Spider-Man is not only one of the most well-known superheroes in the world, but I would dare to say that he is one of the most known symbols as well. Since his creation in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, he’s become Marvel’s most famous character. Peter Parker’s journey started with the tragic death of his uncle Ben and in the days and years that followed, he has risen to become Marvel’s flagship character. It has been a tremendous journey of dedication, strong moral values, and the determination to overcome both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances that we can all relate to.
To put it bluntly, Spider-Man is the comic book ultimate everyman.
So, it’s only natural to have a lot of people who would want to read the wall-crawler’s best exploits. With fifty years to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Well, here are seven stories to swing into and enjoy some of Spider-Man’s most epic and memorable moments from his more than fifty years in the business. These are the best Spider-Man storylines.
One of the largest events in Spider-Man’s history is Maximum Carnage. It’s a fantastic opener for readers that are not big comic book fans and want a lot of action. Carnage is at large and taking control of New York City with the help of a few other villains. Spider-Man teams up with Captain America, Iron Fist, and even Venom to stop him. It’s the only way to put an end to the destruction.
David Michelinie is one of the finest Spider-Man writers of all time, and this was a particularly great period in the character’s history. This is a great comic to start on if you want a fantastic story with a lot of action. You can expect great characters and phenomenal art by the great Mark Bagley.
Back in Black
A big misconception that people have regarding Spider-Man is that he is always a light-hearted character. While he is undoubtedly uplifting and inspirational, his stories tend to have a very serious focus, especially the best ones. But Back in Black, written by a comic book great J. Michael Straczynski, is definitely one of the darkest in the character’s catalog.
During the events of Civil War, Peter reveals his identity to the world. He does it to support Tony Stark’s stance that superheroes should register with the government to protect people. One of Peter’s biggest fears and long-running themes has been revealing his identity. He thinks that it will put his loved ones at risk, and that is exactly what happens. Aunt May gets shot and ends up in critical condition.
Desiring revenge, Spider-Man dons his iconic black suit again and goes on a spree, beating villains and thugs wherever he goes. He even puts Kingpin on the edge of death.
JMS’s period writing Spider-Man is filled with great stories, and this one in particular shows our hero in perhaps his most aggressive period. It pushes his moral values to the limit and offers a different look at the webhead.
Spider-Man No More
Spider-Man No More not only has one of the most recognizable moments in the character’s history, but is also a reminder of what makes him tick. It’s an exploration of what motivates Spider-Man day in and day out to be a hero.
This Spider-Man storyline came out during Stan Lee’s original run. You’ll find it in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #50. There is one iconic panel, made by John Romita, of Peter ditching his costume and giving up on being a superhero that is still very powerful today. Peter, feeling undervalued and despised by New York City — the very city he has been trying to protect for so long — has given up. It also introduces the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, for the first time. He seizes on Spider-Man’s absence to take control of the majority of the city and becomes a criminal powerhouse. Peter dons the costume again and goes back to his crime-fighting ways after he saves an old man that looks very similar to his uncle Ben. It reminds him of why he fights every day.
If you want a story with very human motivations and inspirations, then this issue is perfect for you.
If This Be My Destiny…
Stan Lee is perhaps comic books’ most influential figure of all time, but his time as a Marvel writer is sometimes overlooked. And that is a shame, especially considering the number of great stories that he wrote. This is particularly true for his The Amazing Spider-Man run, like If This Be My Destiny…, which goes from issue #31 to #33.
This story is mostly known for an iconic panel sequence drawn by legendary artist and Spider-Man co-founder Steve Ditko. In the panels, Peter is trapped below an enormous amount of metal, and he has to push himself to his limits to lift it. And while this is a powerful image and one of the medium’s finest moments, the story as a whole has a lot of great beats and firsts. It includes the first appearance of Doctor Octopus. It also introduces characters that would become vital to Spider-Man’s stories like Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn. It has a very dramatic plot where Aunt May is infused with some of Peter’s radioactive blood. It puts her in critical condition and Spider-Man has to make a deal with Doc Oc, as he is the only one that can save her.
If This Be My Destiny… is one of the first stories to stretch more than one issue. This has become the norm in comics and it changed the medium. The story still holds up, which is a testament to Lee and Ditko’s talents as artists.
Taking place in J. Michael Straczynski’s The Amazing Spider-Man issue #38, this is a moment that a lot of long-time Spider-Man fans were waiting for. Aunt May finds out that her nephew is a superhero, and they have a heart to heart talk.
Peter had been severely injured after a battle with Morlun in the Coming Home storyline (also worth your time, by the way). May sees him with the suit on after he passed out, resulting in a full issue of them talking about his role as Spider-Man. They discuss their feelings about Uncle Ben’s death and what motivates Peter to keep going as a superhero.
One of the things that makes Spider-Man such a compelling and timeless character is his sense of responsibility towards his loved ones. The Conversation is a prime example of what he stands for as a superhero and as a man.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Very few moments can claim to have such a monumental impact on Spider-Man’s life as The Night Gwen Stacy Died. The story spans issues #121 to #122 of The Amazing Spider-Man title.
This was a groundbreaking story where the Green Goblin, perhaps Spider-Man’s greatest foe, kills Gwen Stacy, much to Peter’s horror and disgrace. It was a turning point in Peter’s life as he learned from her death while becoming an adult. But it also produced ripples in the comic book industry as a whole. It was the first time that a supporting character (especially a love interest) died at the hands of a villain.
This story is dramatic, filled with action, and it’s also the critical moment that, at least for me, develops Spider-Man into a more mature hero. Gwen’s death made him grow. He realizes that he has to be better. This death furthers one of Spider-Man’s many motivations to honor his lost loved ones every day with his actions.
Kraven’s Last Hunt
This is my personal opinion, but I have to say it: I believe Kraven’s Last Hunt is not only Spider-Man’s finest story but also Marvel Comics’ greatest story of all time. And writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Zeck deserve all the platitudes they can get for making such a heartfelt, complex and masterful work of storytelling.
In this story, Kraven the Hunter, until this point perceived as a C list Spider-Man villain, reflects on his life. He decides to take down Spider-Man at last and prove to be his superior — and he does just that. He drugs the wall-crawler, paralyzing him and seemingly shooting him dead. He buries him and dons his black costume to fight crime as Spider-Man.
Combined with the presence of a minor villain called Vermin and the presence of Mary Jane (she recently married Peter), I would say that this is the story that defines Spider-Man. It changes Kraven’s point of view and forces him to understand what his arch-rival stands for. As the story progresses, he realizes that it’s the man beneath the mask that makes the hero and not the other way around.
This story shows that what Peter has is what Kraven lacks. Peter has his love for his wife, for his aunt, for the ones he lost. He has his will to do the right thing, even if there is a very real chance of him dying in the process. It shows Peter and Kraven as mirror images of one another. The story explains, in an almost visceral manner, what makes Spider-Man so compelling. Beyond all exploits and superpowers, he’s just a man, and that is his biggest strength.
I can’t recommend this story enough, and if you have a basic understanding of who Spider-Man is, you can enjoy it without having read a comic before. It’s the definitive Spider-Man story, in my view, and a reminder of how great comic books can be when the right writer and the right artist tell the right story. It’s inspirational, and it has a lot of heart — that’s Spider-Man in a nutshell.
Venom tales place during The Amazing Spider-Man landmark issue #300. Writer David Michelinie introduces us to the villain that would become a fan-favorite: Venom, he who wears the alien black suit that Peter obtained during the Secret Wars event and discarded when he realized that it wanted to bond with him forever. The alien suit would eventually unite with disgraced journalist Eddie Brock, who had a vendetta towards Spider-Man.
Venom makes an immediate impact because he not only has Spider-Man’s powers and is a stronger version of the wall-crawler, but he also knows his secret identity. Peter’s spider-sense could not warn him about Venom, which allows Eddie and the alien suit to torment him in a much more personal manner. The pair even threatens his wife, Mary Jane Watson, in the process.
Complemented by the spectacular art of legendary Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane, this is a phenomenal issue that puts Peter in a very personal compromise. He has to bring one of his best performances to win this time.
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