Hold on to something, true believers: Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films may be close to dropping another insane twist for Peter Parker. Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, posted a picture on Instagram that may be a sly clue to his future in Spider-Man 4 (which does not yet have an official title). As ScreenRant pointed out, the internet has long theorized that Ned is destined to become an enemy of Spider-Man, specifically the Hobgoblin. Batalon seems to be aware of this fan speculation and is using Instagram to acknowledge it. Here’s a screenshot of Batalon’s Instagram story, posted by a fan on Twitter asking the actor (in Spanish) what he is trying to tell us.
In the picture, Batalon is in the toy aisle of an unidentified store, holding a Hobgoblin figure from Hasbro’s Marvel Legends figure line. The Hobgoblin, though not as well known to non-Marvel comic book fans, is a villain with a long history in Marvel comics and a direct tie to Ned Leeds. Hobgoblin was created by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #238, released in 1983. Ned Leeds, however, goes back much farther in Spider-Man lore, having first appeared in 1964 in The Amazing Spider-Man #18. Created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, Leeds was a Daily Bugle reporter who was brainwashed by the Hobgoblin to think he was in fact the villain, even committing crimes and fighting Spider-Man before he was eventually killed. This history is well-known by Marvel fans, who suspect Batalon’s Ned will also turn evil in Spider-Man 4, even if it isn’t by his own will. The Hobgoblin was a major character in the Spider-Man cartoon series in the 1990s, as this clip shows.
Marvel Studios has already changed up the Ned Leeds character quite a bit from his comic book version, so there’s no clear indication that Kevin Feige and company plan to take the same path for the cinematic version of Ned in Spider-Man 4. However, one of the most dramatic – and tragic – aspects of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was the relationship between former best friends Peter (Tobey Maguire) and Harry Osbourn (James Franco), who took on the mantle of the Green Goblin after his father (Willem Dafoe) died in a battle with Spider-Man. The MCU could echo this turn by having Tom Holland’s Peter lose his best friend as well.
Jacob Batalon has made it clear before that he and other cast members closely follow fan speculation on the internet. This picture could just be a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of that, or it could be a carefully orchestrated move by Marvel Studios to gauge fan reaction to Ned going evil in Spider-Man 4. The move makes sense for Batalon’s character: at the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Ned (and the rest of the world) no longer remembers who Peter is (thanks to Doctor Strange’s spell), so becoming a bad guy keeps him in the narrative, and provides yet another sad aspect to Peter’s backstory. Having Ned become The Hobgoblin would certainly provide the emotional gravitas that the next Spider-Man trilogy will need.