Spider-Man 101 Part 5

The Men who Made Spider-Man

Talk about a task for which one is totally inadequate. Examining the writers and artists who have contributed to Spider-Man over the last 45 years is a chore for professional writers and best covered in a book written by someone like Kevin Smith who has experience in the field and access to many of the principals. Nonetheless, one can't do a "Spider-Man 101" series without talking about the folks who have breathed life into the webslinger - particularly those who took him to new heights and those who dropped him to new lows. And before anyone gets the idea that I'm being sexist by referring to this column as the "men" who made Spider-Man, if you go down the list, there is only one woman (Ann Nocenti) whose contributions were significant enough to meet my arbitrary threshold.

In the interests of brevity and sanity, I limited the discussion to those writers and artists who have contributed to at least 12 issues of one of Spider-Man's core titles, which is essentially Amazing, both Spectaculars, Web, No Adjective, both Sensationals, Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood, and the first Unlimited. Marvel Team-Up is not included because even though many folks consider that to be a "core" title, I do not for the purpose of this article. Its very nature, the requirement that Spidey share the spotlight with another character, usually in a one-issue story, precluded the use of his supporting characters or any real character development. No significant change in Spidey's status could really occur in Team-Up. And limited series, while some have been good, typically do not contribute significantly to Spidey lore. Of course, after establishing those ground rules, I'll break them in giving an exception to Ultimate Spider-Man, since, regardless of the debate surrounding it and its place in the Spider-Man Universe, it is a significant book in Spidey's history, and the Bendis/Bagley unbroken strong of co-producing the title, which will reach an astounding 110 issues before "Bags" leaves the title - deserves recognition in this day and age of revolving door creative teams.

Of course, the arbitrary cutoff at 12 core issues means that a lot of talented and popular writers and artists who have at least dabbled in Spidey (such as Jeph Loeb, Dan Jurgens, Alex Ross, Frank Miller and many others) will not be discussed. On the other hand, this also precludes me from knocking folks who get stuck with a one-issue fill-in assignment in which nothing of too much importance can happen, nothing can change in the life of the character, but 22 (or more) pages of story still have to be told. Not as easy a task as one might think. In the original version of this article, I even listed creators who met my criteria, but of whom I had little or nothing to say - and said just that. Looking back, I think that looks pretty dumb, so I've cut a lot of that out as well.

For a complete list of all of the collaborators on Spider-Man over the years and the issues they worked on (because I’m not listing them here), you should go to Spider-Man Info 'cause he's got 'em all in a nice, neat, and concise format. I don't know how that boy does it.

Obviously, this column is entirely subjective, from someone whose only qualification is that he's an aging Spider-Man fanboy with his own personal forum on which to rant and rave. Sometimes I think the relative anonymity of the internet has made a lot of the online criticism towards creators a bit too personal and vindictive. I must admit as I look back on some of my older articles, I can get a bit wound up. But, just because a person writes a lousy story or draws like he's still doing acid doesn't make him a lousy person who goes home and beats the spouse and kids and kicks the dog. They just cranked out a bad story at a bad day at work, just like many of us do less than stellar jobs once in awhile at our place of employment. This is illustrated by the fact that on my best and worst Spider-Man stories articles, there are several writers who have stories on both lists!

Now, I am really less than capable of evaluating artists. When it comes to art - I know what I like and don't like and I'm not very good at articulating the nuances. It reminds me of the time I went to see the show "The Fantastiks" at the Derby Dinner Theater in Clarksville, Indiana more than 25 years ago. Even though I am a "cultural maggot" - as a college roommate of mine, an English major who actually read that incomprehensible book by James Joyce, Ulysses, called me more than once - I actually enjoyed the show. However, on the ride back home, a couple of the passengers were criticizing the female lead and using what they considered to be her limited octave range as a means of backing up their arguments. They certainly sounded like they knew what they were talking about, because I sure as hell didn't - I thought the poor girl did fine. So, take my views on artists for what they are worth. Hell, take all my views for what they are worth. If I seem to spend too little time on artists relative to the writers - well, I just don't see the need to bore you by writing long elaborate paragraphs when I really have nothing to say.

Who Created Spider-Man?
When I was growing up back in the 60's and 70's the answer was obvious - Stan Lee! Stan created the entire Marvel Universe! By himself! With one arm tied behind his back! Stan has always acknowledged the efforts of artists and other creators, but was less consistent in actually crediting them as co-creators of various characters. And considering that it was always Stan on the public circuit (and clearly enjoying every moment of the adulation he often received), Stan on TV, Stan writing books like Origins of Marvel Comics, it was no stretch for the average fan to assume that Stan created the Marvel Universe, and just happened to be assisted by those "other guys" - Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al.

However, the last couple of decades or so has brought the issues of creator rights vs. work for hire arrangements to the fore and has made the reality behind Spider-Man's (and other characters') creation messier than the legend, which has culminated in the fact that the Spider-Man movies state that the character was created by Stan Lee AND Steve Ditko, (and the Fantastic Four and the Hulk films have listed Kirby as an equal co-creator with Stan), a sharing of credit that would have been unthinkable in the past. But not only that, but Kirby and another comics legend, Joe Simon, have laid claim to the Spider-Man idea - that Simon developed it and showed it to Kirby, who later pitched it to Lee, who took it and claimed it for his own. Now, there is a trail leading back to a "Spiderman" character created by Simon (who later renamed him the Silver Spider, and then the Fly - which did share several characteristics with Spider-Man), and Kirby, being the original artist at Marvel that Lee handed the assignment to, supposedly contributed several ideas, including the hero living with his aunt and uncle. He also drew the cover to the legendary Amazing Fantasy #15. However, due to Kirby's workload and the fact that he and Lee's vision of what the lead should look like didn't quite jive, the character was assigned to Steve Ditko. In fact, Simon's original "Spiderman" look and logo can be seen at the Simon Entertainment website. However, Simon's "Spiderman" was an entirely different character, and while he claims credit for the name and the original concept, he does not claim credit for the character that Spider-Man eventually became.

Unlike the origin of Superman, which has a clear paper trail to Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, who created the character and THEN shopped it around, first to a newspaper syndicate and then National (DC) Comics (of course, that still didn't prevent them from getting ripped off and royally screwed by DC), the story behind the creation of Spider-Man is much more complicated by the fact that he was a corporate-owned character at the start, and therefore by the very nature of the business, has several sets of fingerprints on him.

Complicating the fact is that Kirby is dead, and his recollections were clouded by his entirely justifiable bitterness over the fact that his contributions to American popular culture were never properly recognized, particularly financially. Ditko is a Salinger-esque recluse who never grants interviews or speaks publicly (although there has been the rare written statement), and Lee's version of the events varies depending on the audience, the time, and the medium in which he is telling the story. He also claims to have a famously bad memory.

In the original Origins of Marvel Comics, first published in 1974 (of which I have a copy of the first printing, a Christmas present from long ago - one of the virtues of being an old fart), barely more than decade after Spidey's debut, Lee states that Spider-Man was inspired by his childhood fascination with a pulp fiction hero known as The Spider, Master of Men (Just to step back a moment, "pulps" were the nickname given to many of the series fiction novels written in the 1930's and 40's due to the cheap paper they were printed on). He mentions nothing about the infamous fly crawling on the wall that he claims inspired him in the interview on the Spider-Man movie DVD (sort of like Bruce Wayne seeing the bat flying into a window at Wayne Manor inspired him to take the name Batman?) although he does discuss The Spider in his interview with Kevin Smith on the "Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels" DVD. Maybe both versions are true, although I suspect that Lee has probably realized that almost no one except pop culture fans (which I think Smith would readily categorize himself as such) knows who The Spider is anymore, whereas the crawling fly makes for a better story to a less knowledgeable interviewer and needs no additional exposition.

The supporters of Ditko's co-creation claim note that Ditko created the Spider-Man costume (which in my opinion, alone is nearly enough to confer co-creator status - considering how iconic that design now is). They also cite the fact that "The Marvel Method" of telling stories involved the writer outlining the bones of the story to the artist, who then took those ideas and drew the entire comic, and then gave the pages to the writer to fill in the dialogue. A gentleman by the name of Blake Bell has performed an extensive amount of research of Steve Ditko's work, which he has included in his website Ditko Looked Up . The site features several "visual templates," or examples of Ditko's earlier work in the 50's and 60's that clearly influenced the look of Spider-Man in the beginning. The scene which appears to have early versions of both Norman Osborn and Peter Parker talking to each other long before there was an Amazing Fantasy #15 is especially interesting. In one of those rare moments where Ditko deigned to talk about his contributions, when he discusses that Stan's original concept of the Green Goblin was a spirit released from an Egyptian sarcophagus, and that he made the villain more down to earth, it is apparent that Ditko had a hand in a lot more than simply drawing the pictures.

There is a very well researched article called The Case for Kirby, which tries to bolster Jack's claims to a hand in Spidey's creation. Personally, although the author is successful (in my opinion) of demonstrating that Kirby likely contributed story ideas that eventually became early Spider-Man tales, I think he is less persuasive in showing that Kirby actually assisted in the creation of the Spider-Man character. Unfortunately, no Kirby artwork exists of his original designs for the "Spiderman" character assignment given to him by Lee - although Ditko once provided a rough sketch of it for a comics history book - which, although lacking in detail, illustrates what Lee said was likely true - that the hero Kirby came up with was too much of a "classic" muscular superhero for what Lee had in mind. Also, considering that with Ditko designing the costume, and if what writer Steve Webb, in an article he wrote called "Spidey, Stan, and Steve" (which I don't have a link to - sorry to say - if Steve is out there - help!) is true, that the look for Peter Parker was a self portrait of Steve Ditko from high school, then that effectively puts the kibosh on any credit claimed by Kirby in Spidey's creation. Jack's legacy has long been secure WITHOUT adding the creation of Spider-Man to his resume, so I find it interesting that this argument is still pressed in some corners.

I believe that there is a tendency by many to downplay Lee's contributions to Spider-Man and other Marvel characters because he is clearly adept at self-promotion, he became wealthy in an industry where almost no one becomes wealthy, particularly no one from his generation, and with his longevity (85 years old and counting), as the "last man standing," his version of the events more than likely will be the one that people remember in spite of its spotty accuracy. This is more than enough to instill a certain amount of bitterness and hard feelings within the creative community, particularly among those who knew and worked with the old legendary artists. Still, while Joe Simon may have come up with the name Spiderman, Jack Kirby may have contributed some of the concepts, and Steve Ditko clearly gave Spider-Man and his universe its visual distinction, it was Stan who gave us Spidey's and Peter Parker's thoughts and angst, his self-loathing and self-pity, his obsessive worries and various complexes, and that goofy sense of humor that makes the wall-crawler so endearing. Not to mention that he did this for 100 issues straight - the early ones clearly better than the latter - but still - this sheer volume of work cemented the character of Spider-Man, which has deviated very little, if any, in the 30 plus years since Stan ceased writing the title. Well, except for the occasional wife slapping during the Clone Saga – but that’s another story.

So - who created Spider-Man? Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Just like the movies say.

The Legends
As I talk about the individual contributors, I have segregated Lee, Ditko, and John Romita Sr. from the rest, since I believe that they are all clearly in a class by themselves due to their work in Spidey's early years and building the foundation of the character, which puts modern creators at a disadvantage when you’re wanting to look at overall contributions to the character’s legacy. They were also products of their time, particularly Lee in his stories and dialogue, and it isn't fair to them to compare their efforts in the 1960's, in which the stories were considerably more simplistic, affected by the Seduction of the Innocent legacy which nearly destroyed the entire industry in the decade before, to the modern writers and artists who are clearly more adept at telling complex, mature stories with a lot more creative freedom, and the improved technology and paper quality that enhances the efforts of the artists. So, with that caveat…

Stan Lee
You can say a lot of things about Stan’s writing. It’s corny, hackneyed, dated, and quaint (to quote Joe Quesada on one of Stan’s stories) and his attempt to put "realistic" dialogue in teenager's mouths was laughable. There are a number of people who have even written off the Silver Age (approximately late 1950’s to early 1970’s) as a worthwhile era for new comics readers to delve into. That’s highly debatable, but then for example, I still prefer Classic Star Trek to any of its later incarnations because I’m biased toward cheesy stuff anyway. That said, and I certainly hope I don’t sound like one of those shills for Stan who thinks he walks on water, but I still firmly believe that he is the greatest writer in Spidey’s history. Short of someone doing a Peter David-style run (David did the Incredible Hulk for more than 10 years straight - absolutely incredible - no pun intended) on Spider-Man, I don’t think anyone will top him. First of all, there’s his 100 issue consecutive string on Amazing Spider-Man – making him a charter member of what I call Spidey’s "Century Club," those creators who have written or drawn 100 or more core Spider-Man title stories. Then there’s all of the characters that he and his artists, Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr. created. Stan’s sense of humor and pathos uttered from the mouths of Peter and the supporting cast set the tone for the character that has continued to this day. And in my opinion, the stories are still fun to read all these years later. For the first few years of the title under Stan, Spidey as a character wasn’t standing still, like it seems that he does every so often in later years. He aged, was graduated from high school, entered college, made new acquaintances and sadly watched older ones wither away. Now, none of those stories have made my personal top 10 list, and it’s my opinion that Stan began to run out of gas around issue 60 or so, as he ran certain storylines such as Aunt May’s fragile health, and Gwen Stacy’s fretting about Peter and his secretiveness, into the ground. Still, as a collective body of work, one has to just shake their head at the volume of product and creativity, even if it wasn’t Shakespeare. And all of these years later, Stan has probably written more Spidey stories than anyone with one exception (David Michelinie). Stan has his weaknesses, but he’s still the man.

Steve Ditko
I am clearly in the minority, as I have never been seriously jazzed about Ditko’s art – but again, I’m not much of an art critic. Like I said, I know what I like and that’s about the extent of it. I remember seeing Ditko’s Machine Man run during the 1980’s and thinking that it was dated. Still, that said, I have no doubt that he was the perfect creative partner for Stan when Spidey began back in 1962. His style (often is called "quirky" by those searching for one word to describe it), gave Peter Parker and the world about him an ordinariness that set him apart from the muscular and handsome Greek-god superheroes prevalent at the time. It’s hard to believe that he only illustrated the first 38 issues of Amazing Spider-Man because it just seems like he did more. It is Ditko who had a hand in designing and defining the look of several of Spidey’s classic rogues' gallery, as noted earlier, and who ensured that the character and his adventures stayed firmly planted on terra firma, with stories involving gangsters and costumed hooligans, rather than cosmic, sci-fi bad guys.

The circumstances surrounding Ditko’s departure from probably his most famous artistic endeavor are somewhat shrouded in mystery since he is a notorious recluse who almost never grants interviews and probably hasn’t had a picture taken of himsel in 40 years. And Stan’s not much help because of his self-admitted poor memory, plus he and Ditko drifted apart during their run on Spider-Man to the point that they literally stopped talking to each other entirely, and therefore he may not really know what caused Ditko to finally bolt. One of the most frequently cited reasons is that Ditko and Lee had a serious disagreement over the secret identity of the Green Goblin – that Ditko wanted it to be an unknown and Lee wanted to make it someone who had already appeared in the titles - but I believe that this is merely an urban legend - often repeated because it's simple, understandable, and quotable. In one of the rare paper trails that Ditko did leave, in an online effort known as "The Comics," which was quoted in a magazine (which I can’t put my hands on dammit!) released around the time of the first Spidey film, he indicates that he intended the Goblin to be a character that was "close to J. Jonah Jameson," which combined with the tension that was steadily increasing between Peter Parker and Ned Leeds – I believe that Ditko intended the Goblin to be Leeds. However, Osborn HAD shown up as a face in JJJ's circle before he was actually given a name in issue #37 - so maybe Ditko did have that character in mind (although I doubt it - but I've discussed this elsewhere). I believe that the two men were just so different politically and philosophically, with Lee being a liberal and Ditko being an Ayn Rand individualist, as well as probably smarting over what he perceived to be a lack of sufficient remuneration, both from a credit standpoint and financial, that he just decided to bail. The fact that Ditko refuses to take easy money on the comics convention circuit telling his side of the story either solidifies him as an artist of unquestionable integrity or a weirdo – maybe a bit of both.

John Romita, Sr.
The world is full of brilliant visionaries who have a great idea, as well as the nuts and bolts folks who actually make those brilliant ideas work. To use a religious analogy, there are the Jesus types and the Paul types. Jesus had the message, but Paul was the one who took it to the rest of the known world at the time. John Romita, Sr. may not have had the flashes of original creative brilliance that Steve Ditko brought to the title, but his artistic style enabled the web head to crawl (pun intended) to higher levels of popularity. Spidey under Ditko’s influence was an angry place, rife with antagonism as Peter seemed to be in conflict with virtually everyone who crossed his path – Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, JJJ, Ned Leeds, Betty Brant. Even his burgeoning relationship with Gwen Stacy was combative as Gwen nearly slapped our hero in the face for making a sarcastic comment! Not to mention Peter’s antagonistic stands against college protestors on campus, who seemed to have little purpose other than to be seen protesting. Romita’s romance comic background resulted in a softening up of most of the central characters, improving Peter’s relationship with them and resulting in "the gang," of Peter, Gwen, Harry, MJ and Flash, which helped strengthen the soap opera elements of Spidey’s story and gave us a collective group of likeable people we enjoyed spending time with. He put a little extra weight on Peter and made him more physically attractive, which was somewhat symbolic of his being Spider-Man bringing him out of his shell. And what he did to the girls! Romita was the first to draw Mary Jane Watson in her full glory, and his original Gwen Stacy would have been worthy of a Wayne's World "schwing!" Unfortunately, in order to distinguish between the two primary ladies, Gwen devolved into a more "wholesome" image after a time, which ultimately was a factor in her decline as a character.

As a result, perhaps there was an artistic compromise in the change from Ditko to Romita. Although Spidey’s popularity soon exploded, he did lose some of the edge that put him on the map originally. That’s all a matter of opinion. Even today, Romita’s pencils almost seem a little too soft and too clean in today’s grittier, grimier storytelling climate (which I think his son succeeds at admirably) – but I never object to seeing him back. In fact, in the back-up story to Webspinners #1, which was Peter and Gwen’s last night together before her death, his "soft, clean, dated" artwork perfectly captured the feel for what probably was the last night of whatever innocence Peter Parker had left, before his life was irrevocably altered. Todd McFarlane was right on the money on the Spider-Man movie DVD when he stated that Romita’s influence was so powerful that succeeding artists essentially re-drew Romita’s Spidey for a long period of time after that.

For the next segments, I’ll discuss the other writers and artists in the relative order in which they worked on the titles, in lieu of listing all of their credentials.

Writers

Gerry Conway
Next to Stan Lee – it’s likely that Gerry Conway has had the most influence on Spider-Man and his world than any other writer. This is made even more amazing (pun intended) when we note that Conway was a friggin' teenager when he first took on the assignment. He is also a member of the Century Club, and unique in the fact that he had significant runs on no less than three of the core Spider-titles (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web). It is his run on Amazing that makes him stand head and shoulders above most of the others. Under Conway, both Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn met their deaths (until Norman’s was ret-conned nearly a quarter of a century later), which still resonates till this day. Harry took up the mantle of the Green Goblin for the first time under Conway, and the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane flourished from friendship to romance. Not only that, but he created the Jackal, chose Professor Miles Warren as the alter ego and gave us the first Clone Saga, which was a classic in its time – too bad it was bastardized later in the 1990’s. Conway also wrote the one-shot trade Parallel Lives after Peter and MJ’s marriage which took their relationship back to its very beginnings, and showed how it gradually blossomed into an enduring love.

Unfortunately, Conway’s later tours of duty on Spectacular and Web were fairly uneventful, maybe even forgettable. I never understood his "Joe Robertson in jail" storyline because it just didn’t ring true that such an event would occur.

Since then, Conway has gone on to become a successful television writer and producer, most notably on "Law and Order" (pick a version). It’s doubtful that with the current climate at Marvel that we’ll ever see him pen a Spidey story again, and he has stated that as a result of his age, he feels that he no longer could adequately relate to the character.

Len Wein
Wein took over Amazing Spider-Man after Gerry Conway and lasted until issue #180. He was the last writer to have Spidey largely to himself, as the first Spectacular Spider-Man saw print around Amazing #164. The stories weren’t bad, but Conway’s eventful run made Wein's look like it was standing still. Peter's relationship with Mary Jane for example, began to become annoying due to Peter’s relentless habit of breaking dates to become Spider-Man, blah blah blah. Fortunately, MJ wasn’t the daddy’s girl that Gwen Stacy became, and she actually started seeing Flash Thompson to make Peter jealous. And then there was another of Aunt May’s massive heart attacks that ended an interesting turn for May as a "Gray Panther" protester. Still, Wein turned in the terrific issue #153 which is one of my top ten favorite stories, and during his two and a half years, Marla Madison, JJJ’s eventual second wife, was introduced, Harry Osborn and Liz Allen began dating and were quickly engaged. The run concluded with the fairly well known five part Green Goblin tale that featured psychiatrist Barton Hamilton’s first and only appearance as the Green Goblin. Wein also brought back the original Burglar from Amazing Fantasy #15, but that storyline did not go anywhere until later in Marv Wolfman’s run.

Marv Wolfman
Speaking of Wolfman, Marv started his reign on Amazing Spider-Man #182 with an unexpected bombshell – Peter proposing marriage for the first time to Mary Jane. MJ turned him down in the succeeding issue, but Wolfman was just getting started. His time on Amazing lasted less than two years but in that time there was the proposal and rejection, and later Peter and MJ formally broke up. Pete then had a brief, but troubled affair with Betty Brant that got him decked by Ned Leeds, Betty’s husband. The Black Cat (Wolfman's lasting contribution to the Spider-Man mythos) made her debut. Rock solid J. Jonah Jameson was in the throes of an apparent nervous breakdown, with Peter finally having enough of his crap and going to work for the Daily Globe and its mysterious owner. And of course, the infamous Burglar came back and Spider-Man finally settled his oldest score in issue #200. Soon after that – Wolfman left and Denny O’Neil came in and shit all over his unfinished plots. With Marv, it seemed that every issue meant something in the grand scheme of Spidey, and I have not been sorrier to see any spider writer leave than I was when Wolfman left.

Denny O'Neil
Sometimes you have to wonder what went wrong. Denny O’Neil is a comics legend, having redefined Batman with Neal Adams, creating supervillain Ras Al Ghul, and turning in some classic Green Lantern tales in the 60’s and 70’s. After Marv Wolfman’s untimely departure from the Spider-Man titles after Amazing Spider-Man #204, O’Neil, beginning with #207, should have been able to create a similarly memorable run on Marvel’s flagship character. But that didn’t happen. O’Neil’s era is arguably the worst in Spidey’s history, and at the time, was the shortest as he barely lasted more than a year before the title was turned over to Roger Stern. He clumsily and abruptly trashed several interesting storylines that Marv Wolfman had started, particularly the ones that revolved around Peter’s brief employment as a photographer with the Daily Globe. The villains were sophomoric and the storylines simplistic. One of the worst offenders was the time when Hydroman and Sandman, in a fight over a middle-aged barfly, accidentally merged to become a gigantic sand monster with a King Kong fixation. Due to the fact that his time was mercifully short, someone else at Marvel must have noticed some quality problems as well. This is really too bad – because it should have been a solid run.

Bill Mantlo
Bill Mantlo’s days on Spectacular Spider-Man, which came in two phases, has always been one of my favorites. Even though he created the infamous "Hypno Hustler," he followed it up with a great Daredevil team-up and then the first and best "Carrion" story, which featured a living, yet dead clone of Professor Miles Warren (aka the Jackal from Gerry Conway’s Clone Saga). After that, Peter Parker became a graduate student at ESU with several new supporting cast members. Starting with Mantlo, followed by Roger Stern, and then Mantlo again, Spectacular developed its own identity apart from Amazing (and was actually better for a time). During Mantlo’s second spell on the title, Spidey’s relationship with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat turned red hot. Mantlo also scribed one of the best Doc Ock stories, a multi-parter that saw Ock and the Owl compete for control of the New York underworld, Ock coming within a hair’s breadth of nuking New York after beating the Black Cat senseless, and Spidey spending an issue wrapping up some loose ends in his life, fearing that he may not survive the next battle with the good doctor. I was in college during this time frame, and for whatever reason, perhaps because Spidey and I were close to the same age at the time, it was one of my favorite eras. Mantlo also took the huge step of having Spidey reveal his secret id to Felicia, something he had never done with a woman before, although the seeds had already been sown that would lead to Felicia being turned into a dingbat. Incidentally, I also liked Mantlo’s long run on the original Micronauts title.

Sadly, a few years ago he was seriously injured in an accident that permanently incapacitated him both physically and mentally. And unfortunately, with no new portfolio of work and no ability to discuss the events of his era, Mantlo may be destined to be primarily remembered for the weird error in judgment when he wanted to give Spider-Man an illegitimate child, and then accused Editor in Chief Jim Shooter of censorship and compromising the creative process when Shooter realized what an awful idea that was, particularly for a family-friendly character who was being marketed on countless children’s products. That's Shooter's side of the story. We'll never hear Mantlo's.

Roger Stern
For me, it’s a coin toss to decide who I liked better as a writer on Spider-Man after the Stan Lee era - Marv Wolfman or Roger Stern. Stern's impact exaggerates his duration as he wrote less than 50 core issues of Spectacular first, then Amazing. Spectacular Spider-Man had struggled for awhile after its debut, but finally found a sense of direction as Bill Mantlo grew into the character, and then for a time, Stern effortlessly took over with a series of relatively short, but interesting stories. Stern then moved to Amazing, and there made his most significant contribution to Spider-Lore – the HobGoblin! Issues #238-#251, the original HobGoblin story arc, is one of Spidey's best ever. Certainly not to be overlooked is Stern's classic, although admittedly manipulative, tearjerker, "The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man," the great battle with the Juggernaut which illustrated Spidey's tenacity, stubbornness, and "never say die" quality, and also his subtle additions to the backgrounds of long established villains such as the Vulture, Kingpin, and Mysterio. In a masterful dance, he was able to wrap the HobGoblin story up in a nice neat little package in the mini series HobGoblin Lives! coming up to his original conclusion about Hobby's identity even after the character had been ruined by a decade of crap stories and characterizations. His final effort, Revenge of the Green Goblin took us deeper into the tortured mind of Norman Osborn than we had ever been before, but overall it was unfortunately not as good as it good have been. Maybe he was just a little rusty - or else it was the need to feed into an anniversary storyline that was unfolding in the regular titles. Stern seems to be another of those former comic writers that for some reason seems to no longer welcome in the business, for reasons of which I am totally ignorant.

Tom DeFalco
Also once the Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, Tom DeFalco is probably one of the few remaining links to the Marvel that was still primarily in the comic book business as opposed to the "licensing" business. He had two tours of duty on Amazing Spider-Man, the first immediately after Roger Stern, and the second during the Clone Saga and ending at the reboot. Probably more so than anyone left at Marvel, DeFalco knows Spider-Man. It was under Tom DeFalco that Mary Jane Watson revealed that she knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, and the relationship began its fragile, tentative rebuilding that eventually ended in marriage (although DeFalco's original plan was to have Mary Jane leave Peter at the altar - a decision reversed by Jim Shooter who wanted the comic storyline to dovetail with the events in the daily Spider-Man comic strip). Unfortunately, the HobGoblin storyline, which was dropped into DeFalco’s lap when he succeeded Roger Stern on Amazing, drug out way too long while he was writing the title, although he was not responsible for its bizarre and unsatisfactory resolution in issue #289. DeFalco’s second tour was not as strong as his first, a fact he has readily admitted, partially because several storylines he was moving along were abruptly cut short when the reboot was announced and he was relieved of his duties on Amazing in favor of Howard Mackie. DeFalco was also the author of the short-lived but fun Green Goblin series with Phil Urich as a super heroic Goblin, and his entire run on the Spider-Girl series has been readable and enjoyable from day one. DeFalco is a model of consistency – maybe not hitting the emotional and dramatic highs that some other writers do - but avoiding the gut wrenching lows.

Al Milgrom
Milgrom was one of those few twin threats who both wrote and drew Spider-Man stories. The most notable "contribution" of his brief run on Spectacular was essentially finishing off Mantlo's run after he left that title. Milgrom continued the evisceration of the Black Cat until she departed the titles (temporarily) in issue #100. How much of this was done on his own or as the result of editorial mandates to ditch the Cat, I have no idea, but god, it was awful. "Oh Spider, My Spider.."

Peter David
I would say that as a writer - period - Peter David is the best to ever scribe for Spider-Man. There isn’t much in the way of franchise characters that he hasn’t written in comic book form that I haven’t liked (Spidey, Classic Star Trek for Marvel and DC, and Hulk).

David seemed to have a singular ability to alternate between brutal, gritty, ugly stories and whimsical flights of fancy like few others. Case in point, he could switch gears from a serious story such as The Death of Jean Dewolffe, where one of Spidey’s few friends in the police force is shockingly murdered, to the hilarious "When Commeth the Commuter," a story about Spidey tracking a crook to the suburbs, and finding out that fighting crime there is as challenging in its own way as in an urban environment. He also re-invigorated the Black Cat and re-made her into a sexy, ethically dubious foil that had simultaneous affairs with both Spidey and the master assassin the Foreigner, playing them both! His one black mark is Amazing #289, where the HobGoblin was revealed as Ned Leeds and dispatched in a horribly unsatisfying way – but some of this was simply the deck he had been dealt – although in recent years he has been quoted as saying that the Ned revelation was supposed to be another con, but became permanent when Spidey changed editors.

David is now the scribe on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

David Michelinie
It’s hard to imagine someone writing more Spider-Man stories than Stan Lee, but Michelinie has. Although he has turned in stories for the other spider titles (my personal favorite of his is the two-part "Smithville Thunderbolt" story in Webs #8-9 where Peter Parker travels to a small town that has its own superhero), his most notable run was his long one on Amazing Spider-Man that began with Spidey’s second proposal to MJ in issue #290 and ending with #388 just as the Clone Saga was kicking into gear. His greatest claim to fame is creating the supervillain known as Venom, who first appeared in all his glory with an assist from Todd McFarlane in issue #299, and then later Carnage (#361). His biggest mistake was his overuse of Venom and Carnage, although he wasn’t the only one, and for some ungodly reason, that seemed to be what the public wanted. Venom appeared every year it seemed, to the point that he was almost as much a semi-regular as some of the rest of Spidey's supporting cast. The world can only take so much brain eating action. Spider-Man began to go into serious decline during Michelinie’s watch in Amazing with its relentless high tech slug fests, multiple parters with numerous guest stars ("Round Robin: Sidekicks' Revenge"), violent vigilante characters (Cardiac, the Jury, and even Venom, who was morphed into the "Protector of the Innocent") crossovers within the spider titles and other Marvel books, such as "Inferno," and "Acts of Vengeance," his share of the 14 part wankfest called "Maximum Carnage" and ending with the "Robot Parents" storyline where Peter Parker’s parents supposedly had been in a Soviet prison camp all of this time rather than being dead. Not a bad idea – but it took TWO FRIGGIN’ YEARS for the story to play out. There wasn’t two years worth of story – six months badda bing badda boom – wrap it up. Two years – and what a surprise – they were fakes – androids created by the Chameleon in a scheme initiated by Harry Osborn prior to his death. It may be unfair to place Spidey’s decline on his shoulders, since he certainly didn't initiate those crossovers, and Marvel was trying to ape the Image style of storytelling with loud obnoxious splashy happenings of all style and no substance. But, he was at the helm of the flagship title at the time, and right or wrong, a lot of the slinging mud sticks to him.

Todd McFarlane
McFarlane is more known for his artistic contributions than his writing - which is a good thing. He had a fairly brief 16 issue run on No-Adjective Spider-Man starting with issue #1 and focused on bringing a horror-story element to Spidey, including an excruciating five part "Lizard under control of a witch," story, and turning the HobGoblin into a sick, demonic Jesus freak. While his reasons for trying to tell different kinds of stories was understandable (after all, when you’re writing the 4th monthly title, you need to distinguish it from the others), it just didn’t click with me.

Ann Nocenti
Ann was primarily a fill-in writer who made the cut because she got her 12 core issues in. "The Mad Dog Ward" which ran in Web of Spider-Man, where Spidey is heavily sedated and committed to a mental institution under the control of a doctor in the employ of the Kingpin is probably her most significant contribution, although rather oddly timed since it followed right after "Kraven's Last Hunt," giving readers one dark psychological mind-f**k plot after another.

JM DeMatteis
Speaking of which, you wonder if this guy was whacked around a lot as a child, because I don’t think any spider-writer has crafted as many mind-bender stories as DeMatteis, who showed a propensity for really delving into characters that were previously only caricatures. I was never a fan of "Kraven’s Last Hunt," which is considered a classic by more fans than not, but there’s no doubt that he took a lame character in Kraven and completely overhauled him to the point that people forget what a tacky villain he really was for most of his existence. He also did a similar job on the Chameleon. His "Death of Aunt May" story in Amazing Spider-Man #400 was a beautiful piece of work which made May’s eventual return all the more abominable. His run on Spectacular before the reboot was also strong, as he seemed to capture the manipulative part of Norman Osborn’s personality perfectly, making him a strong, omnipresent villain who didn’t need to dress up in a green and purple costume to be Spidey’s greatest foe.

The drawback however, is that I think he went to the well once too often with these types of stories, or inexplicably added elements that weakened them. The basic conflicts in "Kraven's Last Hunt," and "The Child Within," (a six-part battle between Peter and a deteriorating Harry Osborn and their individual psyches) were eroded by DeMatteis’ inexplicable fascination with that sickening cannibalistic Vermin the Rat-Man character. And then there was the Pursuit and Shriek storylines just before the Clone Saga where Spider-Man was on a continuous downer ("I am the Spider!" "Parker is dead!" ) and MJ was down because Peter was down ("Oh Peter, please don’t keep acting like a friggin’ maniac," "Oh Peter, I need you, please come home," "Oh Peter, don't forget to pick up a gallon of milk when you're done with your latest violent villain thrashing as a means of venting your anger") and everyone else was just a product of bad upbringings and poor Shriek and Carrion and Carnage would have been o.k. if they had just gotten love and understanding as kids. Let me get out my damn hanky. During the Clone Saga, he foisted a seemingly all-knowing, all seeing, utterly incomprehensible character called the Traveler, whose shtick was a tiresome fascination with the difference between good and evil, onto readers. None of the other spider writers at the time knew where he was going with that character either, and Tom DeFalco later finally brought the character to as logical a conclusion as possible and jettisoned him.

That said, I still wouldn’t object to seeing DeMatteis make a return trip to the titles as long as he left that New Age touchy feely part of his writing behind.

Terry Kavanuagh
Another writer who may have simply had the bad fortune of trying to write Spider-Man stories in a time where it wasn’t quality, but quantity, that mattered. Still, he committed two unforgivable sins – it was he who broached the idea of having the Peter Parker of the prior 20 years to be a clone. He also killed off Parker's photographer rival and long-time supporting character Lance Bannon in the story that had no ending –"Who was FACADE"? from Web of Spider-Man #113-116. Bannon took a picture of some dude slipping into this mean mother of a military battle suit – and was subsequently murdered. The mystery was spun with a number of suspects, including John Jameson, Jonah’s son. And who was responsible for the death of Bannon? We don’t know! Kavanaugh chose not to disclose the killer’s identity in that story, nor did FAÇADE ever return. Maybe I’m just too anal and a simplistic fanboy because I like my stories to have make sense and have endings. I know that many writers think that is a completely unrealistic expectation of fans – but pulling crap like this FAÇADE story is just bullshit. Considering that no future spider-writer ever considered following up on this unresolved plot pretty well says it all.

Todd Dezago
I know next to nothing about Dezago, although I saw him on a panel at a convention once. His primary contribution to Spider-Man was his run on Sensational Spider-Man, which was originally a vehicle for Dan Jurgens who got pissed off at Marvel’s flip-flopping vis a vis the Clone Saga and bailed on the title after issue #6. I totally blew off Sensational until it became time to scour the back issue bins, partly because I didn't like Mike Wieringo's art and frankly, I didn’t care for any of the stories when I Byrne-stole them. But I don’t really want to dump too much on Dezago – he was helming a title whose purpose no longer existed, and during one of the roughest times in spider-history.

Howard Mackie
Probably one of the, if not the most pilloried writer in spider-history, and considered by many to be the worst, an assessment which I think is debatable. Mackie started writing Spider-Man regularly with Web, and then moved over to No Adjective, thrust right into the Clone Saga/crossover mess from the start, but he certainly didn’t do any worse than anyone else during that time period. Prior to the reboot, he was turning in a series of solid stories in Peter Parker that meshed well with John Romita Jr’s. art. If he hadn’t made one terrible decision, he probably would be considerably less infamous than he is now, but he accepted the job as the writer of both surviving Spider-Man titles (Amazing and Peter Parker) after the reboot even though some time earlier he claimed to be tapped out on Spider-Man. It put him in the Century Club, but it also resulted in him being vilified beyond belief and eventually forced out of the titles and apparently the business altogether. And indeed, his two years on the titles after the reboot are arguably the worst in Spidey’s history, running neck and neck with Denny O’Neil’s brief run years earlier. In many cases he was simply following orders, such as Harras’ directive to kill off Mary Jane, probably the most unpopular move next to the revelation that Peter was a clone. Still, he had a habit of creating meandering storylines that went nowhere, and continuity was not his strongest point. He would introduce characters with great fanfare, such as the second Kraven the Hunter and Peter’s fellow employees at Tri-Corp (a new job Peter got at the beginning of the reboot that he never showed up to), and then go nowhere with them. Still, I find it incredible that his editor kept this poor guy on the pitching mound long past the point when he had clearly run out of gas, allowing him to take a vicious hammering. I have little doubt that this was part of the reason, along with his failure to capitalize on the success of the first X-Men motion picture, that resulted in Bob Harras getting his walking papers as well. Still, Howard’s final act, the 2001 Amazing Annual that had Aunt May spewing a completely inappropriate political diatribe, and Peter relentlessly hounding an emotionally fragile Mary Jane for sex was so distasteful that I regret sticking up for him at times.

Paul Jenkins
This none-too shy and retiring Brit was the one bright spot in two years of pathetic mediocrity after the reboot. His first foray into Spider-Man was an electrifying in-continuity Chameleon story in, of all titles, Webspinners, which wasn’t supposed to be comprised of in-continuity stories. This led to his assignment on Peter Parker beginning with issue #20 and outside of a brief respite at the end of the run of that title, resuming with the second Spectacular. Jenkins has told an eclectic mix of stories, ranging from the sad and sweet "Wait Till Next Year," where Peter reflects back on his annual ritual of attending the Mets games with Uncle Ben to the stunning "Death in the Family," featuring a turning point in the relationship between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, to Spidey’s comical encounter with crooked mimes in the "Nuff Said" no dialogue issue. This has been balanced with some less than successful attempts at the introduction of newer villains (Typeface, Fusion II, the Virus) and a couple of recent long story arcs featuring Venom and Doc Ock that began well but didn’t quite payoff at the end. Still, I’m glad he’s on the title for the foreseeable future.

J. Michael Straczynski
Obviously, the jury is still out on JMS. There is no doubt, however, that Amazing Spider-Man is overall much better after he started with volume 2 issue #30 (or #471 for those of us who follow the original numbering) than it had been in the last several years. Rather than follow the tried and true course of having Spidey routinely knock around the same supervillains that he had been thrashing for the last 40 years, JMS decided to introduce an interesting and controversial concept, the idea that Spider-Man might actually be part of a larger mythology dating back to ancient times. Really - it is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, the story got off on the wrong foot, began too slowly, too nebulously with too much talking in circles in an overlong first story that contained a few ultimately inconsequential, but irritating continuity glitches. Some seasoned Spidey fans (o.k., o.k., me) who had just suffered for the last several years with long drawn out storylines that seemed to go nowhere probably didn’t have patience with JMS’ initial efforts as a result. JMS' run has also been distinguished by introducing two long overdue story points. He finally jettisoned Peter's photography job at the Daily Bugle, which had worn unbelievably thin over time and made him a science teacher at his former high school, which provides an older Peter Parker the means to routinely become involved in the lives and the issues of young people - you know the "target" audience. More importantly, he turned Aunt May from a doddering old fool into the tough, intelligent, yet still compassionate and nurturing woman that we know she has to be to have endured all of the ills that life has tossed her way. And of course, she found out that Peter was Spidey - which should provide us with stories and perspectives that we haven't seen before in Spider-Man. Probably his best effort thus far, though, was a story involving a visit from our old friend, Doctor Octopus. I just wish he would conclude his magic spider totem arc and give us some of the really cool stories that I have no doubt he is capable of telling.

Brian Michael Bendis
Bendis has one of the most unenviable jobs in comics, that of re-interpreting one of the greatest comic book icons ever for the 21st Century in Ultimate Spider-Man. The series was originally greeted with a lot of skepticism, particularly since during the time it was introduced, Marvel was letting the regular core titles languish in mediocrity and promoting Ultimate as "for new readers," with the implication of "piss on the old readers." The attitudes at Marvel have since changed, and with Bendis and artist Mark Bagley at the helm, Ultimate has carved out a distinctive niche, focusing on a high school era Spider-Man. He has provided a number of positives thus far after a shaky initial re-interpretation of the Green Goblin, including a stronger initial presence for Uncle Ben (making his subsequent murder more painful than in the original telling), a more logical and interesting take on Venom, making Aunt May a younger and more viable mother figure for Peter, and in a major deviation, having Peter reveal his id to Mary Jane, which, hell, a normal 16 year kid would likely do. Conversely, however, the stories seem to last almost twice as long as they need to, with several panels containing either no or minimal dialogue, often Peter and MJ engaging in page-long one syllable conversations. "Really?" "Really." "Wow." "Yeah." "Cool." I find Bendis to be a much better writer on stuff like his Daredevil run when he doesn’t have to dance so carefully around the edges of a mythology.

Still, in Ultimate Bendis is operating under a huge handicap – he really can’t tell much in the way of original stories because it seems the market wants him to re-tell all the old stories, as relentless requests for appearances by Venom and Carnage caused him to reverse his earlier decisions not to use the characters. I just hope like hell he holds fast against re-telling the Clone Saga.

It's funny, because looking back at how I have evaluated each of the spider-writers, there seems to be a consistent thread. In the time periods in which there is only one, or two main Spider-Man titles, the writing is definitely of higher quality. As the spider-verse expands, AND the crossover and other event driven gimmicks take over – the quality drops precipitously.

Artists

Ross Andru
Ross Andru was the artist on Amazing Spider-Man when I first started collecting the comic on a regular basis in 1974, and I always seem to remember him having a thing for that little divot under everyone’s noses, but other than that - he was the standard by which I evaluated Spidey artists for a long time. I felt that one reason that Amazing under Len Wein was clearly superior to Spectacular under Bill Mantlo as the latter was starting out was because of the Ross Andru art. It was pretty jarring for me when he left the title after Amazing #185, but that’s a high school kid for you.

Sal Buscema
Sal is a popular artist, a Century Club member with more issues of Spidey to his credit than any artist with the exception of the younger Romita. And, sigh, I just never really warmed up to his art. For example, when Sal started on Spectacular, I just preferred Ross Andru's pencils - feeling that they looked neater and more "realistic." In later years, it seemed that Buscema's work looked rushed, and when combined with Bill Sienkiewicz's inks during the Clone Saga, just looked too terribly dark. I know that my opinion probably does not do the man or his art justice and fortunately he seems to do just fine in spite of it.

Ron Frenz
Although not on a par with remembering where one was during the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, I remember where I was when I really noticed Ron Frenz' art for the first time. Although he actually started on Amazing Spider-Man #251, I really took notice of issue #252 - lying on the top bed of the two bed bunk that I shared with the self-same English major who called me a cultural maggot, in Room #211 of Jones Hall on the Indiana State University - Terre Haute campus. O.K., so my social life sucked so badly at the time that I could distinctly remember things like this - but it just seemed that Frenz's lean and mean style, almost Ditko-esque without the dated cartooniness of Ditko's work, combined with that terrific black costume that we were seeing for the first time, just rocked. That issue was a hot collector's item for awhile, until a guy by the name of McFarlane became super-hot four years later. I missed Frenz for a long time, and was happy to see him come back to the spider-verse with Tom DeFalco on Spider-Girl - but - I don't know what it is this time. It just doesn't quite have the same appeal. Like I said, I only know what I like and can't really articulate it.

Al Milgrom
Amazing and Spectacular penciler, as well as a writer for a brief time on the latter. He was the primary artist during the time period that Spidey and the Black Cat were a team, and I had no real problems with his art, although as mentioned earlier, I had issues with his writing. However, he is likely to be better remembered by fans as the artist who subtly included an uncomplimentary message about former EIC Bob Harras in a comic. The book was the Spider-Man Earth X Special, which focused on a parallel world Peter Parker who married Gwen Stacy and settled down and retired from being Spider-Man. Milgrom did the lettering for John Romita, Sr., and in a drawing of a crowded bookcase, inserted a message along the spines of the books about Harras being a nasty SOB and everyone was glad he was gone. The book went to a full printing before someone caught the message, pulped and re-print the comic. Needless to say, Milgrom was subsequently fired by Marvel, but here’s the question I want answered - was he right?

Todd McFarlane
Folks seem to either love or hate this guy, with nothing in- between. Fortunately, I’m one of the few who are in-between. I can understand why McFarlane’s art was such a big deal on Spider-Man at the time because it was a radical change from what had been seen before in the previous 25 years. He twisted Spidey in all kinds of weird, contorted positions, drew the webbing as it was expelled from the webshooters entirely different than anyone before him – and he turned Mary Jane from a straight-haired good-looking girl into a big-haired babe, which didn’t bother me too much because I’m a fan of big hair. However, I think his flattering attention to Mary Jane and her appearance in various stages of undress unwittingly led to a trend where successive artists, no longer feeling wedded to drawing a Romita Sr. – style MJ, started focusing on showing her primarily as a sex object. Artists like to draw beautiful, exaggerated images of women – I’m not complaining – but I think it’s a poor practice to continually portray the wife of your hero solely in that light. McFarlane also had a tendency to draw people who weren’t our major characters as pretty damn ugly folks.

However, as the years pass, McFarlane is becoming more well known for his legal battles with Neil Gamon and hockey player Tony Twist, his dick personality (according to another writer’s weblog), the way he gives other folks the shaft, and paying $3 million for one of Mark McGwire's home run balls. Some of the anger towards McFarlane is probably jealousy – he got rich in a field where almost no one gets rich and was able to develop a successful toy business based on his own original creations (or Gamon’s depending on who you talk to). Unlike Stan Lee, however, who cultivated an image as "Uncle Stan," McFarlane didn’t seem to care that he gave the impression of coming from the wrong side of the family tree.

I’m pissed off at him because when I was filling in the gaps in my Spidey back issue collection, it was only the McFarlane issues that wound up costing me anything. You can save the world or write the Great American Novel, but f**king with my pocketbook is an unpardonable sin. Well, that and coming up with the idea for the Clone Saga.

Erik Larsen
I always initially thought that Larsen was kind of McFarlane-lite when he first appeared on Amazing Spider-Man after Todd left the title. I could be wrong given my poor eye for art – but I could hardly blame him if that were the case considering how popular McFarlane was. Again, it was a different style, but it was o.k. with me. However, when he came back for a brief stint on the second volume of Peter Parker after the reboot, his stuff was awful - I couldn't believe it was done by the same guy who did Amazing years earlier. He later admitted that his art was less than his best on those issues and he gave as the reason the fact that the stories were so bad he couldn't really put his heart into it. Whether I really believe that or not - I can certainly relate to it.

Mark Bagley
I always thought that Mark "Bags" Bagley was one of the better post Romita Sr.-era artists during his five and a half year run on Amazing after issue #350, but he really, really shines in Ultimate Spider-Man, where the better quality paper supports his rich art. People talk about how much of early Spider-Man was Stan Lee and how much was Steve Ditko, but I think that it's even clearer than in Ultimate, Bagley is every bit as much of a creative partner and storyteller as Bendis, considering how many panels and pages unfold with little or no dialogue in this series! It's likely that American consumers are more familiar with Bagley's Spider-Man than most of the other artists because it's his Spider-Man that is seen on numerous kids products these days.

John Romita, Jr.
Probably my favorite Spider-Man artist at the moment, maybe of all time. His style has evolved over the years, changing with the nature of the storytelling. When he first arrived on the scene in the early 80’s, his pencils were closer to his father’s, and things were brighter and neater, but a strong compliment to Roger Stern’s writing at the time. The dark, crime noir approach he took during the latter issues of the first volume of Peter Parker netted him some criticism from folks who thought that everyone turned out to be a big too big and too blocky, but I thought it was perfect as it gave that title a distinctive feel and mood that the other titles lacked at the time. As Romita settled into Amazing Spider-Man, his characters, particularly Spidey, seemed to become a little more lean and Spidey began to show some of his original Ditko-esque quirkiness. Unfortunately, JR jr (as he’s known and referred to in fanboy circles) is going to be taking an undetermined length of absence from the lead spider-title. While I’m not a person who only wants to see one artistic style on a character forever and ever, amen, I greet this news with a lot of hesitation because the current artistic environment seems overrun with wide-eyed manga-influenced characters. The picture to the left, from Amazing Spider-Man #505, which just came out the week I finished this article, is an example of why I like the younger Romita's work.

Mark Buckingham
"Bucky," as he's often called, was Paul Jenkins' principal artist during the writer's run on the second volume of Peter Parker. I really didn't care for his art at first, but it later grew on me, particularly after I saw the likes of Jim Mahfood and Humberto Ramos take turns at Peter Parker. But I will say this, I really liked his MJ in the Valentine Special in 1997. It's hard to say why, but it's a sweet and sexy, but not a supermodel look for Mary Jane. I wished that Bucky had a chance to draw her again when she came back into the series from her exile in Arnold's Callyfornia.

Humberto Ramos
I don’t want to dwell on this because I pretty well stated my case in my article on Death in the Family , but I cannot stand this guy's stuff on Spider-Man. I just do not like Spider-Manga. That’s a bias of mine, and that’s all there is to it. Manga is fine in its own context - I liked it in the series Gunsmith Cats, which was one of my guilty pleasures. I don't like it in Spider-Man. Period. I thought the art weakened the impact of Paul Jenkins’ Green Goblin "Death in the Family" story, and made a dark, ironic moment at the end look cartoony and unbelievable. However, I am apparently swimming against the tide with that one. Manga and anime are big and getting bigger in comics in this country.

Others
As I’ve stated before, there are a number of artists I just don’t have a strong enough opinion on to warrant much of a comment, or whose contributions, even though they made my list, aren’t nearly as significant or memorable as others. These would include:

Gil Kane
To me, Gil Kane is a classic style. He doesn’t quite have the romantic flourish of a Romita, Sr., or the quirkiness of a Ditko, or the dark hues of a Romita, Jr., but his stuff was rock solid basic bread and butter art.

John Bennett
Drew some Amazing Spider-Man between the end of the Clone Saga and the beginning of the reboot. Not bad, but not a favorite of mine.

John Byrne
Byrne is on a lot of Spidey fans’ shit list because of the failed attempt to revise Spidey’s origin in his Chapter One series, and his participation in the plotting of some of the post reboot stories. That doesn’t mean, however, that he can’t draw. However, his art does not leave a strong impression on me one way or the other.

Rich Buckler
No opinion.

Steven Butler
Butler closed out the Web of Spider-Man series during the Clone Saga. It was o.k.

Tom Lyle
No opinion.

Jim Mooney
Mostly pencilled Spectacular off and on for four years back in the 70's and early 80's. No opinion.

Keith Pollard
Pollard was the artist that succeed Ross Andru on Amazing back in 1981, and was the first artist to draw the lovely Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat. It took a little getting used to after seeing Andru for several years, but I grew to like it.

Luke Ross
Ross' time on Spidey was confined primarily to the end run of the first Spectacular Spider-Man from 1996-1998. I have little opinion on his art.

Alex Saviuk
Had a fairly long intermittent stretch on Web of Spider-Man for several years. He also did the Parallel Lives trade that I liked very much, maybe because it almost looks like a Romita, Sr. homage. He is also the only artist to draw Spidey in the famous (or is it infamous?) Spider-Armor (Web #100). A solid performer.

Mike Wieringo
Definitely not. Too cartoony and close to manga, although without the excessive exaggeration.

Mike Zeck
Zeck pencilled a handful of issues largely in Spectacular off and on from 1978 to 1988. I definitely liked his later stuff as compared with this earlier work, but otherwise have little opinion.

As you can probably tell – I like my art fairly simple, and people to look like people rather than exaggerations of people. I liked the Romita, Sr. – Kane – Andru runs, with nods to Ron Frenz and Mark Bagley, and certainly John Romita, Jr. I tend to prefer a Da Vinci Mona Lisa, plain and ordinary as it is, to Pablo Picasso’s cubism. The latter may be deeper, more meaningful, trendier, and the secrets of the meaning of human existence may be hidden within that weird-ass shit, but it ain’t for me.

Honorable Mention
This section is for those fellas who didn't quite meet the criteria that I had established earlier in this article, but whom I nonetheless felt merited mention, either because I just really liked their stuff, or for other reasons given below:

Tom Brevoort
- Brevoort wrote only a handful of Spider-Man stories, including the mini-series Funeral for an Octopus, a Clone saga era story which dealt with the immediate fallout surrounding the death of Doctor Octopus (well, for as long as it lasted.) He's probably better known as a spider editor than a writer, but he had a display of balls and common sense that was largely missing in the House of Ideas around the time of the Clone Saga. According to that classic internet analysis Life of Reilly at the end of the limited series called the The Final Adventure, Mary Jane was pregnant and close to delivery. Originally the story was going to end with the birth of the baby and close the book on Peter Parker's Spider-Man career, since after all, he was the clone at the time. However, during the series, it was decided to reverse gears and make Peter the real Spidey again, and Marvel was aghast at the idea of Spider-Man becoming a (gasp!) father. When it was suggested that MJ have a miscarriage, Brevoort steadfastly refused to sanction this course of action. According to Glenn Greenburg, his exact words were, "There's no way in hell that I'm going down in history as the man who killed Spider-Man's baby."

Good for you. I just wish we had Baby May now - but at least the way it turned out - there's still hope.

Lee Weeks
Weeks has only scripted one Spider-Man story that I'm aware of - and it wasn't even a core title, but the miniseries Death and Destiny, released in 2000. This was a more detailed look at the events surrounding the death of Captain George Stacy, Gwen's father, which originally took place in Amazing Spider-Man #90. This is my favorite of all the Spider-Man limited series, even over the ones that have involved my beloved Goblins. It's a terrific story, and a good characterization of Doctor Octopus as well. Weeks also pencilled the Mysterio Manifesto miniseries later that year. The story was disappointing, but the art wasn't. I particularly like how Weeks can make straight-haired Mary Jane attractive without making her a sex object, and his front page drawing of her to begin Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 #29 is one of my favorites of the redhead. If I was king of the world, I'd give this boy a Spidey 12 issue maxi-series to play around with just to see if he could keep it up.

Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe
Busiek is certainly more renown for his Astro City series and his work on Avengers, and has done very little core Spider-Man. But he still made a significant contribution, along with artist Pat Olliffe and that was the 25 issue run of Untold Tales of Spider-Man in the mid-1990's. Set in the early days of Spider-Man, Busiek weaved several brand new stories of a teen-age Spider-Man that fit almost perfectly within the time frame of the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stories - referencing them, seldom if ever, contradicting them, yet including characters such as Harry and Norman Osborn, George and Gwen Stacy, and Mary Jane Watson before Peter even met them in the original continuity. Olliffe gave the series a retro look that suggested Ditko without copying him. This series helped end my prejudice against the telling of "untold tales." Not that the new villains weren't a bit lame or that there wasn't an occasional clinker - but overall a worthwhile series. Too bad it didn't last another 25 issues and take us through Pete's first year of college. Busiek also scored with the one-shot Legacy of Evil in 1996, in which Spider-Man and reporter Ben Urich have to investigate the history of the Green Goblin in order to save young Normie Osborn - and Ben comes closer to a truth that he may not really want to know.

Phil Winslade
In late 2000/early 2001 Paul Jenkins scribed a team-up miniseries starring Spider-Man and Daredevil. While I had mixed feelings about the story, I really liked the art. I thought Phil Winslade made Spidey look lean and creepy, and even a lame villain like Stilt-Man actually seemed scary. I wouldn't object to seeing him illustrate another Spidey tale.

NEXT TIME: Yes boys and girls, the final part of Spider-Man 101, and I intend to go down swinging by tackling a couple of the most troubling and divisive debates in the industry today. Continuity and Character Progression. Is continuity really important to a series' success - or is it just a sop to fanboys that publishers need to scrap in order to attract those hordes of new readers that are out there just salivating to dive into a series if only it didn't have so much of that pesky history. Should characters age during a series run or should they get down to Rod Stewart and remain "Forever Young"? And I just might make all of this apply to Spider-Man - somehow.


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Copyright © 1998-2007 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, and are used in these articles for the purpose of commentary and analysis.