Happy to be rid of Mysterio, MJ asks Peter to take her web-swinging while she's in her Marvella costume and they run into the Hobgobllin.
Hobby throws a pumpkin bomb at Spidey and Marvella. The bomb hits a building's cornice where it explodes with a PHTOOOM, knocking a chunk out of the wall. "Who is that Hobgoblin guy?" asks Marvella. "I think I may know who he really is," replies Spidey, "but I don't want to say till I catch him - in about ten seconds!" Spidey sets Marvella down on a roof and goes after Hobby. "Now, Goblin," says Spidey, "It's just you and me!" "Don't call me 'Goblin'," says Hobby, "That was my father - the Green Goblin! I'm the Hobgoblin!" Spidey thinks, "Then my suspicions were right! The guy who attacked me is Harry Osborn - who used to be my best friend!"
So...really? Harry is the Hobgoblin in the strip-verse? No Kingsley, no Macendale, no Leeds? Simple and direct? Father = Green, Son = Hob? Well, I don't think it started like that. After all, Hobgoblin has appeared previously, in the Mutant Agenda storyline (Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 6 Dec 1993 - 1 Mar 1994) and, while his identity wasn't revealed, he was captured at the end and there was no "it's Harry Osborn!" revelation. I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be Jason Macendale then.
Anyway, Hobby uses a "throwing bat" to slice through Spidey's webbing and send him falling. Meanwhile, MJ decides that the Hobgoblin "sounds bloodthirsty and mad as a hatter" and decides to try to sneak down to the street but Hobby spots her. As Spidey lies "stunned after a fall from a great height" (it looks like he has fallen through a skylight), Hobby taunts MJ, telling her he is "one who now hates you as much as he once loved you!" and MJ wonders, "Can it really be my old boyfriend Harry Osborn behind that fright mask?" She tries to make a run for it but falls over the building's ledge and hangs onto a drain pipe. "If you're really Harry, surely you won't let me die!" And Hobby says, "Don't call me Shirley." No, actually what he says is, "Harry Osborn is dead. And the Hobgoblin will make sure that you join him!" He kicks the drain pipe, knocking it loose and MJ falls. It looks like curtains for her but then, suddenly, the Black Widow appears and rescues her. (The Black Widow is looking a bit like Scarlett Johansson these days.) The Hobgoblin counters by throwing a pumpkin bomb at MJ and the Widow but a returning Spidey snags it with a web and tosses it back at the Goblin, who disappears. "Did his own bomb blow him up?" wonders MJ. "I'm betting he just poured on some speed and fled," says the Widow.
With the Goblin gone, Spidey and the Widow confer. ("Please, call me Natasha," she says. "And you can call me Spidey," he says. "When Siberia thaws out!" she says.) As they do, MJ feels like "so much wallpaper." Natasha tells Spidey that she was not tracking the Hobgoblin. She was "on a different mission when I saw that young woman stumble off a roof." Instead she was "seeking a man who killed some friends of mine, years ago." (She later says his name is Dmitri Gregorin.) "Once, he was a Soviet spy. I got a tip he's still under deep cover in Manhattan. I was clearing the cobwebs, trying to concoct a plan to flush him out." MJ is glad she was clearing the cobwebs by going on patrol and arriving in time to save her. The conversation continues, with MJ feeling left out, so she is surprised when Spidey suddenly asks Natasha, "Would you mind keeping an eye on Ms. Parker for a few days?" The Widow is surprised, too and MJ is insulted. She insists she is coming along in the search for the Hobgoblin. The Widow says, "Aren't you confusing yourself with a real super-heroine instead of someone who plays one in the movies?" When MJ points out that the Widow doesn't have any superpowers either, the Widow responds by pushing MJ off the roof. Yes, she does. "Surely Marvella won't have a problem grabbing that flagpole as we hurtle by," she says. But MJ misses the flagpole and the Widow has to save her.
MJ says, "I'd thank you for catching me if you hadn't pushed me off the roof in the first place." She then turns to Spidey, who is perched on the wall and says, "Why were you just squatting on a convenient wall - instead of rescuing me?" Spidey replies that her admission that she needed rescuing is evidence that she needs a bodyguard but that's nonsense because the Widow pushed MJ off the roof! And Spidey just watched it happen! I'm on MJ's side all the way, here.
The Widow suggests she and Spidey take MJ home but Spidey objects that "We can't take Ms. Parker home. That would-be murderer (Hobgoblin) surely knows where she lives!" Instead they walk to the Stanmore Hotel where the doorman gives them a dirty look. Spidey is scanning the sky but the Widow says, "I'm pretty sure the Hobgoblin isn't following us, Web-Weaver." Spidey tells MJ she "should be safe at this upscale hotel," then Natasha suggests they get going "before [the] trail gets too cold." Expressing such disdain that her word balloon drips down over her head, MJ says, "I wouldn't want to keep you...'Web-Weaver'." Apparently oblivious to the sarcasm and the anger, Spidey and the Widow swing away.
As they swing, Natasha asks Spidey if there is "something between you and MJ Parker?" Spidey lies and says that MJ resented the two of them leaving together because she's a Broadway star and doesn't like "being cast in a supporting role." Then Natasha asks where they should start in their search for the Hobgoblin. "At the Fifth Avenue penthouse of a man named Harry Osborn," says Spidey, because, he reveals to the Widow, "His late father was tycoon Norman Osborn A.K.A. the Green Goblin." Then Natasha asks if they should make sure that MJ's husband is okay. Spidey prevaricates. "I happen to know he's just as safe as if he were right here with us!"
This brings us to a fascinating Sunday page where Spidey fills Natasha in on the death of the Green Goblin. He tells her, "a few years ago, he kidnapped a young woman named...Gwen Stacy...because he knew I loved her. I tried desperately to save her but she was killed in a fall." The Goblin ends up "impaled by his own bat-glider when he propelled it at me from behind." So, this means that the events from ASM #121, June 1973 and ASM #122, July 1973 actually took place in the strip-verse and they had to have taken place before the start of the strip on January 3, 1977 because Gwen never appears in the strip. But we can't assume that everything prior to the strip that took place in the books (circa ASM #164) took place in the strip-verse, much as I'd like to assume that the universes diverge at the moment of the first strip, because there are too many stories (the Prowler, the Blackie Drago Vulture, Birth of a Super-Hero) from pre-1977 ASMs that later take place in the strip-verse. But I do love that the Goblin's death from ASM #122 is not retconned in the strip-verse and I do like that, in the strip-verse, Peter and MJ are still married. If it wasn't for the dopiness of so many of the stories, I'd prefer the strip-verse to the comics. Of course, the comics have had their share of dopey stories, too.
Spidey and the Widow break into Harry's penthouse apartment and find themselves confronted by a man with a gun. He appears to be Harry's bodyguard but Spidey quickly webs him up against the wall. Having dispensed with him, Spidey and the Widow sneak around the apartment. (Is it supposed to be late? I guess it's late.) Spidey says, "I pray we find Norman Osborn asleep in his bed." And I pray you don't since Norman is dead. He means Harry, of course, and that's just what they find. Harry, in bed, giving out a big "SNORRRR." Spidey tells Natasha that Harry might be faking whereupon Harry wakes up and says, "Wh-what're you doing here? Help! Intruders!"
Spidey tells Harry he just wants to talk but Harry reaches into a bedside table drawer, presumably for a gun, and he kicks the drawer shut, slamming Harry's hand in it. As Harry nurses his injured hand, Spidey points and gets all House UnAmerican Activities Committee on him, asking, "Are you now or have you ever been the Hobgoblin?" Harry denies being the Hobgoblin but does swear, "You murdered my father and I won't rest while you're alive!" Then he reveals that he is seeing a psychiatrist. Are we entering into Bart Hamilton territory here?
Harry threatens to call the police and kicks them out. As they leave, Spidey tells Natasha, "I'm convinced Harry Osborn was telling the truth - and doesn't know he's the Hobgoblin!" Spidey speculates that something is making Harry "act out his desire to avenge his father's death and when he wakes up he recalls nothing of what he's done." He tells the Widow that they must "find out if I'm right or if the Hobgoblin is somebody else who's trying to frame Harry for murder!"
Spidey and the Widow go their separate ways. (I'm not sure why.) Maybe so that Peter can go to the Stanmore Hotel where they left MJ. But the desk clerk tells Peter, "We don't have anyone of that name staying here." I'm not sure if the clerk is protecting MJ or he just has a lousy memory because it turns out that MJ is staying there and she's still jealous of the Black Widow. (She had a spider-tracer in her pocket which leads Spidey to her room.) There's a nice panel in the Sunday strip where MJ is taking off her makeup that also shows her and Peter in the mirror. MJ tells Peter she knows she should stop worrying about the Widow because "She's probably back at Avengers Mansion by now flirting away with Tony Stark or Captain America" but Peter reminds her that the Widow will be her bodyguard.
The next day, MJ is back on the Marvella set with Dash, her director. The real Dash, not Mysterio in disguise. He introduces her to Natasha who is her "new stunt double." Natasha tells MJ, "I'm glad you accept me as your stunt double" since "it will help me guard you, as Spider-Man asked." MJ tells her, "I'd rather have you keeping an eye on me for Spider-Man than keeping an eye on Spider-Man!" This gets an "!" response from Natasha.
So, it seems like the only scenes they film are of Marvella falling off buildings. And they have to use real buildings, too. This time, MJ is going to be knocked off a building into an "inflated airbag" on a platform below. It all works fine but then Natasha has to do the stunt of actually falling off the building. She dons an MJ wig and falls to an "inflated airbag" down on the sidewalk. Once Natasha is done, Peter shows up. Just then Spidey swings by. "More likely a dummy activated by a timer to arc overhead on a webline - and prevent Natasha from suspecting Peter and Spidey are the same person," MJ thinks. I wonder how much it cost to set something like that up...just to deceive Natasha. Peter leaves, referring to his "favorite redhead." MJ worries about this since both she and Natasha are redheads. "The only man here I'd be interested in is Spider-Man," says Natasha, which gets MJ worrying that she suspects there is something between MJ and Spidey. Or, even worse to MJ, "is she really thinking about making a play for Spider-Man?"
Meanwhile, Spidey tails Harry Osborn who is in his limo driven by a guy named Rinaldo. (Is this the bodyguard Spidey webbed up earlier?) It turns out that Spidey "planted spidey tracers in several of [Harry's] shoes" when he was in Harry's penthouse earlier. This allows him to zero in on which office Harry has entered when dropped off at a high rise. The office belongs to Dr. Mark Stone, a psychiatrist. In the office, Harry tells his shrink that he keeps seeing his father die "at the hands of that cold-blooded murderer Spider-Man." Spidey eavesdrops outside the window (can he hear anything through the glass?) and decides that "If Harry's lying about hating the wall-crawler since the death of his father, the Green Goblin - he's the best actor I've seen playing a costumed character since Michael Keaton!" Which is a great line and Batman reference but what does it mean? If Harry is lying, then he's putting on a great act for his psychiatrist but does this then mean that he's the Hobgoblin? Spidey seems to think so or else he wouldn't be talking about Harry "playing a costumed character." But why would Harry lie and then be the Hobgoblin? Isn't the point that he became the Hobgoblin because he hated Spider-Man? I'm confused. I also like the way Spidey thinks of himself in the third person ("hating the wall-crawler") and how he has to explain to himself (since these are his thoughts) that Harry's father was the Green Goblin.
But it appears that Harry truly believes the Green Goblin was a hero and Spider-Man is a villain. His shrink does nothing to dissuade him of that. So, once Harry leaves, Spidey enters the office to confront Dr. Stone. He tells Stone that he believes Harry is the Hobgoblin and accuses Stone of "helping Osborn persist in his mad delusions." Stone tells Spidey he is not encouraging Harry in his belief that the web-slinger murdered his father. Rather, "As his psychiatrist, it's my job to listen to him and offer advice." He then tells Spidey that he "could benefit from a little therapy" and convinces him to lie down on the the couch and start to tell his origin before he comes to his senses and departs. "What came over me?" he wonders, "When that psychiatrist started talking - I nearly blurted out my whole backstory! If I hadn't just captured Mysterio, I'd think it was him - trying to hypnotize me!"
Spidey heads over to the movie shoot, not to pick up MJ but to ask the Widow if she'd like to join him on a search for the Hobgoblin. MJ watches them go and decides that "I trust him - but who can trust somebody called the Black Widow?" She hails a cab and tells him to "Follow that Spider-Man!" "I've waited all my life for somethin' like this ta happen," says the cabbie, adding that he has had super-heroes in his cab before. "That Invisible Gal from the Fantastic Four, the first day she did her vanishin' act - even Thor once when his hammer was on the fritz." So, this is apparently the cabbie from Fantastic Four #1, November 1961 and Journey into Mystery #103, April 1964 at least in the strip-verse.
Spidey and the Black Widow stop on the ledge of a building for a chat. MJ and the cabbie wait below. Spidey tells Natasha that he is trying to track the spider-tracer he planted on Harry. Then, he asks if her hunt for the spy she seeks is on hold. Natasha says, "Until you no longer need my help guarding Mrs. Parker - who clearly means something to you." Spidey lies and assures Natasha that "we're just good friends." Natasha tells Spidey "that you and I have a lot in common." And poor MJ below figures that, whatever the two heroes are talking about, "can't bode well for MJ Parker."
The cabbie asks MJ why she's trailing "Spider-Man an' that babe in the black jumpsuit." After a panel to think it over, MJ decides he's right, that she has "no good reason to be spying on them." She asks the cabbie to take her back to "where you picked me up." As soon as she leaves, Harry's limo arrives. As Harry gets out of the limo, Spidey sends the Widow back to protect MJ and then changes into his regular clothes, which he didn't have with him, so that he can pretend to run into Harry on the street. He somehow does this in the seconds after Harry has gotten out of the car.
Back at the movie set, Stan Lee shows up for his cameo with Marvella. (It turns out that Stan co-created Marvella.) When he sees the Widow, he asks if she can be in the scene too. ("Please call me Stan," says Stan to the Widow, "and call me often!") Nathasha points out that she isn't playing herself in the film so Stan settles for a selfie with MJ, Nathasha, and Dash. "Excelsior!" he says when the selfie is taken. "Now, let's go shoot that cameo!" says Dash. "I've got this great idea!" says Stan, "Marvella's battling three thugs and I show up to help her out!"
Meanwhile, Harry offers to take Peter around in his limo so he can try to snap pictures of Spider-Man. (Except Harry just got out of his limo and told his driver, Rinaldo, "I won't need you until tomorrow morning." But here he is, back in the car with Peter. Okay, to be fair, he did have to call his chauffeur so the car had left and, apparently, Harry changed his plans. He rides with Peter but apologizes for his offer to help find Spidey "because the only way I want to find Spider-Man is dead!" Peter says "!" as if this is a surprise to him.
Now, apparently the car's radio was on this whole time because, as Peter starts to leave, they hear a report that "the Hobgoblin has been seen hovering above 59th Street near Madison Avenue." Harry insists that he drive Peter there to get pix. Rinaldo "used to be a race-car driver" and he gets them there fast. (Plus, it seems that in the strip-verse Manhattan, there isn't all that much traffic.) Harry points up in the sky at the Hobgoblin and Peter doesn't know what to think, since he was certain that Harry was the Hobgoblin. He runs off, telling Harry he needs to take some news photos, but instead changes to Spider-Man. When he gets close to the Hobgoblin, he discovers it is a dummy on a Goblin Glider. Actually, it is a bomb disguised as a dummy and, when Spidey gets close, it explodes.
Stunned by the blast, Spidey falls, only to be snagged by the real Hobgoblin. When Spidey awakes, he is strapped onto a Goblin Glider and the Hobgoblin has unmasked him. "Long as my mask's off - how about we see what you look like under that Halloween mask," says Spidey. "You already know who I am, Peter Parker...or rather who I was," says Hobby, "Harry Osborn!" Peter tries to convince Hobby that he didn't kill Harry's dad but it does no good. "You're a murderer," says Hobby, "and you're going to pay by becoming a flying bomb."
So, Hobby saves Spidey from falling when caught in a bomb-blast, saying,"I've got other plans for you!" And those other plans turn out to be catching him in a bomb-blast? Well, it turns out that the whole plan involves sending Spidey on a goblin glider to where MJ and Natasha are, thereby blowing up all of them.
Peter wonders how Harry managed to get out of his limo and change to the Hobgoblin so fast. This comment implies that Hobby is not Harry after all. But, you know, Peter managed to change to Spidey during that short time so I don't see why Harry couldn't change to the Hobgoblin.
So, Hobgoblin sends Spidey off on the goblin glider. MJ and Nathasha know nothing about this and MJ is still stuck on her worries. She asks Nathasha, "Is there something between you and Spider-Man?" Natasha's answer is "!" Actually, the next day, Natasha's answer is, "If there is something between Spider-Man and me, MJ, what business is it of yours?" but she soon admits to MJ she's "having you on" because "I know that Spider-Man is your husband - Peter Parker!" MJ tries to deny this but Natasha is having none of it. But she assures MJ that "Spider-Man is my friend now, too and I would die before I'd betray his secret!" She may be about to....die, that is. Peter on the goblin glider is "only seconds away from impact."
Spidey can't get his hands free as the glider heads toward the roof on which MJ and Natasha stand but it occurs to him to try to use his feet. He squeezes his feet together and manages to crumple the "main exhaust" which causes the glider to veer "off to one side." But he is still heading for the roof. Natasha sees him coming and tells MJ to get down. Peter flies by above them but finds himself heading toward another building. "You saved our lives, web-spinner! Now it's my turn!" says the Widow as she follows him.
Jumping onto the goblin glider, Natasha uses her widow's bite to short-circuit it. This makes the glider "veer straight up." The Widow bails out, telling Spidey "afraid you're on your own." Exerting his strength, Spidey collapses the nose of the glider, which appears to detonate the bomb. Spidey is thrown free but, unconscious, falls until the Black Widow grabs him..."but he's like a dead weight!" The bomb explodes harmlessly. (Wait a minute, didn't the bomb explode before? I guess the previous explosion was the glider blowing up when Spidey collapsed the nose, which may explain why he wasn't blown to bits by the explosion.) Spidey starts to come to...but the Hobgoblin arrives.
In mid-air, Spidey pushes Natasha away (a neat trick) so that Hobby can't attack them both at once. But Hobby is ready with a "keen-edged throwing bat" for the Widow and "an explosive jack-o-lantern special for Spider-Man!" The heroes thwart this by each taking care of the other's problem. Spidey's webbing "brings [the throwing bat] up short" so that it doesn't cut Natasha's webbing and Natasha's "widow's bite" hits the jack o'lantern so that it explodes before reaching Spider-Man. Then they attack Hobby at once, each kicking him in the chest after Hobby hesitates, not knowing who to attack first. The duo unmask the Hobgoblin and he is Harry Osborn. But something is wrong. Harry stares wide-eyed at them and says, "Wh-where am I...?
The Widow thinks it's over but Spidey wonders why Hobby seemed to hate the Widow as much as he hates him and MJ. "He never even met you, till the other night," he says. Then he gets an idea and decides, "We've gotta get over to Park Avenue!"
With Spidey carrying Harry, he and the Widow show up at Dr. Stone's office. Stone is in the middle of a session and orders, "Get out of my office, or I'll have you arrested for trespassing!" but the Widow recognizes him and replies, "And I'll have you locked up for murder...Dmitri Gregorin!" His patient quickly heads for the exit.
Yes, Dr. Stone is, as Spidey puts it, "really the spy-slash-assassin you've been hunting?" But while the Widow looks back at Spidey, Gregorin grabs a gun and covers them with it. He wonders how Natasha recognized him since he had "reconstructive surgery" but she replies, "I was with my friends the night you shot them, Gregorin. Did you think I'd ever forget your cold, rasping voice?" "Then let my voice be the last thing you hear," Gregorin says and prepares to shoot...except the gun is yanked out of his hands by Spidey's webbing. (The Sunday strip has this "Next" caption: "A Wolf In Shrink's Clothing," which I rather like.) As they capture him, Gregorin wonders how Spider-Man knew who he was. (Did Spidey know who he was or did he just suspect that the psychiatrist had gotten into Harry's head?) Spidey replies, "When Osborn hesitated between blasting the Black Widow versus the guy he thinks murdered his father...I knew something was fishy." Aha! Harry got caught between his desire to murder his father's "killer" and Gregorin's desire to get rid of the Widow! Very clever! I hadn't thought of that.
Gregorin confesses. "I had built a new life - then I heard the Black Widow was after me. When Osborn became my patient, hoping to be cured of his obsessive hatred of Spider-Man - I quickly learned of his Hobgoblin past - and I decided to turn him into my own deadly weapon!" So Gregorin hypnotized Harry into attacking the Widow and MJ since "attacking her would mask my true motives." He adds, "Spider-Man he'd gladly kill for his own reasons."
The heroes intend to turn "Dr. Stone" over to the FBI but then Harry wakes up and they don't know what to do with him. As Spidey points out, "the moment I remove the webbing - you're programmed to try to kill us again!" But Harry claims that seeing Spidey and "the Black Widow risk [their] lives to prevent that assassin's hypnosis from turning [him] into a murderer" has cured him. "I don't hate anyone any longer," he tells Spidey, "not even you!" And he no longer believes that Spidey killed his father. (But has he forgotten that Peter is Spidey?) So, while they take "Stone" into custody, they allow Harry, still in his Hobgoblin outfit, to leave in his car. You have to wonder what his chauffeur thinks of his clothing choice...or was he in on it?
Later, MJ leaps off a building into a net and, with that, "Marvella 2" is a wrap. Is that also a wrap on our story? Not quite yet. First, Natasha calls Peter "Spider-Man." Then, Peter tries to deny that he's Spidey only to have MJ tell him to "Save it. She knows." Peter "neither confirm[s] nor de[nies]" that he's Spidey and Natasha declares, "I can live with that." She swings away, telling them, "Your secret is safe with me."
After Natasha leaves, MJ tells Peter that she's been a fool for being jealous since she wondered, "How could I hope to compete with the Black Widow?" "If you don't know the answer to that, honey," says Peter, "Maybe you were just the tiniest bit foolish!"
The revelation that the man behind the Hobgoblin is Harry's psychiatrist is not surprising to any of us who have read ASM #176, January 1978 through ASM #180, May 1978 (although, granted, the shrink wasn't himself the Goblin) but the idea that he is also a spy sought by the Black Widow is a new inclusion which works very nicely.
I like the way Harry is torn between his desire to kill Spidey and Gregorin's implanted desire to kill the Widow and I like the three-way interplay between MJ being jealous of the Widow while she tries to keep Peter's secret, the Widow's realization that Peter is Spidey and her playing with MJ over it, and Spidey's obliviousness to the whole thing.
The story goes on way too long, of course, but that's just to be expected at this point. All in all, not a bad little story but I still maintain that, try as they might to make us believe otherwise, the Hobgoblin was never Harry before in the strip-verse.
Better than the Mysterio part of the Marvella story. I'd say a full web better.