Spider-Man 101

Part 2

An Endless Sea of Spidey

Welcome to Part 2 of the series Spider-Man 101, our online course introducing those who have discovered Spider-Man via other media to the glorious four color press where his career began back in 1962. In Spider-Man 101 Part 1 we looked at the essential stories that the new fan should read in order to understand the core concepts of the mythology, who the characters are, what their relationships are to each other, etc. as well as reference sources available for those who want to immerse themselves in Spidey lore. In this edition, we're going to take a look at the various Spider-Man related titles that are currently being published, and many of those that are available in the back issue bins - all of which form the tapestry of Spider-Man's epic history. Spidey has been the star of over 1,000 single comic books over the last 45 years, and trying to wade through them can be a little intimidating - but that's what I'm here for!

Unless specifically stated otherwise - all of the titles discussed below are considered "in continuity" meaning that they "really" happened in the course of Spider-Man history. That has been one of the character's and even Marvel's strong points over the years, unlike DC characters, where the origins have been retold so many different times, you don't know exactly which Batman or Superman you're reading about, or whether or not the events in the story you are reading "really" happened (there have been numerous "alternate universe" stories, some of which were designated as such retroactively). For example, there have essentially been three Supermans - the golden era version that ran from 1938 and probably lasted till the 60's, the Superman that existed until writer/artist John Byrne took the title over in the 1980's, and the current Byrne/post-Byrne Superman. But again, there are those who will say that devotion to continuity has also been one of Marvel's weaknesses, but this is not the time to discuss that topic.

Currently Published Titles

The Amazing Spider-Man
The simplest thing in the world would be to unequivocally state that "if you can buy only ONE Spider-Man comic on a regular basis, this is it!" After all, Amazing has been around for more than 45 years! Makes sense, doesn't it? However, that's simply not true, nor really has it been true for a very long time. Still, it is Spidey's crown jewel, debuting with the March 1963 issue. Starting with issue #4, it had an unbroken monthly string of publication until what would have been the December 1998 issue - when it took a month off to "re-tool" and be re-numbered in that classic miscue called the Reboot. More recently and rather infuriatingly, there were months in 2006 that the title did not ship because of delays with the massive Civil War storyline. It's true that Amazing Spider-Man, for all intents and purposes is still considered the "lead" title, but that's by virtue of its longevity and place in the pantheon of classic comic books alongside Action Comics and Detective Comics. Many times in Spidey's history, other "core" title books have been better depending on who the writers were. Again, it used to be that all significant character development took place in Amazing, but that is no longer true either.

Volume 2? What's this Volume 2 crap?
You might ask this question if you pick up any Amazing titles from 1999-2004. Remember when I told you that the titles took a month off for December 1998 - and you may have noticed that the numbers on Amazing go from 1 to 441, then start over with 1 again, and then after 58 - it jumps to 500!

Well, this is your first lesson in Mighty Marvel Marketing gimmicks, which have more often that not disenfranchised the long-time reader and confused the hell out of the new readers they were allegedly trying to attract.

For those of you who own the Spider-Man movie DVD, you may recall on the second DVD special features section, that Marvel EIC (Editor in Chief) Joe Quesada, in talking about Ultimate Spider-Man states that there was a time that they thought the character of Spider-Man was dying on them, that they were losing him - and that's why Marvel came up with the Ultimate line. Well, the time he was talking about was the mid to late 1990's. The entire comics industry was in a serious depression for reasons too convoluted to go into here, (part of it, though, was that the speculators, who had kept the industry afloat by buying multiple copies of various titles believing they would rise in value, abandoned the industry because they realized they were seriously mistaken - and a lot of the stories simply sucked) and Spidey was no exception. Marvel tried to "fix" him, but their fixes proved worse than the original problems, the most notable one being that Marvel decided that the Peter Parker from Amazing Spider-Man #150 (November 1975) to the present (then 1995) was not the real Spider-Man, that he was merely a clone of the real Spider-Man (now called Ben Reilly), who was back in town. This is the infamous "Clone Saga" that is often referred to on the net and reviled (and even liked by some, to be fair), but we won't touch on that here. Although sales of Spidey comics had actually been bucking the declining trend because the initial Clone story was intriguing readers, the ultimate (no pun intended) revelation that the Spidey of the last 20 years was not the "real" Spidey prompted a revolt among comics fans and they dumped the titles en masse. Marvel corrected this mistake by restoring Peter Parker as the real Spider-Man, and sales rebounded somewhat, but at historically lower levels than in the past - and they didn't get any better, which is a shame, because I thought a couple of the titles were actually very good in the late 1990's time period. However, more than an decade of overexposure with way too many titles, poor writing, and a cosmic shift in the nature of the industry had taken its toll on both the character, and the readership which had supported him.

So, Marvel resorted to another one of its gimmicks - "rebooting" the titles - starting over with a new #1. The thought behind this was that a new #1 would stimulate revived interest in the character - and cause more readers to buy the comics. Also, Marvel senior management at the time simply believed that you, the potential new comic reader, was too stupid to get into a long-time character because you "wouldn't know what was going on" and that a high issue number would scare you off.

So - this maybe worked for about a month or two, and then the fans dumped the titles again because the stories were so bad. New EIC Quesada in one of his subtle moves to try to rectify the situation with the fan base, began adding lighter "secondary" numbers on the covers which would have been the "real" numbers had the title not been rebooted, and then with issue #500 (December 2003) restored the original numbering on Amazing Spider-Man.

Maybe it's a silly thing, but for me, Amazing Spider-Man as a title belongs in that rarified air of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and even Marvel's own Fantastic Four, which are all major, major titles in the history of the industry. Obviously, Action and Detective introduced Superman and Batman, respectively, and Fantastic Four is THE starting point of the Marvel Universe. Stopping and rebooting other titles with new numbers doesn't really bother me, but Amazing was something special - so kudos to Mr. Quesada on that one. Reboots are still gimmicky in my opinion, emphasizing style over substance, but like anything else, there is a time and a place for them, and it shouldn't be an automatic knee jerk reaction every time the company wants to cause a spike in sales for the month. What attracts readers, both old and new? Good stories, with creators that people have heard of and like.

Amazing Spider-Man's contribution to the Spidey mythos are too long to be detailed. Virtually all of the major characters and villains were introduced in this title - several (but not all) key events occurred here, including the famous "Death of Gwen Stacy," in Amazing #121 (June 1973). While it's not always the best title out there - it is basically your starting point, your frame of reference as you get into the Spider-Man titles.

The current writer, J. Michael Straczynski, has had a very up and down tenure on the title, which will end in 2007. He has had a long tenure, going on six years, which is a marathon run in these days of rotating creative teams, and has done some very good stories and very bad ones. Since I will be doing an article later on creative teams, I'm going to leave it at that for the moment.

In regard to back issues, Amazing is on average the most expensive batch, with the oldest issues beyond the ability of the average consumer to purchase. However, you can get lucky depending on where you buy and when you do it - and it helps if you live in a city where a number of comic shops went out of business and dumped their inventory on the surviving shops, who wind up being forced to move a lot of it for the sake of space and storage costs. When I re-built my collection a few years ago (I had a lot of gaps), the only Amazings that I had to lay out modest coin for were those drawn by popular artist Todd McFarlane (remember though, I only had to start filling in from Amazing Spider-Man #262). The most I ever paid for a Spider-Man comic was $12, and that was issue #298, the first McFarlane. Fortunately, I already had #300, which was also the first appearance of the popular villain Venom, and is probably the most expensive "modern" Spider-Man comic. Other McFarlane issues typically set me back $5 or $6. I refused to pay any more for a comic and really didn't have to. Still, for the new fan, or even the returning one, as I mentioned in Part 1, the trade paperbacks or the Essential series may be your best bets, and then if you really get juiced on Spidey after that - then hanging out at comic stores for older individual issues may be your bag. It's actually quite challenging and a lot of fun.

Sensational Spider-Man Take 2
This second version of Sensational Spider-Man actually started out as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, but with issue #23 (April 2006) and a new writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the title took one of the old names. It's still a little early to pronounce a verdict on this series, but after an overlong, sluggish first story arc, I've liked this title thus far. Unfortunately, both it and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (discussed below), have not been well received by fans when it comes to sales (each sagging below 50,000), which is too bad.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
This new title began with the December 2005 issue, and has been written since inception (with the exception of issues #2 & #3) by Peter David, one of the best writers to ever take a crack at the webslinger (in my humble opinion that is). Unfortunately, this title began by initiating "The Other" storyline, one of the worst and most wasteful Spider-Man story arcs in recent memory (see Spider-Man 2005). Since then, there has been a succession of good stories, typically nice little three parters rather than bulky "for the trade" 6 or 7 parters. There was even a solo story (issue #5). Unfortunately, what David really wanted to do with the title has been derailed with "The Other" and the unmasking and Civil War, but I still recommend it.

Ultimate Spider-Man
Ultimate Spider-Man is not connected to the "regular" Marvel Universe in any way. Currently, there are only four titles in the "Ultimate" universe, Spider-Man, X-Men, The Ultimates (sort of Ultimate Avengers) and Ultimate Fantastic Four. Or maybe there's only three and a half Ultimate titles - because no one knows when another issue of The Ultimates is going to be shipped. That title is the "poster child" of late comics.

The best way to describe Ultimate Spider-Man is to ask the question "what if Peter Parker became Spider-Man in the 21st Century rather than the 1960's?" Think of it as being "re-imagined" in the same vein that the recent "Battlestar Galactica" on Sci-Fi "re-imagined" that old 1970's series. The most significant difference in the core story is that Peter was bitten by a genetically altered spider (ironically, much like in the movies), rather than a radioactive spider, which makes perfect sense considering where we are in our understanding of such concepts today. Otherwise, the basic premise of Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spidey's first appearance back in 1962) is largely unaltered. Put down upon teenager Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, tries to make money off it at first, fails to stop a criminal that crosses his path, his Uncle Ben is murdered as a result, and Peter thus realizes that "with great power must come great responsibility" (Stan Lee's original quote - not the "with great power comes great responsibility" as it has morphed into). And Peter lives with his doting Aunt May, although the "ultimate" May is made of stronger stuff than "classic" May, who always seemed to be on death's door for the first 35 or so years of the title.

After that, Ultimate pretty well goes its own way, although in the first couple of years of issues, you'll actually notice some similarities between Ultimate and the Spider-Man film released in 2002 - whether planned or not - I don't know - but fans of the movie will actually feel very comfortable with the original Ultimate storylines. Now, the order in which the stories are told do not follow the order of the "classic" continuity - most of the villains that have appeared so far have the same name, although typically their origins and even appearances may be different. For example, Norman Osborn now literally changes into a Green Goblin, ala the Hulk (therefore I call him the Hulk-Goblin), and the living suit that is Venom is not from outer space as in the "classic" version, but is the result of an earthbound scientific experiment by Peter Parker's father and Eddie Brock, his lab partner. College student Eddie Brock, Jr. is Venom, unlike the classic version where Eddie Brock had no ties whatsoever to Peter Parker and is a middle aged man. Doctor Octopus, however, is pretty much unaltered. Lab explosion creates unique bond between the Doc and his metal arms and rtter esults in him going nuts. Kind of hard to mess with the classic "mad scientist" motif. So if you're keeping score - thumbs down on the Green Goblin revision, thumbs up on the Venom one (I think it was much better than the classic version - because this Eddie Brock was Pete's age, there was an existing personal connection, and even though it is often derided as a "walking cancer suit," that version of the Venom symbiote still works better for me than being an alien from another planet), and a draw on Doc Ock.

As of the latest revision of this article, Ultimate Spider-Man passed issue #100 in grand style, with a retelling of the Clone Saga, ultimatized. In this version, Doc Ock is actually the mastermind behind the clones, and in a real twist on the legend, both the Scorpion AND Spider-Woman are atered clones of Peter Parker. Yes, I said Spider-Woman. Yeah, kinda grosses me out, too.

Ultimately (pun intended), I gave up on Ultimate Spider-Man, and not just because I'm a cranky old fart, for reasons I'll get into later.

There was talk at one time that "Ultimate" continuity would replace "regular" continuity, but it was difficult to figure how much of that speculation was simply internet chatter. As far as I know, Marvel has never seriously considered that, and it is unlikely to happen anytime in the near future.

Classic Spidey vs. Ultimate Spidey
This is probably one of the, if not THE most enduring debates in the online community - what's better - "classic" Spider-Man in which the character has aged over the years, is married and has a long, extensive, and convoluted background, or Ultimate Spider-Man, in which the character is still a high school kid and will likely never age beyond that? I see this question show up repeatedly on message boards, often times every few months on the SAME board, as if it were being asked for the first time. And of course, it will never really be answered.

I am NOT unbiased. I'll admit that upfront. I prefer the classic version. I grew up with the classic version. I will always prefer the classic version. But I'm going to try to be objective as I talk about this. In a perfect world, there really shouldn't have to be a debate. Many fans do read and enjoy both versions.

However, some of the hard feelings sown among the older fans had to do with the way Marvel initially marketed the product. At the time that Ultimate debuted in 2000, the core spider-titles were in the pits as fans were subjected to some of the poorest quality stories in Spidey's history. However, rather than invest in the core books by getting new writers and increasing promotional efforts in that area, Marvel chose to invest its resources in the "Ultimate" line and assign popular creative teams to that line and promote the hell out of it, while letting the core titles languish in mediocrity. Also, Ultimate Marvel was pushed hard as "for the kids," and "to get kids back into comics" because apparently "kids" are too stupid to enjoy a story if they don't pick it up right at the very beginning, or are too narrow minded to enjoy reading about someone who is older than 17. However, literally out of the box, Ultimate X-Men dealt with far more mature and explicit subject matter that would normally be considered acceptable "for the kids," (and Marvel EIC Joe Quesada admitted as much, so it ain't just me belly-aching) and Ultimates, although not as intense, still had an overtly horny Hulk and a wife-beating Giant Man among its membership. Only Brian Bendis seemed to remember his original charge, of making an older character more accessible to all ages - ironic since Bendis' original claims to fame are stories of the more mature variety! So, for awhile, the Ultimate brand seemed like a bait and switch.

It certainly didn't help that the first appearance of the Ultimate Green Goblin was a huge disappointment to long time fans, especially Goblin fanatics like myself. Getting beyond the difficult to accept physical transformation from Norman Osborn into a monster, rather than staying with the psychological aspects of Osborn being a monster as a result of inner demons rather than physical attributes, when he first appeared, he was a brutish hulk at that, unable to speak - literally - the Hulk-Goblin. Fortunately, some of that seems to have originated with former Marvel President Bill Jemas' original take on Ultimate Spider-Man (he is given story credit), and in the intervening years, although Osborn still makes a physical transformation, Bendis has made him coherent and retained Norman's manipulative personality with its psychological issues, arrogance, and torment.

Ultimate Spider-Man was a huge success right out of the box (remember in today's market that is a relative term), and it really is a sharp looking book. Mark Bagley's a terrific artist, and the covers, although too often generic (I tend to like the cover to have something to do with the story - the recent Amazing covers have the same problem), stand out. And Brian Bendis is a good writer. I really like his recent stint on Daredevil.

However, remember the "padding" of stories that I discussed in the first part? Ultimate Spider-Man has raised padding to an art form. For example, issue no. 50 of Ultimate Spider-Man has no less than 13 of its 38 pages devoted to the Black Cat staking out her target and carrying out her theft - with virtually no dialogue or interaction with other characters.

But, there are a lot of people who simply prefer to read about an unmarried, teenage Spider-Man, and for them Ultimate is their title. If they have to have a teenage Spider-Man, I'm glad Ultimate is there for them because I would rather have people reading Ultimate Spider-Man than no Spider-Man at all.

Personally, though, I like my heroes to be a little dated and cheesy, which is one reason I have always preferred Classic Star Trek to the oftentimes technically superior Next Generation. It just seems to have more "heart." The stories don't have to be grittily realistic, just reasonably realistic. And classic Spidey, for all of his garishly costumed supervillains and overblown characterizations (for example, I don't think there is anyone in newspapers today like J. Jonah Jameson, if there ever really was), is closer to my heart.

It took me a long time to make peace with the Ultimate line, because at the beginning, there was the veiled threat of replacing the original continuity with the Ultimate continuity as well as the implication by Marvel that the "old" Spider-Man was simply no longer commercially viable, that nothing could fix its problems, that Marvel wouldn't even try to fix it and we old farts who enjoyed classic Spidey and wanted him fixed needed to go away and start applying for our AARP cards.

Fortunately, Marvel disposed of the architect of that philosophy, Bob Harras, and replaced him with the more fan-friendly Joe Quesada who jettisoned that original divisiveness, and also seriously sought to improve the core spider-titles - and he succeeded. Amazing now sells as well as Ultimate.

I prefer Classic, and yes, I like it better than Ultimate. I think it is better. But still, there is no reason why a Spider-Man fan cannot buy and enjoy BOTH. And if someone out there says you HAVE to prefer one to the other or you're not a REAL Spider-Man fan, ignore them.

But going back to the DVD - Quesada says that "as soon as we gave the fans good Spider-Man they came back - they were just waiting for something good."

EXACTLY. But why it had to take so long to figure out and why they went about it the long way...I dunno.

Mini series and one-shots
Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not a big fan of minis and one-shots (then don't buy them, the peanut gallery yells). They are often gimmicks simply to sell more comics - which, I suppose is the business Marvel is in, eh? Reality check here. Lately, though, the stories seem to be team-ups or "untold stories," seldom have any long-term consequences, are almost never referenced in the regular titles, and turn out to be of relatively little importance in the grand scheme of Spidey.

The Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one shot published in 1987 (the original is too expensive for my tastes, but a reprint has readily been available for a much more reasonable price) is considered a classic by some (not by me) and actually did have some impact on the spider-universe as long-time supporting character Ned Leeds was murdered within its pages, and Wolverine was clued into Spider-Man's real identity (he recognized his smell - Spidey has a long line of acquaintances who like to smell him: Wolverine, Puma, Sabretooth, Kraven the Hunter and son "Al" Kraven). The recent Death & Destiny is also very good and is probably the best "Untold Story" I've ever seen, taking an existing story and weaving its untold tale within it. HobGoblin Lives and The Osborn Journal are not necessarily great stories, but essential in unwinding two of the most convoluted storylines of Spidey's history. More often than not, though, minis are miserable or simply mediocre. I can count on both hands with fingers left over the ones I consider worthwhile, particularly to folks trying to "discover" Spidey.

Not that they don't have a purpose - sometimes it's a chance for a new creative team not normally assigned to one of the core titles to take a crack at doing Spidey. After all, say one day Stephen King or John Grisham or Steven Spielberg tells Marvel they'd like to do a Spider-Man story, but the regular writers have the storylines all booked up for the next year and couldn't be interrupted without significant disruption to their stories. If you were Marvel, would you tell King or Grisham or Spielberg to hit the bricks? Nope - you'd find a way to get them a mini or a one-shot. I probably would. I wish those guys (among others) would try one. Still, I wish there weren't so many - and that they were of better average quality.

Previous "Core" Titles

For such a popular franchise character, Spidey has certainly left a lot of cancelled titles in his wake. That doesn't necessarily mean that all of the following were "failures" by any stretch of the imagination, but there seems to be a limit to how much Spider-Man the market can absorb at any one time, or certain concepts (such as teaming up characters or untold stories) simply play themselves out after time, or sometimes there is a shortage of quality writers and artists.

The following is a fairly comprehensive, though not necessarily 100% complete, summary of the previous major Spider-Man titles. I have tried to list them in the order in which they debuted.

Spectacular Spider-Man: The Magazine
In the late 1960's, Marvel decided to take a crack at the large format magazine market to try to expand their own market share and product line. This begat the very first Spectacular Spider-Man. The first issue was a forgettable black and white story which probably no longer fits in with the established Spidey "continuity" as it was later rewritten into Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, with some modest changes made.

However, Marvel's gamble failed because retailers (remember, there were almost no real comic specialty stores at this time - just the typical retail outlets such as newsstands, drug stores, grocery stores, etc.) simply didn't know where to put it and what to with it - was it a comic book or a magazine? Other than a humor magazine called Crazy during the 1970's and 1980's that was Marvel's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Mad Magazine, I don't think Marvel has had any real success in penetrating this market.

There was a second issue, which is a classic Spider-Man/Green Goblin battle. This story was later reprinted as King-Size Spider-Man #9 (which was really the Spider-Man annual for that year). This is a very worthwhile issue to try to obtain, and a must for all original Green Goblin fans. However, it is difficult to find good copies of either the original or the reprint at a reasonable price.

Of course, in 2002, when the Spider-Man movie came out - Marvel decided to reprint one of these old magazine stories. So - which one do you think they re-issued - the forgettable issue #1 - the black and white story with a nothing villain that had absolutely no connection to the movie at all - or issue #2 - the dynamic color story that featured Spidey's greatest villain - the very same villain as the upcoming motion picture.

You guessed it - Marvel chose to reprint issue #1.

I got a letter from a reader who after reading my rips on Marvel in the first part of this series, asking if I "hated" Marvel. Of course, I told him, I don't hate Marvel at all. I like Marvel very much. But you certainly have to shake your head over some of their editorial and management decisions. And this was one of them.

Marvel Team-Up
This title originated with the March 1972 opening issue and wrapped up with issue #150 (February 1985). This was the first true "second" core Spider-Man title, and for several years, the stories were written by scribes who were either current or future writers on the lead spider-titles, such as Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, JM DeMatteis, and David Michelinie and there was also a run by the soon to be famous X-Men team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne - so it's not like Marvel assigned slouches to the title, maybe with the exception of that artist on issue #100 - some slacker by the name of Frank Miller. However, the stories were hampered by the inherent limitations of the title itself, which was strictly "let's have Spidey meet somebody." Although the Human Torch often took a turn teaming up with another member of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man was the headliner in the overwhelming majority of the issues. There was never any real character development, and virtually nothing of any real consequence happened because neither Marvel nor the writers on the core titles of the heroes involved really wanted anything of consequence to happen outside of those core titles. All too often the stories were one-parters where after all the time setting up the situation, and then the circumstances leading to the team up, there wasn't a whole lot of time left to tell a very good story. In the end, it was simply a way for Marvel to make a few extra bucks off Spidey. Not that all of the stories were bad - there was a series of time travel stories that were actually quite entertaining, and a couple of decent comedic stories, including the one where Spider-Man teamed up with the original Saturday Night Live Not Ready for Prime Time Players, and one where Aunt May was briefly the herald of Galactus called The Golden Oldie. Also, MTU introduced us to long-time Spidey supporting character police Captain Jean DeWolffe (issue #48). Still, looking back, Marvel Team-Up is one of those titles that only the hard core Spidey fan goes back to collect. It was the very last of the core continuity titles that I went back to fill in, and as such, you can still find a lot of these dirt-cheap. At one store having a 7 for $1 sale, I bought all the Team-Ups available - and the proprietor mentioned that those consistently were among the top sellers whenever he had a fire sale.

Unwilling to let any concept die, Marvel tried to revive the Team-Up title not once, not twice, but three times, with Spider-Man Team Up which only lasted seven issues from December 1995 to July 1997, and a second edition of Marvel Team-Up, which began in September 1997, but lasted only 11 issues - with Spidey actually having been "fired" after issue #7 and replaced with that whiz bang world-beater the Sub-Mariner, who's had more than his share of failed titles. In fact, I found the premiere issue in the 50-cent box, and probably paid too much. And then there was Ultimate Team-Up which was written by Brian Bendis, was placed in the "Ultimate" continuity, and always featured Spider-Man and a guest star, usually the ultimatized version of another Marvel hero. UTU was not near the quality of its big brother, Ultimate Spider-Man either from a writing or an artistic standpoint, and ended after only 16 issues.

There are many readers who have fond memories of Team-Up and would like to see it come back. I'm not one of them. When Marvel went berserk with all of their crossover stories (storylines running through several characters' magazines) and guest appearances during the 1990's, it essentially made the Team-Up concept redundant.

Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 1
Spidey's true second core title originated with the December, 1976 issue of Peter Parker - The Spectacular Spider-Man (a real mouthful of a title until the "Peter Parker" was dropped after issue #133) and initially suffered from "second title syndrome," as it floundered creatively for a couple of years trying to find its "place" in the spider-universe. At this time, it was clearly the junior title with Amazing as the "real" Spidey title. It hit a sort of humorous and infamous bottom with issue #24, as Spidey faced the so-bad-he-was-actually-good disco villain the "Hypno Hustler." Ironically enough, with the next issue, #25, the very same writer who foisted the Hustler on us, Bill Mantlo, kicked things up several notches with a strong Spidey/Daredevil team-up in which Spidey was rendered temporarily blind by the Masked Marauder. Although these days, the story is not nearly as memorable as the artist - a pre-Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller. This was followed by the first storyline to feature the villain Carrion, later revealed to be a clone of the late Miles Warren aka the Jackal, one of Spidey's more famous (or is it infamous?) foes. The series began to find its footing around this time as it focused on Peter Parker's life as a graduate school student and teacher's assistant (sort of a foreshadowing of his current stint as a teacher). When Roger Stern took over the title beginning with issue #43, it soon became the premiere spider-title, since at the very same time, Amazing Spider-Man was going straight down the crapper. In fact, it was issue #43 in which Stern introduced us to one Roderick Kingsley - whom we later found out was the original HobGoblin. Stern parlayed this gig on Spectacular into one on Amazing Spider-Man, which is considered by many, including myself, as one of the best periods in Spidey's history. Spectacular had a long, strong run of stories that included writers such as Stern, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Gerry Conway and JM DeMatteis, with several important events occurring within its pages. Spectacular chronicled the rise and disappointing fall of Spidey's volatile relationship with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, featured the classic "Death of Jean DeWolffe" by Peter David (issues 107-110), which concluded with Spidey and Daredevil exchanging secret identities (David was the first writer to finally figure out that having met both Spidey and Peter Parker, Daredevil, who recognized people by their heartbeats, simply had to have known). Probably the most significant event to occur within the pages of Spectacular was the tragic end of the friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, brought to its conclusion in issue #200 with Harry's death - which set in motion the course of events that eventually led to Norman Osborn's return. Unfortunately, Spectacular came to an end with issue #263 (November 1998) with the bottom of the barrel "Gathering of Five" storyline, and along with Sensational Spider-Man, was cancelled, being among the lowest selling of the four monthly spider-comics as Marvel finally realized Spidey was suffering from overexposure and pared back the number of titles.

In the back issue bins, Spectacular volume 1 stories are relatively easy to find at decent prices. You can even find #1 at a reasonable price if you look around hard enough. I always felt that this should have been the surviving title after the reboot (particularly with the writer at the time, JM DeMatteis) rather than Peter Parker - so while perhaps it's just only a name - I'm glad to see Spectacular back.

Web of Spider-Man
By the April 1985 premiere of Web of Spider-Man, Marvel realized that the only reason people were reading Marvel Team-Up was for Spidey, so they figured that just canning MTU and replacing it with a third monthly Spider-Man solo title was an even better bet. It actually started out with a strong, important story, that of Peter separating from the Venom symbiote (which was the original source of that jazzy black costume he wore for awhile) permanently before it found new host Eddie Brock. After that, however, the title more or less languished for its entire run due to inconsistent creative teams and the fact that it never really obtained its own identity. You could probably skip the entire run of Web (which ended with issue #129 dated October 1995) and not miss a thing, with the exception of some of the dumbest and least relevant single issue stories in Spidey's history. For awhile early on, Peter David wrote some interesting stories, including those based on a concept of Peter Parker traveling across the country and even the world for J. Jonah Jameson's new magazine, but after awhile, the absurdity of Spider-Man showing up everywhere that Peter did, and no one being the wiser, became apparent. #30 featured the origin of the HobGoblin as it stood at that time before it was later changed (for the better - but that's another story). Web is also infamous for giving us the much pilloried Spider-Armor from issue #100 (it appeared only once, but yet was made into thousands of action figures). Still, in my opinion, Web always seemed to be the weakest core spider-title. That seems to have been born out in the fact that as I went about building my back issue collection, Web issues were consistently the cheapest. It was also the bottom seller, and when Ben Reilly was revealed to be the "real" Spider-Man (briefly), Web was cancelled in favor of the new Sensational Spider-Man (see below).

No Adjective Spider-Man
Actually, the title was just Spider-Man, but I have a lot more fun calling it No Adjective Spider-Man, so just humor me. Talk about a limited purpose title and pushing the boundaries of excess. At the time that this title debuted with the August 1990 issue, the comics industry was in the midst of a rapidly expanding bubble in which the comics companies were absconding with as much of the readers' and collectors' cash as possible before that bubble burst. Todd McFarlane, at the time, was the hottest artist in comics, and following his stint on Amazing Spider-Man, this title was created as a showcase for him - both writing and drawing. The damn thing sold more than a million copies, which was a record for a single issue at the time, and Marvel released at least half a dozen cover versions (platinum, chromium, black cover, probably a shocking pink is out there somewhere). With my fabulous and flawless 20/20 hindsight, it's easy to bash Marvel for giving in to greed of the period - but in the context of the times - the hottest artist in comics does a Spider-Man series? If you were the Marvel editor who said "No, Todd, I don't think that's a good idea," and then watched him do another title at another company and sell more than a million copies, then you probably wouldn't have remained a Marvel editor for very much longer.

I never really did like the McFarlane stories since they seemed to follow more of a horror bent, which I never thought worked particularly well in Spidey. This included an excruciatingly long 5 part Lizard story to start the series off (I can see a five part Green Goblin story, a five part Doc Ock story, maybe Venom, but the Lizard?) and an utterly freaky, gross, and bizarre HobGoblin tale. The stories, while they didn't necessarily violate any continuity canons, were not meant to be strictly within the current continuity, but to stand on their own without referencing the other monthly titles, or likewise being referenced. But when McFarlane left after issue #16 however, the succeeding stories almost immediately fell into the regular continuity. Now, again, I didn't care for the McFarlane stories, but when he was on the title, at least it did have a distinctive look and feel that set it apart from the other titles. Frankly, I felt the title should have been cancelled after his departure, because as it had been a vehicle for him, and had sold well based on his following - what was the point of continuing it and further diluting the available spider-product? But then again, what do I know?

No-Adjective Spider-Man never really did establish its own identity, with a succession of creative teams, and then the need to fall into the lockstep of the Clone Saga crossover before issue #50. It then morphed into Peter Parker: Spider-Man with issue #75 - to coincide with Peter Parker returning as the one, true Spider-Man. It lasted until issue #98 and then was rebooted at No. 1 along with Amazing Spider-Man having survived the purge simply because it sold better than Spectacular and Sensational. For the first 19 issues, Howard Mackie wrote this in addition to his chores on Amazing, and that having been a disaster, Peter Parker was handed over to Paul Jenkins beginning with volume 2 issue #20 (August 2000), which represented the beginning of Spidey's new era as Marvel finally got off its ass and began to fix the regular titles. Once it was decided to return Amazing to its regular numbering, Peter Parker was cancelled with issue volume 2 #57 (August 2003), to be replaced by a new Spectacular Spider-Man, also written by Jenkins, which picked up right where Peter Parker left off in terms of storylines so it was a seamless transition. Since this title didn't have the sheer longevity and history and fan loyalty as Amazing, I had no quibble with Marvel just shutting it down and starting over with a new mag, name, and number.

Sensational Spider-Man
After Marvel decided that Ben Reilly was the "real" Spider-Man, it also decided that it wanted to give him his own brand new magazine to kick off his "return." Thus, since Web was traditionally the weakest in terms of sales and quality of the monthly spider-mags, Marvel cancelled it and started Sensational Spider-Man (January 1996). And to make it even more special, the first issue wouldn't be #1 - it would be #0 - wow - that makes it even more of a collector's item (sarcasm intended). #0 was not just a Marvel gimmick, it was an industry gimmick. I didn't get it then - and I certainly don't get it now.

The title started out as being written and drawn by the popular Dan Jurgens, but Jurgens left the title after issue #6 because he was sick of the editorial chaos that was Marvel on the Spider-Man titles at the time. Good for him - bad for us. Anyway, when Peter returned as the real Spider-Man, beginning in this series with Sensational #12, we once again had a title, born for a specific purpose, continue after its purpose was no longer relevant - as it had been created to highlight the now deceased Ben Reilly. Sensational plodded along, however, for an unremarkable 33 issue run, concluding with the awful "Gathering of Five" story. I would say that due to the circumstances that gave it birth, as well as its limited run, Sensational is probably the least fondly remembered of the core spider titles, both old and new.

Spider-Man Unlimited
If the fourth monthly Spider-Man title, simply called Spider-Man was a case of going to the well too often, then this one, a fifth recurring title, represents sucking it dry. Reminiscent of the older quarterly "Giant Size" comics from the 1970's, which usually consisted of more than one story - often a new story with a reprint, Spider-Man Unlimited, debuting with the May 1993 issue, was a super sized quarterly edition with two or more in-continuity stories, at times flashbacks to previous "untold" events. The comics themselves were actually of pretty good quality from a product standpoint (which considering the $3.95 price tag for the first dozen issues - still a whopping price for a comic book even a decade later - they should have been), but unfortunately the stories didn't always live up to the packaging. Case in point - the first two issues were the bookends of one of the most excruciating storylines in spider-history - the 14 part Maximum Carnage. Unlimited can't be completely ignored, as the third issue fleshed out Doctor Octopus' background more thoroughly than ever before, and, for those Clone Saga completists, there were the inevitable crossovers with that storyline. However, on the whole, this series was another example of Marvel cranking up the printing presses trying to suck up as much cash out of the system before the whole thing collapsed - which it damn near did. Unlimited too, was a victim of the reboot, ending with issue #22 (November 1998). It is not missed.

This series is NOT to be confused with the new Spider-Man Unlimited which debuts in 2004. The new Unlimited is a bi-monthly comic focused on non-continuity short stories featuring new creative talent. Just to keep the record straight.

Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 2
Spectacular is really a continuation of Peter Parker: Spider-Man, which Paul Jenkins wrote from issues #20 to #50. If you were to ask me which of the core titles I prefer at this time, if I had to absolutely choose, it would be this one, and that is primarily because of the writer. I personally believe that he demonstrates the best working knowledge of what makes the Peter Parker character tick, recapturing that "ordinariness," without turning the character into a overly tragic figure, as was done after the aforementioned reboot, when it seemed that the only way to emphasize Peter's humanity was to visit tragedy after tragedy upon him, i.e., the supposed death of Mary Jane, losing his job, being evicted from his apartment, living on the street (which made NO sense at all - I know I'd be back at Aunt May's scarfing up some wheat cakes and sleeping in a warm bed). Of my first four "Year in Review" articles, Paul Jenkins' stories were the winners of "Best Story" three out of the four years - and the first one wasn't even on a "core" title!

Not to say that every story is golden - for example, Jenkins' attempts to introduce new villains have fallen flat (Typeface, anyone?), and I feel, particularly having read some of his other stuff (Witchblade) that he's better at the set-up than the finish. Still, when he connects, he hits one out of the ballpark, with his "Death in the Family" and "Wait Till Next Year" stories from issues #44-47, and #33, respectively two of the best Spider-Man tales of the last decade.

Currently another reason to pick up this title is that, unlike JMS who steers away from the use of classic villains in Amazing, Jenkins revels in using them and putting new spins on them. The Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Venom have all recently appeared, with more classics such as the Lizard on the horizon, and even rumors of the use of the HobGoblin and that all-time favorite among really bad villains - the Hypno Hustler (more on him below in the first Spectacular title). HOWEVER, you need a strong stomach to endure the quasi manga, anime - whatever art that Humberto Ramos generates. I can't stand it. It just does not work for me on Spider-Man, and I am far from alone in this opinion.

Other Previous Titles

Spidey Super Stories
There have been a number of Spidey comics that were oriented towards kids as promotional giveaways with various products, as well as attempts to issue comics based on the animated series that ran in the 1990's. None lasted very long. But there is one series that due to its uniqueness at the time and its relative longevity deserves mention - the infamous Spidey Super Stories.

Back in the 1970's Marvel partnered up with a children's education show on PBS called The Electric Company and licensed Spidey to appear every once in a while on the show in a simple adventure steered toward helping kids read (for example, one show was focused on words starting with FL, so Spidey squared off against a villain called the FLy (no relation to the comic character that eventually appeared in the spider titles), who was brewing an evil concoction that contained FLies and FLeas. Spidey himself never talked, with the exception of word balloons, so that kids would have to read what Spidey was saying. As a teen during the time, I thought these segments were hopelessly lowbrow and beneath me and was insulted by their simplicity. As an adult with a couple of kids of his own, I marvel (no pun intended) about how clever that segment was done - and talk about a perfect advertising vehicle to get small children interested in comics as they begin to learn to read! I wish I had those on tape for my boy.

Spidey Super Stories was the printed version of that partnership, beginning with the October 1974 issue, with very simplified non-continuity tales that often featured as guest stars some of the cast and characters of the Electric Company. Considering that two of those actors who were regulars on that show were Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno, Electric Company packed a little more creative muscle than some other shows geared towards children. Freeman regularly played a character called "Easy Reader" who was a cool dude with shades who dressed in a jean jacket (it was the 70's, folks) and encouraged kids to read (in fact, each issue of Spidey Super Stories was certified by Easy Reader as being easy to read). And even though the stories themselves were not within continuity - they were referred to in Amazing Spider-Man #186, in which Spidey, having been cleared of criminal charges against him, considers licensing opportunities and tells the press that he gave a children's television show free license to do a comic book.

The title actually had a fairly strong run, lasting 57 issues, which ended March 1982. And obviously while the stories were geared to a younger audience, and therefore, well, hopelessly hokey (particularly the special features such as "Wit of the Webslinger") Marvel didn't skimp on the talent as you might have expected. Some of the covers were drawn by none other than John Romita, Sr., who drew the webslinger in a legendary run beginning way back with Amazing Spider-Man #39 and stories written by Jim Salicrup, who became the editor of the Spider-Man titles in the late 1980's. There were also some clever covers that were riffs on popular movies, such as Jaws and Star Wars, the latter with Spidey and Avenger member Moondragon in the classic Luke Skywalker/Leia movie poster pose with Doctor Doom subbing as Darth Vader.

While for some, Spidey Super Stories represents more a fond memory or bizarre curiosity than a viable title or collectible, I was surprised as I was rebuilding my Spidey collection just how seldom I saw good quality copies of this title - and some of the prices are comparable with the in-continuity core titles at the time! Really though, only the truly HARD CORE Spidey fan goes back to pick these up. I don't even have a complete collection myself. Still, the fact that Spider-Man was chosen in this manner to reach young children demonstrates the universal core of his appeal.

It's shame that this concept, of using simplified adventures to help interest younger kids and then move them into the regular comics as they get older, just doesn't seem to be very successful. Marvel tried it with Spider-Man Adventures to capitalize on the popular 1990's animated show on Fox, and DC has done it with Batman and Powerpuff Girls tie-ins. Apparently, some of the Batman ones have actually been very good - and I'm sure that Marvel would love to be able to publish some kiddie titles, but history seems to show that they simply don't sell well.

Spider-Man: 2099
Every once in a while Marvel gets a wild hair about coming out with a "new universe," which does not typically tie in with the regular Marvel Universe. Their first effort really was called "New Universe," and it BOMBED spectacularly. The next effort was not quite so disparate from the Marvel Universe - it was the Marvel Universe of the future, i.e. the year 2099. In this future, New York City is a glittering sea of skyscrapers that is literally levitated above the New York City that we know, which in 2099 is a massive slum area, California has physically separated from the rest of the US as the result of a massive earthquake, the corporations run the world, and the Marvel heroes are long gone. However, in this future, new heroes who took the identities of the old began to emerge. The first to be released was the November 1992 issue of Spider-Man: 2099, who was not related to Peter Parker in any way. This Spider-Man was a corporate exec named Miguel O'Hara, and he actually had a pretty cool looking costume. Spidey 2099 was followed by 2099 versions of Dr. Doom, the Punisher, Ghost Rider, the Hulk, the X-Men, and others. In an interesting twist, this Spider-Man's webshooters were actually organic like the ones in the Spider-Man movie years later. For the most part he had all new villains, although he did fight 2099 versions of the Vulture, the Green Goblin, and Venom. All except the final two issues were written by the talented Peter David. Spider-Man: 2099 was an interesting title for the first year, as readers gradually learned more about the origin and details of this particular dystopian future - but after the first year, I thought it seemed to settle down into more conventional superhero action, and thus I lost interest. There was actually a one-shot that featured both current and future Spider-Men, but they met only briefly - most of the story surrounded the fact that the two had switched time frames. None of the 2099 titles reached issue 50, and Spider-Man, the first issued, only made it to 46, bowing out with the August 1996 issue. When Marvel fired the 2099 editor, the writers of the titles bailed as a show of support. Marvel tried to keep the 2099 universe alive through an anthology, but finally threw in the towel, wrapping up the storyline in a one-shot released in 1998 called Manifest Destiny. Spider-Man: 2099, along with the other 2099 titles, is little more than a historical curiosity now, although David did bring him back for a guest appearance in a recent Captain Marvel.

Now, I never had any intention of purchasing the rest of the Spider-Man: 2099 line after the first year. However, while scouring through a sale of 7 for a dollar, I was able to complete the entire collection for less than five bucks. Not a bad day in the back issue bin. If you are similarly fortunate, you may want to give this late title a try.

Untold Tales of Spider-Man
The year was 1995, and Marvel had just told us that the Peter Parker/Spider-Man we had been reading about for 20 years was not the "real" Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Part of this rationale was that they believed that the character had aged and matured too much (i.e. gotten married - many Marvel writers and editors have made no secret that they loathe the fact that Spider-Man is a married character). Anyway, as a companion effort to introducing the new, yet so-called real "hip" Spider-Man, Ben Reilly, Marvel introduced a new title featuring a teen-aged Spider-Man - this time as a series of "untold tales," that took place in the early days of Spider-Man. However, writer Kurt Busiek did not re-tell the original stories or pen tales that contradicted the established continuity. In fact, he actually supplemented it - and with artist Pat Olliffe - actually duplicated the look and feel of the old Stan Lee-Steve Ditko collaboration - including Peter Parker's tacky blue suit! Busiek used this title to cleverly patch up certain gaps in logic and continuity that were either a product of 1960's culture, or simply the result of mistakes made during the original run. He brought in some old friends and enemies such as Norman and Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, and Professor Miles Warren even before their actual debut in the regular Amazing, and made it all "fit." One significant story was told from Mary Jane's point of view, knowing that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, a perspective we never had during the original run because it wasn't revealed that MJ knew Pete was Spidey until the 1980's. The one notable weakness was that as a result of these being "untold tales," Busiek typically relied on the use of new villains, which frankly, were usually rather lame, a verdict borne out by the fact that none of them have either appeared or been referenced outside of this title. However, while UTOS had a strong following, it wasn't a particularly large one, and less than stellar sales, combined with Busiek's desire to leave the title, resulted in Untold Tales coming to an end with issue #25, cover dated October 1997. Unlike other editorial decisions, this one made sense, ending the title with the author's departure.

While very entertaining, UTOS is really for hard core Spidey fans only, since they will be the ones to appreciate it the most - particularly the way it supplements the established continuity. In fact, there is some debate whether or not UTOS really is continuity, so this is something to pursue in the back issue bins either as a lark, or after you've become hard core and have supplemented your collection of the other titles.

However, although UTOS was less than fully successful, that didn't mean that Marvel was done with untold tales (small letters) of Spider-Man.

Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man
Well, Marvel fudged a little on its plan to cut back the number of titles after the reboot, and in addition to the core titles Amazing and Peter Parker came up with another twist on the untold story. This effort would be different than Untold Tales in that the story arcs would be done by different creative teams, and the stories were not linear. Whereas Busiek literally started at the beginning and worked his way slowly forward, Webspinners, debuting with the January 1999 issue, could take place anywhere and any time in Spidey's history. However, this version was even less successful than the original untold tales - but that didn't mean there weren't some good stories. Issue #1 debuted with a terrific back-up story written by J.M. Dematteis and illustrated by the one and only John Romita, Sr., which detailed Peter Parker's and Gwen Stacy's last night together before she was murdered by the Green Goblin. There was also a good three-parter dealing with Peter's high school days. With the senior prom as the background story, Peter figures that since he is Spider-Man, he doesn't have to take crap from anyone anymore - but he soon realizes that while he can do many things, he cannot rewrite the rules of the high school caste system which stipulates that jocks and nerds and pretty girls all have their roles that they must play and not deviate from. This was actually an excellent use of the "untold story" idea - being able to tell a brand new story from a perspective that may not have existed during the original time frame. While middle-aged Stan Lee was far removed from his high school days in the early 1960's when he and Steve Ditko crafted the original mythology, modern writers may not be, and can inject a story that utilizes current frames of reference and events. After that, Paul Jenkins did a great Chameleon two-parter, which was actually an in-continuity tale (and my "Best Story of the Year" for 1999) - and led to his assignment as a regular spider-writer, which he maintains to this day.

Looking back, Webspinners was actually the best of the three monthly Spider-Man series at the time, but it only lasted 18 issues, suspending publication with the June 2000 issue, due to the fact that sales simply tanked and it had no vocal following - which was probably not helped by the fact that fans seem to prefer consistent creative teams. Webspinners was not the first to fail thusly - and certainly not the last.

And for some strange reason, I have been unable to find too many of these issues in the bargain bins. I'm either not going to the right places (like a comics convention), or the relatively low print runs didn't leave a whole lot of extras to go around.

Spider-Man's Tangled Web
O.K. - here we go again. Marvel's track record with anthologies is not that great, and this was no exception, not even with Spider-Man's name slapped on it. The purpose of this line, when it debuted June 2001 was to tell stories, not about Spider-Man, but about his world, and the people who had direct or indirect dealings with him. The results were mixed, to say the least. While it may be interesting and touching to feature a little used Spidey villain like the thick skulled dim witted Rhino in a take on the classic sci-fi short story "Flowers for Algernon," no one should be surprised that it didn't sell well - particularly if Spider-Man's name is on the cover and he isn't even in the story much, if at all. But that doesn't mean that good stories weren't told. For example, in #4 Greg Rucka and 100 Bullets artist Eduardo Risso turned in a great Kingpin story ("Severance Package") in which one of his long-time lieutenants screws up and has to face the music - and you know what that means when you disappoint the Kingpin! Issue #13, where Norman Osborn on a whim decides to hang out at for a couple of drinks at a super-villain bar, is also fun, and was the best product from the much maligned Ron "I also wrote the gay Rawhide Kid stories" Zimmerman. Issue #20, "Behind the Moustache," by Zeb Wells gave us the story of J. Jonah Jameson going on the therapists' couch and sharing some of his inner demons. But, Tangled ended its run with issue #22 (March 2003).

Still, what's the point of having a title called Spider-Man's Tangled Web when Spider-Man is seldom the focus of the stories? Tangled is best purchased when you find them in the bargain bin. For example, I picked up issue #4 for only a quarter - which doesn't make much sense as that was probably one of the best comic stories of that particular year - period. Such are the vagaries of comic publishing.

Spider-Woman and Spider-Girl
Unfortunately, Spider-Man has not been immune to the creatively bankrupt idea of gender switching by giving him a female counterpart. Do NOT waste your time wondering about any of the three different Spider-Women that have dis-graced comics pages over the last three decades. None of them are related to Spider-Man in any way, shape, or form. They're not his cousins, his long lost sisters, they didn't drink his blood to gain their powers - they are solely marketing gimmicks. Now, the third Spider-Woman did gain her powers in a ceremony hosted by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin and she was plugged into the spider-titles as a guest star, but that's over, too. Thank goodness.

Spider-Girl however, is an entirely different matter. In the regular spider-titles, Peter and Mary Jane had a daughter, named May, whom Norman Osborn kidnapped, and has not been seen since. Marvel wants everyone to forget her and believe she is dead - but they can dream on - because many of us won't. Anyway, long-time spider-scribe Tom DeFalco, in issue #105 (February 1998) of What If?, a title devoted to alternate universe stories about Marvel characters, created the character of "Spider-Girl," who was the very same May Parker, rescued from Norman Osborn, a teenager in the near future, who on the onset of puberty, comes into possession of her father's legacy - spider-powers. Peter has long since retired from wearing the webs due to losing a leg in the final battle with the original Green Goblin. When the family is threatened by Norman Osborn (not THE Norman Osborn, but Norman's grandson and Harry's now adult son), who comes into possession of his family's legacy, May dons the costume once worn by Spider-Ben, the clone who Marvel wanted to be Spider-Man (amazing how a costume originally designed for a grown man comfortably fit a teen-age girl), and becomes Spider-Girl. The story ended with May considering taking up the role on a full-time basis. The reaction to "Spider-Girl" was tremendous, and six months later she was the headline character of a new Marvel line of comics called "MC2" which featured potential future versions of Marvel characters and their offspring (including Wild Thing the daughter of Wolverine, and Fantastic Five which included a now grown up Franklin Richards, son of Sue and Reed, among its members). However, the entire MC2 line, with the exception of Spider-Girl was cancelled, and May herself has had a tenuous existence. Supported by one of the most rabid and devoted fan bases, May has survived no less than three attempts at cancellation by Marvel, and is guaranteed a run until at least issue #74. Still, Spider-Girl is one of the lowest selling Marvel titles, consistently hovering around 25,000 copies, and probably has little chance of surviving beyond the release of the second Spider-Man film. Which is really too bad, because Spider-Girl is very enjoyable, accessible to those who aren't spider-experts, and totally kid friendly, which fewer and fewer comics can claim these days. Unfortunately, Marvel seems to have mixed feelings about this title - professing publicly to love it (and I have no reason to doubt that) but failing to sufficiently promote it, although it features one of the very few female (a large untapped potential market) solo leads in a superhero title, and one who is always dressed appropriately in her civilian identity (the tight fitting spandex does leave little doubt about her gender, however).

I actually avoided buying this title for probably two and a half years since I felt I had better ways of spending my money than on a "non-continuity" knock-off of the original concept. However, the loyalty of its fan base prompted me to give it an extended try - and guess what - I like it a lot. I've been ensnared in its family-friendly, relatively simplistic (meaning no perpetually ongoing and unresolved plotlines) storytelling style. You could do a lot worse than picking up this title.

I suppose the ultimate proof of why I like this title was when I was watching an old Spider-Man cartoon and my young daughter asked me "Dad - is there a Spider-Girl?" To which I was happy to reply "yes - yes there is - want to know more about her?"

NEXT TIME: The Indispensable Spider-Man - those twenty storylines that cumulatively will help you hit most of the high points of Spidey's long and glorious history - and guess what - you can probably pick most of them up fairly inexpensively! So go on to Part 3 - The Indispensible Spider-Man

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Copyright 1998-2004 The MadGoblin's Ward. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of the MadGoblin's Ward. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment.