Good Guy Green Goblin: Why the Little Guy Matters in Comics
I don’t remember how or why I came to possess a copy of Green Goblin #1 in 1995, I only remember the joy I felt flipping through its pages. I can remember marveling at the artwork by Scott McDaniel, possibly the first time I ever actually appreciated comic book art. I can remember haphazardly scouring the comic book shops and supermarkets in Central New York searching for all the follow-up issues, before I ever even knew that comic books come out on Wednesdays. And I can remember waiting 10 years, well into adulthood, before I finally managed to track down the final issue online, and how reading it after all those years was like stepping back in time. The series was just as good as I remembered – if a little dated.
With the Green Goblin series in the mid-90s, Marvel Comics was trying desperately to reach out to both youth culture and longtime fans by mixing a semi-familiar brand name with a slacker protagonist. Green Goblin was a blatant cash-grab. It only lasted 13 issues.
But those 13 issues may be the very reason why I’m such a big comic book fan today. Green Goblin was my ‘gateway drug’. And Phil Urich is my hero.
Some of you reading this have probably never even heard of Phil Urich. He’s no Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, that’s for sure. But nevertheless, Phil Urich came along at just the right time to hook me into comic books. Green Goblin wasn’t the first comic I had ever read, but it was the first series I ever started collecting on my own. And when all 13 issues were over, I kept reading and I kept looking for more new comics. It was a fun little series with a lot of energy and some cool ideas.
After it was cancelled, one would reasonably expect never to see Phil Urich again. His story hadn’t sold, it was cancelled; shouldn’t that be the end of it?
Nope! Apparently not! And that’s why Phil Urich is such a fascinating character. Phil kept coming back. New writers like Brian K. Vaughn and Dan Slott came long with new ideas and new roles for Phil to play. And through their work, Phil Urich’s story continues to be told, even after all these years. And that’s one of the things I love about comics: through unexpected teamwork, through new writers and new ideas, even the little guys get their own stories. Phil will never be as popular as Spider-Man or Batman, but he’s got a story nonetheless.
Join me after the jump if you’d like to hear it.
Green Goblin #1 debuted by writer Tom DeFalco at the height of the Clone Saga, one of the most hated eras of Spider-Man comics ever. Spidey was in the middle of this massive, never-ending story about clones, and the readers just didn’t like it. Marvel was also on the verge of bankruptcy, with the comic book bubble bursting all around them. It was at this time that Marvel decided to make some money by turning Venom into an anti-hero and selling some comic books with him on the cover. The readers loved Venom, after all.
When that worked out, Marvel took a look around at some of their other villains and decided to turn the Green Goblin into a hero too. You may remember him from the first Spider-Man movie, played by Willem Dafoe? The problem was that, in the comics, both Norman and Harry Osborn were dead. Kaput. Long gone. But you can’t keep a good name brand down.
So Marvel created Phil Urich, nephew of longtime Spider-Man supporting character Ben Urich, a reporter for the Daily Bugle. And to build up the suspense, Marvel started dropping the new Green Goblin into a few comics ahead of his series. The character first showed up in Web of Spider-Man #125, then in an issue of Spectacular Spider-Man.
Then finally, in the fall of 1995, Green Goblin #1 hit the stands, and told readers the origin story of this brand new superhero.
Phil was your average slacker teenager living in Manhattan. He’d dropped out of college, had a deadbeat best friend, and was disappointing his parents. The only one who believed in him was his Uncle Ben at the Daily Bugle, so he hired Phil as his intern to try and give him some direction. Ben was writing a book about the Osborns, and he had Phil tracking down some leads on their shared legacy as the lunatic Green Goblin.
Welp, through little fault of his own, Phil managed to alert one of the neighborhood lowlifes to a warehouse full of pricey merchandise owned by the Osborns. The lowlife and his crew showed up to clean it out on the same night Phil’s uncle decided to look into it, and sure enough, Uncle Ben soon found himself a hostage. In a panic to save his uncle, Phil managed to accidentally activate a secret passage into one of the Osborn’s hidden Goblin lairs – just like James Franco at the end of Spider-Man 2. Inside, Phil found a whole arsenal of old Green Goblin gear and weaponry, as well as a big tank of that Goblin formula that gave the evil Norman all that power.
Being a big clutz, Phil managed to break the tank and get doused in the formula. With nothing better to do after that, he pulled on the costume, loaded up the weaponry and used it to save his uncle from the lowlifes!
I loved that comic. I must have read it more than a dozen times, pouring over every panel and every line of dialogue again and again. Being a no-good teenager myself in the 90s – though too young to be a full-on Generation X slacker – I loved Phil as a protagonist. He was just an average guy, trying to make ends meet. And when the time came to be a hero, Phil stepped up and saved his uncle, and got to wear a really cool costume while doing it.
The rest of the series played out in a similar fashion. Phil decided to hold on to the Green Goblin equipment because it was pretty cool. He didn’t have any dead parents or a sense of responsibility to motivate him, he just thought the costume and the Goblin Glider were pretty awesome, and maybe it would be a good idea to help people. Most of the time he just stumbled into battles with super-villains. Or maybe one of his friends was in trouble. He kept finding reasons to suit up and do some good. The series was fun, it had a lot of energy.
Not to mention more awkward 90s slang than you could possibly fathom.
Phil even got his own rogues gallery, including villains like Angel Face, Netshape and the Steel Slammer. The Green Goblin series had everything a comic book fan could want, so I have no clue why it was cancelled. I assume it wasn’t selling. The Internet wasn’t around back then, or at least it wasn’t yet such a big deal. With comics today, there are hundreds of sites, Twitter feeds and more I can use to learn about the behind-the-scenes aspects of comics. But back then, I had nothing. My favorite series came to an inglorious end and there was nothing I could do about it.
Other than buy new comics, of course, and that’s exactly what I did. A few years after Green Goblin was cancelled, Marvel started publishing Slingers, another comic about young adult hero slackers trying to do good. I loved Slingers almost as much as Green Goblin…which is probably why it was also cancelled after only a dozen issues or so.
But by then it was too late for me. By then I was reading Spider-Man and X-Men, I was hooked by the big names. And by the time I was in college, I was reading even more comics. I knew all the best stores in my area to buy my pile. I knew which titles I liked, and thanks to the Internet, there were whole communities and message boards where I could to talk to other people about comics. Some of my best friends today are people I met through my love of comics. This blog exists so that I can talk to people online about comics.
But that’s my life story. What’ about Phil’s?
He’s had a fun one, that’s for sure.
Here’s the thing about the big name superheroes: they never change. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Iron Man and all the rest, anyone who’s headlined a comic since the 60s and is the star of the next big Hollywood blockbuster, is never really going to change or go away. They may die and they may be possessed by their arch-enemy, but those kinds of stories are only temporary. The status quo will always eventually be restored. That’s how comic books work.
And that’s why the little guys can be so much more interesting.
Take Phil Urich, for example.
For 13 issues, writer Tom DeFalco told the story of Phil Urich as the Green Goblin, a slacker hero just trying to do good after he stumbled into some neat gear. After the series was cancelled, Phil didn’t disappear. Instead, he was essentially just dropped into the greater Spider-Man supporting cast pool, and he made a few cameo appearances here and there for no good reason.
Flash foward to 2005, and writer Brian K. Vaughn decided he could use Phil for a story in his series Runaways. Vaughn’s idea was to create a support group of former teenage superheroes from the 90s. They’d tasted the awesomeness of costumed superheroics, but their careers had all crashed and burned. Phil hung out with Darkhawk, Turbo, Julie Power, and even one of the Slingers. Phil no longer had any powers or costume of his own, which is part of why he helped create the group, to give support to all these fellow heroes who maybe needed to learn to move on with their lives. Phil had matured and grown into a relatively successful young adult.
Marvel liked this idea so much that they spun this support group off into their own mini-series called The Loners. Phil and his new friends were back in their own comics, trying to balance some minor superheroics with helping each other give up the life.
It was in the pages of The Loners, by writer C.B. Cebulski, that Phil began to change. Cebulski decided to turn Phil into the villain of the piece. He was a former Green Goblin, after all, and don’t those guys all go crazy? So sure enough, in the climax of The Loners, Phil went crazy and attacked his friends.
As a fanboy, I was heart-broken. I didn’t want to see one of my favorite heroes turn evil. But Phil belongs to Marvel and they can do whatever they want with him.
The Loners was only a mini-series, and it came to an end after six issues. And once again the characters disappeared from the face of comics, Phil especially. But do you see how his story was growing? From writer-to-writer, from new idea-to-new idea, Phil was the star of his own story. It was being told across multiple comics and across decades, but it was being told nonetheless.
Then along came Dan Slott, longtime Spider-Man writer, who decided to use Phil in Amazing Spider-Man. But rather than just pluck Phil from the ether and make up whatever he wanted, Slott looked back at everything that had happened to Phil before and incorporated that into his new story. Phil had been the Green Goblin in the 90s, then he turned evil in The Loners, so Slott decided the next logical step was for Phil Urich to become the new, villainous Hobgoblin!
And it’s been great! Phil is a pretty badass Hobgoblin, and he’s even appeared outside of Spider-Man comics. Slott could have picked anyone to be his new Hobgoblin. He could have invented a brand new character. But instead, being a big fan of superhero history himself, Slott decided to dust off Phil Urich and put him to good use. Because that’s the beauty of how comics work, and how good characters never really go away.
Phil has been the Hobgoblin for the past two years or so, then last week, Slott pushed Phil to the next step. He had Spider-Man expose Phil Urich’s secret identity to the world, including his Uncle Ben. Since all the way back in Green Goblin #1, Phil had kept his identity a secret. Knowing this, Slott made it a big deal when Phil was exposed in last week’s issue. And it was an amazing issue for a Phil Urich fanboy like me. Using the news media, Slott was able to comment on Phil’s entire career, from his start as the Green Goblin to his villainous turn in The Loners to his new role as the Hobgoblin.
It has been quite the journey. And it’s not one Phil could have taken had he been a marquee name. But because he was a little guy, one of the supporting characters, DeFalco, Vaughn, Cebulski and Slott have had more freedom to let him grow as a character. Now he has all this history, told over multiple different comics. And none of this could have been predicted back in 1995.
That’s what I love about comics. It’s not just one author telling one story and that’s the end of it. Comics are a community of writers and creators, passing on characters and themes and ideas from one to the next to see if they have any better ideas. Comic writers are usually fans themselves, who legitimately enjoy what’s come before, are excited to tell their own versions, and are even more excited to see what gets passed on. Comics are a medium where a nobody like Phil Urich will always have a shot at superstardom. All it takes is a good writer with a good idea.
Because in comics, there are no bad characters, only bad writers. And fortunately for this fanboy, Phil Urich has been in the hands of some of the best.
Posted on August 27, 2013, in Comics, Marvel, Spider-Man and tagged Dan Slott, Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, Phil Urich, Slingers, Superior Spider-Man, The Loners, Tom DeFalco. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.