The Deadly Foes one-shot serves to tie-in the two main antagonists who will be involved in the Spider Island storyline: Hobgoblin and the Jackal. Both can be classified as “classic” Spider-Man villains, though I’m certain the bulk of ASM’s readership over the past 30-years or so views each of them very differently based on the primary storylines they are associated with, which makes their inclusion here in Spider Island an interesting choice.
The introduction and subsequent mystery of “who” was the masked Hobgoblin was one of the biggest Marvel/Amazing Spider-Man storylines of the 1980s. The Hobgoblin marked a legitimate threat to Spider-Man/Peter Parker. After the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, was accidentally killed during a battle with Spider-Man in ASM #122, about a year and change later, Norman’s son, and Peter’s long-time friend Harry Osborn took on the mantle of being the Goblin. When the Hobgoblin was brought into the picture about 100 issues later by perhaps the title’s best writer outside of Stan the Man, Roger Stern, Spider-Man had to deal with a mystery threat who had all of the attributes and powers of his all-time great nemesis, the Green Goblin. Given the similarities between the two villains, Peter/Spider-Man was dealing with the fact that whoever was under that demonic mask was likely close in some way to the Osborn’s.
While the Hobgoblin storyline predates my earliest ASM reading by a few years, the full arc, which was off and on for about 40 issues during the 1980s, is still fondly remembered by many fans. Granted, the initial reveal of Ned Leeds as the Hobgoblin was blundered, but Stern came back and righted the ship by identifying the villain as billionaire criminal Roderick Kingsley. The original storyline, especially Stern’s contribution, is the epitome of a well-done reinvention of an otherwise played-out character into something new and exciting – something you don’t see a lot of in comic books anymore. And just as Marvel provided enough bait to keep reader’s engaged about the identity of Hobgoblin’s predecessor Green Goblin in the 1960s, the shroud of mystery surrounding Stern’s new creation added to his legend.
Of course, 2011’s Hobgoblin has to be viewed in an entirely new context. Instead of Ned Leeds or Roderick Kingsley it’s Daily Bugle reporter Phil Urich under the hood, and rather than specifically targeting Spider-Man, Hobgoblin is a hired hand of the criminal boss Kingpin. Also, thanks to the machinations caused by the Clone Saga and Brand New Day storylines, Harry and Norman Osborn are alive and well despite being “killed off” years ago, and there have been countless other “Goblins” who’ve been introduced as adversaries to Spider-Man in addition to the original Hobgoblin. So while I still get a bit nostalgic when he’s featured in an issue these days, it’s not unfair for me to say that his original impact has been cheapened a bit by Marvel’s decision to play around with its timeline.
After his appearance in this one-shot, I’m still trying to figure out how exactly Urich’s Hobgoblin fits into the Spider Island storyline. What we get in this specific comic book is a decent character-centric story about Urich manipulating the Spider Island chaos to try to win the girl he’s pursuing, Bugle reporter, Norah Winters. At the end of the issue, we’re told to read on about Hobgoblin in the Spider Island connected Spider-Girl miniseries, but even after checking that out, Hobbie’s role seems to lie on the periphery of the meat and potatoes of Spider Island. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the true “Deadly Foe” in this Spider Island situation is clearly the one who makes people far less nostalgic.
Which brings me to the Jackal. I’ve always found him to be one of the more convoluted characters in ASM history. Introduced years before the Hobgoblin in ASM #129 (also the first appearance of The Punisher), the Jackal will forever be tagged as the architect behind the universally despised “Clone Saga” storyline of the 1990s. Prior to providing years of aggravation for Spider-Man comic readers, the Jackal, also known as Professor Miles Warren, was just a wee bit too creepy as a guy who was secretly in love with Peter’s first love Gwen Stacy, and blamed Spider-man for her death, causing him to clone Gwen and Spider-Man. Warren and the original clone were supposedly killed after ASM #149, but we all know how permanent death in comics is, so instead we got years of follow-up stories, where various writers would box themselves into a corner with Warren/Jackal and then explain it all away by saying the character we’ve just been reading about for the past umpteen issues is actually just ANOTHER clone. Just kidding. Or are we? See you later? Or will you?
And that’s the rub with Jackal here. Unlike some other comic book villains, Warren is neither a sympathetic figure or solely an agent of chaos. Instead, he has a rather disturbing, lecherous backstory that motivates him to create chaos through clones. But any respect you might have for the guy is quickly washed away by the fact that he’s supposedly hooking up with one of many clones of a young woman who died tragically years ago and who’s a good 20-30 years his junior.
Meanwhile, Jackal’s bio is a total mess. While Marvel definitely went the mea culpa route with Hobgoblin’s original identity, with the Jackal, the rotating team’s of writers who have tackled the character have instead found new ways to confuse and infuriate their audiences. Just read a sample of Warren’s history on a site like wikipedia. How many clones and deaths can one guy have? Who is the guy at Marvel who sits there in the editorial retreats and says, “you know who deserves another chance? Jackal.”
That’s why I find his inclusion in Spider Island such a huge risk. There’s a momentous amount of history with this character that ASM writer Dan Slott needs to overcome to make him work. That’s not to say Spider Island is bound to fail. But even in reading what amounts to a prequel story in Deadly Foes, I’m getting antsy about certain characteristics from less successful storylines being revisited. There’s one of the original Peter Parker clones, Kaine, being mutated with the Tarantula. There’s yet another Gwen Stacy clone, this one infected with the “Carrion virus” which makes her look like a green fishwoman prancing around in Gwen’s trademark go-go boots. That’s a wee bit disturbing.
So where does Slott and Marvel in general go from here? What eventually transitioned the Clone Saga from annoying to reviled was when Marvel revealed that the clone was the REAL Peter Parker and then completely backtracked and went so far as to resurrect Norman Osborn as the actual mastermind manipulating the Jackal. If that’s not an overreach from a creative team, I don’t know what is. It’s still way too early in Spider Island to see anything that troublesome on the horizon. But let’s just say I’d be far happier seeing Hobgoblin getting a more prominent role as a result of the events of Spider Island, rather than the Jackal, who I hope is finally dispatched once and for all.
All images from Spider Island Deadly Foes: Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson, Frank D’Amata, Fred Van Lente, Minick Oosterveer & David Curiel