In another universe (say, the DC Comics universe), Norman Osborne could have been Bruce Wayne, a millionaire industrialist with a genius for creating cool toys, a willingness to live outside the law, and a split personality. But instead of becoming Batman, in Marvel’s world, he’s a megalomaniacal supervillain. In Willem Dafoe’s portrayal (in 2002’s Spider-Man), Norman Osborne is the military-industrial complex personified, in all its entrenched privilege and sense of entitlement. It’s his fight-or-flight response to the threat against his standing as a defense mogul and titan of industry that transforms him into the Goblin, as much as his failed attempt to test his supersoldier protocol on his own body.
The Goblin persona seems inspired by one of the many masks in Osborne’s art collection, but as Osborne becomes increasingly paranoid and unhinged, it’s clear that the Goblin is his true self, and that the benevolent tycoon who offers to mentor Peter Parker is the mask. When he finds out that Parker is his nemesis, Spider-Man, he feels doubly betrayed, not just because Peter seemed the dutiful and intelligent son that his own boy, Harry, was not, but also because the Goblin had seen Spider-Man as a fellow Nietzschean superman (little s), one who could have ruled alongside him. Still, the Goblin has one last secret power, one that transcends death: the ability to haunt Peter/Spidey by living on in the vengeful wrath of his orphaned son.
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