This review contains spoilers. It's also very fanboy heavy in the references.
I've considered myself the biggest original Hobgoblin fan for some time. I started reading comics in the Stern/Defalco 80s era and the Hobgoblin saga was one of the keys to my addiction. The Hobgoblin is his own villain, not just another goblin, very creepy and mysterious. Unfortunately, like with the Green Goblin, unmasking him changed a lot of his character. With the Green Goblin it made Norman Osborn overshadow the impish evil ambitious meddler, which in my opinion is where most of the appeal came from. With Kingsley however some of it was saved because of the use of the brother who was the wimpy Kingsley most of us were used to thinking of him as, so the real Roderick Kingsley simply took on The Hobgoblin's personality. It was still a bit of a letdown as a reveal considering that no one remembered or much cared about Kingsley by the time it was done, but it was cool to see the pieces that Stern laid out years before revealed.
The Hobgoblin is my favorite Spider-Man villain, period. So why was I not anticipating his return? Frankly, I think very few artists have done him justice. Only John Romita Jr. and Ron Frenz ever really made him look the way he should. Most draw his cape too long, they make his hood look weak, they don't effectively hide his face in shadows... and for me the art is a big part of the storytelling. And while I like Ramos in general (a little too cartoony for my tastes, yet very appealing for that style), I was not at all confident he would do the Hobgoblin justice. Also, frankly, I don't have faith that they won't wreck him like they did as soon as Tom Defalco was pulled off Amazing Spider-Man in the 80s. And I was really scared they'd kill him off and replace him.
Well, my fears about the art were unfounded. Ramos art is totally new yet feels like classic Hobgoblin. Probably my biggest disappointment with the story is that we won't see more of this Hobgoblin depicted.
Now that said, despite the (Spoiler) Hobgoblin's death in this issue (or maybe because of it), I think it was an excellent story. Boy, did it bother me, and that's good. In fact I haven't been this bothered since Kenneth killed Omar on The Wire, which of course was the perfect death for Omar (who in my opinion is one of the coolest characters on TV ever). This death was unexpected, sudden, and disturbing. And I realized that this a great story. It's classic Wild Bill Hickok. This was exactly what I didn't want to happen, and yet they pulled it off.
I mainly knew Phil Urich, the former Green Goblin wannabe who tried to be a hero, from the Spider-Girl comic. He was an okay character. I didn't have a particular emotional attachment to him but had nothing against him either. This definitely wasn't the same character so I pulled out the old Green Goblin series to check to see if this could be a legitimate evolution of the character and I have to say, it definitely could be. In that series he was definitely a poser, not totally stable or focused, and very self absorbed. The evolution in Spider-Girl is believable. He pulled it together and grew up. But the evolution here is also believable. There is no way the two characters could be the same person, but they both could have been rooted from what was established in that 1995 series. They're not the same continuity, so I see no conflict there or reason to get panties in a bundle.
I'm still bothered the real Hobgoblin is dead. I'm not crazy about other characters taking on the identities of others. It dilutes the characters and I think there is a limited life span when this concept is applied. But I think the new Hobgoblin is off his rocker enough to make him interesting for a while. While I think Ramos draws the original design better than his new design, I think the new costume works. I wish they'd lose the ears coming out of the hood, but this is a different character so maybe that's a way of characterizing that this isn't the cunning Hobgoblin that lurks in the shadows, he's the twisted maniacal one.
Here's why I don't just accept this story, but I like it, besides of course what I already mentioned; First off, all of us should know that nothing is permanent in comics. And The Hobgoblin will be back eventually and I would even bet that he will kill Phil Urich. In fact, I'm not so sure that Dan Slott doesn't intend for it to happen. In the scene of his death Hobgoblin did have thoughts that implied he was Roderick Kingsley because he's been there before. But there is no reason this couldn't be a stand-in, as Kingsley is known for using Hobgoblin stand-ins, or his brother Daniel, since he's Roderick's look-a-like (besides being bald) stand-in and was directly involved with supplying Kingsley his weapons which is why the Hobgoblin was raiding Osborn's at the time that he was murdered. It's implied by the head getting cut off that the Hobgoblin is in fact dead, but the mask is never removed. That almost has to be intentional considering everything we know about the Hobgoblin and his stand-ins. And remember, we thought we saw the Hobgoblin killed by a predecessor in a similarly unconventional fassion years before, only to come back and kill his replacement. You can't assume he's dead unless you see Roderick's face and even then you better check to make sure there isn't a hair piece there.
I'm looking forward to the rest of this story playing out in the next two issues.