Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, is unquestionably one of the most popular fictional heroes out there. Strike that, he’s one of the most popular fictional characters, period. When Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, he was an absolute hit. Readers simply couldn’t get enough of the character; and so a legend was born. Celebrated as one of Marvel’s flagship books, Spider-Man’s even been lucky enough to consistently have excellent creators at the helm of his books; from Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway to John Byrne and J. Michael Straczynski. Spider-Man has been featured in literally thousands of comics and there’s no end in sight.
Yet for all the great and powerful stories written by equally genius writers, Spider-Man, like many superheroes, has fallen prey to getting occasionally cursed with bizarre comic book hijinks. We’re not just talking about Spidey fighting guys dressed up in rhino costumes or wearing fish bowls on their head, but entire storylines that failed to hit the mark. It’s these stories, the one that even Marvel has done its best to make you forget, that we’re about to focus on. Today at CBR we’re examining at 15 awful Spider-Man stories Marvel is unabashedly ashamed of.
15 THE CLONE SAGA
If you thought "Maximum Carnage" put both Spider-Man and readers through the ringer, than let’s introduce you to the universally hated "Clone Saga". There isn’t a soul out there who enjoyed the multi-year long story. Arguably the worst Spider-Man story ever written, it might have started with a nifty concept, but the execution made everyone want to run for the hills.
Fans didn’t know who the real Spider-Man was, but that was the least of their concerns. New characters and story arcs kept getting introduced without rhyme or reason until there was no end in sight. The problem stemmed from Marvel’s editorial department as they became lost in the labyrinth they’d built themselves. The result was a chaotic and completely unorganized story. As a result, the "Clone Saga" lasted a staggering three years. Yet the final nail in the coffin was resurrecting Norman Osborn for no particular reason.
14 MAXIMUM CARNAGE
Back in the ‘90s, comic books went through an “extreme” phase. Everything needed to be darker, grittier, and more over the top than in years past. Few heroes were exempt from such treatment, and Spider-Man endured it in a particular fashion. The event known as "Maximum Carnage", though popular among readers, is one of those events Marvel clearly tried to forget. The villain Cletus Kasady, or Carnage, was and continues to be a hugely popular psychopathic bad guy. Yet he certainly didn’t do the story any favors.
Sprawling over 14 issues and including a wide-range of heroes who were barely D-list, Spider-Man in particular is known for whining the whole time…like, a lot. When you actually look at the story, you’ll see it barely ties together, and you’ll wonder how and why moments, like using a “good” ray on the villainess Shriek and a mob even exist or are relevant.
13 CORPORATE PETER PARKER
Part of Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s charm is that he’s very much the everyman. He deals with the same basic trials and tribulations everyone else goes through in life. He gets fired from jobs, has financial issues, and love and relationships don’t always work out for him. We, as an audience, can relate to Peter Parker in a way we cannot with many other superheroes.
Yet it makes a modicum of sense for Peter and his character to evolve outside from scrounging to make a buck, but giving him a multi-billion dollar empire to run is not the answer. Made into the CEO of Parker Industries, Peter suddenly became Marvel’s answer to a lack of Tony Stark. Now a cocky, millionaire, playboy with branches all across the world, Peter became a one-percenter practically overnight. Ultimately, this wasn’t the Spider-Man audiences knew and loved.
12 THE "DEATH" OF MARY JANE
While Spider-Man fans love Mary Jane Watson, Marvel’s editorial staff seems to feel a bit differently towards the dynamic redhead. These days, hardly any mention of Mary Jane is made in Amazing Spider-Man comics, as she’s off hanging out with Iron Man. Whatever the reason for Marvel not wanting MJ and Peter to live happily ever after, they’ve been trying to kill her off for decades. Back in the ‘90s, they finally formulated a plan that almost stuck.
Mary Jane boarded an airplane, it exploded, and Peter went around the world fighting everyone he can to try and get answers about her death. Turns out she didn’t die, but why she didn’t just come back is another question altogether. And so she ends up kidnapped, but Spidey eventually saves her. Still, inexplicably, MJ separates from Peter, and they both act completely out of character in this abysmal storyline.
11 SIX-ARMED SPIDER-MAN
Stan Lee’s final issue on The Amazing Spider-Man was issue #100; also Stan would come back five issues later, only to abruptly leave again. No matter. What’s important to take away is that his “final” story, "The Spider or the Man", is one of the craziest Spider-Man tales from the old days, what with Spider-Man suddenly growing four appendages.
And lest not forget poor Roy Thomas who got thrust into trying to figure out how to continue writing the story after the cliffhanger Stan Lee left for him. Thomas did introduce Morbius, the Living Vampire, and while the villain remained a part of Spider-Man lore, Marvel tried its best to make you forget that the superhero ever possessed multiple arms; as seen in how it hasn’t been mentioned in years.
10 ONE MOMENT IN TIME
After the horrible debacle that was "One More Day", Marvel immediately went into damage control mode. They saw they made a mistake and were hell-bent on fixing it. Alas, it was too little too late. They’d already undercut everything that defined Spider-Man as a spectacular hero.
Still, editorial refused to undo what they’d done completely, so they cobbled together a new history for Spider-Man, one in which he and Mary Jane never got married in the first place. In this new timeline, Peter missed his own wedding and Doctor Strange made the world forget about his identity post "Civil War". This only hurt matters, as it only made things more confusing. At best, it was a half-hearted attempt from Marvel to fix their mistake, but since it didn’t actually fix anything, it was more of a wasted effort.
9 SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE
Before Marvel’s "Essential" line, making it cheap and easy for people to read older comics, the company decided to try and retell a bunch of Spider-Man’s early stories. To that end, they brought on board John Byrne. The idea was to modernize the older issues, creating new adaptations of the first 20 or so Amazing Spider-Man comics.
While Byrne is unquestionably a master storyteller, something about him and Spider-Man: Chapter One just didn’t click. Chapter One itself was pointless, as it didn’t really change anything about Spider-Man as a whole. What readers did receive however were bizarre and lengthy explanations on everything from why Norman Osborn’s hair resembled the Sandman’s to delving into the mind of the Burglar for marathon-length inner monologues about why he chose to rob the Parker house. Chapter One is a series best left forgotten.
8 BRINGING SPIDER-MAN'S PARENTS BACK AS ANDROIDS
Peter Parker lives with his Aunt Many and Uncle Ben, before, you know, he was shot and killed. Peter’s parents, as it turns out, were actually gnarly super spies, as revealed in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5. The Red Skull killed them, leaving Peter as an orphan, but 30 years later in Amazing Spider-Man #365, they made a startling reappearance.
To the reader, it was a major retcon, the likes of which had rarely been done where Spider-Man was concerned. Truth be told, it was a publicity stunt to boost sales and the idea of Peter reuniting with his folks eventually met ruin. Editorial realized the turnaround wasn’t doing what they wanted, so they opted to remove Peter’s parents from the equation. They did this by turning Richard and Mary Parker into killer androids and having them die horrible deaths. So that happened…
7 DOC OCK ALMOST MARRYING AUNT MAY
Doctor Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, is one of Spider-Man’s longest-running foes. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #3, he’s proved himself as a dangerous foe time and time again. Yet somewhere along the way, things got confusing for the good doctor.
It’s easy to look fondly back on the older days of Spider-Man comics and see them as perfect, but that’s not the case. Doctor Octopus trying to marry Aunt May proved that succinctly. Through a series of wacky events, the mad doctor learns May Parker is going to inherit a major nuclear power plant. Otto wants the nuclear plant for…reasons? To do this, not only does he woo the elderly woman, but he decides to marry her. Aunt May is so cavalier about marrying a man with metal octopus arms it’s almost verges on insanity.
6 THE GATHERING OF FIVE
Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, is known for a couple things: being crazy and trying to make Spider-Man’s life a living nightmare. The Machiavellian ways he tries to outmaneuver Spider-Man are rather brilliant. The Green Goblin is the perfect foil for the web-slinger and didn’t need to be changed drastically in order for that to remain true. Marvel didn’t agree. And so was "The Gathering of Five".
In this particular tale, Norman tried getting magic powers. It was a storyline that didn’t make sense! To begin with, it started like something out of a poorly campaigned Dungeons & Dragons game, with Norman questing after a mystical artifact that’s been splintered into five pieces. Should five people put it together, they’ll be granted one of five powers. Anyway, it was dumb and the majority of the issues and tie-ins were either filler or didn’t have much to do with overarching plot.
5 SINS PAST
Gwen Stacy always played an important role in the Spider-Man mythos. Despite the inclusion of a character like Betty Brant or Mary Jane Watson, Peter considered Gwen the love of his life. That was until his archnemesis, the Green Goblin, murdered her. It was a horrible, and brilliantly written, moment in the life of Spider-Man.
Alas, a story about Gwen Stacy sleeping with the Green Goblin nearly ruined the original’s credibility. "Sins Past" told the story of Gwen and Norman Osborn; in leading up to her death, the two of them had an affair. She got pregnant and had the Green Goblin’s kids. Apparently, this was the reason Norman later murdered her; she threatened to cut him off from his kids. All in all, not only did it undermine the original story, but it was so bad you only hear about in hushed whispers.
For all the misadventures Spider-Man experienced throughout his lengthy tenure as a superhero, he rarely had to worry about turning into an actual spider. Not to be confused by the crossover event known as "The Other", written primarily by Peter David, "Changes" was written by Paul Jenkins. The stories are easily confused with one another as they both deal with some ridiculous totemic animal mysticism, but whereas "The Other" actually added to the Spider-Man mythos, "Changes" was just a nuthouse, circus and Lollapalooza all rolled into one.
Long story short, there’s an insect-themed villainess called the Queen. She has the dumb power of controlling insect genes and proceeds to infect Peter with her Queen-ness. Peter then turns into a giant pregnant spider. He then dies and promptly gives birth to himself. That, in a nutshell, is "Changes"…
3 THE FINAL CHAPTER
Peter’s Aunt May has been a cornerstone in the hero’s life for decades. Yet keeping an elderly woman around for so long was fraught with problems. So one day Marvel decided to kill off May Parker (it wouldn’t be the last time they attempted such a feat). Following after "The Gathering of Five", in which nothing was gathered, Aunt May died. It’d been a long time coming and nobody, except Peter Parker, felt terribly bad about it. Then there was stuff involving gypsies, mutated wolves and evil babies, all of which happened to be a plot woven by Norman Osborn.
Peter also learns that Aunt May is not dead, but the woman who died was a dying actress Norman had hired so as to put Peter through the trauma of Aunt May dying. If it sounds incoherent and confusing, that’s only because the entire storyline was incoherent and confusing.
2 REVEALING HOBGOBLIN'S IDENTITY
In the early days of The Amazing Spider-Man, readers just couldn’t figure out who was the Green Goblin. It was a delicious and well-crafted mystery. Years later, Marvel tried their hand at recreating the mystery with the Hobgoblin. Depending on who you talk to, the enigma of the Hobgoblin was either something that worked or didn’t. For the most part, readers seemed to enjoy it, but what people did not appreciate were the multiple and false unveilings about the Hobgoblin’s secret identity.
Roger Stern, who had started the storyline, left before he could finish it, leaving the story to wander deep in the comic book quagmire. While originally Ned Leeds was thought to be the Hobgoblin, four random thugs killed him; it was inconsistent with him having powers. It was left to Peter David to try and tie the loose plot holes…it didn’t quite work and folks were left uninterested.
1 ONE MORE DAY
You’d think it would be hard to top the infamous "Clone Saga", but you’d be wrong. Presenting the four-issue miniseries One More Day. The hatred was so intense Marvel tried to fix it weeks later with "One Moment In Time"; they failed. While J. Michael Straczynski wrote the story, the fault fell on Marvel’s editorial in trying to fix everything they perceived was wrong with Spider-Man.
Long story short, Aunt May gets shot, is dying, and Spider-Man is trying to find a way to save her. He makes a deal with Mephisto, the literal devil, to do just that. Mephisto agrees, but in exchange for the marriage and love Peter shares with Mary Jane. Peter agrees. Presto change-o! Over two decades worth of Spider-Man history was erased. Fans were livid. One More Day is a stain on Marvel and Spider-Man’s track record that’ll never wash out completely.
Which of these Spider-Man stories were the worst to you? Let us know in the comments!