50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories Master List
I was putting together the Greatest Stories Ever Told Master List when I noticed that I never compiled the 50 Greatest Spider-Man Stories poll from last year into a single list. It really doesn’t work to link to ten different lists on the master list, so I figured now was as good a time as any to make a master list of the 50 Greatest Spider-Man stories, as voted on by you readers last year!
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).
37. “To Have and to Hold,” Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1
Written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Salvador Larocca (with digital colors by Paco Roca), this story is a bit of a love letter to the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Set during the time when Peter was a fugitive from the law after revealing his identity to the world, Mary Jane is cornered by a former bodyguard she knew in Los Angeles where they almost had a moment (during a period she and Peter were sort of separated). He is now working for SHIELD and he wants her to turn herself and Peter in. She relates her history with Peter to explain why that won’t be happening (Peter, meanwhile, is talking to a police detective he is friendly with trying to work out a deal where he gives himself up to protect Mary Jane and Aunt May, Gift of the Magi-style)…
One of the best bits in the issue is when Fraction shows us Mary Jane’s thoughts in a particular moment and then returns to that moment later to show us Peter’s thoughts, and almost always they are both thinking that they are screwing things up and wondering what the other one sees in them. It is really great.
Larocca does a nice job on evoking each of the eras the flashbacks are set in. This is a really adorable comic book. Beautiful work all around.
36. “The Commuter Cometh!” Amazing Spider-Man #267
Written by Peter David and drawn by Bob McLeod, this is a hilariously offbeat tale where Spider-Man tracks a crook to Scarsdale, a suburb of New York City.
David milks a lot of great humor from Spider-Man’s “fish out of water” deal in the suburbs…
Just a hilarious approach to a novel idea. McLeod’s art is great, as always.
35. “Down Among the Dead Men”/”Venomous”/”The Last Stand,” Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1-12
We really need a name for Mark Millar’s run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man! It’s 2012! The comic has been out for seven years and it still doesn’t have a name! Yes, the story was split into three four-part stories that each had names, but come on, it was specifically a 12-issue story! It should have a name!
In any event, the series tells the story of Aunt May being kidnapped and Spider-Man being forced to go to some extreme measures to get her back. The early issues of the series involve Spider-Man searching for her with the help of longtime Spider-Man villain, Mac Gargan, who Millar cleverly notes WAS a detective.
As the story goes by, Gargan becomes the new Venom and we learn that the whole story is a complicated plot by Norman Osborn to teach Peter Parker a lesson. It is almost like Norman is trying to go out of his way to torment Peter psychologically, including forcing Spidey to break Osborn out of prison to save Aunt May.
Spidey wrestles with the decision…
One of the themes of the story was power and what one should do with it. Osborn taunts Peter with the idea that Peter could do so much more with his gifts than being just a superhero. Osborn knows that HE wasted his own gifts, but he is a villain, so it is not so bad. Meanwhile, Gargan craves more power.
The Dodsons and Frank Cho do a great job on the artwork for the series (the Dodsons got the first and last story and Cho got the middle arc).
34. “Return of the Sin-Eater,” Spectacular Spider-Man #134-136
One of the themes in “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” Peter David’s classic Spider-Man tale, is the danger of Peter losing control. It was another way to view the responsibility that comes with great power. In the sequel to that story, Peter David masterfully plays with that idea further by showing that Peter’s momentary lapse of reason when he tried to kill Sin-Eater (who is being released from a mental hospital after it was determined that drugs SHIELD had tested on him had caused him to temporarily go insane and now that the drugs are out of his system, he is no longer a menace to society) had a rather permanent effect on the Sin-Eater…
The injuries he caused to Stan Carter (the Sin-Eater) cause Spider-Man to freeze up when he encounters his old foe, Electro, and Spider-Man finds himself dealing with a mental block that won’t let him use his full powers in combat with Electro.
Meanwhile, Stan Carter is still quite insane. He talks with the “Sin-Eater” (a personality he has created in his mind) and he strives to find a way to keep the “Sin-Eater” from killing again. David’s parallel conclusions to Spidey and Electro’s battle and Carter’s battle with “Sin-Eater” are very impressive.
Sal Buscema became the regular penciler on Spectacular Spider-Man with the first issue of this story. He would pencil every Spectacular issue until well past #200.
33. “Venom,” Ultimate Spider-Man #33-38
If you’re planning on seeing the new Spider-Man film series, this story arc by Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley and Art Thibert likely had a major impact on the films you are going to see, as this story reveals that Peter Parker’s parents were working on a “Super-suit” that could possibly cure cancer. They were killed in a mysterious crash and now, years later, the son of the Parkers’ scientist partner, the Brocks, has tracked down Peter Parker and is trying to convince him of their “inheritance”…the suit…
The suit, of course, is essentially the Venom sybmiote. Peter tries it and things go bad. Luckily, Peter is a strong kid and he can control it. But when his jerky former childhood friend, Eddie Brock, who got him into this mess in the first place, tries the suit…well, as Peter’s friend Gwen says after Eddie tries to force himself on her at his dorm, “Eddie is a bad guy.”
This was a powerful arc and the changes to Peter’s origins are almost certainly the influence for similar changes upcoming in Spidey’s origin in the film series.
32. “New Ways to Die,” Amazing Spider-Man #568-573
If “New Ways to Die,” the six-issue storyline by Dan Slott, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson was ONLY about the first meeting between Spider-Man and Norman Osborn since Osborn was given a government position and the leadership reins of the Thunderbolts (putting Norman into the ironic position of being the nominal “good guy” bringing the fugitive Spider-Man to justice) then it would be a cool story…
The idea of Spidey’s greatest foe now working for the LAW?!? That’s a rough situation. However, this story also introduced Venom back into the Spider-Man titles. Venom was one of Osborn’s Thunderbolts. Well, his presence brings out bad things in Venom’s former host, Eddie Brock. Brock becomes a NEW character known as ANTI-VENOM, who has powers that work as the opposite of Venom. When Spidey figures, “Heck, this works out well for me. He can take care of Venom FOR me,” he learns that Anti-Venom is after Spider-Man, TOO, because of the trace elements of the Venom symbiote remaining in Spidey’s system. It is not a painless process. So Spider-Man has his hands very full with bad guys and crazed “Good guys” coming at him from every angle. When you throw in the mysterious Menace, then things REALLY spiral out of control.
This was the first long storyline of the Brand New Day era and Dan Slott knocked it out of the park.
31. “The Spider or the Man?” Amazing Spider-Man #100-102
One of the most interesting things about Stan Lee’s run on Amazing Spider-Man is that it does not end in any sort of traditional sense. #100 seemed to be the end, only he then returned five issues later for another five issues before abruptly leaving in the middle of a storyline about the freakin’ GIBBON.
However, if Amazing Spider-Man #100 HAD been his final issue, what a way to go out! The story (drawn by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia) was a somewhat traditional (but strong) tale of Peter Parker debating if he wanted to continue to be Spider-Man or not. Ultimately, he decides to try a potion to remove his powers. It ends with one of the great Spider-Man cliffhangers of all-time…
Writer Roy Thomas had to follow THAT up and yet he managed to acquit himself well, introducing the classic Marvel character, Morbius the Living Vampire. Morbius was a scientist who accidentally turned himself into a pseduo-vampire. In the storyline, Morbius comes into conflict with Spider-man who just accidentally turned himself into a dude with six arms. Morbius ALSO comes into conflict (as does Spidey) with the Lizard, who was a scientist who…you guessed it…accidentally turned himself into a lizard.
It is a crazy free-for-all drawn extremely well by two comic book legends, Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia.
30. “Learning Curve,” Ultimate Spider-Man #8-12
The second Ultimate Spider-Man story arc, where writer Brian Michael Bendis really took control and began to put very different twists on characters like J. Jonah Jameson, Ben Urich and the Kingpin.
Very nice artwork from Mark Bagley and Art Thibert.
29. “Unscheduled Stop,” Amazing Spider-Man #578-579
Mark Waid and Marcos Martin deliver a tour de force performance in this two-part storyline about Spider-Man trapped underground on a wrecked subway car with a jury who was targeted for death so that some bad guys could delay the trial. Forced to try to find an exit in the subway tunnels, Spidey and the jury find themselves especially pressed for time when the river begins to leak in from above them. One of the jury members, by the way, happens to be J. Jonah Jameson’s DAD!
28. “Spider-Island,” Amazing Spider-Man #667-672 (plus various tie-ins and a prologue in #666 and an epilogue in #673)
The Jackal and the Queen (from the storyline where Spider-Man gained organic webshooters) team-up to give everyone in Manhattan spider-powers through bed bugs. All the heroes in New York come together to stop the bad guys’ plan, but Spider-Man plays a key role as he had been trained for this crisis by Shang-Chi (on the forecasting advice of the new Madame Web) by learning martial arts so that he could beat up people with the same powers of him. However, Peter is having a hard time keeping his identity from his girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, now that she has spider-powers, as well.
Here’s Peter rallying the people of New York…
All this, plus the return of the first Spider-Clone, Kaine! Dan Slott wrote it and Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba drew it (with some assists from Karl Kesel. The epilogue and prologue were drawn by Stefano Caselli.)
27. “Death of Spider-Man,” Ultimate Spider-Man #156-160
Mark Bagley returned to Ultimate Spider-Man to close the series out with writer Brian Michael Bendis and inker Andy Lanning as Spider-Man faces one of his greatest threats yet as the maniacal Green Goblin brings the fight right to Spider-Man’s front doorstep.
Will Spider-Man have to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect those closest to him? Well, the name of the story IS the “Death of Spider-Man,” after all…
26. “The Original Clone Saga,” Amazing Spider-Man #143-149 (plus an epilogue in #150)
The Jackal had been working behind the scenes against Spider-Man for some time now, but with #142 we finally see the Jackal’s end game – he is obsessed with Gwen Stacy and has actually CLONED her! While the story is filled with crazy twists and turns by writer Gerry Conway and artists Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia, especially Peter Parker dealing with the seeming return of his dead girlfriend, the real heart of the story (which was noted by more than a few of the voters) was the way that Conway used the arc to develop the Peter/Mary Jane relationship.
They share their first kiss in #143 (in an amazing sequence by Ross Andru) and in #149, it sure seems like they seal the deal on their relationship status as Conway ends his Amazing Spider-Man run by bookending the scene in Amazing Spider-Man #122 with the end of Amazing Spider-Man #149 (both scenes involve Peter and Mary Jane and they both involve momentous decisions involving doors being closed). Finally, Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane and John Romita give an epilogue to the story in #150.
Here were reader Lorin Heller’s thoughts on the story:
Gerry Conway built up the Jackal as the mystery character for almost two years, and the storyline culminated in the original clone saga. Forget what that ultimately wrought. This original story is just wonderful. Peter and Mary Jane have just appeared to start a romantic relationship, when Gwen Stacy suddenly reappears in his life, unleashing emotional havoc. My favorite issues in this tale are #147 and #148. The fights with the Tarantula, first in New York traffic (including hilarious scene on a bus) and later in a darkened factory are excellent. The nasty planned vengeance of chaining Spider-Man up before tossing him off the bridge was a classic moment. The best moment though goes to the reveal of who the Jackal is, and just how much of a freaking psycho he truly is. “Dear Boy, haven’t I always been your friend?” Brrrrr…..
25. “Confessions,” Ultimate Spider-Man #13
In this delightful issue by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Mark Bagley and Art Thibert, Peter Parker reveals his secret identity to his best friend, Mary Jane Watson….
It is a great payoff for the first year’s worth of stories in Ultimate Spider-Man, as the entire issue is a dialogue between the two friends (and soon to be more than just friends). Aunt May’s role in the issue as the mother worried about two teens alone in a room together “studying” is really well handled by Bendis.
24. “Maximum Carnage,” Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2, Web of Spider-Man #101-103, Amazing Spider-Man #378-380, Spider-Man #35-37 and Spectacular Spider-Man #201-203
On the one hand, this was “just” a massive action-driven epic based on the straightforward concept of the evil Carnage forming a sort of Masters of Evil to terrorize New York, forcing Spider-Man to put together his own motley crew of New York-based heroes (the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were both busy), including his old enemy, Venom.
However, I like to look at it instead as a meditation on the role of “grim and gritty” in the early 1990s comic books, especially in Part 9 (by J.M. DeMatteis) where he examines Spider-Man’s ultimate willingness to let Firestar kill Carnage to end the whole “war.” However…there has to be a line between Spider-Man and Venom, right? Right?
The ending of that story is a real favorite of mine. DeMatteis returns to a character he notably wrote earlier in his career and it is just quite moving. To see such a moment in a massive FOURTEEN-PART crossover is quite remarkable, I think.
23. “The Second Hobgoblin Saga,” Amazing Spider-Man #249-251 (partially), 259-261, 275-277, 279
Tom DeFalco took over Amazing in the middle of the end of the First Hobgoblin Saga by Roger Stern, but soon DeFalco put his own spin on the mysterious Hobgoblin (along with penciler Ron Frenz and inker Joe Rubinstein). One of the ways he did so was by inventing his OWN new mysterious villain, The Rose, and played him off of the Hobgoblin while also setting up a confrontation between the two (which eventually took place in Gang War after DeFalco was off of the book).
Also, a key factor in DeFalco’s take on the Hobgoblin was making a clean separation from the Osborn mythos. DeFalco did that in a three-part arc from #259-261 where the Hobgoblin kidnaps Harry Osborn’s wife, Liz as well as Mary Jane Watson to force Harry to give him more access to Norman Osborn’s secrets.
Spider-Man eventually tracks him down and beats him to a pulp, but Hobgoblin takes advantage of Spidey’s heroism…
Ultimately, the journal Hobgoblin fought so hard for turned out to be useless. He had no more information from Osborn to go on – he had to become his own man. This was evident in his return in #275-277, as the Hobgoblin trained to become better capable of fighting Spider-Man after Spidey beat him so badly in #261.
This arc also brought Flash Thompson into the Hobgoblin fracas, as Flash became everyone’s number one guess as the secret identity of the Hogboblin. Before DeFalco left, he also began to play ANOTHER mysterious super-villain, the Jack O’Lantern off of Hobgoblin. It was a wonderful juggling act by DeFalco that we sadly never saw him finish.
22. “Power and Responsibility,” Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7
One of the best aspects of the re-imagining of Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley and Art Thibert (based on ideas from Bill Jemas) was that by spreading the origin of Spider-Man out over a number of issues, Bendis could really develop Uncle Ben so that by the time that Uncle Ben dies, his death really reverberates…
Remember, Ditko and Lee did not even get a chance to have Uncle Ben actually SAY the “Great Power” line! Bagley’s re-designs of the characters were great. Very fresh. An auspicious beginning to one of the greatest Spider-Man runs of all-time (a run that is still going strong…well…with a different Spider-Man, but still!).
21. “Venom,” Amazing Spider-Man #299-300
In Venom, writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane were able to introduce one of the strongest additions to the Spider-Man Rogues Gallery in quite some time. Twenty-plus years later, Venom has continued to hold a major place in the Spider-Man mythos, only now as a hero.
The establishment of Eddie Brock, disgraced journalist (from the classic Death of Jean DeWolff storyline) as being merged with the alien symbiote, with both of them hungering for vengeance on Spider-Man? That is a great hook. And McFarlane’s visuals for Venom were spectacular. Heck, just look at the introduction…
You knew things were never going to be the same again when you saw THAT cliffhanger!
20. “The Sinister Six,” Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
This classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko epic introduced the Sinister Six, who were formed by Doctor Octopus as a way of slowly wearing Spider-Man down so that Doc Ock can finally take him out himself.
The fascinating aspect of the story is how it is laid out. Short battles between Spidey and each of the members of the Sinister Six (Electro, Mysterio, Kraven, Sandman, Vulture and Doctor Octopus) punctuated by an absolutely stunning full page splash of Spider-Man taking out the villain in question. Like so…
The comic is worth it just for those full-page smashes. Ditko really cut loose on them.
Here’s what my buddy Chris has to say about the issue:
Spider-Man has always lent himself well to the “triumphing against the odds” story, from great stories involving rubble or the Juggernaut to lesser imitations involving Firelord. This is the best of them. Ditko able to take his time illustrating a story and showing his true potential; Peter bereft of his spider powers and ready to give up on the crimefighting life when his six greatest foes team up to kidnap Aunt May and Betty Brant; that pivotal moment when Peter puts on his costume one last time, ready to go down fighting…
19. “No One Dies,” Amazing Spider-Man #655-656
After the death of J. Jonah Jameson’s wife, Marla, Dan Slott and Marcos Martin show Peter Parker’s ruminations on death in the life of a superhero with a brilliant extended dream sequence in the first part…
This is followed by a Quixotic declaration by Spidey that he will not allow anyone else to die…right when a new villain debuts whose whole shtick is killing as many people as possible. As you might imagine, there is quite a conflict there.
Slott has a lot of poignant things to say about death in superhero comics (especially the part about how bad guys are the ones who always get to return) and Marcos Martin is…well…you know, Marcos freakin’ Martin! He’s amazing.
18. “The Death of Captain Stacy,” Amazing Spider-Man #88-90
What began as a standard enough Doctor Octopus tale by Stan Lee and John Romita/Jim Mooney turns into one of the most tragic moments in Spider-Man’s life as Captain Stacy, the heroic father to Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen, sacrifices himself to save a young boy about to be crushed by debris from a Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus fight. Gil Kane just joined the Amazing Spider-Man creative team in #89 before having to deliver a stellar death sequence, with some of Stan Lee’s strongest dialogue from this particular era (the era where Romita was slowly phasing himself off the book and Lee was soon to follow)…
17. “The Owl/Octopus War,” Spectacular Spider-Man #73-79
What began as a battle between the Owl and Doctor Octopus for the control of New York City soon turned into something much more personal to Spider-Man. You see, the Black Cat had returned and she was working with Doctor Octopus. When she spurns him to help Spider-Man, he does not take it well and tries to kill her. He nearly succeeds. Spider-Man then waits by her bedside for the eventual attack by Doc Ock. #78 got a lot of votes by itself for the issue where Peter goes around to his friends and sort of makes peace before what he thinks might be his final battle against Doctor Octopus. Bill Mantlo did great work with Black Cat’s personality as well as the foreboding doom of Doc Ock’s attack. Al Milgrom and Jim Mooney handled the art duties. Here are the striking moments right before Ock attacks…
16. Spider-Man Blue #1-6
Spider-Man: Blue is a love letter from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale to the period where Stan Lee and John Romita changed the dynamic of Amazing Spider-Man into an almost teen romance comic with superhero trappings. The story has Peter dictating an audio letter to Gwen, thinking back to the time that they fell in love for the first time (roughly Amazing #41-47). It is compelling work from Loeb and Sale obviously is having a blast, especially when he draws Gwen and Mary Jane…
This is a heartfelt, touching work with spectacular artwork from Sale.
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).
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!
10. “The Harry Osborn Saga,” Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184, 189-190, 199-200
J.M. DeMatteis began a classic stretch of stories spotlighting the slow descent of Harry Osborn into madness beginning with the Child Within storyline in Spectacular Spider-Man, where we see just how badly emotionally abused Harry was by his father Norman (a few years later, DeMatteis would re-visit this idea in a Spectacular Spider-Man Annual where Spider-Man relives Harry and Norman’s childhoods). Meanwhile, the fact that Harry knew Peter’s secret identity was being used by Harry torment his best friend…now his enemy.
Things seemed to come to a fever pitch in #189…
With Spidey finally saying, in effect, “screw it”…
Harry kept the secret and later, died a heroic death fighting against his own madness (as his body fought against itself). DeMatteis always does exemplary character-driven work, but this character study of Harry Osborn was really top of the line. Sal Buscema did a great job on the artwork.
My pal Chris has this to say about the Harry Osborn Saga:
I like the inherent drama in Peter’s best friend being his worst enemy, as set up by Conway [who first had Harry Osborn become the Green Goblin - BC]. This conflict was best realized here, with Demateiss probing the psyches of the characters involved and Buscema delivering the best storytelling of his career. To me, it comes down to the moment of peak tension, where Harry has everybody sitting down to dinner in Spectacular Spider-Man #189. We see Harry descending into madness, Liz worried, Peter doing his best to calmly eat, Normie enjoying all the fun, and Raxton ready to lose his cool, all perfectly realized by Sal Buscema. I consider this the best modern Spider-Man story; I even think this has already earned its place among the best Spider-Man stories right alongside the classics.
9. “Spider-Man No More!” Amazing Spider-Man #50-52
The majority of the voters voted for just #50, but a goodly amount voted for the whole three-part story, so I’m including the whole thing.
The comic is obviously best known for the opening act, where Peter Parker is driven nearly mad from all the bad press Spider-Man was getting on TOP of all of Peter’s personal problems (like Aunt May being sick…AGAIN). Finally, Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man…
However, the Kingpin of Crime (introduced this story) has taken control and he is ratcheting up the attacks in New York City and after Peter saves the life of an elderly security guard (who bears an uncanny resemblance to an uncle of Peter’s), Peter realizes once again that he has too much responsibility to quit doing good…
This leads to an awesome cliffhanger as Spidey returns and takes the fight to the Kingpin…
This story also saw the introduction of Joe “Robbie” Robertson and the heroic death of Frederic Foswell. It is a Stan Lee/John Romita/Mike Esposito classic.
8. “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,” Amazing Spider-Man #248
People always remember the ending of this one-off tale by Roger Stern, Ron Frenz and Terry Austin, but I don’t think the beginning gets enough credit. Stern comes up with a truly novel approach to telling the story, intercutting the article about Timmy with Spider-Man meeting the boy, in response to the article…
It is a great plot device and Stern uses it really well. Frenz and Austin shine on the artwork and, of course, the character drama at the heart of the tale is quite gripping. Peter sharing time with a young boy who idolizes him gives readers a unique perspective on Spider-Man and what it means, truly, to be a hero. A touching work that is hard to read without getting a bit sentimental about it.
7. “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!” Amazing Spider-Man #229-230
On the other side of things, this two-parter by Roger Stern and artists John Romita Jr. and Jim Mooney spends less time on character development (although Peter’s dogged approach to heroism does play a role) and more on one of the most inventive and well-designed fights in comic book history.
Ever since Stan Lee and Wally Wood put Daredevil through the paces against Namor, one of the hallmarks of the Marvel Universe is putting a David up against a Goliath and watch the underdog, if not pull it off, at least make it far more interesting than it should be.
Here, Spider-Man throws everything and the kitchen sink against Juggernaut, including some really well-designed page layouts by Romita Jr. (as he wrings every little bit of drama that he can out of the tale)…
Such a haunting image for Spidey, but this is Spider-Man, after all…he’ll find a way! But HOW? Read the story!
6. “The Original Hobgoblin Saga,” Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 and Spectacular Spider-Man #85
One of the things that has gone a bit forgotten when it comes to Hobgoblin is the fact that writer Roger Stern made a point of setting it up so that Peter Parker was, once again, sort of responsible for something bad happening. Just like when he let the burglar get away and then his uncle got shot, so, too, did Peter let a crook get away rather than chase him into the sewers.
The result is the petty criminal stumbling on to one of Norman Osborn’s hidden Green Goblin lairs…
Spidey realizes that in the issue in question (that a Goblin lair was discovered by the petty crook), so when the Hobgoblin shows up, Spidey knows that the two things are connected.
What things DO remember about the Hobgoblin is that he had a slightly different approach to villainy than most. He was not crazy, exactly, he just figured that he could use Osborn’s goods to gain power and fortune. He was calculating in a way that most super-villains just aren’t. And come on, how do you beat this introduction by Johns Romita…
The other interesting aspects of the Hobgoblin were his schemes, like when he found information on a bunch of notable businessmen and blackmailed them all together. Plus his quest for power (the Spectacular Spider-Man issue has him finally finding the Goblin Serum, which gave him the powers of the Goblin and not just his gear). Also, John Romita Jr’s great artwork. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was a great mystery as to WHO the Green Goblin was. Looking back, knowing who Stern intended him to be, Stern plays it very fair in just the relatively few issues that the Goblin appeared in during Stern’s run.
Stern would return to the character years later to give it his original reveal.
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.
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.
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.
2. “The Master Planner Saga,” Amazing Spider-Man #30-33
What is fascinating to me about this Stan Lee/Steve Ditko classic three-parter is that the finale (the “Final Chapter,” as it were) is so legendary that the first part is somewhat overlooked, which is only, you know, THE INTRODUCTION OF GWEN STACY AND HARRY OSBORN!
Think about that – the intro of two major characters and it is not even a blip when you think of this story, THAT is how powerful the sequence in #33 is, where Spider-Man is trapped under a bunch of rubble in an underwater base that is taking on water, trapped just feet away from an isotope that can save Peter’s Aunt May’s life (a life that is in danger because of a blood transfusion she received from Peter). Talk about drama!
And then, Ditko just goes all nuts on us and gives us a defining series of pages that tons of artists have homaged ever since…
Chris Nowlin had this to say about it:
Given the lesson about responsibility learned in his first appearance, the natural question which follows– which to me is the core of the Spider-Man series– is one of how to balance conflicting responsibilities. Peter has decided to feel responsible for not only his own problems, but everybody else’s as well. What do you do when the weight of responsibility threatens to crush you? Nothing brings this point home more than this story, a perfect ending for the story begun in Amazing Fantasy. Peter is starting college, has a chance to make new friends (such as Harry and Gwen). But his aunt is sick. His responsibilities as a student, his social responsibilities to his nearly-friends, his financial responsibilities, his responsibilities to his aunt… this is enough to overwhelm him even before you consider Dr. Octopus. And then the metaphorical ceiling which seems to be crushing down becomes a literal
ceiling, as a subway station comes crashing down on his head.
1. “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132 and Web of Spider-Man #31-32
For a story that was originally going to star Batman and the Joker (see this Comic Book Legends Revealed installment for more information), this sure did turn out to be a great Spider-Man story, huh?
First off, the very NOTION of one writer (John Marc DeMatteis) and one art team (Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod) taking over all three Spider-Man titles for two months to tell a six-part epic was, in and of itself, pretty revolutionary.
But DeMatteis’ idea of taking a fairly typical (by that point in time) Spider-Man villain, such as Kraven the Hunter, and then having him take his fight with Spider-Man to a whole new level (a level Spidey is clearly not prepared for) was a shocking idea…
Kraven then dresses as Spider-Man and “bests” him at that, too (well, in Kraven’s mind, as well). Meanwhile, Spider-Man is buried alive. His love for Mary Jane, though, pulls him through, in a brilliant sequence…
That’s already a ton of awesomeness, and we haven’t even gotten to the confrontation between Kraven and Spider-Man that follows!
A breathtaking piece of work that inspired countless imitations by other writers over the years. And, according to you folks, the greatest Spider-Man story ever told.
That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let us know!