Wednesday, December 3, 2014

SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #3

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

The Plot: As Spider-Man swims back to the surface of the East River, the Hobgoblin kidnaps Betty from her apartment and takes her to his lair. He finds a spider-tracer in her purse and another in her locket, and gives both to Roderick Kingsley with instructions to dispose of them. The goblin then brings Betty around and asks about the notes she claims will exonerate Ned. Betty agrees to provide the notes only if the Hobgoblin will grant an "exclusive interview".

While Spider-Man chases both tracers across town, the Hobgoblin explains to Betty that he met Ned after emerging from the Hudson River following his battle with Spider-Man years before. The goblin captured Ned and drugged and brainwashed him, using him to form a partnership with Ned's old friend, Richard Fisk -- the Kingpin's son and the man who would become the crimelord called the Rose. The goblin then worked with the Rose for some time before growing bored of his criminal life. He used Ned as a stand-in more often than not and eventually decided to retire from his life as the Hobgoblin. Setting Ned up one final time, the goblin tipped Jason Macendale off to Ned's "true" identity and whereabouts and let Macendale do the rest. The man behind the Hobgoblin's mask then retired back to his civilian life.


His story concluded, the Hobgoblin again demands Ned's notes, but Betty admits that they don't exist. Kingsley then shows himself, aiming a gun at the Hobgoblin. The villain prepares to kill Betty now that she's seen Kingsley's face, but before he can do so, Spider-Man arrives, having followed a third spider-tracer hidden in Betty's tape recorder. The wall-crawler webs up Kingsley then chases the Hobgoblin out of his warehouse. While the pair fights, Betty speaks with Kingsley, who admits that he's served the Hobgoblin for years, even since before he donned the mask. Realizing that Kingsley is wearing a toupee, Betty pulls it off to reveal that this is Daniel Kingsley, not Roderick. High over the city, Spider-Man gets the better of the Hobgoblin and unmasks him as Roderick Kingsley.

Later, Kingsley is incarcerated at Great Neck Maximum Security Prison, in the same cell which held Jason Macendale. Peter, Betty, and Jacob Conover watch the lockdown, then part ways.

The Sub-Plots: On the story's final page, Peter wonders if his career as Spider-Man has led to the tragedies in his friends' lives, such as Betty losing Ned, Liz Osborn losing Harry, and Gwen Stacy dying. Mary Jane assures him this is not the case.

Hobgoblin Clues: Turns out the Hobgoblin was Roderick Kingsley all along! (I mean, except for when he was Lefty Donovan, Ned Leeds, and Jason Macendale.)


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:


Uncle Rog Speaks: "The idea of Roderick Kingsley’s brother was something I had in the back of my mind for a while, because when Kingsley first showed up in the stories in SPECTACULAR, he was a total pain in the ass, but other times, he was a little wimpy. And I thought, 'He has a brother.'

"And Roderick would occasionally say, 'I don’t want to deal with these people,' and he’d stick a rug on Daniel’s head and say, 'Go out and pretend to be me.' After Rod became the Hobgoblin, it was very handy to have Daniel out there playing Rod whenever Rod needed him to."
-- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2009
Glenn Greenberg Speaks: "[HOBGOBLIN LIVES] was such a fun project to work on. I remember preparing for it by reading every single Hobgoblin story published up to that point, and comparing notes with Roger and discussing how to address various continuity conundrums and inconsistencies that crept in over the years. Of course, Roger did a masterful job taking all of that into account, using it to his advantage, and making everything seem like it was intentionally planned out that way from the start." -- "Greenberg Gets Repackaged", Greenberg's Grumblings, 2011

Tom DeFalco Speaks: "My problem with [HOBGOBLIN LIVES] conceptually was that ten years earlier, we knew who the suspects were. But so much time had passed that you had to reintroduce all the suspects because nobody knew who they were anymore. A character like Kingsley hadn’t appeared in the books in about ten years. I just thought it was too late." -- "When Hobby Met Spidey", BACK ISSUE! #35, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2009

Also On Sale This Month: Electro returns in AMAZING #422, the Savage Land storyline continues in SENSATIONAL #15, Spidey and S.H.O.C. battle Hydra in PETER PARKER #79, the Chameleon saga concludes in SPECTACULAR #245, and Spider-Man dusts off the mystery of his old foe Carrion in SPIDER-MAN: DEAD MAN'S HAND (from a plot by Roger Stern).

The full cover, front and back.
My Thoughts: I've danced around it for months here, just in case someone reading these posts is unaware of the Hobgoblin's true identity, but now it's out in the open: Roderick Kingsley was the original Hobgoblin. I have no problem with this. Kingsley was a creation of Stern's and appeared in the writer's very first Spider-Man story. In that way it seems fitting that he's revealed as Stern's greatest original Spider-villain. There are those, Tom DeFalco among them, who think the identical non-twin brother is a cheat, and I completely understand this. But while somewhat hard to swallow, it's no sillier than other things we see in comics from time to time. And if Daniel Kingsley wearing a toupee in order to transform into a doppelganger of his brother is the price we must pay to have Roderick Kingsley as the Hobgoblin, I can live with it.

See, I just think Kingsley fits the Hobgoblin's persona so much better than most other characters. For one thing, as noted above, he's a creation of Stern's. But beyond that, having Kingsley in the role undoes the unjust character assassination which poor Ned suffered -- after being so wonderfully redeemed by Stern -- at the hands of Tom DeFalco and then Jim Owsley and Peter David. I like that the Hobgoblin is a wealthy businessman, echoing the revelation of Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin. I love the name Roderick Kingsley. It's a great name, and attaching it to a supervillain is a fantastic move. Plus I like that one of Spider-Man's greatest enemies is a "silver fox". The web-slinger has a number of foes older than him -- part and parcel of being a generally youthful hero -- but there's something cool about the Hobgoblin being a distinguished white-haired fashion mogul that sort of trumps everybody else.


Now, as for the resolution of the mystery: Well, unfortunately, it leaves a bit more to be desired than did the actual unmasking. We get copious pages of exposition from the Hobgoblin and Daniel Kingsley, followed by Spider-Man unmasking his foe in battle while Betty "unmasks" Daniel. I appreciate that Stern only had three issues to tell his story, but this feels rather anticlimactic. For one thing, Spider-Man's unmasking of the Hobgoblin seems way too easy, after the numerous times they fought in the past as equals, with the wall-crawler never getting a chance to yank the mask off. They only cross paths twice in this story, both times on the same afternoon, and Spider-Man roundly defeats the villain during the second fight. Perhaps Kingsley is simply rusty after being out of action for so long, but last issue's brief confrontation didn't indicate this. Or I suppose it could be argued here that the web-slinger is in "once-and-for-all" mode, and nothing will stop him from defeating the goblin and seeing his true face, but the story doesn't really read that way. It plays their conflict like it's just another fight, rather than the fight; their final battle. Their struggle in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 251 had much more gravitas to it; though it was basically an issue-long fight scene. Another case, I'd say, for this series to have been a bit longer.

That said, there's plenty I like about this issue. For one thing, Stern magnificently navigates a continuity minefield in order to fill in all the blanks and address all the discrepancies in the Hobgoblin's history, and it all fits. You don't even really need to tilt your head and squint for any of it to add up. It just works. Stern even uses that fact that, in his final handful of appearances the original Hobgoblin was a much lesser foe than he had been previously, to great advantage by revealing that on those occasions it was Ned behind the mask, as Kingsley had become bored with super-villainy. And all the flashbacks are beautifully illustrated by Frenz and McLeod, who steps the inking back up a notch after last issue.


I also love that there are small clues sprinkled about the entire series which point at Kingsley, but which are really only apparent after the reveal. In the first issue, Daniel-as-Roderick wakes up and notes that when the Rose's men shot him, he would've died if not for his brother. Then, in issue two, he casually mentions that he owes the Hobgoblin his life. Also in that first installment, after awakening from his nightmare, Daniel-as-Roderick enters his bathroom, where we see a head dummy of the sort which might hold a toupee.

But my favorite bit is in this issue, as the Hobgoblin recounts his history to Betty. He recalls that, once upon a time, Flash Thompson slandered him on TV. We see a shot from behind of the mysterious Hobgoblin watching Flash's rant with a young lady on his arm. This is a "flipped" version of a shot in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 276, where it's quite clearly Roderick Kingsley viewing the broadcast.
Left: HOBGOBLIN LIVES #3, 1997. Right: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #276, 1986

Is HOBGOBLIN LIVES good? I think so. As far as stories devoted solely to retroactive continuity go, it's one of the best. It does a beautiful job of accomplishing its mission, as Stern and Greenberg have clearly done their homework. But is HOBGOBLIN LIVES as good as it could have been? Probably not. Three issues is not much time to set up a genuinely engrossing mystery and give it a satisfying resolution. The series should've been longer, in order to breathe and to truly flesh out the story. I'll speak more to that point this Sunday. But for now, the Hobgoblin lives, and Roger Stern has one more Spider-Man story arc left for us to cover.

Blurb courtesy of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #258.

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