The Goblin's Legacy


Why the original Green Goblin is Spider-Man's Greatest Enemy.

Why is the original Green Goblin so popular, particularly since he is a nasty, murdering SOB? I don't think I'm the only one fascinated with this particular bad guy. What is the Goblin's allure over the many others that Spidey has tangled with over the years? Norman was virtually a semi-regular character for more than 20 years after his "death" because he frequently showed up in flashbacks, dream sequences, hallucinations, paintings, and numerous references. And beyond that, the spider-writers over the years couldn't keep their hands off the Goblin concept, continually inventing new Goblins to take Norman's place, including the misguided attempt to create a heroic Green Goblin. Naturally, with one exception, all of the Goblins paled in comparison to the original, which frankly, is one reason I think it was too tempting to bring him back.

When we see how Norman stacks up against the other Goblins, we begin to appreciate why he's such a great bad guy:

It's easy to point to all of the grief that Norman Osborn has given Peter Parker over the years (murdering Gwen Stacy and Ben Reilly, engineering the clone saga, indirectly driving his own son, Peter's best friend, insane, etc.) and then declare him as Spidey's arch-enemy by default - but it's more than that. A writer could have any villain do these sorts of nasty things, but it seems that over the years they have tended to give the Green Goblin the lion's share of the really dirty work of messing with Spidey's head and family. After all, it was Norman that Marvel chose to "dig up" in order to bail out the Clone Saga.

Admittedly, I'm kind of partial to Norman because he's an older man, and is not in that ideal demographic of young people that advertisers are constantly chasing after. I mean, he's a grandfather. How many super-villains are grandfathers, plotting evil while their grandchild plays at their feet? I think that's pretty cool.

But, I think that the primary reason for the Goblin's appeal is that he is the Spidey villain who best exemplifies the dark side of human nature. The Goblin is an example of the abuse of power, and the result of its use for self-gratification rather than for the benefit of others.

Norman is a man who lives with demons. We read about people all the time who appear to be perfectly normal, even likeable in all outward appearances, and then bodies are discovered buried under their house, or parts of bodies are stored in their freezer. Beyond the extreme examples I've just given, most of us probably even know people who have grappled with severe depression, mental illness, or other conditions in which they may be happy and smiling one moment, and given to fits of near uncontrollable rage the next. Norman's bouts of insanity in the midst of periods of normalcy is a reminder of just how fragile sanity is.

Osborn also unleashes that unrelenting anger all of us possess from time to time, but for the most part, keep under control. The combination of the economic power and the physical power he possesses removed most of the inhibitions that keep the rest of us in check. That's why I never believed that the exploding Goblin formula drove Osborn insane. He probably already was insane, but being granted super powers removed what little inhibitions he might have had about abusing his power and position.

It is this rage that Osborn struggles with that makes him a compelling character. Not sympathetic, but compelling. For an illustration of Norman's moods, Spectacular Spider-Man #250 written by J.M. Dematteis, is excellent. One moment, Norman is suave and charming, and yet during another moment, he is consumed with an anger that he is barely able to control. Even Kingsley, Osborn's equal physically, is reluctant to precipitate the unleasing of Osborn's rage.

But I don't want to diss Spidey's other villains, or ignore the fact that some of them have troubled pasts, simply because I think Norman is his best. Doctor Octopus, for example, is a great villain with certain complexities. However, one of the primary things that distinguishes Norman from Spidey's other villains is that his life as the Green Goblin is (ostensibly) secret from the general public. Osborn is the monster that walks unknown among us. And unlike Spidey's other villains, who if they reared their ugly head any number of superheroes could take them out - Osborn is Spidey's personal devil, particularly when he stays out of costume. Since his Goblin identity is a secret, no other hero would even consider taking out citizen Osborn. And Peter knows that if his career as Spider-Man ends for whatever reason, Osborn will be able to run around unchecked. Peter knows that he is the only one who recognizes Osborn for what he is. (The only possible exception is Daredevil, since Spidey told that Osborn was the original Green Goblin. I have no reason to believe that Matt Murdock would not believe Peter. In fact, I'd love to see a scene where Daredevil warns Osborn that if anything does happen to Spidey, he'll stay on his ass.)

Additionally, Otto Octavious is only Doc Ock when he has the mechanical tentacles. Adrian Toomes is only the Vulture when he is wearing his costume with the power pack that allows him to fly. Eddie Brock is only Venom when he is bonded with the alien symbiote. Quentin Beck is Mysterio only when he's wearing the costume with all the funky illusory gadgets. None of them are villainous, or even particularly dangerous, outside of their costume trappings. However, Norman Osborn is always dangerous, always the Green Goblin, whether or not he's wearing the costume.

Another reason that the original Green Goblin is such a great villain is the relationship that has developed between Norman Osborn and Peter Parker, which is inflamed by the sharp differences in their respective personalities. Their mutual hatred plays out in their civilian identities, and is not limited to their battles in costume. Most of Spidey's other villains would have no feelings about Peter Parker one way or the other if they even knew of his existence - it's his alter ego they hate. But the Goblin doesn't just hate Spider-Man for thwarting his nefarious schemes, he also hates Peter Parker for a host of reasons.

For one, Norman Osborn has spent his entire life in the pursuit of power, and has largely succeeded. His failed gamble which drove him mad at the end of the "Gathering of Five" storyline was an attempt to gain even more power. Alex Ross, the highly regarded writer who gave us Marvels, Kingdom Come and others, obviously recognized this aspect of Osborn's personality when in his Earth X series (which ultimately, I thought was a disappointment), he established Osborn as the President of the United States in that grim and dismal future. However, it is apparent that Osborn's accumulation of power has not brought him either happiness or peace.

Conversely, Peter Parker doesn't really have anything close to what Norman Osborn has materially. He is perpetually close to financial ruin, and Peter Parker by himself, without his web-slinging alter-ego, has no particular notoriety or influence. However, Peter is far more at peace with himself than Norman is, even though he doesn't have a fraction of Norman's material blessings, and has had just as many, if not more, personal tragedies.

How Peter and Norman deal with these tragedies also distinguishes them. Peter never killed the burglar for murdering Ben Parker, and he didn't kill Norman for any number of his crimes. How would Norman react if a petty burglar had murdered one of his relatives (assuming he actually cared about that relative - you never know with Norman). Do we need to elaborate? Peter also possesses an unceasing optimism in the face of these relentless personal tragedies - which Osborn knows he simply does not have the character to have. Peter's tragedies made him a hero, Osborn's turned him into a hateful, bitter, murderous villain. Although Peter continually fights against his personal demons, he ultimately triumphs over them. Osborn was long ago completely consumed by his.

Peter is also capable of building long-lasting positive relationships with people. Osborn is not. Peter has always had a loving and supportive family, whether it be his aunt and uncle, or his wife, something Osborn has never had. In Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14, what little we know of Osborn's background shows that his own father was a hateful, self-loathing, abusive man. This cycle of abuse persisted in Osborn's relationship with his own son. Peter has also had enduring friendships whereas Osborn has had none - not really. Jonah Jameson was probably the closest thing to a friend Osborn once had - but Norman's relentless need to control, to dominate, and to use to his ultimate advantage, destroyed that as well as most of his other relationships. The death of Osborn's wife is apparently a key to his behavior, but that's something we've yet to see very little of (yet - hint, hint).

I think that one of the reasons Osborn kidnapped baby May Parker (and yes, he kidnapped her - she's not dead - although Kaine probably has her now), is not only does it "even the score" (to use Norman's words in Peter Parker #75 when he comments "that which I took from you tonight...") for Harry's death (which Norman blames on Peter), but it would have provided him the ability to corrupt Peter's and May's future relationship. It is apparent that Norman had a poor relationship with both his own father and his son. He cannot bear the thought of his greatest enemy having a normal, loving relationship with his own child since Osborn has no conception of such a thing himself. There are other possibilities as well that would make interesting alternative world stories. Although it would smack of a blatant Zorro-movie ripoff - I would like to see an alternative future that takes place at the same time as the current Spider-Girl titles in which May has actually been raised by Norman Osborn, and believes that Osborn is her true father (he'd have to have her hairstyle surgically altered, though). In a bizarre twist, May would turn out to be the child that Norman always wanted Harry to be - strong, independent, and able to stand up for herself, even against Osborn. Naturally, Osborn would have spent this entire time poisoning her mind against Spider-Man, and ultimately sending her to battle against her real father. My lame resolution to this story would be to have May be in great danger and Osborn sacrificing himself to save her, oddly enough, because he had grown to love her as his own child. Then, May would chose to take up the Goblin mantle against Peter to avenge Osborn - providing Norman with his ultimate revenge, even in death.

The rage that Norman inspires in Peter is also interesting. For the most part, Peter is a fairly mild-mannered guy, but Norman pushes him to the brink like no other villain. In Spectacular #250, Spidey crashes into Norman's townhouse and beats the shit out of him because Norman has made him so mad. He's prepared to do it again in Peter Parker #88 until Osborn, playing more mind games, jumps off a building, which forces Spidey to rescue him.

Before I conclude, there's just one more little thing. Wouldn't we all like to believe that if we were suddenly granted super powers, we would be like Peter Parker, and use them for the common good, and not for our own self-gratification, or to extract vengeance for all of the real and imagined slights people have committed against us? But really, how many of us would be Peter Parker?

And how many of us would be Norman Osborn? Really? Be honest.

Something to think about.

That's why Norman Osborn is Spider-Man's greatest enemy.

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Copyright 1998-2007 by J.R. Fettinger. All rights reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.