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As far as I can remember, Spider-Man was always a fixture in my life. Ultimate Spider-Man #10 was not only my first Spidey comic, but it was also my first comic. Peter Parker has always been the itsy bitsy spider who has fallen to the ground numerous times, but has always gotten back up. The odds don’t matter to him; his determination to do the right thing because he has to is what matters to him. And he’s not a special superhero in the likeness of someone like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. He’s a man of normalcy, who does his best to live a good life.
Spider-Man means a lot of things for a lot of folks; this is what he has meant to me as a kid. With a long and enduring history that has now almost reached 60 years, there’s a lot of amazing (pun intended) stories for the character. And it is my pleasure, as well as my honor, to introduce readers to the world of Peter Parker and his web of characters with stories that I feel would be appreciated by those who may stumble upon this article, whether it be because of their interest in the character thanks to the plethora of adaptations or because one of their friends is a Spidey fan.
Let us begin, shall we?
Note: The following comics are available on Marvel Unlimited, where with a monthly or a yearly subscription, readers can get access to a wide variety of comics. Titles are listed based on how Marvel Unlimited identifies them. New comics are added three months after publication.
The Spectacular Spider-Man
The Spectacular Spider-Man episodes 1-26
Oh the shame! I put in a Spider-Man cartoon instead of a comic? Why, oh why?
The truth is that I think this is one of the best adaptations of Spider-Man that I’ve seen outside of the comics. It’s a perfect synthesis of the various Spider-Man comics and the media that came before it, but it still feels like a show with its own identity. The Spectacular Spider-Man is an amazing introduction because it has the hallmarks of a perfect Spider-Man adaptation. The level of serialized storytelling is a sight to behold. It’s a thrilling crime saga with the wall-crawler, with perfect adaptations of classic Spidey rogues such as the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and my personal favorite, the Tombstone. It has one of the best depictions of Peter’s life outside of being Spider-Man, with a fleshed-out supporting cast. The show has incredible animation that makes the best use out of Spider-Man and his abilities, as well as his villains. There’s a grace and fluidity to the movement of the characters and it is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, The Spectacular Spider-Man was canceled thanks to Disney receiving the television rights to Spider-Man, leaving the show with an ending that was clearly meant to set up future seasons. Regardless, it is a binge-worthy show that serves as an incredible introduction to Spider-Man outside of the comics.
Credit: Stan Lee/John Romita Sr./Mickey Demeo/Sam Rosen (from The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #50)
Amazing Fantasy (1962) #15, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963-1998) #1-99, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual (1964-2018) #1-5
Writer: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Artist: Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jim Mooney, John Buscema, Gil Kane
Inker: Steve Ditko, Mike Esposito, John Romita Sr., Mickey Demeo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Tony Mortellaro
Colorist: Stan Goldberg, Marie Severin, Mike Esposito
Letterer: Artie Simek, Jon D’Agostino, John Duffy, Sam Rosen, Jerry Feldman
This is the foundation, yet I felt that there’s more to this set of comics that would be better appreciated in a deeper sense once readers familiarize themselves with Spidey.
The concept of Spider-Man may have created a new template for the superhero, but that does not make this comic any less revolutionary. There’s an accessible timelessness to these issues, as Peter still maintains his relatability despite the setting. There’s a punchy pizzazz to the dialogue of Stan Lee, combined with his fellow co-writer Steve Ditko’s penchant for mood-driven pencils and stories that explored these characters, as well as John Romita Sr.’s romance-tinged atmosphere.
A big part of Spider-Man has been his growth. Peter grows from an angry teenager who wonders if his life as a superhero is worth it to a thoughtful young man who is more hopeful and for whom being Spider-Man is second nature. Right from the beginning, we know that he’s a flawed man, and he still is, but he changes. And so do the people around him. It almost serves as a metaphor for growth: that it never truly ends, and these issues were the closest to depicting that.
Credit: Chip Zdarsky/Travis Lanham (Marvel Comics)
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man (2017-2018) #310
Writer, Artist, Inker, & Colorist: Chip Zdarsky
Letterer: Travis Lanham
In this issue, a filming crew is interviewing various people for their opinions on Spider-Man. Characters like Captain America and a hot dog vendor give their opinions on the wall-crawler. There are some humorous bits, such as the aforementioned hot dog vendor regretting giving our titular hero free hotdogs for life. But the best thing about this issue is the story a woman tells about what Spider-Man saved her son.
This issue is a powerful introduction to the “friendly neighborhood” part of Spider-Man in action with the woman’s story, and it perfectly showcases what Spider-Man is for a lot of New Yorkers. He’s someone who looks out for the little guy and in a world of large-scale threats such as alien invasions, there’s Spider-Man, who spends his time interacting with the people of New York City. It gives his character a humanity and makes his relatability more poignant; as ordinary as he may be, that doesn’t stop him from helping other people in need.
“Kraven’s Last Hunt”
Credit: JM DeMatteis/Mike Zeck/Bob McLeod/Janet Jackson (from The Amazing Spider-Man #293)
Web of Spider-Man (1985-1995) #31, The Amazing Spider-Man #293 (1963-1998), Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976-1998) #131, Web of Spider-Man (1985-1995) #32, The Amazing Spider-Man #294 (1963-1998), Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976-1998) #132
Writer: JM DeMatteis
Artist: Mike Zeck
Inker: Bob McLeod
Colorist: Janet Jackson, Bob Sharen, & Mike Zeck
Letterer: Rick Parker
(Content Warning: Kraven’s Last Hunt tackles mental illness and themes such as suicide, which may be triggering for some readers)
For readers who have read some of the Spider-Man comics I’ve put in the “Bread,” prepare to be taken for a surprise.
What makes Kraven’s Last Hunt my favorite Spider-Man story is how, unlike most comic book stories, let alone Spidey stories, it delves deep into the relationship between the two characters. The actual title of the story is “Fearful Symmetry,” which is a nod to a line from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” which is another thing I love about this comic. It enhances the story’s haunting exploration of both Spidey and Kraven, such as one’s desire to survive and one being a harbinger of death.
But what also makes this story amazing is that we get to see a deeper glimpse into the humanity of Spider-Man. Kraven’s predicated on being superior to the wall-crawler, and yet he fails to realize that what drives the superhero is not his abilities, but his humanity and compassion, and we see that with the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, one of my favorite couples in superhero comics. It provides a deep emotional core to the story.
Credit: Brian Michael Bendis/Mark Bagley/Art Thibert/Transparency Digital/Chris Eliopoulos (from Ultimate Spider-Man #49)
Ultimate Spider-Man (2000-2009) #1-111, Ultimate Spider-Man Annual (2005-2008) #1-2, Ultimate Six (2003-2004) #1-7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Bill Jemas
Artist: Mark Bagley, Mark Brooks, Stuart Immonen, Joe Quesada, Trevor Hairsine
Inker: Art Thibert, Dan Panosian, Erik Benson, Rodney Ramos, Scott Hanna, John Dell, Jaime Mendoza, Mark McKenna, Danny Miki, Mark Morales, Jimmy Palmiotti, Victor Olazaba, Mark Brooks, John Sibal, Drew Hennessey, Matt Ryan
Colorist: Steve Buccellato, Marie Javins, Colorgraphix, Jung Choi, Transparency Digital, JD Smith, Dave Steward, Justin Ponsor, Laura Martin, Richard Isanove, Larry Molinar, Studio F, Andy Troy, Dave Stewart, Ian Hannin, Avalon Studios
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Comicraft, Troy Peteri, Wes Abbott, Albert Deschesne, Dave Sharpe, Chris Eliopoulos, Cory Petit
(Note: Ultimate Six takes place after Ultimate Spider-Man #53, Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1 takes place after Ultimate Spider-Man #85, and Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #2 takes place after Ultimate Spider-Man #105.)
(Content Warning: Ultimate Spider-Man has sexist and ableist dialogue that has not aged well)
Whew, sorry for that long note!
Ultimate Spider-Man does serve as a good starting point for readers interested in Spider-Man, but I think it belongs in the Meat because I believe it is best appreciated by those who are familiar with the character.
Since it takes place in a different universe, a lot of changes are made. The spider-bite still does happen and Peter learns the lesson about responsibility, though it does play out a little differently here. Characters like Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn are shown to be Peter’s classmates in high school, as opposed to the main Marvel universe, where they meet in college. Norman Osborn is not a man in a costume hurling pumpkin bombs; in this comic, he’s reimagined as a man who can transform into a hulking monster who throws fireballs. And so forth.
Changes like these can be risky but somehow Ultimate Spider-Man still manages to be an excellent comic that honors the character and what he stands for. The reinventions are interesting for those who are familiar with the character and his supporting cast. And for readers with an eye for detail, there are some interesting references to aspects of Spider-Man’s world in the main Marvel universe that just enhance the reading experience.
The aforementioned issues are a chunk of Peter’s story, and while there are more stories after Ultimate Spider-Man #111, such as the introduction of Miles Morales, I think that issue is a good end point for a certain era in the comics. There’s a sense of completion.
A New Goblin And So Much More!
Credit: Roger Stern/John Romita Jr./Dan Green/Bob Sharen/Joe Rosen (from The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #246)
The Amazing Spider-Man (1963-1998) #224-227, #229-252, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual (1964-2018) #16-17
Writer: Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco
Artist: John Romita Jr., Bob Hall, Ed Hannigan, Ron Frenz
Inker: Pablo Marcos, Bob Wiacek, Jim Mooney, Dan Green, Frank Giacoia, Bob Layton, Kevin Dzuban, Dave Simons, Klaus Janson, Brett Breeding
Colorist: Glynis Wein, Bob Sharen, Stan Goldberg, Andy Yanchus, George Roussos, Christie Scheele
Letterer: Joe Rosen, Diana Albers, Jim Novak
This is probably my favorite Spider-Man run. It’s a run that I feel has set a benchmark for the character since his original run in the 60s.
What I love about this set of issues is that it builds upon what we know of Spider-Man and his cast. Characters like the Vulture, the Black Cat, and even the eponymous hero himself are written with a hefty amount of depth that makes you rethink these characters. And it’s not just the Spider-man mainstays either. We have relatively obscure characters like the Will-o-the-Wisp making appearances in the run and they are interesting characters! There’s a deeper characterisation to these characters as they’re brought into a new age of Spidey comics: the 80s. And lest we not forget, this issue introduces the Hobgoblin, one of my favorite Spider-Man villains and while his story does come to a climax and is unfinished due to external circumstances, the final issue completes this saga of Spider-Man by introducing the Venom symbiote!
The Special Sauce
“Fifteen Minutes of Shame”
Credit: Zeb Wells/Jim Mahfood/Steve Buccellato/Randy Gentile (from Peter Parker: Spider-Man (1999) #42)
Peter Parker: Spider-Man (1999-2003) #42-43
Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Jim Mahfood
Inker: Jim Mahfood
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Randy Gentile
Spring Break is here! Hearing about a string of disappearances on the site of a beach party hosted by Sonic TV (an MTV parody), Spidey decides to investigate by taking part in a wide variety of shows for the channel.
Even though the story is a parody of the 2000s era of MTV, it’s a story that I feel has aged well. There’s still a lot of comedy to be gleaned from seeing Spider-Man be a celebrity guest of sorts, especially when he’s decked out in costume. Spider-Man is an everyman and in a way, he’s an audience avatar for one would see on MTV, or stuff like reality TV, for that matter. Some of the best Spider-Man stories involve a lot of humor and writer Zeb Wells understood that. The premise lends itself to a lot of comedic situations, and there’s the amazing artwork by Jim Mahfood, who gives all of the characters a cartoony vibe that’s just dynamic and fits the parodic nature of the story.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web
Credit: Peter Milligan/Duncan Fegredo/Steve Buccellato/Richard Starkings/Wes Abbott (from Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #5)
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web (2001-2003) #4, #5-6, #7-9, #11, #12, #13
Writer: Greg Rucka, Peter Milligan, Bruce Jones, Darwyn Cooke, Zeb Wells, Ron Zimmerman
Artist: Eduardo Risso, Duncan Fegredo, Lee Weeks, Darwyn Cooke, Sean Phillips
Inker: Eduardo Risso, Duncan Fegredo, Josef Rubinstein, Jay Bone, Sean Phillips
Colorist: Steve Buccellato, Matt Hollingsworth, Duncan Fegredo
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Wes Abbott, Jimmy Betancourt, Comicraft, Sean Phillips
I like to think that there’s a whole treasure trove of Spider-Man stories out there. I just recommended a story in Peter Parker: Spider-Man that I consider to be a personal favorite, and this set of issues from Spider-Man’s Tangled Web is what I consider to be a hidden gem.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web is a comic that was more about the people in the world of the titular character and while Spidey himself does appear in some of these stories, he’s not necessarily the main character. It’s great to get a chance to read the stories of the other characters and what I loved about these stories is that there’s an introspective and sometimes offbeat aspect to them. The image I shared for this comic, for example, is from the “Flowers for Rhino” storyline, where the titular character decides to undergo an operation to make himself smarter in order to attract the attention of a mob boss’s daughter. It’s a poignant story about enjoying your own identity and not compromising on that.
Humor and Tears: A Character Study
Credit: Paul Jenkins/Humberto Ramos/Wayne Faucher/Studio F/Richard Starkings/Comicraft (Peter Parker: Spider-Man (1999-2003) #47)
Spider-Man: Revenge of the Green Goblin (2000) #1-3, Amazing Spider-Man (1999-2013) #25, Peter Parker: Spider-Man (1999-2003) #44-47
Writer: Paul Jenkins, Roger Stern, Howard Mackie
Artist: Mark Buckingham, Ron Frenz, John Romita Jr., Humberto Ramos
Inker: Dan Green, Rodney Ramos, Tom Palmer, Pat Olliffe, George Roderick Jr., Scott Hanna, Wayne Faucher
Colorist: Joe Rosas, Matt Hicks, Gregory Wright, Studio F
Letterer: Richard Starkings, Troy Peteri, Dave Sharpe, Sharpefont, Paul Tutrone, Wes Abbott, Comicraft
I always loved the dynamic of Norman Osborn and Peter Parker. Willem Dafoe’s take on the character in the first Sam Raimi film is probably one of my favorite acting roles in superhero films. The enmity between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn in their costumed identities has always fascinated me because of how different and how similar they are. They’re both geniuses, but Norman’s a rich CEO and Peter’s perpetually broke. They’ve both gone through a lot of tragedies in their life and have their own inner demons, but Peter’s more at peace with himself while Norman’s in a constant struggle.
Despite my listing, these are two separate studies that I think work well off each other. The first story is about how Norman views Peter as a son and the second story is about how Peter deals with the fact that this one man knows who he is and can mess up his life at any second if he wants to. They are excellent character studies that showcase just how much these two men hate each other, and yet they have a relationship that can be described as a close in a warped way.