Spider-Man. We all know the name. He is, of course, the flagship hero for Marvel Comics, has been since the late 1960s and has recently enjoyed his fifth outing in cinematic form. For many of those out there that watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it would’ve been their first look into the life of a character they may have been aware of, but never really knew about from the comics. Here I present for those who now wish to explore the extended world of Spider-Man, a list of the stories that I feel best encapsulate the ethos of the man Marvel have dubbed “The World’s Greatest Superhero”
Written by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Debuting within the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962 was the origin story of Spider-Man. The tale of how Peter Parker, a teenager at high school gained super human abilities including those of a spider is by now a well-known story. After all how many times have we seen it happen: Boy goes to science fair, spider gets irradiated, spider bites boy, boy becomes Spider-Man. A classic tale.
The story itself is almost the perfect origin story, producing a character that the reader can identify with. It shows Peter Parker at first cashing in on his powers until tragedy befalls his uncle who is killed by a man that Spider-Man could, and should have apprehended during a crime. However, fate decreed Peter Parker’s selfish action should be punished. Thus a life lesson is learned. Not only for the character but for the reader as well.
Due to the cost, finding a readable copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 in today’s market is likely to set you back a couple of thousand dollars, so it’d be more practical for new readers to pick it up in various guises, the best value of which would be Essential Spider-Man Volume 1
If This Be My Destiny
Amazing Spider-Man #31-#33
Written by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Another essential read for the Spider-enthusiast has to be the truly magnificent “If this be my Destiny” arc.
Regarded by many as Steve Ditko’s finest work on Spider-Man, the story itself bridges the gap of high school Peter Parker to college student. A true classic story in every sense of the word, this story arc has it all, and the bar had also been raised with Lee’s writing and Ditko’s artwork.
The tale continues the story of Peter Parker’s daily struggles. Not only does he find himself criticised for the quality of his photography by J.J. Jameson, whilst also dealing with the stressful nature of managing both college studies and rushing into action as Spider-Man, but there’s the added complication of Aunt May’s failing health following a blood transfusion from Peter which inadvertently causes her to suffer from radiation poisoning. There’s also a new master criminal on the scene – one who has in his possession the only serum that could possibly save Aunt May’s life.
Beloved by all Spider-Man fans mainly for the iconic imagery provided by the pencil of Steve Ditko; most notably Amazing Spider-Man #33, where a two page splash brilliantly depicts tension, emotion, desire and determination to succeed in order to get the serum to Doctor Connors (yes, that Doctor Connors) and potentially save Aunt May’s life. The reader is given a glimpse into the psyche of Spider-Man as he verbalises his fears about failure, and reveals the inner turmoil that drives him on.
The cost of obtaining these three issues can now run into the hundreds of dollars range, but as with the origin tale has been reproduced in a number of formats for the new reader. This story is reprinted in Marvel Masterworks #16
How Green Was My Goblin/ The End Of The Green Goblin
Amazing Spider-Man #39-#40
Written by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr
The story-arc that really cemented the Green Goblin’s position as Spider-Man’s arch nemesis is also one that sees Peter Parker’s toughest challenge in his short career as the webbed crime fighter. The age old tale of what to do when your best friend’s dad is also your own worst nightmare.
This story arc is not the only entry in this list for ‘Gobby’ but is certainly the definitive encounter, as the revelations from this arc are the catalyst for what sets the tone in battles between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin until the present day.
The story reveals that the Goblin’s plan is to discover Spider-Man’s secret identity and use that knowledge to expose who Spider-Man really is, ridding him as an obstacle to the Goblin’s plans to rule the New York Crime world. He captures Peter Parker and takes him back to his waterfront base where it’s revealed that the Green Goblin is in fact Norman Osborn.
It is believed by some that the outing of Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin is the reason that Steve Ditko abruptly resigned from the book in 1966 (it is rumoured he wanted the Goblin to be revealed as Ned Leeds), leaving Jazzy John Romita Sr to take over the pencils.
The confrontation between the two in the following issue concludes the storyline and is filled with tension throughout provided by the excellent writing by Lee. As Spider-Man battles to stop the Goblin using his intellect as much as his powers, the issue really demonstrates the conflicted approach that Peter has towards what he perceives what will be his swan song as he’s placed in a no win situation. Knowing that even if he wins the fight and the Goblin is apprehended then his career as Spider-Man is over, and knowing that his enemy has the ultimate victory in knowing his secret identity. I won’t reveal the ending as not to spoil, but this tale is the beginning of all that is to come.
As with all early issues the cost of picking up separate copies can range in the hundreds so why not read this in Marvel Masterworks #16.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Amazing Spider-Man #121
Written By Gerry Conway & Gil Kane
Admit it, you saw this one coming. After-all this is the issue that changed it all. Nothing after the events of Amazing Spider-Man #121 would quite ever feel the same again. It also is the second Green Goblin Story on this list, but what a story. I mean, we’re all used to fanboys today decrying the demise of a beloved character. It’s what the Internet was created for. Well that, and the subject of a well-known Avenue Q song.
Back in 1973, however, the only forums for fan outcry was the letters page. Marvel were inundated with angry fanboys and girls demanding Gwen be somehow brought back to life.
It illustrates just how much power comics and great stories can have over the readers lives, and they don’t come much more powerful that Amazing Spider-Man #121. It is remarkable that Gerry Conway the writer was just 21 when he penned the story and yet the balance of tension and emotion, both anger and pain captured on the page belies his age.
Here, for the first time, a major supporting character had been killed off and even the ambiguity of the circumstances of her death have had fans enraged, angered, lauding and debating for many years. In the corridors of power at Marvel Comics, the blame has been squarely laid at Peter Parker’s feet, although to be fair it was a complete no-win situation
It also really did prove to be a “Turning Point” in the life of Peter Parker, giving him a sense of guilt he’s not felt since way back in Amazing Fantasy #15.
I defy anyone alive and vested in the character not to shed a tear in the beautiful closing of Amazing Spider-Man #122. When a grief stricken and enraged Peter Parker yells at Mary Jane Watson. Telling her to get out and leave him alone before breaking down. It is the scene where MJ Watson becomes elevated from Party girl to something with a little more substance.
Unless you’ve a spare $150-$200 lying around then you’d be better off picking this story up in Marvel Tales #98, #192 and Essential Spider-Man #6
Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut
Amazing Spider-Man #229-#230
Written by Roger Stern & John Romita Jr
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object……..or should that be unshakable obstacle?
This Roger Stern written story gives us the answer. Highly regarded by all Spider-Man fans, it sits firmly in the top five of greatest Spider-Man stories of all time and was also voted by users of ComicBookResources.com to be the second best Roger Stern story ever.
This tale was the first meeting of the two and, though known to X-Men fans, Juggernaut had never thrown down against Spidey. Stern’s tale pits Spider-Man against insurmountable odds in Juggernaut, a villain comparable in size, strength and intelligence to The Hulk.
It shows the character of Spider-Man in that he just doesn’t understand when to just surrender, driven by the determination to never let anyone else down, and his fear of past failures repeating themselves
It feels reminiscent to early Spider-Man stories in the sense that the tone and content are steeped in fun. Yes, the stakes are high (when aren’t they?), but you can sense the trepidation in Spidey’s banter as he throws line after line to keep Juggernaut off guard, or annoyed, preventing him from finishing his quarry off, all the while wondering how he’s going to defeat him.
Spider-Man’s dilemma is fantastically illustrated by Romita Jr that shows Spider-Man’s futility in stopping Juggernaut, who effectively flicks Spidey off his shoulder in the same we’d do to a bug (except Juggernaut uses a building to do it).
Both the issues can be found at fairly reasonable prices on certain auction sites and is also reprinted in Nothing can Stop the Juggernaut TPB
The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
Amazing Spider-Man #248
Written by Roger Stern and pencilled by John Romita Jr
A feel-good story with heart and emotion at its very core from January 1984, this story quite rightly is regarded as an all-time classic tale.
An extra bonus story in this issue after the main story, “The Kid who collects Spider-Man” is unique, as it has no villains, no Spider-fights, no tension, no angst and is set entirely in a young child’s bedroom. It tells the tale of Tim Harrison, a young kid who appears to be Spider-Man’s biggest fan.
Alerted to Tim by a column in the Bugle, Spider-Man decides to pay Tim a visit and spends a few hours with him, explaining how he got his powers, why he became a super-hero and the lessons he learned about power and responsibility. He even reveals his secret identity to Tim at one stage after the boy asks him who he really is. It’s a bittersweet tale as it gives the reader the opportunity to place themselves in the role of Tim, before the sting in the tale is revealed at the very end, where we discover that Tim is dying from a terminal illness and his last wish was to meet Spider-Man and have a conversation with his hero. The emotional aspect of this story has made it an iconic tale with many people naming it among their favourites.
This story was also the inspiration for an episode of the 90’s animated series Spider-Man Cartoon.
Amazing Spider-Man #667-#672
Written By Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos and Stefano Caselli
The one constant that has remained within Spider-Man comics is this: no matter who it is writing the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, they classify him as an everyman. In this arc, every man AND woman is a Spider-Man, including the Mayor: a certain J. Jonah. Jameson!
At some point, we’ve all wanted Spider-powers, right? Well, maybe not Jameson……..the ability to climb walls and swing through the streets. Beats the daily commute doesn’t it?
In this Dan Slott penned story, Spider-Man finds out how it feels to be completely un-unique, and that his old enemy The Jackal has a plan to turn the whole of Manhattan into human spiders, aided by another former foe, The Spider Queen.
The size and scale of this story has made it an epic tale of triumph over adversity in the darkest of times, and the one thing that sets Spider-Man apart in a city filled with Spider-Men, Women and children, is Peter Parker.
As New York City finds itself infested with Spider-People, thanks to genetically altered bed bugs created by The Jackal, Spider-Man finds himself allied with the Avengers, X-Men, New Warriors and The Future Foundation (Fantastic Four), battling to stem the flow, as more and more New Yorkers gain powers and then change into giant spiders, all with the sole purpose of serving the Queen.
Spider-Island is steeped in fun. The dialogue is strong and the plot flows well, with a few twists and turns that keep the readers guessing as to what or who will show up next. It also has Peter questioning himself as to how to stop the city, country and planet being consumed by the Queen’s plans. This story also makes a great jumping on point for any new readers to the series.
And you can pick up the entire run in the Spider-Island TPB
So there you have it. These ‘Magnificent Seven’ stories clearly represent for me, why Spider-Man is a must for any pull list.