With literally thousands of comics featuring him over a fifty year publishing history, the amazing Spider-Man is the kind of pop culture icon that’s almost impossible to keep up with. Like Batman, everyone knows his story: Great powers, dead uncle, great responsibility.
After the modern comic book movie boom, Marvel Comics did a lot to make the webslinger’s publishing history more convoluted. It renumbered all its long-running series, then introduced a hip, modern parallel universe and then folded both universes together into one gestalt continuity.
But just because it’s brand new days for Spider-Man, doesn’t mean the old stories stopped being great. Because while he might be famous for his questionable combat repartee, it’s when his unthinking selflessness and resilience in the face of tragedy are on display that we see why Spider-Man is the best.
“Spider-Man!” was published in Amazing Fantasy #15, and is usually included as part of most essential reprints, including Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1. It is also available in digital form via Marvel Unlimited.
This is where it all began: in the pages of a title that was about to be cancelled. With Amazing Fantasy #15 serving as the final issue, writer Stan Lee had the opportunity to try out his new idea: a teenage boy who wasn’t the sidekick and driven by the moral implications of a tragedy he failed to prevent. The origin is so familiar now, but it established the elements of Spider-Man that have remained essential for decades. With great power, comes great responsibility.
If This Be My Destiny!
“If This Be My Destiny!” ran through The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #31-33. It is collected and reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4. It can also be read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
Spider-Man’s famous debut and origin set the tone of insecurity and despair that defines his worst days. But it’s this story arc that ratcheted it up several notches. A pivotal scene features Spidey trapped under a ton of machinery in a flooding room. While most artists would have dealt with this struggle in just a few panels, Ditko drew out Spidey’s anguish for a full eight pages, haunting him with visions of his late Uncle Ben and a dying Aunt May.
Spider-Man No More!
“Spider-Man No More!” was published in Amazing Spider-Man #50 and was reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 5. It can also be read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This single issue story sees a dejected Peter Parker decide he’s fed up with being Spider-Man. With a public fearful of Spider-Man, Peter begins to wonder if stopping crime is worth the time and energy. He takes his outfit and throws it in the trash, making for an iconic visual now widely imitated and parodied. It’s not a change that lasts as ultimately, Peter’s sense of responsibility wins out, but it emphasizes his choice to be a hero despite the high cost to his personal life.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
“The Night Gwen Stacy Died!” ran through Amazing Spider-Man #121-122. It is reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 13. It is also available digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This story was groundbreaking. It pioneered the death of a major character and romantic interest, a kind of failure that had been unthinkable for a series lead outside of an origin story. This established the ultimate cost that superheroism could exert on personal life. The other lesser recognized aspect of this story is its contribution to Peter Parker’s story. When Peter returns to his apartment, he and a distraught Mary Jane comfort each other beginning a romantic arc that wouldn’t be emotionally fulfilled until…
The Original Clone Saga
The Original Clone Saga ran through several Spider-Man comics, but mainly through Amazing Spider-Man #139-150. It is reprinted together with those other comics in The Amazing Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga. It is also available digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
The death of Gwen Stacy was felt in years of Spider-Man comics to come. Nowhere was that more pronounced in this story, which saw a clone of Gwen Stacy drive a wedge into Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane. Peter and the Gwen clone ultimately realize that neither is the same person the other fell in love with. When Peter and Mary Jane kiss and make up, their reconciliation mirrors the scene in which they connected after Gwen Stacy died, right down to the door clicks.
Kraven’s Last Hunt
“Kraven’s Last Hunt” ran through Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294 and Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132. They are reprinted in trade paperback as The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt. The story can also be read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This groundbreaking storyline sees Spider-Man and C-list foe Kraven the Hunter journey to the dark side. When Kraven defeats Spider-Man, he assumes the web-head’s mantle to prove he’s superior to the biggest prey of them all. The moody atmospheric art and a psychologically probing intensity turns Spider-Man’s world on its head. Of course, Spider-Man’s defeat doesn’t last very long, and he demonstrates his resilience and courage in spite of darkness and adversity.
Best of Enemies
“Best of Enemies” was published in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 and is the culmination of “The Harry Osborn Saga.” It is available digitally on Marvel Unlimited. “The Harry Osborn Saga” itself ran across Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184, 189-190, and 199-200, also available on Marvel Unlimited.
The best Spider-Man stories capture love, family and loss. Former best friend Harry Osborn has been driven to madness and torments Peter daily, turning him into a raging animal around those he loves. Tensions are high and only Mary Jane tries to remind them of how close they all used to be. It’s a devastating story about how tragedy is a specter that can loom over you. In the end, Harry is able to gather the strength to step out of the shadow of his father’s villainous legacy, but at a cost.
I’m With Stupid
“I’m With Stupid” was published as Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5. These issues were collected and reprinted digest form as Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid. It is also available to read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This collection of five stand-alone stories occur in between key moments in Spider-Man’s history, forming a broader arc about the friendship between him and Johnny Storm, the fantastic Human Torch. But it’s not just a love letter to a super bromance, but a warm examination on the trials and tribulations of being a superhero. It demonstrates that despite death, rejection and tragedy, Peter has gained friendships and family that are irreplaceable. The ol’ “Parker Luck,” is what Johnny calls it.
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