Spider-Man 101

Part 3

The Indispensable Spider-Man

Welcome to Part 3 of Spider-Man 101, the online course introducing those who have discovered Spider-Man via other media to the source material - the comic books - where his career began back in 1962. In Spider-Man 101 Part 1 we covered the essential stories the new fan should read to understand the core concepts of the mythology, who the characters are, their relationships are to each other, etc. and reference sources available for those who want to immerse themselves deep in Spidey lore. In Part 2, we examined the various Spider-Man related titles currently published, and those available in the back issue bins - all which form the tapestry of Spider-Man's epic history.

This time, we'll drill down a little deeper and go over some key stories that give a good overview of Spider-Man's history. While the inclusion of some of these stories is obvious, others are a lot less so and admittedly subject to debate. What this is not is a list of the best Spider-Man stories of all time. I have another article that lists my own Favorite Spider-Man Stories - but this is not a duplication of that list. This article also excludes certain classic tales such as the "Master Planner" saga, famous for the scene where against all odds Spidey overcomes being buried by tons of rubble to get Aunt May some desperately needed medicine, "Spider-Man No More!" from Amazing Spider-Man #50 in which Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man, and "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut," in which Spidey relentlessly pursues a nearly invincible foe that he has no hope of defeating. These are indeed classic stories, but not quite within the purview of this article. Essentially, this is a concise reading list that once completed will give you an excellent idea who Spider-Man is, the significant challenges he faces, the demons of the past that continue to haunt him, stories that define the current status of key relationships, and the primary reference points that are repeatedly discussed by fans and comic pros alike. If you read most of these storylines that I reference in this article, you'll be more than able to engage any comic fan in a thorough discussion of the wall-crawler, understand the references of most of the internet postings except for the most esoteric (and some of those even I fall short of understanding) and have a clear overview of the history of Spider-Man - and you don't have to believe any of Marvel's propaganda that states that the average comics reader is so stupid that he (or she) can't jump into a long established title and understand what's going on - and you certainly won't have to read all the 1500+ Spidey appearances!

Key questions we should be able to answer within these stories include:

As an added bonus, not only do I tell you where these stories originally appeared, but also in most cases I should be able to guide you to a cheaper and more readily available alternative than the original source material - some of which has become too expensive to purchase. So - without further delay or obnoxious exposition:

1. Amazing Fantasy #15
Within the pages of this long-dead, yet still immortal comic magazine, a legend was born. This is the story that started it all. Amazingly (no pun intended), considering how long and elaborate origin stories are these days, taking several issues to unfold - this one is remarkably short, only 11 pages - although typical for its time. In the last 45 years, it has been enhanced, expanded, revisited, and reimagined time and time again, yet it is still the core story by which the entire world of Spider-Man revolves. And other than a couple of contemporary references, it really isn't all that dated and in need of change. Obviously, being bitten by a radioactive spider is dated since we know a lot more about radiation now than we did then - but it isn't so absurd that we can't suspend our disbelief and accept it. After all, we still accept that Superman came from the planet Krypton, and that Batman trained himself to the near peak of physical and intellectual perfection. And of course, there's that microscope as a gift, and the suspension of disbelief required that a teenage boy in the early 1960's can sew his own costume. In a future installment of this series, we'll talk a little bit about continuity and Chapter One a 1999 attempt to re-imagine Spidey's origin that tried to update the mythology - but failed miserably because (1) it didn't have the heart of the original and (2) well, the story simply didn't need to be retold. Nerdy loser Peter Parker, shunned by his classmates, is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super powers. He first decides to cash in on his powers in wrestling and entertainment, but in a regrettable moment of arrogance and self-importance, allows a burglar to escape, which has tragic repercussions.

And it's as simple as that. With very minor modifications, most notably the genetically engineered super-spider, it was the same origin as presented in the more elaborate Ultimate Spider-Man that debuted in 2000, and in 2002's Spider-Man motion picture. And it also marks the beginning of the "With Great Power, There Must Also Come Great Responsibility" mantra. In a strange way, the brevity of the story allows it to stand the test of time because it wasn't long enough to load with too many dated references and slang, which turned out to be the case with other origin stories that are laden with Cold War references routine for the early 1960s. For example, in Fantastic Four #1, the whole purpose of the four's fateful flight is to "beat the commies into space." "Beating the commies" at anything hasn't been relevant since the mid 1980's. Iron Man's origin is entirely based in cold war analogies with Tony Stark serving in Vietnam and fighting various villainous Asians in his early years. A Soviet spy prompted the "gamma bomb" explosion that triggered Dr. Bruce Banner's transformation into the Hulk. Spidey's origin story, on the other hand, is blissfully devoid of these references, and is also the only story on this list featuring the art of Steve Ditko, the first artist ever to draw Spider-Man in an ongoing series (Jack Kirby drew some initial sketches of Spider-Man, and he did draw the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15). Ditko's tenure on Spider-Man lasted only three years, and while eccentric, principled, and perhaps downright weird, Ditko nonetheless deserves the “co-creator” status he has recently begun to share in recent years with Stan Lee, but I’ll cover more of that ground in a later installment of this series.

You shouldn’t have to look very hard to find a reprint of this story. It’s obviously the first story in the black and white trade Essential Spider-Man #1, and it was most recently reprinted in color form in the final 100 Greatest Marvels issue. In trade form you can find it in The Very Best of Spider-Man, and you can even find a complete reprint in Amazing Spider-Man #275. Purchasers of the Spider-Man Collectors Edition DVD from the first film also received a reprinted edition. It’ll likely be reprinted as long as there are comic books. And it deserves to be. It is the beginning of a truly modern mythology.

2. Amazing Spider-Man #39-40
Spider-Man and the Green Goblin learn each other's secret identities for the very first time - turning their battles from simply business - to personal. Of course, this was hardly the Green Goblin's first appearance - he first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #14 and several times thereafter. However, none of those stories really told us anything about him. Until issue #39, he had simply been a garishly costumed wannabe crime lord who teamed up with such losers as the Crimemaster and Lucky Lobo. He was perhaps a slightly more interesting, but nonetheless still mundane and ordinary costumed supervillain. But the two issues referenced above totally re-defined the relationship between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin for all of time, and the result of this particular conflict resonates to this day.

The Green Goblin, simply having had enough of Spider-Man disrupting his affairs, dulls his spider senses and follows him until he changes into Peter Parker, thus finding out who he is. After that, he shows up on Peter's front lawn in Forest Hills and takes him prisoner. In a climatic moment, he reveals that he is none other than - Harry's father, Norman Osborn - who was introduced only a couple of months earlier (Harry had been a part of the series since issue #31). Now, it is apparent in scouring the records as well as reading the previous stories, that Norman Osborn was not Steve Ditko's first choice for the role as he has admitted he had someone else in mind. That topic is already covered in my article The Return of Norman Osborn.

The story is a little goofy in parts, as stories from that time are, such as when Norman puts on a dumb helmut that projects holographic images of past battles, and then there's that worn out cliche where the villain rants and raves endlessly, allowing the hero time to escape. Still, this was a key moment in Spidey's life on several fronts. In addition to revealing Osborn as the Goblin, this story also represents the first overtures of friendship between Harry Osborn and Peter, who prior to this had been at odds. In this issue, both learn that neither is quite the self-indulgent stuck-up snob the other thought him to be. It also represents the end of Peter's relationship with Betty Brant, his first true love, as he formally tells Ned Leeds, Betty's current suitor, that their relationship is over. And, as the ice thaws between Harry and Peter, a certain young lady by the name of Gwen Stacy looks on approvingly, as she realizes that this may hasten Peter's acceptance into their social group, and thus make him an acceptable romantic partner. Not only that - but this is the first issue pencilled by the great John Romita, Sr. - whose romance-oriented background and style immediately made Peter and other cast members more physically attractive and less ordinary, as they had been in the Ditko days. This resulted in Spidey losing some of that quirkiness and uniqueness that Steve Ditko used to first put him on the map, but also allowed Spidey to become more mainstream, play up the soap opera aspects of the series, and become even more popular.

Now, the easiest place you'll find this story reprinted is in Essential Spider-Man #2, although it was also recently reprinted in the Visionaries: John Romita, Sr. trade in 2001. For really die hard fans who love a challenge, there was also a CD ROM from several years ago that had this two part tale, along with the first two issues introducing the HobGoblin (Amazing #238 & 239), enhanced with video clips from the 1990's Fox animated series and additional narration by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who was the voice of Spider-Man in that series. I happen to have this and it's a treat for Goblin fans.

3. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5
Who were Peter Parker's parents? This story would not really be considered a "classic" tale, but it provides critical information about Peter Parker's background, such as "who were his parents and what happened to them?" During a day of moving stuff in the attic, Peter stumbles upon old newspaper clippings about the death of his parents, Richard and Mary Parker, in a plane crash. The story states, much to Peter's horror, that his parents were considered spies and traitors.

After confronting Aunt May, Peter still refuses to believe that his father, Uncle Ben's younger brother, was a traitor to his country. Realizing he cannot rest until he gets to the bottom of the mystery - he bums transportation from the Fantastic Four and travels to Algeria, his parents' last known port of call, which brings him into conflict with Captain America's greatest nemesis, the Red Skull (later retconned to be a "fake" Red Skull). Turns out that Peter's folks were actually SHIELD agents working undercover, spying on the Skull, only pretending to be traitors. The Skull, of course, being the smart and insidious super villain that he is, discovered this and had their plane tampered with on the way home, thus their deaths in the resulting crash. Once you get over the absurdity of a supervillain such as the Red Skull keeping a massive filing cabinet conveniently located where an intrepid superhero can find it, which just happens to have everything alphabetized and easily referenced so said intrepid superhero can find his father's SHIELD ID card, you'll be fine.

In the 1990's there was a dubious storyline where it appeared that Peter Parker's parents had never died - they were actually prisoners in a commie concentration camp and were released when the Cold War ended - but you can completely ignore that for now. After two years of fits and starts and dead ends, they were finally revealed to be robot fakes. Of course. So why waste your time?

Personally, I always found it a little silly that Peter's folks were spies. I mean, this is yet another one of those things that really belie one of the supposed cornerstones of Spidey's popularity - that Peter Parker is an ordinary guy. O.K. the kid is a super genius AND a nerd yet he still finds himself repeatedly coveted by a succession of attractive young women, sometimes more than one at the same time. Now we find out his parents were secret agents who ran afoul of one of Marvel's all time great super-villains in the Red Skull? Yeesh. Why couldn't they have been working class people who were killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver? Maybe Stan Lee thought that he might do something later with that Red Skull/SHIELD subplot - but ultimately he never revisited it. In fact, other than the sickening "robot parents" storyline, it has been revisited only once in an Untold Tales of Spider-Man -1 (a flashback issue, the negative number being another one of those Mighty Marvel Marketing Gimmicks), where it was discovered that during the course of their secret agent adventures, the Parkers had rescued a Canadian agent by the name of Logan - also known as Wolverine (yep - same dude as in the X-Men)! Now, although the level of coincidence in the Marvel Universe can sometimes be a little too high for my taste - the fact that Spidey and Wolverine are arguably Marvel's two most popular singular characters and are destined (or doomed) to meet several times for sheer marketing and sales campaigns, it probably isn't a bad idea for there to be some connection, some reason for them to occasionally get together. After all, they're not likely to bump into each other at the local Kroger's or share box seats at the Mets games. However, after that little tidbit was dropped, no one bothered to follow up on that, either, which is kind of a shame.

If you want to read the original parents story, Essential Spider-Man #2 is your best bet since the black and white essential reprint may be the only place you can find it short of the original comic. Now, if you want to know a little more about the parents of Peter Parker, and how they met, the Untold Tales version, though not the easiest to find, can likely be had dirt cheap. I think I found mine in the quarter bin.

4. Amazing Spider-Man #88-90
The Death of Captain George Stacy. Up to this point, Spidey had certainly had his share of problems, and the series was full of teen-age self-pity and angst, but the stories on the whole still were fairly light-hearted. With this tale, however, Spidey's world began to get a little grimmer, and what has become a disheartening trend which has weakened the series in the long run began right here - as we are faced with the death of a major supporting character.

Peter Parker first met Gwen Stacy at Empire State University in issue #31 of Amazing Spider-Man, and after a couple of years, we met her widowed father, retired police Captain George Stacy. Stacy had been a cop of undeniable ethics and virtue, and while tough on crime in his day, exhibited compassion and understanding when necessary. Even the cantankerous J. Jonah Jameson, who thought Stacy was too liberal and soft, considered him a valued friend. Stacy soon began to take a fatherly interest in Gwen's new boyfriend, the highly intelligent, but rather mysterious Peter Parker.

Coincidentally, Captain Stacy turned out to be a valuable ally of Spider-Man's as well, being the one person in law enforcement who tolerated the web slinger and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this also resulted in him having an inordinate amount of interest in Spider-Man's secret identity - as he felt that knowing who Spider-Man was would be key to understanding the web-slinger's motivations. Of course, the irony of this was not lost on Peter Parker, who considered Stacy a surrogate father figure (he once referred to him as "the second best friend I ever had" - after Uncle Ben), but also was very wary of him, knowing that it wouldn't take much for Stacy to put two and two together. Turns out, Peter's fear was justified.

For the first two and half parts of this story, it seems like your fairly standard Spidey vs. Doc Ock tale, with Ock holding a plane with a diplomat hostage, but the end proves to have lifelong repercussions for Spidey. In what could otherwise be taken as irritating coincidence, Spidey and Doc Ock are battling it out on a rooftop when Ock's tentacles smash a brick chimney, and the falling debris crushes Stacy as he pushes a child out of its way. Horrified, Spidey tries to race him to a hospital, but the old man knows he won't make it - and with his dying breath, he tells "Peter" to take care of Gwen. The old man knew after all - but never told a soul.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man's presence on the roof when the bricks came tumbling down, the nearby crowd's inability to see that it was Ock's tentacles that caused the catastrophe, and Spidey's inexplicable (to the witnesses) haste in spiriting away Stacy's body, was all the fuel J. Jonah Jameson needed to ignite another wave of anti-Spider-Man editorials, convincing even Gwen Stacy that Spider-Man was responsible for her father's death.

Of course, with any story set in the late 1960's, you have to wade through some of the forced social relevance, such as repeated references to the air pollution problem (or was it air pollution hysteria?) There's also a very uncomfortable bit in issue #88 on the airplane, where one of the foreign generals comments on America being a violent society after watching Spidey and Doc Ock duke it out. John Jameson, JJJ's upright son as well as a decorated military officer states that America is no more violent than any other but "The difference is we care - and we try." Ugh.

It can be said that Peter has never really recovered from this loss. Not only did Captain Stacy's death permanently damage Peter's relationship with Gwen by the implication that Spider-Man was responsible (thus ruining whatever plans Peter had to tell Gwen about his extracurricular activities), but Peter lost the one man he could truly say was a father figure to him in the absence of Ben Parker. I don't think that outside of Aunt May and Mary Jane obviously, there has been a single character since that Peter would have trusted so completely.

The story was reprinted in a one shot to coincide with the Death and Destiny miniseries back in 2000, and also in Essential Spider-Man #4 & #5. Death and Destiny is an excellent companion piece to this tale, a modern revisiting of the story, weaving itself around the major events without retelling it. If you can find it, get it.

5. Amazing Spider-Man #96-98
These are the infamous drug issues often referred to by Stan Lee and others. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) had asked Stan to write a tale about the evils of drug use - so he did. What's interesting is that he did not use a very minor character, say, Randy Robertson, son of Joe Robertson, and the resident African-American student in the storylines, as the drug addict. No, it was Peter's best friend, rich white boy Harry Osborn, who was the druggie. Of course, Harry's addiction in this story was pills, not the more realistically likely coke or heroin (we never saw Harry do a line, in other words - but in the Death and Destiny limited series mentioned above, it is strongly implied that Harry was doing the harder stuff). Still, this was a bold move for the times, illustrating just why Spider-Man, of all superheroes, has always had a grip on the comic reading public. In what is clearly an example of utter silliness, the Comics Code Authority refused to approve the story - even though it had been written at the behest of an agency of the US Government! So, Stan published it anyway, the first step in rendering the Authority utterly irrelevant, which it is today.

This story is significant to spider-fans, not only because it is a fairly good Green Goblin tale, in addition to it being the "drug" story, but we also see the beginning of Harry Osborn's disintegration and his long struggle with drugs and depression (the latter was never specified - but it's pretty obvious) which ultimately leads to his death. Harry is never really the same after this storyline. Yes, at times, it does seem like an old white dude's take on the drug culture of the late 1960's (catch Norman Osborn's use of the phrase "I know where it's at, son." Norman, maybe next to JJJ, would be the last person I would consider hip. I'd even consider Aunt May hipper than Norman), so it wouldn't be entirely fair or proper to compare it to the more mature fare of today. Joe Quesada, Marvel Editor in Chief, calls it "quaint" in the Spider-Man movie DVD. I don't think that's fair, although the story is clearly dated, if only for the wardrobe! But, you're missing the point if you take these stories out of the context of the times in which they were written.

Another odd element looking back is how much concern Spidey seems to have for Norman as a person - repeatedly stating that Norman is mentally ill and suffers brain damage and isn't responsible for what he does as the Goblin. Obviously, after the death of Gwen, Peter's perspective on Norman changed considerably.

The story has been reprinted several times, and the easiest place you can find it is in Essential Spider-Man #5. There was also an excellent Spider-Man vs. the Green Goblin trade, which was released in 1995 and is currently out of print, but I have seen it at comic shops at cover price from time to time. This story arc was also reprinted in the Death of Gwen Stacy trades in 1999 and 2002, since it seems like it has become almost a prologue to that particular story. Speaking of the death of Gwen Stacy....

6. Amazing Spider-Man #121-122
The Death of Gwen Stacy. There's little doubt that not only is this one of the most important stories in Spidey's long history, it's one of the most important stories in comics history - period. Although I don't quite go this far, there are many who believe that the death of Gwen Stacy officially marked the end of what is known as the Silver Age of Comics.

But as a story - well - I'm afraid that the intervening 30 years have somewhat dulled its impact, partially because killing off supporting characters has almost become routine and trivial in many titles. What was once a shocking event, as the death of Gwen was, is now used to as a stunt to increase short-term interest in a title.

The story opens with Harry Osborn suffering the effects of an acid trip, which then contributes to Norman Osborn going mental himself. Combined with some serious reversals of financial fortune for Osborn, this triggers what was then Norman Osborn's final stand as the Green Goblin. Determined to find Peter Parker, the Goblin crashes his apartment, finding not Peter, but Gwen. He takes Gwen to the infamous bridge (either the Brooklyn or the George Washington Bridge, depending on what version of the story you're reading - but that's not particularly important) and waits for Spider-Man.

During the ensuing battle, the Green Goblin knocks Gwen off the bridge and Spidey makes one of the most fateful mistakes of his life, firing a solitary strand of webbing towards Gwen, bringing her fall to a sudden stop, breaking her neck and killing her. This has been one of the more controversial moments in Spidey history as readers have debated whether the fall or Spidey's webbing was the direct cause of Gwen's death - but it's pretty apparent by the accompanying "snap" when Spidey stops her fall.

A grieved and enraged Spidey later tracks the Goblin to one of his hideouts and comes very close to delivering the deathblow to Norman Osborn. However, he backs off, horrified at his own bloodthirstiness, and the Goblin takes advantage of this moment to summon his glider to attack the web slinger from behind. If you saw the movie, what happened there is what happened in the comics - Spidey gets out of the way - and the Green Goblin eats steel.

But the impact of this story doesn't stop there. Beyond the death of Gwen, which tortures Peter to this day (best seen recently in the Webspinners #1 back up story "The Kiss") Norman Osborn's apparent death accelerates Harry's spiral into madness and into assuming the Goblin legacy. It also is the accelerant for the first tentative steps towards romance between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, as MJ ignores Peter's verbal abuse and her own fear of commitment and involvement to comfort him in the time of his greatest need.

Part of this story was clearly the basis for the bridge scene at the end of the first Spider-Man film. In that, Norman kidnaps MJ rather than Gwen (who does not appear in the film), and MJ does survive - although Norman is impaled by his glider in this story in virtually identical fashion to the movie (without the "Don't tell Harry" coda, however). It was also the basis for a confrontation between the Ultimate versions of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man with MJ as the hostage on the bridge 9she survives there as well).

So - tragedy comes full circle - in the very beginning someone he loved died because he failed to act as Spider-Man, and so he resolved that Spider-Man would never fail to act again when lives were at stake. Only now, someone he loves dies because he is Spider-Man. So how does he reconcile the inescapable irony of those two events?

I think he's still trying.

This story was reprinted in the aforementioned Spider-Man vs. the Green Goblin trade, and well as the two Death of Gwen Stacy trades in 1999 and 2002.

7. Amazing Spider-Man #147-150
Behold - where the whole Clone mess started. Obviously beyond the fact that this story lay the seeds for the mid-1990's Clone Saga that nearly tanked the character, it also represents what was at the time Peter's final break with Gwen Stacy, and the realization that it is Mary Jane Watson whom he loves, and will continue to love for the rest of his life.

Needless to say, the last two years of Spider-Man's life have not been easy. Not only did the Green Goblin murder Gwen Stacy (yes, Spidey's webbing snapped her neck, but the Goblin set the events in motion - like pushing someone in front of a speeding car), but J. Jonah Jameson blames Spider-Man for the deaths of both Gwen and Norman Osborn, and is able to convince the police that Spider-Man was involved, a rap he would not be able to shake for several years. It turns out that no one realizes that Osborn was the Goblin because Harry removed his costume so that the world would not realize that the esteemed businessman was also a psychopathic murderer. He has also been dogged by a mysterious villain known only as the Jackal, who hires the Punisher (in his very first appearance) to hunt Spider-Man, and also engages other villains against Spidey, and seems to have guessed the connection between the costumed crime fighter and Peter Parker.

But then the real coup de grace - Gwen Stacy seemingly returns from the dead - but it is not Gwen, but a clone. Spider-Man finds out that the Jackal is none other than his biology professor - Miles Warren - who sought vengeance against Spider-Man for the death of Gwen, whom Warren had developed a weird obsessive love for. But not only did Warren clone Gwen, but Peter Parker as well, and the two Spider-Men duke it out in Shea Stadium, which comes crashing down in the finale, apparently taking both the Jackal and the Spider-Clone with it. The Gwen clone leaves New York, abandoning Peter to his despair and grief - but yet once again, good ole MJ is there in his apartment to revive his spirits. Many of us old time spider fans believe that this represents the first time Peter did "it."

The next issue has Peter wondering whether or not he is the genuine article or the clone, and he solicits Dr. Curt Connors (also known as the Lizard) to perform a series of tests. While web slinging across town awaiting the results, he encounters various representations of old villains, sent against him by Spencer Smythe, the creator of the spider slayers (he'll show up again in this article, believe me). As Spidey appears near defeat, he worries about Mary Jane - and then comes to the conclusion that that proves that he is the real deal - that the clone, which was taken from genetic samples of Peter Parker while Gwen was still alive - would not be so fixated on MJ, but be torn between the two. He defeats Smythe, and then disposes of Dr. Connor's report without even reading it.

Ooops. Would have saved him a lot of grief later if he had.

This storyline represented the end of Gerry Conway's tenure on Amazing Spider-Man. Conway's tenure on Spidey was hit and miss at times, and very controversial. Considering that he was the first writer to follow Stan Lee's 100-issue run on a regular basis, though, he had the deck stacked against him anyway. Still, his three year run was one of the most significant in Spidey's history, with the deaths of Gwen Stacy and (for a time) Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn's first gig as the second Green Goblin, the beginnings of Peter and Mary Jane's relationship as well as the aforementioned first Clone Saga. What also shouldn't be forgotten in that Conway's run included the first two appearances of the Punisher (issues #129, #135) one of Marvel's most famous characters and the subject of a major motion picture himself (the cheapie version with Dolph Lungren doesn't count). Conway later went on to write Spectacular Spider-Man for some time and is currently a contributing scribe to the hit TV series "Law and Order."

This story has been reprinted only once to my knowledge, in the 1995 trade Clone Genesis.

8. Amazing Spider-Man #192
Ever since his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #1 back in 1963, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson has hated Spider-Man with a passion that long passed the point of obsession. The fact that Spidey has routinely saved the lives of him and his loved ones over the years doesn't seem to diminish that wrath, and Jonah persists in smearing Spider-Man's reputation with a flood of yellow journalism that would even make William Randolph Hearst blush. That begs the question - why - after all these years when Spidey has proven himself time and again to be a selfless hero?

Spidey's relationship with Jonah is probably the most complex one in the titles, and the one that is difficult for many writers to get their arms around, more often than not turning JJJ into more cliche than character. A couple of recent attempts to pierce Jonah's psyche occurred in Ron Zimmerman's one-shot Sweet Charity in which Spidey and JJJ are forced to go camping together, and the much better Tangled Web #21 story called "Behind the Moustache," by Zeb Welles, one of the few times we've gone into Jonah's past.

Anyway, during his mostly successful tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, writer Marv Wolfman took one of the better stabs on this relationship in this storyline. Spencer Smythe (whom we mentioned just above) had been creating spider slayer robots at the behest of J. Jonah Jameson for years, but the plutonium that powered the slayers has poisoned him, and he is dying. However, before he goes into supervillain hell, he intends on taking Jonah and Spider-Man with him. Of course, being the obnoxious supervillain who just can't flat-out kill the hero and be done with it, Smythe comes up with the concept of shackling Spidey and Jonah together with a bomb set to go off in 24 hours, leaving them plenty of time to anticipate their final fate.

Spidey and Jonah escape Smythe's lair and search for a way to disarm the bomb, bickering every second of the way, some of it rather amusing. However, as time appears to run out, Jonah crumbles under the pressure and falls apart. Obviously Spider-Man stumbles onto the solution to the dilemma at the very last possible minute and saves them both.

Even narrowly escaping death does not improve Jonah's mood. Always priding himself on his inner strength, this time when all seemed lost, he very humanly gave into fear and desperation, humiliating himself in front of the man he hates the most. Probably not even those closest to Jonah, his late or current wives, his son, or the person he trusts most in the world, his City Editor Joe Robertson, has seen Jonah this vulnerable. But Spider-Man, Jonah's personal demon, has. And it's something that Jonah can't live with.

In all, this story probably best sums up Spider-Man's and Jameson's relationship in a concise manner.

It is also significant as Mary Jane reaches a decision to break off her and Peter's romantic relationship permanently, well, at least for the moment. Several issues earlier, she had turned down his marriage proposal and he was desperately trying to rekindle things, which made her uneasy. Unfortunately, as he was shackled to Jolly Jonah as Spider-Man, he left MJ waiting alone for him in the pouring rain, and she's had enough. After this, and a couple of cameos, Mary Jane made no significant appearance in the spider-titles for over four years.

Although this story has not been reprinted in trade paperback form, it was reprinted as part of a special "100 Page Monster" issue, specifically Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #20. The "Monster", which included a new story and a few reprinted older stories that bear some relation to the new story (in this case, it was the spider slayers), was actually a pretty good idea and one I wouldn't have minded seeing on an annual basis as an opportunity to expose newer readers to some of the older Spider-Man stories which are not readily or economically available. However, considering how poorly the spider-titles were doing at this time, it's likely Marvel saw the experiment as a failure and abandoned it. Too bad.

9. Amazing Spider-Man #248
The Kid who Collected Spider-Man - Frankly, when you get down to the basics - this story is a shamelessly manipulative tearjerker, courtesy of Roger Stern. A young boy writes to the Bugle stating that Spider-Man is his hero and he would give anything to meet him. So - one night Spidey shows up at his bedroom window. Turns out the boy has collected rare pieces of Spidey memorabilia from the earliest times, including old footage of his days as an entertainer before he became a crime fighter. Spidey and the young man bond over several shared memories. Although relentlessly peppered by questions such as how his webshooters work, how his powers work, etc. - Spidey patiently and willingly answers them all. As the wall-crawler begins to leave, the boy has one last question - who are you really, Spider-Man?

And after a moment's pause, after the boy implores Spidey with the promise that he will never reveal his secret for as long as he gives - our hero gives him the answer. As Spidey swings away, we see that the boy is in a home for terminally ill children and has very little time left.

This story often ranks on people's top 10 - and it's certainly on mine. As I mentioned, it is somewhat shameless, but it perhaps is one of the best stories at illustrating the basic core decency of Peter Parker. It was even lifted (with a gender twist) for two episodes of the 1990's animated series ("Sins of the Father" parts 2 and 3, which is actually still available on video and DVD as part of the Ultimate SuperVillain Showdown). The story has been reprinted only once that I know of - in The Very Best of Spider-Man.

10. Amazing Spider-Man #267
When Commeth the Commuter. Spelling regular spider-scribe Tom DeFalco, Peter David contributed this humorous tale of Spider-Man in the suburbs. A bumbling middle-class, but mostly harmless, burglar from Scarsdale, New Jersey robs a clothing store and when he sees Spider-Man, due to the darkness, he is able to fool Spidey into believing that the gun he is pointing at is real, as is the "hostage" which turns out to be a mannequin. Humiliated by not realizing that the fact his spider sense was not tingling should have tipped him off that he was no real threat, Spidey develops a serious mad-on for this guy but loses him on a commuter train, although he is able to land a spider tracer on him. Spidey goes to Scarsdale, which proves to be as treacherous as the city in many ways. Dogs bark at him, kids make fun of him, there are no tall buildings for him to web swing on, he gets manhandled by a sexually frustrated housewife, is thrown off a commuter bus for not paying the fare, finds a friendly garbage man who tries to set him up with a divorced sister, and is generally not having a good day.

This is a real fan favorite, and even shows up on some Top 10 best stories list. I've included it on this particular list of essential stories because it is an illustration of the humor which has been such a critical part of Spider-Man's success. As you may have noticed, most of the stories on this list, by virtue of their importance, tend to be rather serious tales, often involving the deaths of supporting characters. However, this one has no tragedy or pathos, and is just flat out funny while still being entirely consistent with Spidey's character.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, this story has never been reprinted in a trade or in any other version, so if you want to read it, you'll have to hunt down the original. It shouldn't be too expensive, although it might set you back a little more than the average priced comic book of today.

11. Spectacular Spider-Man #100
The end of Spidey's romance with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. This is probably the story I am the least comfortable putting on this list. I very much wanted a Black Cat story because Felicia Hardy and her alter ego are very important parts of Spider-Man's history. She was the first and only woman that he willingly revealed his secret identity to - something he did not do with either Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson. For a time, she was actually his crime-fighting partner, which he neither had up to that time or since. And she continues to be a colorful and vibrant supporting character, although currently in limbo waiting for Kevin Smith to finish his Evil That Men Do miniseries.

I tried to find a story that perfectly captured the essence of Peter and Felicia's relationship for the new fan. Unfortunately, her first adventures, which were clearly the best written (by Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern), don't do that, and neither do the early issues detailing their partnership after a fateful battle with Doctor Octopus. So, I picked the story where their relationship came to its fateful end, as essentially the reasons why it did not work out are summarized by Spider-Man at its conclusion.

Initially, the Black Cat was a strong, sexy amoral foil for our hero, but successive spider writers for some reason, whether sloppy writing or editorial mandates, turned her into an utter goof who was in love with Spider-Man, but couldn't stand the sight of Peter Parker. She openly flaunted her relationship with Spider-Man, kept referring to him as "My Spider,"(which made me cringe) and she wasn't a particularly reliable partner in a fight because of her refusal to often listen to Spidey, the more experienced of the two. He was constantly worried about her due to her lack of superpowers, so she foolishly accepts an offer of powers from an anonymous source, who turns out to be the Kingpin, the rotund crime lord who has bedeviled both Spidey, and most significantly as of late, Daredevil. It turns out that the Kingpin's scientists gave her a "bad luck" power, which causes bad guys to have stupid accidents in her presence, allowing her to come out on top in fights, but after awhile, it also turns Spidey into a complete klutz who has several accidents. The Kingpin tells her that her power will ultimately kill Spider-Man if she continues to remain close to him, which forces Felicia to decide to break off their relationship. However, Spidey beats her to the punch and breaks it off with her for many of the reasons listed above.

As an added bonus, in this story you get to see one of the lamest and silliest of supervillains - but also fondly remembered by many for precisely those reasons - the Spot.

12. Spectacular Spider-Man 107-110
The Death of Jean DeWolffe. Police Captain Jean DeWolffe was a character introduced by writer Bill Mantlo way back in Marvel Team-Up #48. At that time, she was the stereotypical tough broad cop with attitude and dangling cigarette whose brother turned out to be the villain de jour for that storyline (actually, it was the crazy father controlling the brother, but that's a long story). She languished in supporting character limbo for awhile until Roger Stern made her a semi-regular character during his days on Spectacular when he created a community of police captains that Spidey would regularly run into depending upon what police precinct he was in at the time. Although DeWolffe, being a by the book cop, had little patience with Spidey's flamboyance and vigilante approach to fighting crime, she grudgingly supported the web slinger and could be considered one of the few friends he had in law enforcement, even arranging for a conditional amnesty for the Black Cat at Spidey's request.

During Bill Mantlo's second stint on Spectacular, which coincided with Stern's run on Amazing, he added the element of DeWolffe actually being romantically interested in Spider-Man. Though never really in the foreground, it remained an interesting little tidbit on the side that possessed interesting story possibilities if it were ever elaborated on.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Peter David, under orders from Marvel to "shake things up" concocted a story that began with Jean's brutal murder, as she was literally blown apart by a scumbag known as the "Sin-Eater," (the name is derived from certain pagan religious beliefs, so there's a little more to it than just your typical goofy supervillain name) who also targeted priests, judges and all of those he considered "soft on crime." Naturally, as Spider-Man has very few friends, Jean's death hits him particularly hard, even more so as he begins to conduct his own investigation in Jean's apartment, and discovers pictures and newspaper stories about himself and realizes that Jean was attracted to him.

It turns out that Daredevil is also conducting his own parallel investigation as the result of a personal friend of Matt Murdock's, a judge, being blown away by the Sin-Eater in Murdock's presence. Earlier in the story, Murdock encountered Peter Parker, who was furious over Murdock's defense of some thugs who mugged and beat one of Aunt May's borders (at this time May was running a halfway house for senior citizens in the old Parker homestead). In the meantime, some poor schmuck shows up and claims to be the Sin-Eater (this turns out to be another important story point - not here, but in the origin of another spider-villain which we'll discuss later). He tells police that J. Jonah Jameson is the next target, but our heroes discover that this poor mentally deranged loser was living next to the real Sin-Eater, which is why he knew the details of specific crimes. And the real murderer turns out to be the very detective assigned to the case. Both Spidey and DD race to JJJ's pad, - but Jonah's not there, only Betty Brant and Jonah's wife. Before the Sin-Eater can dispose of Betty, Spidey bursts in, and in an extremely brutal thrashing, nearly kills the Sin Eater. Only DD's intervention prevents Spidey from going completely over the edge. Later, as the detective is being arraigned and transferred to prison, an angry mob bursts through police lines and begins beating him. Spider-Man and Daredevil are overseeing this event, and DD jumps in to help, but the sheer volume and fury of the crowd overwhelms his radar sense and he calls out to Spider-Man - except Spidey's not listening and is more than willing to let the mob beat the villain to death. And then DD is forced to play his ace - as a result of being in the company of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, he recognized that the heartbeat was one and the same, and so in order to get through the hatred clouding Spidey's brain he calls out "Peter!" which snaps our hero out of his funk and he does the right thing, saving DD and the Sin Eater.

In addition to simply being a classic crime drama, this story represents a significant turning point in Daredevil's and Spider-Man's relationship as they exchange secret identities for the first time, impacting all of their future meetings. And as mentioned before, the false Sin-Eater plays a major part in the creation of a new spider-villain that should be familiar to all fans and even some casual observers.

The Death of Jean DeWolffe has been reprinted in a trade paperback of the same name.

13. Amazing Spider-Man #290-292
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7
Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson get married. Amazing Spider-Man #290-292 sets up the proposal and the acceptance, ASM Annual #21 is about the wedding, and Spectacular Spider-man Annual #7 the honeymoon.

Prior to this story, Peter had toyed (again) with giving up his Spider-Man identity, but (again) decided against it. However, he is still feeling an emptiness that he can't quite explain, an emptiness he ascertains will be filled if he asks Mary Jane to marry him. However, MJ is still gun shy about marriage, and at this rather inopportune moment a family crisis comes out of nowhere (well, actually, it comes out of Pittsburgh - maybe that is the same thing) and bails out to help her estranged sister. Turns out that MJ's scumbag father, who abandoned his family, has now come back into the picture and has used the sister's job connections to steal a valuable manuscript, which he intends to sell on the black market. The sister hid the manuscript and got arrested, and now father wants MJ to find out where she hid it and retrieve it for him. Not only that, but Alistair Smythe (son of Spencer) and his very own brand of spider slayer has tracked Spidey to Pittsburgh.

Needless to say, MJ turns the tables on her father and gets him arrested while her sister is released from jail. She also comes to Peter's rescue against the spider slayer (you'd have to read it), and she realizes that marriage to our favorite web head isn't such a bad idea.

That sets up the Amazing annual, which focuses on Peter and MJ's second thoughts on heading to the altar. MJ realizes how much of a compromise it will be to modify her glamorous and partying lifestyle, and Peter - well Peter is thinking an awful lot about Gwen Stacy.

With the exception of the Spectacular Spider-Man annual, the rest of these stories were collected in a trade paperback called Amazing Spider-Man: The Wedding. As far as I know, the Spectacular Annual has not been reprinted.

Now, if you want the complete rundown of Peter and Mary Jane's relationship, the absolute best source is a trade paperback called Parallel Lives which was written by Gerry Conway back in 1989. Conway, of course, was the scribe that eliminated Gwen Stacy and firmly established Mary Jane as Peter Parker's love. It covers stuff that wasn't in the regular titles when they were first issued, such as when MJ first found out that Peter was Spidey, the story from her point of view when we saw Aunt May relentlessly bugging Peter to date her, and her volatile family background. The story has a rather unnecessary appearance by Doctor Octopus, but otherwise it's an essential piece of the hard core Spider-Fan's collection.

Marvel had planned to re-issue that trade around the time of the release of the first Spider-Man movie, and it even showed up on the Diamond shipping lists, but never materialized with no reasons given. Pity.

14. Amazing Spider-Man #300
The first full appearance of Venom. Back in the mid 1980’s, Mattel licensed several Marvel characters for action figures and wanted a comic book to go with them. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter concocted the idea of “Marvel Secret Wars,” a 12 part mini-series in which a plethora of Marvel superheroes and supervillains were whisked away to an unknown planet by some supreme super being known as the Beyonder for one of those tiresome studies of good and evil that wore out its welcome during the original Star Trek television series in the 1960’s. But then again, a compelling story was not so much the motivation as was selling toys for Mattel and for Marvel to crowd out as much of the competition as it could from dealer shelves. Anyway, during one of these issues, Spider-Man’s costume took the worst of a fierce battle, and he used an alien machine to create what he believed was another costume. This is where that cool black and white costume that originally debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #252 came from. Anyway, it wasn’t long that Peter discovered that his costume just wasn’t made of cool material – it was an actual living symbiote. It tried to permanently bond with Peter before Mr. Fantastic used a sonic blaster to drive it from him and contain it (sound has always been one of Venom’s major weaknesses – along with fire). The symbiote escaped and in Web of Spider-Man #1 made one last attempt to permanently join with Peter, before he was able to drive it from him by exposing it to the close-up ringing of church bells. The symbiote dissipated, and that was supposedly the last of it.

Well, in that very same church, the symbiote found Eddie Brock, disgraced reporter who was contemplating suicide. Remember the Sin-Eater from the “Death of Jean DeWolffe” story? Supposedly he had contacted Brock, who subsequently wrote a series of columns about the Sin-Eater, including his confessions - except it was later revealed that this guy was the fraud - not the real assassin! Brock was subsequently fired from the Daily Globe. Of course, he blamed Spider-Man for his disgrace because Spider-Man caught the correct murderer. And, since the symbiote knew who Spider-Man was, Eddie Brock now did as well, setting up several years of confrontations as Venom went from one of Spider-Man's deadliest villains, to one of the most overexposed and trivialized ones, particularly when he underwent a transformation from psychopathic killer to “champion of the innocent” in the mid-1990's as Marvel tried to copy the Image line of violent vigilantes.

Anyway, despite his rather lame motivations and overexposure, Venom is still probably the most popular Spider-Man villain created after the Lee-Ditko era, with the possible exception of the Kingpin and the HobGoblin. The original story in the back issue bin is ridiculously expensive because of Todd McFarlane's popularity, so you're better off looking for it in one of the following two trades: Spider-Man vs. Venom and Spider-Man Visionaries - Todd McFarlane.

15. Spectacular Spider-Man #200
The Death of Harry Osborn. After the apparent death of his father in Amazing Spider-Man #122, the already mentally unstable Harry Osborn took up the mantle of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #136, but since he had neither Norman’s powers nor his fighting skills, he was easily defeated and shipped off to a mental hospital. While Harry was under hypnotic therapy administered by his psychiatrist, Barton Hamilton, he revealed all of the secrets of the Green Goblin, including his knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity. At first, Hamilton was merely intrigued by this information and content with playing with the Goblin “toys” and pondering a paper on the criminal mind, but eventually became corrupted after realizing the opportunities for power and personal gain that the Goblin identity represented. Naturally, even though he was able to hang around long enough for a five part tale that ran through issues #176-180 of Amazing, he met what appears to be a genuine and lasting death, as such is in the Marvel Universe. Harry seemed o.k. for awhile, his conscience mind remembering that he had actually donned the garb of the Green Goblin once, but forgetting (how convenient) that his father had been the first Goblin and that his best friend was Spider-Man. He went on with a normal life, marrying Liz Allen, fathering a son, Norman Harold “Normie” Osborn, and becoming CEO of Osborn Industries.

But the past catches up with all of us eventually. In one of Marvel’s uninspired and creatively bankrupt crossovers, “Inferno,” where demons begin to overrun New York City and drive people nuts, the wall between Harry’s conscience and subconscience mind collapsed, and he remembered everything. At first, he seemed to be able to accept this, as he even toyed with becoming a heroic Green Goblin. However, when his past was completely revealed to him, it included far more troublesome information than his father’s criminal past. Harry now is fully aware of how his father was a hateful, manipulative, abusive man, a man who Harry admired and loved and wanted to be loved by, but he could never live up to his father’s standards. All of the insecurities, paranoia, and internal demons are now fully manifest, and Harry is no better equipped emotionally now than he was years earlier to deal with them. Like it was for his father earlier, the Green Goblin identity becomes his refuge and he begins to fully embrace it, to the point of using a reconfiguration of Mendell Stromm’s and his father’s original formula on himself – which gives him the power of the Green Goblin, plus a fatal side effect.

This story begins with Harry attempting to drive Peter crazy, teasing him with threats that he will reveal his dual identity, while planning a devastating blow against New York City’s political and business elite, gathering them together under the auspices of the launching of a charitable foundation, only to blow up the building, all supposedly to avenge all of Norman Osborn’s adversaries.

However, during a final battle with Spider-Man in the building, after rendering Peter almost immobile after injecting him with a drug, Harry prematurely sets the timer on the explosives, determined to kill both Peter and himself. However, the unexpected arrival of Mary Jane and Harry’s son jolts Harry to clarity just in time, and he gets everyone to safety before the building explodes. However, the toxicity of the new Goblin formula kills him minutes later.

The death of Harry Osborn, while a sad and tragic story, and perhaps a logical end to Peter and Harry’s relationship, unfortunately had a disastrous impact on the Spider-Man titles and illustrated the folly of killing off long time supporting characters. Harry had been in the spider-titles for more than 20 years. He was Peter Parker’s best friend, and his tortured emotional state due to having to live with his father’s murderous legacy, while trying to maintain the persona of a business executive and family man, made him a strong supporting character. He and his wife’s relationship with Peter and Mary Jane gave the latter a social outlet that didn’t have to revolve around Spider-Man. Without Harry and Liz (who after Harry’s death booted the Parkers out of the building they were living in), and compounded by the deaths of previous supporting characters who were not satisfactorily replaced, Peter and Mary Jane's deterioration into an isolated, whiny, self-indulgent couple was complete.

The death of Harry also removed (temporarily as it turned out) one of the most powerful subtexts of the Spider-Universe, of the Osborns and their Goblin Legacy. The fact that there were no less than two posthumous schemes devised by Harry, including the awful “Robot Parents” storyline (yep, Harry thought that one up) and the Legacy of Evil one-shot, where Harry had his son kidnapped so he could be exposed to the Goblin formula, showed that the writers couldn't resist digging up the Osborns for stories, and how essential keeping at least one of them around was. In fact, it was a revived Harry Osborn who was supposed to be the mastermind behind the entire Clone Saga, until then Marvel Editor in Chief Bob Harras decreeing that Norman Osborn be the one to return, feeling that he was a far stronger villain than Harry - one of the very few of Bob Harras’ decisions that I agreed with. Harry's death ultimately was turned into the motivating factor for Norman to return from his self-imposed exile in Europe - so while I like the fact that Harry's death brought Norman back, that still doesn't mitigate the fact that killing off Harry was probably a big mistake since no resurrection was actually planned for Norman at that time.

For those spider-movie fans who want to know where the movie series under Sam Raimi is going – you might want to check this story out.

You can probably still find Spectacular #200 in the back issue bins for a reasonable price, along with the Spider-Man vs. the Green Goblin trade. The back issue is probably more accessible than the now out of print trade.

16. Amazing Spider-Man #418
Sensational Spider-Man #11
Spectacular Spider-Man #240
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75
The Osborn Journal
The end to the excruciating Clone Saga. Revelations was a four part story that crossed over all regular Spider-Man titles, concluding with Peter Parker #75, in which Peter Parker was revealed to be the one, true Spider-Man and Norman Osborn returned as the Green Goblin. I discussed the Clone Saga briefly in Part 2 of this series of articles, so I don't want to belabor it too much here. Ben Reilly, the clone who turned out to be the real Spider-Man for awhile, and Peter Parker, the real Spider-Man, revealed for a time to be the clone (I've just confused myself) are both on the trail of the Mysterious Mastermind who has been messing with their lives a lot recently. At the same time, Mary Jane, who is pregnant, goes into a premature labor, induced by one of Norman Osborn’s cronies putting something in her drink. Osborn has also surreptitiously arranged for virtually the entire Spider-Man supporting cast to gather on the top floor of the Daily Bugle building, which he plans to blow up, killing everyone from J. Jonah Jameson to Ben Urich (the reporter who originally “outed” Osborn as the Green Goblin), to Liz Allen, whom he held responsible for holding Harry back from “becoming a man.” Naturally, Peter and Ben Reilly combine to defeat Norman, but at a cost – the death of Reilly, whom Peter began to regard to as a true brother.

Now, Peter Parker #75 is one of my favorite Spider-Man stories – and I think it’s one of the best Green Goblin stories ever told. This capstone to the Clone Saga story concludes with a balls-to-the-walls slugfest between Spidey and his greatest enemy, back with a renewed sense of purpose to avenge the death of his son. However, it seems to be a universally despised story, either because it still reminds people of the painful Clone Saga, which many spider-fans hated, or because it features the death of Ben Reilly, whom many spider-fans had come to like, or brings back Norman Osborn, whom many spider-fans believed should have stayed dead. So, most of the established base of fans has a reason to hate this story. And it still lights up internet chat rooms to this day.

The "appendix" is the one-shot Osborn Journal which was written by Glenn Greenburg, a man who knows his Goblins. It is literally that, a reading of Norman Osborn’s journal where he describes how the Clone Saga unfolded, from his point of view. Naturally, it isn’t the way the Saga originally was told – but if you’re new to Spider-Man and want to know how the Saga ultimately was concluded, this is essential and would save you a lot of money and time spent reading more than two years of sheer crap, which the Saga had become. It’s amazing how Greenburg was actually able to include all of the disparate elements and make it all make comic-book logic sense.

The four parts of the "Revelations" story was reprinted in the trade paperback Spider-Man: Revelations, but I don't think the Osborn one-shot exists anywhere outside the original issue.

Another interesting part of this story is that it has a very tantalizing scene that appears to involve Peter and Mary Jane's baby, which Osborn has apparently had kidnapped, but tricked MJ and Peter into believing was dead. But considering that Marvel had second thoughts about Peter Parker becoming a father, the baby's fate is unresolved, and Marvel would like everyone to forget that it ever happened. But there are some of us who will never allow that to happen...

17. HobGoblin Lives
This is important because the HobGoblin, although he hasn't appeared in several years, remains one of Spidey's most popular villains, but he has had a long, convoluted, and confusing history. Now, the original HobGoblin stories which Roger Stern wrote are terrific, and on most fans' top 10 lists, including mine. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the long journey, and before you read any of those old stories, you really should try this three issue mini-series by Hobby's creator, Roger Stern, that almost 15 years after the character was introduced, cuts through all the crap and gives you all you need to know about this villain from beginning to end. It's convoluted and confusing at times, but does about the best that can be done of straightening out what turned out to be a gargantuan mess. Or, you could read my series called Squandered Legacy to get the lowdown. These three issues were later collected in a trade by the same name.

One of the common misconceptions I’ve seen out there is that Harry Osborn was the HobGoblin. I figure this exists for two reasons (1) Since Harry was the son of the Green Goblin, it almost seems logical that he would adopt a similar, yet different name (not an unreasonable assumption) and (2) there was a lot of speculation after the release of the first Spider-Man film, that Harry would become the HobGoblin rather than another Green Goblin because the vagaries of marketing, licensing and merchandising almost dictate that another character be used, rather than one of the same name as in a previous movie. This is a very logical deduction, but from what I can tell, it is all internet chatter by zealous fans who love to discuss and debate issues like this (myself included). So, for the record, in the comics Harry was never the HobGoblin and had no connections to him (although he was threatened by two of them), and there is currently no credibility to the rumor that he will be the HobGoblin in the movies. That all could change, obviously, depending on what Sam Raimi decides to do with Harry in Spider-Man 3.

18. Ultimate Spider-Man 1-7
The origin of Spider-Man as presented in Ultimate Spider-Man. Surprised that a cranky old hard-core fan such as myself would include this on the list of Indispensable Spider-Man Stories? Well, you shouldn’t be. Obviously, this isn’t a “continuity” story of the “real” Spider-Man as I and many other spider fans consider them, but to understand the foundations of the Classic vs. Ultimate debate, you have to go to the source material. These issues represent the core Ultimate origin story, which not only includes the origin of Spider-Man, but the origins of both the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Later, Spidey and the Goblin have their first, "ultimate" battle. I addressed most of my feelings about this particular story in my article Ultimate Spider-Man: The First Year, but to sum it up here – I think that there are some things that writer Brian Michael Bendis did well, but was the core story improved any? Making Uncle Ben a real presence rather than a speedbump on Peter’s way to becoming Spider-Man was a definite improvement, but otherwise - well, I still prefer the original by far.

Your best bet on finding these stories is to locate the trade paperback (not the hardback that Marvel’s foisting on people for a few bucks more) Ultimate Spider-Man: Power & Responsibility. For some reason, the early issues of this title are ridiculously expensive, particularly considering that there was supposed to be enough of them printed to create a land bridge from the US to Europe.

19. Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #38
Peter Parker: Spider-Man Volume 2 #50
Aunt May finds out. As long-time Spider-Man fans know, and perhaps even as casual fans know, poor old Aunt May has been on death’s door constantly since the inception of the series. Even the Great One, Stan Lee, persistently portrayed May as a doting, and somewhat doddering old woman, often simple-minded and naïve, and very seldom as a strong, viable character in her own right, although different writers, notably Roger Stern, tried to enhance her somewhat, but May never really progressed as a character. So, when Marvel decided during the Clone Saga that the Peter Parker of the last twenty years was not the real Spider-Man, they decided to ship him and Mary Jane off to the west coast to live and be forgotten while Ben Reilly, the “real” Spider-Man would take over. The only problem was – what to do with Aunt May? Well, the solution to the problem was simple – May had to die. Now, I’ve done an article on the Aunt May death and resurrection that needs to be updated, so I haven't linked to it, and I don’t want to go into the debate at this time. Simply put, I felt it was time for May to go. And she stayed dead for almost four years. Then EIC Bob Harras decreed that May had to come back, as utterly illogical as it was. Bringing back Norman Osborn, a genetically enhanced super being with “Goblin formula” running through his blood – well, that’s one thing. But real people? The solution was that the Aunt May that died was really a genetically engineered actress planted by Osborn, who had been holding the real May captive the whole time. It was pretty insulting, too because May originally died after revealing to Peter that she knew that he was Spider-Man, and not only did she accept his dual identity – but she was proud of him. O.K. – exposition done. Anyway, after the reboot – May was back to her doddering old form, worrying about fattening Petey up and making sure he wore his galoshes in the snow, and not knowing that he was Spider-Man, because EIC Harras “hated that she knew.” So, May continued to languish as a supporting character. However, although writer Paul Jenkins gave May some good moments while he was the writer on Peter Parker, it took J. Michael Stracyznski, his tour of duty beginning with Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 No. 30 to really give May a shot of character. While she’d clearly been eating some brain food after JMS took over, he then took the next logical step in Peter and May’s relationship. It was the story that HAD to be told if May was going to continue to play a significant role in the Spider-Man stories – so at the very end of issue #35, May enters Peter’s apartment unannounced, and catches a badly beaten up Peter sleeping off his last brutal fight (with a nothing villain called Morlun -forget him) – with the tattered remains of a Spider-Man costume scattered across the room.

The infamous World Trade Center issue was next, and then the following issue was the set-up for “the conversation,” which took place in issue #38. Peter and May have their first conversation – and it barely scratches the surface of what had to be discussed – yet it’s a start. It is clearly going to take May a very long time to get used to this. Not only does she realize that the person she loves most in the world constantly puts himself in danger, but that he has been lying and deceiving her for many years, excluding her from one of the most important parts of his life.

In Peter Parker #50, Paul Jenkins takes this a step farther, as May asks Peter some specific questions about his time as Spider-Man, and they deal, rather humorously, with some of the most bizarre moments in spider-history, when Aunt May once shot at Spider-Man, and when she nearly married Doc Ock! Bizarre as that sounds, it really happened, but I'm going to wait until my Doc Ock series later in 2004 before touching in detail on that. Anyway, even though Peter is being fairly candid with May, she realizes that he is holding something back and demands to know what it is. Peter has to confess to her that because Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin and he knows his secret identity, that her life is by virtue in constant danger.

May walks off, pondering this latest bombshell from Peter - and the implications of this storyline are still in process in the spider-titles at this time.

20. Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #50
Immediately after the travesty known as the reboot began, Marvel decided that Peter and Mary Jane's marriage had to end. Of course, this had absolutely nothing to do with improving story quality or increasing circulation, but was based solely on the personal biases of Marvel editorial. Therefore, for the first year after the reboot, Peter and Mary Jane acted a like a couple of argumentative spoiled children crying that they were "too young! too young!" to have these problems, and finally in issue #13 of volume 2 of Amazing Spider-Man, Mary Jane apparently died as her plane to Europe exploded. But, the co-writers of the series at that time, John Byrne and Howard Mackie, although they had their own issues with the marriage, disagreed with the editorial decision to kill Mary Jane and provided an "out."

The year and a half that followed was one of the worst in Spider-Man's history from a storytelling perspective, and fans were suitably outraged over Mary Jane's death, not in the least that after killing off a previous girlfriend in Gwen Stacy, killing off Mary Jane was dramatically lazy and turned the character of Peter Parker into a tragic victim. A change in editors in chief and writers, and MJ was brought back after a very tortured and dramatically unsatisfying storyline involving her kidnapping by a psychic stalker (probably one of Dionne's psychic friends) that I won't bore you by discussing. But just as soon as MJ gets back, she leaves again to go "find herself" as new spider-scribe J. Michael Straczynski didn't want to deal with her at the moment (he had spider-totems to write about).

However, to JMS' credit, just because MJ had left didn't mean she was no longer in the titles, as she appeared periodically (primarily from her vantage point of modeling and filming a bad horror movie in California), and after a series of missed meetings, she and Peter finally met in an airport and agreed to work out their differences and try to be a married couple again. Of course, terrorists trying to kill Doctor Doom and the appearance of Captain America were tossed in for good measure.

So, MJ is back, and she and Peter are trying to work things out. Where this storyline goes from here - your guess is as good as mine.

Now see - that wasn't very hard at all was it? With a mere handful of stories you are as up to date on the major events of Spider-Man's life as most fans, short of those hard-core fanatics like myself. You know the major players and events, and you can pick up a new issue of Spidey off the stands cold today and have a pretty good idea what's going on. You wouldn't have to wade through "40 years of convoluted continuity" like most of the pessimists say, or even like Marvel itself has said in the past as it tries to justify some of its bizarre business decisions. And since you're pretty intelligent (you obviously are if you're reading this!), what gaps there are in your knowledge you can easily work through. Take a bow - you're halfway through the course and already a Spidey expert!

NEXT TIME:Spidey Apocrypha - We'll take a look at the various other media representations of Spidey, such as the cartoon and TV series, and of course, the motion picture, to see how closely they match the source material. Is the comic always better? That's Part 4 - Spidey Apocrypha .

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