Spider-Man (various comic book titles, video games, films, and television shows 1964-now)
The Green Goblin is Spider-Man’s most persistent and vengeful foe. Some may say he is the most dangerous of Spider-Man’s rouges gallery having caused the most grief and loss in Peter Parker’s lifetime. There have been a handful of people to use the name Green Goblin and even more off-shoot Goblin characters influenced by Norman Osborn’s legacy (like the multiple Hobgoblins, Demogoblin, Grey Goblin, Menace, and Monster). As far as GREEN Goblins are concerned, Norman Osborn is the definitive and none can quite live up to his level of insanity (he doesn’t even need a Goblin costume to be an awesome villain).
Norman worked hard throughout school mastering chemistry, electrical engineering, and business as a result of his failed businessman of a father taking his frustrations out on him as a child. After forming a partnership with one of his college professors, Mendel Stromm, they founded Osborn Chemical (later re-written as Oscorp). Stromm would later be arrested for embezzling from the company and Norman took complete control over it. Shortly after giving birth to their son, Harry, Norman’s wife fell ill and eventually died. Instead of raising Harry like a loving father, Norman buried himself in work to mask his grief. It turns out that Stromm had secretly created a super power formula that Norman found from old files. To spite his negligent father, Harry mixed some of the chemicals in the formula before Norman could drink it resulting in an explosion that gave him super strength, endurance, and remarkable healing as well as mental instability as a side effect. Norman designed a Green Goblin costume based on a childhood nightmare and sought out to become the ruler of the criminal underworld (because he was suddenly crazy and why the hell not?). As the Goblin, Norman encountered Spider-Man twice before he quickly figured out that his true identity was Peter Parker, who just happened to be best friends with his troubled son.
I would also like to praise Norman’s origin in the Ultimate Universe continuity. This more recent retelling explained that Oscorp was commissioned by SHIELD to reinvent the lost super soldier serum that led to Captain America’s creation in the 40’s. Instead of a “radioactive spider” biting Peter Parker, the spider was a test subject holding the “Oz” serum Norman was experimenting with and later exploded on himself to become a hulking goblin creature with pyrokinesis. Most hardcore fans belittle the “Hulk Goblin” but I think it’s brilliant in that it: 1. Makes him an incredible threat that isn’t a guy in a Halloween costume and 2. Ties Captain America and SHIELD into the mythos of Spider-Man on a personal level as well as tying into the overall theme of superhuman expansion and scientific discovery started in the 40’s of the Marvel Universe. Originally the Ultimate Green Goblin simply yelled single words but he quickly gained super intelligence and became able to revert back to human form at will. Through multiple injections of the Oz formula and believing Peter to be his “son,” Norman’s mind was twisted and he often hallucinated in really creative creepy ways. In a sense, Ultimate Goblin was even more crazy than the one of the main continuity.
(Back to the original) It was later established that Norman Osborn was a completely separate persona from the Goblin personality and he wasn’t all that much of a bad guy aside from his schizophrenic outbursts. The Goblin knew of Spider-Man’s identity but Norman did not for several years and this made Peter sympathetically leave him alone and cross his fingers for the best in a gesture to not screw up Harry’s life any more than it already was. In turn, the Goblin persona resurfaced and ended up tossing Peter’s love, Gwen Stacy, off a bridge which ended up causing her death (not from the fall but from the force of the whiplash she got from Spider-Man’s web when he tried to save her… Yeesh!). I’m going to try to refrain from talking about how supposedly before this happened; Gwen had an affair with Norman and had super powered goblin children that were raised in Europe… There I acknowledged it… We’re done!
Shortly after Gwen’s death, Norman “died” in a last ditch effort to kill Spider-Man with his glider jet but impaled himself (exactly like the first Sam Raimi film depicted… SPOILERS??). Of Course, Osborn was too awesome to be put down forever and it was rewritten that this attack didn’t kill him due to his healing factor. His death was merely covered up by bribes to everyone involved in his funeral. Supposedly when he was believed dead, Norman influenced Miles Warren (AKA the Jackal) to clone Peter Parker and make him believe he was the clone of Ben Reilly (the real clone… my brain just exploded). After the super human Civil War, Tony Stark appointed (a believed to be reformed) Norman Osborn as the director of a Thunderbolts team managed by SHIELD. Norman struggled to suppress the Goblin persona with pills and played the role of a sane hardened leader, but it was only a matter of time before his obsession with ending Spider-Man caused the Goblin to come out periodically.
Osborn further played up his “heroic” appearance when Skrulls invaded Earth and he was able to land a kill shot on the Skrull Queen Veranke on television. With worldwide approval, Norman Osborn was appointed as the new head of SHIELD (which he re-named HAMMER) and began an era called the Dark Reign. Now backed with HAMMER, government resources, and public trust; Osborn was able to hunt down the true heroes who he had mostly labeled as enemies of the state. During this era Osborn formed a Cabal of figurehead supervillains who would otherwise not work with each other, put out a hit list of nearly all of Marvel’s super heroes, filled the roles of the Avengers with criminals (Dark Avengers), and blatantly ripped off Iron Man and Captain America’s iconography by donning the suit of the Iron Patriot. This reign ended when his manipulation of the Sentry was pushed too far resulting in the Avengers reuniting to defeat the Sentry’s evil persona, the Void, and shutting down HAMMER. After establishing himself as more of an Avengers mastermind villain, Osborn has since then returned to his roots and formed the Goblin Underground, an army of goblin themed minions ready to go to war with other crime lords challenging him.