In the lead-up to the recently released “Superior Spider-Man” #26, Marvel Comics promised a “goblin fight like no other” as the Green Goblin and the “original” Hobgoblin squared off in the prologue of the hyped “Goblin Nation” arc. But while there’s still an air of mystery as to who is under the Green Goblin mask, many of you may need a reminder of the “original” identity of the one, true Hobgoblin.
Introduced by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. in 1983’s “Amazing Spider-Man” (ASM) #238, the Hobgoblin has one of the most complicated and convoluted histories of any supervillain in the Marvel Universe. The mystery initially surrounding the character’s identity made the Hobgoblin an instant phenomenon for Marvel and the rightful villainous successor to the Green Goblin — a character that had been reinvented two times over with middling results after the original, Norman Osborn, was killed by Gerry Conway and Gil Kane in the iconic ASM #122.
“ASM #238 has a great hook,” says Glenn Greenberg, former “Spectacular Spider-Man” writer who co-edited 1999’s “Hobgoblin Lives” miniseries with Tom Brevoort. “I remember reading that issue for the first time and thinking they were introducing the true successor to the Green Goblin. With the second and third Goblins [Harry Osborn, Norman’s son, and Bart Hamilton, Harry’s shrink, respectively], Peter Parker never broke a sweat in dispatching them.”
Further adding to the character’s allure, Stern’s Hobgoblin was considerably more calculating and manipulative than Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin. The Hobgoblin was unquestionably a cold-blooded sociopath, killing off a number of subordinates on the off chance that they were getting close to uncovering his secret identity, showing was a method to his madness, unlike Osborn, who would spontaneously revert to his villainous alter-ego at the drop of a hat.
In conversations with then-Spider-Man group editor Tom DeFalco, Stern said he intended to string the mystery of the Hobgoblin along for about as long as it took Stan Lee to reveal the identity of the Green Goblin, who was first introduced by Lee and Steve Ditko in ASM #14 and was unmasked as Norman by Lee and John Romita Sr. in ASM #39.
DeFalco, who has a “small connection to mystery books and novels in ‘another world,'” told Stern that he was “going to keep a list of suspects, and I’m going to cross them off as they’re gone, to see if whether or not I agree with you.”
But after scripting six Hobgoblin-starring issues, Stern and Romita Jr. left the title with Issue #250, turning the reins over to DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz. Stern contributed the plot to issue #251, the third part of his final Hobgoblin arc, which ends with the villain mysteriously disappearing after his van crashes in the water, leaving behind nothing but his mask. In the two previous issues, Stern was clearly laying the groundwork for who he intended to be revealed as the Hobgoblin — putting a peculiar amount of focus on the skittish businessman Roderick Kingsley, a character Stern had introduced a few years earlier in “Spectacular Spider-Man” #43 as an effeminate fashion mogul.
Given that Kingsley was portrayed more as a punchline than a legitimate threat to Spider-Man — shouting things like, “Oh, my gahwd” when his fashion samples were replaced by a rival with burlap sacks — Stern developed a twist to his big reveal. Roderick would have a brother, Daniel, a character that had not been formally introduced in the comic book universe outside of a brief mention in a scene in ASM #250, when Kingsley questions where his brother disappeared to. While the brothers weren’t twins, Stern argued that Daniel looked enough like Roderick that, with the help of a hairpiece, he could imitate him at business meetings and social events, while the Hobgoblin dropped pumpkin bombs on Spider-Man and raided Osborn’s secret hideouts.
“Roderick was a manipulator, a totally amoral businessman who used people and then tossed them to the side,” Stern said. “As I was scripting ASM #238, I realized that the voice I was developing for the man who was about to become the Hobgoblin, was the same as Kingsley’s voice. That was when I realized that he was my ideal choice.”
DeFalco disagreed, however, and went in his own direction with the character once he became the lead writer for ASM. To this day, DeFalco dismisses Stern’s plan as “Roderick Kingsley’s evil twin.”
Even Frenz, who went on to provide pencils for Stern on the “Hobgoblin Lives” miniseries, which puts forward Stern’s original plan, remains incredulous about the not-twins-who-look-alike narrative.
“Come on, Rog! I love you dearly, and I respect the hell out of you, but how are you going to fool people if they’re not identical twins?” Frenz said. “They have to at least be twins.”
Danny Fingeroth, who succeeded DeFalco as Spider-book group editor, said he and DeFalco sat down to discuss the Hobgoblin’s future and decided to take things in a new direction, in part, “out of respect for Roger.”
So, with Stern’s ideas officially in Marvel’s rear view mirror, DeFalco and Frenz moved forward in charting new waters for the Hobgoblin. If DeFalco had been able to carry his plans to fruition, Richard Fisk, son of the nefarious “Kingpin” of crime, Wilson Fisk, would have eventually been revealed as the Hobgoblin, while, as a nod to Stern, Roderick Kingsley — sans brother — would be the Rose, the purple mask-wearing, well-coiffed crime boss who was introduced by DeFalco and Frenz in ASM #253.
Meanwhile, longtime Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds, a character introduced during the Lee/Ditko era of ASM, would be used as a red herring by DeFalco. During the DeFalco/Frenz run, Leeds’s marriage with Betty Brant was on the rocks after Betty was caught by her husband canoodling with Flash Thompson, Peter Parker’s high school bully-turned-war hero. When Flash is framed as the Hobgoblin in ASM #276, DeFalco’s master plans of misdirection appeared to be working out perfectly.
And that’s when things got weird. With ASM #264, Christopher Priest, then known as James Owsley, took over for Fingeroth as group editor of the Spider-books. In an interview conducted by Greenberg for the August 2009 edition of “Back Issue” (No. 35), Frenz described Priest’s editorship as “rough waters” from the onset. “It was the opposite of a smooth transition. He came in like an atom bomb.”
In the same article, DeFalco bluntly states, “Priest and I did not get along,” later adding, “I didn’t trust Priest.”
Priest, who declined to be interviewed for this article, but has outlined his time on Spider-Man on his personal website, described his relationship with DeFalco and Frenz as initially being more congenial, even outright friendly.
As time went on, however, relations between DeFalco/Frenz and Priest worsened. Per his post, Priest said, among other thing, Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter “told me, at least a dozen times, to fire Tom,” and that other creators working on ASM had quit the book due to DeFalco and Frenz being “habitually erratic.”
Around this time, DeFalco recalled attending a meeting with members of the comic book industry press when Priest demanded that he tell the gathering who was going to be revealed as Hobgoblin. Incredulous, DeFalco said it was Ned Leeds to quiet Priest and throw the press off the scent.
Priest fired DeFalco, an action he says “ended our friendship.” After Shooter questioned Priest’s decision, the young editor responded that it had been Shooter’s idea. Shooter;s response — “Yeah- but I never thought you’d actually do it,” made Priest realize that he was living on borrowed time as editor of the Spider-books.
For the first storyline post-DeFalco/Frenz, Priest took over on scripting duties for the five-part “Gang War” arc (ASM #284-288) that DeFalco had plotted. The story centered around all of New York City’s criminal elements clashing in the wake of the Kingpin’s disappearance. The arc advances a growing rivalry between the Hobgoblin and the Jack O’Lantern, aka, Jason Macendale. Meanwhile, in defiance to DeFalco’s original plans, Richard Fisk is revealed as the Rose, while Roderick Kingley briefly appears in a few scenes, to remind the world of his existence. Ned is portrayed as being increasingly more erratic and malevolent, setting the stage for what appeared to be his inevitable unmasking as the villain.
Or maybe not. A month after “Gang War” kicked off, Priest scripted the “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine” one-shot, a well-written story that both demonstrated what makes the two heroes so strikingly different while hinting at personal demons that make them alike. After Spider-Man inadvertently kills someone at the end of the story, he reunites with Mary Jane, planting the seed for their marriage later that year, something Priest described as “the worst creative move the company could have made. But the comic also featured a scene that threw everyone involved with Spider-Man comic universe for a loop: Ned is killed — his throat slit — by an unknown assassin.
If Priest thought Leeds was going to be revealed as the Hobgoblin, why would he kill him “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine?” “Priest decided to fire me from Spider-Man because he knew I would kill him if I was on ‘Amazing’ when it came out,” DeFalco said.
And that’s not just DeFalco’s perspective; others have also stated it’s their belief Priest killed Leeds primarily out of spite for DeFalco.
Enter Peter David. David had filled in for DeFalco on ASM, scripting the fan favorite story “The Commuter Cometh.” As the regular writer on “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man,” David also wrote “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” a genre-bending story regarded by many comic book readers as one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told. Per his DigitalPriest.com entry, Priest long championed David’s work around the Marvel editorial office. So he was Priest’s logical choice to script the Hobgoblin’s reveal in what was eventually released as ASM #289.
When Priest pitched the idea to David, he asked him if he could figure out who the Hobgoblin was. David’s answer: “Ned Leeds.” Priest told him he couldn’t be Leeds because he was killing him off in the “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine” one-shot.
“Why would you do that?” David asked. “‘To piss off Tom DeFalco,'” David recalled Priest telling him.
By that point, Priest wanted to reveal the Foreigner –a master assassin introduced by David in “Web of Spider-Man” — as the Hobgoblin. David vehemently disagreed with the idea, claiming that the Spider-writers had long agreed that the Hobgoblin would be revealed as a character who had been around since his introduction in ASM #238. That would immediately discount the Foreigner, who debuted about a year prior to ASM #289 being published.
Priest wouldn’t be around long enough to witness the reveal from the editorial side, as his earlier suspicion became reality and he was replaced on the Spider-books by Jim Salicrup, who wanted to move the books on from the past few years of drama as desperately as possible. His first issue was ASM #289.
“There was a Lot of chaos and confusion, and I just wanted to get past that as quickly as I could,” Salicrup recalled. “I probably didn’t handle (the Hobgoblin reveal) the best possible way.”
David pitched the idea that was eventually used for the issue to his new editor: In ASM #289, published in June 1987, the Kingpin would tell Spider-Man that Ned was the Hobgoblin, and that he was killed by the Foreigner’s men in Germany while he was on assignment for the Daily Bugle. When Peter walked in and found Ned dead in “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine,” he was witnessing the aftermath of the Hobgoblin’s murder. Meanwhile, Macendale ditched the Jack O’Lantern persona and co-opted the identity of his rival and started gliding around New York City as the new Hobgoblin.
“I was satisfied with what I wrote, because I was thrust into a situation that I absolutely could not win. It’s the most insane project I’ve ever been involved with,” David said. “It was a story that I did because there was absolutely no other way to do it. ”
To officially put the mystery to bed, Priest scripted a two-part “Web of Spider-Man” story (issues #29-30) explaining how Ned convinced Richard Fisk to join his criminal empire as the Rose. In one scene, Roderick Kingsley is shot and presumed dead. The Hobgoblin saga was over.
“Oh, and suddenly Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin,” Priest recalls on his website. “[It was] a move that infuriated Roger Stern, but one I had absolutely nothing to do with.”
Thus ends Part 1 of the Secret Origin of the Secret Identity of the Hobgoblin! Check back later this week for the second half of the tale!