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50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories: #15-11

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. We’ve done Spider-Man covers, Spider-Man characters, Spider-Man creators and now, finally, Spider-Man stories!

You all voted, now here are the results of what you chose as the 50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories! We continue with #15-11. Click here for a master list of all the stories revealed so far!


15. “Harry Osborn is on Drugs!” Amazing Spider-Man #96-98

This is one of those stories where the context of the time is so important. Overall, it is a strong story by Stan Lee about the pressures of life building on Harry Osborn with similar pressures sending his father, Norman Osborn, spiraling into his super-villain identity of the Green Goblin while Harry spirals into drug addiction. The artwork from Gil Kane and John Romita is superb. Here is a nice sequence from the middle part of the story…

However good the story reads NOW, though, the power that was present in the context of its original publication is far greater. Stan Lee fought the Comics Code Authority and produced a topical piece of comic book work that will stand the test of time.

14. “The Alien Costume Saga,” Amazing Spider-Man #252-258/9

Speaking of something that you really needed to be there to fully appreciate the impact it had on comicdom, the introduction of a new costume for Spider-Man had a much larger impact than any similar change would have nowadays.

The new black costume was like a shock of cold air to the system of Spidey fans everywhere and when Tom DeFalco (along with artists Ron Frenz and Joe Rubinstein) followed the new costume up by showing that it was, in fact, a living creature – well, that took the story to a whole other level!

One of my favorite bits in the storyline is when Spidey goes to the Fantastic Four for help (a great usage of the shared Marvel universe by DeFalco)…


One thing that can’t be overlooked about the Alien Costume Saga is that it also contained the debut of the Rose, who became a fairly notable character and, even more importantly, it contained the issue where Mary Jane Watson reveals that she knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man! Talk about momentous turn of events!

I am unsure of whether #259 should be included or not. I guess I will say “yes.”

13. “Coming Home,” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 2) #30-35

J. Michael Straczynski took over Amazing Spider-Man with #30 and within a few issues had transformed the book into a strong new direction. First off, Straczynski sent Peter back to high school…as a science teacher! It was a clever idea that Straczynski used very well. It added new story elements to Spidey that were never present before, especially all the avenues available with the lives of his students.

More famously, though, this initial storyline (with art by John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna) introduced the concept that Spider-Man had not received his powers from radiation having a weird effect on a spider, causing its abilities to transfer to Spider-Man but rather that the spider ALREADY had mystic abilities and it transfered them to Peter because the radiation was killing it. This idea of the “Spider-Totem” played a major role because there was this seemingly unstoppable force called Morlun who was seeking out Totems to feed on.

The battle between Spidey and the energy vampire was devastating. Here was a character that Spider-Man could not hide from by taking off his costume. In addition, when Spidey DID get away, Morlun would just start attacking innocents until Spider-Man came to him. It was a lose/lose situation for our hero. Straczysnki handled the hopelessness of the situation beautifully in this strong moment here…

Great stuff. Spidey’s heroism shows through beautifully. And, of course, this being Spider-Man’s title, he manages to pull out a last second win through a clever use of Spider-Man’s scientific background.

This was a great start to a long and acclaimed run by Straczynski.

12. “The Gift,” Amazing Spider-Man #400

One of the amazing things about “The Gift,” by J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt is that it takes place firmly within the second Clone Saga. Ben Reilly is all over the issue and the story concludes with Peter Parker being arrested for a murder committed by Kaine (who I don’t believe we yet knew was also a clone of Peter Parker, hence Peter’s fingerprints being left at the scene of the crime).

Story continues below

And yet, at the heart of the comic is the relationship between May Parker and Peter Parker. DeMatteis beautifully handles the last day of their relationship as May awakens from her coma in time to spend one more day with Peter, Mary Jane and her closest friend, Anna Watson.

She has a particularly special moment with Peter on the observation deck of the Empire State Building…


And the death scene? Wow. It is three pages long, so I didn’t have room for it here, but…well…if you can read it without being a LITTLE bit choked up, then you are made of sterner stuff than me.

11. “The Goblin Unmasked!,” Amazing Spider-Man #39-40

Yet another story where the context is so important. This is a great two-parter about Spider-Man learning the identity of the mysterious Green Goblin (who also, shockingly, learns Peter’s identity, as well)…

and then having to choose to save his enemy when Osborn’s memory goes away…

But as good as the tale is, it was even more important in showing that Stan Lee did not need Steve Ditko to still tell sensation Amazing Spider-Man stories. This story is the debut of John Romita on the title. These first few issues or so are done in a more Ditko-esque style (which Romita did well) but soon, Romita would take over and re-define the look of the series. This initial story, though, showed that Lee and Romita could deliver the goods just like Lee and Ditko could!


“The Gift” is only #12? Forget the Clone Saga — these pages (and the other three, with Ben so close yet so far away) should have put it in the single digits alone.

Although this means “Wait’ll Next Year” will be in the Top Ten , so that’s not horrible.


June 29, 2012 at 8:33 am

It’s a pity “the Gift” is not in top 10, is absolutely one of my favourites

by the way, I don’t know if it has already been pointed out in Easter Eggs, but in the Empire State Building scene, the page before the one posted, there is an appearence by Mark Bagley and his whole family :)

I voted for Coming Home as my #1, just because it had all the ingredients I like best in a Spidey story: Spider-Man outgunned, but using courage, perseverance, and a little smattering of scientific smarts to win the day. Plus, it includes the issue where Peter decides to teach high school, which I loved (it also raises it a notch above the Spider-Man/Juggernaut battle which also has those Spidey ingredients I like).

I actually don’t think much about the Spider-Totem stuff when I think of this story, but it did give a nice epic context for Morlun, who was a pretty fun bad guy (not a classic villain by any stretch, but good for this story…and he gets a nice comeuppance at the end).

I can’t wait for the Paper Bag Spidey action figure to hit shelves later this year. I just hope that Hasbro didn’t forget to include the ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back.

ASM #258 has to be in my top 5 most re-read comics, along with ASM #162, Giant Size X-Men #1, and What If #46 & 47.

i really hope Bill Mantlo’s Carrion story makes it into the top 10.

I was going to vote for #252 as a single story, but I just ended up lumping it in with the rest of the clone saga, as I figured that’s what most people would do. I love how it’s almost an origin story for the new Spidey, explaining how his new costume works and going for the first swing through NYC of the new era… it’s even got an Amazing Fantasy 15 homage cover that improves on the original.

surprised the gift did not crack the top ten. espically how aunt may tells peter she loves him no matter what and peter recting a passage from peter pan . the harry on drugs story also thought would crack the top ten since it showed how harry was mentaly messed up enough to use drugs plus stan was willing to tell the comic code shove it. this story needs to be told.

Ed (A Different One)

June 29, 2012 at 10:26 am

Hey, what is that thing that Spidey is using to talk to May on in “Coming Home”? It looks like a land-line phone but he’s putting money in it. Probably some gee-whiz scientific gizmo that Reed Richards whipped up that only exists in the Marvel Universe . . .

Surprised to see so many relatively recent stories ranking so high, but at least they’re pretty good ones. We are once again reminded of the wasted legacy that could have been JMS if things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong. I’m also reminded of how Frenz used to have a propensity to draw certain characters with flat heads (check Reed out). I swear that you could have played Jenga on Peter’s head during that time period. I’m reminded of the rare “Gift” that Matteis and Bagley gave us during what was an otherwise fairly bleak era for Spider-Man. I’m reminded of two wonderfully emotional stories involving Aunt May that were clumsily retconned into not counting anymore. And I’m reminded that Peter used to wear one of those Lego “caps” on top of his head instead of actual hair during the Romita Sr era.

And, for the most part, good stories were to be had by all.

Ah, good times indeed . . .

400 is only the second of my choices to make it. Some great things so far but a few abominations (Maximum Clonage? Return of the Sinister Six?) Still. Maybe my other 8 will be in the top ten. Can’t see it really.

You know, for all that I hated “One More Day” and roll my eyes at the Spider-Totem stuff, I really did like how JMS wrote Peter’s interactions with Mary Jane and Aunt May, at least early in his run. And yeah, “The Gift” was terrific (I like the “one more day” phrasing there, by the way). I should reread the Alien Costume Saga, because I remember it mostly as a gimmick, but I really did enjoy both the writing and the art in that particular Spidey era a lot at the time.

I can’t wait to see how commenters manage to spin this entry as Stan-bashing!

I like that recoloring on ASM #40. Would you mind saying what edition it’s scanned from?

Yeah, Aunt May has to live forever now, because there is no way they can do a better death story.

I am a little surprised at how little comment the ‘Aunt May already knew’ thing gets. I mean, it was retconned (stupidly) but at the time it was just set out there. Was there/ is there debate on how long Aunt May knew? What were the details? I mean, all you need for the sake of the story is there, it just makes me curious.

While “The Goblin Unmasked” is a personal favorite of mine, Romita and Lee most certainly could NOT “deliver the goods just like Lee and Ditko could!” After these two issues, the quality declined immediately. Gone were the stunningly complex plotlines and huge cast of characters. In their place, we got perhaps half the panels per issue, and consequently half the story. How many original ideas were in the wake of Ditko’s departure? The Rhino? Essentially the Scorpion. The Shocker? Electro Junior. Kingpin? Big Man et al.

I admit that Romita’s Spider-Man has become iconic (helped by his input on the 60’s cartoon), but Ditko’s work will always be more artistically valid. Ditko moved superhero comics towards Munch, Romita moved them towards advertising illustrations.

Well, the Shocker is certainly a bargain basement Electro, but the other comparisons are a stretch. I have to say, I like the Rhino way better than the Scorpion, although I like Mac just fine, and they don’t have much in common aside from the stuck-in-a-costume thing. And the Big Man is a downright joke next to the Kingpin. Actually, the Big Man is a joke next to pretty much any crime boss. His stories weren’t bad by any means, but he’s not exactly a character with much of a shelf life.

Of course, I’d say the Hood is essentially the Big Man of today, so I guess it really depends on what the writers think they can sell.

Coming Home is what got me buying comics again. JMS is a genius when that meddling Joey Q ain’t around.

Anyone who read his Superman: Grounded, Wonder Woman: Odyssey or BW: Nite Owl can only wish you were telling truth, Dennis…

The man can be brilliant or write crap for any employer.

Romita and Lee most certainly could NOT “deliver the goods just like Lee and Ditko could!”

In this context, “deliver the goods” just meant that they showed that they could deliver quality comics just like Lee and Ditko. Not that their work was the same exact quality as Lee and Ditko, as obviously they were quite different (some say better, some say worse, but they were all quality comics, Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita).

Lee/Romita had wonderful stories and I like their work better than the bulk of Lee/Ditko. The soap opera stuff/supporting cast is much bigger and far more interesting to me. The villains were not as memorable perhaps but the return of old villains was often better than their initial stories under Ditko.

Man, I still get a little choked up whenever I read those final scenes between Peter and May. I’m still little mad at Mackie and Byrne for retconning it. “The Gift” was such a beautiful send-off for the character. It should’ve been in the top 10.

Meaningless Albert

June 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm

There’s only the top 10 remaining, and I think we all have a pretty good idea of which issues will show up. I’m a little sad that Spider-Man vs Firelord (DeFalco/Frenz), Powerless (Michelinie/Larsen), Carnage (Michelinie/Bagley), Tombstone (Conway/Buscema), Shrieking (Dematteis/Bagley) and Doomed Affairs (Straczynski/Romita Jr.) didn’t make it.

It was so sad when that actress pretending to be Aunt May died.

What If? 46 should have been on my list!!!! Great story ookerdookers. If you don’t have it, read it. “Wha if Unce Ben Had Lived?” and Aunt May died instead. Done in total Ditko style, ugly faces, 9 panel pages. Fantastic story.

Very strong set of stories(to be expected at this point, of course, but after “Maximum Carnage” showed up, all bets seemed off…). It’s crazy how good JMS’s run was for a while, and what it became after a few years. Reading his entire run is basically watching a writer self-destruct before your very eyes.

“The Gift” was in my top ten, I believe in the number two spot. I love how it is able to stand on its own despite being mired in the clone saga.

What If? 46 should have been on my list!!!! Great story ookerdookers. If you don’t have it, read it. “Wha if Unce Ben Had Lived?” and Aunt May died instead. Done in total Ditko style, ugly faces, 9 panel pages. Fantastic story.

Heh. Actually, I was referring to the second What If? series #46 & 47 “Cable Destroyed the X-Men / Magneto ruled the USA.” Man, I have read the shit out of those issues.

That said, I nearly put the “What If Uncle Ben Had Lived” issue on my own top ten list, and I did put the two-part “What If Spider-Man Had Not Married Mary Jane / Had Married Black Cat” issues on my list at number 7 or number 8, IIRC. I loves me some What If? stories.

The Alien Costume Saga may be historically important, but it really wasn’t that special. It is way too high on this list.

@different Ed

Priest has a long essay on his blog about his difficult years editing the Spidey titles (as Jim Owsley). He writes that Ron Frenz’s flat heads really bothered him too, and finally he broke down and called Ron to ask him to stop. Ron was apparently hugely offended, and the kicker is that it turns out it was the inker (I forget who that was) who was actually making the heads flat after Ron drew them “normal”. Apparently Priest and Ron’s professional relationship really suffered after that little gaffe (and ended soon thereafter).

I think the blog’s called Digital Priest, it has some very interesting stuff on it.

of course lee didnt need ditko, cuz lee wasnt telling the stories…the artists were…lee filled in the the word bubbles

read that dialogue…its terrible

dhole- I read that, I was going to get around to mentioning it, but I couldn’t find the blog to link to. Ah well. I think he was wrong, though, I have seen Ron Frenz with a few different inkers, and the heads are still flat.

OK, I’m confused here. What’s with Aunt May revealing Peter she knows he’s Spider-Man winning here and in the #41-45? Not because of two similar things winning two different times, but how is that Aunt May discovered twice the same thing? Did she forget Peter was Spider-Man? Or she never knew in the first place and this is “the actress who was playing her” according to the later retcon? And if the one from “The Gift” is not the real Aunt May, is she being honest about her pride for Peter or is that one of Osborn’s manipulations?

Because if the latter is the case, then that’s freaking stupid. Are you telling me that Osborn decided to make Spider-Man believe his Aunt had died proud of him? “Yeah, poor kid, I’ve been too harsh on him, so even thought that’s my entire shtick I’ll just instruct the actress who plays his aunt to pretend to be proud of him. Even though it would be better for my ridiculously convoluted plans and go perfectly with my hateful personality if I had instructed her to pretend she hated him for lying to her”.

Ugh! Stu-pid un-ne-ces-sary ret-cons!

[…] considered one of the best Spider-Man writers, wrote defining arcs for three of those characters. The Gift, with Aunt May, was ranked the twelfth best Spider-Man story by CBR readers. The Harry Osborn saga was #10. Fearful Symmetry, with Kraven, was rated the best Spider-Man story […]

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