Spider-Man villain Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, would be the perfect next MCU big bad after Thanos. In 1964, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Green Goblin, a formidable new nemesis for Spider-Man. According to Ditko, Lee's original script portrayed the Goblin as an ancient, mythological demon unwitting awoken by a film crew, but Ditko took a different approach. He turned the Green Goblin into a human villain, and it didn't take long for comic book readers to become captivated by the mystery of the Goblin's true identity. Eventually, it was revealed that the Green Goblin was in fact industrialist Norman Osborn, the father of one of Peter Parker's schoolfriends.
The Green Goblin is an iconic Spider-Man foe - he's behind such essential comic stories as The Night Gwen Stacy Died - and as a result Sony chose to make him the main bad guy in their first Spider-Man film. William Dafoe played a very much comic-book-accurate version of the Green Goblin, and he was an absolute hit.
However, because Marvel's Spider-Man films are keen to avoid repeating characters and concepts that have already been done before, they've carefully avoided the Green Goblin. "I don't know how many more times we can do the Green Goblin," producer Amy Pascal reflected back in 2017. Tom Holland agreed with Pascal, suggesting there's a lot more to Spider-Man than the familiar leering visage of the Green Goblin. "We should be exploring people that we haven't seen before," he insisted, "rather than people we have seen in the past."
But here's the catch: as anyone who's familiar with the comics can attest, Norman Osborn has grown beyond the role of the Green Goblin. Marvel wouldn't need to do a rinse-and-repeat; they could reinterpret him quite easily to fit the MCU, and yet remain entirely faithful to the comics.
Norman Osborn Has Already Been Teased In The MCU
Oddly enough, the MCU has a distinctly Osborn-shaped hole in it right now. Both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man & the Wasp teased that there's some sort of corrupt businessman out there angling to buy up as much advanced tech as he can get his hands on. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Vulture gang presumably started out by selling advanced tech - such as Chitauri weapons, or Dark Elf singularity bombs - to industrialists, perhaps explaining where Hammer Industries obtained the Chitauri technology to develop the Judas Bullet. Meanwhile, in Ant-Man & the Wasp, Sonny Burch swiftly found someone who was willing to cash out a massive amount for PymTech - Burch was willing to pay Hope $1 billion, suggesting he was expecting a far bigger paycheck himself. Whoever Burch was working for, they were extremely wealthy, pretty shady, and interested in acquiring advanced technology.
Viewers have pointed to two other notable gaps in the MCU. The first is Marvel's curious decision to skip Spider-Man's origin story. Everybody assumes to know the story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, but in truth there have been a number of variations over the years. In the Ultimate Comics line, for example, the spider that bit Peter had been genetically modified at an OsCorp lab. What's more, there were other spiders as well, one of which escaped and ultimately bit Miles Morales. For all audiences know, the same is true in the MCU, and that fateful spider-bite occurred on a field trip to OsCorp.
And then there's the question of just who bought Stark Tower. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony Stark was moving out of the Avengers Tower and had sold it on to an unidentified buyer. While many assume it's the Fantastic Four, one popular theory is that the new owner is actually Norman Osborn, and that Avengers Tower will become the headquarters of OsCorp. The idea of basing himself in a former Avengers base would appeal to Osborn's ego, and the purchase would indicate his ambition of replacing Tony Stark in every way possible (a theme the MCU is already exploring in Spider-Man: Far From Home). What's more, it's unlikely that Stark was able to extract all his tech from the building, so Osborn would gain insights into early Stark science as well.
Norman Osborn Is A Lot More Than A Spider-Man Villain
But why is Marvel introducing their own version of Norman Osborn so important for it to be teased out over years? The answer is simple: because, just like Spider-Man himself, Osborn is radically reshaped by introducing him to a wider universe of superheroes. That's most easily demonstrated by looking at the comics, where Osborn has long since transitioned from simply being just another Spider-Man bad guy. In 2006, the comics showed Osborn attempting to reform, and he took control of the US Government's Thunderbolt program. This was an attempt to rehabilitate super-villains as heroes, and the last incarnation had been manipulated by Baron Zemo. Osborn proved to be an effective field commander, but it swiftly became clear that he was still psychotic. Unfortunately for the Marvel Comics universe, he successfully hid that fact by killing anyone who came close to exposing him.
All this led to one of the most dramatic Avengers stories of the last 20 years. The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. were crippled during an invasion by the shapeshifting aliens known as the Skrulls, and the Thunderbolts participated in the final battle against the Skrull army. Osborn learned that Nick Fury had developed a weapon that could kill a Skrull Queen with one shot, and he manipulated events so as to ensure he obtained it. It was Osborn who committed the kill-strike that ended the invasion, and he immediately became a celebrity, the sins of the past forgotten.
Marvel Comics had carefully positioned Norman Osborn to become one of their top-tier villains, who literally dominated the entire Marvel Comics range for a 12-month period called the "Dark Reign." Osborn took charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., and reformed it into a fascist group known as H.A.M.M.E.R.; he created his own "Dark Avengers" team, with established super-villains wearing the masks of heroes such as Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and Wolverine; and he even donned stolen Stark armor himself, becoming the Iron Patriot. There's absolutely no reason Marvel Studios couldn't do the same, adapting "Dark Reign" into their next big saga.
How Norman Osborn Can Become The MCU's New Big Bad
The potential is clearly there for Norman Osborn to play a major role in the MCU going forward. And, with Thanos dealt with, now is the ideal time for Marvel to begin hinting at their future plans; and Spider-Man: Far From Home is the perfect opportunity to do so. That film is intended to serve a dual purpose in the MCU, acting as an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame, while simultaneously serving as a launchpad for Phase 4. That's why many viewers tend to believe Mysterio's claims to come from another dimension; because it makes so much narrative sense for the MCU to embrace the Multiverse in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. But there'll surely be a lot more setup than just the Multiverse - and it could include Norman Osborn as well.
The first trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home included a shot in which Spider-Man swung in front of Grand Central Station. In the background, it was clear that some sort of construction work was being conducted on the old Avengers Tower. This construction project would be a simple and effective way of setting up Norman Osborn, by just showing that the "A" logo has been replaced by the "O" of "OsCorp." Although the villain himself surely won't appear (that casting would be too hard to keep quiet), Spider-Man fans would immediately know what the new logo signified, and as a result they'd begin looking for further setup.
The key to this new incarnation of Norman Osborn would be establishing that he is a threat because of the breadth of his reach and the power of his company, not just when wearing a green mask. It would thus be smart of Marvel to initially focus on making OsCorp a near-ubiquitous background presence in the MCU; Black Widow would really help, because that film's expected to be a prequel, and a reference to OsCorp would thus retcon the company into the MCU's history. They could be shown in corrupt background deals in Shang-Chi, and could even be seeking secrets of the Mystic Arts in Doctor Strange 2; there's actually comic book precedent for Osborn to be as interested in sorcery as he is in science.
All that said, Osborn himself should be held back until the third Spider-Man film, and could be introduced as a dark figure who draws together several Spider-Man bad guys - forming the much-awaited Sinister Six.
If Marvel is to pull this off, though, the best approach would be to build Norman Osborn himself up as a morally ambiguous character. There's been some speculation that Marvel is working on a Thunderbolts project, given the studio has deliberately kept a couple of key villains alive who are strongly associated with that franchise; namely Baron Zemo from Captain America: Civil War and Ghost from Ant-Man & the Wasp. Perhaps Osborn is the mastermind behind the MCU's Thunderbolts team, and he becomes an ally of the next incarnation of the Avengers. Spider-Man would distrust him, but he's only a kid, and it's entirely possible his concerns would be viewed as misplaced. And so Norman Osborn would be perfectly positioned to take charge in the MCU just as he did in the comics, to usher in a "Dark Reign," and thus become Marvel's next big bad after Thanos.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019