Movies & TV / Columns

5 Essential Spider-Man Stories

August 25, 2021 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Spider-Man Death of Gwen Stacy

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed The Weirdest Comic Book Covers. Here’s what some of you had to say:
Gil: “I’m so glad you put a bunch of pictures. That Rifleman cover has to be a joke! And the Wonder Woman looks like a Maxx cover.

Also missed out on the Silliest characters article. I would have mentioned the Savage Dragon rouge gallery. Erik Larsen takes silly to 11.”

Ombudsman Of Parts Unknown: “Pretty much every cover of Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen.

The one where Supes somehow adopts an already adult Jimmy and heat-visions the crappy bathrobe Jimmy gifts him for Father’s Day immediately springs to mind.

Or, the one where Aquaman and Jimmy are dieing of thirst in the desert as Kal-El looms over them brandishing a pitcher of ice water and the most shit-eating grin imaginable is another classic. Superdickery indeed.

Hell, taking a smattering of these insane Silver Age covers and actually making stories that fit them would make for a fun limited series, either in comic or web series form, methinks.”

Robert Stewart: “Action Comics #457, but it’s even worse if you imagine the dialogue bubble aren’t there.”

Bello Fortis: “I always liked the covers for Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man series from the early nineties. Very bizarre and abstract.”

Benjamin Kellog: “This might say more about me than I’d be willing to admit, but I don’t find the Lois Lane #106 cover strange at all. TO me, it’s just a solidly constructed Bronze Age situation practically begging me to seek the explanation for it inside. The execution of the story itself is incredibly tone-deaf, but the cover does its job well enough.
Seeing as there’s a lot of Batman on this list already, I’m surprised an article on the Internet has gone this long without exhuming the thoroughly examined corpse of Batman #147, “Batman Becomes Bat-Baby.” I mean, come on, it’s a toddler in Rerun’s (Linus’ little bro from “Peanuts”) overalls and a baby-sized cape and cowl. Robin stands aghast, gangsters put down their guns, everyone is stupefied by this infantile incongruity. “Me Batman, me swear! This premise be totally legit! Want check me story out, kid?” That, friends, is a dime well spent.”

Al Lobama: “If you want to talk about the weirdest (and funniest) Alf cover all time, you’ve got to go with Alf Annual #2…drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz. That kind of Marvel Comics in-humor was one of the things that made the Alf comic better than you’d expect (the annual where Alf joins the Evolutionary War crossover was a high water mark).

Maybe it’s just me, but I miss those Golden Age World’s Finest covers where Superman, Batman, and Robin are just having fun on their presumed day off; playing baseball, getting a haircut, riding bicycles, going surfing, getting their freakin’ boots shined. Hell, if Marvel put out a Falcon and Winter Soldier series and the first cover was the two of them having a potato sack race, I’d buy it in a second!

And how can you have a Weirdest Comic Covers article without mentioning Detective Comics # 339? That’s the infamous “Don’t drop that gorilla, Batman, or the bomb strapped to his body will blow up Gotham City!” cover! Could anybody but Carmine Infantino have pulled that cover off?”

Jeremy Thomas: “The Marvel Trouble limited series not only has some of the weirdest comic book covers, they’re some of the weirdest (and worst) comics either of the Big Two have ever published.

EDIT: Let me also add into this borderline softcore porn covers of the equally weird and doubly abominable X-Men: Phoenix – Legacy of Fire.”

Some awesome comments last week! Thanks for the input and keep it coming!

This week we discuss…

5 Essential Spider-Man Stories

What did you think of the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer? It got me thinking about some of my favorite Spidey stories over the years, like ‘The Gauntlet/Grim Hunt’. Back in 2009-2010, this storyline took a plot that had been done before and tweaked it into one of the more entertaining Spider-Man stories around. The idea, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, being that a group of Spider-Man’s classic villains (The Rhino, Electro, Sandman, The Lizard, among others) have emerged new and improved. Each take on Spider-Man, weakening him. This leads into Grim Hunt, in which the family of a former villain takes advantage of the situation.

This week I thought I’d throw out a few of my essential reads when it comes to Spider-Man.

What makes a great Spider-Man story? To me, Spider-Man will always swing under the banner of “With great power comes great responsibility”. He struggles, he loses, his personal life is barely manageable, but he never quits because he knows that his powers are a gift to use to do good. Spider-Man is about sacrifice and overcoming the odds.

I put myself on a limit of 5 stories. Is it really feasible and realistic to try and boil the essential Spider-Man to only 5? Of course not. It’s a credit to his rich history that you could make this list 100 long and still find people debating that something was missing.

First up is The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Outside Uncle Ben’s death, this story was a landmark event in the shaping of both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. To sum it up, Spider-Man fights his nemesis, the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin abducts Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and she is killed during the battle. At the time, this story was a shocker. We see Spider-Man in a whole new light as he struggles with anger/rage, guilt/sadness, and the realization of the danger those around him are in. By itself, it shows that death has meaning in comic books and how a hero has to contend with that weight. It also shows how a hero carries himself, even when he’s overcome by fury, he does the right thing in the end.

Something I want to point out, as big as an impact this has had on Spider-Man, it was done in two issues, The Amazing Spider-Man #121–122. If done today, it would be 10 issues long and include a number of “aftermath” type of issues.

In No One Dies, we see Spidey tackle a familiar theme in his life. Death. In comic books, it’s usually used as a punchline or gimmick. ‘In No One Dies’ (Another two-part tale!), J.J. Jameson’s wife, Marla is dead. After the funeral, Peter has a nightmare where he sees everyone who has ever died in his life (including Gwen Stacy, Ben Reilly, Ezekiel, Frederick Foswell, Bennett Brant, George Stacy, and Charlamange from ‘Spider-Man Vs. Wolverine’). One of the stronger images from the story is Peter seeing his parents, who have no faces because he can’t remember what they look like, his memories of them are so vague. The guilt is too much for Peter and he’s battling the intense feelings that he can do better, that he can do more. He vows to do more and be a better Spider-Man. “As long as he’s around no one dies”. The fight with Massacre is as intense as you’d expect but the lead-in is what really sets this a part. It takes a hard look at death in comics and the ripple impact it has on Spider-Man.

Is any list that talks about Spider-Man’s greatest stories complete without Kraven’s Last Hunt? While some have called this story overrated, I read it again recently and it still resonates with me. Especially because it brings back the emotions I felt when I read it when it first came out.

Kraven the Hunter fulfills his hunt and “kills” Spider-Man. This story accomplished the near impossible by making Kraven complex and intriguing. While this is really a Kraven story, it reflects on Spider-Man and the effect he has on villains. Writer J. M. DeMatteis explained that the story was intended to explore Spider-Man’s character and how others perceive him, saying, “What [Kraven] plans to do is kill Spider-Man and then take his place – prove that he can be a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man. What he becomes, of course, is not Spider-Man, but what he perceives Spider-Man to be. In a sense, what Kraven becomes is something akin to Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight’ character. […] One of the things about Peter Parker, with Spider-Man, is that he doesn’t just put on a mask and become “the Spider-Man.” He doesn’t become transformed into this dark creature of the night. No matter what costume he has, no matter what he does, Peter Parker is always a very human, passionate, caring guy. Kraven doesn’t know that. And that is the major difference here.”

Next is Spider-Man No More. While the “…No More” type of stories where the hero quits are old hat today, back in 1967, this was a big deal. Peter Parker attempts to give up his life as Spider-Man, but finds that he is unable to let it go. This ONE issue perfectly encompasses the doubt and hardship that Peter goes through. Yes, this is also the first appearance of The Kingpin, Wilson Fisk, but it’s the simple way the story unfolds and we watch Parker deal with the knowledge that everything he does and sacrifices will never be appreciated by the very people he does it for. One of my favorite single issue stories ever. It’s not surprising that the cover of this issue is iconic and copied to this day.

Another one is Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut. While making my list I noticed I’ve avoided recent storylines. That’s not to say that there aren’t any classics today (tons to pick from!) but these storylines stood out to me as a young and impressionable lad. Before I became a cynical reader who has seen and read it all. 

While ‘Spider-Man No More; showcases Spider-Man’s doubts, this shows his will and drive. Filled with action and Spidey fun, this is another perfect example of who Spider-Man is and what he stands for. The Juggernauts is unstoppable and Spider-Man is faced with a seemingly impossible task. Not only is this an outstanding Spider-Man story, it should be a must read for comic book writers today. Sometimes simple is better and heroes just need to be heroes.

OK, I fully expect an outpouring of comments telling me what I missed. What I’m more interested in is YOUR essential Spider-Man stories! ‘The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man’? The hugely underrated ‘The Death of Jean DeWolff’? ‘Spider-Man: Blue’? ‘If This Be My Destiny’? Challenge yourself and keep it to 5!

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!