Ultimately, that seems to be what many discussions and comparisons between supervillains (or heroes for that matter) devolve into. In the zero-sum game that often grips debate, there always has to be a winner and a loser. We can't seem to tolerate draws, and just to emphasize the strengths of one character always seems to contain an implicit criticism of the other character. Who is the better villain - the Joker or Doctor Doom (I use these villains because they are probably the premiere supervillains for DC and Marvel, respectively)? Well, better for what? They're two entirely different villains who are paired against two very different heroes. It's really pointless to compare the Joker and Doctor Doom because it is very unlikely (short of an Unlimited Access type confrontation) that the two will ever meet, and their true strength is not in how they pair off against each other, but how well they pair off against their respective heroes. For example, Dr. Doom vs. Batman would indeed be an interesting intellectual chess match between two great minds, but it would ultimately lack the sheer drama that the Joker vs. Batman presents because of the contrast between the two - ultimate insanity vs. ultimate intellect. And then there's simply the matter of shared history. Dr. Doom and Reed Richards have a shared history dating back to their university days, and their conflict often is based on how the two choose to use their vast intellectual gifts and in the fateful confrontation in which Doom chose to ignore Richard's input vis a vis his interdimensional portal. It would be hard for any other villain, say, in the absence of Doom, to match up in quite the same way against Richards.
So, we are faced with a similar dilemma regarding any comparisons between the two biggest, baddest Goblins of them all - Norman Osborn - the first, and deadliest Green Goblin, and Roderick Kingsley - the first, and deadliest HobGoblin. As spider-history originally unfolded, any comparison between the two would have been a purely theoretical exercise, since the HobGoblin only came into being because the original Green Goblin was supposed to be dead. Really. And, for several years, the original HobGoblin (presumed to be Ned Leeds) was supposed to be dead as well. Amazing Spider-Man #312 which featured the Harry Osborn Green Goblin vs. the Jason Macendale HobGoblin, was supposed to be the "Battle of the Goblins," except it was more like the "Battle of the B-Goblins," as each was so clearly inferior to the original (for example, neither even had superpowers at that time). However, in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 Harry Osborn died, and the Clone Saga's desperate need for a villain sinister enough to have masterminded the whole affair resulted in the return of Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin. And, soon after, in an occurrence unrelated to the Clone Saga, the phony HobGoblin died and the original HobGoblin returned as well. Needless to say, the drums began to beat for the Ultimate Goblin Grudge Match - which supposedly took place in "Goblins at the Gate", the Roger Stern/Glenn Greenberg co-production which unfolded in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man #259-261 (July-September 1998).
This article will take a look at this meeting of Roderick Kingsley vs. Norman Osborn, at this writing the only one to have occurred. We'll try to take a look at Roderick Kingsley, the man beneath the HobGoblin's mask and after that, we will stand back and compare the two Goblins in a variety of ways, in battle prowess, business acumen, technological expertise, intellectual depth, and what's going on in their respective psyches. Will we find out which is the better Goblin - the better match for Spider-Man? Or will we find out that neither one has to be "better" than the other - that each in his own way is a compelling character and supervillain?
Goblins at the Gate
The story begins with Spider-Man enduring another one of Norman Osborn's public appearances (on a derivation of the Regis and Kelly show) shilling his new book which purports to refute the suspicions that have dogged him that he was the original Green Goblin (fueled by Bugle reporter Ben Urich's book about the Osborns and the Green Goblin Legacy of Evil - and obviously this was before Norman was undeniably outed in The Pulse). Spidey isn't the only one getting a serious case of indigestion watching this self-promotion. In a prison cell where he was deposited at the end of the miniseries HobGoblin Lives - Roderick Kingsley, one of the few who really knows the truth as well, chafes at Osborn's ability to enjoy his freedom, his wealth, and his privileges while Kingsley rots in jail. Therefore, he hatches a plan to get himself sprung loose. Through his lawyer, Kingsley spreads the rumor that not all of the original Green Goblin's journals were destroyed (which occurred back in Amazing Spider-Man #250), that one survived, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Norman Osborn truly was - and is - the Green Goblin. Kingsley offers to make a deal with the district attorney - his freedom for Norman Osborn's head.
Of course, with Norman's sphere of influence as great as it is, it doesn't take long for him to get wind of Kingsley's plans. Just as Kingsley is being taken under guard and cover of darkness to a meeting with the D.A. - the Green Goblin strikes and spirits Kingsley away where he comes face to face with the Goblin - and Norman Osborn?
Now - Spidey fans know that this Green Goblin is really the fifth such creature, who made his debut in Peter Parker #88 (February 1998). He is standing in for Osborn, so that Norman can break the association he is assumed to have with the Goblin, and the new Goblin's identity was a secret at this time. Kingsley, of course, isn't fooled, but decides to cooperate with Norman for awhile, always wary of the fact that Osborn's grip on sanity is a lot more tenuous than his own. Kingsley knows that while his physical strength is comparable to Osborn's - the last thing he wants is for Norman to go postal on him.
Osborn wants the journal, but Kingsley tells him that only his brother Daniel, currently in protective custody, knows where it is. Eventually Osborn and Roderick make a deal - Osborn will supply Kingsley with a new costume and equipment, so that Roddy will be able to retrieve Daniel to preclude him from testifying against him. In return, Kingsley gets his freedom, and willingly hands over his entire business empire to Norman Osborn.
As the HobGoblin strikes (unknowingly shadowed by Green Goblin V), Spider-Man arrives and begins to duke it out with the orange and black Goblin. Before Spidey gets the upper hand and completely ruins everyone's nefarious schemes, the Green Goblin hits him with a tranquilizer dart, and the two Goblins take both him and Daniel Kingsley prisoner.
During the rendezvous with Osborn, Kingsley tries to curry Norman's favor by offering him the honor of being the first to unmask Spider-Man. When Osborn dismisses this opportunity as "insignificant," and not worth his time, Kingsley is taken aback before he realizes the truth - Osborn already knows who Spider-Man is.
Turns out Norman also knows something else - that Kingsley has been putting him on about the missing journal. He comes to this conclusion after suggesting the use of a drug to revive the unconscious Daniel that will also force him to reveal the location of the journal. Roddy's troubled look after this suggestion tells Norman what he suspected, that Kingsley made up the entire story in order to force Osborn to spring him from jail. Now that Osborn knows that there is no journal, he tells Kingsley there is no reason to let any of them live. Kingsley reminds Norman that he still needs his help to acquire Kingsley's business empire - to which Norman plays his final trump card - it's already done. He shows Kingsley photocopies of voting records and transfer of ownership papers that reveal that Kingsley's corporate board has already agreed to be taken over by Osborn. How was he able to accomplish this so quickly? Well, as the included picture indicates - Norman's the man!
That - and remember how Norman's crony Donald Menken appeared to be selling out Norman and his companies to Kingsley in HobGoblin Lives, and how this didn't seem to jive with the slavish devotion Menken showed Osborn in the later Revenge of the Green Goblin miniseries, the subject of my article Goblin Love ? Is Menken playing both ends?
Well - it may have seemed that way - but it wasn't. I believe that rather than working with Kingsley, Menken was actually setting up Kingsley to be taken over by Osborn.
Remember in Amazing Spider-Man #260(January 1985) when Harry Osborn reads a series of reports and realizes that a mysterious someone is buying up huge blocks of Osborn stock through a series of dummy companies? Did you notice who is providing those reports to Harry? Yep - Donald Menken.
In fact this sounds like the same tactic that Menken himself was actually using in HobGoblin Lives - except that time he was "misappropriating" Osborn company funds to support the dummy company's bid. So what's the deal? Are the two instances related? Well, yes and no.
I have intimated in such articles as Squandered Legacy Part 1 and Goblin Love that Menken knew that Osborn was alive the whole time of his "exile" in Europe - and that he was keeping Osborn up to date on the goings on in his company, as well as the fact that the HobGoblin had been raiding his old warehouses for his Green Goblin equipment. Menken also no doubt informed Osborn of the takeover bid against his company. However, I don't believe Menken was engineering the first such bid since he essentially dumped that information into Harry Osborn's lap - and why would he make Harry cognizant of an event that was of his own doing? It is my guess that he also informed Norman, as well as Harry, of this particular covert bid, and Norman charged Menken with discovering just who was behind it. Norman allowed Menken to inform Harry as a test to see if the boy had the balls to do something about the takeover attempt - which the succeeding panels of that issue make it apparent that Harry really didn't know what to do about this situation. Unfortunately, this was one subplot that Tom DeFalco, who was the scribe on Amazing Spider-Man at this time, did not follow up on, and it disappeared - but it can be strongly inferred that it was the HobGoblin in his civilian identity who was making this hostile bid (he had intimated when he first discovered the cache of Green Goblin equipment that he should pay back Norman Osborn by increasing his holdings in Osborn's company).
Therefore, it is likely that Menken was able to pierce the corporate veil that Kingsley had shrouded over his dummy companies, and he and Osborn soon hatched a plan to turn the tables on Kingsley. It's ironic that neither Osborn nor Menken realized that the costumed fiend known as the HobGoblin, who had stolen Osborn's equipment, and Roderick Kingsley, the scheming fashion magnate who was trying to steal Osborn's company - were one and the same!
So, Menken put out feelers that Osborn Industries was in trouble, which brought Kingsley out of the woodwork (along with some other corporate raiders, such as George Vandergill - Menken was almost too successful - but Kingsley took care of Vandergill) just prior to the first part of HobGoblin Lives to finish the work he started. It may very well have been the event that brought Roddy back to the United States from Belize, when he surprisingly re-surfaced in Spider-Man Unlimited #14. In successive meetings, Menken likely pumped Kingsley for information about his holdings and his board of directors, ostensibly under the guise of needing this information to make Kingsley International's "white knight" bid go as smoothly as possible. However, much to both Menken and Osborn's surprise, Kingsley was revealed as the HobGoblin - which actually made their subsequent acquisition of Kingsley's empire much easier than they originally anticipated. It was likely that once the head of Kingsley International was revealed to be a costumed criminal, the remainder of the board and shareholders were looking for a way out to protect their investments and their reputations. The stock was likely plummeting, which allowed Osborn to easily come in and buy up Kingsley's companies right out from under him. So, not only did Kingsley underestimate Osborn, his vanity clearly resulted in him overestimating his board's loyalty to him!
Back to the present, once Kingsley realizes he's been had big time at his own game, he assaults Osborn, and the fisticuffs between the two begin. During the battle, a batch of pumpkin bombs explodes and sets the building on fire. Spidey does two things (1) he rescues Daniel Kingsley and (2) he pulls the mask off the new Green Goblin - but guess what - we still don't see his face. What a surprise. No sense in revealing anything if it can be milked to the point of no one caring anymore. Actually, according to Glenn Greenberg, who co-authored this story with Roger Stern, the intention was to reveal the fifth Green Goblin as - none other than the fourth Green Goblin - Phil Urich! This would have been been Norman's revenge against Phil for appropriating Harry's updated Goblin formula and gear. In Osborn Journals(also written by Greenberg), we see that while in Europe, Norman had taken an interest in this new Green Goblin, and even though Gaunt, the revived Mendell Stromm, reported back to Osborn that this Goblin was no threat to him, in fact "beneath his notice," Norman was still not mollified. He had the name, the costume, and the equipment, which did not belong to him. Norman had planned to kill Urich, just to make a point, but somewhere between that declaration and "Goblins at the Gate" he must have changed his mind. It probably occurred to him that if he was to truly dupe the public into believing that he was not the Green Goblin, then he and the Goblin would have to be seen together - and whomever he used would have to know how to use the equipment, including the complicated aerodynamic device known as the Goblin Glider. So, why not use someone who already had a basic background and understanding of being a Green Goblin? It would be no great shakes to use the Winkler device (which Kingsley had used to brainwash Ned Leeds) on Phil Urich, coupled with threats against his family and it would appeal to Norman's sense of revenge and ghoulish sense of humor.
However, Marvel put the kibosh on revealing Urich as the Goblin (Greenburg stated that he was never given a reason for this), which ultimately led to the "revelation" in perhaps the worst Spider-Man story every told, Peter Parker volume 2 #18, that this Goblin was actually a clone - of who - we really don't know. Frankly, I don't buy it (since the Goblin in the latter story was NOT comfortable on the glider), but this isn't the forum for it.
Anyway, the Green Goblin gets away while Osborn and Kingsley are still exchanging blows, each taking turns one-upping the other, with the building burning down around them. Spidey again shows an inexplicable goody-goody streak in which he ponders briefly about letting them do other in, but then realizes that he can't stand by and let Osborn and Kingsley kill each other.
Well, why the hell not?
Don't get me wrong. It is not in his character to be a true vigilante type such as the Punisher. But we're not just talking a couple of second tier super-villains here such as the Owl and the Vulture duking it out. Both Goblins are multiple murderers whose actions have struck Spidey as close to home as you can get. Kingsley set up Ned Leeds, Betty Brant's husband and Peter Parker's sometime friend, to take the fall for the Hobgoblin and get his throat slit. Osborn's crimes need no description, unless you have forgotten Gwen Stacy, Ben Reilly, and that whole mess that we know as the Clone Saga. With Harry Osborn dead, we don't have that old excuse that Spidey can't let Norman get killed because poor Harry, Peter's best friend, would be devastated. Remember how in Spectacular Spider-Man #110 Spidey was willing to let Stan Carter (aka the Sin Eater) be beaten to death by an angry mob for murdering Jean DeWolff - until Daredevil's use of Spidey's civilian name finally shook some sense into him? Although we all expect Spidey to do the right thing, you'd think that human nature would have caused him to agonize just a wee bit more before jumping into the fray between two super powered Goblins and playing hero.
Naturally for purposes of future stories, all of the bad guys get away, and in one of the epilogues after all the dust settles, we see Norman dressing down the new Goblin for letting Spidey unmask him. This Goblin is very contrite and humble before Osborn, calling him "sir." But, again, no clues as to his identity. Norman still considers the whole affair a victory. Kingsley has been run out of the country and has nothing that can expose Osborn, and his companies have been absorbed into Osborn's own business empire. So Where in the World is Roddy Kingsley?
Not to worry HobGoblin fans. Kingsley was way too smart to let Osborn get a hold of everything. As a result of millions he had stashed away in secret Swiss bank accounts, Roddy was able to settle down on an island in the Caribbean, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S. He realizes what a colossal blunder it was to resume his identity as the HobGoblin (pride do indeed goeth before a fall), but still, no matter what it has cost him, he still wonders....has the world heard the last of the HobGoblin?
Well, we hope not.
Currently, in the 2007 revision of this article - Roddy IS back in action in Tom DeFalco's Spider-Girl. The Order of the Scriers (remember them - Norman's old cult?) snatches Roddy off his island paradise to kill Spider-Girl for her interference in their nefarious schemes (as per usual). Kingsley becomes the HobGoblin again, but while he does try to live up to his end of the bargain, the Black Tarantula (who's infatuated with Spider-Girl) takes over the Scriers in the most hostile of takeovers (he kills the leader) and calls off the dogs. However, Kingsley likes being back in action, and decides to stay in the States and attempt a takeover of the New York crime scene (wide open with the death of the Kingpin in this continuity). He's also developed something of a grudge against Spider-Girl, continuing the feud he had with her old man.
As this story is still unfolding, it's a little premature to discuss it, and we really haven't learned anything knew about Kingsley yet. Being a regular reader of Spider-Girl, I've never been in favor of the use of her father's villains, but DeFalco writes Hobby as well as his creator, Roger Stern (and has gone so with Stern's blessing). Also, DeFalco has made the new Black Tarantula an extremely strong and formidable villain who needs an equally formidable competitor - and the HobGoblin fills the bill.
Anyway, back to "Goblins at the Gate," as I stated before, the story was a bit of a disappointment, since we really didn't get to see the Green Goblin and HobGoblin duke it out, mano a mano, in a protracted, brutal battle (since Norman was not in costume), nor did we get to see Osborn and Kingsley engage in a mass of corporate backroom manipulations, ala Gordon Gecko, which would have been a natural considering that in addition to being supervillains, the two are also ruthless businessmen. In fact, it seems like this story was merely a set up for yet another story, one that has currently failed to materialize. Still, there were some good moments, such as Osborn's expressions after trumping Kingsley, not once, but twice. The first time was when Kingsley deduced that the reason Osborn was in no hurry to unmask Spider-Man was that he already knew who Spider-Man was (the picture of Osborn which graces the title of this article). The second was when Kingsley found out that Osborn had already seized control of his companies - fouling what was supposed to be Kingsley's ace in the hole. How did he do it so fast? "Because I'm Norman Osborn." Brrr - gives me the shivers.
Another good part was how the two Goblins retained their distinctive identities and respective dignities. The writers did not sacrifice the villainy or intelligence of one of the bad guys to make the other come out the winner. Kingsley remained the rational, analytical Goblin that he has always been, with no apparent demons eating away at him. Osborn retained his composure - but you knew that the madness which has engulfed him even before he became the Goblin was just lingering beneath the surface - and while it didn't come out this time.....
All in all, not a bad read - but it could have been so much more.
Who is Roderick Kingsley?
So - now that Kingsley is taking a back seat for awhile, let's examine what we know about him.
(imagine thumbs twiddling)
That much, huh?
We really don't know a whole lot about Norman Osborn, but we know volumes about him when compared with Roderick Kingsley. But, as fans of my long, laborious articles know, I can't let the lack of information prevent me from indulging in wild speculations. However, the only way to make this work is that I'm going to have to make a lot of assumptions about Kingsley - since the source material gives us little to go on. The bases for some of the assumptions I will be making is that they will be diametrically different than assumptions we may make about Norman Osborn. This is simply because the two men should be very different for dramatic purposes.
While I think it would be a lot of fun to speculate that Kingsley has a "white trash" background, and became a ruthless businessman in order to make something of himself (as opposed to Osborn who was initially born to wealth) - I really think that Kingsley was likely a child of privilege. He always seemed to be a man of refined breeding, completely comfortable in his own skin and in mingling within high society. That doesn't mean of course that he couldn't be have been a poor boy that learned culture, but it just seems so effortless for him. Contrast Kingsley for example, with J. Jonah Jameson. Now, Jonah is a self-made man who most definitely enjoys the trappings of wealth and power, the parties, the booze, and the expensive cigars (until Marla Madison made him quit). Still, you get the feeling that Jonah remains a blue-collar working class man at his core. I don't get that feeling about Kingsley.
Also, while ruthless, Kingsley doesn't seem to be as zealously obsessed with holding onto what he has, or paranoid about losing it as you might expect someone who was once poor to be. Heck, look how calm, cool and collected he behaves even when he actually does lose a good chunk of it - he's sitting on the beach smoking a cigar soon after Osborn has wrested his business empire from him. Admittedly, we know that Kingsley has a few million bucks socked away, but still - he seems to handle defeat quite well - as if he is supremely confident about rebuilding his fortune when he wants to - it's just a matter of when he chooses to get around to it. Conversely, while we know that Norman Osborn was born a blue blood, his alcoholic, abusive father lost the family fortune and the family homestead, which created in Norman an all-consuming zeal to reclaim it. In Osborn we sense a desperation and fear that he will end up like his father, and that he has to keep working, keep fighting, keep obsessing so that no one takes it away from him again. A perfect example of this is in Amazing Spider-Man #121, as Norman becomes completely unglued when serious business reversals, combined with Harry's worsening drug addiction, occur. He goes completely over the edge in a descent into madness that results in Gwen Stacy's death, and apparently his own.
Considering that when we first meet Kingsley way back in Spectacular Spider-Man #43, he is such a spindly fellow, he doesn't strike me as a man who ever had to be his own enforcer or get his own hands dirty - again, which implies that he comes from a privileged background. He always had the money, and the smarts, to have someone else do his own dirty work. On the other hand, Norman Osborn seems to be closer to being a street brawler, both in physical stature and in attitude. I'll touch on that a little more later.
I can easily see Kingsley being part of a "Billionaire Boys Club," in privileged high schools and colleges, consorting with others of his kind over expensive drinks in country clubs in exotic locations wearing the jackets with the crests that denote wealth and self-importance, going on fox hunts and playing polo. Although he clearly enjoyed being the HobGoblin and physically dominating people with his super powers, I suspect that he still enjoyed the trappings of wealth and privilege even more. After all, he did walk away from being the HobGoblin for some time. He had a healthy ego and confidence, and didn't need to resort to any gimmicks to reinforce his self-worth. Norman, on the other hand, due to being broke, more than likely attended Empire State University (a public university), on a combination of a science scholarship and off-campus work. He was also likely an angry, embittered loner, who seethed with hatred and contempt for those around him, paranoid that behind his back they were mocking him, holding themselves out to be better than him because of the collapse of the Osborn name and fortune. This poor self-image apparently stayed with Norman for the rest of his life (as it was originally perceived to have ended) and he imposed it upon his son. In Spectacular Spider-Man #200 Harry, who has irrevocably gone off the deep end, stares at a portrait of his "late" father and talks about "all the self-righteous high and mighty jackasses who thought they were so much better than the Osborns" and that by killing them, Harry would "put Norman's past to rest." Norman strikes me as a person who puts on the airs that wealth requires, but would really rather be dressed in a garish green and purple costume and beating the crap out of people. In other words, for Kingsley, the HobGoblin is a costume, almost a hobby (no pun intended) and there is no doubt that his civilian identity is the pre-eminent personality. Sometimes I wonder whether or not "Norman Osborn" is an identity assumed by the Green Goblin. Oddly enough, in the first part of Alex Ross' Earth X alternative universe trilogy, this is literally the case.
However, at ease with himself or not, at some time in his life, Roderick Kingsley decided that he simply didn't have enough - that he wanted more - and he didn't care how he got it, or who he had to roll over or hurt to get it. Unlike Norman, I don't really see a particular defining moment for Kingsley, a day that we could look to as the day that made him the man he was. For Norman, there was such a moment, which was detailed in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14. That was the day his father fell to his knees and sobbed that he had been ruined. Norman ran out of the house, feeling that he had to earn his own keep as his father was no longer capable. He then kills the family dog (thus there being one less mouth to feed) and burns the body, as the darkness as defined the rest of his life begins to take hold...
Kingsley's thirst for power and influence seems to be a bit more, well, rational. It seems that his obsession, his driving force, is his sense of entitlement - that he can simply take what he wants because - well, because he wants it, and he deserves it because he is, after all, Roderick Kingsley. You don't want to give it to him? Fine. He'll take it anyway. Kingsley is better than you and he'll prove it. If you buy a nice car, Roddy will go buy a nicer one, drive it to where you work or go to school, and have several attractive young women roll out of it. And if that doesn't put you in your place, then he'll start to play dirty, like have drugs or child porn planted on you and thoroughly ruin you. All nice and "clean." I really don't think that Kingsley actually killed anyone before he blew up Georgie the Thug, who stumbled onto the Green Goblin hideout, in Amazing Spider-Man #238. I believe this to be the case because it is a murder that Daniel Kingsley still had on his mind when he was making a full confession to Betty Brant at the end of HobGoblin Lives. Georgie was just a punk - not a doppelganger like Ned Leeds or Lefty Donovan. If Georgie had been only one of a long line of people murdered by Kingsley, I don't think Daniel would have mentioned him in the same breath as Ned Leeds - unless it was a significant murder - perhaps Roderick's first - and the one that resulted in Kingsley pursuing a more violent path to power. Prior to that, Kingsley's usual dirty tactics were like those that played out the first time that we met him in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man. In issue #48, when Peter first begins to make inquiries about Kingsley, he finds that the fashion magnate ruthlessly ran several European cosmetics firms out of business in order to establish his own foothold in that territory. The villainess known as Belladonna was one of Kingsley's victims. In this instance, he ruined her business by hiring a model to make public claims that her face had been disfigured by the use of Belladonna's products. . Also, Kingsley's first major "crime" as the HobGoblin was to resort to blackmailing the members of his own country club. He didn't even become directly involved in organized crime until he stumbled onto Ned Leeds' and Richard Fisk's plan to topple the Kingpin, and then appropriated it.
Conversely, Norman Osborn wants to crush you, kill you, stomp you, maim you, the works. You buy a nice car? Norman will steal it, blow it up, piss on what's left, put on the costume, and beat you to a bloody pulp. Too extreme? Well - although it is Ultimate Spider-Man, I think that Norman's conversation with Peter Parker in issue #23 perfectly describes his attitude, no matter what universe. Also, (back in the original continuity) when Norman first became the Green Goblin, his objective was to dominate the New York crime scene by personally injecting himself into the bloody warfare that was the norm before the Kingpin took over.
At the end of HobGoblin Lives Daniel Kingsley states that whatever Roderick had, he took from others, but that he never thought of himself as a criminal. Now, no one who's a bad guy really sees himself as a criminal, but I think one reason that Roddy could persist in this self-delusion was that everything was subtle and underhanded, and may even have had the hint of legality - and for a long time, he really hadn't killed anyone.
You see - I believe that Roddy's first strike on the way to his dream of unlimited wealth and power was against his own family. But I think that that first strike is perhaps the one thing - the only thing - that he might even have regrets about and has haunted him ever since.
Who's the Crazy One?
So what does this question have to do with Roddy moving against his family to fatten his own pocketbook? I have to back track a little bit and speculate on Roddy's family background because I think it's a clue to the one fear that Kingsley seems to have - that of maintaining his own sanity. The one thing that seems to really rattle Mr. Kingsley is when someone suggests he might be crazy. For starters, he is clearly pre-occupied with the insanity of Norman Osborn and the possibility that such madness is inherent in the Osborn family. He makes repeated references to Osborn being mad to himself and others, and even in Amazing Spider-Man #261, he refers to Liz's pregnancy as "the birth of another mad Osborn." During "Goblins at the Gate" more than once he reflects on Osborn's insanity, including his perception that "the man is certifiable." Insanity is something that is clearly on his mind and seems to be the one thing he genuinely fears. And no one, whether or not Spider-Man (in Amazing #251) or his brother Daniel (HobGoblin Lives Part 2) had better intimate that he is crazy, as the following panels illustrate:
Why does this seem to strike such a sore spot with Roddy? My guess is - that he had an insane parent. For a real life example, actress Marilyn Monroe lived in the perpetual fear that she herself would go insane because her own mother had been institutionalized.
It is also my guess that when Kingsley felt the time was right, he moved against this insane parent and had him or her placed in an asylum and assumed control of the family business. And, for whatever reason, that weighs in the back of his mind. Like Osborn fears of being in ruins like his father, Kingsley fears being considered insane and shoved aside, like his own parent. It might also explain why he continues to put up with Daniel, although he clearly considers him weak and inferior. Yes, Daniel is his twin (and identical twins do seem to have some kind of bond) and is useful as a doppelganger, but it might also be a means of soothing the one small bit of residual guilt he might have.
This also explains why Kingsley is completely taken aback when he realizes that Norman Osborn has already assumed control of his business empire. He made the serious mistake in believing that Osborn's insanity mitigated that same genius he once marveled at when he first found the Goblin's stash.
It is ironic that while insanity is something that is constantly on Kingsley's mind, he more than likely is completely sane. Norman Osborn, on the other hand, doesn't have a clue that he is clinically insane.
However, one difference between Kingsley and Osborn is I can't see Kingsley repeating his mistakes. Have you ever heard that one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? This describes Osborn's handling of Peter Parker. How many times, for example, has Norman tried to get at Peter through his loved ones, and other means, and failed? It seems that he never learns. Now, yes, Kingsley, as the HobGoblin constantly underestimates Spider-Man (like most villains do) but he can be partially excused because he doesn't know the man. Many villains think that Spidey's a hero because that's how he gets his kicks, or because it's an extension of him being a high school hero. Check out the Sandman's misguided assessment of Spider-Man's motivations in Peter Parker Volume 2 #22. They don't know the man, his pain, or his motives, so they can be excused for continually underestimating him. However, Norman Osborn is probably the one villain who actually knows the full truth - not even the Chameleon or Eddie Brock, villains who learned Spider-Man's identity, truly knew Peter Parker the way Norman Osborn knows Peter Parker. And yet, he still screws up, still continually underestimates Peter and his will to survive, and Peter's desire to retain his essential goodness and optimism. I see Roddy as a man more likely to learn from his errors, and not let himself be too distraught when they go awry. At the end of the "Death in the Family" storyline in Peter Parker, Norman Osborn is clearly a defeated, despondent human being, and contemplates suicide. Again, look how Roddy handled his defeat at the end of HobGoblin Lives.
Who's the Most Dangerous?
Well, needless to say, Osborn is indeed a "sick, abusive, evil man," as Mary Jane characterized him in Spectacular Spider-Man #251. However, even though Osborn is completely insane, Roddy may actually be more evil and dangerous than he. How can that be? Well - not that insanity is really a defense to being evil - but it is understandable. It's one thing to be evil when you're mentally ill - but what if you're stone cold sane?
Osborn is insane. Kingsley is just plain cold. I think that if you look at it from a certain perspective - Kingsley may be more dangerous because he actually has even less humanity than Norman Osborn. Think about it. Even as corrupt and evil as Norman is, there is a very small reservoir of humanity. It's not what it once was - but it is there. Norman once had a wife that he adored more than life itself, and her death was one of the key events that perpetuated his descent into madness. He truly did love his son, Harry, although it was a tough and tortured love. He also loves his grandson - although at times it seems that Norman even more importantly sees him as the heir to his legacy. He briefly indulged in a relationship with his nurse, Kolina, from Revenge of the Green Goblin, and he even has a genuine, although weird and psycopathic, affection for Peter Parker. So, he does have emotional baggage that can be exploited, not just people he cares about that can be used against him, but his emotions do get the best of him and cloud his judgment at times.
I don't think Kingsley has these weaknesses. People are simply objects to him. As mentioned earlier, his first major HobGoblin crime foray was to blackmail his own "friends" and associates! I question whether or not he even cares about his brother. Daniel commented that Roderick uses people up and then throws them away. The only person that Roderick Kingsley genuinely seems to have any love for is - Roderick Kingsley. You can't use Kingsley's emotions against him the way you can Osborn's, because he doesn't let his occasionally dominate him. However, he does have a weakness more pronounced than in Osborn - his vanity. Osborn is vain to a fault, of course, but he seems to have a little more control of this aspect of his personality. For example, when the HobGoblin originally stole his equipment and began his rampage in New York, Norman thought of hopping on the first plane to New York and taking care of him, but according to Osborn Journals, he was able to redirect himself back to his prime objective (such as managing his Clone Saga campaign). Norman finally did come back - but not in response to the HobGoblin - but in response to Harry's death - and the desire to finish off Peter Parker once and for all. Kingsley, on the other hand, when he saw Macendale captured and standing trial for his crimes, making a mockery of the HobGoblin name - he couldn't stand it - and by killing Macendale and reassuming the role, he let his vanity precipitate his downfall.
Goblins and the Fairer Sex
Another big difference between the two men is their attitudes toward women. Without a doubt, Roderick Kingsley craves the attention of beautiful young women. We seldom ever saw him in public without one hanging on his arm. And it's always a different one. For the most part, Norman Osborn disdains women (see my article Goblin Mysteries Solved). He has loved individual women, such as Emily or Kolina, but these are the exceptions. As the Green Goblin, he has physically assaulted Aunt May and his own daughter in law, and most recently, as Norman Osborn in Peter Parker #46, when a female member of his legal team is questioning his strategy dealing with the Flash Thompson drunk driving incident (too much to go into here - just bear with me), Norman hatefully makes the comment about getting her "panties in a twist," a sexist put down.
Yet in a seeming contradiction, Norman has loved before, and had even let a woman influence the course of his life. I believe that it was his relationship with Emily that pried him out of his self-absorption in his early days at college, that she convinced him to take medication to control his mood swings (I made this assumption due to his reference to Emily bringing "balance" to his life in Revenge of the Green Goblin, as the word "balance" is often used to describe the effects of using anti-depressants - and admittedly it's purely conjecture). This allowed him to socialize and function in the real world and make the contacts that successful businessman Norman Osborn would need. And after Emily's death, Norman never actively sought a replacement for her. Never. I believe that his relationship with Kolina was only temporary, brought on by his emotional vulnerability when he was trying to recover his sanity. I don't think she is in his life now. If Kingsley was ever married - it certainly wouldn't have been a marriage of love. He likely would have married solely for money, and after he merged his wife's means with his, it's probably fairly safe to say that any "Mrs. Kingsley" found herself out on her ass. But I don't think Roddy ever married - I can't see him staying interested in the same woman long enough to even make a reasonable pretense at being in love. And although women may not really be looking for love from Roddy (being blinded by the dollar signs), I can't see him considering a long-term relationship of any sort, for love or money, to be much more than excess baggage.
Ultimately, one of the key differences between Osborn and Kingsley is that with Norman, I think that there is a remote possibility that if some things had happened differently in his life, such as his abusive father dying earlier in Norman's life, he might not have been the heinous monster he later turned out to be. I don't see the course of Kingsley's life taking a different path whatsoever.
Now, getting down to some of the other comparisons:
Hard to say. I'd call that dead even. I don't think I'd ever want to face either one of these gentlemen across the negotiating table. It's easy to give the edge to Osborn because he outfoxed Roddy on absorbing Kingsley's properties. We also know that while it is likely Kingsley built on an already existing foundation of wealth, Osborn had to literally rebuild a failed empire. I'm reminded of the time that Donald Trump, in the midst of his worst troubles, once commented that a homeless person was actually worth several billion more than himself because of the huge debt burden his crashed empire had accumulated. Norman probably also started out in a hole. And never forget, he did mastermind that whole Clone Saga thingy.
Yet - does anyone really doubt that Kingsley isn't capable of rebuilding his own lost empire? I don't. Roddy is a pretty meticulous planner himself, having masterminded the whole "Ned Leeds as HobGoblin" scam. It's even possible that Kingsley might actually be a smarter businessman this time around, having learned from his mistakes. And, Norman can get sloppy and careless at times. Remember the whole "Gathering of Five" plan, where for some reason, Norman thought he could beat the meager one in five odds of getting great power, but seemed to give little consideration to the heavier odds that he would get either death or insanity? Not his smartest move.
Brawler to brawler, it'd be hard to bet against Osborn. Although he and Kingsley are evenly matched on paper since they derived their powers from the same formula, Norman would seem to fall into "the madder Hulk gets, the stronger." Norman's anger is nothing to be readily trifled with. Kingsley himself actually seems to be quite wary of it in parts 2 and 3 of "Goblins at the Gate." Also, even the obnoxious "Al" Kraven who mouths off to Norman in Tangled Web #13, backs down once he gets "the look" from Osborn.
But again, Norman can be sloppy. He has to take the cake for one of the dumbest villain "death scenes" in Amazing Spider-Man #122. He sends the glider around to impale Spidey while Spidey is standing right in front of him! This isn't like sending it into Ben Reilly's back (in Peter Parker #75) while he's behind both Reilly and the glider. If Reilly makes a fast move, the glider simply goes off into space. However, in ASM #122, he sends the glider around to impale Spidey, knowing full well that Spidey (1) has a spider sense to warn him of danger and (2) is sufficiently agile enough to get out of the way, but apparently not realizing that when Spidey ducks - Norman takes it right in the chest!
Scientific and Technical Skills
Osborn probably wins this one hands down, since he was the one who invented most of the technology that Kingsley appropriated. It is interesting that the most significant change that Kingsley made to the Goblin persona was - the costume. Well, he is a fashion designer, is he not? He's obviously no technological slouch, since he was able to maintain Osborn's equipment and make modifications. However, considering that Kingsley himself was stunned at the depth of Osborn's technological genius, most notably in regards to the goblin glider, I think we can easily give this round to Norman.
And the Winner is...
Depends - and I'm not trying to be clever. In the short-term, I would say that man-to-man, Norman Osborn is more capable than Kingsley of delivering that fatal knockout blow. Due to his savagery and madness, if you let Norman get the drop on you - you're dead. However, if we're talking about a longer term battle, I think Roddy has to take the upper hand because he is more capable than Norman of keeping a level head during a period of reverses, of altering his game plan, and he seems to have fewer overall weaknesses. Norman has a lot of serious emotional baggage that could blow up in his face at any time. Kingsley's major weakness is his vanity and his overconfidence.
Who is the better villain for Spidey? Well - I gotta go with Norman. For one, you have the "shared history." Peter Parker was best friends with Norman Osborn's son, Harry, and Norman's perception of Peter's betrayal of that friendship is part of what currently fuels his anger toward Spider-Man. It's an honest, if somewhat misguided, anger. And I don't need to remind you of how personal the death of Gwen Stacy makes their relationship! And - like Doom and Richards - the two men actually have a lot in common, but each chose to use his vast intellectual and physical gifts for completely different ends - which also underlies the core of their conflict. Now, if Ned Leeds had truly been the HobGoblin, and survived his insipid killing - that could have been developed into one serious grudge match due to the fact that they both loved the same woman at one time.
Is There Room for Roddy?
Roger Stern created the Roderick Kingsley HobGoblin as a replacement for the Norman Osborn Green Goblin since it's apparent that neither he, nor anyone else, imagined that one day Marvel would resurrect Norman, so the question of whether or not they would be able to co-exist without redundancy was never considered. Of course, now it has to be.
The answer as to whether or not Roderick Kingsley has a place in the spider-verse as currently constructed is a qualified "yes." Notice that I didn't say "unqualified." To be sure, I'm not sure that a lot of the potential spider-writers out there have enough respect for both Goblins (there are a lot who don't believe Norman should have returned, and there are others who don't like the HobGoblin retcons either), and an understanding of both their similarities and their differences.
But one day, I do hope to be proven wrong. Both Goblins are too good of villains in their own right for either to be tossed by the wayside. Perhaps the current arrangement, with Osborn as the Goblin in the regular continuity, and Kinglsey's HobGoblin pre-eminent in the Spider-girl continuity, is the one that works the best.
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Or join me on the to talk about this article with the Crawlspace Crew!
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Or join me on the to talk about this article with the Crawlspace Crew!