Because of Spider-Man, we will never forget that with great power, comes great responsibility. What does that mean exactly? We have a duty to use our power (even if they weren’t bestowed upon us by a radioactive spider) to aid those in need. We have a duty to be selfless and that’s exactly what Spider-Man has proven, time and time again, to be: a selfless hero. He’s a hero not in spite of all his failings but because of them.
He distinguishes himself as a character because no matter where he goes or what he does, he maintains that humility because he remembers his failures and he grows from them. When you look back at all his stories, you’ll find that he has failed quite a lot and that isn’t a bad thing. He’s had more than his fair share of tragedy and heartache but they’ve never kept him down for long. It’d be easy to show you all of his successes and all the incredible battles he’s won, but those don’t say much about who he is as a character. Read on and we’ll show you 15 tragic failures that made him really grow. You’ll see for yourself how he came back from every single one of these heartbreaking events and for the most part became a better hero.
15. FAILED TO DESTROY SYMBIOTE
Spider-Man first found the symbiote on Battleworld after his suit was damaged during Secret Wars. It attached itself to Spidey, enhancing his strengths, skills and powers. Peter was happy to have it until he discovered that the suit was actually an alien symbiote feeding off of him. He quickly rid himself of it in Web of Spider-Man #1 (written by Louise Simonson with art by Greg LaRocque, Jim Mooney and George Roussos) but it returned to hound him after bonding with Eddie Brock, becoming his enduring foe, Venom.
Despite fighting it repeatedly over the years, Spidey has never been able to destroy that original symbiote or prevent it from spawning more. The symbiotes have continued to affect his lives of many, including Eddie Brock who recently returned as Venom after a brief period of trying to forget that part of his life. It was a little irresponsible on Peter’s part to not continue his fight against the symbiotes, despite knowing what they’re all capable of.
14. HARRY’S DRUG PROBLEM
Peter and Harry were roommates when the latter developed a drug problem, which Peter discovers in Amazing Spider-Man #97 (written by Stan Lee, artwork by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia and John Romita). The stress of his academic life as well as his tumultuous relationship with Mary-Jane leads Harry to overdose on pills in the same issue, which ends with Spidey finding Harry in need of medical assistance.
Peter does blame himself for leaving Harry alone after an argument, knowing that he had a drug problem. We can’t say that he isn’t partly at fault and that he didn’t fail his friend in that regard, but it would be difficult for anyone to know what to do when put in the same position. That’s why Spidey failing here was so important. It dealt with a real issue and helped to make people aware of how serious it is and how drug users need the support of people around them.
13. ALLOWED CRIMINALS TO RUN RAMPANT
After all of Jameson’s attacks against Spidey in the papers, the people began to fear him and it proved to be too much. Peter Parker took his costume and threw it away in Amazing Spider-Man #50 (written by Stan Lee, illustrated by John Romita Sr. and Mickey Demeo). The Kingpin comes out of the shadows and crime rates rocket. It isn’t until Peter is forced to save a helpless night watchman that he remembers why he became Spider-Man in the first place.
It wouldn’t be natural for someone to take on all crime as their personal responsibility without feeling as though it was crushing them at one point or another, so we understand Peter’s choice in that comic. The fact that crime rose because of him and that he’d indirectly put more people in danger definitely reminded him (and us) of the burden of his responsibility.
12. ATTEMPT TO REMOVE HIS POWERS
If he didn’t have his great powers, surely his responsibilities certainly wouldn’t be so great. Being Spider-Man often means that he has to put those he cares about second to his duty as the web-slinger. In Amazing Spider-Man #100 (written by Stan Lee with art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia), Peter decides that he doesn’t want to have these powers anymore. He takes an experimental serum that he hopes will rid him of his powers.
The serum almost does the complete opposite and turns him into a six-armed Spider-Man. The reason this failure was so tragic is that it showed our hero and us that he was in more ways than one, forever bound to his burdensome role as Spider-Man. That fatalistic notion would be verified when Peter found much later that he was one of the spider-totems.
11. TRYING TO SAVE AUNT MAY
One of the earlier tragedies that occurred was in Amazing Spider-Man #32 (written by Stan Lee with artwork by Steve Ditko) during Peter’s famous struggle against Master Planner. Peter discovers that Aunt May is dying because of radioactive material in her blood. Immediately, Peter realizes that it was because he’d given her his blood back in Amazing Spider-Man #10 (written by Stan Lee, art by Steve Ditko).
It’s terrible enough seeing a loved one fading away like that. It’s unimaginable for someone to have attempted to save their loved one and then have that attempt become the reason for more suffering. That’s why he gained our admiration when he lifted that iron debris and escaped from the Master Planner’s lab with a cure for Aunt May. It shows his determination. He’ll brave any risk to save his loved ones and draw strength from that compassion.
10. MAXIMUM CARNAGE
One of the consequences of Spider-Man’s failure to destroy the Venom symbiote was Carnage, the offspring that bonded to serial killer Cletus Kasady. One of Kasady’s more horrific rampages was during the Spider-Man crossover event, Maximum Carnage (written by Tom DeFalco, J.M DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh and David Micheline), when he meets Shriek and they escape from Ravencroft, going on to recruit Doppelganger, Demogoblin and Carrion to form the comic book equivalent of the Manson family.
Spider-Man failed to defeat these super-powered murderers the first time he battled them, which led to the deaths of dozens if not hundreds in New York, who were either slaughtered by Carnage and the gang or killed indirectly by Shriek’s psychic powers. In the end, Spidey learned the limits of his strength as well as how to work as part of a team, with both his friends and hated enemies.
9. DEFEATED BY KRAVEN
In one of Spider-Man’s darker storylines, Kraven the Hunter gives it his all to prove that he’s superior to Spider-Man and to all other would-be opponents. Surprisingly in Web of Spider-Man #31 (written by J.M DeMatteis, illustrated by Mike Zeck among others), Kraven succeeds in defeating Spider-Man, uncharacteristically using a rifle to shoot the wall-crawler. Kraven buries him and dons the suit to hunt his former foe’s adversaries, something he does with ease and brutality.
The tragedy here in Spidey’s failure was in Kraven’s actions. The hunter never fully understood Spider-Man and the compassion that drove him. It’s a quality the storyline elegantly brings to light in its own dark way. Kraven was an exceptionally talented hunter but for him, there was nothing but the hunt. Peter finds strength in the things he fights for on a daily basis, not to prove anything but just because it’s right.
8. LEFT FOR DEAD BY MORLUN
Morlun is the seemingly immortal being who travels through the multiverse, hunting and killing every Spider-totem to feed on them. He played a crucial role in the storyarc, Spider-Man: The Other (written by Peter David, Reginald Hudlin and J. Michael Straczynski) in which he hunts a dying Spider-Man down and kills him without much effort. Spidey gives it his all in this fight, even trying to throw in his usual wit and humor, but Morlun brutally pummels him before ripping out his eye and devouring it, leaving Spidey for dead in the streets.
It was a defeat unlike any other and you couldn’t help but wonder if that tragic defeat meant the end of our hero. But that would be the last time Morlun would see victory. A dying Peter embraces “The Other” and emerges from his cocoon renewed with new powers and lethal stingers, which he uses to kill Morlun when the immortal hunter returns to finish Peter off.
7. ALEKSEI THE RHINO
In one of the more heart-wrenching stories in the Amazing Spider-Man comic series was the story of Aleksei Sytsevich in Amazing Spider-Man #617 (written by Joe Kelly with artwork by Max Fiumara and Fabio D’Auria) who, at the time, had recently abandoned his life of crime and sought redemption. He was released early, met a great woman, Oksana, and married her. It was a whole new life for him.
But the past refused to let him go. A new Rhino emerged, seeking to make himself known by destroying the old Rhino. Spidey thwarted the new Rhino’s first attempt on Aleksei’s life but was unable to prevent the second attempt, which resulted in Oksana’s death. Her death in turn prompted Aleksei to become the Rhino once again, avenging her death by killing his would-be replacement.
6. MARLA JAMESON’S DEATH
Alistair Smythe attacks Spider-Man once again in Amazing Spider-Man #654 (written by Fred Van Lente, illustrated by Stefano Caselli and Marte Gracia) with a host of his Spider-Slayers. In an attempt to weaken them, Marla Jameson activates a disruptor to destroy their “insect-senses.” It works too well since it also ends up disrupting Spider-Man’s spider-sense, causing one of his more tragic failures when he battles Alistair Smythe on the streets.
Smythe attempts to attack J. Jonah Jameson but Marla pushes her husband out of the way, taking the lethal blow from Smythe’s tentacle. Spidey wasn’t fast enough to save her, but quickly took Smythe down. It was a tragic death but it was the one time that Jameson didn’t blame Spider-Man for what had happened, instead he blamed himself. The guilt is still there for Peter and it would help drive him to commit himself in a new way and try to ensure that no one else dies.
5. COULDN’T STOP SHED IN TIME
Kraven would continue to haunt Spider-Man for a long time through his children. Ana, Sasha and Alyosha Kravinoff begin to tear away at their prey bit by bit using his adversaries, the Lizard for example. Curt Connors struggled with the vicious, cold-blooded alter-ego for years, losing in the battle for his mind. He lost completely when Ana Kravinoff got involved and placed Billy Connors in the path of the Lizard.
Spider-Man, realized too late that the Lizard had taken over in Amazing Spider-Man #631 (written by Zeb Wells, art by Emma Rios and more) and while he put up a fight, he was helpless to save Billy Connors from being devoured by his reptilian father. This was just pure tragedy and it destroyed Curt, creating a more monstrous creature: Shed. Spidey didn’t walk away unaffected either; his trust in his old friend Curt Connors had been shattered beyond repair.
4. FAILED TO DEFEAT DOC OCK
Spidey usually comes out on top, which is part of the reason why the end of the Dying Wish storyline in Amazing Spider-Man #700 (written by Dan Slott, illustrated by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado) was so shocking. Peter, still trapped in Ock’s dying, frail body, does his best to get his body back but Ock has taken every precaution and Peter loses the fight, leaving Ock to become the superior Spider-Man.
In the emotionally heavy final page of the issue, Peter dies, but not before showing Ock what it means to be Spider-Man and how he became that person: all of the pain, loss and guilt that drove him to become the admired hero he is. Even when he realized that this was the end, there wasn’t any hate, he just did his best to guide Ock and ensure he’d continue to fight the good fight.
3. ONE MORE DAY
In a more controversial storyline, Spidey seeks to save his Aunt who’s dying from a bullet meant for Peter. He turns to every hero he knows, pleading with them to try and save his Aunt. In the end, he turns to Mephisto, who offers to save Aunt May and erase his identity from the public’s memory, in exchange for the erasure of Peter’s marriage to Mary-Jane.
There are those who would argue that after he had tried everything, he should have let Aunt May go, as Doctor Strange essentially suggested. Instead, in his desperation, he made a deal with the devil to save her, sacrificing a giant portion of his life to keep her alive just a little longer, arguably doing more damage than good. When all is said and done, however, few people would have done differently. Which one of us wouldn’t have made the same choice to save our loved ones?
2. DEATH OF GWEN STACY
In a famous story arc, Green Goblin kidnapped Gwen Stacy in order to lure Spider-Man to the George Washington Bridge (or Brooklyn Bridge depending on what you’re going by). There, he throws Gwen over the edge and Spider-Man dashes to save her from her fall, shooting out a strand of web to catch her. His web latches on to her leg and it seems as though he’s saved her. He finds later as he pulls her up that she’s already dead, her neck snapped due to the whiplash.
Amazing Spider-Man #121 (written by Gerry Conway, art by Gil Kane, John Romita Sr. and others) was a turning point in more ways than one and it shocked everyone. Peter has never forgiven himself for what happened to Gwen and we can understand how it makes him more determined whenever other loved ones are put in harm’s way. The issue also shook the beliefs of comic readers since this was the first time a major character had been killed off due to the failure of a hero.
1. FAILURE TO ACT
His first tragic failure was perhaps his worst, and happened when he refused to stop that robber back when he was still just trying to earn a little cash with his powers. He witnesses a security guard chasing the thief but lets him get away, telling the guard that was his job. Days later, his uncle Ben is murdered by a robber, who Spidey chases down quickly, soon after discovering that it was the same robber he let slip past him.
This tragic failure to act was what first showed him that with great power, comes great responsibility and thus pushed Spidey to use his powers for good. He didn’t murder his uncle but choosing not to act when he could have meant that he was partly responsible. It was a difficult lesson but one that made Parker the respectable hero he is today.
What other tragic failures do you think helped to shape Spidey? Tell us in the comments!
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