O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
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.
Go to the next page for #12-1!
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