It seems easy these days. Ask a person who Spider-Man’s greatest enemy is, more often than not they’ll say the Green Goblin, with Doc Ock and Venom being the only ones in the same league. But it wasn’t always that way. While a formidable foe, Norman Osborn had to work hard to make it to the top of the list. And even when he’s not the Goblin attacking Spidey, his legacy continues to live on.
The first thing that made the Green Goblin unique was how he approached things. In his first appearance, he convinces a movie producer to fly Spider-Man, himself, and occasional Spidey foes the Enforcers out to Hollywood under the guise of making a movie so that he could kill the wallcrawler and make a name for himself. That’s… probably the most unique plan I’ve ever read. And it almost worked, since they chose to film in a desert (meaning no webswinging escape for Spidey). In fact, if it wasn’t for the timely intervention of the Hulk, the Goblin may have actually killed Spidey on the first try. The other thing that made him unique among Spidey’s enemies is that he got away, and no one, not even the reader, knew his identity. Everytime the Goblin attacked, readers would always wonder along with Spider-Man who this strange man on flying machines (first a rocket broomstick, then a bat-shaped glider) wielding Halloween-style weapons was.
It’s kind of ironic, that the Goblin picked Spider-Man as his first target among heroes simply to prove his strength. The Goblin often had schemes involving taking control of New York’s underworld, and tended to focus on New York’s most street-level superhero (at the time) as the mark that would prove he should be in charge.
In time, the Goblin used a special gas to negate Spidey’s spider-sense, and discovered that his foe was the college student Peter Parker. This was when the Goblin finally struck, kidnapping Peter and revealing he knew the truth. His plan was to basically kill Spider-Man slowly, first revealing his identity to the world, then killing him when he was left to his mercy. It was then the Goblin revealed he was Norman Osborn, father of Peter’s college friend Harry, and that he was exposed to an explosion involving green gas that gave him increased intellect and strength. What Norman didn’t realize is that he became more insane.
This was apparently one of the major issues that led to the break-up of the creative team of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. Supposedly, Stan wanted the Goblin to be Norman, a character that had appeared in previous issues, while Steve wanted an unseen person to be the Goblin. We may never know the truth.
Anyway, the reveal kinda changed how we saw the Goblin, and of course, having the hero and villain be the only ones who know each other’s secret was a new thing at the time. In the end, Spidey beat the Goblin, causing him to forget he ever was the Goblin. Norman then began trying to repair the relationship with Harry, which was already strained before his transformation. Writer’s often alternate on how much of a bastard Norman really was before he was the Goblin, but it seems like a moot point.
Whenever the Goblin appeared next, it’d usually be because something triggered Norman to remember. And at the end of the fight, Norman would forget. Like the Lizard, the Goblin had become a creature of routine. Although it was during this period that one of the more memorable Spidey stories happened, in which Harry started taking drugs, overdosed and ended up in the hospital. The sight of his son in such a state results in the Goblin forgetting yet again.
Then came the story arc The Night Gwen Stacy Died, where Norman has yet another relapse, this time brought on by both Harry’s detox period and financial woes. This combination of stress causes Norman to regain his memories, and blame Peter Parker for everything. He kidnaps Gwen Stacy, the first true love of Peter’s life, and in the ensuing battle she dies. Peter, distraught over his loss, hunts down the Goblin and beats him within an inch of his life. It’s only the realization that he may kill Osborn that stops him. The Goblin then attempts to kill Spidey with his glider, only to be impaled himself on it. And so it seemed that was the end of the Goblin.
Harry Osborn discovered the truth of his father’s death, and paid for no autopsy so no one would know that Norman was the Goblin. Harry then took up the mantle and sought revenge. Later on, another man would find Osborn’s gear and become the Hobgoblin. But neither one of those are Norman, who we’re focusing on.
Norman made a shocking return in the 90’s during the storyline Revelations, the grand finale of the extended arc known as the Clone Saga. Turns out, the Goblin formula gave Norman enhanced healing abilities, allowing him to survive. Since Harry paid for no autopsy, Norman killed a hobo, placed him in the coffin, and ran off to Europe to let his son have a try. Norman then became head of the Cult of Scrier, using the cabal to manipulate the major players of the Clone Saga, particularly to switch certain test results around to make it seem like Peter Parker was the clone, and Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, was the original. Osborn hoped this would drive Peter mad, and while it did initially, Peter took this as his way to release himself from the obligation of being Spider-Man, allowing Ben to take on the identity while Peter and Mary Jane prepared for the coming of their child. Osborn was not happy, and finally reappeared to kill everyone the two Spider-Men cared for. At the end of it, Osborn was back, and Ben Reilly was killed, disintegrating into dust. Thus was Peter proven the true Spidey.
Osborn then became a powerful businessman again, convincing the world he was never the Green Goblin, and settling into a more mastermind, Lex Luthor style role in his private war with Peter. He then took part in a ritual that ended up making him more insane (the less spoken about that particular story, the happier I’ll be), and then tries to make Peter in the son and successor he thinks he deserves. And so the storylines again become routine, with Norman messing with Peter’s life and trying to make Peter join him.
Thankfully, this all ended after Mark Millar’s incredibly well-done run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. After that, Norman became the man in charge of the Thunderbolts, a superhero team made of villains, during the Marvel Civil War. During the Secret Invasion, Osborn landed the killing shot on the Skrull Queen, and ended up head of SHIELD, which he renames HAMMER and starts gathering power to take over the world, even going as far as to dress as an amalgamation of Iron Man and Captain America called the Iron Patriot. And thus, Norman Osborn became the archenemy of the entire Marvel Universe.
These days, Osborn (having been deposed during his failed attempt to conquer Asgard) is still trying to regain his power over the world, and has yet to return to his Green Goblin roots. And when he does, you can bet Spidey will be there to stop him.
Still, Osborn did what he started out to do: become the top dog in the world. And now, he’s the most common enemy of every Marvel hero. Not bad for a crazy man in green and purple tights.