In this feature, Mark Ginocchio, Superior Spider-Talk co-host and editor of Chasing Amazing, takes a look at significant “firsts” in Spider-Man comics, i.e., first appearances of supporting characters, phrases, images and/or general concepts that have gone on to play a critical role in the Spider-Man mythos.
Today we look at the very first “fake” Hobgoblin:
Roderick Kingsley, the man who was officially unveiled by Roger Stern as the “original” Hobgoblin in 1998’s “Hobgoblin Lives“ mini-series, gives new meaning to the word “survivor.” Over the years, the character has been left for dead on countless occasions, only to reveal that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. A major part of his long-term success and evasiveness is his ability to manipulate others into doing his bidding – both voluntarily and via more forceful methods of coercion.
Readers first witnessed the full extent of Kingsley’s manipulative ways in Amazing Spider-Man #245. As part of the villain’s second major arc during the Stern/John Romita Jr.-era, this issue marks the inaugural instance of a “fake” Hobgoblin being unmasked. The story is also a demonstration of why so many Spider-Man fans believe Stern is a master storyteller and why the “Original Hobgoblin Saga” and the mystery surrounding the character’s identity may be the writer’s greatest arc of all.
The issue is constructed around a shadowy figure – believed to be the same person who becomes the Hobgoblin in the character’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #238. The figure is badly hurt by a chemical explosion at an isolated Long Island estate before being pulled out of a burning house by another anonymous figure. He is sent to the hospital where he is treated for his burns as a “John Doe.” After a few weeks, the man removes his bandages and is seen putting on a Hobgoblin costume. He proceeds to glide his way to Times Square to wreak terror on New York before Spider-Man shows up and saves the day.
Once the Hobgoblin is defeated, Spider-Man unmasks him and recognizes the villain as two-bit crook Lefty Donovan – a man who has no known superpowers. Spidey immediately believes something is screwy about this revelation, but before he can pressure Donovan to talk, the man and his glider take off and explode into the side of a building, killing him.
At the time, the story was accepted as an example of how the real Hobgoblin (whose identity was still a mystery) was clever enough to use some subordinate as a guinea pig for the unstable Norman Osborn “goblin serum.” But as time marched on, and the Hobgoblin’s story took a variety of twists and turns, it became apparent that these high-level manipulations were a critical part of Kingsley’s M.O. Donovan was only the first fall-guy for Kingsley. He would later frame Peter Parker’s high school bully-turned-friend Flash Thompson as the Hobgoblin. When “Daily Bugle“ reporter Ned Leeds was revealed as the Hobgoblin in Amazing Spider-Man #289 (a major comic event that chronologically took place after Ned was killed in the “Spider-Man vs. Wolverine” one-shot) the belief was that the “original” Hobgoblin’s story ended there. Except Stern would later retcon the character’s identity in “Hobgoblin Lives,” revealing that like Donovan, Leeds was just some mope who Kingsley brainwashed into thinking he was the real deal.
To this day, creators continue to play the bait and switch game with the Hobgoblin. In Amazing Spider-Man #649, Phil Urich, the latest character to wear the orange hood, decapitates who he believes to be Kingsley before learning that he actually killed Roderick’s lookalike brother Daniel (who was strangely in full Hobgoblin attire). While this reveal seemed a bit odd, the ending of Superior Spider-Man #26 puts things into further context. After the Green Goblin believes he has killed Kingsley, Urich rightly checks under the mask and finds another imposter. The scene then cuts to Roderick (thousands of miles away from New York), who is brainwashing another mope “A Clockwork Orange”-style into believing that he is the Hobgoblin.
The Superior #26 ending frustrated some readers because the takeaway from the reveal is that Kingsley is essentially un-killable (since he always seems to have somebody to send out there as the “real” Hobgoblin to take the fall). But considering the history of the character, this plot development should not be perceived as a major stretch to our suspensions of disbelief. Mildly irritating, maybe, but that’s the Hobgoblin and Roderick Kingsley for you. He has consistently been portrayed as a cat with an infinite number of lives.