Until Roger Stern wrote the “Hobgoblin Lives” mini-series in 1997, Ned Leeds, as revealed in Amazing Spider-Man #289, was the Hobgoblin. The dogged reporter, who was known to have a mean streak whenever another man got near his woman, Betty Brant, was revealed to be one of the most nefarious and homicidal villains in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.
Beyond the overall disappointment the Spider-Man fan base had with this choice, there were a number of reasons why Ned couldn’t be the Hobgoblin. I listed a few of them in my post on ASM #289 yesterday but to recap: 1) he was overtaken way too easily by the Foreigner’s men before they killed him; 2) he didn’t have enough money to reflect the Hobgoblin’s palatial Long Island estate as seen in ASM #244/245 and 3) why would Ned Leeds be the Hobgoblin (also known as the “gut” feeling we get as readers)?
Shortly after ASM #289 was published, Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest) penned a two-parter in Web of Spider-Man #29-30 that examined the origins of the Rose, Richard Fisk, as well as some of Ned’s motivations to become the Hobgoblin.
In an effort to address my third question, Owsley crafts a story in Web of Spider-Man #30 that shows Ned becoming increasingly more crazed as he tries to expose Richard’s father Wilson Fisk (aka, the Kingpin) and instead turned to a life of masked crime and murder to … I guess, to make a point?
Regardless, Ned, as the Hobgoblin, convinces Richard to don the secret identity of the Rose and to work alongside him in an effort to take down the Kingpin. Owsley’s premise is not the most ridiculous thing I ever heard, but using my always reliable and never-sullied powers of 20-20 hindsight, the whole Ned as the Hobgoblin thing just never sits right with me. The visual of an unmasked Ned in the full Hobgoblin attire, riding around on the glider and laughing maniacally (as penciled by Steve Geiger) is filled with unintentional comedy and I just get this overall sense of awkwardness reading this storyline to this day. No ma’am, Ned Leeds can’t possibly be the Hobgoblin.
Owsley’s role in the Hobgoblin saga might be the most fascinating from a behind-the-scenes perspective. As group editor of the Spider-Man books in the mid-80s, Owsley reportedly made a number of enemies at Marvel for his heavy handed management style. He then took over scripting duties on ASM after Tom DeFalco left the title (or was fired, depending on whose version of the story you hear) and rewrote a DeFalco plotted “Gang War” arc that continued to string along readers about the identity of the Hobgoblin (there was definitely a sense of “enough is enough” even reading it 20+ years after the fact). Owsley proceeded to kill off Ned in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, to the shock of pretty much everyone at Marvel (he also shows Roderick Kingsley, later revealed to be the real Hobgoblin, getting shot and left for dead in Web of Spider-Man #29). And then Owsley was gone, seemingly exiled from Marvel before making a bit of a career comeback in the 2000s as Priest writing titles like Black Panther.
Owsley refuses to talk about his time on the Spider-Man books. The lone bit (and most frequently cited) of information on the topic is a post on his personal web site “why I never discuss Spider-Man.” In this post, Owsley describes a toxic work environment where he admittedly stabbed a number of people in the back. He only mentions the Hobgoblin saga by name once: “Oh, and suddenly, Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin, a move that infuriated Roger Stern, but one that I had absolutely nothing to do with.”
When we interviewed then-Spider-Man group editor Jim Salicrup (who replaced Owsley) at Connecticut ComiCONN last week for the Superior Spider-Talk podcast, he said that pretty much everyone involved with Hobgoblin stories had disavowed things to the point where it was impossible to determine what the real direction of the book was going to be.
With that information in mind, this Web of two-parter comes across even more as damage control from the creative powers that be at Marvel. Unless Owsley has a change of heart, we’ll never get a full explanation as to what process/research went into these two issues, and to be frank, even if Owsley did start chatting, someone would likely contradict him anyway. So instead, Spider-Man fans/readers just had to accept these two comics as being part of the “Ned Leeds is the Hobgobin” gospel until Stern returned years later to tell the story he always wanted to tell.
More on that tomorrow.
All images from Web of Spider-Man #30: Jim Owsley, Steve Geiger, Jack Abel, Jim Fern & Kyle Baker
Priest used to contribute to the rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe Usenet group and the Hobgoblin came up at least once circa August 2001. Annoyingly Google Groups alternates between not being able to access the Usenet archive and crashing my browser when they can so I can’t pull up the posts. His account was rather at odds with Peter David’s, which was then the best known version, and he particularly disputed claims that Ned had ever been intended to be anything but a red herring or that he (Priest) had decided/agreed to go with this revelation.
He did say that he’d tossed out ideas such as pretending Ned had been the Hobgoblin and having Jack O’Lantern replace him only for the real Hobgoblin to show up again, but never intended for them to be used. (Kind of like “Phoenix wasn’t actually Jean Grey; the force copied her and left her in suspended animation in the bay.”) He wasn’t certain who had commissioned David to write the revelation – he said it might have been him but thought it was probably his successor. He also recalled it had always been the plan to reveal the Rose as Richard Fisk and couldn’t remember the Foreigner at all, let alone picking him as the id until David pointed out how silly and a cheat this was.
Priest implied that the mess, and some of the other controversies in the era such as the marriage, was the fault of DeFalco.