Aug 31, 2012

Top 25 Spider-Man Stories of All Time!

So over here on the Cube, I do my fair share of lists. But sharp readers may note that while I may do "most influential" lists or "things they could do" lists, I rarely ever do "best of" or "favorite" lists. My reasoning for that is simple: I haven't read everything, and my favorites vary on my moods.

But Spider-Man is 50 this month, and to close August out, I've made an exception. A couple of months ago, Back Issue Ben put out the call to some fans, and people voted on the best Spidey stories ever. Since we're a diverse group of fans old and new, some results were interesting. (For example, most guys under 25 voted for a bunch of Ultimate stuff.) Ben tabulated the votes, and here they are.

Art by Joe Jusko

The contributors to this piece are Jeremy Harrison, Danry Ocampo, Edrick Tan, Miguel Acabado, and, of course, me and Ben.

So let's get to it. (Needless to say, spoilers abound.)
25. Return of the Green Goblin (1 first place vote)
Peter Parker: Spider-Man(vol. 2) #44–47
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Humberto Ramos, Wayne Faucher
Editor: Axel Alonso

Jeremy: It's Norman vs. Peter Parker. Sure, this has been done a lot of times, but Norman really lays it on thick in these issues. J, Jonah Jameson has always been anti-Spider-man, but Norman attacks both of Peter's lives in order for him to reach his lowest level yet: getting Peter to think about killing him (Norman) for all the wrong he's done in this world, making it so that Peter would be more like Norman Osborn. A killer!

And it almost worked too. But at the last second, Peter backs out of it. I feel funny that Peter and Norman had a little heart-to-heart about pushing Peter to his lowest point and Norman admitting he always liked Peter better then his own son, Harry. The scene is very much akin to the one in THE KILLING JOKE, when the Joker tells Batman that joke and they both have a good laugh. It feels like that — both somehow creepy and necessary.

Beyond that, this issue imparted to me a truth about Spider-man, something that I had not realized before this story, and that is that no matter how bad things got for Peter, he will always try to look on the bright side of life. And that if Peter ever killed, even if he was totally justified in doing so, all he would be is a killer, which would fundamentally change the character in a way. (There are fans that still cry over the fact that he accidentially hit his wife, not to mention those fans that still can't get over that he made a certain devil deal.) Spider-man is a very light character in a very dark world, and yes, he loses faith sometimes, but when all is said and done, you can count on Peter to keep smiling and to keep on trucking. And that's why I like these issues of Spider-man!

Edrick: When it comes to Spider-Man comics, the more character-focused stories centering on Peter Parker are usually the ones that grab me, become timeless in my mind, and eventually turn into all-time faves. The fact that "Return of the Goblin"/"A Death in the Family" features my favorite Green Goblin vs. Spider-Man battle and the profoundly accurate character work between the two arch-enemies are the reasons I love this book so much and ranked it my #1.

In the story, Norman Osborn goes all-out in forcibly compelling Peter to become his heir apparent, striking the way only an arch-nemesis would: at those closest and dearest to Parker until Peter would see things Norman’s way. Green Goblin even goes as far as blaming Spider-Man for the death of Gwen and broadcasts these sentiments to the world. This is a story that hits home hard for Peter, and it all came down to the inevitable showdown between the two. We know that Pete would eventually win in the end, but what makes this one so compelling is the picture-perfect execution of how Spider-Man beats the Goblin so decisively and in a way that’s never been done before. Humberto Ramos’ exaggerated cartoony, manga-infused style somehow became more poignant when contrasted with this grim Spidey tale and the overall effect was an oddly seamless fit for this tale. (Also, those who have read a significant portion of Jenkins’ Spidey run would also notice that he must be a big Alan Moore fan: Jenkins’ first arc in WEBSPINNERS pays homage somewhat to WATCHMEN while here, it harkens to THE KILLING JOKE towards the climax).

Growing up, it wasn’t hard to figure why I gravitated toward Spidey comics as he is the best character in comics and probably in all of fiction for me. Yet, it was only after I read Jenkins' PETER PARKER as a wee lad did the man behind the mask become my personal favorite character. PETER PARKER #44-47 is the highwater mark in Jenkins' 5-year Spider-Man run and a primary reason why the guy remains my sentimental fave Spidey writer (even if he is far from being the best).

24. Venom
Amazing Spider-Man #300
Writer: David Michelinie
Artists: Todd McFarlane
Editor: Jim Salicrup

Duy: I have no idea who voted for this story, but whoever it was doesn't seem to want to speak up and say something about it, so I'm taking it. This story marks the first appearance of Venom, known better to most casual comic book fans as "the big evil Spider-Man." I didn't actually get to read it until after I'd already read a bunch of Venom stories, but it's easy to see from this why Venom had such an immediate impact: he's such a great visual, and Todd McFarlane drew him so creepily, with just the right air of menace. Venom proved to be a limited character in the long run, but for this, his first story, he was the perfect villain for a Spider-Man anniversary issue: he had everything Spider-Man had, but he was bigger, stronger, and more ruthless, and, to top it all off, he didn't set off Spider-Man's spider-sense. On some level, the whole backstory — Eddie Brock, his vendetta against Spider-Man, everything — didn't seem to matter. The appeal of the tale was the primal duality of a man and his dark side.

To add to that, not only was this the first truly notable thing in what would be Todd McFarlane's legendary run as a Spider-Man artist, but it would also usher in the return of the classic costume, after years of being an alternate costume at best. The visual look of Spidey changed (bigger eyes, spaghetti webs), and it was this story that put it on the map.

23. The Petrified Tablet Saga
Amazing Spider-Man #68-74
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Romita, Jim Mooney
Editor: Stan Lee

Ben: The Petrified Tablet Saga is a hidden gem in the history of Spider-Man. Stuck in between the early Romita years, and the Death of Captain Stacy and drug issues, it gets unfairly overlooked. Well, I say thee nay! This was classic Spider-Man drama at its best, battling Silvermane and the mob like he had so many times beofore and since. As a kid, I was always drawn to the colorful supervillains, but these stories of Spider-Man against organized crime represented some of his most classic clashes, with good reason, as you could make the argument that the series really initially took off when Spider-Man was stuck in between the Crime Master and the Green Goblin back in the Steve Ditko days. That's what made Spider-Man so great. Not only did he have the wacky costumed crooks, but he also fought the kind of crime that us in the real world know all too well. Do yourself a favor: track down this story and read it, you won't be disappointed.

22. The Death of Captain Stacy
Amazing Spider-Man #89-90
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Gil Kane, John Romita
Editor: Stan Lee

Ben: Spider-Man never realized just how great Captain Stacy was, until it was too late. Sure, he knew he was supportive and wise, plus he always seemed pleased that Peter was dating his daughter. He was always Peter's biggest ally, working to come up with a solid cover for his Spider-Man complications. This was because he knew Peter was Spidey, and yet he never said anything. Not until the end, after being crushed by debris from Doc Ock's arms, when he made Peter promise to take care of Gwen with his dying breath. A great guy, a great ally, a great father figure. Gone too soon.

Duy: As much as I loved The Amazing Spider-Man movie, this was the one moment that just took me out of it — Captain Stacy would never ask Peter to stay away from Gwendolyn; not only did I think it didn't make sense in the context of the movie, but it's such a radical departure from his comic counterpart that I thought "That would never happen!" (Then again it's probably gonna lead to Peter breaking the promise and Gwen dying, so it's all good.)

21. Return of the Sinister Six
Amazing Spider-Man #334-339
Writer: David Michelinie
Artists: Erik Larsen, Terry Austin, Mike Machlan
Editor: Jim Salicrup

Duy: I didn't vote for this either, but I have no idea who did and someone's gotta write about it! So, "Return of the Sinister Six" is pretty interesting because it's the first time (much to my surprise) that the Sinister Six — Dr. Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Electro, Vulture, and, in Kraven's absence, the second Hobgoblin — got together since the first time in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1, which was out in 1964, marking a near 30-year gap between the original formation and when the band got back together! (Things that happened in the world during that time: the Cold War ended, America pulled out of Vietnam, Nixon was impeached, the Philippines went through martial law, Michael Jordan won three dunk titles, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird dominated the NBA, I was born, Hulk Hogan slammed Andre the Giant, Mario hit a ton of bricks, and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out came out on Nintendo.) And it was a good indication, in many ways, of how good Spidey's world was, and how much things had evolved. Aunt May had a new beau, Nathan Lubensky, who was on his deathbed. Sandman had reformed, and was being coerced by Doc Ock to work for him. Peter and Mary Jane Watson were married, and MJ had her own drama to deal with. Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, was dating Flash Thompson. This was a good story that hit the right notes and showcased what was special about Spidey's world. I can see why people voted it in.

Plus, it has Electro with his starfish mask. The starfish mask is always awesome.

20. Death of Spider-Man (1 first place vote)
Ultimate Spider-Man #156-160
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning
Editor: Mark Paniccia

Jeremy: First, let me just say this: it has nothing to do with the story itself, but rather what the story meant to the Ultimate Universe and to Marvel in general. Marvel had tried before to revamp the the Ultimate Universe with stories such as ULTIMATUM and ULTIMATE WAR and maybe a couple of others, and those events failed because it's no different from what Marvel does in its regular universe, known as the 616. I can guarentee you, we all looked upon those stories and said, "How long is this going to last?" We all felt that Wolverine is going to come back, the Fantastic Four is going to get back together somehow — we as the comic book audience have just become too darn cynical.

But when Peter Parker died, it was a whole new kettle of fish. And we're not even talking about the REAL Peter Parker, (If you grew up with the Ultimate version and to you that's the real one, good for you, but for me, the real one is sitting over in the 616 universe, very much alive and not a Skrull). Even people who weren't fans of the 1610 universe (that's the Ultimate universe number) came over to check out those comics to see what was happening in them. We were all curious.

Marvel had said again again that the Ultimate universe was where they could tell stories they couldn't do in the regular universe, and nobody really took it seriously. Some of us that did thought either "Great!" or "Knowing Marvel, that could lead to some real mess." But they did it. Sadly, the people who thought the stories were great was really few in number. The future of the Ultimate Universe became uncertain. They needed a move, and fast! An unlikely rumor was spread that a nerdy black man was going to be the next Peter Parker in the remake movies. Today we know these rumors were untrue, but it got Brian Michael Bendis thinking, "Wouldn't it be cool to have an African-American Hispanic be Spider-man?"

Soon, a plot to murder 1610 Parker was devised, and a new character would come into the fold: Miles Morales, a 13-year-old boy who would gain the powers of the genetically engineered spider. Almost instantaneously, the internet almost broke in two. Nobody liked the idea of Peter Parker getting replaced by some new upstart, and nobody thought this story would be done — EVER!!! But it was. And remember, this isn't even the real Peter Parker that Marvel has made its bread and butter on through so many cartoons and failed made-for-tv movies. This was a copy. Yes, a copy that gave breath to the Ultimate universe and with his death, finally gave change and a sense of realism that stories in the 1610 could be different from the classic 616 storylines. Nobody really cared when the 1610 Cyclops, Wolverine, Janet Pym, Professor Xavier died or when the 1610 Reed Richards went evil or all the other changes that happened in the 1610 Universe. But one 16-year-old boy who wasn't assoicated with any famous team dies, and everybody cares! I think this speaks to how great Peter Parker is as a character. Stan Lee and Steve Dikto put some magic in that old magician's hat (or on that script) that touched us all, and it shows right there with his death (even if it's not the "real" one) we care about the well-being of Peter Parker. And for that reason, I think ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #160 should be on this list.

Miguel: I didn't think Marvel would do it. I thought they would just kill Spider-man, not Peter Parker. But they did. Before this storyline started, I was excited because Mark Bagley, my favorite, was returning for a major story arc, and while I enjoyed this storyline, I was just very sad that Peter Parker died. His last words were very striking, and the last scene with Norman Osborn was scary. This was the only ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN story that almost made me cry (until SPIDER-MEN #4 came out).

Duy: I didn't even read this book, but can I just say that I think it was absolutely genius to do this? The moment Ultimate Peter graduated from high school, the closer he got to 616 Peter. How could you keep the concept of a teenage outcast intact when your main character is aging, while still keeping the linear narrative? Replace the character. It was a good risk. It was one worth taking. And it gave me this cartoon by Richard Pace. Which is cool.

19. Power and Responsibility (1 first place vote)
Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley, Art Thibert
Editor: Ralph Macchio

Miguel: I discovered Ultimate Spider-Man during the summer of 2001. I was 12 years old then, and I thought "Another Spider-series? The adjective is new. But I think this is the same as AMAZING, SPECTACULAR, and PETER PARKER." I was wrong. The Spider-man here is younger, and my favorite Spider-man artist of all time (Mark Bagley) was drawing it, so I became interested. However, I only picked up my first issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN around Christmas 2002. That was issue 30. I fell in love with the series instantly because most of the stories told were character-driven. I missed the first three storylines of the title. Good thing I was able to pick up the trade a year ago, but I think it's such a shame that I, a big Ultimate Spider-man fan, only read this story in its entirety recently.

This storyline has a lot to offer for new and old readers. It gave a fresh take on the origin of Spider-man and a lot of emotional moments, from Peter talking back to Uncle Ben to the death of Uncle Ben. The first fight between the Green Goblin and Spider-man is also cool. I like the idea of having Norman Osborn responsible for the origin of Spider-man. I think it justifies the reason that they are eternal enemies.

Duy: For those of you who can't read Silver Age stuff because of the dated storytelling, this is probably the best retelling of the origin, updates and all, that you'll find anywhere. That includes both movies.

18. Clone Saga
Amazing Spider-Man #144-150
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artists: Ross Andru, Mike Esposito
Editor: Len Wein, Marv Wolfman

Duy: Ah, this one I might have voted for. Maybe. I don't know. We voted like a month ago, and I can't remember what I had for breakfast today. But I did recently reread this, via my 1995 TPB, which — by the way — you all should really take the time to read, because it will really make you appreciate how far TPB packaging has come since. No, Marvel, I knew that they came in individual issues, there was no need to black out all the "next issue" blurbs and take away all the titles for each issue and reink certain things...

Anyway, the Clone Saga is great stuff. Conway, better known for one other Spider-Man story, really captured Spidey and his cast. So in this story, Gwen Stacy, dead for two years in real time, just shows up at Peter's door, just after Peter and Mary Jane Watson have their first kiss EVER! And as it turns out, this new Gwen's a clone, whose last memories are from before her death. And that's basically the theme running through the entire book — Gwen's stuck in a period when Peter was madly in love with her, while Peter had already moved on with his life and started developing feelings for someone else. How important are your memories? How much should you let them dictate your life? How much power do you let them have over you? Should you even let them have any? For all the genetic duplicates, all the punching, and even the fact that this contains the last appearance of the Spider-Mobile, that's what this story was about: memory, moving on, and sentiment. It was meaningful.

Oh, there's a Spider-Clone too, which leads into the infamous 90s Clone Saga, and that's a great fun issue where Spider-Man fights himself, but really, it's all the emotional stuff that makes this story great.

Side note to this one: Gerry Conway came up with the idea of the Gwen clone because they started getting a lot of hate mail and bad reactions to Gwen's death, to the point that Stan Lee actually got heckled during a talk at a university. Stan ordered Gerry to bring Gwen back, but Gerry wanted to do it in such a way where her death still meant something. Ah, how times have changed.

Other side note to this one: Conway loved doing comic relief moments, where a sequence would just focus on a bystander and their humorous reactions to a villain's doings. I thought that was interesting, as I'd always considered that to be a pretty "modern" kind of humor — poking fun at convention.

17. The Death of Jean DeWolff
Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Rick Buckler, Kyle Baker, Brett Breeding

Ben: Spider-Man could be one of the most depressing comics on the shelf, if it weren’t for his wisecracking and the overall lighter tone of the books. He has been surrounded by death for most of his publishing history. Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, Norman Osborn, Aunt May (always on the verge of keeling over), and in this story, Jean DeWolff. While Uncle Ben’s death was integral to the origin of the character, and most of the others were because of their association with Spider-Man (I refuse to acknowledge any other motivations for the death of Gwen), the death of Jean DeWolff seemed much more random and senseless, as violence tends to be in real life (I refuse to acknowledge the sequel to this story).

This is a heavy story, one of those precursors to a more “sophisticated” take on superhero comics. The tragedy being that this young, attractive, female police Captain actually had a crush on Spider-Man, and that’s why she proved to be such a valuable ally over the years. Sin Eater was also a precursor to a antagonist that played for keeps, and the discussions about his mental state and ultimate responsibility for his actions was not a common exploration at the time. This is one of those rare times when Spider-Man gets serious, and really cuts loose, which is a refreshing contrast to his normal joking ways (when used sparingly). Daredevil is the one that has to bring him back from the brink this time, and it’s a major progression in their friendship as characters. This story is also notable for being the first professional comic work for Peter David, which isn’t a bad way to debut in the business.

16. Ultimate Clone Saga
Ultimate Spider-Man #97-104
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley, Drew Hennessy, John Dell
Editor: Ralph Macchio

Miguel: This storyline came out during my freshman year in college, 2006, and comic books were pretty expensive for me. I remember sacrificing my snack money in order to follow USM on a monthly basis! I was pretty nervous when the storyline started: Peter and Kitty having problems with their relationship, Peter seeing a clone of himself in a Scorpion suit, and MJ getting kidnapped. I thought it'd be like the 616 Clone Saga, but I was wrong. After 3 issues, I could really feel the suspense and the excitement of the storyline. There was a very Scarlet Spider-like Spider-woman and a black scientist called Ben Reilly, which was okay. (I was looking forward to an Ultimate Scarlet Spider/Ben Reilly but my wish was not granted.) Anyway, I can say this is my favorite USM storyline of all time because it pretty much has everything — you hardly even notice that Peter's only in costume for two issues (97-98)! This Clone saga is pretty much better than the 616 Clone Saga. Hands down.

15. Superman vs Spider-Man
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artists: Ross Andru, Neal Adams, John Romita, Dick Giordano, Terry Austin

Danry: SUPERMAN VS. SPIDER-MAN is one of my favorite team-ups. Aside from wonderful drawings from Ross Andru, Gerry Conway makes the story complete by also adding Doctor Octopus and Lex Luthor to the mix. The inevitable fight scene is interesting: Spider-man gets a jolt of red sun radiation from Lex that makes him as powerful as Superman. Spider-man finally gives up when he gets a pair of broken hands from punching Superman. They work together and finally beat the villains in space. The characters in this comic were very spot-on, as if they really coexisted in the same universe. This also marks the first successful DC and Marvel crossover that mattered to both companies and fans. It is very rereadable and an enjoyable reread at that.

Duy: You know what makes this a great Spider-Man story? The fact that Superman does all the work. Seriously, read the book and look at it. Superman does all the work. He wins the fight with Spider-Man, he impresses the African tribe who wouldn't pay attention to Spider-Man, and he stops the tidal wave while Spider-Man gets caught by Ock and Lex and has to convince Ock to turn on Lex. Even in their civilian identities, Clark may not be on his boss Morgan Edge's good side, but that's nothing compared to JJJ jumping over his table to strangle Peter. And you know what? That's great. Spidey trying to keep up with Superman, his quips, his fallibility, his much-vaunted relatabilty at the end of it all stood out in such sharp relief against the Man of Steel's calm, collected perfection. Even though Superman does all the work in the story, it's actually Spider-Man who keeps the reader grounded with his humanity, both seriously and comically, that I'd say it's Spider-Man who does all the work when it comes to carrying the story and making it entertaining.

And I didn't vote for this, but I should have. It just slipped my mind. And that seems to be this story's legacy — it's the great Spider-Man story no one really remembers, despite being incredibly high-profile.

14. Learning Curve
Ultimate Spider-Man #8-13
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley, Art Thibert
Editor: Ralph Macchio

Miguel: This is Ultimate Spidey's second adventure, in which he must stop the Kingpin of Crime. I gotta give it to Bendis. He writes great Kingpin stories (Warriors and Ultimate Knights), and he writes funny dialogue when it comes to Spider-man. This storyline has a lot of twists, including the unmasking of Spider-man by the Kingpin, which was never done in the 616 universe. And at the end of the storyline, the most shocking twist of all: Peter's revelation of his secret identity to MJ. I think it was executed very well and was very relatable for a young adult like me back then. This storyline features a lot of drama, action, and romance, and I think this is one of the strongest Spider-Man tales of all time.

Duy: "You are so fat that when you cut yourself shaving, marshmallow fluff comes out." Good enough for me!

13. Spider-Man: No More
Amazing Spider-Man #50
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Romita, Mickey Dimeo
Editor: Stan Lee

Jeremy: "Spider-Man: No More" is just exactly what you think it's about. Peter Parker gives up his costume and decides to become Peter Parker full-time, much to his skinflint boss JJJ's delight. Jonah is happy that he finally won his imaginary war against Spider-man, and in fact, he did win. Peter was tired of the strain his dual personality was causing him. The bulk of New York citizens believed that he was a meance and just wanted him gone. Peter in this issue finally says to New York. "Fine! You believe me to be a menace after all I go through to protect you guys. Let's see how you do without me." Unfortunately, without Spider-man, street crime goes way up and the citizens who once took Spider-man for granted notice this and wish him to come back. The people of New York, even the superheroes, begin to miss him dearly. This issue speaks to all the good Spider-man does in his own world and the evils that only he can take care of! Not the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, but Spider-man himself.

Peter does not realize this himself until he comes across a mugging of an old man. Remembering his dearly departed Uncle Ben, who left this earth too soon because he failed to act, Peter Parker springs into action and rescues the stranger, but upon closer observation the man, this person who was about to be a victim and have his life end much sooner then it should have, very much resembled his Uncle Ben. That's when it hit Peter that he had a moral obligation to use his powers for the good of mankind. Everybody was somebody's Uncle Ben or Aunt May, and if he didn't act, some other 15-year-old kid would have to go without their father and/or mother figure and feel all the pain and loss that he did. Moreover, Spider-man also realized that if he ever forsook his duty as Spider-man ever again, then he would be no better than he was when he first started out and let that robber get away like he did all those years ago. So with a renewed conviction, Peter thanked the stranger who looked like his late uncle and swung off into the sunset, realizing that Spider-man has a place in this world and is very much needed. And John Romita Sr. gave the world this iconic image.

12. I’m With Stupid
Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ty Templeton, Nelson Palmer, Drew Geraci
Editor: Tom Brevoort

Ben: I need only one word to describe this series, and that is “fun.” I mean that as a complete compliment too. A lot of people like to downplay the word fun as something lesser, popcorn entertainment, but I say, shouldn’t every comic we read be fun? Even if it’s full of dark themes and violent action, shouldn’t we have fun reading it? I loved this series when it came out, because it stood in stark contrast to the main Spider-Man titles, especially AMAZING by JMS. I was not a fan of JMS’ run on the book, and his somber, “mature” take on the characters was soul-crushing for me. So a retro mini that took Spider-Man back through all the great eras in his storied history was a fantastic idea. The “Coffee Bean” era, the Spider-Mobile, and Black Cat romance era all took me back to a time when Spider-Man was a joy to read, and not the weighted down melodramatic soap opera it was at the time. This also marked the beginning of Dan Slott as a Spider-Man writer, and I remember wishing he would get his chance at the main book at some point. You can imagine my joy when he was named as one of the writers in the Brand New Day era, and I always thought his issues were superior to the rest. Eventually, he got the main gig, and has been hitting home runs ever since. Not to be outdone, Ty Templeton turned in some wonderful art for this series, that matched the tone perfectly. (I own one of the original art pages.) Look, if you want to actually enjoy yourself while reading a comic, and not feel like you want to commit suicide after reading it, then get this one. They even make a gag out of the Hostess Fruit Pie ads.

11. Spider-Man vs. Wolverine
Writer: Jim Owlsley
Artists: Mark Bright, Al Williamson
Editor: Ann Nocenti

Danry: SPIDER-MAN VS. WOLVERINE holds a special place in my comic book collection. Back Issue Ben often mentioned this as one of his favorites on our Spider-Man discussions at the ICS. I got it as a premium back issue on sale, and after reading it, I instantly became a Spider-man fan and was eager to read more. This is a one-shot and follow-ups (if you’re interested) are available in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #289 and WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #29.

It’s a well-written and well-drawn Spider-man and Wolverine team up. We start out with a brief introduction of Charlemagne as Wolverine is saving her and Peter wants to quit being Spider-man. Ned Leeds and Pete go to Berlin on assignment and find out more on Charlemagne. Wolverine warns Peter about how dangerous it is and to leave as soon as possible. Ned Leeds is soon found dead, and the Spidey/ Wolverine team up is off to rocky start. Wolverine stabs Charlemagne to save her from her enemies, but this is seen by Spider-man as an act of murder. This physical and moral fight eventually reaches a truly shocking conclusion. Just like watching a good movie.

10. Crime Master vs The Green Goblin
Amazing Spider-Man #23, 26-27
Writer: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Artist: Steve Ditko
Editor: Stan Lee

Duy: I've said this here before, but in the entirety of the Lee/Ditko run, this is the turning point, the story that kicks it into high gear. It's the moment where you realize the comic you're reading was written in the 1960s because it just grabs you, and it's the first time that Spidey just really gets caught up in events that he can't figure out, but somehow he has to get out of. It's a gripping story that holds up 50 years later. Oh, and I actually voted for this. Yay!

9. No One Dies
Amazing Spider-Man #655-656
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Marcos Martin
Editor: Steve Wacker

Duy: Ready for some hyperbole-but-not-really? All right, here goes: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #655 was the best single issue of 2011. And when any comic featuring a particular character is the best comic of any year, it should probably make that character's top 10 list, yes? Okay, good.

This story comes in the wake of Marla Jameson's death. While JJJ's wife wasn't a major character by any means, she still had enough history with Peter for it to hit him hard — so hard that he considers it the final straw and makes a vow that takes his already Sisyphian "I can't let people die" mentality to another level. This time, no one dies.

But what really made #655 so good was the storytelling by Slott and Martin. The first half of the issue is completely silent, with WATCHMEN-esque cues to signal scene transitions (this is one of the best ways to use that technique), and focused on Marla's funeral. Later that night, Peter dreams, and the controlled, rectangular, regulated panels are replaced with spiraling panels and Escher-type spreads. The effect is mind-blowing. It's a comic I'll never forget reading.

ASM #656 concludes this two-part saga, and features Peter's first adventure with that newfound resolve. But it is #655 that truly shines. It was the best single issue of 2011, and I would put it up on any "best of comics" list out there.

8. The Hobgoblin Saga
Amazing #238-239, 244-245, 249-251, Spectacular Spider-Man #85 (Primarily)
Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: John Romita Jr, Ron Frenz, Dan Green, Klaus Janson
Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Duy: When you look at the history of Spider-Man, it seems that they really hit a lull after Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn died in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121-122, and Spidey seemed to be in some sort of narrative limbo after that. It seemed that in the larger saga of Spider-Man's life, "The Clone Saga," where he and Mary Jane finally get together, seemed to be a good denouement, a perfect way to end it if you wanted a satisfying narrative with a conclusion instead of an ongoing soap opera. This isn't to say that his stories were bad afterwards; it's just that they seemed to be more "by the numbers." And a big part of the reason for that is that there really was no threat like the Green Goblin, a villain who just knew everything about Spider-Man and could punish him through his loved ones, and, more, was completely insane.

And that's where Roger Stern came in, turning that entire concept around. Spidey lets a burglar get away, thinking he can't cause much trouble (sound familiar?), but the burglar finds one of the Green Goblin's old hideouts and sells the information to a mystery man, who then takes the technology and uses it to become the Hobgoblin. Unlike Norman, this new villain was cool and calculating, and instead of knowing who Spider-Man was, Spider-Man simply didn't know who he was, and had no way of finding out. Although Stern was taken off the book before he was able to resolve the mystery of the Hobgoblin, this inverting of the classic dynamic really breathed new life into the webhead, and got him running again.

(Side note: In this time period, Spidey's love interest was Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Instead of Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson, who loved Peter but didn't know he was Spider-Man, the Black Cat loved Spider-Man and wanted to pretend Peter Parker didn't exist! Ah, what an era.)

7. Spider-Island (1 first place vote)
Amazing Spider-Man #666-673
Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Humberto Ramos and Carlos Cuevas
Editor: Steve Wacker

Miguel: Before this storyline started, a lot of internet haters were badmouthing it, saying that this storyline would suck and DC's JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 would just steamroll this story. Hah! They were wrong! Dan Slott delivered one of the best and boldest Spider-man stories in years. The storyline turned almost all New Yorkers into giant spiders courtesy of The Queen, and offers a lot of Spidey goodies, including Peter Parker saving the day, Kaine kicking ass in the story's climax, and Dan Slott tackling controversial characters like The Jackal, Kaine, and The Queen. I love how the story began, and I love how this story ended. (Sadly, no Ben Reilly resurrection.) Overall, this story is great, and that's why this is our group voted this as the best storyline of 2011!

Duy: Don't mind me, just plugging my review.

6. Spider-Man (1 first place vote)
Amazing Fantasy #15
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Editor: Stan Lee

Miguel: This is the story that started it all. It introduced a soap opera side to superhero of comics: Angst, rage, heroism, guilt, and everything. This is the one of the first that started the idea of grounding superheroes and making them relatable, and is certainly the most enduring. Spider-man is not a millionaire, not a Kryptonian, not chosen to be a protector of sector 2814, not a god. He is just one of us. In only 11 pages, Lee and Ditko managed to tell a very powerful story and introduced us to the new Amazing.

5. Kraven’s Last Hunt
Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132, Web of Spider-Man #31-32
Writer: J.M. Dematteis
Artists: Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod
Editor: Jim Salicrup

Ben: Kraven's Last Hunt is unquestionably one of the most popular stories in Spider-Man history, with good reason. Among other things, it proves what I have always known, that Spider-Man is one of the most versatile characters in comic book history. Comedy, drama, or dark and gritty, Spider-Man can work in any tone or type of story and excel. Most of all, it showed me what could happen if the villains ever stopped playing the game, if they ever got serious. No death traps or master plans, just a rifle pointed at the hero with an intent to end it. I could feel Spider-Man's fear as Kraven raised the rifle at him. It wasn't a fear I was used to as a reader. Yes, the heroes are always in life-threatening situations, but as a reader, I always knew they would make it out. This time was different. Yeah, Spider-Man survived and went on, but that was only because Kraven allowed it, and that was the difference.

Unfortunately, in modern comics, this level of seriousness from the villains has become the standard instead of the exception, but here, in this story, it worked because it was the exception. It also worked because Mike Zeck was doing career best work. When I think of Spider-Man in his black costume, it is Zeck's art that is in my head. (As I've said numerous times before, WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #32 is my favorite cover of all time.) A well written, excellently illustrated, and entertaining swan song to one of Spider-Man's oldest villains. What more could you want?

4. The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man (1 first place vote)
Amazing Spider-Man #248
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Ron Frenz
Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Danry: This makes it to every list of the best Spider-man stories, and it's just a backup, not even a full issue, so you could understand when I say I had doubts as to why people liked this story. I had to read it to validate if it's just hype or a real classic. It took me quite a while to get a copy but after a reading it, I felt water in my eyes. Yep, I cried.

The story starts simply enough: Spidey visits “the kid who collects Spider-man,” Tim Harrison, who was featured in the Daily Bugle as a Spider-man memorabilia collector. He asks Spidey a lot of questions about how he became Spider-man, how web shooters work, and why he gave up being a TV show act to chase crooks. Spidey recalls his first and hardest failure to stop the burglar that killed Uncle Ben and making up for it by crimefighting. Tim then asks who Spidey is under the mask and promising to keep his secret a long as he lives. Spider-man reveals he is Peter Parker, and they say their goodbyes. As Spider-Man swings away, we learn that Tim Harrison has leukemia and meeting Spidey was his last wish. Amazing stuff.

Duy: What's amazing about this story is that it's really an inventory story — just a way to do a primer on Spider-Man and get new readers acquainted with him, his powers, and his world. But in those few pages with Tim Harrison, you could see what Spider-Man was all about.

3. Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut
Amazing Spider-Man #229-230
Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: John Romita Jr, Jim Mooney
Editor: Tom DeFalco

Danry:  I came to this expecting a lot of action and the exact opposite “Nothing can stop the Juggernaut”. It's Roger Stern and John Romita Jr., so my expectations were very high. It all starts with Juggernaut getting an order to kidnap Madame Web and just causing as much damage as he can along the way. Spider-man tries many creative ways to stop him but fails with every attempt. Finally realizing he is out of his league, he sets out to ask for help but no other superhero is available. He makes a last-ditch effort to save Madame Web but fails. Madame Web is rushed to the hospital, clinging to life. And this is the Spider-Man moment for me — Peter sets out to stop the unstoppable Juggernaut or die trying. He catches up with Juggernaut, tries to stop him with a wrecking ball, and runs out of web fluid. A combination of intelligence and pure luck is what finally gets him through. Most heroes would call it a day, but Peter makes an effort to see Madam Web at the hospital to make sure she’s okay. I enjoyed this mainly for Peter's willingness to save people from harm at his own expense. He is always driven by gulit by people he failed to save in his life, and uses it to motivate himself to overcome the odds. Life lessons from Spider-man. Get your copy and get to reading.

2. The Master Planner Saga (2 first place votes)
Amazing Spider-Man #30-33
Writer: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Artist: Steve Ditko
Editor: Stan Lee

Duy: If the Crime Master vs. Green Goblin storyline is what kicked the Lee/Ditko run into high gear, this is the storyline takes that even further and brings it to its satisfying conclusion. If the death of Gwen Stacy and the Clone Saga is the effective narrative conclusion to Peter Parker's love life, this is the effective narrative conclusion to Peter's maturation from teenage hero to a man who stands up for himself despite all the odds. With Aunt May in the hospital due to a blood disease (which is somehow Peter's fault, because apparently everything is), Peter needs to find a rare isotope in order to cure her. Unfortunately, the Master Planner — who is, in actuality, one of Spidey's greatest villains — is after the same isotope. Chaos ensues, action takes place under the sea, and Spider-Man gets buried under a ton of infrastructure. In one of the greatest scenes of all of superhero comics, Peter slowly finds the strength to get the weight off his shoulders literally, even as he continued to bear it figuratively.

By the end of the storyline, Aunt May was cured, and Peter Parker, having gone through so much, took control of his life. He wasn't going to let anyone push him around anymore. He wasn't going to let people dictate what Spider-Man could or couldn't do, what Peter Parker could or couldn't do. If you ever want to start reading Spider-Man from the beginning and stop at a place where you get a satisfying conclusion, this is a better spot than most. In fact, the only other spot I'd put over this is our #1 pick.

1. The Night Gwen Stacy Died (6 first place votes)
Amazing Spider-Man #121-122
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artists: Gil Kane; John Romita and Tony Mortellaro
Editor: Roy Thomas

Jeremy: Let us start at the very beginning, not at the actual issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121, mind you, but at the first time Gwen and Peter met in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31,  when Gwen was an upperclasswoman at Empire State University who was giving a tour to Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, and a few others and Peter unintentionally snubbed the tour group. Flash and the others thought, "Now that's just typical of Parker!" However, Gwen thought, "How dare a man ignore me!" and began her quest to know our hero. At first, their relationship was far from perfect, in fact they seemed more like enemies, but Peter was grateful that his earlier troubles didn't dissaude the young lady from wanting to know him.

Time passes and the two fall in love. Peter meets Gwen's father, Captain Stacy, who figures out that Peter Parker and Spider-man are one and the same. As he dies, he tells Peter, "Please look after my daughter to protect her!" A foreshadowing of something to come up in the near future?! And Stacy isn't the only one to figure out who Spider-man is under that mask. Every superhero's worst nightmare has already come true for Peter. Norman Osborn, The Green Goblin, knows who's behind the mask too, and he sets out to make Spider-man's life miserable.

Now that the backstory is out of the way, ASM #121 makes perfect use of that continuity that Marvel fans had come to enjoy so much. This issue also perfectly shows how delicate life plans actually are and that no matter what our plans are for the future, life can change in an instant.

Peter's at a point in his relationship with Gwen and wants to marry her. He can't imagine being with anyone else. Norman chooses this instant to strike at Peter Parker — not at Spider-man, but at the man behind the mask. He grabs Gwen and throws her off the bridge, and Spider-Man catches her with his webbing, and by her neck we see one small sound effect: "Snap."

(Here's something that I've always felt while reading this issue: Gwen appears to be dead in Goblins arms.She certainly doesn't move or scream! In fact, she always looked very unconscious to me. But consensus is that it was Spider-man that killed her, however accidentally, by catching her too suddenly and breaking her neck. You decide.)

The bridge scene has been played over and over again, but with one change to the result; the girl is always saved at the end. But each retelling loses the point of what makes that story great. The death of Gwen Stacy hits the audience hard because you expect Peter to go on and marry her and maybe have kids one day. The death of Gwen, I think, is also the  the end of the Silver Age, as Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross pointed out in MARVELS.

As the reader, you just want Peter to end the Green Goblin so that he'll never hurt one of Peter's loved ones ever again. It's everything superheroes said would happen if the villain learned the hero's real identity, and here it was, all played out for you. In an instant, we know what Peter Parker has to do. He has to kill the Green Goblin for what he's done, for what he might do to Mary Jane, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, kids at Midtown High and ESU! Norman Osborn is a killer without any remorse.

Peter blames himself more then anyone for Gwen's death. Two cops at the scene want to question him. One wants to bring him downtown, and the other sees how much pain he's in and convinces his partner not to do anything.

Spidey is at his lowest point ever. His first love is dead, and it is indeed all his fault. If he hadn't been Spider-man, if he had never let himself become unmasked in front of his greatest villain, if he hadn't acted so impulsively to try and save Gwen Stacy. If he had just done things differently, done them a little better. Perhaps Gwen would still be alive. But he's taken that and learned from it. This failure, sad to say, made him an even greater superhero because now he will never repeat the same mistake. It weighs on him every day, and Peter always handles the pressure of death around him.

Anyway, Norman gets killed with his own glider in an attempt to kill Peter, thus ending the terror that was the original Goblin. With the end of this issue, the comics industry grew up a little and with it lost some of that childhood wonder about the world that it would spend a great deal of time trying to reclaim and yet sadly, at the time, no one truly knew it yet.

Duy: This story carries with it so much impact that I think Sony should use it as the endpoint for their rebooted Spider-Man franchise. I've said as much before, and will continue to say so. Go read it.

Ben: The greatest comic ever!

Thanks to Matt for his help putting this article together! Hope you guys had fun, and that you'll end up rereading these stories, or hunting them down!

Happy 50th birthday, Spider-Man!


Jeremy said...

In response to Ben's comment.

Indeed it is!

JV said...

Damn, if I had known you were gonna do this, I would have voted as well. I actually agree with most of this list though I would have added New Ways To Die by Dan Slott and JR JR and the first story arc by JMS and JR JR.

Joe Jusko said...

Cool post, and GREAT header pic. :-)

Duy Tano said...

I honestly thought, "Which Spider-Man would be a good lead-in to this article? Oh, I know, Joe Jusko's!" I set out to find the Marvel Masterpieces card, but found this one instead!

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