Beyond it being out of character, Stern also objected to how easily Ned was dispatched by the Foreigner’s men in the Priest-scripted “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine.” The Hobgoblin had super-strength — surely, he could have handled some ordinary assassins.
In order to answer this problem, Stern first raised the question: what if Ned had been “brainwashed” by the Hobgoblin to do his bidding, to the point that he actually though of himself as the villain? There was certainly a precedent. In the Hobgoblin’s second major story arc (ASM #244-245) penned by Stern, Lefty Donovan, a two-bit crook, was unmasked as the Hobgoblin until Spider-Man discovered that it was all a ruse orchestrated by the real deal. In Stern’s mind, “Ned Leeds was no more the Hobgoblin than was Lefty Donovan.”
There was resistance from a number of Marvel editors to tackle the Hobgoblin story again, especially from DeFalco. No one touched the project until 1996. The “Clone Saga,” had just wrapped, and Marvel was publishing series like Kurt Busiek’s “Untold Tales of Spider-Man,” which featured new stories set during the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Silver Age run. Greenberg and Tom Brevoort talked about the possibility of letting Stern finally get to tell the story he never got a chance to tell before. The way Greenberg saw it, even if nobody was clamoring for a new Hobgoblin story, it was an opportunity to get one of the best Spider-Man writers from the past 20 years to write the character once again.
It’s Roger Stern back on Spider-Man,” Greenberg said. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t do this.”
Stern was on board, and Marvel’s hierarchy approved the idea with one condition: the Hobgoblin’s true identity would have to be definitively revealed. Ron Frenz was brought in to pencil the three-part miniseries, with George Perez providing inks. Frenz was excited, and Stern never had a doubt in his mind about the project’s validity.
“Really, the secret of the Hobgoblin’s identity was a cold case just waiting to be solved,” Stern said. “So when Tom Brevoort and Glenn Greenberg asked me to write the story that became ‘Hobgoblin Lives,’ I was happy to oblige. The intervening decade didn’t present a problem, since other Spider-writers of that time had obligingly reintroduced some of the prime suspects within their stories. I was easily able to bring new readers up to speed within the pages of the ‘Hobgoblin Lives’ miniseries. Ten years? That’s just the passage of a few months in the Marvel Universe.”
Beyond setting the record straight with the Hobgoblin, the miniseries also focused on redeeming Brant’s character, who had to live with the guilt that her husband was a murderer for years before he was finally exonerated by Stern in a story featuring his trademark snappy dialogue and beautiful artwork from Frenz and Perez. The Roderick/Daniel Kingsley reveal — and no, they still weren’t twins, just brothers who looked alike with the help of a hairpiece — didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but the creators involved were very happy with how the mini turned out.
“It’s wonderfully structured,” Frenz said. “All of those characters are reintroduced in a way that wasn’t confusing. It was tightly plotted. I thought it was incredibly effective. Roger pulled it off.”
Greenberg called the mini a successful “character rehab” for the Hobgoblin. “It was the right thing to do, and [the Kingsley reveal] still applies today.”
As a coda to “Hobgoblin Lives,” Greenberg scripted a three-part story in “Spectacular Spider-Man” #259-261, “Goblins at the Gate,” pitting the “original” Hobgoblin, Kingsley, against the original Green Goblin, a back from the dead Norman Osborn. The story was considered was of the last true “dream matches” in the Marvel Universe, since the entire reason for the Hobgoblin’s existence was as a successor to Osborn.
Still, Marvel couldn’t pass up the opportunity to introduce another goblin mystery. When the two goblins battled in Greenberg’s arc, Osborn was shown out of costume alongside the Green Goblin, raising the question, who was the new Green Goblin?
Greenberg never had a chance to make that reveal, but his original plan was for the new goblin to be Phil Urich, nephew of ace Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, and star of the mid-90s series, “Green Goblin,” which showed Phil using the goblin persona for the force of good. In Greenberg’s story, Phil was supposed to be brainwashed by Osborn. Instead, the goblin’s mask is never taken off. Kingsley, on the other hand, is shown at the end, enjoying a life of solitude in the Caribbean with money he stole from a Swiss bank account. The Hobgoblin’s story looked to be officially over.
Of course, nothing is ever officially over in the world of comics, and another chapter of the Hobgoblin saga needed to be written. When Dan Slott took over as sole writer on ASM in 2010, he kicked off his run with the “Big Time” arc. On the cover on ASM #649, Slott, ever the Spidey-continuity-buff teased, “From the Shadow of Evil’s Past… the Hobgoblin!!” an homage to the teaser on the front of ASM #238.
In the comic, Phil Urich stumbles upon who appears to be Roderick Kingsley in one of Norman’s old goblin lairs. Kingsley is about to kill the meddlesome reporter when Phil uses his sonic laugh to distract him. He then grabs the Hobgoblin’s flaming sword and in a sequence both shocking and infuriating to those who held Stern’s story near and dear, decapitates Kingsley and assumes the mantel as the new Hobgoblin.
In an interview with CBR after the issue ran, the writer dismissed the fan outrage. “We’ve seen Hobgoblin before and we’ve seen other people take up the mantle of Hobgoblin,” Slott said. “In the case of Roderick Kingsley, his story had been told. The most interesting thing about Kingsley was the mystery, ‘Who is Hobgoblin?’ The minute you pull of the mask and it’s that creepy old groundskeeper whose been haunting the fairgrounds, the Scooby-Doo adventure is over. It’s done! So if you’re going to make a new Hobgoblin, you want to look at the pieces that are around and not just give a rerun of history.”
Of course Slott wasn’t withholding pertinent information from his anxious fans. A year later, as part of his “Danger Zone” arc, it’s revealed in ASM #695 that Urich had actually killed Roderick’s brother Daniel (still not a twin). Roderick dons the orange costume once again, but by the end of the story makes a deal with Phil that he would franchise-out the Hobgoblin identity for a price. And that’s been Kingsley’s story ever since.
“It was a very clever fake out,” Greenberg said of the Kingsley/Urich twist. “And it’s true to the Kingsley character. He’s still being portrayed shrewd businessman.”
Headed into the goblin vs. goblin showdown in “Superior Spider-Man” #26, Urich ditches the Hobgoblin persona (which, if you didn’t blink and miss it, also features a ‘Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin’ reference) in favor of becoming the new Green Goblin’s “Goblin Knight.” The new goblin officially made his move against Kingsley in “Superior” #26. By the end of their battle, it appeared that the Goblin had killed Kingsley.
Except Kingsley continues to be as resilient as he is mysterious. “Superior” #26 ends with Kingsley — miles away from the goblin battle — toasting the victory of the Green Goblin, who had only managed to kill another impostor Hobgoblin, who had been brainwashed by the master manipulator. Kingsley’s convoluted story isn’t over yet.
“It’s just too bad that the behind-the-scenes machinations became part of the character’s history,” Stern laments. “The story should always be the important thing.”
Still, should opportunity ever present itself, Stern wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of going one more round with his most controversial creation. “Oh, there are always new stories to tell,” he said. “Marvel just has to ask me to write one. That’s all. And they do seem to ask me to write a Spider-Man story every ten years or so. It could happen. I would never say never. “