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CSBG Archive

50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories: #5-1

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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 conclude with #5-1! Click here for a master list of all the stories revealed so far!


5. “Spider-Man!” Amazing Fantasy #15

Here it is, the king of all superhero origin stories! What Steve Ditko and Stan Lee achieve in these eleven pages is just remarkable. They create a fully-realized superhero, with back story and everything, plus a shocking, heartfelt reason for the hero to be…well, a hero. And it was all in just one single story.

From the origin of the webshooters…

To the greatest lesson in responsibility comic books have ever had (and yes, I like to use the reprinted version with the Spidey eyes the way they are now and not with the dots for eyes)….

Absolute brilliance from two comic book legends who were somehow about to match the level of this story for thirty-nine more glorious issues.

Lorin Heller has this to say about the story:

To date, I think this is simply the best thing that Marvel has ever produced, and I’m guessing they’re never going to top it. A nerd, a loser, a geek, Peter Parker was going through all the things that much of the comic-reading population was going through…with one exception. Most of us geeks never get bitten by a radioactive spider. The “hero that could be you” concept jumped into full bloom. But even more than that, the genius of this story is the lesson it teaches through tragedy. Peter works on so many levels: identification, humor… but the thing which will always make him the most fascinating for me, is that here we have the first protagonist who ended up becoming a hero not just because he intrinsically knew it was the right thing to do, but because he SCREWED UP MAJORLY AND IT COST HIM! I love redemption stories, and this is simply one of the ultimates. For all the good things Peter does, he will never, ever be able to truly forgive himself for what his mistake caused. It is a lovely character, and one I never get tired of reading.

Luke Werner had this to say:

Now, virtually everyone knows this by memory, so we tend to take it for granted. But consider this — whereas the origins of icons like Superman and Batman and Captain America have constantly been tweaked, twisted, retconned and rebooted, Spider-Man’s origins have remained essentially unchanged. This is a testament to just how good and complete Lee and Ditko got it from the get-go. Even when there have been stories that attempt to tweak Spidey’s origin – Amazing Spider-Man #200, for instance – they have failed to reinvent the core of his origin and have been, at the very least, divisive for fans.

But that is only half of it. Let’s imagine that the one and only appearance of “Spider-Man” was this one little odd tale, not as an origin, not as a springboard for more adventures, but as a complete story, in itself.

Even in that circumstance, it is a superior story. The journey of the mocked and timid underdog, handed ownership of extraordinary gifts without having earned them, uses his awesome might for self-interest rather than righteous good, then experiences dire consequences because of his behavior. It is a Good Samaritan tale, twisted and brutalized.

But, even more intriguing, it richly deconstructs the hero/villain paradigm. It is the villain that refuses to abandon the sense of entitlement that his power has “earned” him. It is the hero that understands that his power entitles him to nothing. It is the hero that comes to the realization that “with great power there must also come — great responsibility.” That message has much deeper and more profound impact when it is learned organically through adversity and failure, than through steadfast righteous principle from the outset…

…and all of that in only eleven pages.

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And finally, my buddy Chris Nowlin had this to say about the story:

My favorite Spider-Man story is my favorite superhero story is my favorite comic is my favorite story. That said, I don’t know what to say about it, at least not without rambling endlessly. I like the timeless art of Ditko, but more than the execution, I like the story. A man makes a mistake and learns a lesson, and I think the lesson is a good one. Just like the story.

4. “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110

One of the most fascinating aspects of The Death of Jean DeWolff is how it sort of type cast Peter David early on as the “serious guy,” which, obviously, he CAN do quite well, but it is far from being a defining aspect of his writing style. He is vast, people! He contains multitudes!

Anyhow, this storyline tells the story of a minor Spider-Man supporting character, Captain Jean DeWolff, who was always friendly to Spider-Man, being murdered by a mysterious serial killer known as the Sin-Eater. After her death, Spidey gets the double gut-punch of learning that she was totally into him…

What’s funny is that the mystery of the Sin-Eater’s identity is not something that is really meant to be solved. It is there just to ratchet up the drama until Spider-Man’s first girlfriend, Betty Brant, is almost murdered by the Sin-Eater. When Spidey gets there to save her…well, Spider-Man (and guest-star Daredevil) have differing ideas on how to proceed with the killer…

Few writers challenge ideas like this as strongly as Peter David does in this story. Plus, this is one of the best Spider-Man/Daredevil team-ups of all-time. Rich Buckler does the art with a variety of inkers (Brett Breeding, probably most prominently). Very good stuff.

3. “The Death of Gwen Stacy,” Amazing Spider-Man #121-122

In the “Death of Gwen Stacy,” Norman Osborn finally snaps for good and, as the Green Goblin, kidnaps Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and then throws her off of a bridge…

Gerry Conway, Gil Kane and John Romita practically DARE you not to come back for the next issue. They don’t think you can do it! And they’re right, as the following issue is a powerful lesson in Spider-Man’s humanity and his capacity for mercy.

Of course, an underrated aspect of the story (which is amusing, since a reader then wrote in to me extensively on this topic, so I guess it is not THAT underrated) is the way that Conway uses this story to set up the romance he wanted between Peter and Mary Jane, as seen in the classic epilogue to the story (which is the first half of a bookend Conway uses during his run).

Luke Werner had this to say about the story:

Much has been discussed about the importance and impact of “The Death of Gwen Stacy” throughout the years — how it was instrumental in ending the Silver Age of comics; how the hero fails to rescue the damsel in distress; how Gwen is captured and killed because of Spider-Man’s actions, not in spite of them; how the character of Gwen Stacy had become stale, and her death was an inevitable moment in Spider-Man’s ongoing narrative; how she, therefore, doesn’t deserve the “sacred cow” status she has been given.

The list of themes that can extracted from this story are nearly infinite, and it will continue to resonate and inspire discussion, analysis, and disagreement as the years go on.

All that aside, here is why we should cherish these two issues and why they deserve to be considered one of, if not the greatest of, Spidey’s greatest stories:

In #122, Spider-Man, intent on revenge, finds Green Goblin hiding out in one of Norman Osborn’s warehouses. The battle is renewed, and Spider-Man outmatches Goblin from the start. When Spider-Man finally gets up close and personal, he nearly beats Goblin to death. But… but, suddenly, he stops. He stops and whispers “Good lord… what in the name of heaven am I doing?” Now, put yourself in Spider-Man’s costume for that moment. Would you have stopped? If you were in those circumstances, could you have? I don’t know if I could have. I really don’t.

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This is why Spider-Man is a hero. Not because he can defeat a powerful villain like the Green Goblin, but because he can stop himself from sinking to the Goblin’s level… even in circumstances that we may see him as having an unquestionably free pass to do so.

Reader Eve K. had this to say:

Now, when it comes to the Gerry Conway scripted “The Night Gwen Stacy Died/The Green Goblin’s Last Stand”, most fans are bound to talk about the impact the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn had on superhero comic books in general. Unsurprisingly so, as it is indeed, a tale ballsy for its time. It was unheard of to kill off the titular superhero’s love interest and the arch-nemesis in a single story. I would, however, like to talk about a less discussed aspect of the tale which appeals to me the most. Which is saying a lot as the entire story is well crafted and perfectly executed. I am talking about the “Epilogue” scene between Peter and Mary Jane in ASM #122. It is but one page but oh, what a page it is. The range of emotion captured through the artwork of Gil Kane and strong inking of John Romita Sr. is moving, to say the least. But what touches me the most is how the moment between MJ and Peter plays the element of much needed hope in an otherwise downer of a story. The inclusion of this one page really subverts the entire tone of the arc, which could otherwise be viewed as rather sexist. It is here, on this masterful and undiluted page, where Mary Jane Watson develops into one of my favorite Marvel characters.

And that is the precise reason why I sincerely feel “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is not any run-of-the-mill “Women in Refrigerators” tale. Though many WiR stories have been produced thanks to writers trying to replicate the impact the story had on the superhero comic culture, and failing miserably because they lacked Conway’s knack for sophisticated drama telling. One of the reasons I find this story superior to even the finest of WiR stories like Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” is because it actively sets out to serve as a tool for the development of a male and female character’s emotional arc. Here, Gwen’s tragedy serves to strengthen Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship, as opposed to Barbara Gordon’s tragedy used as an exploitative tool to explore the Batman and Joker’s relationship. Sure, the story chronicles the ever building tension between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin finally coming to a head, but it was meant to close the chapter on Norman’s story. What Conway intended “Death of Gwen Stacy” to initiate was the tale of Peter + MJ, which has now evolved into a full fledged saga.

Speaking of evolution, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is almost as coming of age a tale as “Amazing Fantasy #15″. Not only does Gwen’s death force Peter and Mary Jane to grow up and prime them for a mature relationship, but it also expands the significance of not one, but two female characters. Let’s face it, Gwen Stacy was a pretty irrelevant character when it came to the bigger comic landscape. Her shocking death however, changed all of that! Suddenly, she became iconic. As for Mary Jane, I am sure her creator Stan Lee himself never calculated her potential to be so immense. A character who started out as a playful distraction blossoming into one of the every best supporting characters in superhero comics? Especially a character who was a non-superpowered young girl? Unheard of in the early 70s! And yet, Gerry Conway realized just how much promise MJ Watson- a fresh off the Second Wave take on women’s representation in a predominantly male targeted medium, had. He sensed she was too good and unique a personality to be marginalized and made his decision to give her a much more substantial and important role in the Spidey mythos. Starting with “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”.

Thematically, it has been tragedies which have helped shape Peter Parker into the man he becomes. Uncle Ben’s death grounds him and gives him the determination to put his powers to their best use ever. And Gwen’s death gives him a better and fuller understanding of a relationship, and helps him have his first mature relationship yet, with Mary Jane. It was a great loss which gave birth to the career of my favorite webslinging superhero, and it was a great loss which gave birth to my favorite love story in not only comics, but also in all of fiction. The wonderful and hope filled love story of Peter and MJ, borne out of the fateful night Gwen Stacy died.

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I could guess the last five entries, but the order is a surprise. All great choices.

(although between Gwen, Jean, Kraven and Uncle Ben, quite the bloodbath. Guess tragedy brings out the best in Spidey).

Thank you for this list, Brian, it was great.

More great picks:

1. AMAZING FANTASY 15: Well, what is left to say? A genuine masterpiece, 11 pages without a single wasted panel.

2. KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT: Bit surprised to see this one come out on top. A really great story. As good as DeMatteis’ script is , the Zeck/Mcleod art is , perhaps, even better.

3.MASTER PLANNER arc: As with AF 15, there is little left to say about this classic sequence. Just sheer brilliance.

The Crazed Spruce

June 30, 2012 at 10:22 am

If I’d read “The Death of Jean DeWolff, I don’t have a doubt that it would’ve made my list. I did have the other four though, in a completely different order.

I had Amazing Fantasy 15 as #1 (the absolute best origin story ever told, bar none), Kraven’s Last Hunt at #2, the last chapter of the Master Planner story at #5 (like the Juggernaut story, it played into my favourite aspect of Spidey’s personality), and the death of Gwen Stacey at #6.

Not at all surprised that my #10 (the Avengers story where Spidey wound up sucked into an outer-space battle with Nebula, and proved both that he works surprisingly well in a group, and that he absolutely does NOT belong in the Avengers) didn’t make the cut, but I’m a bit disappointed that Rhino’s failed redemption story (my #7) didn’t make the list. I thought it was one of the best stories from the post-One-More-Day era.

@ The Crazed Spruce- That Rhino story is really good.

If I had submitted my list, Master Planer and Last Hunt would have been on there.

I remember when the Death Of Jean DeWolf came out, but I only read ASM at the time. A neighbor bought it and liked it, but I never read it until I picked it up last year. I think I need to go back and reread it as a stand alone and not as part of a giant dollar sale pile of books I need to get through.

I am not real big on origin stories, but the comments included here are very good and insightful. I suppose I am one of those who takes Spider-Man’s origin story for granted.

I’ve never understood the love for Kraven’s Last Hunt (I think it’s morbid and silly, and Kraven’s monologues are awful) or The Death of Jean DeWolff (Spider-Man is really out of character so that Peter David can tell a story about educating Spider-Man about the justice system; the art is mediocre, and apart from a nice murder mystery the story isn’t anything special).

But I like the Master Planner Saga, and the art in “The Death of Gwen Stacy” is fantastic. I’m also glad to see The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!, and The Original Hobgoblin Saga ranking high.

Personally, I would have liked to see the sentimental “The longest hundred yards” (ASM #153) reach the top 50; I certainly like it a lot better than Kraven’s Last Hunt.

Four great countdowns Brian, thanks for all your hard work! As ever, these countdowns are my favorite features on this blog and I look forward to every one!

I love Kraven’s Last Hunt (our middle school art teacher actually brought it up as an example of thought-provoking imagery) but I don’t like the format of one story continuing across titles. Just an side. It doesn’t detract from how the story is among the greatest ever.

sandwich eater

June 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Man, this list has reminded me why Spider-Man is my favorite fictional character. I love the part in Kraven’s Last Hunt where Spider-Man punches his way out of his grave.

Kraven’s Last Hunt is also a rare instance of a story that works better with Spidey in the black costume. I have a hard time imagining the visuals of the story with Spidey in the classic red and blue suit.

Kraven’s Last Hunt is certainly the best Kraven story, but I don’t think it would make my personal top 50 Spidey stories list, even at the bottom. It’s bleak and joyless, and not at all what I’m looking for from a Spider-Man story.

Beautiful art, though.

Clearly I’m in the minority! Thanks for putting the list together, Brian.

KLH is very good but it’s a Batman story. Crazy to think AF15 isn’t top.

Dont really remember the order on my list.. but those 5 were on it.. not in this order … ( master planner , and AF 15 in the top places with Death of Jean Dewolff just after… )

KLH is a real good story.. but not for the top 5.. top 10 sure, but not top 5 ( JM de Matt’ and Sal Spectaculart 189 / 200 with harry and his death are more interresting and poignant – and where rankked higher than KLH in my list…)

By the way, as far as voting went, Master Planner just edged out Death of Gwen Stacy but Kraven’s Last Hunt blew them both away. I’ll provide tiered results Monday or Tuesday but it is safe to say Kraven’s Last Hunt was in its own Tier 1.

It is sort of odd that the Spider-Man who let Norman Osborn live after he killed Gwen Stacy is the same Spider-Man who was going to beat Stan Carter to death after the death of Jean DeWolff. Some might say (some just did, I suppose) that it might be out of character. On the other hand, people do act differently. Perhaps Spider-Man was beating on Stan Carter because he let Norman live and came to regret it on some level. Perhaps Spider-Man was in a different state of mind and in a different situation and subsequently acting differently, which is actually something real people do.

In defending the story, I would have to say that a consistent theme in Spider-Man comics and in real life is that people really don’t just learn a lesson once and change their behavior for good, it is a constant struggle to stay true to the things you believe, and it is human to screw it up. And if there is a super hero who embodies flawed humanity, it is Spider-Man.

It’s interesting how some of the stuff I was talking about in my comments in the 10-6 list about the deaths of Harry Osborn and Aunt May gets illustrated here with regards to the death of Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man as a comic is about real significant changes and developments in a character coming from stories where authors are willing and able to take risks and make changes. And I think it is also interesting that (as I have heard, anyway) that after the death of Gwen Stacy the uproar in the letters pages and popular opinion was against a major change like Gwen dying, whereas it seems that around here and on other blogs is that the uproar is about changes being unmade, like Aunt May and Harry being brought back to life.

Perhaps in the intervening years Spider-Man fans learned to appreciate a character who has new things happen to him, and change really is interesting. Of course, this occasionally leads to arguments like ‘well, people complained when Gwen died’ used to defend indefensible crap like ‘Sins Past,’ which is irritating, but I guess inevitable.

And here what I just did was turn a discussion about great Spider-Man comics into bagging on “Sins Past.’ Did not intend that to happen, actually, sorry. I must really be a Spider-Man fan with an internet connection.

Meaningless Albert

June 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Brian, can you tell which stories finished 51-55? I’m curious to know what stories would have sneaked in if the Ultimate Spider-Man wasn’t allowed on the list.

I had just about all of these in my top ten, but somehow I forgot to include Amazing Fantasy #15! D’oh!
Surprised that “Kraven’s Last Hunt” grabbed the top spot instead of the “Master Planner” saga.

I also found Spider-Man’s behavior in ”The Death of Jean DeWolff” to be a bit out of character, as if he was being put through certain situations to enable the writer to make some points. I also was very disappointed that DeWolff was killed, as she was a strong female character who wasn’t in love with the main character, or at least that’s how she was portrayed until this story. Comics at that time seemed to have very few of those, and it was a shame that Marvel decided this one had to die.

would have thought either spider mans first story from amazing fantasy 15 or maybe the master planner one where spider man even with all that stuff on him due to his love of aunt may winds up lifting it . or the death of gwen stacy since not only did it cause peter and mary jane to grow up over their shared lost but also mad norman spider mans own version of the joker. though a little more twisted being one of the few villains who whacked some one by throwing them off the bride. death of jean dewolf hoping it would at least be in the top given how it showed spider man almost willing to stoop so low as a bad guy that he was willing to kill carter. though jean wolfs death was kind of a waste of a good character. kravens last hunt surprised it made the top not to mention it has to be one of the creepiest story ever given spider man being buried alive and how it ends.

I did not see Kraven’s Last Hunt as #1. Wow.

Spider-Man (Amazing Fantasy) – The original, the introduction, the legend. It’s impossible to not include this, which is telling of just how great Spider-Man is as a character, given that the debuts of just about every other superhero have either gotten retconned or are just only remembered as debuts and not stories. It is an excellent morality play that defines the difference between good and evil, and introduced many people to a mantra that people live their lives by. But on top of introducing a great character, giving us a philosophy lesson, and tugging at our heartstrings, this comic’s step in the evolution of superheroes is grander than any of those elements. Right out of the gate, Lee and Ditko established what makes Spider-Man wonderful and enduring to this day; with an origin that focused on the heroes’ secret identity, HIS decisions, HIS losses, and HIS emotions, readers follow Spider-Man not just to see what crazy new villain he’ll be facing, but because they care what happens to Peter Parker. It’s man first, mask second. As Mark Waid said, “If you care about the people wearing the costumes, than you don’t have to worry what adventures they’ll go on.”

The Death of Jean DeWolff – I think most people agree that the best Spider-Man stories focus on the dichotomy of power and responsibility. Well, this one definitely fits the bill. A lot of stories have been written about Peter being pushed to the edge and almost killing someone, and while this one isn’t the best (see: #3), it certainly defines that type of story for most people. Inner-monologue is well used, coming across as contemplative as opposed to cheesy, which is what most people associated inner-monologue with. The inclusion of Daredevil as the voice of reason is a little weird (considering how Daredevil is far more angry and unstable than Spider-Man, so it comes across a bit out of character), but it still does help to have two voices. The one real complaint I have is the Sin-Eater, who isn’t really engaging or original as a villain, and kind of only exists to shoehorn in mystery to a story that doesn’t need it. All in all, a flawed, but very powerful story, and a worthy choice for the top five.

The Death of Gwen Stacy – Huh, I had this pegged for #1, but I guess there were more people like me who were just tired of it always topping these lists. I did go through a bit of a period where I hated it (I felt it was misogynistic and relied on shock value), but after a few more analyses and a realization that Spider-Man supporting characters die all the time like this, regardless of gender, I really am beginning to see how well it defines the character. I think it was actually after reading “No One Dies” that I finally began to get my head around it; it’s not just another tragedy in Peter’s life, but it’s the one that really grew to define the character from there on, probably even more so than the death of Uncle Ben. With Uncle Ben, Peter was a dumb kid who didn’t do what he had to do, and should have been the hero. But with Gwen Stacy, it’s the opposite. If Peter had just been a normal guy, she would be alive and well. It reflects the blessed and cursed existence of Spider-Man, and how tragedy will always fall unto his loved ones no matter how hard he tries. He even tried all he could to save her and she still died. If Spider-Man is nothing more than an adolescent power fantasy, than this, more than anything, made Peter feel powerless. Uncle Ben is the story of regret, but Gwen is the story of simply not being strong enough. No matter what happens, no matter how many webs get shot, days get saved, and deals with devil are made, Gwen Stacy is dead. And that’s something Spider-Man could never have stopped.

The Master Planner Saga – My pick for #1. To me, this is really all that makes a great Spider-Man story; evil mastermind, all the odds stacked against him, Peter Parker having issues at home and at school during it all, having to use intelligence to win, and a tremendous show of force and determination. I go on and on about all the symbolism there is such an old comic, or about how Steve Ditko is really the chief architect in this masterpiece, but to me, and to most people, this story is wholly defined by that one image of Spidey hoisting the the giant metal ceiling over his head through shear force of will. It’s such a great moment that it didn’t even need any dialogue (not like that didn’t stop Stan Lee from giving Spidey a gloriously triumphant speech, even though talking would drain his energy and prevent him from lifting it). If Gwen Stacy dying establishes Spider-Man as a tragedy magnet, then this story establishes the crucial other element that makes the character so inspiring; that no matter how dark things get, and how many people die, and how many bad guys get away, Spider-Man is always there, always optimistic, and always determined to win. It’s that determination that is showcased through the lifting scene, and resonates so powerfully with that glorious refusal to give in when all the odds are stacked against you. This, to me, is what has made those fifty years of Spider-Man so constantly rewarding.

Kraven’s Last Hunt – An interesting choice for #1, but not one I would particularly agree with. Not because I don’t think it isn’t good enough (I think it is an masterstroke, easily one of the best storylines in the history of comics), but just because I don’t think this is really one of those iconic Spider-Man stories, in the way of truly summing up what Spidey is all about. The greatest Spider-Man story should be the story that not only is fantastic, but gives you, in a nutshell, what makes Spider-Man so brilliant and entertaining. I don’t even know if I would considering this a Spider-Man story so much as a dark, dark rogue spotlight. Again, I love this story, and think it should be read not only by Spider-Man fans, but by anyone who loves great, dark works of fiction, and the study of sequential art. I just feel like calling it the greatest Spider-Man story is like calling The Wall the greatest Pink Floyd album. To me, it’s a great story that features Spider-Man. But, that’s just my two cents.

Marvel clearly lacks coherence sometimes.
Peter gives Aunt may a blood transfusion and she gets radiation poisoning and almost dies, yet Bruce Banner giving a blood transfusion to his cousin creates a She-Hulk?
That just doesn’t add up.

And why is Aunt May seemingly the only person in the entire Marvel Universe to get exposed to radiation and not get superpowers?

I really enjoyed the list. I haven’t read much Spider-Man since the McFarlane years, I dropped out before the clone saga, but I’m not surprised that there isn’t so much late era “great” stories. Maybe it’s harder to write the character now, but I think the contemporary stories just don’t have the weight of the older ones.

There seems to be two classic eras, the initial Ditko/Romita run, and then again in the 80s, a strong revival of new characters and new developments. I started buying Spider-Man in the 200s, and got into Spectacular and Web as well, buying loads of Marvel Tales to get a chance to read the old ones. And they really hold up well, they weren’t so susceptible to editorial mandates and events.

One story I remember really having an impact on me was the sequel to the Sin-Eater story, where the Sin-Eater is released from prison, and is a hobbled, crippled man because of the beating Spider-Man had given him. It was completely different than the first, but made me think about who Spider-Man was, and a lot about guilt and responsibility. That’s a lot of heavy stuff for a 12-year old to consider, but it was great. Marvel had some very thoughtful writing back then.

I think the reason for difference in what happened with the blood transfusions in Spider-Man and with She-Hulk is a few things:
First there are about maybe 15 years between these two stories.
Steve Ditko was the plotter and so there were probably different writers (She-hulk was created by Stan Lee).
Aunt May being older may have affected it.

On the list:
Kraven’s Last Hunt seems to be at top not because of it being the epitome of a Spider-Man story, but its craftmanship. It appeared on the most lists I am guessing.
All the top 5 makes sense, but the overall list shows how much of the epitome of the Spider-Man relies on the central adolescence coming of age theme. Most of the greatest Spider-Man stories come from the first 200 issues or so, and also the ones that really match up with the core of the great Spider-Man. The initial run by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee is so good that sometimes we forget about all those stories.
I believe that Spider-Man is greatest superhero ever, but what makes him the best superhero is what make it more of challenge to tell the core message Spider-Man. The core of a good Spider-Man story essentially boils down to what happens to Peter Parker, whereas with Batman you can tell a great Batman story without him in even taking of the cowl or mentioning that he is Bruce Wayne. The early run was the best because it told real world problems of everyday people on the superhero scale. Spider-Man’s struggle in the last 30 years has been recapturing that spirit. At times, Spidey without being a metaphor for adolescence becomes just another superhero. I think Dan Slott and Brand New Day has taken huge strides in restoring the metaphor. However, Alpha worries me so I hope Slott knows what he is doing.

I really do think Amazing Fantasy 15 should have been #1. I feel like it’s a truly one-of-a-kind issue in that it’s one of the only times (THE only time?) that a truly iconic comics character was introduced in what would continue to be that character’s final form. Lee and Ditko simply got it perfect from the start. Literally NOTHING has ever been changed about Spider-Man from this issue, other than a few brief stints in a black costume.

Think about the other iconic characters out there: Batman used a gun early on, had no batmobile, no batcave, and no Alfred; Superman didn’t fly, he jumped; Wonder Woman is still being changed–now she’s the daughter of Zeus instead of formed from clay; Green Lantern and The Flash were completely reinvented less than 20 years after they first appeared, then THOSE versions were killed to give way to third iterations; Wolverine’s adamantium and healing factor weren’t mentioned until years after his first appearance; Daredevil’s red costume and Hulk being green were changes from their first appearances; The Fantastic Four didn’t have costumes until issue 3; Iceman and the Thing had different physical appearances in their earliest appearances; Beast spent his first decade without blue fur; Iron Man’s armor changed frequently and dramatically over his first few years; Captain America’s first shield wasn’t round. For all of these characters, their first appearance and their iconic version often differ greatly.

But Spider-Man stands unique, because he was perfect from the beginning. It’s the best super-hero origin of all-time, and that 11 page story informs all of the key elements of his character.

Anyways, great list overall, and a blast to read as always, Brian.

Ten omissions that I find notable:

-The 9/11 memorial story
-The first Carnage story
-Ultimate clone saga
-The opening Brand New Day story
-Whatever happened to Flash Thompson?
-Any Black Cat story
-Any Punisher story
-Severance Package (Tangled Web #4)
-Ultimate Annual #1 (Spidey and Kitty hooking up)
-Spider-Man vs. Wolverine

Plus, my #1 pick, The World According to Peter Parker, didn’t make it, which is too bad.

And I also would have liked to see a Marvel Team-Up story or two make it. My favorites are #100, by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller, which was the FF team-up that introduced Karma, and #s 82-85, also by Claremont, which was an epic story with Black Widow, Nick Fury, Shang-Chi.

I’m looking forward to the top 50 Avengers and X-Men stories that are surely coming next year! (nudge nudge wink wink)

What’s missing from the top 50?

-More Jenkins (only one arc, and not the Fusion arc?). He had so many touching one-shots
-Claremont (Sword of the She-Devil for example)
-Busiek (Amazing Fantasy or any number of Untold Tales stories)
-Wein’s Green Goblin story
-More Dtiko (introductions of Vulture, Doc Ock, Sandman, Electro all great stories. Plus the issue where Spidey sees a shrink)
-Something from Tangled Web. Lots of great material there, the Azzarello issue a personal favorite.

Third Man:

I guess you can say the Doc Ock/Owl war from Spectacular Spider-Man is a Black Cat story.

I find Maximum Carnage to be one of the WORST Spidey stories. Just a lot of senseless 90’s violence.

And Kraven’s Last Hunt for it’s time was a decent story. It unfortunately gave birth to the decompressed wait-for-the-TPB six part stories that plague comics today.

My top three would be:

1. Amazing 15
2. Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
3. Death of Gwen Stacy

Michael Howey

July 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I called 7 so that’s not bad.

Surely WOSM 38, Spidey on spiked punch should have been in the top three though.

For me, Kraven’s Last Hunt still stands up today better than any Spider-Man story ever written – it was my #1. Having said that I too am a bit surprised it was #1 overall; it will be interesting to see how many first-place votes it got.

Some random thoughts:

I wonder how many readers of Amazing Fantasy didn’t care for that new Spider-Man character and were instead ticked off that the book got cancelled…

Very surprised at seeing the Kraven arc take number one. Even more so, since that story has also been undone. It’s certainly a classic, but no greater than “Master Planner” or “Day Gwen Died” in historical terms.

I’m 100% agreed on Eve K’s analysis of the Gwen ending. It just wouldn’t be the same without that last page. Conway, Kane and Romita delivered something there which transcended comics into something far greater… real life.

As for the Jean DeWolff four-parter, it’s by far the best story of my generation, the 80’s. Equally as grim in mood as the Kraven saga but different on so many levels. The art is superb. (Peter looks like William Shatner in that second panel above.) It’s also one of the best Daredevil stories of all time if you think about it. Peter David was the main reason why I continued to read Marvel comics in the late 80’s after Roger Stern moved over to DC.

Excellent choices, each and every one.

Travis Pelkie

July 1, 2012 at 11:33 pm

@IAM FeAR: Aunt May didn’t get superpowers?

Clearly you’ve never had her wheatcakes then, my friend. Dee-lish!

Issue 31 was also the first appearance of Miles Warren, AKA The Jackal. Issue 31 practically set up the clone saga!

The Jean DeWolff has a subtext that many of its critics seem to miss – Peter had already lost two people who loved him dearly, and managed to stop himself before going too far. In the case of Jean, when he found out about her feelings posthumously, his mind was probably racing, thinking ” I’ve let it happen again!” and something in him snapped. In that way, two of the other stories in the top 5 are instrumental in understanding what happened in this one.

Ed (A Different One)

July 2, 2012 at 7:57 am

Not the order I would have had them in, but, hey, can’t complain.

Thanks Brian for another great coutndown. I really live for these things (though my productivity at work suffers greatly!).

Few parting thoughts:

@Basara – “two of the other stories in the top 5 are instrumental in understanding what happened in this one”. Great observation and a great example, in my mind, of when a storyline uses continuity to its advantage. I don’t know if PAD had that in mind when he was writing Peter during this part of the story, but he’s savy enough of a writer to have been acting on it unconsciously. I dont’ see Peter as being totally out of character here (and, who knows, he may have stopped himself even if DD hadn’t been there), but this was, instead, the portrayal of a very confused and very angry young man who had seem a few of his major assumptions of “how things are” completely overturned in the course of this storyline. I think the storyline adequately explains his actions here – especially when you consider that PP/SM has never been a “one note” character and can act differently during similar situations at different times depending upon motivation and what’s going on in his life. Anyway, this isn’t that different than what he was doing to Norman way-back-when, where he was one split-second away from doing the deed anyway. Like I said, i wouldn’t be surprised if Peter would have backed off in a second or two anyway if DD hadn’t physically intervened . . .

2. This countdown has me resolved to leave my office at lunch and go buy that new collected edition of Death of Jean DeWolffe at my LCS. It’s long overdue . . .

3. I’ll have to go back and read Kraven’s Last Hunt Again. I liked the story OK enough back in the day, but never dreamed it being voted as Spidey’s greatest story by a wide-margin. Time to look at it again and see if my opinion’s changed (it’s been over 20 years since I’ve read it).

Thanks again Brian for putting in the hard work that keeps us entertained and keeps us thinking about comics (even when we should be doing other things!) . . .

Why is it that the reproduced art of the 60’s and early 70’s comes off looking a lot better and superior to the more sophisticated pages from the 80’s and 90’s?

Michael Howey

July 2, 2012 at 8:49 am

I reckon it’s worth mentioning the recolour of Kraven’s last hunt for the collection. I felt it elevated it.

If you count the Power Cosmic as radiation, then Aunt May did get powers when exposed to radiation at least once


This is most notably illustrated in Spider-Man: Reign, in which Spidey’s splooge actually kills Mary Jane. Agh, and that story made the top 50. Go figure.

Anyway, the Master Planner Saga is wonderful. I almost cried in excitement when I saw that part being adapted in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. It was beautiful.

[…] he won, Spider-Man could still be left with a great cliffhanger. One of the most popular stories (recently voted the second most popular Spider-Man story ever, 46 years after it was published) finished with a doozy: With his Aunt May in hospital, dying of […]

[…] he won, Spider-Man could still be left with a great cliffhanger. One of the most popular stories (recently voted the second most popular Spider-Man story ever, 46 years after it was published) finished with a doozy: With his Aunt May in hospital, dying of […]

[…] Spider-Man fought several villains, it would also be an opportunity to feature a solo villain. The legendary wreckage scene from the Master Planner saga could be effective in a story in which Spider-Man’s shell-shocked after being buried alive, […]

Hi I have a question about a the amazing fantasy spyder-man comic book,now this is the question I have the comic book but on the left bottom of it saids marvel an also said NOT FOR RESALE just wondering if this kind of comic book is worth anything before I trow it out,any answers will be appreciated thank you.

Hi I have a question about a the amazing fantasy spyder-man comic book,now this is the question I have the comic book but on the left bottom of it saids marvel an also said NOT FOR RESALE and it just like the 1962 cover has 12 cents the approved code by the comics code A and 15 AUG i mean everything besides NOT FOR RESALE and it does mot have a uear or mothing just what i wrote inhere ,on the back has like 6 super heroes and 7 with spider man standing behing the and it also say a marvel masterwork “SPIDEY”just wondering if this kind of comic book is worth anything before I trow it out,any answers will be appreciated thank you.

I think that if you’re even considering the idea of throwing out a comic book you’re in the wrong place. That is, if you’re not trolling, which is unlikely.

I was suprised to see my favorite comic/comic story arc of all time make it up on number one, thanks so much. Kravens Last Hunt is so effortlessly good! It brings a villain that was admittedly not very compelling in the first place, and just goes all out on him, he is such a good antagonist that I would put him in shakespeare quality, not only that but what the emotions that the characters go through on this and also the brilliant use of foreshoadowing and art direction…I am really at a loss for words on how good this story arc is.

[…] 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 of all time. And each of those tales ended with a death of the spotlighted […]

KLH is not the story I would have picked for number one. That has to go to the death of Gwen Stacy. I read this when I was all of ten, it was moving, but it didn’t really hit me hard until five years later, when, while re-reading it, I saw something I hadn’t paid attention to before. The “Snap!”. That was when it hit me. Spidey had killed her, not the Goblin. Damn, that really messed up my teen life but good!
As far as Amazing Fantasy# 15 goes, it should have been number two. True story…..when I was in the fourth grade, we had to write a book report on our favorite story. Mine was Amazing Fantasy #15. I got a “A” on the report.
God Bless Marvel!


Death of Jean Dewolff is only similar, and less traumatic for Pete than the Death of Gwen Stacy from the point of view of the victim, not from the point of view of the antagonist, who could well be bringing out more anger.

DoJD had an element of betrayal on top of loss, maybe this is what brought out the reaction in Pete.

[…] and true to the character’s roots. We saw these skills on display in “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” which some have deemed the greatest Spider-Man story ever written, as JMD took a newly-married Spider-Man to some pretty dark places while also elevating Kraven to […]

I like this Spider-Man storys.

I agree with most of the list
ITS A SIN “AMERICAN SON” (& ASM ‘the List #1′ its conclusion) arn’t on this List.
It really is sad how overlooked this story is.
“Ultimate Clone Wars” is also A puzzling absentee.

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