SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #1 - January 1997
Credits: Roger Stern (writer), Ron Frenz & George Perez (art), Christie Scheele (colors), Jim Novak (letters)
The Plot: Jason Macendale is convicted of the Hobgoblin’s crimes, but on his way out of the courtroom, publicly names Ned Leeds as the original Hobgoblin. Later, Macendale is killed in prison by the original Hobgoblin. The Hobgoblin then visits “Roderick” Kingsley, forcing him to revive their previous working relationship.
Review: I’m only going to do capsule reviews of the Hobgoblin Lives limited series, largely because the behind-the-scenes details relating to the Hobgoblin’s true identity, and the tangled continuity that surrounded the original mystery, have already been covered extensively by others. Comic Book Legends Revealed did a far better job than I could ever do, so check those articles out if you want to learn more.
The premise behind this limited series is to reveal who Roger Stern originally intended the Hobgoblin to be back in the early ‘80s, and considering that Wizard magazine loved to play up the idea that the Hobgoblin’s true identity remained a secret all these years later, this did seem like kind of a big deal. Wizard also seemed to be adamant that Roger Stern was the last great Spider-Man writer, so that certainly helped to build up anticipation for the limited series. (Wizard’s nostalgia for the Roger Stern issues always struck me as a bit overblown. I like Stern’s run, and can certainly understand why he seemed like a breath of fresh air at the time, but I’ve never understood their dismissive attitude towards practically everything that came later.)
The first issue largely serves as a reintroduction to every Hobgoblin suspect from the early ‘80s, and as an argument against the “proof” that Ned Leeds was truly the Hobgoblin. Neither of these elements is going to be a perfect fit; most of the Hobgoblin suspects had disappeared over a decade earlier, and no one in the comics ever seemed to doubt Ned’s role as the Hobgoblin. The editors tried to make the reintroduction of the forgotten characters less abrupt by sneaking them into various Spider-Man comics leading up to this series, which is really all that they could’ve done. Regarding Ned Leed’s exoneration, Stern hinges it on the idea that the super-powered Hobgoblin couldn’t have been killed by four ordinary assassins. That’s not necessarily true, and it’s certainly odd that it’s Mary Jane who suddenly develops this theory. However, what makes the Ned Leeds fake-out more palatable is knowing that another person, Lefty Donovan, died while posing as the Hobgoblin years earlier. So there is a precedent for the Hobgoblin setting doppelgangers up to be killed in order to cover his tracks. Revealing that Ned just happened to be the latest isn’t much of a stretch at all.
For fans of the original storyline, this limited series has to be a treat. Not only is Roger Stern revealing the Hobgoblin’s true identity, he’s also bringing back all of the old suspects and taking in a lot of disparate Spider-Man continuity to deepen the mystery. (This has to be one of the very few times Terry Kavanagh’s Web of Spider-Man run was acknowledged by another writer.) Fans who missed the original issues probably won’t get nearly as much of it, even though this is still an engaging Spider-Man story with great art. My only real problem, as a reader who only knew Jason Macendale as the Hobgoblin, was his pathetic death scene. I was already kind of annoyed with some writers’ insistence that Macendale was a perennial loser, but it’s even more irritating to see him killed off in a flagrant attempt to build up another character.
SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #2 - February 1997
Back in Business
Credits: Roger Stern (writer), Ron Frenz, Jerome Moore, & Scott Hanna (art), Joe Andreani (colors), Jim Novak (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man asks Betty Brant-Leeds and Flash Thompson to help him investigate the Hobgoblin’s true identity. Meanwhile, the Hobgoblin strikes an Osborn industrial plant. After Betty makes a public announcement that she’s found her late husband’s personal notes, she’s confronted by the Hobgoblin. Spider-Man engages him in a fight, and is left for dead in the East River.
Review: Another issue spent recapping the established clues and teasing various characters as potential Hobgoblin(s). Former Bugle writer Jacob Conover is the preferred red herring this issue, as Stern reminds everyone that he hated Ned Leeds and was involved with stories connected to the Hobgoblin back in the day. Jacob Conover would’ve been a terrible choice as the Hobgoblin, but honestly, not much worse than the actual culprit we’ll discover in the next issue. The real highlight this time is Frenz’s art; there are some truly fantastic shots of Spider-Man and the Hobgoblin this issue.
SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #3 - March 1997
Credits: Roger Stern (writer), Ron Frenz & Bob McLeod (art), Christie Scheele (colors), Jim Novak (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man swims out of the river and eventually locates the spider-tracer hidden in Betty’s tape recorder. Before he arrives, Hobgoblin confesses to Betty that he brainwashed Ned and used him as a doppelganger to cover his activities. When he grew bored with crime, he had Ned killed. Spider-Man arrives and eventually unmasks the Hobgoblin, revealing him as Roderick Kingsley. Meanwhile, Betty discovers Kingsley’s brother Daniel has been impersonating Roderick. The Kingsley brothers are placed in jail, enabling Peter and his friends to move on.
Review: And here’s the grand reveal…the Hobgoblin is a long forgotten minor character from the early ‘80s that practically disappeared after Roger Stern left the books. Not knowing who Roderick Kingsley was at all was kind of annoying (from my perspective as a snotty teenager), but I can’t imagine that the fans who actually remembered Kingsley were thrilled with this revelation, either. Having recently read Kingsley’s first appearances in the Spider-Man Legends: Roger Stern trade, I now know that the guy’s about as intimidating as Barry Manilow. On a gut level, it just feels like a trick. However, the idea of a corrupt fashion designer stumbling across the Green Goblin’s gear and kind of cheating his way into super-villainy does sort of sound like a classic Marvel premise. The Red Skull was once a bellhop, after all, so maybe this isn’t so ridiculous.
The revelation that the “Roderick Kingsley” we saw in the first issue was actually his brother in a toupee, however, that one I’m not going to forgive. Kingsley’s brother was only mentioned once during the original storyline, so while it’s somewhat admirable that Stern planted this seed a long time ago and finally got to pay it off, it just feels kind of cheap. The bad guy is covering his identity with a brother, who happens to look exactly like him, even though they’re not twins and he’s somehow ended up with a baldness gene that skipped Roderick. I believe Tom DeFalco knew about this original plan during his stint as writer and he nixed it because it didn’t feel as if Stern was playing fair with the reader. I’ll side with DeFalco on this one.
That said, I don’t want to give the impression that I hated this miniseries. I actually thought it was a lot of fun; the big revelation is more of an annoyance than anything, since I have no investment in the original mystery. And you’ve got to give Stern credit for the amount of research he put into the project, and for all of the ways he’s able to justify several writers’ continuity and make all of this feel like a coherent story. This is also one of the best-looking Spider-Man projects released during this era. It’s a shame that Ron Frenz wasn’t asked to do more Spidey work during these days (especially considering the numerous fill-in artists that were brought in, none of them as good as Frenz). Just imagine a Ron Frenz/George Perez run on one of the Spider-titles during this era, instead of some of the imitation Image stuff that kept coming out. I would like to know the story behind the gigantic, off-model spider-emblem on Spider-Man’s chest, though. That’s the true mystery.