52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Roger Stern is a man who broke into comics with Marvel during the mid-70’s, right around the time that Frank Miller began to surge at the company as well. For his first few years at Marvel, Stern was an editor before taking over as a writer on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man in the 80’s. It would be another two years before he got his crack at writing The Amazing Spider-Man, during which he created the classic Spider-Man villain, the Hobgoblin. That wasn’t the only noteworthy contribution Stern made to Marvel during this time period though, as he was the co-creator of the popular West Coast Avengers, created the Monica Rambeau incarnation of Captain Marvel and penned one of the best Spider-Man stories ever, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”.
Spider-Man: Origin Of The Hobgoblin
With Spider-Man’s longtime foe The Green Goblin, a.k.a. Norman Osborn, long deceased, the world of Spider-Man appears to lack a true arch nemesis to fill in the roll left behind by the Goblin. A mystery begins to build around Spider-Man when a new goblin emerges onto the scene, with the Hobgoblin becoming the latest villain to plague his life. When the Hobgoblin begins to attack buildings owned by Norman Osborn, Spider-Man’s life starts to become increasingly difficult, as he must work diligently to prevent future attacks and figure out why the Hobgoblin is doing so in the first place. Shifting into the role of the new goblin in town gives the Hobgoblin an incredible amount of power and influence that he immediately begins to abuse, using it to blackmail plenty of people close to Norman Osborn for money. The Hobgoblin makes things personal for Peter Parker when he targets Harry Osborn, threatening to reveal the startling and villainous truth of his father to the rest of the world. Short on answers, Spider-Man leaps into action hoping to thwart the Hobgoblin before his intricate web of plans can be completely spun.
Roger Stern introduces the world to the fan favourite Spider-Man villain, The Hobgoblin, with this collection of stories. Introducing a handful of new characters along with the iconic villain, Stern casts out an intriguing mystery for readers to try to uncover the true identity of the Hobgoblin, something that wouldn’t be revealed for over a decade (with the answer actually being revealed by Stern in the story “The Hobgoblin Lives”…but more on that in the next post!). In creating the Hobgoblin, Stern looked to appease fans who, at the time, were obsessed with only seeing one villain in every issue, with that villain being The Green Goblin. Stern compromised for the sake of fanfare and gave readers a whole new Goblin who shines through as a great threat to Spider-Man’s life in this collection.
It probably goes without saying that the key component to this collection’s success as a compelling read is all due to the inclusion of the Hobgoblin. Stern creates an enticing new foe for Spider-Man, taking elements of the iconic Green Goblin and mixing them in with a few different character traits that the Green Goblin lacked. We get the highly intelligent and oddly motivated Hobgoblin, who actually appears as though he wants to be exactly like his green counterpart at certain parts in the story. Nonetheless, Stern still crafts him into a formidable foe for Spider-Man, especially as the story progresses and we see the skills as well as the strength of the Hobgoblin increase to rival that of the Green Goblin’s. The Hobgoblin becomes a man who isn’t against playing with things like blackmail to get his way and almost seems more interested in sabotaging other people’s lives instead of actually taking out Spider-Man. Hobgoblin could have ended up just being a Green Goblin knockoff, and at some points he does a great job of seeming to be that way, but ultimately under the guidance of Stern we get a goblin foe for Spider-Man who is actually more charismatic than someone like Norman Osborn at times. It’s a relieving thing to see, as giving an air of mystery to the villain whilst still giving him an excellent and engaging personality is largely part of the reason that the Hobgoblin works as a villain. I do have to throw one spoiler into the ring here as it’s something to surely disappoint readers who expect some closure surrounding this villain. As the volume is titled the “Origin Of The Hobgoblin”, you do get to see the rise of the villain but you don’t learn the identity of the character behind the mask. There are plenty of hints sprinkled in throughout but nothing concrete enough to actually reveal the villain’s true identity (although any fan of Spider-Man should know the identity and if you’re truly curious we do live in “the age of Google). It’s an unfortunate truth that you don’t learn the villain’s identity here but it’s a fact that actually transitions beautiful into the sequel to this story, “The Hobgoblin Lives!”, which is the next piece of Stern’s work I’ll examine.
Perhaps the best part of this entire collection is that it is about as classic of a Spider-Man story as you can get without having it being written by Stan Lee himself. The entire feel to the comic just screams Spider-Man as it’s a story all about the woes of Peter Parker’s life as a human versus his life as a superheroes. It attacks the fundamental characteristic of most Spider-Man stories and highlights them beautifully throughout, as we see Peter grapple with trying to be friends with Mary Jane whilst the Black Cat is in love with his superhero alter ego. Any fan of Spider-Man knows what a complicated love life he does in fact have and this volume of stories is no exception to that truth. The mannerisms of the cast and the characters themselves all serve to further hammer home the feeling of a classic Spider-Man story, where we see our hero tackle a problem for twenty plus pages only to have everything basically reset by the end of the issue or end up in a wash, strikingly similar to how comics “used to be”. Although the overall plot does feel rather jumpy, with every few issues jumping to a different phase in Peter Parker’s life surrounding that time, the narrative is still rich and incredibly accessible. You could quite literally pick any issue at random and start reading, finding that there are plenty of safe starting and stopping points for the story throughout.
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #43, 47-48, 85
Best Character: Peter Parker (duh)
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Actually, they’re…ah…warm up pants, Miss–?” – Peter Parker
Best Scene/Moment: Spider-Man and Black Cat take on the Hobgoblin – Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #85
Best Issue: Amazing Spider-Man Issue #249. This one just seems to scratch the itch for fans of classic Spider-Man tales. It all starts out with Peter almost getting caught changing out of being Spider-Man. From there, while at a party in Harry Osborn’s lavish home, a mysterious delivery reveals that someone is trying to blackmail Harry, revealing to him that his father was Green Goblin. Peter and Harry try to tackle the problem together and attend a secret meeting proposed by the person trying to blackmail Harry. As is the tragedy of Peter’s life, nothing can ever be so simple as a strange plot quickly escalates and puts Spider-Man in an awful situation. It’s a complete story that has classic Spidey and Peter moments, featuring appearances from many of the best supporting cast members in Spider-Man’s life. What is there not to love?
Why You Should Read It: Hobgoblin is a character who has a tremendous amount of popularity amongst Spider-Man fans but even general comic fans as well. This is the ground floor for Hobgoblin, as you learn all about what motivates the villain and get to see him in action for the first time. Stern makes a great addition to Spider-Man’s rogues gallery with the inclusion of the Hobgoblin, making him similar to the Green Goblin but still strong enough of a character to stand out on his own. If the fact that this is a definitive Hobgoblin origin isn’t enough for you, than how about the fact that this about as classic of a Spider-Man story as you can get? Through and through this comic has all the elements any longtime fan of Spider-Man should desire to read. In closing, you get classic Spider-Man and the introduction of a classic villain, which typically equates to a really fun read.