10 Worst Spider-Man Stories

Well, at least we know Norman’s opinion of the following tales before the article even starts!

Best and Worst articles are such cheap, manipulative piles of drivel because they're almost too easy to put together, often rely on emotion and invective rather than solid facts, are deliberately tailored to provoke reactions, and many times become an exercise in personal vendettas or agendas.

And that's why they are so doggone fun to do.

This article was originally written several years ago for the boys at Hero Realm and I have updated it at least twice. The last such update was in January 2008 in which I was able to crown a new Worst Spider-Man Story of all Time. Odds are you can already guess what it is just based on the timing of the update.

Criteria
Since Spidey has been around for almost 50 years (!) and the subject or participant in likely well over a thousand different storylines by dozens of different writers, each with varying skills, talents, and opinions, bad stories are going to proliferate simply because flawed human beings are writing them. And due to Spidey’s longevity, stories that were perfect for their time can become dated, sometimes comically, other times embarrassingly. So - how do you choose a mere 10 out such a large population? Even the best and most consistent writers turn out a stinker every now and then. It hardly seems fair to catch someone on a down day and beat the hell out of them since we all have our fair share of days which result in crappy work. Some truly awful, wretched, putrid stories are actually pretty harmless and can be readily dismissed and forgotten, while others that may have been better written are very damaging to the titles and to the character and require a significant amount of doubletalk or ret conning to fix. For example in trying to compare apples to apples - what is truly a "worse" HobGoblin story (1) Spectacular Spider-Man #130 a stand-alone story written by a fill-in writer (who probably got the assignment without a lot of time to spare), who clearly didn't know the difference between the two HobGoblins, resulting in a silly and easily forgotten tale or (2) Amazing Spider-Man #289, a much better story, written by a far superior writer, but one which completely jettisons what two previous spider-writers had in mind for the identity of the HobGoblin, destroys one of Spider-Man's oldest supporting characters, introduces a grossly inferior replacement Goblin who stayed in that role for several years, and was ultimately ret conned several years later by the HobGoblin's creator? You'll see which one I consider to be worst when you go through the countdown.

Sweeping generalizations like "everything written by Howard Mackie," which simply wouldn't be true (because he’s got a story on my best list!), or the entire Denny O'Neil run several years ago, which was painful as well, or the entire Clone Saga, don't work for me either because (1) it's too broad and (2) doesn't say anything about why a particular story really didn't work.

I have also stayed focused on the core titles only. I excluded from consideration, for example, the entire Marvel Team-Up run (all three volumes) because it's too easy to pull a lot of lousy stories out of that bunch (remember volume 1 #28 - "The City Stealers" where Hercules drags a separated Manhattan Island back in from the ocean?) since most of the stories were just excuses to get two characters together (mostly Spider-Man and a guest star), were often only one part, sometimes with as few as 17 pages, which didn't allow for particularly well-developed stories. Non-continuity promotional comics don't count either, such as the Aim toothpaste comic where the Green Goblin steals dental equipment, or the one where Spidey encourages kids to read, since those are along the Spidey Super Stories route - different stories for a different audience and not intended for the regular readers. Retreads such as Chapter One don't count, because, well, I've already written an article called Why Chapter One Failed, but also because many retreads have simply turned out to be gimmicks and are usually NOT considered part of continuity (Marvel itself turned its back on Chapter One before the run was even over). And finally, you won't see anything like Ron Zimmerman's Get Kraven on the list because not only would that be too easy a catch, but more importantly, Spidey is just a peripheral character in that story.

So, my primary criteria for inclusion are:

And now, let’s join Norman on our journey to the Craptastic...




10. Maximum Carnage
(May-August 1993) This is the poster child for 90’s excess, an example of Marvel management being under such intense pressure to generate sales that quality and coherence were jettisoned for sake of having product and exploiting the popularity of two major characters (Venom and Carnage), a mentality which ultimately destroyed both characters artistically, although they both remain popular. It is also probably the most grievous case of "Image-Theft," where Marvel tried to mimic the Image line’s emphasis on splashy art and action over plot.

A 14 part story is an insane concept. “The Day Gwen Stacy Died,” although not one of my favorite Spidey stories, is unquestionably one of the most significant comic stories of the Silver, or any age. And it's only two parts. Probably should have been more. “Kraven's Last Hunt,” again not a favorite, but considered a classic by many, is 6 parts - and that's because it was padded with one of JM DeMatteis’ inexplicably favorite creations, Vermin the Rat-Man. If Maximum Carnage had lasted, say 5 parts and took only one month to tell, then it would have been o.k. as a guilty pleasure. But it was the only Spidey story for three very long months.

The only thing that distinguishes one part from the other is that in one part a new hero will enter the story. Big fight. Next issue - this time a new villain enters the picture. Big fight. Next issue - new hero enters...well you see what I mean. And it isn't just the fighting that gets old - it's the dialogue during the fighting. I almost feel for the writers who had to write different variations of the same dialogue over and over. How many different ways can Spider-Man tell Venom that he's not going to stoop to his level, and how many different ways can Venom call Spidey a limp-wristed pussy? And it's amazing, for all the violence and carnage (pun intended), and as demented as the villains are and as bloodthirsty as Venom gets - no one dies. Everyone just gets slapped around a little in these massive free for alls. The Black Cat sprains her ankle – that’s it. Although Carnage and pals cut a violent path all across Manhattan Island, with the rest of the population succumbing to violent and irrational behavior due to some “psychic virus” created by villains’ combined psychosis (I didn’t understand any of it), it still isn't enough to raise the interest of any of the super teams such as the FF, the Avengers (although Captain America shows up), or the X-Men (they're all conveniently unavailable), or Doc Strange. The Federal Government ignores it since it doesn't send in the military (damn New Yorkers are always killing each other anyway), and not even the New York State National Guard shows up (I guess that Albany really hates New York City). It's just a damn weird story. Strange how the Stamford Massacre in 2006 resulted in the Superhuman Registration Act and all sorts of political fallout, but this bloodbath didn’t even register with Congress or anyone else.

It also represented the blatant glorification of Venom and Carnage, two psychopathic murderers - but this was during Venom's "Lethal Protector" days. Part 11 for example, which is Amazing Spider-Man #380 has Carnage dominating the cover, and the caption describes the protagonists of the story as "Venom and Pals." Venom and pals? Was the name of the magazine changed to The Amazing Venom without my being aware? To its credit, Marvel actually printed some negative letters on the letter pages and blatantly admitted that Venom and Carnage's wild popularity were responsible for their exposure. And it probably sold very well, sadly enough. This story was perhaps one of THE reasons that Spider-Man had been a weak title during that decade - but when Marvel finally noticed that the character had gotten off course - it wasn't crap like this they blamed - it was the fact that he was married to Mary Jane.

That sounds awfully familiar.






9. Amazing Spider-Man 210
(November 1980) In my opinion, the run of Amazing Spider-Man #207-219 was one of the worst periods in Spidey’s history. Marv Wolfman had just completed a successful run that ended with issue #204 (#205 was the second part of that story which was largely completed by another writer), and Roger Stern's tenure, another personal favorite of mine, did not begin until #224. In between, Denny O'Neill told a succession of lame stories that had long-time Spider-fans groaning (the worst was when Sandman and Hydroman merged to become a huge sand monster). Numerous promising storylines developed under Wolfman were totally trashed. For example, Peter finally had enough of JJJ's belligerence and penny-pinching, and accepted the long-standing offer from the Daily Globe to be their chief photographer, which made all the sense in the world. He had his own office, made more money, and Editor in Chief Barney Bushkin practically drooled on Peter while effusively praising his work. But the Globe had a mysterious owner by the name of K.J. Clayton whom we never saw, but who was taking a very strong interest in Peter Parker's photography. When Peter wanted to meet the mysterious publisher, Bushkin stated "Nobody sees K.J.! Nobody!" A subplot was also building with the Globe's star reporter, April Maye (yes, that was her name), who was furious with Peter after having had her overtures (professional, not romantic) rebuffed by his standoffishness - and who surely had to notice that Spider-Man called her by name, not once, but twice during a confrontation with the Punisher and a mob boss. Clearly, all of this was building up to something, but O'Neill took the wrecking ball to it. Turns out K.J. Clayton was really an old woman who hired a model to pose as her, and Rupert Dockery, some old evil guy who wanted control of the Globe was setting them both up to be killed. With the help of a new character called Madam Webb, an aging, paralyzed psychic who revealed that she knew Peter's other identity, the day is saved, but the Globe suspends publication and the issue wraps up with JJJ calling Peter to offer him his job back and we're right back where we started with no character development, no growth, and a promising storyline rushed to a highly unsatisfactory conclusion. I suppose this was the 1980 version of taking Spidey “back to basics.”

And to compound the sins, this story introduced Madam Webb, a character I never liked, and never understood why she had to learn Spidey's secret identity. After all, if the writers wanted to give Spidey some old lady to talk to - then why not just let Aunt May in on the secret? Besides, a down to earth character such as Spider-Man having his own psychic friends hotline to help him go from Plot Point A to Plot Point B seems like an all too convenient cheat.




8. Spectacular Spider-Man 74
(January 1983) This was the highly unsatisfying conclusion to the Debbie Whitman storyline. Debbie had been introduced around forty issues earlier as the administrative assistant of Dr. Sloan, Peter's graduate school advisor. Pete had started grad school about a year after Mary Jane had turned down his original marriage proposal (way back in Amazing Spider-Man #183), and the redhead had actually been written out of the spider-titles for awhile at this time.

Although the relationship was never very serious from Peter's perspective, the two did date periodically and Debbie was a refreshing personality in that she was unlike anyone else that Peter had been involved with. She was attractive, but not drop-dead gorgeous, an apparent requirement for most superhero girlfriends. She wasn't nearly as strong or flamboyant as Gwen, Mary Jane, or Felicia. She was shy, withdrawn, insecure, and had a serious crush on Peter, drawn to him because she believed him to be a sincerely good and compassionate person. Peter liked her, but not as deeply.

The relationship began to take a very interesting turn when Debbie witnessed a confrontation between Peter and another potential suitor, a body builder by the name of "Biff" Rifkin. Rifkin got in Peter's face over what he perceived as Parker's callous treatment of Debbie (Peter had been rather cold and indifferent to her at this time) and our hero, having had a lousy day already, knocked Rifkin across the room without much of an effort. Debbie followed Peter outside to the roof of the building, and rather than seeing the man she knew - she saw Spider-Man swing away. Unlike virtually everyone else in the Spider-verse who is confronted with this coincidence, Debbie put two and two together right away and came up with the truth. The stage was set for drama which had not been seen before in the spider-titles, of a woman who was close to Peter Parker stumbling upon the truth of his double life.

But then the drama was flushed away. Rather than tell a story that had any real conflict or character development, the writer (Bill Mantlo at this time - whose stuff I typically liked) decided that Debbie was mentally unstable, and that worrying about Peter being Spider-Man sent her to the edge of a nervous breakdown. Plus, since Peter couldn't really be Spider-Man (the denial was the only way for her to keep her fragile hold on her sanity), then she really must have been crazy to have seen Spider-Man swing off that day! (Hey - I didn't write this - don't look at me funny!) She blurts out Peter's secret to her shrink during one of her therapy sessions - and then in an unforgivable act which should have cost this joker his license - the shrink shows up on Peter's doorstep and tells him what Debbie has revealed during their sessions! Of course, since he knows that Peter can't really be Spider-Man (of course), he proposes that Peter dress up in a Spider-Man costume and go say "boo" to Debbie, and this shock therapy will make her realize that Peter isn't Spider-Man. Fortunately, Peter thinks this idea is just as stupid as it really is, and after a couple of confrontations with bad guys, he decides to tell Debbie that she's not crazy, that he really is Spider-Man. After he reveals his i.d., she begins laughing as this revelation snaps her back to reality, where she "knows" that Peter really can't be Spider-Man. She thanks him profusely for helping her out and runs off with Biff Rifkin, and wasn’t seen for over 20 years, until Peter David brought her back for a three part story arc in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man sans boyfriend.

Hopefully just by my relaying the story you get the idea of how idiotic it was. I was unhappy with this scenario as I really did like Debbie Whitman because she was unique, and thought she deserved a better and more graceful exit, which had been precipitated by the return of the Black Cat. Since Felicia Hardy was ultimately the more interesting paramour (had she been written correctly), there was simply no room for Debbie and therefore it did make sense to write her out - but to have her fall victim to the "unstable woman" syndrome, which is little more than a chauvinistic "Ah ha! She's no good for the hero because - well - she's a typical crazy woman!" plot device was bad storytelling. And damned if Marvel didn't do the very same thing to Felicia!





7. Spectacular Spider-Man 86-87
(January-February 1984) Ever since Spidey had rescued the Black Cat from Doctor Octopus in a storyline that ended in Spectacular #79, their relationship was steadily building into something a lot more serious and interesting, and fans began to ask such questions like "How serious will Spidey get about the Cat?" "Will he reveal his secret identity to her?" "Will they become partners?" However, what had also been building was the gradual disintegration of the Cat's character from a sly, dangerous, amoral foil for our hero, to a ditzy Spidey groupie and superhero wannabe.

This culminated in a two-part story which seriously fumbled the ball from both an artistic and character development standpoint. For those who think that Marvel's idiotic crossover events are relatively new, guess again. This time, Marvel had the wacky "Assistant Editor Month," in which supposedly all of the regular editors were out of town and the assistants took over, and all kinds of goofy stuff happened in all the titles (for example, the Avengers appeared on the David Letterman show). Just like they do now, these cross-title events wound up plowing right over whatever storylines the current writers had going, often to the detriment of the characters. And this event was no exception, despite the highly important events that were taking place in the Spider-Man titles. For Spectacular Spider-Man #86, Fred Hembeck, noted humorist, got the artistic chores. Now this might have worked any other month - but during this issue - Spidey began to disclose to the Black Cat details about his personal life that he had never disclosed to anyone, not even Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson (at this time, no one knew that MJ knew). The first step was taking her to the Daily Bugle Building to show her where he worked and tell her what he did for a living. Hembeck's cartoonish style was all wrong for what was one of the most important stories in Spidey's history - the first time he was beginning to share with a woman the details of his dual identity. Marvel seemed to sense fans would be put off by this, perhaps not even considering it part of the real continuity, and in the comic itself editor Danny Fingeroth returns to set things right. The last two pages, where Spidey tells Felicia that he's taking her home, was drawn by the regular artist on the title. The damage to this story was irrevocable and I can't help but be disgusted with it whenever I see it.

Issue #87 had the Big Reveal in which Spider-Man took the Cat to his apartment and told her his real identity - but the bomb was dropped that Felicia did not want to see him without his mask - that she could not stand the sight of Peter Parker, that it was only Spider-Man that she loved! This was in direct contradiction to how the Cat's character had originally been established by Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern back in Amazing Spider-Man as she genuinely wanted to know who the man behind the mask was. In fact, these were the seeds of the ultimate dissolution of the relationship between Spider-Man and the Cat, because she couldn't tolerate his real persona, which I suspected was planned all along. Felicia was a very popular character at the time, and like was done recently with Mary Jane, the powers that be decided that it was irrelevant what the fans enjoyed seeing, they didn't want Spidey to have a permanent relationship with an intelligent woman, and so Felicia was turned into a complete pain in the ass, so that by Spectacular #100, when she left the titles, we were glad to see her go.

The whole matter reeked of false tension. Peter and Felicia had very real differences that ultimately would have destroyed their partnership anyway - Peter is in reality is a simple, down to earth young man, and Felicia was really too wild and amoral for him. Conversely, he was almost too ordinary for her! And how could Peter introduce Felicia to Aunt May? On the other hand - that would have been an interesting story. Yet rather than put the effort into telling those kinds of stories, the writers, Mantlo and later Al Milgrom, simply took the easy way out, and turned Felicia into an outrageously over the top immature, selfish loon, leaving the distasteful implication that it was just as well, as a woman couldn't be smart enough or stable enough to hang around Spidey anyway. And having jettisoned Deb Whitman essentially the same way, having her go whacko, completely falling apart over her "discovery" that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, you had to wonder if the editors were asleep at the wheel by letting this repetition occur. Even if all women are crazy (being married I can say that - right? No? Ooops.), it's very sloppy writing and editing that resulted in Debbie and Felicia being back to back head cases.

Felicia's road to recovery has been a long and painful one, involving a brief reconciliation with Peter, a relationship with the Foreigner, and even Flash Thompson. Better writing gave her her brains back, but unfortunately after Peter and Mary Jane married, the scribes jettisoned the sexual tension between her and Peter, which is a shame - because she could have been used to complicate and spice up the spider-marriage. Howard Mackie once stated that he wanted to bring back the days of Gwen and MJ being Betty and Veronica to Peter's Archie - well, this could very easily have been done, except now MJ would be Betty (the good girl) and Felicia Veronica (the spoiled, sultry bad girl). Again, Marvel created problems where none needed to exist, and came up with phony, forced solutions to problems when the legitimate and more dramatically interesting solutions were lying around begging to be used.




6. Amazing Spider-Man 289
(June 1987) Now, since I've done an entire series of articles on the HobGoblin and how his story was thoroughly botched, I'm only going to briefly summarize the problem here. You can go to the Squandered Legacy series for more detail.

The mystery of the Hobgoblin's identity had been an intriguing part of the spider-titles since Amazing Spider-Man #238. With Roger Stern at the helm, Hobby quickly shot to the top of Spidey's top villains list, and the speculation about his identity captivated fandom. However, Stern left the title after issue #251 without revealing the Hobgoblin's identity. In fact, not only did he not divulge the secret in the comic - he didn't tell anyone else at Marvel, either! Tom DeFalco took over the writing chores for the next three years and came up with his own solution to the mystery, but seemed to be in no hurry to resolve it - and then he was fired before he revealed it! By this time, the storyline had dragged out past the point of being intriguing and was now simply annoying, (how past is prologue, indeed) considering that there had been no less than 3 false revelatory issues. Finally, in issue #289, we got the answer we had been waiting for....

Ned Leeds was the HobGoblin.

Ned Leeds? The reporter who had been around since Amazing Spider-Man #19, who took Betty Brant away from Peter all those years ago? Now, this was not exactly consistent with the clues Roger Stern had been dropping during his writing of the titles. And for someone who didn't know who Hobby was, Tom DeFalco had actually done a good job of keeping the Goblin in character and not contradicting any of the clues Stern had left behind. Therefore, we knew that (1) Hobby was wealthy (2) he had scientific acumen and (3) he had a thing for beautiful women (not that we all don't, but this point was very clearly made once during a loud "this is a clue" moment). None of this had ever been remotely applicable to Ned Leeds. In fact, it did all point to Roderick Kingsley, who ultimately did turn out to be the original Hobgoblin, and it could even have applied to Richard Fisk, son of the Kingpin, who was DeFalco’s choice.

However, the Leeds thing could have worked. After all, every super villain seems to have some kind of scientific acumen obtained in one lame way or another. It certainly would have added a very personal element to the Spider-Man/HobGoblin conflict, and it would have been interesting if Leeds had indeed found out that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Just think about it for a minute - if Leeds had really been the HobGoblin and found out Spidey's identity - then there would have been no need to bring back Norman Osborn many years later. The blood feud between Parker and Leeds would have been sufficiently high that it could have been Ned as the sinister mastermind behind the Clone Saga when one was needed - and that would have been believable.

But by the time Spidey finds out Leeds was the HobGoblin - he was already dead! And worse than that - he got killed in a flashback! And we complained about Howard Mackie's off-panel events. Not only that, but he got killed in such a pussy way, by being ganged up on by the Foreigner's hoods, and crying out for Spider-Man's help as his throat was slit. Talk about a miserable turn of events. And then we had to put up the Jason Macendale’s HobGoblin, Demon HobGoblin, and Robotic Implant HobGoblin (he was such a lame Goblin neither he nor the writers could find something that would stick) before Stern finally set things right in the HobGoblin Lives! miniseries in 1996.

Later, through the powers of the internet and chatter on the Usenet boards involving then spider-editor Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest) and Peter David - we find out that Leeds really wasn't supposed to be the HobGoblin at all - that he was supposed to be yet another doppelganger. Owsley wanted super assassin The Foreigner to be the Goblin, but David, who created that character, saw it for the bad idea it was, and wrote the Leeds as dupe story. However, after the Leeds story was written, the new editor, Jim Salicrup, decided that Leeds really was the Goblin and put an end to the mystery, cementing Jason Macendale as the permanent, albeit hopelessly inadequate replacement.

The behind the scenes shenanigans were even more incredible than what was being dramatized in the comics as it was a time of considerable turmoil at Marvel as Jim Shooter's term as Editor in Chief came to an ugly end, leaving a lot of bodies. The HobGoblin story sadly happened to be caught in the wake of this tidal wave, leaving Amazing Spider-Man #289 as one of the all time cheats.





5. Sensational Spider-Man #32-33
Amazing Spider-Man #440-441
Spider-Man #97-98
Spectacular Spider-Man #262-263

(October-November 1998)Without a doubt, the "Gathering of Five" and "The Final Chapter" together comprised one of the most disappointing story arcs in Spidey's history. After more than 35 years of unbroken publication and continuity, Marvel was going to bring the curtain down on The Amazing Spider-Man and reboot the title. The reasons for this highly questionable, unpopular, and ultimately reversed decision (as ASM restarted with its original numbering with issue #500 - thanks, Joe – but then he came up with his own reviled actions) are beyond discussing here. Needless to say, as the reboot approached, the existing storylines were actually picking up some steam, and everything appeared to be racing toward a dramatic conclusion and life-altering conclusion for our hero and his loved ones. For example:

AND THEN, ALL OF A SUDDEN.......it screeched to a bloody, ugly halt. So what was it that made this story so bad? Was it...

All of the momentum, passion, and emotional build-up resulted in a horrible letdown, which led to Volume 2 being grounded without ever having taken off, sales and the wretched Senator Ward storyline notwithstanding.




4. Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 #13
The reason that this issue is on the list is pretty self-evident. It's the one where MJ gets blown up (or so we were led to believe) in an airplane at the end. That was not the major problem. Really, it happens a lot in comics - a character supposedly dies who really doesn't die and comes back later. But what makes this story such a killer is the events that led up to it, and the impact it had later.

The first year of the reboot had been a miserable year for the Spider-Man titles. We had a plethora of sub plots that went nowhere (i.e. Senator Ward); Aunt May, freshly brought back from the dead, still had played no significant role worthy of a resurrection (although she got a new hairdo); JJJ was acting like the one-dimensional psychopath that only bad writers make him out to be, and Peter and MJ were acting like a couple of twits instead of real people. Too many times we heard how "young" the characters were supposed to be and how all of this couldn't be happening to them, because well, they were so young. For a couple whose relationship had survived the "Peter is a clone" disaster and what they believed was the death of their own child, they seemed to fall apart and into arguments with each other over relatively insignificant stuff. And then there was the year-long, repetitive maneuvering of Jill Stacy closer to Peter in order to take advantage of the moment that MJ was going to disappear - which we knew was going to happen months in advance. Oh - and let's not forget the stalker story, which could have been decent except for the fact that MJ was letting herself be harassed by some scumbag when she was married to a superhero, who also had connections to other superheroes. It's like being married to a roofer, finding out your roof leaks, and then not telling him (or her). After all, letting Matt Murdock listen in on a few of those stalker calls probably would have gone a long way towards nailing this guy and ending that subplot in a hurry. And why didn't MJ solicit her best friend's private detective father, who supposedly was one of the best in the business, for help? In summary, none of it was genuine tension, but false, contrived tension. And the whole MJ subplot was not something hatched as another obstacle for Peter Parker to dramatically overcome, it originated because the powers that be (notably Bob Harras) wanted MJ out of the way - period. God, that sounds so familiar.

So - she gets blown up - for awhile.

For you see, even though a lot of us had the idea that it wouldn't be permanent, it was still maddening. First of all, it was just another clear indication of Marvel's open contempt for the long-time fans. Basically, they were saying "We know Mary Jane is a phenomenally popular supporting character and that you like her - but we don't care." (Do you get a sense of déjà vu here?) Second, the aftermath of "killing" her just showed how stupid the idea was to begin with. If the idea of getting rid of Mary Jane was to make Peter seem younger - it had the opposite effect - because now he was a widower! Grandpa is a widower, not a young superhero, in the minds of many. Also, if the powers that be thought Peter would be a swinging single again - they obviously knew nothing about the character, or human nature. First of all - most widowed people give themselves a year before playing the field again - out of respect for their departed companion. Considering how slow comic book time moves, that could be anywhere from 3 to 5 years real time - which is so long it also would have defeated the purpose behind getting rid of Mary Jane. And - forgetting that it's the Peter Parker we all know and love - if you're a young man whom in the space of 8 years (comic time) had two women you loved violently taken from you - just how quickly would you get into another relationship? A damn loooooooooong time, if ever. Those are wounds that just don't heal. Peter was able to bounce back from Gwen's death in part because of MJ, who was already a dear, long-time friend who herself was in a deteriorating relationship with Harry Osborn. The two of them gravitating to each other was entirely natural and human. But to have it happen a second time...and in response to what appeared to be setting up Jill Stacy to be Peter's new flame - do you really think that Peter would ever really feel comfortable getting close to the cousin of his dead girlfriend and best friend of his dead wife? I don't, frankly.

This also started perhaps one of the gloomiest periods in Spidey's history. In addition to MJ's death, Peter was financially ruined and lost his home. These are the things that permanently destroy people - and even with Peter's legendary durability - he would be impacted for a long, long time. And simply - it was damn hard to read this crap month after month.





3. Web of Spider-Man #117
Amazing Spider-Man #394
Spider-Man #51
Spectacular Spider-Man #217
Web of Spider-Man #126-127
Amazing Spider-Man #403-404
Spider-Man #60-61
Spectacular Spider-Man #225-226
Maximum Clonage Alpha & Omega
(October 1994 and July-August 1995) These are the representatives of the Clone Saga that I felt qualified for the list, since I only wanted the Saga to have one entry, even though there were several stories told during the Saga that could each have easily qualified for this list in their own right, so it was rather difficult to narrow down just which was the worst - but I finally settled on the story that truly kicked off the Clone Saga - the four-part "Power and Responsibility," and “The Trial of Peter Parker,” the revelation that Peter was a clone and Ben Reilly the “real” Spider-Man.

One of the interesting things I've noticed recently is how many comics and Spidey fans are really not that familiar with the Clone Saga, and why it had such a deleterious impact on Spidey, which is still felt to this day, over a decade later. Part of that is likely because Marvel has not figured out a way to reasonably “trade” the series, and one of the few trades - Revelations, which was the end of the story, has been long out of print. Although to adequately discuss the Clone Saga would require a series of articles in itself, I can provide a brief capsule here.

The Clone Saga actually had its genesis in the overlong storyline in which Peter Parker's parents appeared to have returned from the dead. The tease over whether or not they were really his folks lasted two years, and then, gee, what a surprise - they were phonies. It wasn't that bad of an idea (it was going to be told sooner or later) but to drag it out for two years was ridiculous - it should have been over in 6 months(how past is prologue indeed). Anyway, it turned out the folks were fakes created by the Spidey's oldest costumed foe, the Chameleon to discover the connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man (the Faceless One didn't learn Spidey's secret i.d. until after the Clone Saga) - and he in turn had been put up to it and given the resources by Harry Osborn just prior to the latter's death in Spectacular Spider-Man #200.

Anyway, this revelation literally drove Peter over the brink and he went after the Chameleon in a very intense and personal four-part crossover story called "Pursuit." In general, Peter acted like a maniac, a man possessed and was generally very unpleasant to be around. That worked for this story, which was over in a month. Spidey's entitled to go off his rocker every once in a while. But the writers decided to stretch out Peter's streak of bizarre and ugly behavior through "Beware the Rage of a Desperate Man," which gave us two lame knock-off villains for the price of one in the Jason Macendale HobGoblin and the Grim Hunter (the first of Kraven's sons to show up - yawn), and "Shrieking" a psychobabble-laden story in which every character had their personal demons detailed to the nth degree and Spidey kept thinking deep thoughts such as "I am Spider" and "Parker is dead." Each of these was a four-parter which unfolded in a separate title, which meant that these unpleasant stories each lasted a full four months. Concurrently, over in Web, there was another padded four-parter, this time the never resolved "Who is F.A.C.A.D.E." storyline (which in some ways became the "poster story" for unresolved Spidey plots). Finally, after all of these months, and numerous hints about the mysterious stranger who was appearing through all of the titles, Peter and his clone, Ben Reilly, came face to face - and "Power and Responsibility" and the Clone Saga was underway.

Peter goes super ballistic right away and tries to beat Reilly to a bloody pulp. All the while, Peter is acting and talking like a loon and Reilly is far more calm and rationale, a tactic I believe which was used to try to encourage sympathy for Reilly and subtly set us on the road to accepting him as the original and Peter as the clone. And then, Ben knocks Peter out even though he has supposedly been out of practice for five years.

Included in this offensive story was one of the worst Spidey villains of all time, Judas Traveler, a magical, enigmatic being who surrounded himself with what he called "The Host" four super-villain groupies who obeyed his every command and performed various functions for him (one was the muscle, another a note-taker, etc). Not to be forgotten was Scrier, another magical, enigmatic being before (after the fallout of the Saga) it was decided that he was really one of Norman Osborn's secret cult cronies. Traveler took over Ravencroft Institute (Marvel's softer, gentler version of Arkham Asylum where we really want to rehabilitate these relentlessly evil super-beings at a considerable waste of the taxpayers’ money) because he wanted to understand the essence of human evil (like any number of other magical, enigmatic entities we've run across - see how trite this is already?). Of course, since everything was conceived as a set up for things to come, this meant that he and the Host and Scrier all stood around and talked in circles and riddles. Spider-Man was lured to Ravencroft under the threat that Traveler would release all the loonies in the Institution if he didn't show. Upon confronting Traveler, and failing to bring him down after several punches, Spidey crumples at the Traveler’s feet and begins to sob, as if he really is a nutcase. After Peter is taken prisoner, another of the Host lures Ben to Ravencroft telling him that Traveler will kill Peter unless he complies. So, Ben shows, he and Peter get into another ridiculous fight, with Peter accusing Ben of being a stooge for Traveler. After that, they resolve their differences while Traveler and the Host leave the Institution and talk in more riddles about how Spidey and his genetic duplicate are interesting subjects worthy of study.

Adding to this distasteful storyline was that in the "Fantastic Flip Book" foil variations (only one of many to be foisted on us during this time), an even worse one called "Birth of a Spider-Man" was included. This took us back to the days when Miles Warren first created the Spider-Man clone and was a gruesome, ugly tale in which the clone acts like a mindless animal, is subjected to physical and emotional torture by Warren, and ends after the events of Amazing Spider-Man #149 as the clone realizes that he is just that.

It was very difficult to continually watch Peter disintegrate, and it just didn't ring true. Not only that - but to have this erratic behavior reinforced in four titles a month for several months was exhausting.

Of course, you knew that ranking very high on the list would be the storyline ("The Trial of Peter Parker" and "Maximum Clonage") that sent the Spider-titles spinning into a purgatory that took them years to climb out of. So, let's state the obvious and get it out of the way - at the end of "Trial" Peter is revealed to be the clone and Ben is revealed to be the original. Bad Marvel for betraying the long-time fans. No additional elaboration really needs to be made on why this outcome stunk. However, let's get beyond just spazzing about an outcome that we didn't like and just look at the quality of the story itself.

First of all, "Trial" was a bogus rush job of a story to begin with. After you read the interviews and a handy little reference source called Spider-Man Collectors' Preview which was issued when the Clone Saga was getting underway, it becomes apparent that the original plan was to have Amazing Spider-Man #400 be the issue of the Big Reveal. Howard Mackie indicated in an interview that the original saga was only supposed to last six months, and there was a "back door" planned - which I take to mean that they could have quickly reversed themselves if necessary. However, as the result of the sales boost the clone storyline gave the spider-titles (I'm still trying to figure that one out - not because I simply disagree with the premise of the Clone Saga - but I didn't think the stories were that good), the suits at Marvel dictated that the saga needed to be stretched out. So, we get the plot that had Peter being blamed for a murder that his killer klone Kaine kommitted out in Utah and being arrested. Even more unrealistic than the notion of super beings and clones, Peter's case goes to trial almost immediately (Ben switches places with Peter in jail). Kaine fesses up to the murder in order to keep Peter from revealing his secret identity to the court, which was Peter's last resort in order to exonerate Ben. Strangely enough, when Kaine is arrested, no one bothers to unmask him. Also, the idea that in a world populated by large numbers of super humans and routinely visited by aliens from outer space, shape shifting Skrulls, time travelers, look-alike androids, that someone can be tried and almost convicted based on fingerprint evidence alone is simply laughable.

After Ben's release, the Parker Brothers are summoned by Ben's scientist buddy Seward Trainer to hear his bad news that Mary's Jane's baby's father is a clone. Peter and Ben run tests to confirm this - and viola - Peter is the clone. So what does Peter do as a reaction to this bit of bad news - he backhands Mary Jane, slamming her into a wall and runs off and leaves her crumpled and bleeding on the floor. Let me repeat that again for shameless dramatic effect - he backhands Mary Jane, slamming her into a wall and runs off and leaves her crumpled and bleeding on the floor. Yeah, that's the Peter Parker we've all come to know and love all these years. But this really isn't surprising considering how Peter had been acting prior to this point, beginning with the "Pursuit" storyline. What had been apparent all of these months, as I alluded to before, was the spider writers had been manipulating Peter and Ben to where Peter was acting like a crazy, irrational person and Ben was the voice of reason - I think to make us eventually sympathize more with Ben and readily accept him as the "real" Peter Parker because his "clone" was acting like such a complete dingbat.

This led into the six-part Maximum Clonage in which Marvel promised to reveal the answers to the myriad of questions raised by the Saga. Well, Maximum Clonage explained NOTHING. First of all, far too much time was spent on running around trying to pre-empt the Jackal's idiotic plot of killing off the human race and replacing them with clones. It's hard to determine what was the most offensive about this series, but there is plenty to choose from:

I have to digress for a minute to explain that this particular ret con from the Spectacular annual actually made sense. In the early to mid 1970's when the first Spider-Man clone story was written, experiments into animal cloning had begun, and the general media was full of stories on cloning, and science fiction, which often reflects not necessarily the future, but the fears of the present extrapolated into the future, was replete with stories and cheap TV movies on the horrors of human cloning. So, the story was timely for the decade in which it was written. However, more than a decade later, when knowledge about the science involved in cloning became more widespread among the public, people became aware that early in the gestation stage, human cells begin to become specialized (i.e. become skin cells, hair cells, blood cells) and therefore you couldn't just suck some blood out of an adult human and create a fully grown human clone. And at that time, man had only succeeded in cloning low order salamanders, so human cloning seemed a long way off, if not an impossibility. Hence, the original ret con to reflect scientific reality rather than fantasy. No problem there. Now, flash forward to the mid-1990's and cloning is back in the news. Mammals are now actually being cloned, but it becomes apparent that while maybe a fully grown human can't be cloned, it is entirely feasible to see the day when human organs can be cloned and transplanted. So, the stretch to cloning humans, while still a big and almost impossible stretch, did seem just a tad more realistic. Anyway, enough of back story.

  • Yes - we had been wading through six friggin' issues of Maximum Clonage for the answers to our questions - but then they all remained unexplained! If we really wanted some of the answers, we had to shell out another four bucks for the one and only issue of Scarlet Spider Unlimited. There, we got the utterly bizarre story of how someone who had just been a college professor was really a lab assistant for the High Evolutionary himself, and although he perfected his cloning process, the High Evolutionary did not want any of his "Ani-Men" to realize that Miles Warren had perfected the cloning process. So, the Evolutionary, who wanted everyone to think Warren had failed - even went so far as to locate and alter Warren's diaries! Oh please. Even the ret con of this ret con, The Osborn Journals which ignored Warren's working for the High Evolutionary and had Norman Osborn's Scriers funding Warren's work made more sense than this drivel.

  • How about the fact that the Gwen Stacy clone just slips away in the melee at the end? Talk about a plot device that needs a final resolution. No good-byes, no death scenes, no nothing - she just slinks away. And hasn't been seen since. Not that I'm desperate to see anymore Gwen clone stories told - but the character, and the whole cloning mess, needs to be put to its final rest.

  • What about Peter's and Gwen's lack of a degeneration factor? Not explained. At least not here.

  • And then once the "revelation" of who the clone was had been made, the issue of who would ultimately be Spider-Man dragged on and on and on through continually absurd stories (such as Peter trying to kill Mary Jane because of a post-hypnotic suggestion the Jackal placed in his brain- which itself could have been a 10 worst story candidate) as Marvel tried to milk every last dime it could from the fans. There was the Ben Reilly on the road miniseries, and the Spider-Man in Portland miniseries. Although Peter left New York at the end of Spectacular Spider-Man #229 ostensibly for good to start a new life with MJ and the baby, that didn't stop Marvel from issuing another four-part, overpriced, "Final Adventure" mini-series.

This truly was a horrible story. But, it was largely horrible because it had simply gotten out of control, which with four writers and four monthly titles, was easy to do. I don't think anyone was trying to deliberately run Spidey into the ground, but the editors simply didn't have the competence or the foresight to envision what an ungodly mess this would all turn out to be.







2. Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #18
Peter Parker Volume 2 #18

(June 2000)While it's fairly easy, perhaps too easy, for a reader to jump on a story and criticize a writer for telling an awful tale, I honestly don't believe that for the most part, he or she goes into a story saying "I'm going to tell a lousy story," or "I'm really going to screw things up with this tale." Deadlines, personal problems, problems with artists or other members of the creative team, all occasionally conspire to turn out the inevitable clunker. This is the reason that I tried to not just pick on dumb stories or dumb villains that had little or no lasting impact, and even then I usually eviscerated the story, not the author. Throughout the early part of the Reboot of 1999, I had steadfastly avoided calling for the head of Howard Mackie and the current spider team because I didn't want to feel that I was joining a witch hunt. It's too easy to jump on a bandwagon that is gaining speed and join the crowd. And, I honestly thought that Howard had done a competent job in his run on Web of Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. However, once this piece of crap story was published, I realized that the cries for change in the spider-titles had been too lenient. Coincidentally, this was around the same time I heard from a fellow by the name of Berryman asking me to join up with Hero Realm.

But wait - you say. How can this dopey little two parter be worse than the story in which Peter was revealed to the Clone? That story nearly destroyed Spider-Man as we know it. And how could it be worse that the "Mary Jane is dead" story? Or the Hypno-Hustler or the Big Wheel or the Green Ninjas?

That's because this wasn't just a bad story that can be forgiven - this was a "F*** You" aimed directly at the Spidey fans who against their better judgment had been supporting the miserable excuse for a reboot. Their crime in Marvel's eyes? Clamoring for the resolution of an intriguing storyline that had deliberately gone unanswered as Volume 1 drew to a close and completely ignored in Volume 2 as more and more subplots were spun, but never resolved.

If you remember during the "Spider Hunt" storyline near the end of Volume 1, Norman Osborn was trying to make the public think that someone else was the Green Goblin. So, he either hired or brainwashed some poor fool into appearing as the Green Goblin so that the Goblin and Norman could appear simultaneously, thus throwing off any suspicion. Some tantalizing hints were dropped - could it be Paul Stacy? Flash Thompson? Harry Osborn returned from the dead? In the "Goblins at the Gate" story which also featured Roderick Kingsley in his Hobgoblin attire, writers Roger Stern and Glenn Greenburg wanted the Goblin stand-in to be revealed as Phil Urich, who had actually been the heroic Green Goblin during that short-lived series. This actually made sense (one of Norman's cronies had told this mysterious person that they would become the Goblin "again."), since Phil would have been able to function as this Goblin due to his previous experience with the weapons and the glider. It would also be the sort of delicious revenge that Norman Osborn would actually enjoy, since his initial reaction was to kill the person who was using the Goblin name, costume, and equipment.

But, the powers that be at Marvel vetoed this revelation, and Green Goblin 5's identity remained unknown.

But the fans hadn't forgotten. As Volume 2 of the spider titles limped horribly out of the starting gate and got progressively worse, the fans wanted to see some resolutions (ANY resolutions would have been great) of these forgotten storylines, particularly who had been Norman's Goblin stand-in?

So what was the answer? A clone (as if there hadn't been enough of those!) was the Goblin - but a clone of who? No idea. His face was originally Harry's, but then shifted into other forms and then disintegrated. This almost appeared to be a deliberate smack in the fans face for wanting Mackie to wrap up some of his storylines. Hah - we'll show you - we'll make it a nobody - even worse - a clone of nobody.

But that's not all. This was the two-parter that saw Peter sleeping on the street even though Aunt May had a warm bed waiting for him, and then having his costume stolen without his spider-sense (which works in his sleep, remember?) warning him. It was also the story that saw both Flash and Liz crap all over Peter - Flash by making an utterly stupid and uncharacteristic comment, even for him, about how women who get involved with Peter wind up dead, and Liz by turning her back on him stating that bad things happen to people who get close to him.

Whether it was Howard Mackie, John Byrne, Bob Harras, Ralph Macchio, or someone else delivering this spiteful message to the fans is irrelevant. This was a clear message from someone that said "We don't care that you don't like these titles. We don't care that you don't like the long, drawn-out plots without resolution. We don't care that you don't like John Byrne's idiotic Chapter One, the "explosion" that resulted in Spider-Man's creation, or Captain Power. We don't care that you don't like Mary Jane being "dead" or don't like Spider-Woman - and not only do we not care - we want you to shut the f**k up and stop complaining! You wanted the Green Goblin 5 issue resolved! Well, here's your resolution for you! And if you keep complaining about the titles, we'll do something even worse!"

Ironically, though, just when this hateful message was being delivered, change was already in the works. Considering that Paul Jenkins was being brought in to take over the reigns of Peter Parker, that Byrne left Spider-Man after this story, and that Joe Quesada soon replaced Bob Harras as Editor-in-Chief, maybe, just maybe, someone else was seeing the same things we were.

And now, the drumroll, for the single worst Spider-Man story in the last 46 years.




1. Amazing Spider-Man #544-545
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24
Sensational Spider-Man #41

Yep – that’s right. And it should come as no surprise.

Sigh. I don’t know that I really want to revisit this in great detail as I wrote an entire article on it called, naturally One More Day. It was the capper to the entire Civil War debacle for Spider-Man. As a result of revealing his secret identity to the world, and then turning against Tony Stark because he was shaken about what he perceived as the violation of supervillain civil rights, Peter was a fugitive, and MJ and May were on the run with him.

In prison, the Kingpin put out a contract on Spidey and his family – but when the sniper came to do the job, essentially Spidey ducked and the bullet critically wounded May. Of course, this was a horrible thing to happen, but Peter’s reaction was so over the top it was almost creepy, as if he were either 5 years old and didn’t want to do without his mommy, or he had an Oedipal Complex. That was the only way to explain why he couldn’t accept the reality of May dying, and the whole “she took a bullet meant for me” was grossly overplayed to the point that Peter was willing to sacrifice his entire marriage and upend Mary Jane’s life as well. The arbiter of this sacrifice, Mephisto, wanted to do away with Spider-Man’s marriage because it was so perfect and pure and the symbol of all that was good – and if you believe THAT horseshit you’ll accept anything. So, Spidey and MJ agree that their marriage never existed, Mephisto healed May, and not only that – threw Spider-man continuity into utter chaos – which included bringing back Harry Osborn as well! And now we have Brand New Day.

I haven’t done this justice with this summary, but as I said before, there’s no point in belaboring something I’ve written and entire article about.

As far as my selection of this story as No. 1 – NO ONE liked this story. Oh sure, you can find a few sycophants wanting to cozy up to Marvel, but even those fans who didn’t like Mary Jane and didn’t like the marriage, and who have thus far liked “Brand New Day” thought this story was abominable. They would rather have simply seen the couple divorce. J. Michael Straczynski disowned the story, not because of the outcome, but because all attempt at a rational explanation for the change in the timeline was tossed out the window by Joe Quesada’s “It’s magic – we don’t have to explain it.”

Unfortunately, the story simply seems to be the petulant reaction of those who can’t seem to accept the fact that the Spider-Man that they grew up with themselves has moved on. It isn’t the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and you can’t retell the Lee-Ditko/Lee-Romita stories over and over and over again.

But perhaps, just perhaps, I am the one who is wrong, and who is petulant, and that I should have moved on many years ago and left Spider-Man behind.

Either way, the story still was a rotten one.

Conclusion
When I put this list together, I really did start out with a clean slate. I did not intend to make any points, nor was I interested in grinding any particular axes. I did not re-read all of my core continuity Spider titles searching for stories - but as with my Top 10 Favorite list, one of my major criteria for inclusion on the worst list was that I simply remembered the story being bad without me having to do a lot of research, no matter how many years had passed.

One of the other things I noticed that as I put this list together, there were no "worst" stories prior to Amazing Spider-Man #210, which would have coincided with Spectacular Spider-Man #44 or so. Web and no-adjective Spider-Man had not started yet. At first I wondered how this could be. Maybe it was simply the effect of more recent stories taking residence in my brain, and the tendency to over glamorize the Lee-Ditko, Lee-Romita eras. However, it probably is not a coincidence that none of these "worst" stories were told in the days when there was only one monthly Spider-Man title. It was also before the general explosion in the number of Marvel titles, when the stories were less long, rambling, and convoluted. There were no crossovers between the spider-titles, and while there were multiparters, but they didn't stretch on and on and on. A bad story was told and then over. It didn't have to be ret conned. Villains and supporting characters didn't become overexposed and irrelevant. Perhaps the moral of the story is that when it comes to comics, less is indeed more.


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Copyright © 1998-2008 J.R. Fettinger. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment.