News : 1996 : Interview with Roger Stern

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Date: Oct 1, 1996
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Spider-Man Highlights: Foolkiller, Juggernaut, Cobra & Mr Hyde, Brand Corporation and death of Tarantula, First Hobgoblin stories, MJ returns, "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man", First Black Costume, First Belladonna, End of White Tiger, First battle between Jack O'Lantern and Spidey, Will O'Wisp returns.

Born: September 17, 1950 in Noblesville, Indiana

Lives: In Finger Lakes Region of New York with my wife, Carmela Merlo

Real-World Hobbies: "Who has time for hobbies?"

First Comics Credit: As assistant editor, compiling stores for Marvel's CHAMBER OF CHILLS, TOMB OF DARKNESS, WEIRD WONDER TALES, and others circa 1976. My first sale as a writer was to Charlton Comics -- a script for a never-published Phantom story in 1975. My first published comics story was, as I recall, the framing sequence for a Silver Surfer reprint which appeared in an issue of MARVEL PRESENTS ... issue #8 or thereabouts.

Here's an interview that SpiderFan.Org did with Roger Stern, just before the release of the "Hobgoblin Lives" mini-series.

Q. You're looking at a blank page with Amazing #229 written on the top, and you decide to put Spider-Man with Spider-Man up against Juggernaut in a battle to save Madame Web. You get the same empty sensation Gerry Conway had when plotting #119 where Spidey battles the Hulk. How do you make a two-issue running battle interesting when one character can't put a scratch on the other?

Well, I can't begin to speak for what Gerry might or might not have been feeling when he wrote his story.

In my case, I originally came up with the premise -- "What if Spider-Man had to fight an enemy whom he could not beat ... an opponent whom by definition was unstoppable?" It was conceived as a two-part story.

Q. You weren't editor on that run. How much freedom were you given to work with the characters. For example, killing Tarantula, bringing back Mary-Jane, turning Black Cat into a nut-case? Were those your ideas, or those of Tom DeFalco?

Actually, I -didn't- turn the Black Cat into a nut-case in my stories. I explained how she had been faking her mental instability. I don't know if that's been changed in the years which have passed.

At any rate, Tom was always very supportive as Spider-Editor ...never handed down any mandates or ultimatums ... just made little suggestions from time to time and let me do my job. It was fun, working with him and J.R.!

Q. One of the most-loved stories in Spider-Man's career must be "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man." This story at the back of Amazing #248 shows Spider-Man quietly visiting a young fan and revealing his identity to him -- showing that underneath the mask, he is just a young man like any other.

This touching story is almost unique in the history of Spider-Man. How could you go from mid-air battles against Hobgoblin, and the dastardly evils of mega-companies like Brand Corporation to such a poignent, human work. Where did the story come from?

I'm not sure. I just woke up with the idea one morning ... and had the uncomfortable feeling that it must have been some early Superman story that I'd read when I was younger. In fact I went around for about a week, telling the story to people at Marvel and asking if they could remember such a story.

Partly, I'm sure that it sprang from a desire on my part to do a short human-interest story in the style of Will Eisner -- that's why the story is partially advanced through newspaper clippings...I was trying to be Eisneresque.

Q. One of the big stir-ups of that era was the Black Costume. Did you have any hand in that?

Only a bit. As I recall Jim Shooter wanted to temporarily change Spider-Man's costume as part of the Secret War miniseries. I sugggested that the costume be alive ... which was something that Chris Claremont and John Byrne had once planned to do with Iron Fist, by the way.

At any rate, we'd originally planned for the Black outfit to last only three or four issues.

Q. I guess you would be most famous among Spider-Fans for bringing us the Hobgoblin. After three incarnations of the Green Goblin, it was time for something new. As a creator, how do you feel about writers who just re-present old villains - e.g. Carrion II, Green Goblins II, III, and IV, Hobgoblin II, Doctor Octopus II, Son of Smythe, etc.

New versions of older characters don't bother me, as long as they're presented in an interesting manner.

You see, I never accepted Harry Osborn or Bart Hamilton as the Green Goblin ... they were just pretending to be the Green Goblin, who was Norman Osborn. Well, okay, Harry had flipped out and -thought- he was the Green Goblin ... I don't remember what Bart's motivation was ... and more recently, Harry -did- actually gain the powers of the Goblin, before he died.

I came up with the Hobgoblin because I wanted to devise from new villains for Spider-Man, but the readers (at the time) kept requesting the same old villains over and over again. I decided to meet them half-way by introducing a new villain who was using the equipment of the Goblin.

Q. In Amazing #289, Hobgoblin was revealed to be Ned Leeds, after he was killed (disappointingly easily) by assassins working for the Foreigner, but paid for by Jason Macendale - aka Jack'O'Lantern. As I'm sure most fans know, you had never intended Ned Leeds to be Hobgoblin, but you weren't prepared to reveal who you had intended it to be.

Oh, I was prepared to reveal Hobgoblin's identity. I just never got around to it before I left the series. There were more clues (to his identity) yet to come ... which make up part of the upcoming miniseries.

Q. Your up-coming "Hobgoblin Lives" mini-series will presumably reveal all, but perhaps you could say a little more about what happened. How did you feel when you read #289? Did you even then begin planning how you could reveal the true story?

Oh, I felt elated when I read ASM #289. Ned Leeds hadn't been my choice for the Hobgoblin's identity, and the sequence of events in issue #289 provided all the proof I needed that Hobgoblin -wasn't- Ned -- *couldn't* have been Ned. I knew then that I could write my own revelation to the character ... if they'd ever let me. At the time, I figured that no one ever would, so I just filed the idea away in my subconscious. Occasionally I'd mention the story possibility to a new Spider-Editor. Was I surprised when Tom Breevort and Glenn Greenberg asked me to write it!

Q. I guess that's it. Jeanne Burch (you may know, keeper of the "Women of Marvel" home page) wanted me to ask "Just get him to admit Kingsley was Hobgoblin, OK?" If you want to drop any hints her way, I'm sure she would be delighted!

I admit nothing. It was just a few months ago that my editors learned who the Hobgoblin was ... you all have to wait for the miniseries!

Q. Me, I figured it was Ned. Is there any particular clue I missed why it couldn't have been? I only really got into back issues after he was revealed, so I didn't get a fair go at trying to figure it out.

The major clue is that the real Hobgoblin was as strong as Spider-Man ... but we go through all of that in the miniseries.