OK, so Mister Mets had a bit of fun with you guys on April Fools Day with The Road to Tangled Cobwebs, but here is the beginning of the REAL Crawlspace staff’s Top 50 Spider-Man stories – stories picked and rated by the Crawlspace podcasters and review staff. Good old Mister Mets painstakingly went through all of our entries to set this list up – and he’s invited yours truly along for the ride. So without further ado, let’s get going!
We’ll start with number 50, which, of course, is just the 49th loser…
50. Marvel Team Up #79 (Red Sonja)
Writer: John Byrne and Chris Claremont Artist: John Byrne
This is a fun story that is reminiscent of a Hostess Ad done as a full comic (I mean that in the best way possible). Peter Parker goes to a museum to follow up on a story and MJ tags along because of plot reasons. While there, she gets possessed by Red Sonja via magic amulet and, despite not being able to understand each other’s language, Spidey and Red Sonja team up to take out the big bad guy Kulan Gath.
This was the subject of one of Berryman’s Friday Night Fights.
Historical significance? Well, it has Mary Jane as Red Sonja – clad in a metal bikini and all. When she sees Spidey in trouble, her first thought is how she might help him, thus laying some groundwork for her being the sort of woman who would go after bad guys as she does in Renew Your Vows. This issue has the first mention of everyone’s favorite love interest for Peter (outside of Lisa Skye, of course) – Cissy Ironwood. Plus it has the Marvel version of Clark Kent to boot!
Since there are licensing issues now that Marvel no longer owns the rights to print Red Sonja, don’t expect to find this in any reprint collections or on Marvel Unlimited. However, if you need more Red Sonja, she had her own series and you can watch the trailer for her 1985 movie. Plus, weigh in in the comments section on whether or not you think this will be the only Marvel Team-Up to make the top 50.
49. Spectacular Spider-Man #27
Writer: Paul Jenkins Artist: Mark Buckingham
This one is titled, “The Final Curtain,” but it could easily be alternatively titled the “Calvin and Hobbes/Spider-Man and Uncle Ben Mash-up.” Peter has memories of snow ball fights with Uncle Ben drawn to look like Calvin and Hobbes. He leaves a present for his uncle at the tombstone and then goes on to have an imaginary conversation with him. Along the way, there are some touching moments where they have memories of Aunt May calling them a “pair of twits” repeatedly for their crazy snowmen and one of Peter’s first school play where he played an eight-legged ant. He tells Uncle Ben of a nightmare he has constantly about being on the stage and when the curtain opens, he is surrounded by his villains and scared of not being able to stop them. He comes to terms with some of the guilt he carries and leaves, only to have Aunt May come up afterwards, see the present look in the box and say, “What a pair of twits.” The issue ends with Peter having a good dream of the curtain opening and Peter taking a final bow with all of his memories to applause.
Historical significance? This issue marks the end of Paul Jenkins’s run on the title, a successful run for many fans. It also gives us a memory of Richard Parker that has nothing to do with spies or leaving. It gives Peter more depth as he struggles with not knowing if his parents would be proud of him or not and with the fact that he loves Mary Jane which makes him unfaithful to Gwen’s memory. This issues shifts the motivation for being Spider-Man away from the guilt of not saving Uncle Ben, in some respects, and more to missing his parents.
One small nitpick is that Uncle Ben says that Peter is stubborn like his mother and her sister, which would seem, based on the conversation, that he is referring to Aunt May, but May shouldn’t be the sister of Peter’s mother since it is Richard and Ben who are siblings. Probably just a misstep, but a bad one for the weight of the story.
You can read this issue on Marvel Unlimited.
48. Amazing Spider-Man #41-43
Writer: Stan Lee Artist: John Romita, Sr.
This three-part story arc starts with the Rhino bursting into New York trying to capture John Jameson, who is under guard since he was cover in space spores on his most recent trip into space (sending that guy into space is akin to sending Gulliver out on a boat). Spidey wears out the Rhino and lets the police take over from there. Later, Peter is in a bank and his spider-sense warns him of a bomb in a cash bag. Instead of alerting people, he changes into Spider-Man, steals the false money bag, and saves the day (all the while making people think he robbed the bank – THAT’S the Parker luck, people). John Jameson starts to develop super powers from the space spores (you know how ridiculous it feels to type that phrase) and decides to go after Spider-Man for robbing the bank. Even after Spider-Man has been cleared, John keeps going after him because the spores are clouding his judgement. Spidey figures out how the suit Jameson is wearing to contain his powers works and shorts it out, which also reverts Jameson back to normal. The next day Peter finally runs out of excuses and goes with Aunt May over to Anna Watson’s house to meet Mary Jane. All through dinner, Peter can barely focus on anything except MJ (despite the fact that she is constantly saying stuff like “Groovesville”) until a news report that the Rhino is free and wreaking havoc. So he decides to ride into town to snap photos and Mary Jane can’t resist the urge to join him. He slips away from her in the crowd and tears into the Rhino, but has no luck. By the way, did you know that that Rhino process actually made him smarter? Sure did. Read the issue. Anyway, Spider-Man eventually gives up trying to physically beat the Rhino and instead finds Dr. Connors and the two of them use science to figure a way to dissolve the Rhino’s special skin. Once all of that was settled, Peter goes home and finds Aunt May weak and dizzy due to the fact that she hasn’t filled her prescription of old lady medicine because she doesn’t have any money (which of course throws Peter into full guilt mode since he’s been riding around on a snazzy motorcycle).
Historical significance? This is close to the beginning of the new team of Lee and Romita, so (as Amazing Spider-Man Classics would say) everyone suddenly got happy! The art is different, the characters act differently, and Peter finally has some things go his way.
This arc gives us several firsts:
- Peter Parker’s motorcycle
- the Rhino
- Betty Brant returns and she and Ned Leeds get engaged
- Gwen and Peter start to fall in love (before this, Ditko had her hating Peter almost as much as Flash Thompson did)
- First time Aunt May calls something a “pussy willow” instead of the more hip term “pussy cat” – a running joke for several issues after that
- While not the first appearance of Col. Jameson (it’s his second), it is the first time we see Jameson have something bad happen to him and mutate him in some way due to a space trip
- First time Mary Jane says that they are “playing our song!” but it doesn’t tell which song it is (but we all know which song is Peter and MJ’s song, right? – Leave it in the comments sections, Crawlspacers!)
- Details on how Peter’s automatic camera works are revealed for the first time
- Flash gets his draft notice
- And of course, the first appearance of Mary Jane, which gives us the iconic panel below:
This issue did slightly better on CBR’s top 50 list, coming in there at #46.
You can read these issues on Marvel Unlimited.
47. Amazing Spider-Man #383-385 (The Jury)
Writer: David Michelinie Artist: Mark Bagley
This three-issue arc has villains from Venom: Lethal Protector (shudder) come in and capture Spider-Man because they could not capture Venom. Once they have him, he is pumped full of drugs and this makes him weak and susceptible to their accusation – that he is responsible for every murder Venom and Carnage committed since he brought the symbiote to earth (although we now know it was all because Deadpool wore the suit first that it was all murdery). They just say the word responsibility and Peter starts having flashbacks. We get flashbacks of his origin, flashbacks of finding the symbiote, flashbacks of bell tower, of Maximum Carnage, and more. There is a witness brought because her daughter will not speak anymore because Venom “rescued” her from Mister Laffy the Clown and that scared her. The mom, of course, blames Spider-Man. Eventually, Spider-Man begins to agree that he is responsible for all of this (even the Mister Laffy incident) – which no Spider-Man reader ever doubted would happen (making Peter feel guilty is like shooting fish in a barrel). Turns out it was all a clever ruse. Once Spidey is sentenced to death, one of the Jury feels bad about it since technically Spidey is a good guy, so the main guy in charge suggests that Spidey help them to steal this gun that can kill Venom instead. Still doped up, Spidey agrees. They get the gun but by this point he has sobered up, so he kicks all their butts and sends them packing.
Mary Jane quits smoking because she sees Nick Kratzenberg dying of lung cancer (with a cover date of 1993, this issue predates the Quesada smoking ban (2001) and even the trading card smoking ban (1994)). The smoking must have addled her brain a bit because she forgets that she didn’t meet Peter until college – she makes a comment that she’s known him since high school – maybe can be used as evidence for Parallel Lives?
Aunt May searches for the truth of Peter Parker’s parents’ return (you can tell this predates Netflix since the private detective May yells at isn’t Jessica Jones).
Wait a minute! How did this one rank higher than Red Sonja? Regardless, if you are missing the ‘90s, you can head over to Marvel Unlimited to read this arc.
46. Amazing Spider-Man #657
Writer: Dan Slott Artist: Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati, and Stefano Caselli
The torch is dead and Spidey swings by the Baxter Building to pay his respects. Marvel’s first family sits down with the webhead and think back to some times that Spidey and the Torch hung out together. The jokes are funny and the emotional beats are on target. The Thing shares a memory of the Torch and Spidey on a FF camping trip playing pranks on each other and (of course) the Thing. Sue tells a memory of when she was arrested because, while hanging out with the two jokesters, she took down the Frightful Four by distracting them when she made their pants invisible. She was arrested for indecent exposure. Reed shares a memory of when he, Spidey, and Torch were out in space and despite all of their knowledge, it was the Torch that figured out the problem. At the end, the Torch has his say, via video recording (well, holo-disc). He wants Spidey to replace him on the FF.
This story is significant not only because it marks the beginning of Spidey’s run on the Future Foundation, but also because it is very indicative of the stories that Slott was telling at the time, which is why he was picked to take the flagship title in a new direction.
Read this issue on Marvel Unlimited.
45. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
Writer: Stan Lee Artist: Steve Ditko
This is the origin issue of the Sinister Six! Doc Ock gets Electro, Kraven, the Vulture, Mysterio, and Sandman together to crush Spider-Man. Of course, being villains, they cannot get along together, so Ock develops a plan where they all attack him one at a time to wear him out. The story is a fun read, but not thought out very well. Sandman fights him in a room with no air and runs out of breath before he can beat Spider-Man. Doc Ock, because he goes by an underwater animal, puts on scuba gear and fights Spidey underwater. Spider-Man uses his spider-sense to magically figure out what was written on a piece of paper that was burned. It was like Stan Lee didn’t really think this story out (which he didn’t, as he revealed in the letters pages later in ASM – he said they scheduled the issue and he had not even thought of what he was going to write). In the end, they are all put in the same jail cell where they annoy the heck out of each other.
Historically significance? Well, there are many reasons why this issue is significant.
- Some would that since this is the original Sinister Six, that would be enough.
- Others might point out that the pin ups give us important information about the way Spidey’s costume works and how strong he is (just under Hulk, Thor, and Thing).
- Some may even want to point out that this annual shows how important Spidey is to Marvel since they used this issue to stick in guest appearances of every Marvel hero (with, of course, captions to remind you that you can read the adventures of _______ in _______ each month).
I, however, will go out on a limb and say that the most important part of this issue and why it is worthy of being on the top 50 list is this panel:
Yep. This issue starts the spark between Ock and May that will later develop into a beautiful relationship.
This was #20 on CBR’s list of the Top 50 Spider-Man stories, and an Honorable mention on Mojoworld’s list of the greatest Spider-Man stories.
You can read this on Marvel Unlimited.
44. Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Mark Bagley
The short version of this arc is Bendis takes seven issues to do what Stan “the Man” Lee did in eleven pages. The long version is, well, longer.
In 2000, Marvel wanted to try a new universe to reach new readers. The idea was that they could reboot the old 616 universe in this line (called Ultimate Marvel) by updating the stories to fit modern times. Spider-Man and the X-Men were chosen to launch this new endeavor. There was much controversy especially with rumors circulating that Marvel’s intention was to gradually phase out 616 in favor of this continuity free one and since Marvel had recently attempted to update the Spider-Man history with Byrne’s failed Chapter One (which featured one of the worst villains in Spider-Man history – Captain Power).
The series doesn’t just retell the existing history, it modified it with the benefit of the lens of history. Mary Jane becomes the teenage Peter’s confidant. Aunt May and Uncle Ben are hippier. Osborn is tied into the origin story.
This story is arc is so significant, not only for making this a successful launch of this universe, but also because it lays the groundwork for the characters of Mile Morales and Ganke (a.k.a. Ned Leeds). It also is the source material for most of Marvel’s animation and silver screen understanding of the character.
This was #22 on CBR’s list of the Top 50 Spider-Man stories, and #15 on Complex.com’s list of the 25 greatest Spider-Man stories.
43. Amazing Spider-Man #666-673 (Spider Island)
Writer: Dan Slott Artist: Stefano Caselli and Humberto Ramos
What happens if everyone in New York get the powers of a spider? Mass chaos – especially when it is the Jackal (or, as we know now, Ben Reilly) behind the whole mess. This story sets up to explore the importance of responsibility and seeks to show why Peter Parker is the reason we love Spider-Man, not the cool powers. I am not going to give a summary of this one, beyond what I already did, not because I didn’t like it (I rather did like most of it), but because it would take forever. This is eight issues of Amazing and if you include all the tie ins and cross overs, it is a 30 issue story.
This is a very significant arc:
- This is Dan Slott’s first (and arguably most successful) spider event. I would argue that the success of this event led to the many events we have had since then.
- The story quasi-continues in Secret Wars where it get its own Battle World land.
- The story as introduces Mary Jane as a friend and supporting cast member, which worked well.
- Peter loses the psychic blind spot preventing others from knowing his secret identity when he reveals to the world who he is. Luckily people just thought he was another person who gained spider powers and didn’t take him seriously, but now people can learn the secret and the magic spell is broken.
This should not be confused with Horrors of Spider Island (do not click if you have heart problems, are a small child, a pregnant woman, or a weak man).
Writer: J. M. DeMatteis Artist: Sal Buscema
Harry Lyman Osborn starts this issue off by kidnapping Mary Jane, taking her to the top of the bridge that Gwen was killed off of, and then saying he wouldn’t hurt her, he just wanted to talk. Then we get pulled into his psychic nightmare. He goes from smiling to threatening. Liz sits around smiling like everyone in that Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”. Mary Jane smokes every panel she can get a cigarette in. Little Normie tortures a poor Spider-Man action figure that he carries around with him everywhere (even sleeps with it at night). Harry has more forehead sweat beads than sweating towel guy ever thought of having.
This takes place when Peter and Mary Jane are living right above the Osbornes in the Osborn building. They are in the process of looking for a place to live, mostly because Harry keeps stalking Peter and threatening to release his secret identity to the world. Peter is slowly losing it too. This isn’t a villain that he feels comfortable just punching and sending to jail. To make matters worse, he’s taken a version of the Goblin formula and he is as strong as Peter now. However, it is not the strength that eventually gives him the upper hand, it’s a needle to impossibly sticks out of his palm and jects a drug into Spider-Man, making him weak.
Mary Jane comes to the rescue here, unknowingly. She has taken a break from her Marlboros and is bringing Normie upstairs. Harry starts to freak out because he has a bomb set in the foundation of the house and it is about to blow them all up. Normie was not supposed to be there. Peter talks enough sense into Harry to get him past the stress of remembering his father berating him for being a loser to fly MJ and Normie out of there. MJ, however, jumps all over Harry for leaving Peter in the house, so heroically, he flies in and rescues him right before the building explodes. As he is being taking away to the hospital, Harry confides that he saved Peter because they are best friends, then he dies (either from the explosion, the formula, or from sweating to death), leaving a very confused and heartbroken Spider-Man standing in the street as MJ takes a crying Normie off to find Liz.
The art is fantastic and a perfect match for the issue. DeMatteis really gets the unbalanced nature of Harry and the effects it has on Liz and Normie (although this Liz matches up in no way with the Liz now in Spider-Man 2099).
Harry has always been a weaker Goblin than his father, but just this once, he really shines in his own way. It is probably this issue which inspired the hero Goblin in Spider-Man 3.
Harry’s death here takes him out of the picture until OMD/BND retcons it to he was just recovering in Europe. It’s also one of the earliest uses of that common Parker phrase, “It’s crazy town banana pants.”
Stan Lee would have titled this, “With Friends Like These…!” but instead we get the title, “Best Enemies”.
How important is this issue? It made Fettinger’s list of “Indispensable” Spider-Man issues at number 15. If J.R. says you must read it, and you haven’t, then get on it! You can read it on Marvel Unlimited.
41. Ultimate Spider-Man (Miles Morales) #1-13
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Sarah Pichelli
At first this may seem to be an insane amount of issues to include in one arc until you realize that it is a Bendis arc. It takes less time to read these 13 issues than it does your average Lee/Ditko issue.
The Ultimate Peter Parker is dead. The world is reeling. Nature abhors a vacuum, so in walks Miles Morales. While Miles has pretty much the same powers as Peter (plus a few others, but minus the web shooters and science to make them), he is a completely new and very popular take on the character. The premise is that Norman was trying to recreate the process that made Spider-Man and due to a series of unexpected events, the spider (#42) ends up in Miles’s house and bites him. Miles’s first instinct is to run away and hide, but eventually he rises to the occasion.
One of the things that makes this series so successful is that Miles is a likable character. Plus, he handles things in his own way, instead of just being a diverse version of Peter. For example, his second instinct after gaining powers is to go tell his friend Ned Leeds Ganke. He has difficulty controlling his powers. He has both of his parents and his uncle is a negative influence on his life. He’s shy whereas Peter is bold. Yet they tie it together by having him go against the same and similar villains and having him trying to live up to the legacy of the Ultimate version of Peter Parker.
It is quite possible that these issues will be the source inspiration for the new animated Spider-Man movie.
These issues become all the more important now that the Ultimate universe is gone and Miles is in 616 (or prime or whatever). If you’ve never taken the time to read these first ones, read them on Marvel Unlimited. You will probably find it to be very enjoyable.
OK, dear reader, that is ten down and 40 to go. Tune in next week as Mister Mets reveals the next ten issues on the Crawlspace’s favorites. Let us know in the comments if you think we got it right. Should these issue have been included in a top 50 list? Also, Mister Mets is putting together a Crawlspace fan’s top list, so if you have some issues that YOU think need to be on a top 50 list, you can also tell him in the comments on this page or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Give him some good ones! I can’t wait to see how this list turns out. All I know is that if Web Man and Drunk Spidey don’t make the top 20, I’m going to be furious! Until next week – Make Mine Crawlspace!