This question has sparked heated debates among Spider-man fans for years, and even today, flame wars erupt between passionate fans who quarrel over which character was intended to be revealed as which version of the penultimate villain.

Appearing first in ASM #14, the Goblin quickly became a fan favorite, returning in #17 with a plan to show up Spidey and eliminate him.  By #23, the Goblin was setting his sights on taking over the organized crime of NYC, and by #26-27, he was involved in struggles with The Man in the Crimemaster's mask.

When the Crimemaster was arrested and killed at the end of #27, he died before being able to reveal the Goblin's identity, which had been held secret from readers as well. However police comment that the Crimemaster was no one notable, an unknown.

Although the Green Goblin makes no more appearances in costume under Steve Ditko's artwork, by issue #38, the groundwork for his identity has been laid. With #38, Ditko quits the series and Marvel.

In #39, the man in the Goblin mask has captured Spider-man and reveals himself to be Norman Osborn, industrialist and father of Peter Parker's college friend, Harry Osborn.

But for years, it has been debated whether Ditko had intended Osborn to be the reveal as the Goblin, or if it was going to be Ned Leads, J. Jonah Jameson, or an unnamed non-recognizable average man.

The first time I heard this alternative theory was in a 1982 publication by Fantaco Press, the Spider-Man Chronicles. Today I found a copy of this 1982 fan publication and present a copy of one of the critical article pages here.

And here's the facing page that picks up the narrative with the John Romita, Sr. years that follow. Note the assertion that Lee and Ditko had never agreed on who the Goblin was going to be shown as.

However, even after Norman Osborne developed amnesia and the Goblin was declared "dead", the threat lingered in the background.  In the first Spectacular Spider-man oversided 35 cent magazine, the Goblin returned, his amensia threatening to clear by ASM #66. Through the use of Psycho-pumpkin bombs, the genie was returned to his bottle, and until the famous anti-drug stories of 96-97-98, the Goblin was missing again.

Returning one final time in ASM 121, the Golbin kills Gwen Stacy and is in turn killed by his goblin glider the next issue #122.

While Harry and others have impersonated the Green Goblin later, it wasn't until scribe Roger Stern penned a return of the Goblin costume and tools with the birth of the Hobgoblin in ASM 238 that the mystery began again.

This time, the identity was held from the reader as similar clues were shared with the reader. The Goblin's lair had been discovered. The man was wealthy, powerful, a member of JJJ's club, familiar with the organized crime mob, sparred with the Kingpin, and at various times, used imitators or closely related villains as fall-guys.  For a time, the Hobgoblin retired from view, and was assumed to be plotting in the shadows.

Suddenly, it was revealed that the Hobgoblin was Ned Leads and had been killed by a trio of killer when caught un-awares.  And that's where the issued rested for years.

Finally, Roger Stern convinced Marvel to let him conclude the Hobgoblin saga as he had intended, and in a 3-issue mini-series, he not only revealed that the Hobgoblin was not dead, but that Spidey had overlooked a critical clue...that MJ notices. "How could 3 men over-power the Hobgoblin's augmented strength?"

At the climax of the mini-series, the Hobgoblin was revealed to be Roderick Kingsley, one of a pair of likely suspects that Stern had introduced several years before. Stern insists that he had always intended Kingsley to be the Hobgoblin and that was the original solution to the riff on the Goblin mystery that he had spun and proposed years earlier.

Despite additional writers and editors getting involved and muddying the waters, these two villains now remain as published, as their creator/artist/writers intended them to be revealed.  But the debate continues over whether the right person was revealed in both cases.

What do you think?


***Footnote: When challenged on my belief that Ditko had intended Ned Leeds to be the Green Goblin, I had cited the above publication, which I firmly believed had stunned me into thinking that I had missed the first clues. Now, more than 25 years later, when I have a copy of the publication in question in hand....I discover that it doesn't say what I remembered it to have said.

Yet I remember my profound stunned shock when I first learned that it might NOT have been Norman Osborne all along. And as a result, I decided to share the pages I thought would prove my point. But I can't. So, I appologize for my stuborness in any discussion we may have had over the months. I can't back up what I had thought I read here.  But I DO recall someone pointed to the grinning manikin on page 19 of ASM #38 and claiming that it was the proof that Ned Leeds' smile was the Green Goblin's grin, and that was Ditko's final word on it.  But I can't find that in print now either.

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Just ordered that book, at your recommendation. Thanks.

Jason Marconnet (Pint sized mod) said:

I checked and the Green Goblin mystery is mentioned in Brian Cronin's book Was Superman a Spy? Which is a must read for comic book fans.


Sadly there's not much else to add. He states what's already been stated here in the comments. Ditko wanted the goblin to be an unknown and Lee wanted it to be somebody that Spidey knew. For some reason I thought there was a bit more to it.

Ditko provided strong visual clues in ASM # 37 that were consistent with Norman Osborne being the Green Goblin.  The story featured Norman Osborne but not the Green Goblin, that indicated that Osborne had villainous tendencies and some means to fire a rifle from a window far from the ground.  My view is that Ditko did intend Osborne to be the Goblin all along and that reports that Ditko quit Marvel over differences with Lee over the Goblin's identity are pure poppycock.  

It is interesting to note the changes in Peter Parker's personality during Romita's first year on the mag.  Peter was no longer the shy geek desperately trying to make friends as he had been in Amazing Fantasy #15, but during Ditko's last year, Peter seems to be actively alienating himself from his peers even when they try to be friendly with him.  But within a few months of Romita taking over, Peter has an actual friend in Harry Osborne, but he has two beautiful woman angling for his time and actually becomes seriously involved with one of them.  I doubt Ditko would have developed Peter's life in that direction, which brings up the question as to how much his version of Peter Parker was based on himself.
Dave Blanchard said:

>> So there's no way Lee knew or planned who The Goblin was, because he was only writing the dialogue.

Hmmmmm, that's an interesting conclusion you're drawing there. I'm pretty sure, though, that Stan was the editor of the comic book in question, so it seems likely he was doing more than "only writing the dialogue."

I read somewhere that when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were talking about who the Green Goblin would be, Ditko pointed to a guy walking away in one panel with only the back of his head showing and said "How about him? Let's make him the Green Goblin." And Stan said that wasn't good enough, they had to have seen his face and known who he was already. Was it in CBG?

As the thread says earlier, they disagreed over how to approach it. Stan thought the big mysterious build up had to pay off, and Ditko thought that having a familiar face was too coincidental and contrived, despite the build-up. It's been written about many places, so that version might have been CBG. I wrote about it for Wizard, but not that specific anecdote. 

-- MSA

They were apparently disagreeing as early as #9 when Spider-Man unmasked Electro and said "If this were a movie I'd gasp and say good heavens, the butler! But this guy I never saw before!" Decades later the animated Spectacular Spider-Man would say he did know Max Dillon before he got his powers.

I agree with Ditko. How likely is it if you go around in a mask fighting crooks that you're going to find yourself fighting people you know? (Assuming you don't normally hang out with crooks, of course.)

As noted, they also disagreed over who the Master Planner should be. There was a lot of hiding behind masks and reveals for Foswell, etc. It was probably a bit much for Ditko's sense of storytelling that there were so many dramatic reveals going on.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Ditko's last issue featured "Just a Guy Named Joe," an ordinary man Spidey has never seen who gains powers and fights Spidey.

I agree with Stan, especially if they were going to hide his face and be coy about it. Composing the shots to hide the face implies we'd know it if we saw it, and they don't want to reveal it yet. Making it someone unknown at that point would create distrust with the reader that we're being teased and let down. It didn't have to be someone we knew, but once they started doing the tease--which Ditko drew--they had no choice.

It's different than with the peek-a-boo with Mary Jane, where the question was what she looked like. That could have gone either way, but it wasn't her identity they were hiding,

-- MSA 

I've also heard or read that Steve Ditko was against Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin because they had already pulled that stunt with The Master Planner and the Big Man, and Ditko thought they were overusing that gimmick. 

From what I've read, Ditko has made clear that his reasons for leaving Spider-Man had nothing to do with disagreements over who the Green Goblin was and that Ditko introduced Norman Osborne (long before the character was named) with the intention all along that he would be the Goblin.   As for similarities with the Master Planner and Big Man, M.P. only appeared in two issues and turned out to be someone the police knew but who had never been introduced to the readers and was a complete stranger to Spider-Man, while the mystery of the Big Man was a done-in-one story in which reporter Frederick Foswell was introduced in the very same issue in which he was revealed to be the Big Man.  The mystery of the Green Goblin, however, lasted from his intro in issue 14 until the big reveal in issue 39, and while Norman was first seen (but not named) in issue 23 (or thereabouts) Spider-Man (in or out of costume) only met him in issue 37 (Ditko's next to last) and he was a nasty piece of work in that story, having cheated his former partner and railroaded him into prison.  Peter did meet Harry in issue 31, and based solely on the unique hairstyle regular readers would have linked Harry and Norman, but prior to issue 39 Harry was hostile to Peter while making nice with Flash (so it's not like the Goblin was the father of Peter's "best friend" at the time of the great unmaskings in issue 39).  Ditko (who was plotting the series at the time) did leave a very big hint that Norman was the Goblin and he's never given any indication that he intended that as a red herring.  Even as an Objectivist, Ditko was willing to and did depict businessmen doing dispicable things for profit. 

Ditko has been nearly mute on all this, but from the little he has said or written on the topic, I don't doubt that he created Norman Osborne with the intention that he was the Green Goblin's alter ego.

More intriguing to me than the question as to who Ditko intended the Goblin to be was that Lee apparently originally wanted the Green Goblin to be a supernatural creature -- an actual goblin.  Ditko, who felt Spider-Man's stories should involve more down to earth, entirely human threats, rejected that aspect of Stan's story and made clear that whoever he was, the Goblin was a human wearing a mask (and Lee accepted Ditko's change to the plot) .  Even in the aliens story in issue #2, Ditko drew an ending that indicated the aliens may not have been real aliens after all.  I agree with Ditko's take on this, as for me Spidey worked best as a down-to-earth hero, much like Captain America, Daredevil or Batman.  Of course, with Spidey that pretty much went out the window with the introduction of Venom, but that was after I quit reading anyhow.

The Tinkerer story in #2 also ended with a possible hint that the Tinkerer might not have been human but one of the aliens. Perhaps the reason Stan never used him again was he wasn't sure once he was no longer speaking with Ditko whether to make Tinkerer and his men aliens or phonies. Of course, Spidey teamed up with Dr. Strange in his second annual.

I missed this thread the first time around, and now reading it through, one thing jumps out at me:

Not only did Amazing Spider-Man use the "who is this guy" thing with Electro and possibly some others, but I remember them specifically doing that with the Crime-Master. There was a running bit for a while where the reader was presented with three characters whose identity was unknown: Green Goblin, Crime-Master and Patch. The latter was eventually revealed to be Frederick Foswell (who had previously been the Big Reveal for The Big Man) and Crime-Master was shot by police on a rooftop adjacent to the Daily Bugle, and when they pulled his mask off, nobody knew who he was (not just the police, but also Spidey, Foswell and Jameson, all watching out a window).

That was around issue #27 or #28, so I think Mr. Silver Age and Stan Lee are right -- pulling the same trick with the Goblin a year later would have been a real cheat.

But that wouldn't have mattered much to Ditko, from what I've read about him. His world-view is very specific and inflexible. It's an Ayn Rand-derived philosophy called "objectivism," where there are no shades of gray. A is A, and B is B, and that is that. (Hence his "Mr. A.") And in Ditko's view, criminals were by definition nobodies, their lack of identity a result of their lack of morals. If Ditko had his way, ALL criminals -- supervillains or otherwise -- would be nobodies.

Yep, Ditko's one exception and outside of the main title.  And it was natural that the two heroes Ditko was most associated with would meet at least once in a Ditko story, despite the very different worlds they inhabited.  Also interesting that both Peter Parker & Stephen Strange had origin stories that focused on their intense self-centeredness prior to becoming heroes, which seems to run counter to Objectivist ideals. During Ditko's last few months on Spidey, he seemed to be steering Peter Parker to adopting an Objectivist point of view, which might have been fascinating but not particularly appealing to most readers.

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