How One Disturbing Green Goblin Story Changed Spider-Man Forever

The Green Goblin has long been Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, but one particular storyline took their decades-long rivalry to a deeper and more disturbing level than ever before. Spider-Man has one of the greatest rogues’ galleries in the superhero comic genre, with no enemy more dangerous than Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin. Just as Spider-Man has gone through major character development over the decades, his ultimate rival has too, with his methods of terrorizing the Marvel Universe and his obsession with the web-slinger becoming more robust and disturbing over time, with one story arc becoming a major influence on all further Green Goblin appearances.


In his 1964 Amazing Spider-Man debut, the Green Goblin’s goals seemed rather simple: terrorize his way to the top of New York’s underworld hierarchy, a task that now seems beneath the murderous madman. As his schemes were repeatedly foiled by Spider-Man, however, the Green Goblin, whose true identity remained a mystery for years, became increasingly obsessed with the hero. The Green Goblin’s aura of mystery, repeated instances of besting Spider-Man, and his murder of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, soon proved that he is truly the web-slinger’s greatest nemesis.

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The Revenge of the Green Goblin storyline, which concludes with issue 25 of Peter Parker: Spider-Man (by Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham), takes Spider-Man and the Green Goblin into their rivalry’s darkest territory. The Green Goblin may be a remorseless killer, but he’s proven over the years that torturing his enemies into utter terror, despair, or indoctrination is truly his strong suit. In this storyline, Norman Osborn decides that his longtime enemy, Peter Parker, is a more worthy “heir” to the Green Goblin legacy than even his own son, leading him to capture and torture Parker, hoping to turn him into a murderous madman. Although Osborn fails to break Peter Parker’s psyche, he brings him perilously close to succumbing, and this storyline’s depiction of the Green Goblin’s goal for Spider-Man has affected their future comic appearances and their adaptations.

Revenge of the Green Goblin delves into Norman Osborn’s traumatic childhood, where he was psychologically abused by his father, leading him to imagine a demonic goblin-like creature long before he’d use its image to terrorize New Yorkers as the Green Goblin. Osborn attempts to replicate these conditions when torturing Peter Parker, worsening them with subliminal programming and hallucinogenic poisons. Spider-Man eventually escapes Osborn and the two fight to a standstill, with the Green Goblin flying off, satisfied that he nearly broke the spirit of his rival.

Although the mystery of the Green Goblin’s identity is omitted in most adaptations, his obsession with Spider-Man and his goal of turning him into a murderous madman has become common elements in their alternate universe clashes. The best example of this is Willem Dafoe’s incarnation, as seen in 2002’s Spider-Man and the MCU’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. In these appearances, the Green Goblin is more than a match for Spider-Man but is far more interested in destroying his life and driving him to become a murderer like him, which he’s nearly successful at achieving with Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland’s iterations of the web-slinger.