Monday, September 23, 2013

SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #1-3, Jan-Mar 1997



SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #1 - January 1997

 


Victims
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




Secrets
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.

16 comments:

Matt said...

PART ONE IN A 2-PART COMMENT

Okay, I have a lot to say about this one, so apologies in advance.

I loved this limited series when it came out. At the time I would've been 19-20 years old. My exposure to the original Stern Spidey run overall was limited, however I had a copy of the 1992 Origin of the Hobgoblin trade paperback, which I had bought when it first came out (so when I was about 13), which was -- and still is -- the most-read Spidey book in my collection. I mean, typically when I finish a book it looks like it was never opened because I'm so anal with them. But Origin was battered and dog-eared from being read, re-read, loaned out, and just generally used more than any book I'd ever owned.

So, long story short, the original Hobgoblin storyline was one of the defining moments of my Spider-Man fandhood, even if I wasn't really reading when it was first published (although the very first comic I have a memory of owning was Amazing #245). In the era of Venom, Carnage, Peter's parents, Michelinie and Bagley, I was a huge fan of Roger Stern and the original Hobgoblin. I really had few problems with the Macendale version, but the original blew him away in all respects.

Thus, when Hobgoblin Lives! came out, I was one hundred percent on board with no reservations. And I wasn't dissappointed. Stern is, to me, the best Spider-Man writer after Stan Lee, and while I was enjoying the other Spider-books quite a bit at the time (I agree with you that there was plenty of good stuff post-Stern), Hobgoblin Lives! was the one I looked forward to every month. I read each issue and then immediately re-read them. I then re-read them again a month later just before reading the next one. I bought the trade paperback when it came out a few months afterward, even though I had just purchased all the individual issues. I wanted it on my bookcase alongside Origin. Beyond that, I went back and acquired every issue I could find from the end notes, and eventually the full Stern run.

Matt said...

PART TWO IN A 2-PART COMMENT

I honestly can't explain why this limited series captured my attention like it did, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that I was infatuated with it. So any attempt I make to objectively critique it will fail, because I loved it so much. I think a big part of the attraction for me was the "continuity porn" aspect. I love stories that reference past issues and connect dots like this, even if I've never read the issues in question. It just makes we want to go out and find them. Within a year of Hobgoblin Lives!, I was a certified Roderick Kingsley-o-phile. I had all of his appearances, even the single-panel ones.

All that said, I will admit that the mystery was a little underwhelming. Part of this is due to the fact that one of the chief Hobgoblin suspects, Lance Bannon, had been killed off in intervening years. Beyond that, as you note, the majority of the possible Hobgoblins had been long missing from Spidey's pages. Heck, Stern had barely started the mystery when he left Amazing. After a handful of appearances we knew the Hobgoblin was wealthy and concerned with his status in high society, but we didn't really have any suspects as to who he might be.

On top of all that, I would even say that the Kingsley reveal was pretty well telegraphed somewhere around the second issue. I was pretty sure Kingsley would turn out to be the Hobgoblin; I just wasn't quite sure how. I agree that the "identical non-twin brother" thing is a bit of a cheat, but I didn't mind it much. It wouldn't work in real life, but I'm okay with swallowing my suspension of disbelief for it in a comic book.

So none of those potential issues mattered to me at the time. I was engrossed. I loved it. And I still do, really. I bought the more recent TPB edition a year or so back, because it also includes the "Goblins at the Gate" storyline, Stern's final association with the Hobgoblin.

So, what is the final point of this long, rambling post? I'm not sure, except to express my enthusiasm for Hobgoblin Lives!

P.S.: I just noticed you added a link to my new blog. Thanks!!

wwk5d said...

I thought this series was...ok. It seemed more about Stern's ego, and righting something he felt was wrong (and makes him seem like a huge hypocrite as well). But as you said, the art is amazing, and worth getting for that alone.

Matt said...

I just realized I did some math wrong. I was 17-18 when this came out, not 19-20. Not that this affects my post in the slightest, but I felt a need to clear the record. I thought I was still in high school at the time, but I didn't question my poor math skills to confirm it.

cyke68 said...

It's impressive that this 15-year-old continuity patch stands as a decent enough contemporary story too. The ship had long since sailed on Stern being able to wring much suspense out of the reveal, but it seemed to resonate with its niche audience. Longtime fans heavily invested in the original mystery really seem to hold this mini in high regard. (And yeah, there was--still is, to an extent--this weird championing of Roger Stern as a paragon of virtue, unceremoniously dismissed prematurely from what should have been a legendary run. Everything I've read suggests that he left the title of his own volition, leaving some loose ends, but under circumstances not dramatically different from your typical creative departure. Between Spectacular and Amazing, he had a solid tenure and it's not like the title went to shit once he was gone.)

Like G, I came into this as a relative novice to the Spidey mythos and as such, didn't realize there WAS any mystery or controversy surrounding the Hobgoblin's identity. The first guy was Ned Leeds and now it was Jason Macendale. Didn't give it much thought beyond that or quite grasp the retroactive nature of this project. That I didn't have to know anything about the behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt to enjoy the thing on its own terms makes it a pretty good feint on the part of Stern.

I'm not sure it's ever been clear whether Stern bolted without telling anyone his original plans, or his successors had a road map but chose to ignore it. The former makes for a better story/urban legend fodder, but I agree that Tom DeFalco knew what was up. Bringing in a secret twin brother is frankly so trite that I don't think I would've believed it was the original plan if not for Stern himself ultimately executing it here. The way Hobby's first appearances are structured, I don't know how Stern could've avoided blowing his cover the moment he introduced Daniel Kingsley. For another writer to it anyway after the fact certainly would totally have been a narrative cheat. DeFalco made the right call taking it in another direction (irrespective of what came later).

I DO like the idea that DeFalco was going to make Roderick Kingsley the Rose and Richard Fisk the Hobgoblin. I wonder how that would've jived with their established motivations? Might be fun to reexamine these old stories to see if they will support this reading.

cyke68 said...

And Matt, I feel like the difference between reading this at 17/18 vs. 19/20 IS relevant to your enjoyment of it! I wish I could credit the person who offered the theory (I think it was one of the Gregs at Comics Should Be Good) that everyone has a personal golden age of comics; basically, whatever they were reading when they were 14 years old. Now, obviously there's a difference in life experience between 14 and 18, but it's got to be part of that same "personal golden age" window.

We get older, come to objectively appreciate other (re: better) comics from a multitude of eras. You might even come to find that what you were reading in your golden age was rather indefensible (here's looking at you, Maximum Carnage). But you always remember your first and it holds a special place in your heart.

I guess it's why this blog exists. I love that it cuts through the hyperbole AND the nostalgia to get down to the business of examining these comics on their merits.

That said, Hobgoblin Lives legitimately is a lot better than the other stuff we were reading/could have been reading as kids. (I guess this is also where I humblebrag about discovering the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men via Essentials in like 1998 and liking those issues way more than the Lobdell run I was reading concurrently.)

Trashy said...

"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."

Man, did that annoy me. I started reading when Macendale was Hobgoblin and he was actually one of my favorite villains, so the sudden switch in tone to "oh no, he sucks and always sucked" by the Spider-Man office seemed a dick move then.

Matt said...

Cyke -- I had never read any reason why Stern left Amazing until relatively recently. It seems he had some disagreements with the new editor, Danny Fingeroth, and since John Romita Jr. was leaving to devote all his energy to the X-Men, Stern decided he might as well depart. The thing that kills me though, is that he said if he'd known Ron Frenz would be the new artist, he might've stuck around a little longer. In any case -- and I admit that I say this having read very, very little of Stern's Avengers run -- I would rather have seen him stick with Spidey than the Avengers (not that this was a choice under consideration -- I'm just saying).

I agree that the series didn't plummet in quality after Stern left. DeFalco and Frenz had some very fun stories initially, but between the fill-ins every other month and the behind-the-scenes editorial issues, that fun quickly dissipated. By the time Peter and Mary Jane got married a few years later, with the 90s on the horizon, Amazing just wasn't quite the same thing anymore. It could still be entertaining, but in a different way (though for my money the real draw was Gerry Conway's far superior run on the two sister titles). There's just something about the Stern run, something I can't quite explain, that -- to me, at least -- felt more like classic Spider-Man than almost anything after.

But anyway, back to Hobgoblin Lives! -- Even as a kid, Ned Leeds didn't sit right with me as the Hobgoblin. I knew it was him and I accepted it, but it seemed wrong, not in the least due to the fact that Leeds did not at all match the Hobgoblin's original depiction as a man of wealth and social standing. So I was happy to see that undone, even if Stern had to jump through a lot of hoops to make it happen. And I think Stern could have pulled off the Kingsley brother thing without it telegraphing the Hobgoblin's true identity, at least at first. I doubt he could've sustained it for years on end, but maybe one or two years of slowly developing clues could've worked. The key would be to throw a lot of suspects out there, which I assume he would've done, given enough time.

Regarding what Stern revealed upon his departure, he states in the afterword to the original Hobgoblin Lives! trade paperback that he refused to tell anyone, not even his wife, who the Hobgoblin truly was while he was writing Amazing, but when he left the book, he did inform Tom DeFalco of his plan. DeFalco obviously chose a different route.

And as far as reexamining the old stories to see if they match DeFalco's later revelations -- they won't; at least not directly. It would have been an even bigger cheat than Kingsley to reveal Richard Fisk as the Hobgoblin, since Fisk never even appeared in any of DeFalco's issueS! All DeFalco's clues pointed to Ned Leeds. It wasn't really even a mystery by the end. It's no wonder Jim Owsley and Peter David went with Leeds, because he was the painfully obvious choice. DeFalco contends he was meant to be a red herring, but even his own clues don't support this. There's an issue where Mary Jane recognized the Hobgoblin (in his civilian identity with his back to us) as an old friend. Mary Jane had never even met Richard Fisk (though she certainly knew both Leeds and Kingsley). If Fisk truly was DeFalco's choice, he was absolutely not playing fair with the readers.

Matt said...

Cyke -- I agree about the "personal golden age" theory. There are plenty of comics, both before and after my own "golden age" which I've enjoyed, but the reason I have huge affection for somewhat questionable stories like the Clone Saga, "Fatal Attractions", "Phalanx Convenant", and "Onslaught" is that my own such age was roughly 1993 - 1997, which encompassed middle school and high school. I would even say it extended a few years beyond, into college, up until the point when Joe Quesada took over (or maybe a year or so earlier as the bloom came off the rose for me with the X-Men "Revolution" event and the Byrne/Mackie Spider-Man relaunch).

That said, I agree with you on discovering Byrne/Claremont (and Cockrum!) and realizing how much better it was. I guess we were all kind of lucky that reprints were readily available over the years, allowing all of us to discover that run during the "personal golden age", whenever that might have been, even contemporaneously with the then-modern stories.

Matt said...

Trashy (& G.) -- I'm with you guys there. Macendale always seemed like a decent Spider-Man enemy. He didn't live up to the legacy of the original Hobgoblin, being a mercenary rather than a mastermind, but I never thought he was cut-rate. It annoyed me as well when the writers started acting like he'd always been a joke.

But I guess if anyone should've been allowed to kill him off, it would be Stern as his creator, since no other single writer was especially associated with the character (I think Howard Mackie may have actually done the most with him, but it never amounted to much).

entzauberung said...

The original ending of the Hobgoblin saga is generally seen as a misfire, but I'm not sure if it was even possible to do a satisfying reveal at that point. Any choice of character that carried a sufficient emotional impact were impausible in-story.

Reagrding Hobgoblin Lives...well, it's well crafted, but I agree with the general criticism of the end.

entzauberung said...

"general criticism of the endING"

Jeff said...

The thing about this miniseries, if you were reading Spider-man at the time, is that it's so much better than the concurrent issues of the core titles. And coming on the heels of years of the Clone Saga, it felt like a real throwback to "classic Spidey." I think that helped me overlook a few of the problems you mentioned, but I do think it's a really solid story. Plus, having recently read the original end of the Hobgoblin Saga, I can say that it's miles better than what we got in the late 80s, but how could it not be considering what a cluster f editorial was in the Spider-office at the time. The original ending is just the Kingpin giving exposition for 48 pages!

Since everyone is talking about their Golden Ages, I'd actually put mine around when I first got into comics around 9. That was during the Michelinie era, which I've always thought was highly underrated. It's just a really fun era with good art.

Matt said...

Y'know, I was thinking more about Hobgoblin Lives! last night (told you I like this story way too much), and it occurred to me that three issues was just not enough for it. I'm no friend of so-called "decompression", but in this case I think the mystery is too tightly compressed. It might have been better served by playing out over a larger number of issues. Suspects and motives could've been better established and fleshed out, the investigation could have lasted a little longer and not relied so heavily on coincidence, and as a result, the ending might have been more satisfying.

I'm sure there were reasons why a three-issue mini-series was settled upon, both financial and due to the niche nature of the story, but now I'm retroactively envisioning Hobgoblin Lives! as a twelve-issue maxi-series along the lines of Batman's Long Halloween (which, interestingly enough, started almost exactly when this series did), featuring detours and sub-plots alongside the main story -- and I think it would've been a much better read that way.

cyke68 said...

Matt -- You're probably right that a prestige format/maxi-series would've been too ambitious in scope for this type of project. It had enough heft to support it though. Establishing the premise and laying the backstory is exhaustive enough, so giving this thing some more breathing room definitely would've eased up on the "info dump" feel of so much (necessary) exposition. From there, Stern could reseed the mystery and line up his suspects. Organically build the suspense over a series of issues, culminating in the big reveal. This thing was largely an exercise in preaching to the choir anyway, so what the heck.

As for Macendale, I suppose he was "my" Hobgoblin, though I didn't have a whole lot of attachment to the character. Without knowing any of the backstory, it was more important to me that there WAS a Hobgoblin, period, than the identity of the person behind the costume. In retrospect, it is pretty annoying how hard Marvel pushed him, only to pull the rug out from anyone who eventually did buy into him.

Teebore said...

Matt would run me over the coals for this if he didn't know I intend to rectify it at some point, but I've read precious little of Stern's Spidey, including this series. I do like the idea of the series though, however much it may be a vanity project.

It's one thing to do a "here's how I would have done it" story, like Claremont's X-Men: Forever, and another to do a story that tells your version while fitting into existing continuity. It's damned impressive, and I love stories like that.

As for my personal golden age, to the shock of no one it falls in line with many of yours (including being eerily similar to Matt's), pretty much everything from the 1991 launch of X-Men vol. 2 up to about Onslaught or so. "Zero Tolerance" was the first linewide crossover that I felt was pretty "meh", the whole Twelve storyline frustrated me to no one end, and I was deeply disappointed by Claremont's return, so by the time the Quesada/Jemas regime started, the bloom was off the rose and I was much better at appreciating stories objectively.

Of course, the Claremont/Romita Jr. run gets lumped into my golden age as well, since I read it as X-Men Classic reprints alongside the 90s stuff...

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