Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Writer: Roger Stern | Artists: Ron Frenz & George Pérez
Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: Christie Scheele
Editors: Glenn Greenberg & Tom Brevoort | Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

The Plot: As Jason Macendale, the second Hobgoblin, stands trial for his various crimes, Peter Parker and Betty Leeds find themselves recalling that Betty's husband Ned was unmasked as the original Hobgoblin years before -- a fact known almost exclusively to the two of them.

Following a guilty verdict, as he is escorted from the courthouse, Macendale informs gathered reporters that he had the original Hobgoblin killed and took his place, fingering Betty as the goblin's widow. Peter saves Betty from a rampage of reporters looking for comment, then changes to Spider-Man and gets the full story from her.

Later, a mysterious man breaks into Great Neck Maximum Security Prison and makes his way to Macendale's cell. Announcing himself as the true original Hobgoblin, this stranger tells Macendale that he only allowed him to play Hobgoblin for as long as it amused him. But he is no longer amused, and kills Macendale in his cell before departing the prison and changing into the costume of the Hobgoblin.

Later still, the Hobgoblin confronts his one-time partner, Roderick Kingsley, and informs him that their relationship is about to begin again.

The Sub-Plots: Former Daily Bugle reporter Jacob Conover recalls that he once lent Ned Leeds his files on corporate corruption and never got them back. He vows to finally get even.
At the Century Club, Senator Bob Martin and businessman George Vandergill are seen watching Macendale's revelation on TV while discussing a takeover bid Vandergill is about to initiate. Meanwhile, Osborn Industries' Donald Menken, also watching the footage, receives a call asking about a takeover against the company and rebuffs it.

Roderick Kingsley and his brother Daniel view Macendale's statement as well, and Daniel worries about the consequences to Kingsley International, should an investigation be made into Leeds' past. Daniel is especially concerned due to the upcoming takeover bid.
Dr. Jonas Harrow, an old foe of Spider-Man's, views footage of both Hobgoblins in battle and easily concludes that they are not the same person, noting that once anyone else does likewise, Macendale's words will be confirmed.

Hobgoblin Clues: At this point in the story, the primary Hobgoblin suspects are set up to be Jacob Conover, Bob Martin (who specifically states that he despises Spider-Man), Donald Menken, and possibly Daniel Kingsley, though this seems unlikely. The only returning characters who can't be the villain are George Vandergill and Roderick Kingsley, as both were present when the Hobgoblin fought Spider-Man at the Century Club in AMAZING 249, and Kingsley was subsequently shown in the same scene as the Hobgoblin more than once.
Continuity Notes: Every issue of HOBGOBLIN LIVES features copious end notes, originally printed in black-and-white on the inside back covers of the individual issues. These notes were reproduced, expanded to include accompanying artwork, for the 1998 trade paperback collection. Rather than list all the endnotes myself, I have provided scans of the trade paperback's endnotes here:

In addition to the above, it's probably also worth mentioning that at this point in time, Peter and Mary Jane are living in Aunt May's home in Forest Hills, following May's recent death. Also, Roderick Kingsley's hair has gone white since we saw him last, giving him a somewhat distinguished air, though this development actually occurred years before, shortly after Stern left AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "...I felt elated when I read [AMAZING SPIDER-MAN] #289. Ned Leeds hadn't been my choice for the Hobgoblin's identity, and the sequence of events in issue #289 provided all the proof I needed that Hobgoblin wasn't Ned -- couldn't have been Ned. I knew then that I could write my own revelation to the character ... if they'd ever let me. At the time, I figured that no one ever would, so I just filed the idea away in my subconscious. Occasionally I'd mention the story possibility to a new Spider-Editor. Was I surprised when Tom Brevoort and Glenn Greenberg asked me to write it!" -- Interview with Roger Stern, 1996
Glenn Greenberg Speaks: "I called Roger again to see if he was still interested in doing that Hobgoblin story. He was. I scrambled around the offices to try to get all the necessary folks at Marvel interested in doing it. They were -- but with one condition. They needed to know beforehand who Roger was intending to reveal as the Hobgoblin. (He had actually managed to keep it a secret all those years.) I told all this to Roger. Trusting me to keep a lid on it, Roger explained the scenario to me. I then explained it to my bosses behind closed doors. They were satisfied enough to sign off on it." -- "Greenberg Gets Repackaged", Greenberg's Grumblings, 2011

Ron Frenz Speaks: "I was flattered and shocked to be approached. I was thrilled to be working on Spider-Man again. I was thrilled to be working with Roger. I was surprised, given all the time that had passed, that Marvel decided to do it. Because Roger had been pitching it almost every year since Ned had been killed!" -- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, 2009

Also On Sale This Month: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #419 introduces the Black Tarantula. The Trapster matches sticky substances with the web-slinger in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #12. PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN #76 features the debut of S.H.O.C., and the Chameleon unmasks our hero in SPECTACTULAR SPIDER-MAN #242.

My Thoughts: HOBGOBLIN LIVES: The story so nice, I bought it thrice (once in the original single issue format, then a year later in the 1998 trade paperback collection, and finally just a couple years back in an expanded TPB, including the sequel story, "Goblins at the Gate"). This story receives its share of criticism from fans and professionals alike, and those troubled by the series tend to fall into one (or both) of two camps: folks who feel the unmasking was a let-down, and those who believe that too much time had passed between the original stories and this mini-series. To an extent, I understand both these criticisms. I'll cover the reveal when we get to it in issue 3. But right now, I'll speak to the other common complaint, that too much time had passed and the mystery had lain dormant for too long.

The full cover, front and back.
And all I can really say is: I get this. It makes perfect sense. The Hobgoblin debuted in 1983. Stern left the series, and the goblin, behind in 1984. The Hobgoblin was unmasked as Ned Leeds in 1987. Then Jason Macendale took over the role, and by the time this series came along, ten years after the Leeds reveal, Macendale had been the world's only Hobgoblin for close to a decade. Enough time for many fans to move on, to forget about those original stories entirely and simply accept Macendale in the role.

But something else happened in the interim. And I can only speak for myself here, but that ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade paperback I've mentioned so many times before was released by Marvel in 1993, a scant four years prior to HOBGOBLIN LIVES. Now, four years is practically a lifetime when we're talking about moving from ages 14 to 18, as I did in that timeframe. But, as noted several times before, I had practically read the cover off the book in that span. I knew the original Hobgoblin stories, the ones written by his creator, backwards and forwards. They captured my imagination and fueled my interest in a character who was, to me, a far superior version of the Hobgoblin than Macendale. And, more importantly, the minor clues presented about the goblin in those stories did not at all point at Ned Leeds. In many ways, they completely excluded Leeds from the running.
So when I learned that the writer responsible for those stories, which had so enthralled me through my teenage years, was returning to Spider-Man, and to his greatest villainous creation, to set the record straight, I was thrilled. Who, in my shoes, wouldn't be?

And, for the most part, this first issue lives up to the series' promise. Yes, the suspects are introduced quickly and with little fanfare, but such is the nature of a mystery story to be told in a scant three chapters. There's not a lot of time to dwell on who's who; we get simple single-page scenes featuring Martin, Vandergill, Menken, Conover, and the Kingsleys, and then we're off and running. Macendale is killed and the Hobgoblin appears -- back in his original costume, on his original horned glider, and up to his old tricks. Macendale was a mercenary. The original Hobgoblin is a manipulator, a shrewd foe who enjoys exercising his power, but only in the pursuit of more power. And participating in a hostile takeover of a large corporation seems like just the sort of thing the original Hobgoblin, who once upon a time attempted to blackmail New York's captains of industry, would do.

So Stern immediately nails the Hobgoblin's characterization, bringing him back to his roots in a way no one else had managed for a very long time. But beyond the return and reinvigoration of the Hobgoblin, we also get a nifty storytelling device throughout the issue: dreams. Everyone is dreaming. The story begins with Peter in fits, suffering through a nightmare in which he relives his battle with the Hobgoblin in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 251, and then he awakens with a start after the dream goblin is unmasked as Ned Leeds. We next see Betty dreaming of her late husband as well, reliving the worst parts of her marriage, including a scene from after Stern's departure in which the Hobgoblin beat Flash Thompson and inadvertently revealed his face, the face of Ned, to her. Then Jason Macendale dreams of his days as Jack O'Lantern and his assumption of the Hobgoblin identity before he's killed. Finally, Kingsley dreams as well, of being shot by agents of the Hobgoblin's partner, the Rose, shortly after Leeds' death. It's a really cool, kind of spooky set-up for the story, and it sets the mood nicely.

It also helps that the majority of this issue, aside from the brief courthouse scene, takes place at night. And Ron Frenz and George Pérez take full advantage of the fact by filling the story with heavy blacks, darkness and shadow. The artwork is beautiful here, fully selling the idea of growing menace as the Hobgoblin returns to the stage. Even that brief scene set during the day reads as cold and overcast and ominous. If I have one issue regarding the art here, it's that Frenz has, for some inexplicable reason, made the spider on Spider-Man's chest about three times bigger than normal. I'm unsure why he did this, but it's really a minor complaint on an otherwise beautiful issue.

There are one or two minor criticisms to be leveled at the writing as well, though nothing that detracts from my overall enjoyment of the story. First, after all this time, it's Mary Jane who idly asks Peter, "how could someone as strong as the Hobgoblin be killed by four normal assassins?" This leads Peter to the immediate conclusion that Ned was set up. I'm unsure what purpose this scene serves to the story. Peter just happens to realize, right as the original Hobgoblin makes his return, that Ned was not the original Hobgoblin. It's too big a coincidence, and unnecessary to boot. We know that Spider-Man will encounter the Hobgoblin soon, simply by the fact of this series' existence. I'm unsure why Stern felt the need to have Peter come to this realization on his own.
The other relatively small item worth noting is the presence of Dr. Jonas Harrow. Harrow was a minor Spider-Man villain from the seventies, who had recently returned to the Spider-books around this time. Here, he analyzes footage of the two Hobgoblins and concludes that they're not the same person. Thing is, he's alone when he does this. And we readers already know this information, so the brief scene serves no expository purpose whatsoever. And, at the risk of spoiling nothing, Harrow does nothing else for the rest of the series. I mean he literally does not appear again. He's obviously not a Hobgoblin suspect; I'm genuinely baffled by his appearance here. It seems that both Harrow's page and the pages featuring Peter tumbling to the idea that Ned was set up could all have been put to better use by fleshing out the suspects a bit more.
So there are a few small faults in this issue, but not enough to outweigh the good stuff to be found within its pages. There may be those who dislike HOBGOBLIN LIVES, but I defy anyone to make that statement based solely on the promise of the first issue. This is an overall solid, intriguing opening to the story, and it leaves a reader immediately eager for more.

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