Roger Stern

52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week.  Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.

Roger Stern is a man who broke into comics with Marvel during the mid-70’s, right around the time that Frank Miller began to surge at the company as well.  For his first few years at Marvel, Stern was an editor before taking over as a writer on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man in the 80’s.  It would be another two years before he got his crack at writing The Amazing Spider-Man, during which he created the classic Spider-Man villain, the Hobgoblin.  That wasn’t the only noteworthy contribution Stern made to Marvel during this time period though, as he was the co-creator of the popular West Coast Avengers, created the Monica Rambeau incarnation of Captain Marvel and penned one of the best Spider-Man stories ever, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man”.

Spider-Man: Origin Of The Hobgoblin

Spider-Man Origin Of The Hobgoblin coverWith Spider-Man’s longtime foe The Green Goblin, a.k.a. Norman Osborn, long deceased, the world of Spider-Man appears to lack a true arch nemesis to fill in the roll left behind by the Goblin.  A mystery begins to build around Spider-Man when a new goblin emerges onto the scene, with the Hobgoblin becoming the latest villain to plague his life.  When the Hobgoblin begins to attack buildings owned by Norman Osborn, Spider-Man’s life starts to become increasingly difficult, as he must work diligently to prevent future attacks and figure out why the Hobgoblin is doing so in the first place.  Shifting into the role of the new goblin in town gives the Hobgoblin an incredible amount of power and influence that he immediately begins to abuse, using it to blackmail plenty of people close to Norman Osborn for money.  The Hobgoblin makes things personal for Peter Parker when he targets Harry Osborn, threatening to reveal the startling and villainous truth of his father to the rest of the world.  Short on answers, Spider-Man leaps into action hoping to thwart the Hobgoblin before his intricate web of plans can be completely spun.

Roger Stern introduces the world to the fan favourite Spider-Man villain, The Hobgoblin, with this collection of stories.  Introducing a handful of new characters along with the iconic villain, Stern casts out an intriguing mystery for readers to try to uncover the true identity of the Hobgoblin, something that wouldn’t be revealed for over a decade (with the answer actually being revealed by Stern in the story “The Hobgoblin Lives”…but more on that in the next post!). In creating the Hobgoblin, Stern looked to appease fans who, at the time, were obsessed with only seeing one villain in every issue, with that villain being The Green Goblin.  Stern compromised for the sake of fanfare and gave readers a whole new Goblin who shines through as a great threat to Spider-Man’s life in this collection.

Spider-Man Origin Of The Hobgoblin interior 1It probably goes without saying that the key component to this collection’s success as a compelling read is all due to the inclusion of the Hobgoblin.  Stern creates an enticing new foe for Spider-Man, taking elements of the iconic Green Goblin and mixing them in with a few different character traits that the Green Goblin lacked.   We get the highly intelligent and oddly motivated Hobgoblin, who actually appears as though he wants to be exactly like his green counterpart at certain parts in the story.  Nonetheless, Stern still crafts him into a formidable foe for Spider-Man, especially as the story progresses and we see the skills as well as the strength of the Hobgoblin increase to rival that of the Green Goblin’s.  The Hobgoblin becomes a man who isn’t against playing with things like blackmail to get his way and almost seems more interested in sabotaging other people’s lives instead of actually taking out Spider-Man.  Hobgoblin could have ended up just being a Green Goblin knockoff, and at some points he does a great job of seeming to be that way, but ultimately under the guidance of Stern we get a goblin foe for Spider-Man who is actually more charismatic than someone like Norman Osborn at times.  It’s a relieving thing to see, as giving an air of mystery to the villain whilst still giving him an excellent and engaging personality is largely part of the reason that the Hobgoblin works as a villain.  I do have to throw one spoiler into the ring here as it’s something to surely disappoint readers who expect some closure surrounding this villain.  As the volume is titled the “Origin Of The Hobgoblin”, you do get to see the rise of the villain but you don’t learn the identity of the character behind the mask.  There are plenty of hints sprinkled in throughout but nothing concrete enough to actually reveal the villain’s true identity (although any fan of Spider-Man should know the identity and if you’re truly curious we do live in “the age of Google).  It’s an unfortunate truth that you don’t learn the villain’s identity here but it’s a fact that actually transitions beautiful into the sequel to this story, “The Hobgoblin Lives!”, which is the next piece of Stern’s work I’ll examine.

Perhaps the best part of this entire collection is that it is about as classic of a Spider-Man story as you can get without having it being written by Stan Lee himself.  The entire feel to the comic just screams Spider-Man as it’s a story all about the woes of Peter Parker’s life as a human versus his life as a superheroes.  It attacks the fundamental characteristic of most Spider-Man stories and highlights them beautifully throughout, as we see Peter grapple with trying to be friends with Mary Jane whilst the Black Cat is in love with his superhero alter ego.  Any fan of Spider-Man knows what a complicated love life he does in fact have and this volume of stories is no exception to that truth.  The mannerisms of the cast and the characters themselves all serve to further hammer home the feeling of a classic Spider-Man story, where we see our hero tackle a problem for twenty plus pages only to have everything basically reset by the end of the issue or end up in a wash, strikingly similar to how comics “used to be”.  Although the overall plot does feel rather jumpy, with every few issues jumping to a different phase in Peter Parker’s life surrounding that time, the narrative is still rich and incredibly accessible.  You could quite literally pick any issue at random and start reading, finding that there are plenty of safe starting and stopping points for the story throughout.

Spider-Man Origin Of The Hobgoblin interior 2

Collects:  Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #43, 47-48, 85.

Best Character:  Peter Parker (duh).

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Actually, they’re…ah…warm up pants, Miss–?” – Peter Parker.

Best Scene/Moment:  Spider-Man and Black Cat take on the Hobgoblin – Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #85.

Best Issue:  Amazing Spider-Man Issue #249.  This one just seems to scratch the itch for fans of classic Spider-Man tales.  It all starts out with Peter almost getting caught changing out of being Spider-Man.  From there, while at a party in Harry Osborn’s lavish home, a mysterious delivery reveals that someone is trying to blackmail Harry, revealing to him that his father was Green Goblin.  Peter and Harry try to tackle the problem together and attend a secret meeting proposed by the person trying to blackmail Harry.  As is the tragedy of Peter’s life, nothing can ever be so simple as a strange plot quickly escalates and puts Spider-Man in an awful situation.  It’s a complete story that has classic Spidey and Peter moments, featuring appearances from many of the best supporting cast members in Spider-Man’s life.  What is there not to love?

Why You Should Read It:  Hobgoblin is a character who has a tremendous amount of popularity amongst Spider-Man fans but even general comic fans as well.  This is the ground floor for Hobgoblin, as you learn all about what motivates the villain and get to see him in action for the first time.  Stern makes a great addition to Spider-Man’s rogues gallery with the inclusion of the Hobgoblin, making him similar to the Green Goblin but still strong enough of a character to stand out on his own.  If the fact that this is a definitive Hobgoblin origin isn’t enough for you, than how about the fact that this about as classic of a Spider-Man story as you can get?  Through and through this comic has all the elements any longtime fan of Spider-Man should desire to read.  In closing, you get classic Spider-Man and the introduction of a classic villain, which typically equates to a really fun read.

Spider-Man: The Hobgoblin Lives

Spider-Man Hobgoblin Lives coverRoger Stern introduced the world to the Hobgoblin back in the 80’s with his introduction in Amazing Spider-Man #238.  It’s perhaps what Stern is most well-known for, providing an interesting member to Spider-Man’s already endless list of villains.  Stern had a plan in place to reveal the Hobgoblin’s identity but inevitably left the Amazing Spider-Man title before it could be revealed due to disagreements with the editor at the time.  Stern’s plan was to wait one issue longer that Stan Lee did to reveal the Green Goblin’s identity and then drop the bomb of who the Hobgoblin was.  The Hobgoblin’s true identity was revealed to be Ned Leeds after Roger Stern had left the comic, with Stern disagreeing with that reveal.  Over a decade later Stern would get his chance to right the wrong and establish who the REAL Hobgoblin was with the storyline “The Hobgoblin Lives”.

When the current Hobgoblin, Jason Macendale is on his way to trail after being captured by Spider-Man, he reveals to the world that Betty Brant used to be married to Ned Leeds, the “original” Hobgoblin.  A media frenzy ensues as Betty Brant becomes one of the most sought after interviews in New York.  In light of this revelation, Spider-Man works hard to protect Brant from the media.  Meanwhile, in a jail cell across town, Macendale is visited by a mysterious figure claiming to be the true Hobgoblin shortly before he is killed by him.  The truth reaches the rest of the world that Ned Leeds wasn’t truly the original Hobgoblin and that the man who was is still at large.  Spider-Man must work quickly to understand the mystery unfolding around him, discovering why Ned Leeds was framed as well as who this real Hobgoblin truly is!

So when looking through the Big B Comics Hamilton shelves I realized that we lacked the one Avengers story I wanted to do for Roger Stern, Under Siege.  Widely considered one of the best Avengers stories of all time (and a personal favourite of mine), Under Siege followed The Masters of Evil as they dismantled the Avengers from the inside out for a thrilling storyline.  But enough about that story.  Short on options I decided to do something I hadn’t done yet for this challenge; review a sequel!  I picked up “The Hobgoblin Lives”, considered a direct sequel to Stern’s earlier work in “The Origin Of The Hobgoblin” (of which I took a look at on Tuesday), a story that reveals the answer to a question a decade in the making “Who was the real, original Hobgoblin?”.  With a decades worth of Spidey related stories between Stern’s classic introduction of the Hobgoblin and Hobgoblin Lives, there had been many changes made to the character, namely the fact that multiple men had taken up the mantle since then.  With this series, Roger Stern answers the question only he knew the answer to, completing his work with the character he first created back in the 80’s.

I think it’s most important to state that the “Hobgoblin Lives” is more of a timeline story than it is a mystery.  In that I mean it highlights what’s happened in the decade between Stern’s stories and neatly fits together the seemingly jagged pieces of the puzzle from back when Stern first wrote Spider-Man to give you a clear image.  You can break down this collection into two parts, with the first three issues being the story “The Hobgoblin Lives” and the last three issues being the “Goblins at the Gate” story.  Wherein the Hobgoblin Lives is about the mystery of who the original Hobgoblin is, Goblins at the Gate is a fun story that pays tribute to both the Hobgoblin and the Green Goblin, throwing the two characters together to see how they would clash due to their egos.  Stern is the primary writer on the Hobgoblin Lives story but becomes just a co-plotter by the time Goblins at the Gate comes around.

Spider-Man Hobgoblin Lives interior 1With the primary story in “The Hobgoblin Lives”, you get much more of a sense that the tale is a Hobgoblin story as opposed to being a Spider-Man story about the Hobgoblin.  The swirling and bizarre mystery of who he truly is consumes the entire narrative, teeming with misdirection at every turn until it gets to the point where you sick of the misdirection and just want a clean answer.  When Stern finally coughs up the answer to the reader, it does make sense although it just feels cheesy and definitely reads like it’s a story out of a comic from the 90’s.  That’s not to say that the story isn’t interesting nor that it lacks Spider-Man, because this story has both of those things, it’s just that the plot doesn’t feel too cohesive throughout the entire comic and it the entire thing read almost like a history textbook instead.  With that in mind, Stern still plays up plenty of interesting aspects to Peter Parker’s life during this time period and still gives everyone’s favourite wall crawler plenty of chances to shine.

When you make the jump into the Goblins at the Gate storyline after finding out Hobgoblin’s true identity, the narrative picks up a short time after and becomes immediately more interesting.  This story details the return of Norman Osborn to the land of the living and shows the great lengths he’s gone through to disprove the allegations that he was the Green Goblin.  Suddenly, Norman Osborn is the golden boy, having saved the Daily Bugle from bankruptcy and even becoming Peter Parker’s “boss”.  Things gets interesting for Osborn when he discovers that the man who is the original Hobgoblin (no spoilers, I promise) reveals from within a jail cell that he has one of Norman Osborn’s journals that reveal he was in fact the Hobgoblin.  This forces Osborn to draw the man out of prison and use him to find the journal.  Everything at play here makes for an entertaining Spider-Man story, one that is definitely worth the read and does a fantastic job of connecting threads to Stern’s “Origin Of The Hobgoblin” story.  The best part of the entire volume actually ends up being the interactions shared between the Hobgoblin and the original Green Goblin, showing how different yet similar these characters can be.  It all leads to a climatic showdown between the two goblins and Spider-Man that is surprisingly rewarding after only a few short issues.

Spider-Man Hobgoblin Lives interior 2

Collects:  The Hobgoblin Lives #1-3, Spectacular Spider-Man #259-261.

Best Character:  Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “Who says marriage kills all the romance, huh?” – Billy Walters.

Best Scene/Moment:  The truth stands revealed – The Hobgoblin Lives #3.

Best Issue:  Spectacular Spider-Man #261.  This is the conclusion to the entire collection as well as the “Goblins at the Gate” story, giving you a showdown between Hobgoblin, Green Goblin, and Spider-Man.  It’s an issue that answers a few questions, sets up some new mysteries and still places all the involved parties in appropriate places come the conclusion.  It’s simply a fun issue that any Spider-Man fan is sure to enjoy.

Why You Should Read It:  You should read this simply because it provides a chapter of closure on the story of the original Hobgoblin, with the identity of the villain being revealed, keeping him as a great and charismatic addition to Spider-Man’s “rogues gallery”.  There’s no denying that the plotting in this one is a little rough, to say the least, but it still works as a strong sequel to “The Origin Of The Hobgoblin”.  In all honesty, the “Goblins at the Gate” storyline is far more compelling and worth your time than the “Hobgoblin Lives” storyline.  If there was a single reason to read this collection “Goblins at the Gate” would be that reason.

Dylan Routledge
Dylan Routledge

Dylan is the Assistant Manager for Big B Comics Hamilton. In his spare time he loves to talk, read, and write about all things comic book related.

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8 years ago

Too bad your choice wasn’t great, although short Stern’s run on Captain America, War and Remembrance. The best of Stern out there…