Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Here is the master list of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told, as voted on by you the fans back in 2012, for Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary!
50. “The Crime-Master Versus the Green Goblin,” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #26-27
This Stan Lee/Steve Ditko tale was a fascinating two-parter where Spider-Man finds himself in the middle of a war between the mysterious Crime-Master and the Green Goblin. The Crime-Master and the Green Goblin know each other’s secret identity, so they are sort of stuck together. However, the Crime-Master turns on the Green Goblin and tries to take control of the New York mob all by himself.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is sure that Frederick Foswell (the seemingly reformed Daily Bugle reporter who secretly led a double life as a criminal mastermind known as the Big Man) is the Crime-Master, so the whole story is this fascinating game of cat and mouse between the Crime-Master and the Green Goblin and Spider-Man and the Crime-Master and Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and Spider-Man and Foswell (as he tries to no avail to follow Foswell and prove him a crook).
On top of all of that, Spider-Man lost his costume so he has to use a store bought version instead!
This is a thrilling tale by Ditko and Lee with great artwork by Ditko. Here is a glimpse…
The reveal of Foswell’s motivations are especially well-handled.
49. “Flowers for Rhino,” Tangled Web #5-6
The plot of this two-parter by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo is quite simple. It is “Flowers for Algernon” adapted to star the Rhino. Heck, it is right there in the title!
In the tale, Rhino has surgery to increase his intelligence because he has fallen in love with the daughter of a Russian mob leader. The story is utterly charming…
Fegredo’s art is excellent (especially all the little character bits) and Milligan manages to find an ending that varies from “Flowers for Algernon” that is particularly clever.
48. “The Original End of Spider-Man” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #18-19
Reader Lorin Heller’s thoughts on this story were so thorough I figured I’d just let him handle this one…
Ah, a gem. The second-part of the first major continued story in Spidey history. Fresh from running away from the Goblin, our hero’s life is completely in the pits. He continues to be obsessed by May’s health
and the medicine is running out. Jameson (his smile giving the Joker a run for his money) is gloating all over every media outlet he can find; receiving public kudos in the process, Betty won’t talk to Peter and later is spotted on the arm of another guy (first Ned Leeds appearance); and Spider-Man gets rejected while trying to sell his image than his web formula. He encounters the Sandman and runs away from HIM, in a very embarrassing spectacle WITH Jameson on-hand! The only two people who DO believe in Spider-Man end up being two of his least favorite folks: The Human Torch and Flash Thompson. The former tries to call Spider-Man to meet him, and gets stood up. The latter stupidly dresses up in a Spider-Man outfit and gets beat up by crooks. Peter, quite rightly pissed at this chain of events, decides to throw in the towel for the first time (though there will be many more) on the Spider-Man lifestyle.
Ironically, it is Aunt May who gets Peter to get over himself, in a show of personal strength that she won’t display again for YEARS.
Special call-out to the depiction of Jameson. Absolutely hilarious. What’s scary is that J.K. Simmons does a good version of the laughing hyena look in Spider-Man 2. Oh, and the scene with the Sandman coming up behind Peter just as he’s changed! Would make you jump out of your seat if it was live-action. The art and writing combine to excellent effect, and this is yet one more highlight of the Lee-Ditko run.
47. Spider-Man: Reign #1-6
Spider-Man: Reign, writte and drawn by Kaare Andrews, was inspired by Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and puts Spider-Man through a similar scenario. Peter Parker is a widowed old man decades in the future in a dystopic New York run by a fascist mayor who has reduced crime to essentially zero, but by having what amounts to stormtroopers running around the city intimidating everyone. A couple of them rough Peter up (breaking his arm) when he gets involved with them chasing down a “crook.” Eventually, J. Jonah Jameson comes to Peter and convinces him to return to being Spider-Man (Peter agrees, but he is also suffering from hallucinations of his dead wife, his dead Aunt and his dead Uncle). It is not a pretty sight (an old man in his underwear with a mask) but it is enough to inspire a whole new generation of New Yorkers…
Things don’t go smoothly for Spider-Man from here on out, and it is especially painful when we learn how Mary Jane died (eventually, though, Peter finds inspiration from her memory to once again serve the people of New York).
46. “The Horns of the Rhino” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #41-43
This three-part story was very important as the Rhino was the first supervillain created by Stan Lee and John Romita after Steve Ditko left the title. The Rhino had a great visual and he fit well into the Spider-Man Rogues Gallery (a very difficult Rogues Gallery for new villains to break into). However, this storyline also brings back John Jameson, the son of J. Jonah Jameson, and a character who would appear in a number of Marvel Comics over the years. More important than Spider-Man trying to protect John Jameson from the Rhino (and John’s reactions to gaining superpowers from space spores), though, is the way that Lee and Romita re-shape the feel of Peter Parker’s life outside of being Spider-Man. Peter’s relationships with his college classmates had not gone smoothly to this point, but with this storyline, that changes dramatically as Peter and Harry Osborn are now good friends and the somewhat strained relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy turns into the Peter/Gwen that we still know to this day.
Oh, and some minor character also made her first full debut in this issue…
That’s no big deal, though.
The finale of the story has Spidey finally take down the Rhino and is our first real extended exposure to Mary Jane’s personality (and her fondness to just start dancing in the middle of rooms). The Harry/Gwen/Mary Jane/Peter quartet (with Flash thrown in from time to time) became a major focus of the book from this point forward.
45. “Cosmic Spider-Man,” Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160, Web Spider-Man #59-61 and Amazing Spider-Man #327-329
This was less of a traditional crossover and more of an event where all the Spider-Man titles were affected for three months during the Acts of Vengeance storyline. Acts of Vengeance was about a group of super-villains who team up to come up with a plan to take out the world’s heroes. Super-villains will trade opponents and take on heroes who are not prepared for them. Things did well for the villains with Graviton handling Spider-Man easily until Spider-Man gained the power of Captain Universe. However, through a fluke accident, Spider-Man gained the POWERS but not the CONSCIOUSNESS of Captain Universe, so he did not know what was going on, just that he was much more powerful out of nowhere. Things continued like this, even in a fight against the Hulk (in Todd McFarlane’s last issue of Amazing Spider-Man)…
Eventually, Spider-Man realizes the mistake but not before he has to take on the Tri-Sentinel! The creators (Gerry Conway and David Michelinie on the writing side, Alex Saviuk, Keith Williams, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Al Gordon and Andy Mushynsky on the art side) are clearly having a blast putting Spider-Man through the paces as suddenly a Superman-level hero. Plus, in Amazing, there’s a fun little subplot about Flash Thompson’s poor taste in women.
44. “A Death in the Family,” Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Volume 2) #44-47
After a big storyline where Norman Osborn essentially offers to make Peter Parker his heir (Peter eventually turns him down), Osborn was out of the picture. He returns in a big way with “A Death in the Family,” as Paul Jenkins expertly examines the strange relationship that the two men have with each other. Humberto Ramos and Wayne Faucher provide the artwork, which is powerful.
Flash Thompson finds himself in the middle of Peter and Osborn’s battle, with Osborn framing Flash for a drunk driving accident that leaves Peter’s classroom in wreckage and Flash in a coma (and facing criminal charges if/when he recovers).
Green Goblin taunts Spider-Man on television about Gwen Stacy’s death, with the Goblin explaining he never wanted her to die and was in fact trying to save her when Spider-Man foolishly grabbed her with his webbing, which the Goblin argues is what killed her.
But when the Goblin decides he wants to off his own grandson, Peter is forced to possibly cross that line he never wants to cross – to KILL the Goblin…
Powerful stuff. So powerful that Marvel created a new title just for Jenkins and Ramos.
43. “The Conversation,” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 2) #38
In Amazing Spider-Man #35, Aunt May discovered that Peter was Spider-Man. After a 9/11 interlude in #36 and a second interlude in #37 (where she deals with what she just saw) she finally calls Peter and tells them that they have to talk. #38 is an entire issue of just May and Peter discussing his secret. It is powerful work from writer J. Michael Straczysnki and artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna.
Here is a snippet…
The whole issue is strong like that. Possibly the best work Straczynski did on the title he did in this issue.
42. “Doc Ock Wins,” Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1) #53-56
This four-part story was the first Doctor Octopus storyline of the Stan Lee/John Romita era. Mike Esposito inked Romita on all four issues. The story follows Doctor Octopus’ quest for the Nullifier, a device that can stop all mechanical devices (even simple ones like guns) when it blasts them. Before Doc Ock gets to that point, he first causes problems by becoming a boarder at Aunt May’s boarding house!!
Besides the Doc Ock drama, Peter’s love life is getting interesting as Gwen Stacy seems more and more interested in him. They go together on a trip to the museum, courtesy of one of their professors, a kindly man named Dr. Miles Warren who will certainly never make clones of them in the future.
Doctor Octopus finally gets the Nullifier and when he uses it on Spider-Man, a funny thing happens – it takes away Spider-Man’s memory!! Uh oh…
This sets up a dramatic finale as our hero tries to remember that he is, well, you know, our hero!
#57 sort of ties in, as well, as once the Doctor Octopus stuff is over, Spider-Man still doesn’t know who he is. He remembers at the end of the issue.
41. “The Wedding,” Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21
In this story, written by David Michelinie (from a Jim Shooter plot) and drawn by Paul Ryan and Vince Colletta, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson struggle with whether they actually WANT to get married while they also inform their friends and family of their upcoming nuptials.
Peter worries that his life is too dangerous and Mary Jane worries that she is giving up a lot of the glamorous trappings of her life as a model. Eventually, when the time for the ceremony comes, neither Mary Jane nor Peter are there! Mary Jane shows up, though. But no Peter!
40. “I’m With Stupid,” Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5
Written by Dan Slott and drawn by Ty Templeton and four inkers (Nelson, Tom Palmer, Drew Geraci and Greg Adams), this pleasant mini-series tells the story of Spider-Man and Human Torch’s relationship from their first meeting until the present (well, the present as of when the mini-series came out, which was 2004 – a whole lot of things have changed since then).
Templeton’s artwork is great and I loved the way that Slott worked in the various eras in with the story, as Slott sure knows his continuity. The series ends with Johnny Storm learning Peter Parker’s identity as Spider-Man and the two get even closer. This is probably not the BEST scene in the series (especially as you need the next page to REALLY get the full effect, but I just love the “Parker luck” line so much)…
Come on, that’s hilarious!
The whole series was basically filled with great character moments. I’m really pleased that Slott and Templeton got back together for the tribute issue of Amazing Spider-Man when Johnny “died.”
39. “Return of the Burglar,” Amazing Spider-Man #198-200
Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Sal Bucema (#198-199), Keith Pollard (#200) and Jim Mooney, issue #200 is really the issue people voted for, but the storyline is really #198-200 for the full deal. In any event, the Burglar returns, teaming up with Mysterio to gain access to the Parker home because that is where some old gangster buried his treasure. The Burglar and Mysterio faked Aunt May’s death so that they could dig in silence.
So, well, Peter obviously has some real anger towards the Burglar that killed his uncle…
Talk about dramatic! The issue is filled with stuff like that. Really powerful character-driven stuff.
38. “Return of the Sinister Six,” Amazing Spider-Man #334-339
Written by David Michelinie and drawn by Erik Larsen (with inks by Mike Machlan, Terry Austin, Randy Emberlin, Keith Williams and John Romita), this storyline does a great job bringing the Sinister Six back together. Michelinie reasonably understands that Spider-Man fighting six powerful supervillains at once for six issues would be hard to write, so he builds suspense really well for the first four issues, as Spider-Man deals with villains one at a time while Doctor Octopus is building his master plan behind the scenes.
Then, in the penultimate issue, Spider-Man is forced to take on the villains (with a nice dramatic acknowledgement of the severity of the situation)…
Larsen does a great job on this storyline, especially the dramatic full-page attacks between Spider-Man and the various villains (amazing spotlight pages for Electro, Hobgoblin, etc.). The best is probably the climactic fight between Spidey and Doc Ock in the final part (there is this amazing sequence with Ock’s arms wrapped around Spidey).
Go to the next page for #37-25
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