Sunday, November 27, 2016


Twenty years ago this very day, per Mike's Amazing World of Comics, the first issue of SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES hit stands. I talked about this series before when I ran my Spider-Man by Roger Stern review series a couples years back. I covered it issue by issue (#1 | #2 | #3). I followed those up with a little missive on how it might have benefited from a different length or format. You'd think I might have written all I had to say on it at this point.

You'd be wrong.

I can't quite articulate how, but I'm about to do my best: this mini-series is incredibly important to me on multiple levels -- but to explain why, I should start at the beginning: As noted when I covered some of the Hobgoblin issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the very first comic I remember owning was AMAZING #245. I said in my review of that issue:
According to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, it went on sale in July of 1983. I would've been a little more than four-and-a-half years old. Barely old enough to read the thing, but the pictures told me plenty. The scene in which Lefty Donovan drives back to the burnt-out mansion and descends into the Hobgoblin's mysterious lair stuck with me more than anything else as the eeriest imagery I had ever seen in my then-brief lifetime. I didn't quite understand the whole story, but I remembered it for years to come, so much that when I picked up the ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade paperback about ten years later, I recognized the artwork from this chapter as if I had just seen it the day before. And when something sticks with for that long, all through the haze of early childhood and into your teens, it's pretty amazing.
Then came the ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN trade paperback mentioned here. It was released in May of 1993 (again, per Mike's Amazing World) -- almost ten years to the month after issue 245 -- and I was fourteen at the time. It collected AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issues 238, 239, 244, 245, 249 - 251, and SPECTACULAR #85 (though it was heavily edited to excise unrelated sub-plots and focus solely on the Hobgoblin material). ORIGIN was one of the very first trade paperbacks I ever owned, and I read the thing over and over until it was battered and dog-eared, so enthralled was I with the stories it contained.

(To contrast, the issues of the regular ongoing Spider-Man comics released in May of '93 were all chapters of "Maximum Carnage". And while I have great love for some of the more questionable nineties Spider-stuff -- the Clone Saga, for instance -- even back then I recognized "Maximum Carnage" as a pretty lame story.)

So the original Hobgoblin meant a great deal to me, both as the antagonist of the first comic I can recall owning and because of that trade collection. Thus, when -- in the aftermath of the Clone Saga -- it was announced that Roger Stern was coming back for a three-issue mini-series to revisit the Hobgoblin and set the record straight on who he really was, I was totally on board. I waited with bated breath for the first issue and, as my review thereof indicates, it didn't let me down. I was just a few days from my eighteenth birthday when HOGOBLIN LIVES hit stands; far removed from July of '83 or May of '93, but well-steeped in early Hobgoblin lore thanks to my repeated readings of ORIGIN.

I quickly developed a ritual with HOBGOBLIN LIVES: I read the first issue and all the end notes, then reflected, puzzled over the mystery, and re-read the thing. When issue 2 came out, I read issue 1 and all end notes for a second time, then read issue 2 and all end notes, stopped to reflect, and then read issue 2 again. And of course, when I picked up issue 3, I re-read 1 and 2 with their notes, read 3 and its notes, reflected on the revelation of the Hobgoblin's true identity, then re-read the entire mini-series again.

(To this day, I distinctly remember precisely where I was and what time of day it was when I read every issue. Issue 1 -- my bedroom at night. Issue 2 -- the living room in the afternoon. Issue 3 -- in the bedroom of a rental condo on a family trip during the afternoon.)

From there it was off to the back issue bins. Using the end notes in HOBGOBLIN LIVES, I set about collecting and reading every story referenced therein, no matter how minor (such as the first appearance of Senator Bob Martin in Bill Mantlo's early SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN run). I marveled at Stern's ability to work around huge continuity issues and make his original Hobgoblin identity work -- and Roderick Kingsley totally does work as the Hobgoblin if you go back and read his earliest appearances. Plus, I found that I really liked Stern's early issues of SPECTACULAR, which I had never before read -- especially the noir-ish stories spotlighting Kingsley and Belladonna.

(It would be still more years before I actually compiled a full run of Stern's Spider-Man, however -- at that time I was only interested in the stuff which tied into his Hobgoblin arc.)

Indeed, I became kind of obsessed with Roderick Kingsley. First off, I loved his super-distinguished name. Based off that alone, this was a guy who deserved to be a supervillain -- or at least a pulp action hero or something. I also liked, as mentioned in my HOBGOBLIN LIVES reviews, that Kingsley (by the time of his unmasking) was a mature gentleman with white hair; probably older than Norman Osborn based on physical appearance. And I enjoyed that Kingsley was a social butterfly -- dating all the way back to Stern's SPECTACULAR stories, he was frequently seen at high society soirees with a parade of beautiful women on his arm. He was a thieving, murdering scumbag, but unlike the other main Goblin in Spider-Man's life, the usually chaste and reclusive Osborn, he appeared to have a pretty sweet life. Osborn was the villain you loved to hate, while Kingsley was the villain you (or at least I) secretly envied.

Plus, Kingsley solved the problem of Ned Leeds being the Hobgoblin. As noted, I had read ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN many, many times over the years to the point that I knew those original stories inside and out. Meanwhile, I had barely touched on any of the original Hobgoblin's post-Stern appearances, most of which were written by Tom DeFalco. As a result, Leeds never felt right to me as the Hobgoblin. He didn't fit any of Stern's clues, and it was a pleasure to see HOBGOBLIN LIVES clear his name.

But my infatuation with the mini-series wasn't limited to the comics alone. Like I said, HOBGOBLIN LIVES had a profound impact on me. When I was younger, I was an avid player of tabletop roleplaying games, stretching all the way from somewhere around the fifth grade up through college. For the vast majority of that time I ran things for my friends as the Game Master, and far more often than not, our game of choce was TSR's MARVEL SUPER HEROES ADVANCED SET. The adventures in which we engaged were set firmly in the Marvel Universe, and I used ongoing Marvel continuity to inform the stories I concocted.

(If you thought this post was indulgent already, it's about to get way nuttier...)

My brother's character had, at some point, appropriated a bunch of gear from Jason Macendale, the second Hobgoblin, and in fact his costume was a heavily modified Hobgoblin suit dyed blue and black. Well, when HOBGOBLIN LIVES came about, I decided Roderick Kingsley would not let such an affront stand, and the Hobgoblin came calling to recover his errant accessories. In the aftermath of HOBGOBLIN LIVES, during the nearly two years between it and its SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN sequel, "Goblins at the Gate", I found several opportunities to break Kingsley out of prison and put him in the costume to fight my brother's character. (Of course he always wound up back in jail at the end -- I liked the idea that my stories could actually be happening in the Marvel Universe, and the best way to do that was to respect ongoing continuity to the best of my ability.)

But tossing the Hobgoblin into the MARVEL game on a semi-regular basis just wasn't enough for me. I was so enamored with HOBGOBLIN LIVES and the original saga that I decided to try my own hand at a Hobgoblin-esque character. I concocted a mystery-villain and paraded out suspects so my brother could try to determine which one was behind the mask. Making no attempt to be anything other than derivative, I threw out decoys, false unmaskings, mysterious "deaths" and more, and I even ended the saga by revealing the villain to be a character who had been a long-time friend of my brother's character, with the intention of eventually revealing that unmasking to have been a frame job as well, with the real villain still at large, having been hiding in plain sight ever since. Unfortunately we didn't keep playing long enough for me to get to that outright HOBGOBLIN LIVES tribute, but it was definitely my intention.

In the twenty years since HOBGOBLIN LIVES was released, I'm sure I've probably read it at least five or six times on top of all those repeated readings as each issue came out. For whatever reason, I never get tired of it. I'm sure a large part of this is due to the incredibly moody opening chapter, because I can easily recognize that the subsequent installments, while good, don't exactly live up to that first issue's promise.

So here's to HOBGOBLIN LIVES, Roger Stern, Ron Frenz, and Roderick Kingsley -- it's hard for me to believe that we're somehow now further removed from HOBGOBLIN LIVES than that series was from the debut of the Hobgoblin himself, but regardless of how long it's been, and regardless of the fact that the ultimate story may not have lived all the way up to its promise, I will always consider this one a personal, treasured classic.

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