web stats

CSBG Archive

50 Greatest Spider-Man Creators: Writers #3-1

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Spider-Man, we’re doing four straight months of polls having to do with Spider-Man, culminating with the release of the Amazing Spider-Man film in July. The last installment will deal with Spider-Man stories, but this month will be about Spider-Man’s writers and artists.

You all voted, now here are the results! Here is a master list of all the creators listed so far. We continue with Spider-Man writers #3-1…

Enjoy!

3. Roger Stern

A funny thing about Roger Stern’s legendary run on Amazing Spider-Man is the fact that it followed an eighteen issue run on Spectacular Spider-Man! Heck, Stern even introduced Roderick Kingsley (the man he had planned as as the secret identity of the Hobgoblin) in the pages of that run! The run (which went from Spectacular Spider-Man #43-61) was an important part of Stern’s overall Spider-Man work, as a lot of plots he began in Spectacular carried over to Amazing Spider-Man.

That said, when Stern took over Amazing Spider-Man with Amazing Spider-Man #224, he clearly turned his work on to a whole other level. There was a clear change in how he wrote the “secondary” Spider-Man title and how he wrote the “main” title, as he was now in the driving seat for the Spider-Man books as a whole and he was a great driver.

Stern’s early issues re-introduced the Black Cat into the Spider-books, where he helped to make her the staple of the Spider-Man books she remains today. An interesting aspect of Stern’s books, also, is after a number of writers who tended to downplay Spider-Man’s powers, Stern went the other direction, highlighting just how powerful Spider-Man can be.

One of the most acclaimed issues in Stern’s run came early on when he had Spider-Man fight against the unstoppable Juggernaut in a two-issue story that did not CREATE the “superhero battles against a much more powerful foe,” but certainly put a twist on the theme that later writers have followed frequently.

Stern brought Mary Jane Watson back into the Spider-books and did good work with Spider-Man’s supporting cast.

Stern also introduced the Hobgoblin, a mysterious new villain who used the Green Goblin’s devices and serum to become a powerful crime boss. The Hobgoblin was not just interesting because of the mystery of his identity, but also because of his off-beat approach to villainy. He was no mad man, he was a businessman and he used what he learned from Osborn’s in ingenious ways…

Even as his run came to a close with Amazing Spider-Man #250, Stern plotted two more issues of Amazing for incoming writer, Tom DeFalco, and one of them was the story of the alien costume in #252.

Perhaps Stern’s most famous story was a short story in Amazing Spider-Man #248, the tale of a young boy who we learn in a newspaper story is “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man,” Spider-Man’s biggest fan (skip to #2 on the list if you haven’t read this story before)…

Stern has returned to the Spider-books a few times since he left, including a mini-series where he revealed who the Hobgoblin REALLY was. Plus, he did a few issues during Brand New Day, including a cool sequel to Spider-Man/Juggernaut with Spidey taking on Juggernaut possessed by Captain Universe!!

2. Stan Lee

Since John Romita has penciled the vast majority of Stan Lee’s post-Steve Ditko Spider-Man comic books, you could easily make a case that this could be a Stan Lee/John Romita joint credit, since eventually Romita took a much more involved role in plotting the title. Heck, Romita himself has noted that he could have easily gotten a co-plotter credit if he had asked for one. However, one of the reasons Romita has given for NOT asking for one is that it never got to the point where Romita would be coming up with the plots for the issues without consulting with Lee the way Ditko eventually did in the Ditko/Lee issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Lee always gave Romita SOME sort of plot, even if said plot likely became vaguer and vaguer the more that the two men worked together. Romita never had the control over the stories that Ditko had. So that’s why this listing is for Stan Lee by himself. If you want to think of it as Stan Lee/John Romita, though, fair enough.

Anyhow, Stan Lee began the post-Ditko era with Amazing Spider-Man #39 and he stayed on the title until #100 and then returned for a short engagement from #105-110. Then he left the book more or less for good (he has returned for a few stories here and there, including a 1997 Spider-Man/Kingpin graphic novel with John Romita and Tom DeFalco assisting on the script).

The major changes that Lee made when Ditko left was giving the title a bit more warmth. You could almost see in the early issues of Spider-Man that when there was a rare happy ending, Lee would even specifically comment on it. “See! A happy ending for once!” When Ditko left, the supporting cast (which had not settled since #1 with the exceptions of Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson) solidified. Suddenly, Harry Osborn was no longer a jerk to Peter. He was now his best friend. Suddenly, Gwen Stacy’s feelings toward Peter smoothed over and she was totally into him. A regular teen hangout was introduced and the interactions of the main young characters in the book being a centerpiece of the title (it was not that young people were not always involved in the book, but it was not until this time that the supporting cast was able to solidify and become the driving force of the book). And, of course, Mary Jane Watson finally made her appearance.

That the book was warmer and more youth-driven does not mean that Lee eased up on the angst, of course. No sirree. He piled on the angst, from the initial story arc with Romita (where the Green Goblin is revealed to be the father of Peter’s college classmate, Harry Osborn and the Goblin knows Spider-Man’s identity!!!) to the classic Spider-Man #50, where Spider-Man dramatically quits being Spider-Man. However, after saving a security guard as Peter Parker, he realizes his mistake…

Good stuff.

More drama continued as Lee examined topical situations, like college protests and drug addiction, to great effect. Of course, Spider-Man also was visited with tragedy as the father of his girlfriend Gwen, Captain Stacy, sacrifices himself to save a child from wreckage caused by a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. As Stacy dies, he reveals that he knew Peter was Spider-Man.

Awesome.

Post-Ditko was not as great of a time for new characters as Lee chose to spend more time developing the established ones, but there were a few notable additions to the Spider-books, like the aforementioned Mary Jane Watson, the criminal mastermind the Kingpin, the Daily Bugle’s noble City Editor, Joe “Robbie” Robertson (one of the first prominent black supporting characters in the Silver Age), the Shocker, the Prowler…just to name a few of the more prominent examples.

Lee’s work from #39-100 helped take Spider-Man from already one of the most popular Marvel characters to being THE most popular Marvel character, hands down, as the novel approach of “Topical teen soap opera with good looking teens and a ton of action” was extremely popular. This run really became the blueprint for most Spider-Man runs to follow.

1. Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

Simply put, these are the two guys who literally CREATED Spider-Man. The forty-one issues that the two did together (Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1-2) contain pretty much everything you need for a Spider-Man comic book today.

Heck, just a cursory look at the characters that they invented is staggering. Peter Parker. Aunt May. Uncle Ben. Flash Thompson. J. Jonah Jameson. The Vulture. Doctor Octopus. Sandman. Chameleon. Electro. Lizard. Green Goblin. Kraven the Hunter. Mysterio. Betty Brant. Harry Osborn. Gwen Stacy. Liz Allen.

And, of course, most memorably, Fancy Dan.

But simply naming characters that they created is only getting a surface look at what Ditko and Lee did to comics with Spider-Man. Lee had already done the whole “Superheroes with real life problems” idea in Fantastic Four, but Ditko and Lee took it to a whole other level with Spider-Man. As I noted in Lee’s entry above, when there was a happy ending in an issue of Spider-Man, it was a shocker! And yet, even as Peter Parker went through personal trauma after personal trauma after personal trauma, it never made the book feel like it was just a sludge. That is in part because of Lee’s scripting, which always tempered Ditko’s plots with a certain devil-may-care attitude that, hey, as bad as things are, you gotta keep going.

This is, of course, highlighted by perhaps the single most famous sequence in Spider-Man history, a bit that has “inspired” countless Spider-Man stories ever since, the classic Amazing Spider-Man #33…

The combination of Ditko’s compelling plots and Lee’s snappy dialogue made this pair a dream team that we will likely never see again, a pairing where each man needed the other for the book to be as transcendentally popular as it became.

30 Comments

Not a surprise for Stan and Steve. I am pleasantly surprised Uncle Rog placed so highly. His run is highly regarded, though I figured someone else would edge him out. Really surprising Marvel doesn’t woe him back.

I’m actually amazed that people VOTED Lee/Ditko in.

It opens up a weird pandora’s box, as Brian mentioned. For instance, I’m a MUCH bigger fan of the Lee/Romita Sr. run than the Lee/Ditko run. I assume from what I’ve read/heard that Ditko had more influence than Romita Sr, but still, I like the STORIES in the later run more than the earlier run, not just the art.

I like the STORIES in the later run more than the earlier run, not just the art.

A lot of folks did. Lee got a ton of votes (although the difference between Lee and Ditko/Lee ended up being slightly greater than the difference between Lee and Stern).

These were my top three, and I pretty much expected it would work out this way. One thing about the Lee/Ditko run on Spider-man is how captivating so many of those stories remain to this day (I recently re-read it about 2 years ago). As much as I may like the Silver Age runs of FF, Avengers, Thor, etc., all of them often show their age, while the Spider-man stuff, together with Dr. Strange, still seem so … hmm, I guess fresh is the word I’m looking for.

Brian:”The run (which went from Spectacular Spider-Man #43-61) was a good one that I’d like to see Marvel give a Visionaries collection to some day.”

Actually, MARVEL has published a Visionaries volume of Stern’s work on Spectacular Spider-Man ( contains 43-52, 54).Of course, this is not all of Stern’s work on the title but it is a start.

Actually, MARVEL has published a Visionaries volume of Stern’s work on Spectacular Spider-Man ( contains 43-52, 54).Of course, this is not all of Stern’s work on the title but it is a start.

Oh good! Thanks for the info.

Man, Stern’s story “The kid who collect Spider-Man” still brings tears to my eyes. Just the two pages you showed has got me crying.

I loved Stern’s work on Spectacular, particularly the issues drawn by Marie Severin, the only person on my artists list who didn’t make the actual countdown (I knew she wouldn’t).

Pete Woodhouse

June 1, 2012 at 7:56 am

Me too, Rob. “Kid Who Collected” must be in top 5-10 best/most memorable Spidey stories, so much emotion crammed in so few pages.
I’m sure these 3 were my top three. I think it was Stan/Steve, Stan, Stern – but it doesn’t really matter. All are worthy to take the podium places.

Thoughts on the final 3:

Roger Stern:Well, I’ve always thought that he was second only to Stan Lee as a Spider-Man scribe, and now it’s official.

Black Cat: Wolfman may have invented her, but Stern’s fun-loving thief is the characterization that has stuck.

Hobgoblin:People had been trying for years to find a way to revive the Green Goblin (Harry Osborn, Bart Hamilton), but Stern was the guy who found the way to make it work, creating a character who evoked the original while still being his own man.

Juggernaut: Such a classic fight.How classic? Even kids that I knew who did not read/like comics read that one and loved it.

Power levels:As Brian noted, Stern was the writer who restored Spidey to the level of power that he had under Stan Lee.Post-Stan writers frequently downplayed Spidey’s strength and speed, having him fight normal humans (Tarantula anyone?), but Stern corrected that.

Characterization:This is a subtle point, but the real reason why Stern’s run is so good is that (as with his runs on DR STRANGE and CAPTAIN AMERICA) Stern just “got” Spider-Man.Every issue simply felt right.There were no moments that seemed “off.”

Stan Lee: Well, come on;Stan is the guy who created Spider-Man’s “voice,” that subtle mix of wisecracks mixed with pathos that made Spider-Man so unique when he made his debut in the 60s.Where other superhero writers were renowned for plot gimmicks (Gardner Fox, Bill Finger, John Broome, etc), Stan focused on conveying character via dialogue.Pick up a 60s FLASH or GREEN LANTERN and try to find some essential point of difference in how the characters speak (apart from favored epithets like “Great Guardians!”).It can’t be done.The characters are too generic, too lacking in individuality.In contrast, no one can read dialogue from FANTASTIC FOUR and confuse it with SPIDER-MAN.

Lee-Ditko:A great Lennon-McCartney style combo.Ditko’s vision stressed the alienated aspects of being a super-hero.His Peter Parker has no male friends (it’s always shocking to realize that Harry did not start out as Peter’s best friend), and his romantic life always ends badly (Betty Brant leaving Peter for Ned Leeds).Plus, there was always an implied threat of violence in Ditko’s Spider-Man, a suggestion that he might lose control (cf the Master Planner arc where he does cut loose, and even Dr Octopus is frightened).Stan worked in opposition to this, supplying the wisecracks and essential optimism that lightened the gloominess of Ditko’s vision.

Some of the greatest comics ever in the scans above. Great list, Brian, thanks.

Brian – you should be able to get the Roger Stern visionaries trade cheap. Pretty much every comic store I go to had it on the discount rack for several years. That’s obviously not a commentary on the quality of the material. But it does suggest it’s not worth holding your breath for a volume 2 (especially since the near-weekly ASM keeps the stores constantly replenished with new trades).

It is pretty hard to compare Lee/Ditko and Lee(Romita), the one which I like better depends on the mood…the problems of Lee/Ditko era are not that evident in themselves but ones which would have shown if the run had gone on longer: unrelenting gloom and undefined supporting cast, so while Lee/Ditko created many of the major points I’d still say it was under Lee(Romita) where the book evolved in such a way that it could go on running to this day…

Oh, definitely, AS. Heck, Lee clearly could have kept the Lee/Romita status quo going for DECADES if he so chose.

Certainly there are people who wish it had…

Not alot of people know this, but Stan Lee and Steve Ditko disagreed on almost everything. for example: Stan liked Green Goblin’s character and wanted his true identity to be revealed to be someone who had already been in the book, while Steve hated the Goblin’s character and wanted him to be someone who readers wouldn’t know. Also, Stan wanted the Lizard to return, while Ditko thought that since Dr. Connors had been cured, it wouldn’t make any sense to make him turn into the Lizard again. But they didn’t just argue about the villains, they argued over who Spidey’s true love would be: Stan felt that the Betty Brant love triangle was getting a bit old and wanted Peter to fall in love with Gwen Stacy, but Steve Ditko thought that Gwen should be nothing more than “the popular girl who bullies Peter Parker”. They argued over important things like what Mary Jane would look like and smaller things like what Doctor Octopus’s costume should be. these conflicts were all resolved when Romita started illustrating, but even still, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko ‘s run on ASM was amazing.

I agree with these rankings, but I think the George Stacy death was a huge misfire by Stan Lee. It was a good moment in the short run, but after Lee did it he didn’t seem to know how to resolve it. He obviously did it because he thought it would lead to good melodrama between Peter and Gwen, but it created an awkward problem he seemed to be at a loss as to how to fix. I think it’s very telling that he left the book without ever resolving it, and that Gerry Conway didn’t seem to know how to move past the idea that Peter Parker caused his girlfriend’s father’s death and was still a big enough scumbag to keep lying to her and dating her afterward. I’m pretty sure that’s the real reason he just threw in the towel and decided it would be easier to just kill Gwen instead, a move I think hurt the property a lot and made it lose an innocence and charm it never fully recovered.

For those reasons I’d drop it to #3 behind Roger Stern.

I’m really surprised that Lee/Ditko took number one, if only because I imagine there had to have been people (like myself) who ignored the rule and only voted for Lee because they didn’t think there should be a distinction, or people who just didn’t read that they count as two seperate people. So it’s very surprising and strange that enough people did to make Lee/Ditko #1 over just Lee.

J. Anderson, do you have a source about Lee wanting the Lizard to return during Ditko’s run?

T;”Gerry Conway didn’t seem to know how to move past the idea that Peter Parker caused his girlfriend’s father’s death and was still a big enough scumbag to keep lying to her and dating her afterward.”

I usually agree with you on most things Spidey related, T, but I don’t go along with the idea that Spider-Man caused Captain Stacy’s death. This theory assumes that Spider-Man is responsible for Ock’s crimes. This is untrue. Dr Octopus is the one who was responsible.

T:”I’m pretty sure that’s the real reason he just threw in the towel and decided it would be easier to just kill Gwen instead”

Well, I think that the real reason is that they were not willing to have Spidey get married at that stage, and they preferred the drama of her death to the more realistic option that they employed with Betty Brant.

“Stan liked Green Goblin’s character and wanted his true identity to be revealed to be someone who had already been in the book, while Steve hated the Goblin’s character and wanted him to be someone who readers wouldn’t know.”

I think Ditko actually said this wasn’t true, in recent years.

“And, of course, most memorably, Fancy Dan.”
It always bothered me that Fancy Dan never got his own book… Clearly Lee & Ditko’s most endearing and greatest character creation.

Could it have skaen out any other way? Not in my mind. I admit, I’ve only read about half of Stern’s run. It lies in that gaping pit from halfway through Conway’s run to the late ’80s, where my Spidey reading has not delved, for the most part. Still, I like Stern enough that I’ve read a good bunch of his issues, whenever I’ve run across them.

The entire Master Planner saga from the Ditko days is one of those storylines I have to re-read about every year. Just masterful.

That should be “Could it have SHAKEN out any other way,” of course. The typo is strong in me today.

Yeah, here’s Ditko’s comments from 2009 on the Green Goblin’s identity:

“Now digest this: I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be. I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessmans club, it was where JJJ and the GG could be seen together. I planted them together in other stories where the GG would not appear in costume, action.”

“I wanted JJJ’s and the GG’s lives to mix for later story drama involving more than just the two characters”

“I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair style) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and storyline consequences”

“So how could there be any doubt, dispute, about who the GG had to turn out to be when unmasked?”

I’m very pleased to see Roger Stern listed next to Lee and Ditko. Roger’s run on ASM remains the standard bearer for me. It was Roger who first drew me into the Spider-books and his work quite simply, never ages.

Ed (A Different One)

June 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

Stern wrote the Spider-Man that introduce me to comics and has been the gold standard of quality for me throughout my comics reading life. I love him like the Uncle I never had and am very gratified to see him “second” only to Lee or Lee/Ditko (still hard for me to consider them seperate “writers”). But man, am I the only one out there who is left cold by “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man”? Just seemed overly trite and melodramatic and I really thought it was a drop in quality for Stern. I don’t mind a sad or sentimental story to some extent, but this one was just seemed too obviously structured from the beginning to get a tear out of us and I just could never buy in. I know, I have a cold, black heart. But man, I really loved that Stern run.

Not much more to say on either Lee or Lee/Ditko that hasn’t already been said. They are the men who gave us “Fancy Dan” and are cemented into the comics pantheon by that fact alone . . .

Stan Lee: a writer so nice, they named him twice!

Goodnight, everybody!

I read the first 12 issues of ASM in tiny paperback form that first introduced me to Spidey and then jumped to Stern’s run to get the “current” issues. I count myself extremely lucky that I read some of the best of Spider-Man.

I first read Spider-man in a B&W reprint in the UK, it was the origin story. It was an eye-opener, the story and the art just drew you in and I couldn’t stop reading it. I always remember the panel where Peter crushes the pipe when he gets to the top of the building.
The creepy costume, the incredible poses and the wisecracks – I knew then this was something special.
I love the Stern stuff – it was some of the very best, and Lee&Romita has some exceptional stories but it’s Lee&Ditko every time.
Their creative run is incredible, the characters, the villains and the stories all stand the test of time.
They will never be bettered.

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives