Here we are friends, the end of Spidey-Month. I’d like to take a moment to thank all the writers and artists from Spidey history, for it was their stories that inspired this month and my love of the characters. As such, let’s talk about the essentials, the best of the best in those stories. As always, these are my opinions, so please accept them as such and check out these great tales.
-The Origin of Spider-Man
When Stan Lee slipped this tale in a dying magazine called Amazing Fantasy, I doubt even he thought it would catch like wildfire. And it makes sense, since it’s the best super hero origin ever written. Nearly every other hero’s origin is either a summary or a scene before they’re eventually thrown into their heroic career. Here, it’s literally the whole story, starting with introducing us to Peter Parker and his family and classmates, taking us through to the spider bite, his attempts to cash in as an entertainer, his failure to act resulting in his uncle’s death and the harsh lesson that “with great power, there must also come great responsibility”. It’s a classic, and still holds up to this day.
-Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus
3 issues into Spidey’s own comic book, and he faced one of his most iconic foes, Doctor Octopus. Besides the origin of Doc Ock, I included this simply because Spidey gets the living crap beaten out of him easily by the good doctor, such that Peter decides that he should quit being a hero if he loses so easily. An inspiration speech he overhears from the Human Torch gets Spidey to realize that it’s not about losing, but getting back up until you succeed that matters. It’s a personal favorite, and I think it matters in the scheme of it all.
-The Sinister Six
In this feature-length adventure from Spidey’s first annual, our webslinger must face six of his greatest foes in a battle to rescue his then-love Betty Brant and his Aunt May from the clutches of Doc Ock, Electro, Vulture, Kraven, Mysterio and the Sandman. Honestly, this one is on the list simply for its action. One of the best in terms of action from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
-If This Be My Destiny
In this three part story, Spidey starts college and meets Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy for the first time, but ignores them due to Aunt May being sick. It turns out that Peter’s radioactive blood, which he gave to his aunt to help her in an earlier story, was killing her. To save her, he needed the special ISO-36 to save her, but it’s been stolen by the forces of the mysterious Master Planner, a criminal ringleader stealing materials to make nuclear weapons. Peter already is feeling guilt for his aunt’s condition, but the fact that he was not pursuing the Planner’s men like he should adds to this guilt. He manages to track down the Master Planner, actually Doctor Octopus, and ends up trapped under a mountain of rubble, the ISO-36 out of reach as the underwater base floods. This sequence, where Spidey rallies his strength to push past his limits to free himself and thus his aunt, is one of the moments that solidified Spidey as Marvel’s biggest hero, and it’s still one of the most referenced sequences when people talk about great Spidey moments.
-Spider-Man No More!
When the stress and problems of being Spider-Man become too much to deal with, Peter decides that enough is enough and throws out his costume. Despite also being the first appearance of the Kingpin, everyone remembers this one simply because no hero ever just quit. It was such a good story that it was the main inspiration for the story of the second feature film. While these days it seems way too constant that Peter tries to quit and then realizes he can’t, it’s still a great tale about what it means to try and turn your back on your responsibilities.
-The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Yes, we all knew this was coming. What can I say, this one was the game changer. Not only did we have a major character die in so horrible a way, it was also the first time that a hero failed so badly to save a life dear to him. And the second half of the story, where Peter finally snaps and beats the Green Goblin nearly to death, it was unbelievable. This one story was also the catalyst for so many later stories, and it still is one of the defining moments in Peter Parker’s life.
-Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!
In this two-part tale, Madam Web (a psychic that has helped Peter Parker many times) has a vision of a behemoth coming for her. She asks Spider-Man to protect her, not realizing that the creature from her vision is the unstoppable Juggernaut. Juggy wants to kidnap Web for his partner Black Tom so they can use her to help beat the X-Men. Spidey naturally tries everything he can to bring Juggernaut down, but he IS called unstoppable for a reason. When Web nearly dies in the conflict, Spidey manages to finally defeat Juggernaut by a combination of wits and just plain not quitting. Juggernaut may not be a Spider-Man villain, but he earned a place in Spidey history by pushing the hero past what anyone expected of him.
-The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
This was a back-up story, but one can’t deny its brilliance. A simple story, it is about a boy named Tim Hammond, and as newspaper captions explain, he’s the biggest Spidey fan in the world. He has a collection of newspaper articles (including all the Daily Bugle’s retractions) and souvenirs that he’s scrounged up from Spidey’s battles that he can get to. And then Spider-Man himself shows up, and the two spend the night trading stories about his career and the boy’s adoration of him. Tim finally asks who he is, and Peter reveals himself and retells the story of Uncle Ben and the lesson he learned. In the end, Spidey leaves and the newspaper article that’s been shown in captions alongside the story concludes with that Tim’s only wish is to meet Spider-Man in person, because he’s going to die of leukemia in a few days. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make us as much heroes as the big things we do.
-The Death of Jean DeWolff
The story opens with supporting character Captain Jean DeWolff (one of the few high ranking cops that openly supports Spider-Man) narrating her life story, and as she finishes we find out that she’s been killed by a shotgun wound. This was a shocking opening to a thrilling story arc. DeWolff is merely the first victim of a vicious serial killer called the Sin Eater, a man who hunts those who “sinned” by what he considers to be the abuse of authority. And while Spidey hunts with the rage of a man who lost a friend, Daredevil is hunting the Sin Eater because he wants to bring him to justice. Throughout the whole story, the question of whether a life should be taken in revenge without judgement or trial comes up a lot, and we also have moments where Jameson proves that he’s a real man by confronting a racist who is attempting to profit from the Sin Eater’s recent activities. Not only great because of the new friendship Spidey and DD get at the end by knowing each other’s identities, but also a big piece of backstory for Venom’s origin, as this was the case that caused the ruin of Eddie Brock. Definitely one to pick up.
No, no enemy crashes the wedding of Spider-Man and Mary Jane, nor does anything go wrong (beyond Peter being slightly late). Honestly, this one is only essential just because Peter Parker finally did what a lot of people did, and married the woman he loved. It’s also a great story just because we see the kind of concerns that we all would have when getting married: how do I provide for my partner? Can I handle the responsibilities involved? It’s just a love story featuring Spidey, and thankfully love conquers all. It’s great stories like this that make me hate Joe Quesada more and more.
This graphic novel basically showcases the parallels in Peter and Mary Jane’s lives. While it retells the origin story and the events of the Master Planner arc on Peter’s ends, it is awesome for showing Mary Jane’s life that was happening during Peter’s major events. Of particular awesomeness is the revelation that MJ knew Peter Parker was Spidey from the night he went after his uncle’s killer. This means that MJ’s been keeping Peter’s secret and protecting his identity for years before she finally told him. Once you finish this one, it leaves you with the sense that despite all the people he’s loved and lost, Peter’s soul mate was the person he never expected. If you’re a fan of the Peter/MJ relationship, read this one soon.
-Kraven’s Last Hunt
Again, this one pops up on a lot of lists for best Spidey story. It is one of the first stories after the wedding, helping bring home the point that Peter’s life is not the same and he has someone worrying about him each time he risks his life. In this tale, Kraven the Hunter (a long time Spidey foe) has allowed his frustration at failing to kill the webslinger to finally break his sanity. He concocts a final scheme and succeeds, seeming to shoot Spider-Man in cold blood and kill him. He then buries Spidey, puts on a replica of the hero’s costume and goes on a brutal crusade to prove himself superior to his foe, culminating in him taking down Vermin (a foe Spidey needed help from Captain America to beat). We then find out that Spidey wasn’t dead but shot full of tranquilizer that put him to sleep in a coffin underground for two weeks, resulting in the horrifying image of Spidey tearing himself from the very earth. Kraven, convinced he’s proven that he won, doesn’t fight back, and while he lets Spidey chase down the escaped Vermin, he uses a shotgun to commit suicide. A dark tale that pushed the limit of how dark a Spidey story could get.
One of the best Venom stories, Eddie manages to push the boundary of scary. The big thing of this was the last part, where Venom kidnaps Spidey to a desert island so that he can hunt him down and torment him until he finally kills him. As I said in my Venom spotlight, this was how Venom should be written, because when Peter finally fakes his death, Eddie decides to live in peace. Definitely one for the Venom fans.
I could have put Maximum Carnage, but I prefer this shorter first story featuring Venom’s evil offspring. Carnage was a true monster, no rhyme or reason, just evil for evil’s sake. And it’s still the best of the team-ups for Spidey and Venom, with the two’s chemistry never being as good as this story.
-Best of Enemies
Harry Osborn was Peter’s best friend, and often one of his worst enemies. Harry tended to alternate between sanity and madness, and with his appearances as the Green Goblin switched between villain and wannabe hero. This final story of Harry as the Goblin, with him finally getting the Goblin serum that gave Norman his incredible strength. Harry has already spent too much tormenting his own family with his obsession for revenge on Peter, and this was his big finale. His plan? Kill Peter and himself to spare them from the tragedies the world keeps inflicting on them. When MJ and Harry’s son Normie were discovered to still be in the building that was to explode, Harry finally manned up and saved not just them but Peter as well. With the Goblin formula finally causing him to have a heart attack, Harry was dying en route to the hospital. Peter asked him why he saved his life, and Harry said, “You’re my best friend,” before finally dying. The funny thing is, even when they brought Harry back to life, it didn’t diminish this story. In fact, Harry has been far cooler since this story, and his resurrection would not have been appreciated if they didn’t keep that Harry was in the end a good man.
-The Real Clone Saga
Now before you all lynch me, I’m not talking about the actual Clone Saga. I liked that saga, but sadly it was mired with problems behind the scenes. Supposedly, there was a plan for how it would play out, but the brass at Marvel kept changing the writers around so much that too many bad stories were included, and it ran way too long. The Real Clone Saga is basically a writer’s cut from two of the men that worked on the saga, giving a much cleaner, better story. We still have the key points: Ben the clone comes back, becomes the Scarlet Spider, the Jackal returns with a plan to take over using clones, Peter may actually be the clone and retires to live with his pregnant wife while Ben takes over as Spidey, and a shadowy mastermind orchestrating it all for revenge. I may not like the change this mini-series makes in who the mastermind is, but I like that they kept Ben alive at the end. This is what the Clone saga should have been.
-“Spider Hunt” and “Identity Crisis”
When the Clone saga ended, there were few good Spidey stories in the 90’s. These two, which deal with Spidey being framed for the murder of a thug found cocooned in webbing, are among the best of this particular era. Spider Hunt with the framing, and the machinations of the returned Norman Osborn,now a businessman villain ala Lex Luthor messing with Peter in a private war (since they knew each other’s identities) as well as a new foe called Black Tarantula. Eventually, Norman’s frame job puts the people so against Peter that our hero tries a different tactic. In Identity Crisis we see how that goes, as Peter debuts four new super identities: Ricochet (a thug for hire that focused on Spidey’s speed and agility, as well as his non-stop chattering) Hornet (a teched out hero wearing a flight pack and using stinger darts), Dusk (a dark and grim criminal wearing a completely black costume that could glide and blend perfecting in the shadows) and Prodigy (an armored straight-and-narrow hero with strength and speed that had the public eating out of his hand). These four identities gave Peter a chance to try new things as he managed to clear his name and continue to protect the city. The identities were popular enough that a spin-off called Slingers about four kids who get these identities happened, and the costumes were included in Edge of Time as preorder bonuses.
-JMS’s run (the first half)
J. Michael Straczynski (JMS for short) had a lot to do for his first story arc as main writer for Spider-Man, now titled Coming Home. Thankfully, he started strong. This story had a new character called Ezekiel, an older man who had spider powers, tell Peter that his powers may be mystic in origin. It also introduced Morlun, an unstoppable foe that fed on super humans with animal based powers who basically gave Spidey a run for his money, resulting in one of the most awesome fights in comics when Peter capitalized on the fact that regardless of whether it’s magic or science, he’s still radioactive and thus poisonous if further irradiated. We also had Peter change careers, becoming a physics teacher at his old high school, and the biggest shocker was Aunt May finally finding out that Peter was Spidey, and their relationship growing stronger. Other good JMS arcs include Bad Connections (a continued exploration of the mystic theme, as well as concluding with Peter and MJ reuniting and proving why their marriage worked despite Quesada’s claims), Happy Birthday (Spidey has to travel back through his career in order to help Doctor Strange save reality, and gets to meet Uncle Ben one last time) and Book of Ezekiel (the conclusion of the mystic totem storypoint and the end of Ezekiel). If Quesada just let JMS have more creative control as his run went, we wouldn’t have had bad stories like Sins Past and One More Day (the single worst Spidey story ever).
-Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights: Spider-Man
During the 2000’s, after JMS made a few changes in Spidey’s life, Marvel added the webslinger to their Marvel Knights imprint. This was basically slightly more mature stories, hence why the imprint often used characters like Ghost Rider, Daredevil and Punisher. So, with the man who wrote Kick-Ass and Wanted taking the reigns for Spidey’s first 12 issues in this imprint, things got badass fast. After finally bringing down Norman Osborn, Peter’s life looks to be stable. And then a mysterious individual kidnaps Aunt May, sending Spidey on a frantic search to find her. During this run, we had darker, more vicious battles with foes like Electro and Vulture, Eddie Brock sold the symbiote, with it eventually bonding to the kidnapper (turns out it was Scorpion), and the climax of the whole thing is Spidey and all his allies against the Green Goblin and his Sinister Twelve, with MJ’s life hanging in the balance. Nice, self-contained, and sheer awesome, Millar didn’t wear out his welcome on Spidey, making it short and sweet. Pick this collection up when you can, and try for the omnibus version instead of buying the three trade paperbacks that make up the whole run.
After the travesty of One More Day (which had Spidey sell his marriage to the devil in what can only be Quesada pushing an anti-marriage agenda through most of Marvel’s best couplings), Marvel attempted to use the new Brand New Day arc to reestablish a classic status quo. So, instead of the development we’ve become used to, Peter was turned into a 30-year old living with his old aunt, still taking pictures, and trying the singles scene. It was a dark time, despite a few good bits here and there. But then came the Big Time arc, written by Dan Slott (one of the best writers the character has had in a while). These three storylines that made up the arc established a new-but-better status quo, with Peter finally getting the job he’s always wanted as a scientist and inventor for Horizon Labs (giving him a way to augment his gear with new costumes for specific situations), Spidey taking advantage of being an Avenger when he needs help to save New York from a threat that’s outside his range, and finally making the commitment that no one dies on his watch. This is one of the best starts to a run, and I’m glad that Slott is writing.
In this epic event, everyone in New York suddenly gets spider powers. With the Avengers and FF struggling to keep the peace, Peter has to help cure everyone, while dealing with the return of the Jackal and Kaine. Seriously, this storyline (that crosses over with the new Venom and several other heroes) is just a long list of awesome Spider-Man moments, the kind fans live for. Definitely the best Spidey event in years (at least until Ends of the Earth is done).
Well, with this we end Spidey-Month. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you up to date with the latest Spider-Man news, as well as the reviews for the upcoming game and feature film. Until next time, webheads!