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.