Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: The Essential Spider-Man Stories

August 29, 2018 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Spider Man - Gwen Stacy Dies

I’m Steve Gustafson and thanks for stopping by. Don’t forget to check out 411mania’s Comic Book Review Roundtable, every Thursday! Read up on the best reviews and let us know what you’re reading as well. Click to read the latest Comic Book Review Roundtable! Fantastic Four #1, Extermination #1, and more!

Now, on with the show!

Last week we discussed Thoughts on Batman’s Religious Views. Here’s what some of you had to say:

duh: “Ignoring the fact that he definitely knows the Greek gods are real, he’s also met the Spectre who is the Christian god hand of vengeance. In his universe, that would make him an idiot”

Wheeljack84: “If he’s saying it as Bruce Wayne, then you don’t have to take it seriously. There, that’s my diplomatic answer.”

Daniel Hoffman: “Why do we care so much about the religious views (or political leanings, sexual orientation, etc) of fictional characters?”

redraptor: “King has already said that wasn’t his intent when writing the story, but he did leave it open to interpretation.

I’m in the boat of the concept atheism being a pretty stupid in a fictional universe were the existence of God isnt really even a question with characters like The Spirit running around as well as stories like Green Arrow’s “Quiver” were heaven is shown to be a thing. It just shows the characters as being deliberately ignorant.

They did it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It bothered me that The cross, a Christian symbol, is repeatedly shown to cause harm to vampires. All the main characters are shown to be neutral at best on the concept of God. Sorry, but if I found out a religious symbol could cause harm to monsters if they so much as look at it I would be in said religion’s house of worship asap.”

darkjourney: “Not sure why they even have atheists in Marvel or DC comics since both companies have explicitly stated there is a supreme being in their respective universes. I mean is the ultimate rationalist Reed Richards an atheist? Be kind of hard since he has actually met God.”

James Harder: “If he thought Mom & Pops were in a better place he’d have never become/stayed Batman.”

TheAaronscottJ: “There’s a difference between meeting a God and meeting The God. If that makes any sense. A detective needs to see proof, and his whole logical life has shown the values an omnipotent creator would champion are sadly undeveloped. They don’t even have sunlight in Gotham City. His life is just pain and death and colorful psychopaths.”

So many great comments and replies last week! To read last week’s column, CLICK HERE! As always, thanks for the input!

This week we discuss…

Essential Spider-Man Stories
I was flipping through some of my Spider-Man graphic novels and got to 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 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 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 8 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<b? 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 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. Check out our Comic Book Reviews tomorrow and see you next week!