A good cover has to serve multiple purposes. First and most importantly, it has to draw in the reader, enticing them to pick up the comic and discover what delights await inside. It also has to act as a visual summary of the issue’s content, hinting at the story within without spoiling any key reveals. It’s a balance that’s trickier to find than it might appear, and is one reason why Marvel quickly abandoned the pin-up style covers that they moved to during Joe Quesada’s tenure as editor-in-chief.
In the years since his first appearance, in 1962, Spider-Man has appeared on thousands of covers, including some of the most recognizable in comics. Here, CBR counts down 15 of Spidey’s most iconic covers. This isn’t necessarily a list of the all-time best Spider-Man covers. Instead we’re focusing on iconic: those covers that are instantly recognizable and often tied with historic moments.
15. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1
As the first issue of Spidey’s debut ongoing series, the placement of this cover may seem rather low. However, despite its historic significance, the cover itself perhaps isn’t as instantly recognizable as others on this list. What it does highlight is the marketing genius that was pivotal to Marvel’s success in the 1960s. Spidey — an unknown quantity with only one prior appearance to his name — is compared with the Fantastic Four, the group that kicked off Marvel’s ’60s renaissance. Despite being trapped by this fantastic foursome, he seems nonchalant and positively cocky. What reader could resist purchasing the comic to find out how the story unfolded?
The cover is also of note for being a collaboration between Marvel’s two artistic titans of the era: Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Kirby (the artist on “Fantastic Four” at that time) drew the cover, while Ditko inked it. Kirby’s work shines through in the depiction of that era’s FF: the self-confidence of Reed, the belligerence of Ben and the caution of Sue all being evident. Ditko’s contribution is also plain to see, with the Spider-Man figure close to the version that readers would grow to love over the coming months.
14. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #251
This issue is a perfect example of a striking, memorable cover that perfectly encapsulates events inside the comic. For months, Roger Stern had been building up the Hobgoblin as Spider-Man’s new nemesis, with the mystery only deepened by the uncertainty around his true identity. The storyline offered hints and vague clues, but nothing concrete, with promising avenues of inquiry frequently turning out to be misdirection.
Issue #251 saw Spider-Man finally engage the Hobgoblin in a winner-takes-all battle. Hobgoblin was determined to punish Spidey for the destruction of Norman Osborn’s journals, while Spidey was determined to finally unmask the villain that had plagued him for so long. The battle culminated with both combatants entering the water in an out of control van. When Spider-Man surfaced, he had the Hobgoblin’s mask but its owner had escaped, his identity still unknown. While the interior art was by Ron Frenz, Ed Hannigan penciled the cover, with inks from Klaus Janson. The main elements on the cover combine perfectly: Spidey’s raised arm seeming to symbolize his determination while the expression on the Hobgoblin’s empty mask seems to mock his efforts.
13. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #1
Spider-Man’s black costume can be a divisive topic among fans. For some it can never compete with the original threads. For others, it represents an exciting time when the status-quo was in flux and there were new storytelling possibilities. And let’s be honest, it also looks really cool. “Web of Spider-Man” #1 was a significant comic for Marvel in a number of ways: it marked the debut of Spidey’s third ongoing solo series, taking the place of the canceled “Marvel Team Up,” and it also saw much of the groundwork established for the entity that would become Venom.
One of the issues that “Web” struggled with was the perception that it was a superfluous Spider-Man title. While many of the stories over the run did nothing to alter that perception, the cover of the first issue was a statement of intent. A dark, moody shot of Spider-Man in his black costume, it was painted by the renowned fantasy artist Charles Vess. In the next issue, Spider-Man returned to his red and blue costume and the covers returned to traditional works by artists such as Greg LaRocque and John Byrne. As good as they were, they couldn’t compete with Vess’ masterpiece.
12. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121
The Death of Gwen Stacy is one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories ever told, marking the closure of one chapter of Peter Parker’s life and the escalation of Norman Osborn to perhaps Peter’s most hated foe. The story is so well-known, constantly being referenced or paid homage to, that it’s easy to forget that the death came as a major surprise to most readers at the time. The title of the story was purposefully kept until the end of the issue, and while the cover promised a death, jaded readers would have been forgiven for assuming that was Marvel hyperbole.
While Gil Kane illustrated the interiors for this issue, the cover was by John Romita, something that was oddly fitting. Romita had taken over “Amazing Spider-Man” with #39, following the departure of Steve Ditko, and in many ways had defined the look of many of Spider-Man’s supporting characters — particularly Gwen Stacy and the Osborns. The death of Gwen in this issue (and Norman’s apparent death in the following issue) gave the impression of the end of an era, which is why Romita’s cover, highlighting the central people in Spider-Man’s life, worked so well.
11. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #300
“Amazing Spider-Man” #300 was something of a rarity, being an anniversary issue that actually contained significant plot developments. In this issue, Spider-Man had his first confrontation with Venom, while the issue ends with him making the decision to abandon the black costume and return to the good ol’ red and blues. The cover is also memorable, being a classic Todd McFarlane shot action pose of Spidey, swinging his way through the city in a pose that would make the most supple aerobics instructor grimace in pain.
McFarlane had taken over “Amazing Spider-Man” with issue #298, introducing two elements that would help define Spider-Man’s look for the foreseeable future. He drew the eyes on the Spider-Man costume as significantly larger than many other artists, while the intricate detail on the webbing (leading it to be dubbed spaghetti webbing) must have done wonders for his popularity with fellow artists, who were expected to follow this template. The huge sales of this issue, both due to the anniversary and its “hot” status as Venom’s popularity exploded, meant that this cover became instantly recognizable.
10. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #316
You just can’t keep a good Symbiote down, and Venom’s huge popularity meant that he soon returned for a rematch with Spidey. Part of Venom’s attraction was that the ’90s explosion of savage and ridiculously overpowered bad guys was still some time away. Venom’s savage nature and the real threat he presented to Spidey was therefore must-read material for Spider-fans. This cover encapsulates this perfectly: Spider-Man is on the ground, looking out for the count, while the imposing form of Venom looms over him, ready to finish the job.
While much of the recognition for this cover comes from its status as a key Venom appearance, McFarlane’s art is also key. For many fans, he drew the definitive version of Venom: one that was strong but not overly muscled, having teeth but not the excessive spittle and snake tongue of later versions. McFarlane himself must have been aware of the iconic status of this cover; he later replicated it for “Spawn” #22, with the character of Tremor standing in for Venom.
9. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #252
The chronology of comics can often be a tricky beast. Case in point: Spider-Man was first shown in his black costume seven months before he actually received it. The reason for this is that in the Marvel comics cover dated May 1984, Marvel heroes were shown being transported to Battleworld to take part in the “Secret Wars” maxi-series. In the next issue of their ongoing series, they reappeared, with some heroes being more affected than others by their experiences. She Hulk had replaced The Thing on the Fantastic Four, the Hulk had a broken leg and Spider-Man had gained a new costume. Readers had to follow the “Secret Wars” title to find out the reasons for these changes.
Marvel was caught unaware by the fan reaction to the black costume, with the response being so positive that it became Spidey’s signature look for almost four years. Due to this issue being the first appearance of said costume, it’s deemed more iconic than “Secret Wars” #8, where Spidey first receives it. Ron Frenz and Klaus Janson also utilize a nice conceit for the cover, mimicking and updating the cover from “Amazing Fantasy” #15.
8. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33
There are some sequences in comics where script and art fuse together perfectly to make one glorious whole. This was the case for this issue, the conclusion of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s “Master Planner” storyline. When this issue begins, Spider-Man is trapped under a huge weight of machinery, unable to break free and save the life of his beloved Aunt May. But Spidey’s a hero and he loves his Aunt more than life itself. Stan’s dialogue has Peter attempting to motivate himself into achieving the seemingly impossible, while Ditko’s pencils show him gradually begin to raise the great weight above his head.
When Spidey finally achieves his freedom, lifting the machinery off him, it’s a triumphant moment. As an example of Spidey’s strength, indomitable will and concern for his loved ones, it’s almost without peer. What makes this multi-page sequence even more impressive is that Stan had originally envisaged that Spidey would free himself from his prison in the space of a few panels. Steve Ditko had other ideas and, in expanding it to several pages, created a classic Spider-Man sequence. The cover captures this moment to perfection, highlighting the size of the challenge Spider-Man faced.
7. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #32
It’s no exaggeration to state that “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” the six-part crossover that appeared in the core Spider-Man titles in 1987, was a significant event. For starters, it took a long running Spider-Man villain who had often been seen as a joke and made him a dangerous, scary adversary with recognizable hopes and fears. J.M. DeMatteis’ script didn’t talk down to readers, with Spider-Man facing psychological torture and Kraven’s life journey coming to a violent end. From the moment that Kraven shot Spider-Man at close range, it was clear that this was no ordinary tale. The next two issues saw Kraven assume the role of Spider-Man, while Peter Parker was left unmourned in a freshly dug grave. In this issue, the fourth part of the crossover, Peter begins his journey towards taking back his life.
The cover — a powerful image by Mike Zeck — perfectly captures one of the defining moments of the crossover, where a Peter Parker that has faced down his inner demons and found the strength to go on living bursts from his grave. It’s a life-affirming moment, with the cover image equaled (and perhaps even bettered) by a similar full-page image in the story itself.
6. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #583
One of the most iconic Spider-Man covers of recent years broke with tradition by not featuring a super villain or an eye-catching Spider-Man pose. In fact, Spidey wasn’t even the main focus of this variant cover for “Amazing Spider-Man” #583. The reason for this cover’s popularity was that it featured the 44th President of the United States: Barack Obama. Published in January 2009, shortly before Obama’s first inauguration, the cover helped the issue sell like hotcakes, going through five different printings.
The reason for Obama’s seemingly random inclusion on a Spider-Man cover was that past interviews with his team had provided the tidbit that Obama collected Spider-Man and Conan the Barbaria” comics. For Marvel, this was too good a promotional opportunity to pass up. As well as being featured on this variant cover by Phil Jiminez, Obama was also the focus of a backup strip entitled “Spidey meets the President,” where Spider-Man prevented the Chameleon from impersonating Obama. Jiminez would later homage his own work for “Amazing Spider-Man” #599, replacing Obama with Nixon. It remains to be seen if Marvel will immortalize other Presidents in the same fashion.
5. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #39
This was the issue where everything changed, for both Marvel and Spider-Man. Steve Ditko, the genius who had brought Spider-Man’s world to life and had plotted the book for months, had left Marvel. His replacement was John Romita, who was fresh from a run on “Daredevil,” but was primarily known for his work on Marvel’s romance comics. It could all have gone terribly wrong; instead, magic happened. “Amazing Spider-Man” #39 was the starting point for another era of Spidey goodness, adorned with one of Spidey’s most iconic covers. Spider-Man unmasked as Peter Parker, at the mercy of the Green Goblin.
Accounts vary about what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko had planned for the reveal of the Goblin’s identity. While Stan has claimed that Ditko wanted him to be a new character, Ditko has maintained that he always intended him to be Norman Osborn. Whatever the truth, the reveal of the identity came in this, Romita’s first issue. Romita also made another vital contribution to the Green Goblin mythos, expertly rendering the physics-defying wonder that is Norman Osborn’s hairstyle.
4. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129
This issue marked the introduction of Frank Castle, the Punisher, who would go on to become one of Marvel’s biggest stars in the 1980s. And what a cover to make his appearance on! While many Spider-Man foes of the time wore gaudy costumes or were fantastical in nature, the functional black outfit and iconic skull logo of the Punisher immediately made him stand out. The cover is also expertly designed, with Spidey caught in the crosshairs of Punisher’s rifle while the cover blurb talks up his deadly credentials. This cover text wouldn’t have worked if delivered with Stan Lee bombast, but its matter-of-fact delivery is a perfect fit with the Punisher’s pared-down look.
While Ross Andru penciled the interiors of this issue, the cover was by the team of Gil Kane and John Romita. The legacy of the cover can clearly be seen in the many times that covers have paid homage to it over the years, in comics as diverse as “What If?” “Amazing Spider-Girl” and “Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates.”
3. SPIDER-MAN #1
When Todd McFarlane left the penciling duties on “Amazing Spider-Man,” he didn’t leave Spidey behind. Marvel launched a fourth ongoing Spider-Man title in August 1990, with McFarlane writing and penciling the self-titled book. The tone of the book was generally darker than typical Spidey fare, but the art contained all the McFarlane hallmarks. The oversized eyes on the costume… the excess of webbing… the contorted body positions… all elements were present and correct.
The iconic cover contains all these elements and became one of the best known modern images of Spidey. Released at the height of the speculator boom, with variant covers and extra printings, it sold over two and a half million copies — that’s enough to buy a lot of web cartridges. As perhaps his most famous image, it’s no surprise that McFarlane has returned to it on a number of occasions, replicating it for “Spawn” #8, “Spawn” #231 and even #13 of this title, where he portrayed Spider-Man’s temporary return to his black costume.
2. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50
How iconic is this cover? Iconic enough to inspire countless homages in titles ranging from “Bartman” to “Howard the Duck.” It’s a relatively simple concept, with Peter Parker attempting to walk away from the shadow of his life as Spider-Man. The execution by John Romita is flawless, helping to take this cover to the next level. Covers can often make the mistake of being too busy, distracting the reader from the central message that they’re trying to portray. Here, it’s immediately clear, accompanied by one succinct caption that says it all: “Spider-Man No More!” What reader could resist?
This cover has become a visual shorthand for major changes in the life of a comics character, with characters in the Peter Parker role including Megatron, Bart Simpson and Spider-Ham. As if that wasn’t enough, what makes this issue even more special is that an interior page, where Peter discards his Spider-Man costume in a trashcan, has become just as iconic as the issue’s cover. The scene has been replicated in “Spider-Man 2” and comics such as “Incredible Hulk” and “Justice League of America.”
1. AMAZING FANTASY #15
“Amazing Fantasy” #15, the very first appearance of a strange new character called Spider-Man, isn’t just the most iconic Spider-Man cover: it’s one of the most iconic covers in the entire superhero genre. It’s so familiar that it has been referenced and aped in countless ways. One of the most interesting examples was in “Deadpool” #11 (1st series), where Wade was placed in the Spider-Man position, playing up the fact that Spidey is utilizing Deadpool’s trademark yellow word balloons.
One interesting aspect of the cover is that it is not drawn by Steve Ditko, despite him penciling Spidey’s origin. Ditko did pencil a cover, but this was replaced by a Jack Kirby drawing, with Ditko inking. The Ditko version has the same format of Spider-Man web-swinging while carrying his passenger, but places the scene much closer to street level, with onlookers evident on the street and in buildings. The Kirby version retains the onlookers but by moving the scene upwards and placing them on top of buildings, it instantly makes Spider-Man a more imposing, mysterious figure. It will never be known if Spider-Man would have been as big a success if Ditko’s cover had been used. What can be said is that the fusion of his talent with Jack Kirby’s created the most iconic Spider-Man cover of all time.
Let us know your thoughts on our picks, either in the comments or on Facebook! We’d love to hear your suggestions for any more that should be included!
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