In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Since his debut in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man has been often imitated, referenced, and remixed, but never duplicated (well, expected for that time…and that other time…AND…but you get the idea). A titan in the comics industry — as well as most others — a favorite of Stan Lee, and one of the most recognizable heroes of all time Spider-Man is an icon all to himself. But he would be nothing without the stories that have built him up to the skyscraper heights he swings comfortably from today. To say nothing of how he’s no longer just a “he” either! Rather, Spider-Man has become a diverse collection of dozens if not hundreds of characters carefully crafted by just as many creators, an entire universe unto themselves sharing a moniker and mission.
How do you capture the essence of such a big, unwieldy but endearing and fascinating cast and cosmos? By asking the people that were most affected by the stories told, of course! As such, here’s our favorite Spider-Man stories, be they comics, movies, video games or other.
Forrest Hollingsworth, Comics Podcast Co-host and Contributor: Spider-Man: Blue is enjoyed with a few conceits: it certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, it doesn’t undo the inherent problems with Gwen Stacy’s death, and you have to know the stories preceding and following it for it to really click. If you’re there, though? My God does it work. Watching writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale (you may have heard of them) unpack Peter’s feelings about Gwen Stacy and her death with scalpel precision over the course of Blue‘s six issue run is not only cathartic, but important.
Across issues heartrendingly sad, saccharine, and slyly funny — “Just because I had Spider sense doesn’t mean I had common sense” — we see a story about the weight of Spider-Man’s power and responsibility come crashing down, of his guard being let up, and of quiet reflection to match the heroic highs of his usual fare through the eyes of his friends, his loved ones, and even those more like him than he’d like to admit (paging Dr. Curt Connors). Spider-Man doesn’t miss Gwen, Peter Parker does. While those two may be similar, they are not the same. How does someone unpack feelings of guilt when they aren’t the one at fault? How do they find a way forward without losing a sense of purpose and identity? How do they separate what Spider-Man is responsible for, and what the person beneath the mask is? By knowing there’s “Bad before good”, of course. This is Blue‘s inherent strength, in being about the periphery, the after-the-fact, the problems you can’t punch or web-sling away. It’s not as fun as other stories I love like Superior Spider-Man, the original Symbiote saga, or Maximum Carnage but it tells us about the differences in Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s lives and his never-ending attempts to reconcile them in such an effective, vital way that I can’t help but love it all the same.
James Sainte-Claire, Contributor: Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut! Charles Xavier’s step-brother Cain Marko, the unstoppable Juggernaut, is a villain that the X-Men struggle to defeat as a team. In The Amazing Spider-Man 229 and 230, he appears in downtown New York to kidnap the mysterious Madam Web and the only person around who can possibly stop him is Spider-Man.
What makes this classic Spidey tale by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. work so well is it highlights Spider-Man’s refusal to give up even in the face of a foe who outclasses him as much as the Juggernaut. No matter what Peter throws at him, nothing is enough to slow the Juggernaut down, but despite this Peter never gives up, even as the situation looks grimmer and grimmer for him until he finds a way to win with brains and not brawn.
More than most other stories, this gets right to the heart of what it is to be Spider-Man. With great power there must also come great responsibility. Even against someone so much stronger than he is, Spider-Man never even considers just letting the Juggernaut go. While he tries to enlist the help of other heroes to no avail, at no point does he consider giving up while people are in danger. That’s what it is to be Spider-Man.
Nathaniel Muir, Movie Editor: If someone were to tell me I talk about Into the Spider-Verse too much, I would not put up much of a fight. At one point I thought it was the best animated movie of 2018. On repeated viewings, I realized it was the best movie of the year period.
We have all heard how great Spider-Verse is. It tells a classic Spidey story, the amazing animation, the perfect soundtrack, Jake Johnson possibly being the best Peter Parker ever. It is a movie you can go on and on about and still forget to touch on everything.
Instead of a story (and Spider-Verse is a good one), the movie left me with my favorite Spider-Man memory ever. I took my six year old godson and his little sister to see the movie. I was a little worried about them being confused about Miles Morales. They only Spider-Man they have knows is Peter Parker. Would they think we took them to see a fake Spider-Man.
They sat in their seats with their eyes glued to the screen. (For those of you who have ever taken young children to the movies, getting them to sit still can be quite the task.) My godson was in tears at some points. When an important character died, I heard him whisper, “It’s okay, Miles. Everything will be okay.” By the end, he was cheering and yelling Miles on. When we were walking to the car, he told me, “That was fun, then I was sad, then Miles made me happy again.” What more could a godparent ask?
Vishal Gullapalli, Contributor: Kraven’s Last Hunt, the first story arc after the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, takes place immediately after they return from their honeymoon, and immediately puts their marriage through a trial by fire. The best Spider-Man stories are able to show exactly what makes Peter unique as a hero, but Kraven’s Last Hunt goes above and beyond, showing exactly how important his and Mary Jane’s relationship is to both of them.
The strength of this story is how intensely emotional it is. Peter is buried and presumed dead for two weeks, and during this time Mary Jane is depicted as terrified, but faithful that he will return. Her love for him is so clearly evident, and mirrored by Peter’s monologue as he breaks out of his grave. Superheroes breaking out of graves is something of a trope at this point, such as in Batman RIP and the recent resurrection of Cyclops, but there is something far more emotional than any of the other instances – Peter’s entire narration is promising Mary Jane that he’ll return, and his entire escape is encapsulated by the single narration box on the page where he finally breaks free: “I love you.” Love is the central theme of this story – it is Peter’s main motivation is his love for his new wife and his relentless desire to go back to her. The story does a lot to progress Kraven’s story to its end, but ultimately it is about the transition into married life for both Spider-Man and Mary Jane – this experience would be traumatizing by itself, but as a first experience for their new life together, it is far more for everyone.
The real clincher for what makes this the best Spider-Man story, though, is how it uses Kraven’s “victory” over Spider-Man to show just how wrong he is, and just how much better Peter is. Kraven did fight crime in a manner arguably more effective than Peter’s, but his methods were brutal and traumatizing, and when Mary Jane sees him in the street, she is horrified by what he does and immediately knows that he’s not Peter. His defeat of Vermin is the same way, by the end of it Vermin is traumatized and rabid and terrified of anyone who could potentially hurt him. When compared to Peter’s methods and kindness, Kraven’s victory is hollow to everyone but himself, and the way this story is able to use this irony to show exactly what makes Peter the hero he is allows this story to shine brighter than any other.
Dave Brooke, Content manager and Comics Podcast Co-host: The introduction of Carnage was where I started in my Spider-Man journey way back in 1992, which I talked about in AiPT!’s how we fell in love with comics feature. That has stuck with me for years and I think fondly of how flipping good Mark Bagley was and why that detailed style will never die.
Continuing with the nostalgic take my favorite Spider-Man story is one often forgotten that occured in Spider-Man #29 through #31 written by Ann Nocenti with art by Chris Marrinan. It has Spider-Man befriend an average joe who wants to be a superhero but is a bit of a dunce and a mutant threat that comes out of nowhere. The exceptional part of this story is in the last issue where Spider-Man is drowning in cement. Through the captions Nocenti reveals all Spider-Man’s fears and doubts that this is it for him. Through sheer will and the hope to see MJ again he bursts out. It was one of the most heroic moments I had ever read at that point. I know other classic Spidey stories like “The Master Plan Saga” did this kind of story first, and probably better, but this story always stuck with me.
When it comes to more recent work the Superior Spider-Man is my favorite. It features Doc Ock in Peter Parker’s body and shows us what all that responsibility can do to someone who isn’t capable. Writer Dan Slott showed us a different kind of Spider-Man that’s a little immoral but gets the job done, but at the end of the day nobody can beat Peter Parker’s ability to do the right thing always even when it, usually, affects his own life.
Christopher Franey, Contributor: Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #11 and 21 are two of my favorite Spidey stories. Darwyn Cooke has done some amazing stories in his life and there is very little for Marvel, but luckily he did give us two great “Parker luck” stories. Just on a whim at my local comic shop I ran into issue 11 which had a Valentine’s themed cover and you can’t go into a comic shop without buying something, so I decided to pick it up. It was just a perfect little story about how Peter has to get ready for a date, which turns out to be that he is booked for two dates, and of course a villain happens to be causing havoc. The Vulture is out and about after a jewel heist and then runs into Spidey…all kinds of story happens and the best part is the “Coffee Gopher” and what almost happens to JJJ.
Then we were treated to a nice revisit of that Spider-Man scene the next Christmas in issue 21 with madness at the mall, in which Medusa is attacking and luckily for us a lot of the Marvel Ladies are the first response to help cool things down. This time it is the Puppet Master causing the chaos, but luckily for us Spidey is vindicated and all ends well just in time for Christmas. Darwyn had a great way to draw atmosphere so you had to look at more than just the main action going on in the panel, but instead around that and follow it for the rest of the page; his stories were great because even though they were in the Marvel Universe, we still saw the “Everyman” come out to be spectacular in their own way. I don’t want to spoil these issues for you so I suggest you high tail it to your LCS and get these gems while you still can, Excelsior!
Rory Wilding, Contributor: Having written the wall-crawler during his Howard the Duck run, it shows that Chip Zdarksy has proven himself that he can write Spider-Man, and so when it was announced that he was writing Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, excitement was swinging through the air. Although his run may have its ups and downs, Zdarsky shows a funny side to the Marvel Universe, no matter how outlandish the storytelling can be, from an alien invasion to time travel. But what I was not expecting was the amount of heart injected into this run, especially on issues like #6, also known as “My Dinner with Jonah”, which changes the status quo of Spidey and J. Jonah Jameson’s relationship.
However, Zdarsky saves the best with a pitch-perfect final issue that is my all-time favorite Spider-Man story. Drawn by the Sex Criminals artist himself, #310 focuses on the people of New York, telling their own diverse opinions towards Spider-Man. It is undoubtedly funny, but there is tragedy amidst the heroism, leading to one of the most heart-wrenching moments in recent comics history and reminds you that death has always been a defining theme for Spider-Man. Out of the darkness, Spidey has always stepped out of it and this issue ends on a positive note as it understands what makes Spider-Man special in how he could be anyone as he is the Everyman hero who’s right down there with us. That final page of Peter Parker giving his own opinion towards his alter-ego really puts a smile on my face.
Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!
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