Untangling That Web1 of 12
With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse now in theaters, we thought it would be a perfect time to list the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told in comic books.
The wall-crawler has been around for a while but some of the best film adaptations have drawn from these works for a reason: they are classic through and through. And in reality, there are enough great stories to fill a Top 100 - but we tried to parse it down to just the essentials in terms of craft and influence.
Wondering what we thought of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Read our review here.
#10 The Gift2 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #400)
Despite taking place right in the middle of the 1990s Clone Saga, “The Gift” is a really impressive issue that features the death of Aunt May. There’s not much action and there are some goofy bits (like Peter and Ben Reilly just standing around in the backyard in broad daylight having a conversation), but it contains two particularly heartfelt moments: May revealing that she knows Peter’s secret identity on the observation deck, and a grueling death scene that would make even the strongest among us shed a tear.
#9 The Death of Captain Stacy3 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #88 - #90)
Guilt and death follow Peter Parker around something fierce. Numerous times in his career, Peter has promised that he won’t let anyone else die as a result of his actions (or inaction) and in the years following his origin, he was able to mostly follow through on that. But the “Death of Captain Stacy” arc that culminates in Amazing Spider-Man #90 was a gut-wrenching reminder that failure is part of Peter’s journey as a hero.
And Captain Stacy’s last request of Peter - to keep his daughter, Gwen, safe - is a heartbreaker for modern fans with knowledge of her death. Spider-Man may not always trade on the grim and gritty aesthetics than many other heroes are known for but his career is marked by tragedy. After the death of Uncle Ben, this story stands as a bit of a template for things to come for the wall-crawler.
#8 The Conversation4 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #38)
J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man might have gone off the rails eventually (thanks Spider Totems) but when it was at its best it was really firing on all cylinders. Nowhere in the run is that more evident than in “The Conversation.”
Peter finally comes clean to Aunt May about being Spider-Man, and in the course of just one issue, JMS is able to solidify what makes Aunt May and her relationship with Peter a core piece of the Spider-Man mythos. It’s a big moment but JMS balances the pathos with humor and reminds us that Peter Parker is not who he is by accident. Aunt May, whether she knew it or not, is essential to what makes Spider-Man a hero.
#7 The Gauntlet5 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #612 - #633)
For much of the post- “Brand New Day”/”One More Day” era, the Spider-Man books were were getting a bad rep for moving away from the elements that fans had grown to love over the years. But the soft reboot allowed the collective writing group known as the Webheads to put together a reintroduction to the Sinister Six that built over a number of months and featured deeper examinations of their motivations.
The result was an epic that had excellent art from Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin and others and reestablished Spidey as one of the best books on the stands. These were classic villains given the room to evolve into real threats to Spider-Man and it worked exceptionally well. “Shed” and “Rage of the Rhino” in particular stand out among the 20 issues of "The Gauntlet," making this a definitive Sinister Six story that should not be overlooked.
#6 Spider-Man No More6 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #50)
It’s the cover that has been homaged a thousand times (as well as the first appearance of the Kingpin!) but “Spider-Man No More” is much more than just the sum of its parts. Spider-Man has always personified the “world outside your window” approach that Marvel has had with so many of their stories. And sometimes being a superhero is just too much to bear.
Steve Ditko may have created the visual language around Spider-Man but John Romita would bring his background in romance comics to the wall crawler and codify the identity of this book for years to come, elevating it to truly iconic status. Not to be outdone, Stan Lee delivers one of his best scripts, reaffirming the selflessness that is key to Peter Parker’s character.
#5 The Original Hobgoblin Saga7 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #238 – 239, 244 – 245, 249 – 251, and Spectacular Spider-Man #85)
By the time the Hobgoblin came around, fans were already well acquainted with Norman Osborn's villainous Green Goblin so Roger Stern injected some mystery into the build up around ol’ Hobby. This goblin wasn’t crazy like Norman. He was cunning and calculated and Stern only had him appear occasionally throughout the story so as to keep readers from guessing his identity. It was a clever twist that made at least 3 characters reasonable suspects to be under the mask.
And John Romita Jr. does some truly impressive work as he melds his father’s house style with flourishes that would eventually become iconic JRJr touches, evolving his style before the readers' eyes.
Ultimately, Stern would leave the book before the culmination of the plot, leading to new writer Tom DeFalco taking the big reveal in a different direction and putting Roderick Kingsley in the role rather than his brother Daniel as was intended. But the Original Hobgoblin Saga still stands as a great reinvention of a classic character that breathed new life into the entirety of the goblin mythos.
#4 Spider-Man: Blue8 of 12
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s color books are legendary for a reason. They’re basically perfect snapshots of our favorite heroes, recontextualizing some of their greatest triumphs and tragedies without the weight of years and years of continuity.
Their work here goes a long way to creating a better context for Peter’s supporting cast, working especially to understand how MJ feels in the wake of Peter losing his first love. The creative team handles it with aplomb, delivering a story that feels honest and real. It’s a study in the idea that these characters are real people, too - that they are more than the adventures that we are privy to. By exploring those in-betweens, Loeb and Sale are able to put together a truly touching treatise on Spider-Man.
#3 The Night Gwen Stacy Died9 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122)
This is the story that sets Spider-Man apart from so many heroes. In a face-off with one of his greatest villains, Peter is partly responsible for the death of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and he flies into a rage unseen from the character before then. He failed himself, Captain Stacy and Uncle Ben.
But these are the moments where we get to see what Peter Parker is truly made of. Though he could kill Norman Osborn once and for all, he doesn’t because even though he would be justified, it’s not his decision to make. Death comes for us all but Spider-Man does not get to play Grim Reaper.
It’s a heavy story and a death that has colored all Spider-Man stories, arguably more than the one that spurred on Peter’s origin. Great heroes rise above and that’s something we’ve gotten to see time and time again in the best Spidey stories.
#2 Kraven's Last Hunt10 of 12
(Web of Spider-Man #31 & 32, Amazing Spider-Man #293 & 294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131 & #132)
“Kraven’s Last Hunt” is always an interesting addition to any of these lists and it just misses the top spot because it’s not really a Spidey story, it’s a Kraven one. JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck explore the idea of a villain actually defeating his prey.
Now Kraven might seem to be an odd choice given that to this point he’s most memorable for his killer fashion sense (quite literally - his vest shoots lasers) but the creative team treats him as a serious foe and in doing so, forces readers to take him seriously as well. The result is a story that is a challenging exploration of the meaning of heroes and villains and the endless determination that drives both sides of the equation.
#1 The Master Planner Saga11 of 12
(Amazing Spider-Man #31 - 33)
This might be a surprising #1 entry but “The Master Planner Saga” is really the culmination of everything that’s great about Spidey. The story itself sets Peter up at Empire State University, a setting that would prove fruitful for plenty of new adversaries in the future, and introduces both Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn.
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee craft a classic story that builds the mythos, while placing Peter in precarious predicaments that will require him to use his skills as Spidey and Peter Parker to save the day. And the impact of this story is felt even today as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming draws directly from the source material in a scene that features Peter seemingly defeated, crushed under the weight of debris with time slipping away from him and Uncle Ben’s ghost haunting him.
But he doubles down on the resolve to be a hero. Pinned under the wreckage, Peter says, “Anyone can win a fight, when the odds are easy! It’s when the going’s tough, when there seems to be no chance, that’s when it counts!” And he triumphs. A reminder that as always, with great power comes great responsibility.
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