - I was feeling had. I was also approaching graduation from college and entering the world of full time employment, so I was under some strange delusion that it was time to stop collecting comic books and get with the real world (glad I got over that, eh?).

I quit after Amazing #262, but developed the habit of Byrne-stealing, and still entered the stores and flipped through the comics "just to see what was going on." Still (as always) infatuated with the Goblins, I did buy the issues that featured Hobby, but after #276 in which we were teased again with the revelation of the villain's identity, only to find out that the Goblin had framed Flash, I dumped the titles. I was really ticked off, since this was at least the third tease about revealing his identity and I felt enough was enough, and voted my disapproval the only way I knew how - I stopped buying them. At the time, I was not even buying the third title Web of Spider-Man other than issue #1, simply because I felt that Marvel was exploiting Spidey just trying to get more money out of my pocket, and I remembered how long it took for Spectacular to be more than just the poor stepchild to the lead title. I took the same approach with No Adjective Spider-Man. That, and I really didn't like Todd McFarlane's horror angle that he was taking with Spidey. I was also tired of Peter's on again off-again love life, and was irritated that both Deb Whitman and Felicia Hardy were inelegantly disposed of, one after the other, not by logical conclusions to their storylines, but by the unimaginative eviceration of their characters.

Then I heard that Marvel was going to marry Peter and MJ, so I bought the proposal, wedding, and honeymoon issues and then #300 because it was a milestone issue. About that time I became seriously involved with the woman whom I would later marry, and was also changing jobs - so I had a lot of things going on and fell out of the loop again - although I regularly continued to Byrne-steal. However, I didn't buy another issue until the Clone Saga began, when I heard about the Jackal coming back.

You see, I had liked the Jackal when he first debuted back in the '70's. I thought it was cool that he had been Professor Warren and knew Spidey's i.d. And I also heard that there would be a new Green Goblin and that BIG stuff was brewing. So, I was suckered into buying again.

Bad move. I guess I was one of those people who caused the numbers to rise during the Clone Saga, thereby giving Marvel's marketing people the idea that they could stretch the Saga out indefinitely. Looking back, I don't know why I didn't stop after the Jackal was transformed into that furry punster, bearing almost no resemblance to the character he had originally been. I was also bummed out when the new Green Goblin turned out not only to be a teenage kid, but a hero (although that's not the end of that story). But, like so many people, I was REALLY pissed when Ben Reilly turned out to be the original Spidey, and Peter the clone. As much at it pains me to admit and as doltish and clueless as it makes me appear, I really did not see that coming. Although the buzz was growing louder that there would be a Spidey switch, I simply couldn't believe that Marvel would do something so drastic to its trademark character. I even hung on through the dreadful Maximum Clonage storyline thinking that surely they would reverse gears, but they didn't, and I dropped the titles again.

Thankfully, I wasn't the only one.

By the time the "Revelations" storyline premiered, I had read that Peter Parker was returning to the role as Spider-Man, so I decided to buy that storyline. I had still been Byrne-stealing during the entire Clone Saga, hoping that Marvel would come to its senses, and noticed that even before the announcement, with Peter back and taking a major part in the stories again, it seemed to be heading that way. When the "mysterious employer" of Seward Trainer and Gaunt was first introduced in the shadows - I had an idea at that time who he was.

Norman Osborn.

I'd like to say it was genius, but as I detail in my Green Goblin articles, I came to that conclusion because frankly, he was the only person it could be. That's all in another column, though - The Return of Norman Osborn.

But even though I tentatively started buying the titles again, I only purchased those in which Norman was featured. Frankly, I still wasn't that sold on the overall quality of the titles. I had no interest in the Rose's 18th incarnation, nor the Black Tarantula, nor Kraven III, so my buying was sporadic.

And then I got internet access through work in early 1998, and a whole new world opened up. So, I bought my own computer, and surfed furiously, inebriated with the information at my fingertips on all kinds of subjects, of which Spidey was only a part.

But, after awhile, it seemed that there was something missing in all of the information I was reading about Spidey. I couldn't find the types of articles that I really wanted to read, nor did I feel that my perspective at the time, that of an older fan who did not care for the treatment the character was receiving, was being properly represented (although that has certainly changed - particularly with the arrival on the scene of my old pals at Hero Realm . And that's when I got a horrifying idea...starting my own website.

But a website would take a lot of work - wouldn't it? And I certainly was no writer. But there had been a time...

Artistic Pretentions
Today, I certainly can't justify the existence of my web site by using the excuse that I'm a professional writer or working towards becoming one. I'm not a professional writer. And I'm not working towards becoming one. Simple as that. I'm just a paper pushing white collar worker who's a slave to his debt and has too many gray hairs. I'm not a frustrated comics creator hoping to get discovered. Hell, I have no desire to even be a comics writer. Never did. Too much of a collaberative process for a normally selfish and contrarily independent person like myself to be involved in. Now, I did take a creative writing class in high school once because I had to take an elective, and because I had ZERO interest in shop, wordworking, home economics, farming, or automobile engines. Besides, the tough guys in those classes would have killed me, or at the least hung me by my underwear from a nail on the wall, or dunked my head in the toilet and gave me a swirly - since I was literally less than half the size I am now. If I had taken home ec, the girls probably would have been able to beat me up, too. I was briefly part of a creative writing club during college, but I got nervous because one of the members was an effeminate guy called Chuck who sat on his hands when he talked. That, and the fact that most of the folks in that club were interested in writing poetry, socially significant commentary, or imitating James Joyce. I wanted to write Executioner-style novels, with blood, guts, mayhem, destruction - and a veritable potpourri of young, attractive, and mostly naked women.

So, I had illusions (or delusions) of being a writer as a young man, but those pretty well gave out when I realized that it was a job like any other, one that required practice, patience, and a lot of damn hard work - and I wanted to make money right away. I have no backlog of old stories sitting around looking for a publisher. Virtually every piece I ever wrote in my pre SKB days was personally destroyed by me when I retrieved all of my belongings from my parent's house after I got married. My old college roommate has a copy of an outline for an apocalyptic trilogy that he has refused to part with or destroy in the hopes of using it to humiliate me in the event I ever achieve a modicum of success or ego. I have a handful of characters I created that still exist in my mind, but that's it - and don't ask me who they are or what they do because I won't tell you. The old man didn't send me to college for four years so I could live on welfare (or worse yet - go back to live with him!) as I tried to eke out a living in some studio apartment in a big city with cracked plaster, poor heating, a backed-up toilet, and neighbors who beat each other, screamed at each other, and shot at each other all night long. And, to be brutally honest, I wasn't that good anyway, so I never really suffered from any delusions about having talent like your typical American Idol contestant.

Not that I never tried to write a Spider-Man story (Ah ha! you say - the frustrated writer reveals himself!). In the fifth or sixth grade I wrote a dopey little novella called Spider-Man vs. the Blob. No - not the big fat X-Men supervillain - I'm talking about the real Blob, that red slimey thing from outer space that ate people and got bigger all the time. You see, most of my writings were inspired by what I had seen on the CBS Late Movie on Friday nights back in the 1970's. Before every network had to have a late night gab fest shilling the latest movie starring some stuck up anorexic starlet, CBS routinely ran sci-fi and horror movies on Friday nights. It was great - I got to see a lot of decent movies, like virtually everything that ever starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Vincent Price, as well as a lot of pure schlock, which also happened to star Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Vincent Price. It helped that my mother liked to watch these flicks, too, because I needed her to interceed for me with my father, who was a notorious "early to bed, early to rise" type guy - except on nights he and mom played cards with some friends. My personal favorite of the late-night movie fests was some atrocity called Green Slime, poorly written, acted, dubbed, and with effects barely above that of a high school play about a piece of green gel that grows and becomes several different monsters that overrun a space station - but I loved it. One of those other movies I saw was Beware the Blob, a cheesy 70's sequel to the 1950's "classic" - The Blob, which is probably only fondly remembered because it featured a young Steve McQueen, although "young" is something of a misnomer. He may have played a teen-ager, but it was clear by looking at him that the only way he could still have been at high school at his age was if he started 1st grade at the age of 16.

Naturally, Spider-Man vs. the Blob was a dreadful tale, handwritten with a lavender fine tip marker (hell - I don't know why - I did that before a lot of you were even born - so don't give me no lip!). The influence (or should I say, the outright theft) of Beware the Blob was pretty obvious since the conclusion of my story happened at a bowling alley - which is also where the conclusion of the Blob movie occurred. Of course, this bowling alley happened to be owned by J. Jonah Jameson, and Spidey defeated the Blob by throwing his web cartridges in a freezer, taking them out later, and then spinning a cold web around the Blob which shrunk it down to size. STOP LAUGHING! O.K. - no pity either - that's even worse.

Anyway, I had plenty of sequels planned - I even drew a poster for the next story, a breath-taking tale imaginatively titled Spider-Man vs. Dracula, which had an awful two-dimensional Spidey jumping up and down on Dracula's coffin, smashing it to bits so the vampire couldn't curl up for a good morning nap. Except I drew even worse than I wrote, if that was possible. I think after I had Spidey tangle with Dracula, he was going to go after the Frankenstein Monster, and then the big guy - Fu Manchu, since I had just seen one of those Christopher Lee movies The Gastro-Intestinal Disorder of Fu Manchu or something like that. But I never wrote any of those other stories. After all - where does Spidey go after he's faced down the Blob? I felt like Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee- I had written my one epic, so what was the point of going on?

But then I got inspired again when I received my first typewriter. It wasn't a real typewriter like that beautiful old Smith Corona that my old man bought from a crony of his at work years later - this was more or less a kiddie typewriter - but it didn't take me long before I banged out the first of what I hoped was an ongoing series of Spider-Man stories, on how I thought the series should unfold. My first one was a real epic - I had brought back the Burglar, had him learn Spider-Man's secret identity, kidnap Mary Jane, and the final confrontation took place on a football field - I think MJ was tied to the goal post or something. Now, you have to put this ridiculous scenario in perspective - I was a notorious plagiarist, influenced by whatever was most recent in my mind - so this had to be not long after Amazing Spider-Man #153, which took place on a football field - much like my Blob story took place in a bowling alley not long after I saw that movie. Anyway, I was going to write Spider-Man as I thought it should progress, which meant he was going to age, be graduated from college, and yes - eventually marry the one and only Mary Jane Watson. Because after the Burglar had kidnapped MJ and had his show down with Spidey, he used Peter's name, thus MJ found out who he was. I was so sick of the repeated scenes of Peter ducking out on a date with some lame excuse and then lying about it. So, in my universe, I brought that to an end. I also had plans to bring Harry Osborn back as a full fledged bad-ass Green Goblin like his old man and not the wimpy, insecure one he had been. Not even I considered bringing back Norman Osborn in those days. Of course, that series of stories never happened either. Soon after that, I focused on writing my own stories with my own characters, but I could never finish anything I started, and finally, after college, I gave up the idea of writing entirely.

Until.....

I was Middle-Aged World Wide Whacko
As mentioned earlier, I first discovered the internet when my company, which had issued each of us personal PCs, finally provided internet access to all of its employees. For me, this was like a caveman being given fire, because this opened up a whole new world of information. But, until the persistent nagging from my wife reached an untenable level ("why don't you buy your own computer"), and she literally hurled a Best Buy ad in my face, I didn't break down and spend the money on a computer until February 1998.

But I only started my website because I was pissed off, not because I had any illusions about becoming some sort of Spider-Man sage (or Spider-Yoda, a term used by George Berryman that I've come to actually like). Even though the Clone Saga was over, the spider titles were still in decline because Marvel's senior management didn't seem to really know what to do with Spidey, and they certainly didn't seem to know what to do about his marriage. They also didn't seem to be concerned with the truth either, which is why we got a lot of spin crap that stated "Peter can't be married because "kids" can't relate." Yeah right. That's why I was trying to marry the poor guy off back in the 1970's when I was a kid myself. Of course, Marvel being Marvel, I doubt they ever actually talked to any real kids, and they certainly never bothered to find out what their readers or the target age group they so desperately coveted truly wanted or else they never would have even started with the Clone Saga, for example. Marvel tended to blame characters, such as Mary Jane, for example, or the ficklness of the fans themselves, for the sales problems and refused to address the bad writing and editing, or the overexposure, or any dozen of other problems that Marvel itself had created, but refused to correct. Flash forward to the present, to Marvel's credit, even though Bill Jemas can be obnoxious at times, Marvel seems to be a different place and has tried to make some amends - although it's kind of like settling a case without talking about it publicly - we'll make these changes you want, but we'll never, ever admit we were wrong. Ever.

And frankly, some of the fan reaction at the time was venomous and short - not that they were wrong, I often agreed with some of them - but because their arguments lacked depth and there was a lot of mean-spiritedness. "John Byrne Sucks!" Well, maybe he does, but personally assailing the man is immature and futile - what specifically about his writing sucks?. "You're a dick if you don't think the way I do" seemed to be how many posters talked to each other. The fact that my attendance on message boards is sporadic at best to this day dates back to personally getting scalded a time or two, the most ridiculous case not because of a contrary opinion, but because I had mistakenly credited Todd McFarlane with creating Venom rather than David Michelinie.

But, in all of the surfing that I did, the information that I gleaned tended to be mostly sound bite in nature, and I found myself pining for long, rambling, opinionated prose. Many fans seemed to only know Mary Jane as an over exposed poorly written nag - not the vibrant character she had been earlier. Also, almost all of the debate surrounding the return of Norman Osborn, which obviously I thought was a great idea, was resoundingly negative, with many complaining about Norman Osborn being a Lex Luthor clone, which showed a lack of knowledge about the pasts of both characters. So, I figured - why not specialize in detailed editorials that would examine and study the issues in Spider-Man and allow me to express my opinion without having to resort to cheap comments in order to get a debate going?

I didn't have a clue how to start my own website. I didn't know anyone who had one. I knew I certainly didn't want to pay to have one, no matter how little it cost, not that I'm cheap or anything. I kept seeing the Geocities ads for free websites, but never had the stones to plunge right in until I bought one of the Dummies books, this one about starting web pages. It had step by step instructions on how to sign up with Geocities, and enough of a basic primer in HTML to get started. Of course, it didn't take long for Geocities to start charging for the sites, as I soon found out when my site began to pick up in popularity and would get shutdown every so often because it has "exceeded its allotted data transfer." So, I fork over a nominal amount on a monthly basis. At least there are no pop-up ads.

And so, on July 17, 1998, The MadGoblin's Ward was open for business. Why that name? Literally - because all of the good names were taken. When Geocities assigned a sector, they wanted a name, and I ran several variations of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Star Trek names, and even other cool sci-fi names (like Number 6 from the Prisoner. I would have liked to have had that one), and they all were taken. Finally, at about two in the morning on a weekend, delirious, aggravated and exhausted, I came up with "MadGoblin" - and it was accepted. And, since I had initial delusions of a web site on the cutting edge of insanity and good taste (since abandoned - I opted for a PG rated rather than an R rated site - the older I get - the blander I get), a "Ward" seemed as logical a place for crazy people to congregate. I honestly don't know how long I'm going to keep the name MadGoblin, though. When I finally bit the bullet and purchased a domain name - I found out that MadGoblin.com was taken! By who - I don't know and don't care. It's not a particularly original name, since I've seen several references to it in connection to those Magic-type card games. I went ahead and purchased MadGoblin.org, which I still have, but I am considering not upping for another year when the time comes.

As far as the title Spidey Kicks Butt! - that was never meant to be the real, final title of the site - only the Spider-Man section, and then only temporarily until I thought of something better. My site has always had the umbrella title The MadGoblin's Ward because I always intended to cover more topics than simply Spider-Man. And, I would eventually get around to renaming the Spidey section. Whenever I would ask sites to link to me, I gave them the MadGoblin title and that front page address. But when they linked to me - they linked to the Spidey page directly, and rather than MadGoblin's Ward, my site was called Spidey Kicks Butt!, particularly by Spider-Man Hype!. And since that's how it's become known that's how I've left it. I guess it's not all that bad.

Anyway, another reason I chose essays as my content is that I didn't want to do a web site that was just like something that someone else was doing, which eliminated me doing reviews, since those were all over the place. And I knew I didn't have the time to invest in a lot of jazzy graphics (I still don't. Picture scans are about it). Plus, there were several websites that were clearly far better at providing up-to-date news and information about Spidey than I ever could. Spider-Fan , Sam Ruby, and Spider-Man Crawlspace are the kings of that particular hill.

So, the first spider-article written was called "Whither Mary Jane" and examined why MJ had fallen out of favor in the Marvel Universe, clearly through no fault of her own. I finally took down that article when I did my comprehensive series on MJ and incorporated all of those arguments in a new forum. But, I was on my way.

But it took a long time for my site to get noticed. I've never been a particularly loud self-promoter, so I didn't send out 100 e-mails to other sites promoting myself or asking for links, especially since I didn't have much in the way of content yet. Finally, about a year later, when the Hype! began to crank up and asked for links, I got ballsy enough to ask them to link to me - and immediately my traffic began to grow. Not in numbers to brag about, but I was finally getting noticed. And in April 2000, in one of my frequent moments of "man, who really reads this shit of mine - I'm gonna pull the plug on this stupid thing" (which I still sometimes experience), I got an e-mail from an effusive ball of energy known as George Berryman, who was looking for columnists for his and pal Alex Hamby's soon to debut website called Hero Realm. Turns out George felt the same way about Spidey that I did - and this meant becoming part of a larger community and promised more exposure. So, I hopped on board and have been there for over three years. Usually my articles debut there first and then move over to my own site - although George and Alex are currently taking a sabbatical now, so I've been keeping all of my new stuff on my own site - but I fully intend to re-join Hero Realm when they return - if they'll have me back.

But that doesn't answer the question of why I write in the first place. Sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon had this marvelous answer when he was posed the question at a convention a few decades ago - "Because it's easier than not writing." Therapy can be over a hundred bucks an hour - writing costs nothing but some time and the risk of carpal tunnel. If I don't write, I get real agitated, so even at work I have a notepad where I hastily scribble down thoughts as they occur to me so I don't forget them. And once you start, it seems that you can't stop. Talk about your addictions.

Let us Pause for Rationalization Identification
This is the part where I was originally going to try to apologize for my inner geek and convince you that there are many high and important reasons why I still read Spider-Man comic books. But you know what - I don't owe anyone an explanation. I simply like reading them. Period. That's why I cringe when I hear someone talk about superheroes being a modern mythology - an extension of ancient tales of super beings possessed of powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men - but riddled with human weaknesses. Of course it really is true - but it always seems to be used in the context that we really are ashamed to be reading comic books at this age, and so we drag out this pseudo-Joseph Campbell stuff to try to convince people we're not really geeks or something. Still, be that as it may:

Everyone has heroes, not just the kiddies. They may be a parent, a friend, a teacher, an athlete, a deity, but we all have people, characters, or images that represent idealized versions of what we would like to be, and how we would like others to perceive us. Some just dress a little more colorfully than others. The literature of the human race from its earliest days has always had a healthy representation of the stories of heroes, of beings who represented man at his best, and sometimes, at his worst. Often the heroes were plagued by the same human frailties as the rest of us (which made their stories even more compelling). Sometimes the heroes were real men and women, and other times they were solely products of the imagination. These tales were presented to the people of the times in various ways, by word of mouth, on the walls of caves (which I've heard - that cave drawings were the first "comic book" - I like that), on paper, or in the theater. Eventually, they were committed to film as the motion picture industry took root. And if you need to get any deeper on the subject, you'll have to read Campbell, as my meager analytical abilities can't do the subject justice, and he's already done all the legwork.

Fans have also been passionate about their heroes for a long time. When Arthur Conan Doyle, weary of Sherlock Holmes, killed the character off by sending him over the Reichenbach Falls in a final death struggle with his arch-foe, Professor Moriarty, he was forced to bring the character back due to the public furor that erupted (and the ultimate promise of more money). People young and old can read stories of the heroes of the Greek myths, Beowulf and Grendel, King Arthur, St. George and the Dragon, and Sherlock Holmes with no disparaging comments made, nor the insinuation that once one passes a certain age, one has to stop reading about these legends.

But for some reason, the heroes created by the entertainment mediums of the 20th century are subjected to cultural bias. Not just those who dress in funny costumes and appear in the comic books, but also those whose exploits have been chronicled on television and in the movies (people aren't typically called "Trekkies" by those outside fandom as a term of respect).

Part of the problem is American culture's focus on machismo, where a great deal of emphasis is placed upon moving young males from boyhood to manhood as soon as possible, regardless of the emotional whiplash it can cause. In many other cultures, there are specific, and often gruesome and painful rituals that boys partake of in order to cross the threshhold into manhood (and no, getting your ass repeatedly kicked by your old man doesn't count - although now that I think about it, it should!). In America, that threshhold is not so well defined, so in addition to getting a full time job, marrying and having children of one's own, "growing up" is often seen in terms of "giving up" things from childhood.

Walt Disney probably had a significant negative impact upon adult enjoyment of comics and animation as well. I don't believe that Walt intended to create a cultural mentality of comics and animation being something only for children - but the sheer pervasiveness of the Disney entertainment empire, the fact that it was the only studio routinely releasing successful animated features, and is probably the last studio that actually produces "G" rated pictures, created the mentality that comics and animation are for "kids only." Obviously, that mentality doesn't exist in Japan, in which comics are a routine part of the culture for both young and old - but that's another matter.

That said, however, what drives us to become passionate to the point of taking the time to write articles or create websites about Spider-Man - and not something of more pressing social concern, for instance?

I certainly don't want to over-analyze this. One of my favorite quotes came from a boy who was once asked why Star Trek was so popular. His response? "Because people like it a lot." I think the simple answer is that because Spidey's "mythology" was very important to us as kids, and we want to see that myth preserved and protected for future generations, which is not a given in the current environment. Sure, we know that Spidey's titles are not going to get "cancelled" - ancillary income from licensing the character still makes a lot of money for Marvel - but the "myth" gets horribly mangled from time to time, lost in a sea of poor storytelling and morbid, morose plots that would repulse any would be "new reader" of the comic.

Besides, everyone loves telling a good story, and I personally enjoy Spider-Man because the basic story, stripped of all of the barnicles that at times cling to it, is very accessible and easy to tell - almost a classic myth in its own right. A young man, in spite of the disadvantages of his upbringing and a tragedy brought about by his own selfishness, rises above these things to make a difference in the world. Although the world does not always appreciate those efforts, and often scorns him, he continues to do it because he knows it is the right thing to do, and he often does it with a keen sense of humor and self-deprecation. Sometimes he succeeds, often he fails - but he doesn't stop (except for the occassional costume burning ritual). And it's a story that can be told to any age group in almost any medium, without fear of it being too violent or vulgar for the audience - which is NOT the case with many comics these days.

I like to think that the act of writing about Spider-Man moves me from the role of dispassionate observer who simply reads the books to a participant who wants to contribute to making them better. It also has brought me into the company of others who feel like I do. Rather than being an isolating activity which disenfranchises me from humanity, the internet has introduced me to other interesting people who not only share some of my concerns and interests, but who also do things I have either never done or would never consider doing. No, writing about Spider-Man does nothing for famine in Ethiopia, nor does it do anything for those who are suffering from cancer, but then, I know so little about either topic that I could never hope to make meaningful contributions to the collective thought in those areas.

And, as long as we use our heroes to teach us lessons and expand our horizons, as well as entertain us, then we have no need to offer apologies to anyone.

Perhaps in a bizarre way, I consider Spidey to be a friend, as he has been a part of my life for a very long time. It just seems natural for him to continue to be there. He was there when I was struggling through elementary school, a nerdy kid without a lot of friends (and zero girlfriends), and he gave me someone I could relate to. He was there when I was in college, away from home for the first time, and scared shitless. He was getting married and on his honeymoon the exact same month that I met the woman who later made the foolish decision to accept the offer to become my wife. You never forget your friends, and you hate to see them maligned.

And I realized that I don't have to "get a life." I have a life, and it's a pretty full, busy and rewarding one. I simply choose to let Spider-Man occupy a small part of it. And when compared with the kinds of trouble that I could also choose to get into - and have in the past - Spidey's not a problem.

As I get closer to death...
In ten years, I turn 50. And I wonder - will I even still be interested in Spider-Man. Or more importantly - will Marvel even want me as a reader? Frankly, I really don't think they want me as a reader now. But why should the writers of 2013 target my age group? It would likely be economic suicide in the long-term. I'm at the tail end of the baby boom generation, which has been a huge bubble moving along the American demographic, influencing product development and marketing for nearly 60 years - and once this generation starts going six feet under in massive quantities, so does the market for the things they've historically purchased. What hotshot young writer in 2013 will want to write for men their father's and gradfather's ages? And by the time I'm 50, not only will I be to old to wank off to Elektra in my parent's basement, I'll be too old to wank off period, regardless of whose basement I'm in or what I'm reading (And Viagra wouldn't do me any good - it'd be a waste of time and money - I'm married after all). This may surprise some people, but Marvel isn't necessarily wrong when they look at the future of the company and their market and decide they need to change their strategies. I just wish they could do it without the name-calling and the innuendo - and yes, the utterly bone-headed mistakes they make which can completely overshadow the good things they do for the fans.

I know that some of the folks who write to me, or hang around the Hero Realm and other message boards have to be young enough to be my own children. I'm flattered beyond belief that they enjoy my rambling prose and enjoy swapping ideas about Spidey with me. However, in the back of my mind, I suspect that they probably wouldn't be able to stand me if they ever met me because I probably would look and act a lot like their real father ("why are you dressed like that" "I didn't realize you could get THAT pierced" "holy cow - is that a tatoo of what I think it is?" "rap isn't music - here - listen to some Fleetwood Mac and Elvis - but turn it down - I'm trying to nap" "back when I was a kid, we didn't have (fill in the blank)." Sad to say - being a parent, I've used them all, including "because I said so" and "children are starving in (insert third world country here.")) And my partying days are long over - as the result of a rapidly expanding mid section and too many stupid things said and mistakes made while intoxicated (don't ask - I won't tell you those, either). I had to give up either food or booze. 20 years ago I would have proudly told you I was giving up food, and I would have been pleased at my own smugness. Now, the subject isn't even worth discussing.

One of the nicest compliments I routinely receive is people stating I should be the editor of the spider-titles. I'm really flattered - but you know what - I would be a horrible spider-writer or editor. Really. I could never, ever, appropriately manage the numerous fragile artistic egos, I'm not one for experimentation or risk-taking, which is absolutely essential in any kind of business, and I am stubbornly against any number of things or ideas - regardless of whether or not other people like them, or how many people like them. My increasing crankiness is already apparent in my reaction to certain products. I was an early vociferous critic of Ultimate Spider-Man because I didn't like what it initially was promoted as - "Spider-Man for young people because we don't like writing comics for cranky old farts." Spider-Man manga as in the Spider-Clan? Hate the idea. Won't read it. Didn't. Trouble? Really f*****g stupid idea in my opinion. Won't read it. Didn't. Hated the Clone Saga. Hated the Reboot. Hated Chapter One and revising Spidey's origin. Hate Ezekial-Morlun-Shathra-Totem-Mystic Spider Crap. Fortunately, my crankiness has actually been on the side of the majority in most of these cases. The Clone Saga was reversed. The reboot was essentially undone when the creative teams involved were jettisoned, along with the EIC that approved it, and the final nail in that coffin will be when Amazing returning to its old numbering system with issue #500 (yes! victory! See, Marvel does listen at times.) Marvel has also disowned Chapter One and considers it a bad dream. The jury is still out on Ezekial-Morlun-Shathra-Totem-Mystic Spider Crap.

I missed the boat completely on Ultimate Spider-Man, which is a huge success. I do regularly read it, and have even liked it from time to time. A lot of my original opposition to the Ultimate line was based on conditions which no longer exist in the regular Marvel Universe. Where Spidey was concerned, Marvel seemed to be more willing to support this new fangled title with a great writer and artist team in Bendis and Bagley, while leaving the core continuity titles to Howard Mackie. Why not invest the resources in fixing the original titles? Well, Marvel actually did finally do that. And I haven't even heard much lately about those elusive "new readers" that the Ultimate line was originally targeted to. Of course, I suppose my real fear was that I was I afraid that "Ultimate Marvel" was a not so subtle hint that it's time for me and people like me to leave the comic books and superhero fantasies behind for good.

So - writing and editing the spider titles is something I am more than happy to leave to the professionals. Besides, it's easier to nitpick and complain!(that's a joke)

But, when I sweat furiously over the latest spider-article, I have to ask myself - am I creating any thing of lasting value? Spidey Kicks Butt will likely grind to a complete halt when I'm gone. All of those long boxes filled with Spider-Man comics may survive me if the house doesn't blow up - but what if my son or daughter are not interested in holding onto them? Does this mean that either my wife or my kids unload them on the first dealer who's willing to pay a penny for each comic, and they wind up in his bargain box?

But even if my son or daughter keep them out of some strange demented attachment to the memory of their old man - they'll never really know - never really understand the significance of all that stuff - stuff that kept me sane during the typical troubled adolescence. Stuff that gave me peace of mind - that kept me mentally stimulated when I was so sick of technical reading from my job that I couldn't bring myself to read a real book. And what about all of those old corny Spidey jokes that I myself appropriated when I was in an uncomfortable situation as a kid and I felt overpowered and overwhelmed? Lost. What about that original issue #39? The one I tried to smuggle home and hide from my father because I didn't want him to know that I had spent a whopping $4.50 on a back issue comic? And the tattered old Green Goblin comic that reminds me of a little boy who used to go to the barber shop with his father? The old comic with Vulture #3 in it that reminds me of when two little boys used to hang out in a hospital gift shop, and the grandmother who for some strange reason loved the little rodents? Hell, I'm not Forrest Ackerman, with all of the junk I've collected over the years eventually going into a museum or a wing of museum with my name attached.

Speaking of my boy, you know, there might be hope for him. My daughter is already beyond my ability to brainwash, having been corrupted by her mother to be interested in dancing and dolls, but my son, who can't even say "da-da" yet, can say "grn gobin" and a throaty noise that is very clearly an attempt to say "hulk." And he'll growl at you if you ask him how the Hulk goes. He can't play ball quite yet (but I'm working on that - we've already got the Little Tykes basketball set out in the driveway), but we can sit together and watch Spider-Man and the Wiggles (but, uh, let's not talk about that Wiggles part). When I come home every day, even though gravity is still one of his worst enemies right now, he waddles towards me as fast as those two unstable little legs can take him and says "gobin!" and tries to open the door to the basement where the DVD player and where OUR CHAIR is. It's OUR CHAIR because that's where he climbs into after he hands me the Spider-Man movie DVD and expects me to come and sit with him after I load it. Yes, believe it or not, I am getting tired of seeing the Spider-Man movie, because I do everything I can to vary the activity, playing the version with the commentaries or the pop-ups or the web-is-sodes, or the Activision Game Hints, etc. But I'm not getting tired of the memories it's creating.

I even sneak him into comic shops with me when the wife and daughter are out doing mother-daughter things. He gets very excited when he sees Spider-Man displays. Of course, I had an old fart experience at one shop that I'm going to have to stop taking him to. This place is routinely visited by friends of the proprietor, who are usually all smoking and if they aren't drinking on the premises, they were before they got there, and relentlessly using profanity - you know - serious profanity. One of them spooked my boy by talking to him - not that he meant any harm - but I doubt that due to his inebriated status he realized how loud and scary he came across to a boy not yet two years old. Not that any sole proprietor isn't allowed to have old friends hang out - hey, his shop, his rules. But I wonder how many times that is revisited in the modern comic shop, when a parent tries to expose his kid to the wonders he himself once experienced - only to have him exposed to something else entirely. But at least I haven't stumbled over any Pokemon players lately, which use to seriously snark me off. The shops I now frequent have no room for Pokemon tables.

So What Does it all Mean?
As I conclude, I really don't know if I've answered the questions I posed at the beginning, and I'm not sure I would if I sat on this article for another month. All I know is that I will probably continue to buy comics. After all, if I haven't stopped by now, I'm not likely to anytime soon. And I'll probably continue to write articles as long as someone out there is willing to read them. And even if they aren't, that probably wouldn't stop me. The little voices in my head will not be denied their outlet

So - why am I here?

I still really don't know. And I doubt that I ever really will. And I'd probably be wasting too much time if I really tried to answer that question (no more time than I've already wasted - eh? I hear you, you wise-asses). I guess that it's a lot about Spider-Man, but it's a lot about other things too:

So, thanks for the memories, Spidey. And here's to more of the same. And if there is one thing I've learned through all of this tortured prose, it is this one, undeniable truth:

BEING 40 STILL SUCKS!

Till next time...

Epilogue added 2-24-2004
When I write these articles, I don't give a damn whether or not people agree with me - well, because I have no business writing them if I'm worried about criticism or someone taking issue with my opinions. However, after this article was posted, I received a rather smug e-mail (I won't bother to identify the writer) that said, and I quote: "Being 40 may suck but it beats the alternative. Think about it."

And that's it.

Obviously, the dumbass did not bother to read the article.


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Copyright 1998-2007 J.R. Fettinger. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.