Some evil just seems to be unkillable.
Norman Osborn was a corrupt scientist and corporate executive for years. When he learned his partner Mendel Stromm was working on a strength-enhancement formula, he had the man sent to jail for embezzling and then stole the work, testing it on human subjects. The formula gave superhuman strength, but also mutated the subject into a scaled, goblin-like creature. Osborn continued working on the formula and one night while mixing it together, the solution turned green and exploded, sending him into a coma. When he awoke, he had superhuman strength, stamina, resiliency and increased intelligence. But with this intelligence came a new persona, a Norman Osborn who was truly insane and would stop at nothing to achieve power and dominion over others.
Osborn decided to begin a criminal empire and used his advance technology to outfit new super-villains to aid him in this. He had some victories, but many of his operations were thwarted by the new hero Spider-Man, who was unaware that there was a mastermind behind many of the crimes he was stopping. After sending various agents to take down Spider-Man and seeing that they all failed, Osborn decided to do it himself. He created various new weapons, a techno-suit and a mask that emulated the goblin-like forms that his old test subjects had mutated into. As the Green Goblin, he attempted to assume the place of New York’s most powerful gang leader on several occasions and became Spider-Man’s most persistent enemy, more so after he discovered the wall-crawler’s secret identity and became obsessed that the young hero either join him or die. At times, the Goblin persona would seem to be go away, leaving only the original Norman Osborn who, though corrupt, was not nearly as dangerous. But eventually the Green Goblin and his insanity always returned.
For a time, Osborn was believed dead and other people stepped into the role of the Green Goblin, most notably Osborn’s son Harry who had become Peter’s close friend and roommate. The original Hobgoblin began his career by stealing some of Osborn’s Goblin technology, inspiring a new branch of this evil legacy. Then Osborn came back and since then he has been a thorn in the sides of many good people, both as a public figure and as his grinning alter ego. But the villain helped cause his own defeat by forcing Earth’s heroes to unite against him and was once again imprisoned.
Though he’s in jail, Osborn’s influence isn’t gone. The new villain Menace was created because of him. And more and more criminals are beginning to display a Green Goblin tattoo on their bodies, showing their allegiance to Osborn and his goals. So now that you know where things stand, let’s look at the legacy of the Green Goblin.
And before anyone complains, the Hobgoblins and other related characters (Demogoblin, Menace, etc.) will have their own column soon enough so just be patient.
THE GREEN GOBLIN’S CLASSIC LOOK
The idea here is very simple. It’s a man dressed as a figure of myth and magic. In fact, in his first appearance, the Green Goblin didn’t used the “goblin glider” or “rocket sled” that he became famous for in later years. Instead, he traveled around on a high-tech personal rocket that he referred to as his “broomstick.”
Up to this point, Spider-Man had fought strictly sci-fi enemies and human criminals. Gangsters, scientists with mechanical arms, old men who used magnetic harnesses to defy gravity, accidental mutations, these were the kind of folks he fought. Now here came the Green Goblin and he looked to be someone you’d expect to fight Dr. Strange. It’s not just his costume, but look at these weapons he has. There’s a distinctly Halloween theme here. Exploding frogs, pumpkin bombs, ghost-like grenades, electronic razor-bats that fly around their target and can emit gaseous weapons.
So the Green Goblin seems to revel in a dark age mentality and wouldn’t mind at all if you thought he was a real creature of magic rather than something you could understand. He wants you freaked out and uncomfortable. Comic book historian Peter Sanderson once pointed out that the Green Goblin seems to represent the intellectual opposite of Peter Parker. Spider-Man uses his scientific genius to create non-lethal weaponry and take down science fiction menaces. According to Sanderson, the Green Goblin represents the black magic of science, using his genius not to create non-lethal webbing but instead to build an arsenal of weapons that are deadly enough to take down several SWAT teams but are portable enough they can all fit into his “bag of tricks.”
This idea that the Goblin is Peter’s opposite number in science and ethics extends further when later stories by Kurt Busiek (in the series Untold Tales of Spider-Man) showed us that the Goblin actually used his genius to create super-villains and/or outfit them with his technology, whereas Spidey has often tried to cure people who were turned into mutated monsters and has often offered aid to super-villains who truly want to change their lives. So with all that in mind, the Green Goblin’s look is very effective. He looks like an invader in Spider-Man’s world, some creature from the past that a science geek from New York would never have imagined facing.
The mask especially works on this level. Spidey’s mask is just that. You know it’s a mask and you know there has to be a person underneath. Likewise, he doesn’t think of himself as “The Spider-Man” who only pretends to be science geek Peter Parker. He is Peter Parker, whether he’s wearing the mask or not, and he’s aware of it. But Norman Osborn sees the Goblin as a separate self, a better self that he transformed into when those chemicals exploded in his face and bathed his body. This is not just meant to be a mask, this is his new face, molded to work with his skin and muscles. It shows his point of view and his madness all at once.
Another specific thing that works for me is how the Green Goblin’s suit is divided up. This entire costume is basically techno-armor, like Iron Man’s but done in a very different way. The Green Goblin has superhuman strength and can take a lot of damage, so his costume is a weapon rather than protection as well. Circuitry is interwoven in the costume and the gloves are meant to deliver energy blasts and sparkling bursts of light that can blind an opponent. The fact that the gloves are looser is a nice touch then, disguising that more circuitry is there, as opposed to the scaled sleeves which are skin tight and could not hide bulky tech.
Likewise, the shirt hides more circuitry and the power source that recharges the gloves, so it makes sense for that to be looser as well. Of course, some later artists do make the shirt skin-tight, which renders that moot.
Now, this classic Green Goblin suit was worn by many people, of which Norman Osborn was just the first. But one guy wore a decidedly different Green Goblin outfit and actually used it to act as a hero.
PHIL URICH, THE GOBLIN HERO
For years, Ben Urich was a character who ran around in Spider-Man comics as well as Daredevil comics. A trusted journalist with old-fashioned integrity, he’s definitely had his share of fans. Then in the 1990s, Marvel had one of their stranger ideas and decided to introduce Ben’s nephew Phil, a smart-mouthed loser looking for direction. And Phil stumbled onto one of Osborn’s old labs, encountering a chemical that gave him powers and then finding a modified costume with a mask that could deliver a strange laugh weapon.
So Phil decided to become a hero with the Green Goblin guise. And this is a decidedly different take on the character. It’s got the extra pouches and straps that were required of many 90s costumes. But we’ve added a funky cape here and the tunic is gone entirely. And that makes this a bit flamboyant rather than scary.
This looks like a slightly savage Green Goblin and it’s not bad. But it doesn’t exactly say hero, does it? If Phil were actually a little nuts, like DC’s hero the Creeper, I could go for it but here I just keep thinking “nice look, doesn’t really work for HIM.”
Phil later lost his powers and broke the mask’s weapon, subsequently deciding to leave the identity of the Green Goblin behind him.
THE GRAY GOBLIN
Norman Osborn had an illegitimate son too. I don’t care to discuss that further because I was not a fan of that story, but let’s look at this suit that Jr. was wearing. Hmmmm… Yeah, boring. Sorry, but you’ve taken the classic Green Goblin suit and just removed all the life and color from it. Honestly, the “Gray Goblin”? That’s the difference between him and dad, just that he’s gray? If he looked like he were made of stone, that could work as a gargoyle take on the character, but that’s not what’s happening here. It’s literally just the Goblin after having been washed too many times. Next.
OSBORN’S EVER-CHANGING WARDROBE
So when Norman Osborn came back, alive and well, he initially wore his classic suit but hey, wait. We’ve gotta shake things up a bit, right? So he later changed over to this caped version. This definitely reminds us of a Halloween theme with the bat-shaped tattered cape. It’s definitely got a lot going for it. The skull-cap replacing the hat is an interesting change. But the cowl coming down to make a half shirt is a little odd to me. I’d rather it just went all the way down and unified the look.
Hmmm. So here we have tunic and cape. Yeah, I don’t know. The cape has become so identified with the Hobgoblin that I think the Green Goblin should maintain his individuality by losing it.
We also learned that Norman had become the head of a cult of people called Scriers and that this was what he wore for their ceremonies. You know, this is kinda cool. It’s the Green Goblin as a dark sorcerer or warlock. And the skull-cap cowl definitely works better here than the long hat would. I could see him wearing this when he was in his lair, hatching schemes or making proclamations and hostage demands to the city of New York. But once Spidey showed up, I’d want Osborn to rip off this robe and reveal the true Green Goblin uniform beneath.
So there was this movie that came out featuring Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man and Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. I was not really a fan of that film, but that’s neither here nor there. And in that film, Willem Dafoe, a wonderful actor, was sadly hampered by having to wear what seemed to be a suit left-over from a Power Rangers episode. This version has a helmet that makes it very clear this is a guy in a costume. This look defeats any aspect of the supernatural or the that Goblin considers his mask to be his face. A shame.
Now, the movie did influence how artists drew the Goblin afterward. Here we see that Norman is wearing the classic Goblin mask, basically, but he’s no longer trying to make it seem as if the rest of his costume is his actual body and skin. It’s clearly a suit, with padding on the shoulders and the knees, and armored plates replacing the tunic.
It’s not a terrible look, but it takes away a lot of the sleekness I liked about the classic look. The suit seems as though it doesn’t actually fit him and it’s so mismatched that he gives the impression of being a thieving elf rather than a sinister goblin.
The suit was altered again so that the padding blended in with the green, and now instead of baggy pants and sleeves this was form-fitting armor, with seams that offered a nod to the movie.
The ripped sleeves now seem a bit silly and unnecessary to me, but this is an interesting compromise between the classic Green Goblin and his live-action counterpart. It just looks like it could use a little work, such as taking the sleeves away completely or bringing the tunic back.
Now here’s a lesson, kids. If your character is described with a color that begins in a capital letter, you may want to make that color pretty dominant. This is the same basic armor as before, but the only green now is the Goblin’s mask. It just doesn’t pop as well.
Ah, now this. This is very interesting. We’ve brought back the tunic, but still make it look like armor. The padding now is leather and matches the bag of tricks. Very nice. indeed. Yes, I very much like this Goblin. The only thing is, he now looks a bit naked below the belt. I normally don’t like shorts on a character, but they worked for the Goblin especially when he’s got that tunic on and the armor is the exact same color as his mask, which is meant to give the impression of being his real skin.
Now, really, Osborn. You go out into combat using your human identity and you wear this? “Look, it’s just a regular body suit for the most part, but I’ve got scaled knee pads and shoulder pads to remind you I’m the Green Goblin.” Honestly, it just looks like you’re half-dressed.
Usually, when the Goblin’s appeared in cartoons, they just use the classic costume. But a couple of years ago, Greg Weisman (creator of the Gargoyles cartoon) headed up the animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man and introduced this version of the green-skinned psychotic. And this is very interesting. I very much dig the gloves and the tunic. His cap that seems to be a compromise with the classic hat and the short-lived skull-cap and may actually work better than both. And the sash in front is a great way of not giving him shorts but not making him look a bit naked either.
The only thing I wonder about is that jack-o-lantern belt buckle. Is it a bit too obvious and in your face when his weapons and persona already scream Halloween? Just don’t know.
And if you haven’t seen The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, go to Netflix right now. Seriously, it’s incredibly fun and well done.
And that wraps it up for us, kiddies. With the new Spider-Man movie coming out and beginning a new franchise of films, let’s hope that we get a really great live-action version of the Green Goblin down the road. ‘Till next time, this has been Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler is an actor and writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series” (check out the Facebook fan page!). He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who and vampires who don’t sparkle. Alan can be followed via Twitter: @SizzlerKistler. His work can be found at http://KistlerUniverse.com or http://www.youtube.com/user/CrazySexyGeeksSeries