Sunday, December 7, 2014

HOBGOBLIN LIVES, REVISITED

I think I've established over the past few days that, despite my love for HOBGOBLIN LIVES, it could've been better. My chief issue with the story is that it feels rushed, like there's just too much to it to cram into three issues. Now, I fully accept that three issues may have been the length Roger Stern wanted, and is probably what he pitched to Marvel. And I understand that Marvel was in some choppy financial straits at the time, so three issues was probably all they were willing to budget for this niche vanity project anyway. So I won't second-guess anyone's thinking with regards to what we ultimately received. As I've said, I like the finished product. I still enjoy reading it from time to time, sixteen years later. But that doesn't stop me from speculating on another format and other ideas to beef it up, to make it feel like the true "event" it should have been.

A little more than a year ago, when Not Blog X reviewed HOBGOBLIN LIVES, I suggested in a comment that the series could have been better served as a twelve-issue maxi-series. Specifically, I was thinking of BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, which launched, over at DC, around the same time as HOBGOBLIN LIVES. LONG HALLOWEEN is a thirteen-issue murder mystery set over the course of one year in Batman's life. But while the series' killings occur regularly, one on a holiday in every installment, they are not always the main plot of a given issue. Readers might see Batman tangling with the Joker or the Mad Hatter even as the "Holiday Killer" is busy in the background. I propose that this format would have served HOBGOBLIN LIVES tremendously well.

Imagine a year-long limited series -- though it needn't actually be set over a year in Spider-Man's life; a few weeks or a couple months would be plenty -- which begins, as HOBGOBLIN LIVES does, with the trial of Jason Macendale, the characters remembering Ned Leeds, and the murder of Macendale as the original Hobgoblin gears up to aid the Kingsley brothers in their bid to take over Osborn Manufacturing.

But then imagine our story takes a detour. Spider-Man knows the Hobgoblin is back; he's seen the footage of the mystery man killing Macendale in his cell, heard the taunts of his old foe. Perhaps this leads into the previously oddly placed scene in which Mary Jane questions the details of Ned's death at the hands of the Foreigner's men. Spider-Man then sets out to find his enemy. He can't just wait for the Hobgoblin to appear in public; that could take forever. So instead he goes searching for the Foreigner. Maybe works with the Foreigner's ex-wife, Silver Sable, in a two-issue arc. As Spider-Man crosses swords with the Foreigner, perhaps eventually coming away with some clue, we see the Hobgoblin plotting behind the scenes.

This could then lead into the Hobgoblin bombing the Osborn plant. Spider-Man begins to investigate Osborn. Perhaps at this point, someplace around issue 4, Peter finally joins forces with Betty and Flash to get to the bottom of things, and their group investigation begins in earnest, bringing the likes of Roderick Kingsley back into the characters' lives. Imagine a scene in which Spider-Man bumps into Kingsley and verbally jousts with him like the old days, without realizing this is the Hobgoblin right in front of him; I think this would help to make the ultimate reveal resonate much better. The readers would be invested in Kingsley's development after a dozen issues, rather than barely glimpsing him across three. And better yet, Spider-Man could have one or two skirmishes with the Hobgoblin prior to their final showdown, rather than placing their reunion and the ultimate unmasking all on the same afternoon.

I'll stop rambling now; I think I've made my point. I'm not a professional writer, and perhaps the Foreigner and Silver Sable are too "exotic" for this relatively personal story. But you get the idea: HOBGOBLIN LIVES needed more space, more sub-plots, and more of a slow-burning, dramatic build-up. It's a mystery involving characters who've been out of circulation for over a decade. One of my larger criticisms of the series is that the suspects are paraded out, but for the most part they're never really eliminated through any sort of investigation. We learn Conover isn't the Hobgoblin because he appears in the same scene as the villain. We learn Senator Martin isn't the Hobgoblin because he's on the phone with Vandergill as the goblin kills him. Then we reach the final issue, wherein the Hobgoblin simply explains himself and his motives, then Spider-Man unmasks him, retroactively eliminating the only remaining plausible suspect, Donald Menken, from consideration.

The twelve-issue format would fix some of these issues. For one, we could see some actual detective work by Spider-Man and his allies, letting them, rather than the story, check off possible suspects. And the Hobgoblin's backstory could perhaps be trickled out over a handful of installments, rather than dropping as a massive info-dump in the final issue. We might also see Jonas Harrow serve some purpose to the story, rather than simply providing unnecessary exposition to the readers in the first issue, then vanishing entirely. And I might even suggest throwing in one more suspect; after all, Lance Bannon was a contender for the Hobgoblin's identity years before. But since Bannon is dead at this point, I would add District Attorney Blake Tower, the most intriguing reader suggestion from the letter columns of the era, to the mix. He fits all clues to a tee, and would make for an exciting red herring.

The proceedings would flow more organically this way and the suspects would be given more of a spotlight -- and hopefully, the end result would be an extremely satisfactory unmasking, following from a twisting tale of false leads, sub-plots, and some genuine detective work. Hey, with a dozen issues at his disposal, Stern could even toss in a Vulture appearance as a side-story, just for the heck of it! Or maybe even the long-awaited return of Belladonna?

But this train sailed well over a decade ago. HOBGOBLIN LIVES turned out just fine. Yet I just can't help wondering, sometimes, what it could have been, given an expanded format in which to breathe and really develop a really compelling, satisfying mystery.

Did I get carried away with the cover mock-ups? Too much? Yeah, I thought so. But at any rate, the clumsy Photoshop jobs were assembled using bits of Ron Frenz artwork from around the web, including some Hobgoblins from the late, lamented SPIDER-Girl series (and one John Romita, Sr. Spider-Man).

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