Over half a century after his initial debut in Stan Lee’s Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man remains one of the most iconic figures in all of pop culture. Beloved by adults and children alike, there’s something about Peter Parker’s status as both an everyman and one of Marvel’s greatest heroes that’s endeared the character to audiences worldwide. With almost 52 years’ worth of stories to his name, it goes without saying that Spider-Man comics have played host to some of the greatest, most important stories in the history of the medium.
Able to seamlessly transition from bright, bubbly, child-friendly stories to dark, introspective and mature ones, Spider-Man’s sheer versatility as a character plays a huge part in what’s kept the character fresh and relevant for so long. In addition to this, Spidey also has perhaps the most impressive rogues gallery in all of Marvel Comics, as well as one of the most expansive (and lovable) casts of supporting characters. With that mind, CBR is here to examine 25 of the very best stories the wall-crawler has to offer. Of course, there have been hundreds of fantastic Spidey stories over his five decades of existence, but these are really the cream of the crop.
25. BACK IN BLACK
Penned by one of the all-time great Spider-Man writers J. Michael Straczynski, Spider-Man: Back in Black deals with the fallout from the earth-shattering events of “Civil War”, in which Peter Parker publicly reveals his identity as Spider-Man in an effort to win the public’s favor in the conflict. As was always Peter’s greatest fear however, it doesn’t take long for his loved ones to find themselves in the line of fire after Aunt May is shot by an assassin. With May in critical condition, Peter drops his usual happy-go-lucky attitude and goes full vigilante, beating his way through a list of names to find the man responsible for the attack.
One of several stories exploring the darker side of Spider-Man, “Back in Black” showcases a bitter, vengeful Peter Parker, proving that even your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can put aside his morals when pushed to his limits. Going as far as throwing men out of windows, threatening criminals with torture and beating the Kingpin to near death, the story stands as one of the grimmest moments in Peter Parker’s history and the result is a disturbing, engrossing read. Sure, the story directly led to the events of the widely criticized “One More Day”, but that doesn’t stop “Back in Black” from being a great story in its own right.
24. MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN
With Mark Millar’s talent for balancing the inherent bleakness of his stories with genuine humor and likable characters, the prolific writer was undoubtedly the perfect fit for his 12-issue run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. Bringing with it the mature themes and darkness synonymous with the Marvel Knights imprint, the story follows Spider-Man as he struggles to protect his family and friends after an unknown villain learns his secret identity. Soon finding himself up against a new, improved version of the Sinister Six — now the Sinister Twelve — Marvel Knights: Spider-Man puts its titular hero at the center of one of his most volatile adventures to date.
Despite its mature themes and grim subject matter however, Millar never forgets to have fun with the story. Brought to life by Terry Dodson’s impressive artwork, Millar finds a way to incorporate dozens of iconic characters from Spider-Man’s history, as well as the larger Marvel Universe, making the story feel like quintessential Spider-Man. The book also takes particular care to make its characters fun and interesting, with Millar excelling at the little character interactions that add depth and levity to the story, making several members of Spidey’s rogues gallery even more magnetic than we’re typically used to seeing.
23. THE HOBGOBLIN SAGA
With at least six characters having taken up the mantle of Hobgoblin over the years, the classic villain’s history has unfortunately become muddied since the character’s inception in 1983’s The Amazing Spider-Man #238. Thanks to the constantly shifting identity of the character, it’s become somewhat tough to keep track of exactly who the Hobgoblin is at any given point in time. Back in the character’s early days however, readers were introduced to one of Spidey’s most intimidating villains to date in the form of Roderick Kingsley — a criminal who unintentionally stumbles upon the Green Goblin’s lair, appropriating his specialized gear and advanced tech in the process.
The initial mystery of the Hobgoblin’s true identity also played out in interesting fashion, with many readers undoubtedly expecting some huge twist or shocking character reveal. Instead, it was later revealed that the Goblin-themed supervillain was in fact billionaire fashion designer, and part-time criminal, Roderick Kingsley. While this may initially seem like an unsatisfying reveal, the fact that it was Spider-Man himself who chased Kingsley into the sewers housing Green Goblin’s lair adds a layer of responsibility to Spidey for the villain’s existence. Conceived by writer Roger Stern and legendary artist John Romita Jr, Hobgoblin remains one of the most imposing villains in Spider-Man’s ever-expanding cast of villains, and provided Marvel Comics with one of its most compelling mysteries to date throughout his first arc.
One of the most truly disturbing Spider-Man comics ever to be released, “Shed” has been praised by many — and criticized by others — for its brutal and controversial events. Focusing on Dr. Curt Connors, who’s struggled to control his monstrous alter-ego “the Lizard” for his entire comic book career, “Shed” finally sees Connors lose the war inside his own head, with the Lizard portion of his brain finally taking full control.
Embarking on a brutal rampage across the city, the Lizard targets several sources of negativity in Connors’ life starting with his abusive boss, who he consumes. Soon tracking down his son Billy — who Connors recently lost custody of — Spider-Man rushes to the scene to talk down the Lizard and save the life of Connors’ helpless son. That’s how most Spider-Man stories would have played out, at least. “Shed” however, sees Spider-Man fail to arrive on time to save Billy, with the Lizard devouring his own son as the human part of his brain screams in anguish. Traumatized by the brutal act carried out by his alter-ego, Connors finally succumbs to the Lizard, disappearing into his reptile personality permanently, shedding his humanity both physically and mentally. It’s a tough story to read, and stands as one of Spider-Man’s greatest, most heart-breaking failures of all time.
Despite the fact that comic books fans have grown accustomed to large-scale crossovers and Universe-wide events over the years, there’s something about “Spider-Verse” that just feels so unique. Managing to remain both epic and insular at the same time, the story explores the Spider-Man mythos on a Multiversal scale, while featuring relatively few characters outside the world — or worlds, as the case may be — of Spider-Man. Bringing together the various incarnations of the webhead from across the Multiverse, “Spider-Verse” sees the return of Morlun, one of the most terrifying villains Spidey has ever faced, as well as his family, the Inheritors, as they embark on a violent crusade to consume the life force of every Spider Totem in the Multiverse.
Featuring the likes of Superior Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Woman, Silk and Miles Morales, just to name a few, the event sees the disparate group of Spider Totems work together to put a stop to the Inheritors’ reign of terror. Epic and entertaining, the story also manages to paint Morlun and his family as a legitimate and persistent threat, with the villains laying waste to countless versions of Spidey over the course of the story. Perhaps the biggest, most expansive Spider-Man event since “Maximum Carnage”, “Spider-Verse” is definitely worth a look for those interested in the larger Spider-Man mythology.
20. THE CONVERSATION
One of the great things about Spider-Man as a comic book character is the sheer variety of different directions his books can go in, and still feel like they belong in his world. Light and breezy? Sounds good! Dark and gritty? Sure! Heartfelt and emotional? Go ahead! With that said, “The Conversation” easily falls into the latter category, and stands out as one of Peter Parker’s most touching stories, proving once and for all that comic books aren’t just about action and plot, but people.
After being beaten half to death by Morlun during the events of “Coming Home”, May finally learns that Peter is Spider-Man, and the issue focuses solely on the resulting conversation between the two characters. The pair commiserate over their mutual feelings of guilt over Uncle Ben’s death, with Aunt May revealing that an argument between the couple led to him leaving the house on the night of his murder. After so many years’ worth of secrets and stifled feelings between May and Peter, seeing them take an issue to clear the air and open up to each other is both incredibly satisfying and unexpectedly touching. Taking place in The Amazing Spider-Man #38, the issue really highlights the sweetness between May and Peter, and reaffirms exactly what it is Spider-Man fights for in the first place. In short, the issue is J. Michael Straczynski at his very best.
19. MAXIMUM CARNAGE
Taking place over 14 issues across several different titles in the Spider-Man franchise, 1993’s “Maximum Carnage” remains one of the largest-scale events in the history of the character. With several writers sharing scripting duties across the arc’s various titles, the story sees a recently depowered Cletus Kasady escape from Ravenscroft Asylum, becoming Carnage once again thanks to the remaining traces of the alien symbiote in his blood. Not content with wreaking havoc alone however, Carnage also frees the equally deranged Shriek, initiating a merciless killing spree across New York after bringing Carrion, Doppelganger and Demogoblin on board.
After Shriek uses her powers to turn New York’s population into mindless murderers however, Spider-Man is forced to team up with Venom — in one of the more heroic periods of his career — and are soon joined by the likes of Captain America, Iron Fist, Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, and even Morbius. The ensuing battle is not only a feast for the eyes thanks to the colorful, breathtaking art throughout, but also contains some fantastic character beats, too. As always, seeing a semi-heroic “Lethal Protector” era Venom is more than welcome, but even Carnage and his cronies have some interesting dynamics at play, resulting in a story full to the brim with intense action, beautiful art and playful character work. The series was so popular in the ’90s in fact, that a SNES game was even commissioned and released the following year, to mixed reviews.
18. THE GAUNTLET
Initially conceived as a slow build up to the Kravinoff-centric “Grim Hunt” storyline, “The Gauntlet” ended up being just as compelling, if not more so, than “Grim Hunt” itself. Not structured quite as traditionally as most comic book arcs tend to be, “The Gauntlet” was more of a brief period in Spider-Man’s history than a cohesive arc in its own right. Pitting Spidey against a sudden resurgence of his greatest foes in rapid succession, “The Gauntlet” gives each villain their own separate story to shine, with gems like “Rage of the Rhino” and “Endangered Species” standing out as particularly great reads.
Forced to battle the likes of Rhino, Lizard, Mysterio, Sandman, Electro, Chameleon, Morbius and Hammerhead one after the other, the endless onslaught of foes begins to take a toll on Spider-Man. As it turns out, the Kravinoffs — the psychotic family of the deceased Kraven the Hunter — were eventually revealed as the masterminds behind the whole ordeal, hoping to wear Spider-Man down before sacrificing him in a blood ritual to resurrect Kraven. Managing to provide palpable stakes and interesting twists on old villains, “The Gauntlet” feels like a darker take on classic Spider-Man stories, with each issue telling its own unique tale, all while building up a compelling overarching narrative.
17. BEST OF ENEMIES
Taking place in 1993’s Spectacular Spider-Man #200, it felt appropriate that the death of Harry Osborn would be saved for a milestone issue of the comic given the complex history between Harry and Peter. In previous issues, Harry had taken up the mantle of Green Goblin after discovering the truth about both his late father and his best friend’s secret identities. Blaming Spider-Man for the death of his father, Harry quickly descended into madness, hoping to hurt Peter both physically and mentally in a bitter campaign of vengeance. Despite all of this though, there was clearly still a little piece of Harry reluctant to kill Peter, with the Goblin opting out of finishing off Spider-Man several times throughout their skirmishes.
In addition to this, Harry also promises MJ that she and Aunt May would remain unharmed given his fondness for them — a luxury Norman Osborn would never have afforded Peter. Nevertheless, Harry eventually doses Peter with a hallucinogenic drug and traps him in a building armed with explosives. Upon realizing that several people are still in the building, including Normie Osborn and MJ, Harry is convinced to save them, also rescuing Peter in the process before collapsing. It’s then revealed that the Goblin Formula has been slowly poisoning Harry all along, sharing an emotional goodbye with Peter in the hospital before dying.
On paper, “Spider-Island” looks like a rather odd combination of ingredients. Bringing together many disparate elements of Spider-Man’s world, as well as the larger Marvel Universe, writer Dan Slott does an impressive job at spinning so many plates at once, never forgetting that this is a story about Peter Parker despite the scale of the story’s events. In the story, the Jackal — in league with the nefarious Spider Queen — gives the residents of Manhattan spider-powers, causing citywide chaos as the Avengers attempt to tackle the sudden swell in superpowered crime. It’s later revealed by a six-armed Shocker that the citizens of New York will soon transform into mutated spider-like monstrosities, leaving Spider Queen as the city’s new ruler.
Teaming up with several heroes, including Captain America, Anti-Venom and Agent Venom, the Spider Queen is eventually foiled, with a grateful Manhattan publicly thanking Spider-Man for his heroic actions throughout the incident. Slott’s writing manages to use the much maligned aspects of Spider-Man’s history to his advantage, giving convoluted characters like Kaine their due in the event. Combined with some awesome action sequences (seeing MJ with spider-powers is particularly fun) and energetic art by Humberto Ramos, “Spider-Island” remains one of the most memorable arcs in Dan Slott’s great run on The Amazing Spider-Man.
15. COMING HOME
Another great story arc in J. Michael Straczynski’s incredible run on The Amazing Spider-Man, “Coming Home” also happened to be the first arc in Straczynski’s ongoing run. Kicking things off with the revelation that the spider responsible for biting Peter Parker did so intentionally, hoping to pass on its powers before dying, Spider-Man is revealed as a “Spider-Totem” — a multidimensional entity connected to the Web of Life. The wall-crawler is then hunted by Morlun, a relentless energy vampire who feeds on these Totems, much to Peter’s chagrin. Truly giving Spider-Man the fight of his life, Morlun beats him to a bloody pulp, forcing the hero to flee on several occasions, eventually threatening innocents to bring the webslinger out of hiding.
Completely outclassed by Morlun, “Coming Home” is one of the most gruelling and hopeless chapters in Spider-Man’s career thus far, with Peter eventually realizing that victory is extremely unlikely. In one of the story’s strongest scenes, a bloodied and bruised Peter calls Aunt May one last time before facing what he assumes will be his death. Highlighting the determination, bravery, strength and ingenuity of Spider-Man, “Coming Home” manages to add legitimate stakes to the world of the wall-crawler, creating the rare feeling that our hero could genuinely perish at any moment. In fact, Morlun would later go on to “kill” Peter Parker in “The Other”, marking him as one of Spider-Man’s most terrifying foes.
Almost as recognizable as the wall-crawler himself, there’s a visual and thematic symmetry between Venom and Spider-Man that make them the perfect adversaries, with their long-held hatred of each other serving as one of Marvel’s greatest rivalries. With that in mind, it’s odd to think that Eddie Brock’s Venom didn’t fully debut in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 in 1988, a full 26 years after the hero’s initial creation. The issue opens with a terrified Mary Jane claiming that a creature wearing Spider-Man’s black costume broke into their apartment, after which Peter begins to feel that someone is following him.
As it turns out, Peter’s stalker is none other than bitter ex-journalist Eddie Brock, who blames Parker for his recent fall from grace. Bonded with the alien symbiote previously worn by Spider-Man, Eddie Brock becomes Venom, hoping to exact revenge on Spidey by murdering him. The resulting fight between the two characters is the stuff of comic book legend, with Todd McFarlane’s jaw-dropping art giving the battle weight and substance, kicking Venom’s comic book career off with a huge bang. In fact, the character quickly became so popular that he’s since found success separate from Spider-Man altogether, going on to have several solo series’ and reinventions over the years — including the feature film Venom, set to release later this year.
13. SPIDER-MAN: BLUE
One of four entries in the “Colors” series consisting of Daredevil: Yellow, Captain America: White and Hulk: Gray, Spider-Man: Blue is the crowning achievement of the series conceived by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. Spanning six issues released from July 2002 to April 2003, the story takes a pensive look back at the iconic relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy before her untimely death at the hands of the Green Goblin. Taking place on Valentine’s Day, Spider-Man: Blue sees Peter dictate his thoughts about Gwen into a tape recorder, revisiting several key moments from their relationship through a nostalgic, albeit melancholic lens.
Reaffirming just how important Gwen Stacy was in Spider-Man’s life, it’s clear Peter is still scarred by her death, with the story also chronicling how Mary Jane helped him to recover from the trauma. The story’s climax reveals that MJ had been listening in on Peter’s recording the entire time, but instead of showing jealousy or anger towards Peter, she instead states that she misses Gwen too, telling Peter to say hi for her. The whole book is a bittersweet reflection on the two most important figures in Spider-Mans’s history and how they shaped his journey as a hero and a person. Bolstered by incredible art by Tim Sale that straddles the line between the classic and modern, Sale’s depiction of Gwen and MJ really captures the light they’ve both brought into Peter’s life, and Steve Buccellato’s color work is just gorgeous.
12. NO ONE DIES
It goes without saying that Spider-Man is a character all too familiar with death. From his Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy and countless others in between, Peter Parker has dealt with death more than most other Marvel heroes — with the deaths in Peter’s life having a tendency to be permanent too, unlike most comic book characters. One such casualty was Marla Jameson, wife of J. Jonah Jameson, who died taking a bullet for her husband after mad scientist turned Spider-Slayer Alistair Smythe incited a violent crusade against the Jameson family.
In the two issues following Marla’s death, The Amazing Spider-Man #655 and #656, Spider-Man is tormented by nightmares of those he’s lost over the years, many of whom criticize the hero for his failure to save them. With haunting appearances from major characters in Spider-Man’s life from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy to Jean DeWolff, Peter’s mind is pushed through a nightmarish hellscape of guilt and sadness trying to process the countless deaths in his life. The story’s opening is particularly effective, showing a silent Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson getting ready for Marla’s funeral, depicting the quiet despair of loss with scary accuracy. In other words, think of this as the comic book version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Body”.
11. THE DEATH OF SPIDER-MAN
Despite the fact that Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is far more willing to permanently kill off their heroes than their Earth-616 counterparts, the famous “Death of Spider-Man” arc in Ultimate Spider-Man sparked worldwide interest — and some outrage — by even those outside of the comic book fandom, with several huge news outlets covering the story in the lead up to Peter Parker’s demise. Even though the death happened outside of Marvel’s mainstream continuity, the idea that such a beloved character would meet his end was a bitter pill to swallow for some, and the outpouring of love for the wall-crawler only made Peter’s eventual death all the more powerful.
Dying from injuries sustained during an intense final stand with Norman Osborn, Electro, Sandman, Vulture and Kraven the Hunter, Peter Parker’s death was a real gut punch moment — particularly since he dies in the presence of MJ, Aunt May, Johnny Storm and Gwen Stacy — but also gave the character an emotionally resonant and heartfelt send off. In addition to this, Peter’s sacrifice would go on to inspire a young Miles Morales to take up the Spider-Man mantle, ushering in a whole new era of Ultimate Spider-Man, giving Marvel one of its most popular new characters in years.
10. THE KID WHO COLLECTS SPIDER-MAN
Although it’s not your typical Spider-Man adventure, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” is one of the most widely loved entries into the webhead’s canon nonetheless, consistently appearing in the conversation surrounding Spidey’s greatest stories. Written by Roger Stern, the story was initially created as a backup to “And He Strikes Like a Thunderball” — appearing at the tail end of 1984’s The Amazing Spider-Man #248 — but “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” subsequently became much more popular than the issue’s main story.
Focusing on a young kid named Tim Harrison, who also happens to be a huge fan of the wall-crawler, the story sees Spider-Man pay Tim a visit after discovering he’s terminally ill. The two share various anecdotes and stories, with Spider-Man appearing touched at Tim’s optimism and appreciation of him. Before leaving, Tim suddenly asks Spider-Man to reveal his identity, which he surprisingly does, explaining to Tim how Uncle Ben’s death turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man. The pair exchange a tearful embrace before Peter leaves, having fulfilled Tim’s one and only wish: to meet his hero. The story is one of Marvel’s most heart-warming reads, perfectly encapsulating what it is that Spider-Man represents, making “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” an essential read for all comic book fans.
9. THE SINISTER SIX
About as classic as they come, the introduction of the Sinister Six is everything fans love about classic Spidey comics. Created by the iconic pairing of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the Sinister Six made their debut in 1964’s The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. Formed by a recently-escaped Doctor Octopus — bitter over his multitude of losses at the hands of the wall-crawler — the Sinister Six comprised of half a dozen of Spidey’s most fearsome foes, including Doc Ock, Mysterio, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman and Vulture. Uniting under one single purpose, to kill Spider-Man, the group of villains resorts to kidnapping Betty Brant and Aunt May to draw their prey out. With each character hoping to deliver the fatal blow to the wall-crawler however, the gang agrees to attack their foe one by one to give each of them a shot at defeating him.
What follows is an action-packed series of beautifully illustrated battles between Spider-Man and each individual member of the Sinister Six. Upping the ante to a degree not yet seen in Peter’s adventures, the introduction of the Sinister Six solidified Spider-Man as one of Marvel’s most formidable heroes, managing to survive the seemingly endless gauntlet of villains through sheer determination and quick thinking. It’s not the deepest Spider-Man story out there, sure, but it’s a fun, breezy read that stands as one of the webhead’s most iconic adventures.
8. HOW GREEN WAS MY GOBLIN
Another classic story penned by Stan Lee, “How Green Was My Goblin” serves as an essential entry into the Spider-Man canon, marking the occasion that Spider-Man’s greatest enemy finally learns his true identity, which would go on to spell disaster for Peter Parker. Since his first appearance in 1964’s The Amazing Spider-Man #14, the mystery of who exactly the Green Goblin was an important aspect of the comic, with Lee finally giving his readers — as well as Peter Parker himself — the answers they were clamoring for in The Amazing Spider-Man #39.
The issue primarily consists of Green Goblin’s devious plan to unmask Spider-Man, which he does so by luring him into a bank robbery, before dosing him with a potent chemical that dampens his spider sense. With Spider-Man unaware that he’s been subjected to the chemical, Green Goblin is able to follow the hero without triggering his spider sense, eventually discovering that his archenemy is none other than Peter Parker. As if that wasn’t enough for one issue, the Green Goblin then proceeds to defeat Peter, before tying him up and unmasking himself as Norman Osborn, the father of Peter’s best friend Harry. Signifying the start of the increasingly toxic relationship between Peter, Norman and Harry, “How Green Was My Goblin” is unquestionably one of the most vital chapters in the wall-crawler’s early years.
7. SPIDER-MAN NO MORE
In terms of pure iconography, “Spider-Man No More” is one of the most instantly recognizable issues of The Amazing Spider-Man ever created, with the image of Peter Parker walking away from his discarded Spider-Man suit etching itself deep into the public’s collective consciousness. Taking place in The Amazing Spider-Man #50, “Spider-Man No More” sees a worn-out Peter Parker finally give up the mantle of Spider-Man, feeling unappreciated and under attack by the very city he’s trying to protect. While the storyline is one of Spider-Man’s most well-known however, many forget that “Spider-Man No More” also introduced one of Marvel’s biggest villains, the Kingpin, who capitalizes on Spidey’s absence by making moves to strengthen his criminal empire.
After learning of Kingpin’s rise to power — and saving a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Ben in the process — Peter ultimately realizes that he can’t give up being a hero, stealing his costume back from J. Jonah Jameson and resuming his career as New York’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The storyline has since become so iconic that the plot was even adapted for the big screen in 2004’s Spider-Man 2, with the movie even recreating John Romita’s iconic image of Spider-Man’s costume in the garbage.
6. NOTHING CAN STOP THE JUGGERNAUT!
After receiving a call from a concerned Madame Web in The Amazing Spider-Man #229, Spider-Man learns that the Juggernaut plans to kidnap her at the request of the villain Black Tom Cassidy, who himself hopes to use Web to defeat the X-Men. Granted a mystical force by the demon Cyttorak that renders him completely unstoppable, Spider-Man is unable to subdue the Juggernaut by conventional means, forcing him to improvise to take down the rampaging villain.
When compared to many other widely praised Spider-Man stories, “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” doesn’t exactly contain any monumental plot points, groundbreaking narrative choices or mind-blowing revelations. So why is it that the story has become so incredibly popular over the years? What “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” essentially represents is the quintessential Spider-Man story. Villain of the month? Check. Intense action? Check. Quippy humor? Check. What sets this story apart from other Spidey stories however is its execution. The dialogue between Spider-Man and Juggernaut as they duke it out really shines thanks to Roger Stern’s great script, with John Romita Jr.’s kinetic artwork giving the book some highly entertaining fight scenes. As far as standalone Spidey stories go, “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” is about as good as it gets, resulting in its status as one of the wall-crawler’s most fondly remembered adventures.
One of the great comic book stories of all time, there’s no denying the impact that Spider-Man’s first appearance had on the world of comics. Debuting in Amazing Fantasy #15 way back in 1962, it’s amazing just how well Peter Parker’s origin story holds up more than five decades later. Created by Stan Lee with classic art by Steve Ditko, it’s almost impossible to find a person unfamiliar with the events of the issue. With that said, it’s easy to forget just how much happens in Amazing Fantasy #15. From the introduction of Peter Parker and his life, to the famous radioactive spider bite, to the death of Uncle Ben and the subsequent birth of Spider-Man, there’s no shortage of iconic, quotable moments in just eleven short pages — an amazing feat for any comic book.
Moving at a breakneck pace, Stan Lee’s effortlessly charming script captivated readers across the globe thanks to Peter Parker’s awkward relatability, with his eventual decision to become a force for good despite his tragic origins becoming one of Spider-Man’s most notable characteristics. Optimistic, strong, smart and compassionate, Amazing Fantasy #15 solidified Spider-Man as the definitive superhero, making it perhaps the most important Marvel comic ever written.
4. THE DEATH OF JEAN DEWOLFF
Of all the stories exploring the darker side of Spider-Man, “The Death of Jean DeWolff” may just be the best. Written by Peter David, the story sees police captain and close friend of Spider-Man Jean DeWolff murdered by a psychopathic serial killer known as the Sin-Eater. Given an unceremonious, off-panel death at the hands of a murderer rather than a superpowered villain, the story is all the more grounded and affecting as a result, with Spider-Man’s pain feeling genuinely palpable throughout the four-issue arc. Joining forces with Daredevil to put a stop to Sin-Eater’s reign of terror, Spider-Man is finally pushed to his limits when the killer targets Betty Brant, almost succeeding in killing her.
Responding by beating Sin-Eater half to death, Spider-Man almost finishes the job but is held back by Daredevil, who uses Spider-Man’s anger against him in the ensuing scrap. With the beating from Spidey leaving the killer severely injured, Peter later redeems himself by rescuing both Daredevil and Sin-Eater from a vengeful lynch mob seeking justice for DeWolff’s death. A dark and ground-breaking entry into Spider-Man’s continuing saga, “The Death of Jean DeWolff” is both compelling and melancholic. Despite thwarting the Sin-Eater’s killing spree, there’s no happy ending to be found in the story, with Jean — as well as the rest of the killer’s victims — remaining very much dead, leaving Spider-Man and Daredevil to mourn their respective losses.
3. IF THIS BE MY DESTINY…
Easily one of the most beloved stories in the entirety of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s legendary run on The Amazing Spider-Man, “If This Be My Destiny…” is a 3-issue story taking place between The Amazing Spider-Man #31 and #33. Amongst the most dramatic stories in Spidey’s early career, the storyline sees the introduction of the devious “Master Planner” — later revealed as classic villain Doctor Octopus — as he steals several pieces of high-tech equipment. It’s also discovered by Peter that Doc Ock has the only cure for an extremely sick Aunt May, who’s poisoned following a blood transfusion from Peter’s radioactive blood, causing Spider-Man to spring into action.
Of course, the issue is famous for its memorable sequence in which an exhausted Spider-Man is trapped under several tons of heavy machinery, mustering the last of his strength to heroically emerge from the wreckage to save Aunt May, a sequence that Stan Lee claims caused him to “shout in triumph” upon witnessing Ditko’s art. What’s often overlooked about “If This Be My Destiny…” however is the remainder of the story’s strengths, with it being responsible for bringing vital Spider-Man supporting characters like Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy into the fold. In addition to this, it was also amongst the first Spider-Man “sagas”, stringing several issues together as a single story, enabling Lee and Ditko to create a deeper, more engaging story than they ever had before.
2. KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT
Spread out across six issues over three different Spider-Man titles, “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is notable for feeling like an event comic despite the deeply intimate, self-contained nature of its story. Exploring its titular villain, Kraven the Hunter, in a way never seen before, is painted as one of the most complex and disturbed villains in Spider-Man’s entire rogues gallery. The story sees Kraven defeat Spider-Man, sedating him and burying him alive, all before taking Peter Parker’s place as Spider-Man to prove himself the superior hero, employing brutal tactics in his time as the wall-crawler.
With the effects of the sedative eventually wearing off, Spider-Man — fueled by his desire to get back to his wife — digs his way out of his grave before confronting Kraven. Despite having beaten Spider-Man physically however, Kraven soon realizes that Spider-Man’s definition of “hero” is vastly different to his own, prompting Kraven to return home and shoot himself dead with a rifle. One of the most haunting moments in any Spider-Man story, Kraven’s suicide reveals the hollowness hidden beneath his over-the-top, victory-obsessed façade, and turns the character from cartoonish to tragically human in just one story. Written by the incredible J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck’s accompanying art is both arresting and macabre, with the whole package adding up to not just one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told — but one of the greatest comic book stories ever told.
1. THE NIGHT GWEN STACY DIED
The death of Gwen Stacy in the now-iconic “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” may well be the most famous event in comic book history, and there’s good reason for that. Arguably the most significant turning point in Spider-Man’s entire career, the story also signalled a huge turning point for the comic book industry at large. Serving as Spider-Man’s greatest failure, the death of his first true love traumatized Peter Parker for years to come, forcing him to evolve as both a person and a hero. Meanwhile, the story also shocked comic book fans and creators, with the thought of such a major supporting character being killed — especially in a book as child-friendly and optimistic as Spider-Man — being previously unheard of.
The story ultimately ushered in a whole new era of comic books, with creators taking more and more risks with their characters and telling darker, more mature stories. The impact that Gwen Stacy’s death had on popular culture tends to overshadow the story’s other triumphs however, with many forgetting that the Green Goblin also met his end in the arc after being impaled by his own glider — a moment perfectly recreated in 2002’s Spider-Man movie. Created by the dream team of Gerry Conway and Gil Kane, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is unquestionably the single greatest Spider-Man story ever told.
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