The Spooktacular Spider-Man is a monthly column, written by Paul DeKams, exploring the Spider-Man stories that have taken Peter Parker into the darkest parts of the Marvel Universe and from the fantastic world of superheroes into the horror of the supernatural.
Sometimes great horror is about creating a creepy atmosphere, and building anticipation to a showdown that never happens. Or it can be a taut thriller grounded in psychological horror. And sometimes great horror is a B-movie smackdown without any subtlety between a bunch of monsters (with an out-of-his-depth superhero for good measure).
This two-part Ghost Rider (issues #16–17) story from 1991 by Howard Mackie and Mark Texeira is a delightful face-melting schlockfest of a comic book. Spider-Man pursues the demon-possessed Hobgoblin, who is in the midst of a firebombing a church full of bad guys that have kidnapped the mother of Danny Ketch, aka Ghost Rider.
Like the cinema classic “Jason Goes To Hell,” this comic strains against the confines of credulity and common sense as fate quickly draws Spider-Man, Hobgoblin, Ghost Rider, and Johnny Blaze into a supernatural “Fatal Four Way Match.” The story moves along at a frenetic pace, with Texeira’s art pushing Mackie’s tale into overdrive.
Texeira’s art isn’t only kinetic, but it’s scary and a true service to Ghost Rider’s setting in the horror genre. The panels depicting Ketch’s transformation into Ghost Rider (and back) are truly terrifying. The demonic Hobgoblin fits right into Ghost Rider’s world, courtesy of Texeira’s excellent rendering. Every bit of the Goblin’s ragged costume accentuates the overall creepiness and madness of this version of the character. There’s no question that this is a man transformed by evil. There’s no ‘behind the mask.’ There’s only the Hobgoblin.
Where Mackie comes in is in dialogue that makes the character all the more terrifying. This is not only a villain imbued with the power of a demon, but a villain who believes he’s on a righteous mission from God, and is able to rationalize his every action as the “will of the Lord.”
Even Spidey is drawn a bit creepily in this story. It’s fitting, as his pursuit of the Hobgoblin has drawn him into the supernatural world of Ghost Rider. He’s very angular, and almost distorted by being in the midst of this dark magic melee. He doesn’t understand Ghost Rider or his methods, leading to a classic superhero battle based on a misunderstanding, and this feeling is amplified by how out of place Spider-Man feels within the art sometimes. Whenever he bleeds into Texeira’s looser style, he fits more into the story, but whenever drawn more in the house style, Spider-Man appears to have been cut out of one story and pasted into another.
In the end, misunderstandings are understood and a nonsensical combination of hellfire, webbing, and mystical chain defeat the Hobgoblin.
If I’m honest about what actually does the trick of defeating the Hobgoblin, my money is on Johnny Blaze’s hellfire gun. Spidey appears to just be shooting standard webbing at Hobgoblin, as this story takes place prior to Ben Reilly’s genius invention of impact webbing, and Ghost Rider appears to just kind of pointing his chain at the villain. We gotta give Texeira a pass for this third to last page in #17, as he’s done a fantastic job during the rest of the story, especially in Hobgoblin’s “killer coming back for one last scare” panel on page 18.
Like your average 80s and 90s horror villain, Hobgoblin is defeated because, well, the allotted time has run out. It ends super-abruptly. Complete with a half-hearted explanation of pain and suffering that the villain/monster must feel, differences overcome, and lessons learned.
Spider doesn’t really fit too well into this tale. He’s at constant odds with Ghost Rider’s methods, with the world of magic, and with the style of this story. But the Hobgoblin fits right in here quite spectacularly.