Mark kicked this off last week with the bottom ten (of course, making the Top 50 of a list of thousands of eligible stories is no small feat) so here’s the next phase of the Crawlspace’s list of the Top 50 Spider-Man stories. This selection has been assembled from suggestions by the various reviewers and members of the podcast team.
40. Power and Responsibility (Web of Spider-Man #117, Amazing Spider-Man #394, Spider-Man #51, Spectacular Spider-Man #217)
Writers: JM Dematteis, Terry Kavanagh, Howard Mackie, and Tom DeFalco; Artists: Steven Butler, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Tom Lyle,and Liam Sharp
Judas Traveller and his henchmen make their debut taking over Ravencroft Asylum, figuring that they’ll push Spider-Man to his limits, unaware that the hero is pretty much a broken man as the result of recent events. It’s been a rough time for Spider-Man, and there’s no one he hates more than Peter Parker. He gets an outlet for his frustrations with the return of the clone, back in New York City to visit a dying Aunt May. When Spider-Man fails to save the hostages, the clone is given the offer to do nothing, and quietly slip into Peter’s life, or to try the save the life of the one man whose continued existence will deny him that. One of the things that’s remarkable about the story is how seemlessly and immediately the clone fits into Spider-Man’s world. Part of it is that we see things from the clone’s point of view so we know how Spider-Man’s mistaken in picking a fight with him (twice) viewing him as some kind of enemy. One of the criticisms of the story is that Peter is depicted in a negative manner, perhaps in order to make readers accept Ben Reilly later taking over as Spider-Man, but the contrast allows the clone to bring something to the series it’s missing at this point. And Peter had been dealing with some bad stuff (the death of his best friend, May’s illness, the revelation that his returned parents were robots, the revelation that his best friend was responsible for death, the death of a coworker, etc.)
There were two versions of the original issues. The cheaper variants had the regular story, but if you were willing to pay twice as much at the time, you got foil covers and a back-up tale revealing the clone’s perspective of the events of the original Clone Saga. If you happen to see these issues in a dollar bin, go with the foil versions to get that feature as J. M. DeMatteis and Liam Sharp show the clone questioning his identity, and having a few nasty surprises.
Historical significance? This kicked off the two year clone saga that dominated the Spider-Man comics of the 1990s. It also pretty much served as the introduction of Ben Reilly. While there had been brief appearances in earlier issues and he had been a generic duplicate Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #149, this was the story that established what made him distinctive from Peter Parker.
The larger Clone Saga has appeared in two other “Best of” lists: a top ten composed by spiderfan.org for Official Playstation Magazine, and Marvel readers’ selection of the 75 greatest Marvel comics.
39. Gauntlet: The Rhino (Amazing Spider-Man #617, 625)
Writer: Joe Kelly. Artists: Max Fiumara, Javier Pulido
While ostensibly investigating potential graft at a casino (or taking advantage of one hundred dollar vouchers offered to reporters as part of a way to get free publicity) Peter and Norah Winters encounter the man who was once the Rhino. Peter’s initially worried, but discovers that his former enemy has changed thanks to the love of a good woman. The problem is that a new villain has taken the name of the Rhino and wants to challenge his predecessor. It’s a tough time for Spider-Man, and he really needs a win, so he struggles to keep his old enemy from backsliding. Unfortunately, the new enemy is persistent and aided by a mastermind who can see the future, and manipulate events to get the nastiest possible outcome. The format of the story is unique. Initially meant to be a single issue, it’s told in two stories published eight issues (and three months) apart. The power comes from Spider-Man’s efforts to prevent a great tragedy, and the transformation of the Spider-Man villain most likely to be beat up in the first five pages of the comic into something scarier and much more intimidating.
Historical significance? This had a tremendous effect on the Rhino’s arc, shaping his motives as a member of the Sinister Six, and as one of the Jackal’s allies in Clone Conspiracy. It was part of the larger Gauntlet storyline which paved the way for the return of Kraven the Hunter.
38. The Ultimate Clone Saga (Ultimate Spider-Man #97-105)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Mark Bagley
In the longest Ultimate Spider-Man arc to date, Bendis and Bagley tackle material that really shouldn’t work, and that sometimes failed in the classic Marvel comics. Ultimate versions of classic villains are revealed as clones of Spider-Man. Peter’s father comes back from the dead and it turns out that Aunt May knows all about it. Gwen Stacy’s back from the dead, and sticks around as a member of the supporting cast. One of Spider-Man’s clones is a chick. One of his greatest enemies is responsible for everything, and turns out to have a new ability. It all works due to Bendis and Bagley’s skills as storytellers, as well as some interesting twists and connections. The secret of Peter’s “father” is a particular highlight, making sense in the context of the larger story, and giving pathos to a one-off side character. These may be the craziest situations the teen hero and his supporting cast were ever in, and they react appropriately enough.
Historical Significance? This story provided payoff to material that had been seeded in the title for years, and also served as the introduction for the Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Woman.
The best possible version of this story is probably the ninth volume of the Ultimate Spider-Man oversized hardcover series.
37. The New Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four #347-349)
Writer: Walt Simonson Artist: Arthur Adams
The Fantastic Four are believed dead due to a trap set by the Skrulls, and this leads to the formation of a new team of Marvel’s most popular characters of the early 1990s: Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Incredible Hulk (in his Professor Hulk persona) and Ghost Rider. It functioned as a parody of shameless commercialism, as well as a three issue cash grab as the unlikely heroes team up.
Historical significance? It was one of the first Marvel Trade Paperbacks.
There may be some question about whether this counts as a Spider-Man comic, given that it is a Fantastic Four storyline, and he appears as a member of a larger team. He still has some good moments, and he serves a clear purpose in terms of his popularity at the time, and what he adds to the team dynamic.
36. The Hero and the Holocaust (Amazing Spider-Man #269-270)
Writer: Tom DeFalco Artist: Ron Frenz
Firelord, former Herald to Galactus, stops by Earth for some pizza when he is mistaken for a mutant and attacked by a construction crew. Spider-Man interferes in the ensuing beating, and the hotheaded (in all senses of the word) Firelord decides that his honor has been insulted, and that Spider-Man must pay for this. The first issue highlights Spider-Man’s intelligence in combat situations, as he realizes that he is hopelessly outclassed, and tries to distract Firelord long enough to find heroes more used to dealing with cosmic menaces. But then due to circumstances beyond in control (tying into John Byrne’s run of the Fantastic Four) Spider-Man realizes that there isn’t going to be anyone else who can help so he has to make a choice about whether to retreat, or to try fight a guy with a reputation for beating teams of superheroes. The second issue takes the two through some New York landmarks, with an ending that serves as a reminder of just how destructive super-powered conflicts can be.
Historical Significance? Spider-Man’s victory over Firelord is sometimes referenced as one of his greatest battles. A scene in which mysterious figures spy on Aunt May’s house has payoff in “Whatever Happened to Crusher Hogan?” (Amazing Spider-Man #271.) The story marks the first appearance of Daily Bugle editor Kate Cushing.
35. Unscheduled Stop (Amazing Spider-Man #578-579)
Writer: Mark Waid; Artist: Marcos Martin
A Subway Peter happens to be on gets attacked, and he has to save a car full of passengers from a mob hit. Things get worse when it turns that one of his oldest enemies is responsible. There are some obvious parallels to the classic great weight scene in Amazing Spider-Man #33, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. Spider-Man has to use his brains to keep other people alive. Artist Marcos Martin has a great sense of design and storytelling, allowing for some surprises, including when it turns out that Spidey has been in tremendous pain, and keeping it a a secret from the people around him. Meanwhile, one of the passengers has a secret as well, and is indirectly responsible for years of hurt for Spider-Man.
Historical significance? It was the first major storyline by Mark Waid as a member of the Brain Trust. He’d stick around for another two years on the title. J. Jonah Jameson Sr became a member of the supporting cast, and married Aunt May. Spider-Man’s struggle in this issue has become a touchstone for the character referenced in Amazing Spider-Man #700, and Superior Spider-Man #26.
This story has appeared on multiple “Best of” lists. It was #29 on CBR’s Top 50, #24 on Complex.com’s Top 25, and it appeared as one of Spider-talk podcast’s Essentials series.
34. Stand Tall (Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #36)
Writer: J. Michael Straczysnki, Artist: John Romita Jr.
There was one view that the events of September 11 were so significant and tragic that a superhero comic shouldn’t address it, except perhaps as metaphor. There was another view that Marvel’s most recognizable New Yorker should encounter the city’s greatest tragedy. The story starts with Spider-Man seeing the carnage, and being asked why he wasn’t able to stop it. His answer: “the sane world will always be vulnerable to madmen because we cannot go where they go to conceive of such things.” The story features scenes of rescue crews and Marvel icons working together in the aftermath, but plenty of pages without any superheroes, honoring the people affected. It feels a bit disrespectful to say this given the tragedy depicted, but this is arguably John Romita Jr’s best ever art on the series, which makes it one of the best-looking Spider-Man comics ever published.
Historical significance? It’s a one-off that isn’t referenced again in the comics and dealt with an event that is increasingly part of the nation’s past, so it’s something that can’t be part of the character’s history at this point. It did get a lot of positive news publicity when it first came out, demonstrated JMS’s range as a writer, and exemplified Editor in Chief Joe Quesada’s goal of making Marvel Comics a superhero universe as similar as possible to the world outside our window.
The best possible version of this story is in two out of print oversized hardcovers; Marvel Visionaries: John Romita Jr, and The Best of Spider-Man Volume 1.
Marvel readers voted it the 44th best Marvel comic ever in Marvel’s 75th anniversary countdown.
33. The Original Clone Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #141-149)
Writer: Gerry Conway, Artist: Ross Andru
With the end of his Amazing Spider-Man run, Gerry Conway became the first Spider-Man writer to actually pen a finale for his stint on the book. The master plan of the Jackal, the big bad for the previous twenty issues, reached fruition with a storyline that built on the Death of Gwen Stacy, and revealed that a member of the supporting cast was a supervillain. Along the way, Spider-Man faced a series of challenges included the return of a classic villain who had been dead for years, a new supervillain in Paris, the Scorpion kidnapping his Aunt May, the Tarantula teaming up with the Jackal, conflict in his relationship with Mary Jane, and then Gwen Stacy coming back from the dead. It ends with one of the series’ biggest mindbenders as Spider-Man encounters a duplicate, except the duplicate thinks that he’s the real deal.
Historical Significance? There are plenty of arguments that this saga essentially marked an end to an era of the Spider-Man comics where Peter Parker would show consistent character development. These issues exemplified Mary Jane as the great love of Peter’s life after the death of Gwen Stacy. The clones would eventually become a mainstay of the comics. The Jackal would return in the 1990s clone saga, and in Dan Slott’s run of Amazing Spider-Man.
This has appeared on several other Best of lists. It was #26 on CBR’s Top 50, and #16 on IGN’s Top 25. The Hollywood Reporter voted Gerry Conway, Gil Kane and Ross Andru’s run of Amazing Spider-Man as the 14th best superhero comic ever.
32. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin…both Unmasked (Amazing Spider-Man #39-40)
Writer: Stan Lee, Artist: John Romita Sr.
The big mystery in the first 40 issues of Amazing Spider-Man was the identity of the Green Goblin, and Stan Lee demonstrated his willingness to go in a different direction than readers expected. Before Spider-Man learned the Green Goblin’s secret identity, the Green Goblin learned Peter Parker’s secret. This led to a new kind of threat for Spider-Man, as a supervillain attacked him outside his home, causing a medical episode for Aunt May. Things took another turn when the Green Goblin revealed his identity, and managed to become more interesting when the mystery was gone, and readers knew who he was. That isn’t typically the case with mystery villains. A recap of previous encounters tied up loose ends from the previous two years of the series.
Historical significance? This marked the beginning of John Romita Sr’s run of Amazing Spider-Man, proving that the franchise can prosper even after the departure of original artist Steve Ditko, and paving the way for a different take on Peter Parker, as he grew more confident and extroverted. It’s been adapted into multiple forms including the 1990s Fox Animated series, as well as Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man film. It changed the Green Goblin from a mystery villain into a member of the supporting cast, altering the dynamic of the entire series. As Peter grew closer to Harry Osborn, he would become part of a circle of friends that included Flash Thompson (initially an outright antagonist) and Gwen Stacy.
This story has appeared on many other Best of lists. It was #11 on CBR’s Top 50, #6 on Complex.com’s Top 25, and #8 on Mojoworld’s Top 10. It has been covered in the Spider-talk podcast’s Essentials series, and was on the Spiderfan/ Official Playstation Magazine Top Ten list.
The best possible version of this story is probably the one in oversized hardcovers, available in the Stan Lee/ John Romita Sr Amazing Spider-Man omnibus, or Marvel Visionaries: John Romita Sr.
31. Spider-Men #1-5
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Sara Pichelli
In the first crossover between the Classic and Ultimate Marvel Universes, Peter Parker chases Mysterio to another dimension, and finds a world where his secret identity is well-known, because he died in a very public fashion. He encounters the Miles Morales Spider-Man, and they get a well-choreographed fight scene where Miles is impressed by his ability to dodge Spider-Man’s webbing, but a little pissed about the tactics Peter uses. The highlight is Peter’s encounter with the supporting cast of the Ultimate Peter Parker, who all react in different ways to a grown up version of the kid they knew and lost. The routine encounters with Mysterio also result in some stunning visuals. Bendis has written Spider-Man in his Avengers run, as well as the teenage Ultimate Spider-Man (more on him in future entries), but this is the closest he’s come to writing a Spider-Man solo adventure, so we get to see his take on the character’s voice.
Historical Significance? This marked the first meeting of Miles Morales and the 616 Peter Parker. They would team-up again in Spider-Verse and Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars mini-series, before Morales found his way into the classic Marvel Universe. Brian Michael Bendis recently announced a follow-up storyline answering questions from this mini-series, while also tying up loose ends from the mergers of the classic and ultimate marvel universes. Elements of the story were used in an adaptation for the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series.
The next Top Ten is coming a week from now as this crossover with the Cobwebs column continues.
Don’t forget that you can submit your own choices for the best Spider-Man stories to email@example.com. See the previous Tangled Webs entry for details on eligibility.