Jul 2, 2010

Top Five Most Important Spider-Man Writers of All Time

Welcome to the fifth installment in our Spider-Man Week! Today, we list the five most important Spider-Man writers in history. These are the five writers that really defined Spider-Man, for whichever generation it was they drew him in, and gave him some of the best and most important stories of his storied career. Ready? Let's go!

5. J.M. DeMatteis

Ask a Spider-Man historian to cite the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, and invariably, you'll be hearing "Kraven's Last Hunt" by J.M. Dematteis and Mike Zeck among these stories. In this story, Kraven the Hunter takes his obsession with hunting Spider-Man to the next level, burying the wallcrawler alive and taking his costume. DeMatteis excels in stories about identity, and he proved in this story that Spider-Man can be treated in a more serious manner, with little to none of the wisecracks associated with the webhead.

DeMatteis's contribution to Spider-Man lore was such that during the now-infamous Clone Saga, he was brought in to write important volumes for it, including Spider-Man: The Lost Years, drawn by John Romita Jr., which detailed some of the missing years of the life of Ben Reilly (aka the Scarlet Spider, aka the Spider-Clone):

And also the death of Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #400, drawn by Mark Bagley. Although this was temporary, this story was heartwrenching when it came out. I consider it a masterpiece, not just in comparison to the rest of the mess that was the Clone Saga, but just as a comic book in and of itself..

4. Brian Michael Bendis

To many younger fans, the Spider-Man they know will be the one in the movies or the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. And in comics, that translates to Ultimate Spider-Man, which, for 133 issues, was written by Brian Michael Bendis. (For 110 issues, it was drawn by Mark Bagley, and the rest was done by Stuart Immonen.)

Bendis's work on Spider-Man redefined him for a modern audience, and really focused on Peter Parker as a teenager. He gave him genuine teenage problems, such as dating and being picked on, as treated in the 21st century. And he also got something else about Spider-Man: he's funny.

One thing that I would take away from Bendis is his knack for decompression. I've spoken about this before, but American comics tend to be expensive, and decompressing the stories so that each moment has maximum emotional effect makes it so that less of the actual story is told. The first five issues all told the origin of Spider-Man, and I really don't think we needed five issues for it. (Also, as a nitpick, I don't see why someone has to find out Peter is Spider-Man every six issues or so.)

But despite that, Bendis's characterization with Spider-Man and his world were rock-solid and a good read, always entertaining, with witty and snappy patter, and engaging emotional relationships, including fresh takes on Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy, as he reversed their roles for this universe (Gwen is the bad girl and Mary Jane is the brainy one).

3. Gerry Conway

Whenever you read something from the 70s or early 80s and it entertained you, yet you have no idea who wrote it and don't particularly care, a safe bet is that it was written by Gerry Conway. Gerry Conway wrote superhero stories with such mechanical precision that it didn't seem as if anyone was actively writing these stories; they could have been produced from thin air. This isn't an insult to Conway or his work ethic; rather, I think that he was just so on the pulse of the superhero genre back then that he could write a standard story in his sleep. So it comes as no surprise, probably that when Gerry Conway, at age TWENTY, wrote the death of Gwen Stacy, it was Stan Lee who got the hate mail:

As we mentioned yesterday, the death of Gwen Stacy is quite probably the most important moment in Spider-Man history, setting off a huge chain reaction in the webslinger's history. Really, for that alone, Gerry Conway earned his place on this list.

However, Gerry Conway, specifically because of his ability to write good superhero stories so easily, was also the guy tapped to write The Battle of the Century, in which the Amazing Spider-Man met, in the first ever intercompany crossover, the Man of Steel, Superman:

So yes, undoubtedly, Gerry Conway is one of the most important Spider-Man writers of all time, even if these were the only two things he wrote. They weren't, of course. Conway had a marvelous four-year run on the title, which saw the introduction of the Punisher, among other things.

2. Roger Stern

There is a Spider-Man Visionaries: Roger Stern TPB. Just to illustrate the point, the only other person with a Spider-Man Visionaries TPB is Todd McFarlane.

Stern's run on Amazing Spider-Man went from issue 224 to 252, and included several stories he wrote prior to it and a sprinkling of stories he wrote after his run. With stories including "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut," a classic Black Cat story, and "The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man," Roger Stern got the essence of Spider-Man so well. He was perpetually down on his luck, overly optimistic and idealistic, and funny. Very funny.

One of the most important things Roger Stern did was create the Hobgoblin, who, under his supervision, was a major villain. He was seen as the 80s equivalent of the then-dead Green Goblin, and the mystery behind who he was brought to mind the original mystery of who the Green Goblin was. Unfortunately, Stern left the title before the Hobgoblin's true identity could be revealed, and he wasn't able to reveal it until 1996, in the Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives! miniseries. Still, with the Hobgoblin, Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. created one of Spider-Man's last three iconic villains (the other two are Venom and Carnage).

Roger Stern's run on Amazing Spider-Man ended with #252, which was also the beginning (though not the first appearance) of the storyline involving the black alien costume that would later become Venom!

1. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (and to a lesser extent, John Romita)

No one can equal what Stan Lee did on Spider-Man, really. He introduced the concept of the teenage superhero who wasn't a sidekick, the concept of a superhero who creeped out the rest of the public, and the concept of a superhero who was down on his luck - all new concepts in 1962, that publisher Martin Goodman wanted Spider-Man's first appearance published in the final issue of a canceled magazine called Amazing Fantasy! And then when the sales for that issue went off the charts, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko made sure Spider-Man took off with it.

Stan Lee started everything and pretty much introduced all the classic characters and elements associated with Spider-Man's life: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, and the villains, such as the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Mysterio, the Vulture, Kraven, the Chameleon, the Kingpin, the Lizard, Electro, the Rhino, and more.

It would be so easy to make just Stan Lee the number one spot here, but I can't just bring myself to do that, because his artists - especially Steve Ditko - deserve much of the writing credit. In case you're unaware, the "Marvel Method" for writing is such that the scripter (in this case, Lee) and the artist (in this case, Ditko) would talk the plot of an issue over for a while, then Lee would write the outline - about a page or so. Ditko would then interpret it any way he liked, in terms of pacing, nuance, and everything - basically everything that has to do with writing that's not plotting - and then send it back to Lee for dialogues. As time went on and on, Stan Lee noticed that Steve Ditko was so good at telling stories that they would even skip the written outline stage. Sometimes, Stan would just give Steve a quick two-sentence synopsis, and Steve would fill it up as well as he could (which was very well, because Steve Ditko is awesome). In those issues, it even seems as if Stan's dialogue actually takes away from the quality of the story.

Steve Ditko didn't create Mary Jane Watson or the Kingpin - that was Jazzy Johnny Romita - but he had made his mark on Spider-Man's world, and today, when you see a Spider-Man product, be it a movie, a cartoon, or whatever, you will see it in bright bold letters: Spider-Man created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Well, that's the list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

Check back tomorrow for the top five Spider-Man villains!


fanboy420 said...

I'd like to leave a shout-out to my boy J.M. Stracynski too! His run on Spidey reduced me to tears most issues.

Duy Tano said...

It was either gonna be Straczynski or DeMatteis for number 5 (either way, it was gonna be a JM). I may have let the fact that I like DeMatteis (though not universally) over Straczynski, but like I said, "Kraven's Last Hunt" is almost always on the list of greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, and I don't think I can forgive JMS for Sins Past and showing me Norman's O-face.

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