The popular story (and unfounded rumor) maintains that Ditko wanted the secret identity of The Goblin to be revealed as a total unknown--a nobody, if you will. This same story goes that Stan Lee wanted the Goblin's secret identity to be revealed as Norman Osborne for which the continuing story had been leaving hints. This story is made semi-believable by the myth that Stan Lee was actually writing the book. But it was Ditko who was writing The Amazing Spider-Man and he had not been building up the clues pointing to Osborne for nothing.
Another reason this false story is believed by so many comics fans is that Ditko had already used that plot device in another storyline involving the Goblin. Ditko had introduced a continuing shady character called The Crime-Master and he actually did follow that storyline out to the conclusion mentioned in the myth about why he left the book. In issue #27 of The Amazing Spider-Man, the Crime Master is finally cornered and shot to death by police officers. When they unmask him he turns out to be nobody, a character no one in the series had ever seen without the mask. It was a brilliant stroke on Ditko's part, especially considering that he had left clues that the villain was someone known within the continuity of the book. Ditko was skilled at surprising the readers. This is not an easy thing to do with the formulaic mechanisms of super-hero comics.
Having used this plot device once, there is no reason Ditko would turn to it again less than two years later to wrap up the Green Goblin storyline. He had already played that one out in the Crime-Master series, and I'm sure he wasn't interested in leading his fans down that same path once again.
During the last years of Spider-Man, Ditko did excel at creating villains who were mysterious, who were unknown, and had the readers chomping at the bit to know the bad guy's true identity. He did this with his arguably greatest villain, the Green Goblin. He followed it up with the Crime-Master. And he did it a third time in what became his penultimate work, the Master Planner story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man issues #31 through #33. And in that one he played the story like a fine instrument and the secret identity of the mystery villain was revealed to be...a well known villain from past issues of the book (Doctor Octopus). It was a stroke of pure brilliance.
So while the cycle of good versus evil, of the super-hero versus super-villain, was one that Ditko was, by necessity, going to use over and over, he was not a writer to repeat himself at as fine a point in the plot as to use an exact device quick in succession. If he was going to reveal a secret identity again, it was going to be something different--not a rehashing of a storyline he'd used so recently.
After Ditko left Marvel, his creations continued to make vast sums for the company. Indeed, the stories he'd left behind as his legacy were mined again and again by creators far less gifted. Just look to the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 to see how even small details he added to stories were stolen to produce work credited to others in later years.
But let's put to rest once and for all the myth that Ditko abandoned his most powerful creation, The Amazing Spider-Man, over a quibble with his editor concerning the secret identity of the Green Goblin. Ditko had always intended that it was Norman Osborne. That may have been a surprise to his editor, and to his fans. But it was the plan all along for Steve Ditko.
It obviously took a far more egregious moral crime committed against him to make Ditko walk away from his characters. The nature of those crimes we can only surmise from the clues left behind. And those clues are far more serious than a silly comic book plot. And the villains far more evil than Norman Osborne, for they are real, and their crimes continue even today, years after Ditko walked the high moral ground and took his leave of Marvel and the thieves who robbed him.
But I know the identity of the hero in that sad story, and his name is Steve Ditko.
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