Jun 29, 2010

Five Spider-Man Stories You Should Take the Time to Read

Welcome to the second installment in our Spider-Man Week! Today, we list five Spider-Man stories you should take the time to read! This is not a list of top 5 stories of all time that feature the webslinger, but just five stories that are really entertaining that you may not have heard of, may have dismissed, or don't get much publicity. So I'm going to ignore, like, the entire Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita run here, since you can get those in an Omnibus and various Masterworks Editions and Essentials, and everyone knows they're classics (and if you don't like classic comics, then you won't like them anyway, capiche?

Dear Santa, I want this for Christmas. Thank you. -Duy.

Shall we start? Yes, yes we shall.

5. Read 'Em An' Weep
Spectacular Spider-Man v2 21, by Paul Jenkins, Talent Caldwell, and Robert Campanella

Okay, admittedly, this would be no good to anyone who has never played poker or has no idea how the game works, but for those who have, this is a fun, one-off look at what superheroes do in their spare time. A bunch of them get together to play poker, with the winnings going to a charity of their choice. The stakes get raised when the Kingpin decides to join in! (Highlights include the Black Cat hitting on Angel, and Dr. Strange being unbelievably bad at the game.)

I don't think this has been collected, but you can find it in back-issue bins, easily!

4. Peter Parker, Paparazzi/The Bookie Saga
Amazing Spider-Man 559-563, by Dan Slott,  Marcos Martin, Bob Gale, Mike McKone, and Marlo Alquiza

Collected in Spider-Man: Brand New Day 3
STOP. Yes, I know about One More Day. I know Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson made a deal with Mephisto so that their marriage "never happened." Yes, I know it was ridiculous. I don't care. The Spider-Man titles had long lost their appeal to me long before that happened, as it got more serious and heavy as time went on, and as far as I was concerned, much of that run (the story above being a huge exception, but the story above could have taken place at any time) was already nonexistent to me (especially "Sins Past." Screw "Sins Past.") So Brand New Day was a breath of fresh air for me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a different continuity, a different version, as different from the old stories as the cartoons are from the movies.

Anyway, since Brand New Day, I think that this particular volume has been the particular highlight. In "Peter Parker, Paparazzi," Peter needs to work for his new boss, Dexter Bennett, as a paparazzo, and his target happens to be someone very familiar: Mary Jane Watson! At the same time, a new villain named "Paper Doll" is after MJ's latest flame, Bobby Carr. This particular story is worth it even if just for the amazing art of Marcos Martin, who brings with him a Steve Ditko-style inventiveness in terms of composition and layouts. But I think Dan Slott just gets Peter Parker so accurately, making him question himself whenever possible and always being caught in a string of good old-fashioned Parker luck. The characterization is spot-on.

The other story in this volume is what I call the Bookie Saga, which is written by Bob Gale and is less heavy and more "fun" than "Paparazzi." The Bookie is a guy who takes bets from supervillains, and when he tries cheating them, the Enforcers try, well, killing him. Spider-Man then has to travel to New Jersey (the New Jersey jokes in this story are priceless) to save him. The art by Mike McKone is reminiscent of John Romita's - clean and very dynamic. So it's like this volume was drawn by a modern-day Steve Ditko and John  Romita Sr., which, if you think about it, is awesome. Besides, how can you not love a comic with a cover like this?

If you like this one, you should also get Death and Dating, which has stories by the teams of Mark Waid and Marcos Martin, Marc Guggenheim and Mike McKone, Roger Stern and Lee Weeks, Dan Slott and Mike McKone, and Mark Waid and Barry Kitson.

3. "The Commuter Cometh!"
Amazing Spider-Man 267 by Peter David and Bob McLeod

You know, sometimes, you can give off a long review, and sometimes you can just give someone a blurb. In this case, I think I'll go for the latter.

A thief escapes Spider-Man and runs off to his home in Scarsdale. Spidey follows him to Scarsdale, where people don't believe he's Spider-Man, there are no buildings to swing from, dobermans bark at him, and a bus driver wants to charge him for hitching a ride on the roof of the bus.

'Nuff said.

2. The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man
Amazing Spider-Man 248, by Roger Stern and Ron Frenz

This makes a lot of top 10 lists and even a lot of top 5 lists, but, in my experience, is often dismissed by anyone who reads such lists. But the truth is, this story is exactly what Spider-Man is about. "The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man" is an 11-page filler story that was created solely to brief new readers on Peter's origin, powers, and motivations. As a framing device, Spider-Man visits Timothy Harrison, who is such a huge fan that he collects every piece of Spider-Man memorabilia he can get - including bullets fired at Spidey! In 11 pages, Roger Stern shows us what exactly Spider-Man (and superheroes in general) means to people - kids, in particular. He gives them hope and something to smile about at the end of the day. And what could possess Spider-Man to reveal to Tim Harrison that he is, in fact, Peter Parker?

1. Amazing Spider-Man/Human Torch: I'm With Stupid
Spider-Man/Human Torch 1-5, by Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and Nelson
Collected in Amazing Spider-Man/Human Torch: I'm With Stupid

Remember how I said that Dan Slott gets Spider-Man? Like he really, really does? This proves it. Go with Spider-Man and the Human Torch through five different points in Marvel history. The first issue takes place during the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man, the second takes place during the Lee/John Romita run, the third takes place soon after Gwen Stacy died, the fourth takes place when Spider-Man was wearing the alien costume that would later become Venom and when he was dating the Black Cat, and the final chapter takes place in what was then the current time in Marvel continuity.

Throughout the story, you see how Spider-Man's relationship with his superhero best friend, Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch, and how their level of jealousy of each other (Johnny's jealous that Peter has a family, Peter's jealous of Johnny for being Johnny) just escalates over the years, manifesting itself in the two of them acting like little kids trying to one-up each other every so often.

The story is full of jokes, both inside jokes and jokes everyone can enjoy, including references to the Spider-Mobile and Hostess Twinkies (with cream filling). But it's also full of actual emotion, and when things get serious, Ty Templeton can depict the transition from light and comic to heavy and serious at the drop of a hat. Seriously. The final issue is one of the most touching and heartfelt comics I've ever read. It's perfect.

Well, that's the list! Do you have any Spider-Man stories that you think people should be reading?

Check back tomorrow for five underrated Spider-Man artists!

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