Thursday, March 15, 2018


Spectacular Spider-Man #200—my favorite single issue out of all the Spider-Man stories I've written—was released twenty-five years ago this month.  The great Sal Buscema turned in a brilliant job on this story, which capped almost two years of work developing the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin storyline.
My plots were usually very tight—page by page, panel by panel, crammed with camera angles, psychological shading and rough-draft dialogue—but whatever was on the page, Sal was always able to take it to another level and do things that many other artists couldn’t. 

There was a sequence at the end of that story where Harry, realizing that he loved Peter Parker too much to let him die, saves a drugged, weak Spidey from a death-trap. Peter, his wife Mary Jane and Harry’s son, Norman, all stand by, shocked and heartbroken, as Harry then collapses, overcome by the toxic Goblin formula. 

On the final two pages, Spidey accompanies Harry into an ambulance, they drive off and Harry passes away, leaving Peter Parker to his grief and memories. When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, it falls to Spider-Man to tell Mary Jane and Norman that Harry’s gone. They react, we cut to a photo of Peter and Harry in happier days...and the story ends. The sequence was small, quiet, but, on an emotional level, it was massive. 
I did everything I could to communicate the power of those last pages to Sal in the plot—along with my thoughts on how the sequence would be handled in the final script. My intention was to verbally milk the pages for all they were worth, wringing out every last drop of emotion; going big and melodramatic via captions, inner monologues from Peter or dialogue between the characters. (Another benefit of "Marvel style": I didn't have to decide then, I could make up my mind when the art was done.)
Then Sal’s pages came in: It was one of his finest hours. The panel to panel flow was cinematic and crystal clear, the characters dramatic and achingly human. And those final two pages? Perfection! At first—locked into my original vision—I began writing captions and dialogue for the end-sequence, but it quickly became clear that everything I wanted to say had already been said, and better, by Sal. It was all there in the pictures. He had translated my plot so expertly that words would have capsized the sequence and destroyed the emotional power of the moment. So I shut my big mouth and let Harry Osborn die in silence, with his best friend by his side.
That, too, is part of a writer’s work—especially in comics: deciding when to speak and when to shut up. Deciding whether to go for a barrage of machine-gun dialogue, a series of powerful captions or to surrender to equally-powerful silence. Whether we’re working full-script of plot-first, we make those decisions on every panel of every page. 
And it certainly helps the process when you’ve got an artist like Sal Buscema bringing your story to life.

©copyright 2018 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. True story...

    A guy at my local comic shop has collected every X-Men comic (with the exception of #1, which he still looks for) and has a dislike for current Marvel And he only reads Marvel.

    He has decided to start collecting Spider-man to fill the void.

    In December I suggested a story line to him, he asked at the time if it was "the best issues of Spectacular Spider-Man ever."

    A few weeks later I handed him the very issue you wrote about, #200. I told him Either it, or #241 was. Same author, that is weird.

    He very much enjoyed it.

    I also use it as an example as to why MJ is such a great character. She is on top of her game as a full rounded character. Also proof that a (female character) doesn't have to kick ass to be a badass.

    It has a great compassionate villain, that is still menacing.

    It shows how to have a great thriller, it is a very exciting story, but relatively little physical combat.

    It is also a dens complete story, in one issue.

    It really should be studied as to how to make a great comic.


    1. Deep thanks, Jack! I'm glad the story still holds up after twenty-five years.

      I hope, one of these days (sooner than later) Marvel gets around to collecting this run. I don't understand why it hasn't happened in all these years.

    2. Anti-Italian sentiments?

      In all fairness to Marvel, they did come kind of late to the reprint game.

      Despite being some of the first to actually reprint in book form, when trades really exploded in the 2000s, with the exception of some artist centric "Legends" books and the big name stories, they stayed pretty much in the realm of what had recently come out.

      Conversely, DC started reprinting classic older runs early, so have been able to expand much further.

      Also, remember how many copies of each issue, Marvel may not find it cost effective to spend the money on a square bound book of issues that can easily be found in dollar bins.

      That's 23 issues, and 23 dollars...compared to what could easily be a $35-40 dollar book...sold largely in comic shops.

      Then there is the less than warm reception Amazing Spider-man has gotten in recent years, so there may not want to have such things having comparisons drawn.

      Then there is the fact that the pro Spider-Marriage camp just gets louder and louder each year, and you do come off as pretty pro-marriage in those issues.

      Then again, it could just be that they don't reprint much of any of the secondary titles of Spider-Man. Spectacular, Sensational, adjectiveless, or Web of, only Amazing.

      Of course, those first 200 issues, I often find them better than Amazing. The focus on character being the reason for the title even existing was pretty nifty.


    3. Well, these days they eventually get around to collecting everything (I've had stories collected that I never thought I'd see again, and maybe didn't want to!), so I still hold out hope for that SPEC run.

    4. Hope springs eternal.

      That same guy from the comic shop I mentioned, asked me for a list of comics.

      I wrote my top 21 post-Stan Lee (cause you have to give Stan a list to himself, or he dominates), A Stan Lee list (just went into that), Honorable mentions (which could easily go in the big 21 if reread), Top 11 stories starring side characters, and a list of solid stories that are overlooked (not necessarily favorites, but cheap and solid, really good reads).

      Those lists had a disproportionate number of Spectacular Spider-man. I think being a side book, whose point was to focus on Peter Parker, really helped develop stories that stood out.

      Among my recommendations were, "Child Within"(#178-184) the Frog-Man one-off that followed #185, and #189,200 (I consider it one story).

      Clearly I loathe that run you are going on about (I was being sarcastic).

      Other stories that may Seem familiar are Specacular Spider-man #241, 242-245, and 250. AS well as the Spider-engagement, Spider-Mariage, Kraven's Last Hunt, Mad Dog Ward, and #300 (again, I view it as one long thing).

      When you look at those first 200 issues though, you are in the comapny of Gerry Conway, Bill Mantle, Archie Goodwin, Roger Stern, Al Milgrom, and Peter David.

      NOt exactly slouches in quality of story telling. And when you consider it was the Spider-book they gave more freedom to, no wonder I love it so much.

      And it IS a drag Marvel doesn't seem to want to reprint those issues in a collection. Not just yours, but all of them.

      Of course, I already have them all, so I only can care so much.

      And remember... Sal Buscema was the FIRST artist on Spectacular Spider-MAn. That alone should warrant a 'visionaries" printing


    5. That's right! I forgot that Sal was the original artist on SPEC! There's hardly anything at Marvel he didn't touch.

      When I worked on MARVEL TEAM-UP, he filled in on several issues. When I wrote CAPTAIN AMERICA, he did the same. (And I think Sal's one of the greatest Cap artists ever.) He even did a fill-in during my DEFENDERS run (although it was one I didn't write). The man can do anything!

      And, yes, he certainly deserves a VISIONARIES book.

    6. You don't have to sell me on Sal Buscema, he drew the first comic I read (I would love to have him sign it one day).

      IN a way he reminds of of John Romita JR. Both of them are related to comic artist royalty known for very elegant, almost classical artwork.

      Both opted more for unique and stylized work, Sal's early work even can be mistaken for his brother's

      Both very good at drawing cities that feel atmospheric and real.

      Both controvertial among fans.

      I have said on this website before, I love Sal Buscema's art, but I can understand people who don't. It has a lot of personality, it is choked full f it. It is unique in its style.

      IN comics, the more personalty, at least when it moves away from "refined skills," creates love or hate.

      By the way, how familiar are you with George A. Romero?

      You have quite a bit of commentary about consumerism in Scoobs Apocs, and Romero has always said that Dawn of the Dead was a critique on consumerism.

      The movie even says that the ghouls gather outside teh mall, it is said to be instinct and a vague memory of their former life... similar to Scoobs Apocs.


    7. The only Romero I've ever seen was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which was a television staple back in the day. Keith has told me that DAWN was an inspiration for the Scooby mall scenario.

    8. It still is a TV staple, and dollar store bins, there is no copyright on the movie do it costs almost nothing to show or sell.

      The real question is, what would it take to have you and Sal Buscema to do a reunion issue?


    9. If Marvel asked, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

    10. I think you might have to get Sal Buscema on board as well. How hard that would be, I couldn't tell you.


    11. Sal is semi-retired. He inks occasionally, but really doesn't pencil anymore. But, in my fantasies at least, I can convince him to do it!

    12. I am picturing an 80s style cop movie, where you have to convince him to do one more job.

      I look forward to his, "this time... its personal," moment.

      The only question is, what is the emotional trigger?


    13. "But, Sal—Pete and MJ are in trouble. They need you!"

    14. Do we know what Buscema's view on the Spider-Marriage? Does anyone know? Maybe that is it.

      JMD: We have to bring the marriage back SAl, Marvel will only do it if it is us.

      Sal: They broke those kids up? I believed in those crazy kids, what they had was beautiful. Dematteis...

      JMD: Yeah Sal?

      Sal: Move away from the easel, this time its personal (obviously taking aim with his pencil as he closes one eye and looks at the paper)

      I would love to see a a comic being made with the vibe of a gritty 80s thriller. I think we know the next stage of the MCU Marvel Comics, Behind the scenes... With a Vengeance.

      The big scen where you think the cop is going to get shot from behind... Beuscema's hand cramps.

      Here is a question for you Dematteis.

      You said you would write Spidey again if you had a story you wanted to tell.

      What if Marvel came up to you and said they will only bring back the Spider-Marriage if YOU write the story, and commit to two years of stories after the fact.

      Now, you are pro-marriage. More importantly, you know the fans would be ecstatic. I guarantee the sales would go to insane (by current standards) numbers.

      Would you do it. If you had no idea in mind, would you pass, or tap into the freelancer spirit and say "I;m sure a hard deadline will help me come up with something, honey (your wife)... pass the chips, and be quick. I have writing due in two weeks, so I NEED to start in 13 days and 18 hours. Yes I AM working. I am Too. I'm creating, rolling it around in my head. Wheels always tuning, I.m a professional for god's sa... are those chedar and sour cream? Score!"

      More importantly, if an editor and chief made such a weirdly specific choice that could cost the company a lot of respect, and juggled such big profits on a weird whim of condition... how quickly would he be on the sidewalk outside asking about the Unemployment Line's location.

      Its a weird specificity for a major character. Gotta have a back up. Gotta commit to the idea.


    15. I like a good challenge so, if that gauntlet was thrown down, I'd probably go for it!

    16. Well, if that gauntlet has 6 gems in it, the task will probably be a lot easier.


    17. Here is something you may or not be interested.

      So nI mentioned the guy from my comic shop who is a huge X-fan, and has recently decided to start going sort of heavy of Spider-books. I also mentioned that he asked for a list of my favorite stories... which spun into a few lists.

      Anyway, he is also a big music guy. Toured with bands, has a couple walls in his house completely blocked out by CDs and records, and admittedly studied liner noted to figure out how things came together.

      Anyway, after I gave him the list he was very appreciative. And I suggested, that if he wanted to make it up to me, then what might be fun is for him to recommend songs for each story. Especially since the plan is for us at some point to discuss them.

      Since you come up an awful lot on those listS, I may at somepoint have a soundtrack to your work. Along with Conway, Wein, Defalco, and of course Lee. Well parts of tehm.


    18. Well, please share the list here, Jack, when you have it all done! Very cool idea.

    19. Well Dematteis, there is a top 21 list. Then there is a list of 15-17 honorable mentions(stories that might replace some top 21 spots if I reread them), 17 overlooked stories (not faves, but good and cheap), TOp 7 Stan Lee stories (because you have to remove Lee or he dominates the list), and 11 or so starring supporting characters, but fall under Spidey's banner (he said Spider-Man, what do I do if it is an aunt MAy story).

      Then, because he is weirdly nutty about Christmas, a list of every Spider-Man Christmas story.

      So, it will be a while until it is done. Of course, he every new comic due to not liking any of them (he is Marvel only, in case you are wondering).

      You're work shows up about 13 times across all lists (admittedly Spec. 200 is looped in with the prelude in 189, and KLH is in with the engagement, wedding, Mad Dog Ward and AMZ #300)

      -Conway shows up 7 times (none of them the Death of Gwen Stacy (I like the story, but it doesn't crack favorite, or is it cheap)
      -Deflaco is at 6, but shares two slots with you (don't cry for him, I lumped treh whole 80s Hobgoblin saga into 1)
      -Stern - 2 ( I think)
      -Peter David came in at 5
      -Bill MAntlo/Al Milgrom would be at 9
      -Michilline is at 5 (two shared)
      - And Stan Lee obviously got his own list.

      Of course, that goes by the rough draft sitting next to the computer.

      He is going to have a pretty good read, their are other writers on the list as well, juat not names to put on because of number also, wanted to keep big and classic names.

      It was kind of hard though. He wanted stories, and their eras I like (The Wein/Wolfman years from 15-200 and all five post clone saga titles until the end of vol. 1) but had touble picking out STORIES.

      Wein only got 1, and post Clone Saga got 3, while Wolfman didn't get any. It was sort of discouraging to have to leave great stuff off the table... only because I loved what they were doing issue to tissue with the character more than the story.

      I won't lie, as I used to make the list, I became very excited about revisiting these great stories... especially personal faves that got overlookded (and that includes the top 21).

      There was even briefly talk of a podcast for it once... but I doubt it and don't care one way or the other,

      Meanwhile, my pull ist gets smaller and smaller.

      It will nice to go over old times with my old pal Peter Parker, we have only spoken a few times since his marriage ended a while back.

      Sifting was hard to, it is shocking how strong so many of those stories are in my head.

      But, how hard do you cry, if no Beatles songs show up for any songs?


    20. Also, any word o that Swamp Thing issue? If so, thoughts?


    21. Got the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. The lead story was excellent, but, of course, I got the book for the Len story and I wasn't disappointed. It was Classic Wein and the art brought it beautifully to life. So sad that Len never had a chance to dialogue it, but I'm glad we have one last remembrance of Len and his amazing connection to the classic character he co-created.

    22. Do the podcast, Jack. Sounds like it would be great.

      And I'll deal with it if there are no Beatles songs on the list. I'm tougher than I look.

    23. Swamp Thing -
      That is the thing that is so weird, that I was hoping to get your comment on... he did write dialogue.

      If you look on the pages with the printed script, there is clearly dialogue. It is in quotation marks and everything.

      That is what I find so odd, and what I can't make up my mind about, if it was a good decision or not.

      Spider-MAn -
      Podcasts everyone does podcasts these days. This guy I made the lists for even used to do a pod cast about the X-Men.


      "And I'll deal with it if there are no Beatles songs on the list. I'm tougher than I look."

      He says as tears run down his face. Remembering that he compared both John Constantine AND Christ, so how could Spider-Man not match up?

      I'm a little worried that if there isn't, and you find out, you'll have a new address with padded walls. Or on the street rambling about how John Lennon was the true son of God.

      I always thought Peter Parker would be more of a Yardbirds fan. Kind of fits the coffee house vibe Lee and Romita set up.

      To tie the two together, I always figured that Len Wein used SPider-Man as a basis when he redid the X-Men.

      Lee left so early, that for most of the original run, they never felt like outsiders.

      They just seemed like normal kids. Hell, the cool kids. They just stated that they were hated. Maybe that works better for the metaphor, with them being all-American and all, I don't know.

      But it was the only book without classic Stan Lee angst.

      Wein had been writing Marvel Team Up, and making Spidey kind of confrontational.

      Of course, with Claremont working with him so early, and taking the reigns for a decade+, who knows?


    24. When you're working so-called "Marvel style"—plot-first—there's always dialogue in the plot; my plots are filled with dialogue. But when you jump to script you refine that dialogue, throw some out, add more, etc. So the dialogue in Len's plot was just place-holder stuff to get the story across. He would have done much more with it had he been able to do the actual script.

    25. I'll take your word for it.

      But did you read it WITH the dialogue, as I doubled back and did?

      It is almost like getting two stories.

      Plus, I watched the season premiere of Legion. I don't know if you have seen it, but this was my first episode. It is reminiscent of an inkling, of what a PKD superhero might possibly be.


    26. No, I didn't double back. Maybe I should.

      I watched the first season of LEGION and really enjoyed it. David Lynch does the X-Men! Or, yeah, a PKD superhero.

    27. I know that since pop culture has become the new religion, saying one is more interested in comics and prose science fiction than films is like saying you are a Jew in the Vatican, so I apologize.

      I will never darken the reputation of movies... sorry... the cinema... again, by using another medium when I could use them.

      David Lynch it is. I as a fool to even think PKD.

      And this is what it would look like if Wes Anderson made an X-Men film:

      As for Swampy, I would recommend rereading it with the dialogue. It changed the story a bit for me, when I did it. In a good way.


    28. That was excellent. I can see a whole series of these, done in the style of famous directors. "What if Orson Welles directed Batman?" I'd pay money for that one.

    29. There were rumors for a while that Welles did just that.

      He was a noted comic and pulp fan.

      In the books The Cinatown Death Cloud Peril, Welles (a fictional one) explains to Walter Gibson (creator of The Shadow) how he would start a film based on the Shadow.


    30. Sadly, that's all it is: a rumor. I've read (at least) a dozen books about Welles and I've never seen any hint that it's true. But wouldn't that have been amazing?

    31. Orson Welles WAS in a Superman #62, where the two fought Fascist Martians.

      That is somewhat more impressive.


    32. I've seen the cover but never read it!

    33. There was also a rumor he was the Black Dahlia killer.


    34. I've read about that one. Totally unfounded and reflective of how disliked Welles was in Hollywood in the days when he first arrived there.

    35. I didn't say it was true, I just said there was a rumor.

      And of course Welles was hated in Hollywood. He was married to Rita Hayworth, in her prime.

      They had envy in the 40s.

      Not a rumor: He was among the first civilians to see images of the Holocaust. I believe that was part of the inspiration for "The Stranger."

      However, comic book legend Neal Adams, saw those horrific images, less censored, earlier and at a younger age.

      And Hitchcock was charged by the U.S. Army with editing them into a sort of documentary, but he took so long that they scrapped the idea.

      Politics changed.

      I don't know if Welles was brought in for a potential similar reason for his viewing, or not.

      He also liked fish sticks.


    36. Welles life was like...well, an Orson Welles movie. I keep waiting for someone to do a smart film biography, or even a TV mini-series, because I think it would be both fascinating and gripping. It's a story that you couldn't make up.

      His life was so interesting that the book YOUNG ORSON, which came out a couple of years ago, only goes up to the beginning of CITIZEN KANE and it's a very long and gripping read.

      Of course Welles' greatest appearance in comics wasn't in that SUPERMAN issue you mentioned, but in SAVIOR 28. : )

    37. I'm pretty sure it is tied between The Shadow, that campaign commercial he did, and the radio drama Rod Serling adapted to the Twilight Zone. Or somebody adapted.


    38. Well, I just wrote a lengthy reply and it somehow vanished into cyberspace.

      Yes, Serling adapted the story, originally written for radio by Lucille Fletcher for one of Welles' post-MERCURY THEATER shows. He both directed and starred in it and it's chilling.

      Serling changed the lead to a woman, played by Inger Stevens. But I'm sure you know that. Also, the music for the original radio version had music by Bernard Hermann, who also contributed memorable music to THE ZONE.

      Welles performed THE HITCH HIKER several times on radio. Here's a link to one of them:

    39. I already have it on CD.

      I am interested in just what was in that lengthy response.

      My guess it was some unfavorable views about bringing up that commercial.

      And to salve that wound:


    40. The first response was pretty much the same as the second one. I just had to reconstruct it from memory.

      Really nice song. Never heard of Devonsquare. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I also want to say this, Bill Mantlo's Spectacular Spider-man is underrated.


    1. Don't really recall Bill's run, but I'll take your word for it!

    2. Technically speaking, he had two runs. The one I am talking about is from #62-89.

      These covers may jog your memory:

      Highlights include the creation of and fleshing out of Cloak and Dagger, Deb Whitman's nervous breakdown, entering a toxic relationship with Black Cat, and Doc Ock terrifying Pete so much, that he actually says goodbye to his friends.

      Pete's entrance into the gritty 80s. The Punisher's rise as a VILLAIN. Black Cat finds out SPidey's true identity and rejects it!

      Ah, the good old days, when a cover actually reminds of what is insode a book.


    3. I can't tell you how many times in the past 15 years I have bought a comics twice, because the covers were just generic superhero poses, and I couldn't tell you what it was about.

      The real question is, did I jump start an appreciation for Mr. Mantlo's work?


    4. I think a symbolic or poster cover is nice once in a while, but I'm a big fan of covers that tell a story. But I think you know that.

      Re: Mantlo. I certainly appreciate his work. Just didn't remember his SPEC run!

    5. But, do you remember it Now?


    6. I don't think I was following the book then. Or maybe I was and don't remember. It's been a long time!

    7. If they ever collect THAT, or you want to just to dive headlong into cheap back issues, I would recommend it.


  3. I just randomly happened across this post from elsewhere and wanted to say that this was the comic that solidified my lifelong love of comics. Reading it at age 14, it made me realize that they could be sophisticated, intelligent, and profoundly moving. I literally pulled this issue out for the first time in years earlier this week because my girlfriend wanted to know why I came to love comics. It is extraordinary, a masterclass. Thank you J.M. - you opened a door that has never closed.

    1. You're very welcome, Sam. Thanks for taking the time to reach out.