Ranking - Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin
Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin
Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 (1983)
Written by Roger Stern with Tom DeFalco (#251)
Drawn by John Romita Jr. with Ron Frenz (#251)
Inks/Finishes by John Romita Sr. (#238), Frank Giacoia (#239), Klaus Janson (#244, 250-251), Dave Simons (#245), Dan Green (#249)
Colored by Andy Yanchus (#238), Glynis Wein (#239), Bob Sharen (#244-245, 249), Christie Scheele (#250-251)
Lettered by Joe Rosen with Diana Albers (#239)
In The Marvel Years Rankings, we randomly select one story (anything from a single issue to ??? issues that make up a single story) to look at, with the ultimate goal of ranking every single Marvel comic book story from best to worst. The rankings are subjective and highly unscientific. They're intended to be a fun way to kick off discussion, and introduce readers to new stories.
This story runs throughout much of the final year of Roger Stern and John Romita Jr's beloved run on Amazing Spider-Man. The pair would leave one issue before the story's completion due to conflicts with editorial, though they had planned out years of more content.
The story itself draws heavily from the Green Goblin's saga throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Briefly, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin was the archnemesis of Spider-Man. The villain found out Spider-Man's true identity and killed Peter Parker's love, Gwen Stacy. Norman died an accidental death in a confrontation with Spider-Man shortly after Gwen's death.
A mystery man is led to Norman Osborn's old Green Goblin headquarters where he loots the gadgets and journals left behind by the dead villain. Soon, the Hobgoblin is born, leaving a string of death and destruction in his wake.
Spider-Man attempts to quickly shut down the Hobgoblin, before the villain can learn Spidey's secret idenity. However, Hobgoblin proves to be more manipulative and cruel than anyone imagined as he proceeds set up his own allies for violent ends. This culminates in the villian faking the death of "Hobgoblin" by framing a low-level gangster.
The real Hobgoblin resurfaces later, using Norman Osborn's journals to blackmail a handful of New York's wealthiest, including Harry Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson (threatening to reveal that Harry's father was the Green Goblin and that Jonah was partially responsible for the creation of the villain, The Scorpion). The Kingpin of Crime briefly assists Spider-Man in making sure Hobgoblin's blackmail plans fall through.
Spider-Man and Hobgoblin finally have their violent "final" fight, and Spider-Man comes out victorious. However, the mystery of who Hobgoblin is remains a mystery for another day, as all that's left of the villain is his mask.
Despite the disappearance of Hobgoblin, Jameson decides to come clean to the public and steps down as Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Bugle.
Roger Stern and John Romita Jr's "Origin of the Hobgoblin" is too good for its own good. In the long run, the mystery of Hobgoblin's true identity overshadowed everything great about this book. It was a mystery that was so wonderfully teased out and intriguing that it caused heated arugments amongst both fans and Marvel's own editorial alike. Later creative teams would mishandle later Hobgoblin story arcs so badly, that it hurt this one in retrospect.
That's a real shame because those later stories by other creators shouldn't affect what this story is - which is one of the best Spider-Man stories ever.
Roger Stern puts on an absolute writing clinic over the course of his lengthy Spider-Man run, on how to write monthly superhero comics. Honestly, this run of comics should be taught annually to Marvel and DC's new writers on how to approach their books. This story arc distills everything that made Stern's run overall so great, into one blockbuster storyline.
Most notable, is the way that Stern handles the Hobgoblin.
The Hobgoblin is a hyper-compelling villain, and it's easy to see why the character became so popular. The aura of mystery surrounding him, the meticulous and cunning plans, the cruel and ruthless nature - Hobgoblin has it all.
When I was rereading this story for review, I was blown away by how consistently Stern was surpassing my expectations with Hobgoblin. Several issues in this 7-part story don't actually ever feature Spider-Man directly confronting the Hobgoblin head-on. Stern never takes the easy way out in this war between the two characters -he never has them fight just to fill out an issue or because the fans demanded it.
And this isn't decompressed storytelling either, the book is constantly advancing. Hobgoblin's plot is simply better thought out than the standard superhero fisticuffs. Stern is able to fool the audience without ever cheating them, he takes the nuanced approach where bombast would suffice, and he also knows when it's time to deliver the payoff.
But Hobgoblin is not nearly all that this book has going on for it. Equally as impressive is the way that Stern juggles such a large and compelling ensemble cast. Aunt May, Nathan Lubensky, Felicia Hardy, Madame Web, Lance Bannon, Joe Robertson, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Ned Leeds, and Harry Osborn are just a handfull of the side characters who get something interesting to do in these seven issues.
I've mentioned before that whole issues go by without any big moments between Spider-Man and Hobgoblin. Much of that other time is spent advancing and complicating Peter's romantic relationships, establishing new bonds/rivalries, or simply checking in on some old friends.
A full five pages of this relatively short story is spent on Peter getting signatures from his professors so he can drop out of graduate school. Peter dropping out has no impact one or another on the Hobgoblin plot. But it's a sequence that futhers Peter's life, informs how the character is developing, is funny, and flows wonderfully with every other plot and subplot around it.
This focus on firmly reestablishing Peter's supporitng cast pays off immensely in the closing chapters. Harry Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson's worlds being turned upside down by the Hobgoblin winds up being the heart of this story.
Harry is forced to pay for the sins of his father, just as the poor kid's finally got his life turned around and everything figured out.
Jameson...Wow, Jameson. That story is one of the most incredible stories for a Spider-Man supporting cast member ever. Jameson has brought this blackmail on himself for the sheer number of times that he's tried to destroy Spider-Man.
Yet, despite that, we root for the character. Jameson can often be a cartoon character, and I love him like. But I love him even more when he's a real human being.
I think even the ending of this story works, despite the departure of Stern and Romita from the title. Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz wrap up with a story that came from Stern's own plot and I think they capture the ending well. The final confrontation with Hobgoblin is appropriately violent and electric.
The mystery not being solved at the end doesn't bother me at all, and they wrap up the Jameson plotline perfectly.
The last thing that I haven't discussed much yet is the art, and that's because the art is its own bag entirely. John Romita Jr. is great. He's one of my favorite artists of all time and I think the work he does here, while clearly early in his career, is exciting. What's problematic though are the vast number of inkers who change his style dramatically issue after issue.
It all looks good, it just doesn't make for a consistent whole. Take a look at Peter Parker's face from each subsequent issue (all drawn by Romita, except the last panel, which is Frenz).
Ron Frenz is great, but in an entirely different way than Romita, making for a jarring last issue. Like, I said, this is a gorgeous looking comic. It's just not always consistent in the ways that it's gorgeous. But that quibble with the art isn't enough to drag this story down much.
This story is a prime example of monthly superhero comics being done to the best of their ability. Great villain, interesting month-to-month momentum, great pacing, phenomenal use of supporting characters and B-plots, and smart use of continuity. This book has it all.
It's not a perfectly-constructed masterpiece, or higher art, or anything like that. But it is basically a pinnacle of a certain kind of storytelling, and that's something that deserves credit.
New Reader Friendly?
For sure! There are basic elements of Green Goblin/Norman Osborn's life that enhances this story, but my "Backstory" section here should be sufficient.
Great vs. important has already become a debate three stories in. While not as foundational as X-Men: Second Genesis, Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin is plenty important in its own,right, and so entirely well told that it just has to take over the number 1 spot for now.
But, it won't be number 1 forever, if only because of this rendering Peter Parker all throughout #249. Shudder.
What do you think? Agree or disagree with the ranking? Still need to read it yourself to find out? These issue of Amazing Spider-Man are available digitally for Marvel Unlimited subscribers and for purchase at Comixology. These issues are also available in a number of physical formats including Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin and Spider-Man by Roger Stern Omnibus.