This article contains SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME spoilers.
“Peter, I promise you, I won’t turn into a supervillain and try to kill you.”
That Spider-Man: No Way Home line by Peter Parker’s pal, Ned Leeds, was a red flag waved to comic-savvy moviegoers about the character’s potentially villainous future as the Hobgoblin. However, it bolsters an idea that has become comics’ equivalent of the Mandela Effect, falsely implying that Ned Leeds was the real Hobgoblin. Yet, the character’s complicated comic history seems destined to inspire consequential connections for Ned in Spider-Man 4, which is already confirmed to be the first of a new movie trilogy for Tom Holland’s Wall-Crawler.
Ned Leeds was a surprise MVP amongst the multiverse chaos of Spider-Man: No Way Home; a testament to the character’s heartfelt, ultimately-crucial actions and actor Jacob Batalon’s ability to steal every scene in which he appeared with a subtle earnestness. Consequently, the notion of Ned being set on a new arc toward glider-riding supervillaindom seems excessively sad for a franchise that’s currently teeming with tragedy. Yet, while the character—an amalgam with Miles Morales Spidey’s best pal, Ganke Lee—is hardly a facsimile of his Hobgoblin-mired Daily Bugle field reporter comic counterpart, he’s still named Ned Leeds, which lends potency to his cheeky supervillain quote. While there’s no guarantee that the angle will bear any fruit in Spider-Man 4, here’s how it could happen.
Spider-Man 4 should draw inspiration from what initially gave gravity to the Hobgoblin during the villain’s introductory run, which started in Marvel’s March-1983-dated issue, The Amazing Spider-Man #238, and kicked off a prolonged mystery of the villain’s identity that thrust readers into years of obsessive speculation. Indeed, after Marvel Spidey’s iconic nemesis, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, famously “died” in 1973, a decade’s worth of new iterations arrived of the cackling, green-and-purple-clad pumpkin-bomber, which included traumatized son Harry Osborn, and even Harry’s prying therapist, Bart Hamilton, briefly took on the mantle. Yet, Hobgoblin represented a new twist on a tired trope, and readers, despite not knowing his identity, experienced all the highs and humiliating lows of his arc, which saw the mystery man—as a silhouetted figure—in his process of finding Osborn’s legacy items, on a quest for power. Thus, with No Way Home having checked Green Goblin off the list in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s room now for a flashier, orange-suited successor.
Contextually, the mystery of the Hobgoblin’s identity was the fixation of comic readers for much of the 1980s, thanks to the villain’s escalating impact, and years of frustrating moments in which Spidey seemingly unmasked him, only to have it turn out to be an imposter working for the ever-elusive genuine article. This aspect differentiated Hobgoblin (or, as Spidey nicknamed him, Hobby,) from his verdant predecessor. While Green Goblin was driven by a schizophrenic madness that distorted Norman’s personal life, Hobgoblin was more of a chess player, and even devised a version of the super-strength-endowing Goblin Formula that, unlike Norman’s, didn’t drive him into madness. Moreover, his increasingly-elaborate machinations had the clear-cut purpose of ruling the underworld, which not only made him an enemy of Spider-Man, but New York’s other criminal elements, most notably the Kingpin. Thus, with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Daredevil television version of Kingpin now christened in the MCU, thanks to Hawkeye, we have the potential for a big screen battle royal inspired by Hobgoblin’s covetous, no-honor-among-thieves nature.
Historically, Ned Leeds was long-believed to be the Hobgoblin, thanks to 1987’s monumental The Amazing Spider-Man #289. There, we were led to believe that Ned’s apparent secret Hobgoblin hijinks led to grave consequences, since the issue revealed his supposed identity as the villain, albeit only after Spidey found him dead dressed in the Hobgoblin’s costume, garroted by assassins connected to the casino mogul gangster, Foreigner. This grim development had essentially wrapped the decade’s most dominant comic book mystery and sealed the widespread belief that Ned was the Hobgoblin—after all, it remained canon for a decade. Thus, in a testament to the enduring power of that issue, the notion of Ned as Hobgoblin still lingers to this day. However, it was actually retconned in 1997 by writer Roger Stern—who co-created the character with artist John Romita Jr.—for a new storyline that reversed the Ned/death twist, which occurred after he’d exited Marvel.
The belated 1997 storyline, collectively called Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, revealed the true Hobgoblin to be Roderick Kingsley, a minor character introduced in the pages of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man back in 1980, whose status as a vain and ruthless fashion mogul made him the perfect candidate in hindsight. Here, we’d learn that Kingsley used brainwashing on Ned—who was caught investigating the villain—to act as a Hobgoblin double, one who would unwittingly become a death-faking patsy, allowing Kingsley a safe early retirement after 1987’s “Gang War” storyline saw Hobgoblin targeted by criminal elites. We’d also learn that Roderick’s rapacious pursuits were effectively obscured by using his twin brother, Daniel, as an alibi during his Hobgoblin exploits. Of course, many other individuals would don the Hobgoblin’s costume in the ensuing years, notably Jason Macendale, the former Jack O’Lantern, whose own Hobgoblin run would experience a unique arc, including spending years joined with the demon N’astirh, only to be killed by a resurfaced Kingsley.
However, as we know, the most crucial element in a Hobgoblin mystery is his identity, and, should Spider-Man 4 move forward with the villain, it would have to be a profound choice. With No Way Home having ended with Ned (and the entire world) losing any memories of Peter Parker, his character has essentially been reset, which could enable an arc that aligns more closely with the comics, even if he’ll be an MIT student instead of a Daily Bugle reporter. Yet, Ned aside, another possible candidate for Spider-Man 4’s Hobgoblin is Tony Revolori’s Flash Thompson, whose arc of obsession over Spider-Man—which metastasized to jealousy after the Peter Parker reveal—only escalated in No Way Home, especially with his self-absorbed Spidey-connecting book, “Flashpoint” (a title inconspicuously shared with DC Comics’ multiverse-breaking story of the same name). Poetically, Flash’s more-athletic comic counterpart was touted as a potential Hobgoblin candidate during the days of the initial mystery, and was a frequently-evoked red herring.
Interestingly, the power of the retcon recently provided yet another twist on the Ned/Hobgoblin dynamic in the pages of Marvel’s Symbiote Spider-Man: Alien Reality, a title that showcases untold stories from the 1980s era in which Spidey wore the alien symbiote costume. Indeed, in a storyline that—prescient to No Way Home—involved Doctor Strange and the careless magical twisting of reality, we would learn that Kingsley’s brainwashing actually led Ned to occasionally believe he was the genuine Hobgoblin. Thus, the manipulated Ned/Hobgoblin embarked on a quest for power that saw him team with Strange’s nemesis, Baron Mordo, to steal a magic book, called the Word of God, to create a reality in which Mordo is Sorceror Supreme, and Ned/Hobgoblin is his apprentice; a prescient idea in its own right, given how magically-adept MCU Ned became in No Way Home. In fact, the idea of Ned’s death itself would eventually fall within the purview of another comic retcon, only for him to die again, this time in a noble sacrificial manner.