Amazing Spider-Man #245 reminds us of a period of the Hobgoblin’s existence where his secret identity was not the source of such hand-wringing and controversy. As he did for the character’s three previous appearances in ASM, writer Roger Stern plants small clues along with some serious pieces of misdirection as to who is the madman under the mask. Even though I have the benefit of knowing the reveal (including the re-reveal of who Stern was planning to be the villain the whole time) as I’m reading these comics, I’m still having a lot of fun guessing as Stern and John Romita Jr. spin their web.
So is Ned Leeds a suspect or not? When Ned was originally revealed to be the Hobgoblin in ASM #289 (despite having recently been killed in the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot), then-writer Peter David said he went with Leeds because that’s who the evidence suggested. In the first run of eight issues that consist of the “Original Hobgoblin Saga,” ASM #245 may make the best case for Ned yet because of Stern’s masterstroke of misdirection. In this comic we see a shadowy figure take Norman Osborn’s “goblin serum,” suffer hideous scarring and burns in an explosion, escape from a hospital, don the Hobgoblin costume, wreak havoc in Times Square and then ultimately get unmasked and revealed as … two-bit crook Lefty Donovan. Spider-Man is unconvinced and Lefty starts spilling the beans about a “boss” before his goblin glider carries him off into a suicide dive into the side of building, thus ending Lefty’s life before he could say anymore. And of course, this was all one huge villainous plan of the REAL Hobgoblin, who used Lefty as a guinea pig for Osborn’s serum and a fall guy for the police.
Over the course of one comic book, Stern has effectively hit the reset button on the Hobgoblin mystery and has led readers to think the villain seriously could be ANYONE. In earlier issues, we’ve witnessed the Hobgoblin’s total disregard for his partners (alas poor Georgie), and his paranoid and meticulous nature, but Stern ups the ante to astonishing heights in ASM #245. The Hobgoblin is now not afraid to use sacrificial lambs as test subjects while completely burying his tracks behind him. It creates a sense of paranoia of which I’ve never truly experienced in a Spider-Man comic book that was released prior to this storyline.
Which brings me back to Ned. The only reason why I think Ned is made out to be a legit suspect in this issue is based on the power of suggestion. Ned appears in this issue as part of a wonderfully awkward double date with him and Betty and Mary Jane and the unsuspecting Peter. When Ned first shows up in this comic, Stern already establishes that there’s been an explosion at an estate on Long Island involving who we thought was the Hobgoblin. So there’s his alibi, right? Except obviously the Hobgoblin in the explosion is Donovan, so why is Stern even bringing Ned into this storyline beyond a scene of social awkwardness involving Peter and the girl that rejected his marriage proposal? Was Ned hanging out at a restaurant with MJ and waiting on Betty and Peter while his larger master plan was taking place involving Lefty? Years later, we would learn, “no” he wasn’t … but the point is Stern makes us pay attention in this issue.
For me, the big clue in this issue that tilts the scale towards Roderick Kingsley – the man Stern wanted all along to be Hobgoblin but wasn’t revealed as such until a mini-series was released by Marvel years after the fact – is the palatial Long Island estate that’s functioning as the villain’s headquarters and laboratory. The visual echoes the suburban estate of a wealthy investment banker/businessman: i.e. a rich guy like Kingsley who we will (soon) learn hangs out with the muckity of muckitest (including many of Osborn’s former colleagues). The problem is, nowhere in ASM #245 is there even a mention of Kingsley’s name. And since Stern seems to be carpet-bombing his readers with a number of possibilities in this comic, I can now see why someone like David was ultimately more sold on Ned being “the guy.”
Meanwhile, the character most in need of getting to the bottom of the Hobgoblin’s identity has more information than the authorities, but is still miles away from the truth. Spider-Man’s frustration in cracking this case is palpable, and Stern does a fantastic job showing the Web Slinger’s desperation – putting him in two different info-gathering scenarios where he risks rejection. When Spidey approaches D.A. Blake Tower – the same guy who fought to clear the Web Slinger’s name in the accusations against him for the “murder” of Norman Osborn – he’s denied any new information about Hobgoblin. When Spider-Man presses Tower for being the kind of guy who would tell the Avengers these sorts of things, Spidey’s outrage is validated when he’s told that the Avengers and the Fantastic Four at least play within the lines of the law and cooperate with the authorities. Spider-Man, who is afraid to tell Tower about Hobgoblin’s connection to Osborn (and thus exposing his best friend’s father as the original Green Goblin) moves further down the pecking order, finding a disgruntled cop who “won’t” show Spider-Man anything in Lefty Donovan’s police file but is more than happy to leave the room with the files on his desk. That’s when Spidey learns that Donovan was in police custody during his first battle with the Hobgoblin.
Both scenes are fun little callbacks to old fashion crime noir storytelling, while also establishing Spider-Man as the blue collar hero in the Marvel universe (he expresses envy to the fact that the Avengers earn a salary). But again, outside of taking Donovan off the suspect list, neither scene does much to help Spider-Man determine who the Hobgoblin is – just who he isn’t.
By issue’s end, our hero’s worst fears are being realized. This brand-new villain with astounding intellect and a ruthless streak unlike any he’s encountered before is still on the loose and on the cusp of becoming as physically powerful as Spider-Man. And as the stakes get exponentially higher, Spider-Man has even less of a clue of who he’s looking for – just that he’s out there and waiting for the precise moment to strike and wreak havoc.
Four issues into this storyline, and Stern still hasn’t let the gas off the pedal. Spider-Man and Hobgoblin haven’t even had a proper battle yet, outside of their truncated affair in ASM #239 which was really just the villain trying to get away from the scene as quickly as possible so as not to expose any of his physical weaknesses. And yet this villain feels very much a part of the upper crust of Spidey’s rogues gallery. This phenomenon isn’t due to any smoke and mirrors from Stern and the powers that be at Marvel – things are progressing at a measured pace but with enough new information, hints, teasers and misdirection to keep the reader thirsting for more. It’s just quality story-telling, and we haven’t even gotten to my favorite arc from the “Original Hobgoblin Saga” yet.
This is part four of Chasing Amazing’s lookback at the Original Hobgoblin Saga. Next Thursday I’ll discuss Spectacular Spider-Man #85.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #245: Roger Stern, John Romita Jr. & David Simons