Top 10 Spider-Man Stories

I originally wrote this article almost two years ago, and so far, it has been the most frequented article on my website. I'm not sure why, because there are some I feel are much better written - maybe it's just the idea of people already knowing what they like, and they want to see whether or not this fool who calls himself MadGoblin agrees with them, or whether or not he really is as clueless as he sounds about what makes a good Spidey story.

As a result of my recent relocation to the outskirts of a major metropolitan area, for the first time I have the infinite pleasure of having several comic book shops to choose from and peruse their back issue files. Ever since the market collapsed a few years ago, many back issues are dirt cheap, and every store seems to have a bargain box where you can pick up stuff for fifty cents or less, as long as you're not anticipating finding classic storylines or stories by popular artists or writers (although I am starting to see some slight upward movement, as well as a thinning of stocks in certain titles).

After I had plugged several gaps in my collection, I decided to take another look at my Top 10 to see if any revisions were merited - and as of September 19, 2000 - the Top 10 remains undisturbed, although I did revise my analyses of those 10 to reflect some new perspectives. But, that could change anytime....

Obviously, anyone's Top 10 list is completely subjective and prone to bias and illogic, and mine will be no exception. An article in Wizard's Spider-Man Special just prior to the reboot in November, 1998 inspired this effort - but I was relieved indeed to find out that we duplicated only three storylines. I really don't want to be in a position of agreeing with Wizard on too much.

I probably will review this article once again next year, and revise and expand it somewhat to include a Worst 10, as well as others that may not make the Top 10, but are certainly worthy of merit.

Anyway, in order to prepare to write the article, I simply sat "After collecting Spider-Man comics for almost 30 years (yes, it really has been that long - scary, huh?), which stories do I simply remember without having to reread everything?" Ten came to mind fairly quickly (actually 11 - but I left one off for reasons I'll discuss below in the "Notable Exceptions List". None of these lists are in any particular order. All of the stories presented are simply either great for reasons of great storytelling, the use of favorite concepts, or they take me back to a time in my life that I'll always remember.

1. Spectacular Spider-Man 78-79 "The Long Goodbye"

This was the conclusion of a storyline that involved the Black Cat, Doctor Octopus and the Owl. Spider-Man and the Cat foil Doc Ock's plan to blow up New York City in Spectacular #75, but not before the mad doctor critically injures her. Enraged at Ock's brutal beating of the Cat, Spidey decides to stop playing Mr. Nice Superhero and puts Ock down hard by literally ripping those famous mechanical tentacles off from the doctor's body (a move so obvious and so easily done in this story - it defies logic that Spidey hasn't done this before or since.)

Our hero's victory is short-lived as in issue #78, Ock is on the loose again, and the Cat is fighting for her life in the hospital. Spider-Man knows that the doctor is going to try to finish the job on the Cat first, and as a bonus, permanently settle the score with the webhead as well. Realizing that this could very well be Spider-Man's last stand, Peter Parker decides to make the rounds of family and friends, tying up some of the loose ends in his life in the event the fight with Octopus becomes a true fight to the death. He parties with his closest friends, makes sure that Aunt May knows without a doubt that he loves her, in a rare display of self-confidence, extorts more money out of the notoriously cheap Jonah Jameson for his photos, and tells his colleagues at graduate school that there's a lot more to life than grades and academic honors. This story is also one of the few times that Doctor Octopus' character seems to be right on the button, an arrogant warped, jealous, bitter little toady of a man whose anger and mechanical arms have made him a monster. The suave, urbane Octopus that appeared in the Clone Saga, and the unlikely romancer of Aunt May in the mid-70's are examples of how inconsistently one of Spidey's greatest nemesis has been portrayed. Interestingly enough, a recent example of another good portrayal of Doctor Octopus was in the well-done Death and Destiny limited series.

This story really resonates as you can almost literally feel Spidey falling in love with Felicia. Itís very tangible, very potent Ė his desperation when she is literally on deathís door Ė his horror as the doctors have to cut her open to stimulate her heart. It just seemed very strong to me back when I was an impressionable young man in college who was always losing his heart to one pretty girl or another, and now as an old married man, itís almost kind of sweet and sad in a way that itís been a long time since Iíve fallen that fast and that hard.

Which is one of Spideyís appeals. When he falls, he falls hard. And heís not a playboy. In 40 years, long time fans can count on one hand the women heís really loved (1) Betty (2) Gwen (3) Mary Jane and (4) Felicia. Mary Jane is the compromise between Gwen and Felicia. She can be wild, but not amoral, free-spirited, but completely trustworthy.

Doc Ock is on the right note here. A man so twisted by his deluded his sense of self-importance thatís heíll destroy New York Ė just to make a point. Iíve personally always liked the baggy green outfitted Ock more than the tailored suit Ock.

2. Amazing Spider-Man 194-195, 204-205, and 226-227

The first Black Cat story arcs. Felicia Hardy was never more fascinating than she was in these stories, when she was still a criminal. Spidey's heart is in serious turmoil because he has fallen hard for a woman who is simply and clearly no good for him. Peter is unusually vulnerable during this period of time as he is still reeling from Mary Jane's rejection of his original marriage proposal back in Amazing #182. Compounding that is the fact that former girlfriend and now someone else's wife Betty Leeds literally shows up in his apartment after having left her husband, and now wants to take up again with Peter. Fortunately, our hero has the sense to steer clear of this bit of bad news, but it still gets him on the wrong side of the jealous husband's fist, which, super powers or no, still seriously wounds the ego (another example of why Peter Parker is a better man than I will ever be - Ned Leeds, the jealous husband in question - would have had every bone in his body systematically broken after this incident). Then, a cute graduate student who comes on very strongly to Mr. Parker turns out to be using him to get at the test he is about to give in a class he is teaching. The ultimate indignity is when Peter is sitting at the laundromat watching his shorts go through the spin cycle, he forgets just how badly he looks when he is unwashed and unshaven and tries to pick up an attractive laundromat customer. Needless to say, this bombs, too. Then walks in the Cat, who, for all of the trouble she represents, is an inviting alternative, and the neat thing is - she really digs Spider-Man!. This is another twist on an old tale since Peter has always been the one to fall in love, with Spidey screwing it up. Now, it's Spider-Man with the affair of the heart problem.

Unfortunately, when the Cat gave up crime after Spectacular Spider-Man #79 and she became a supporting character and Spidey's paramour, the spider-writers gave her a lobotomy. She began acting like a selfish, whiny brat rather than the smooth, manipulative she-devil with a soft spot for our hero. I always suspected that part of this was Marvel's reaction to the Cat's popularity at the time, that they were determined to make her unpopular in orcer to reduce the demand for more of her. Felicia's portrayal over the years has varied from intelligent and sassy to selfish, hysterical, and almost psychopathic.

Lately, Felicia has gotten her brains back, has calmed down quite a bit, and is now one of the good guys with her detective agency. That's nice, but it just isn't quite the same...

3. Amazing Spider-Man 153

The first time I could recall Spider-Man using a profane word - but it was completely in character and in tune with the situation. No supervillains (although it turned out in later issues that the goons in question were working for the Kingpin), but a simple story of crime, tragedy and inhumanity that so infuriates our hero that he knocks the block off the bad guy for no good reason other than the scumbag deserves it. The parallels in this story between the protagonists' failed football career, and his 100 yard (and ultimately fatal) journey to save his daughter from kidnappers is bittersweet.

Not completely a downer, there is humor at a dance that Peter and MJ attend where MJ states that "Kung Fu Fighting" is their song, much to Peter's incredulousness (hey, it was funny to someone who actually lived during the 70's - guess that means I'm no longer part of the audience that Marvel and Bill Jemas wants).

If the misbegotten television series, in its questionable attempt to stay away from colorful supervillains, had simply adapted stories like these, it might actually have been successful. But that's an altogether different gripe.

4. Amazing Spider-Man 248 - The Kid who Collected Spider-Man

I was reluctant to list this because it is blatantly emotionally manipulative. Also Wizard put it on their top 10, and I wanted to duplicate their list as little as possible. Spider-Man fulfills the wish of a dying boy by visiting him in the hospital and simply spending some time talking to him, including answering the question "Who are you really, Spider-Man?" Yep. Spidey stares out the window for a moment of contemplation before pulling off his mask and telling the boy his real name. The boy's eyes light up with joy as Spider-Man sits and talks to him, not down to him, but as an equal. The boy's excitement radiates off the page as he realizes that he is one of the few people on the face of the earth who can grasp the supreme irony of Peter Parker making money off J. Jonah Jameson by selling the publisher photos of himself. It clearly is a special moment for the boy and reminds us that underneath the spandex and the gimmicks, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is simply a good, caring, and decent human being. It's also the only time I remember giving a comic book to someone I knew (my college roommate at the time) who did not like or read comic books and telling him "read this." He had no idea that a "superhero" comic could tell such a compelling story.

5. Spider-Man 75 - Revelations Part 4

Alright folks, you can bring out the brickbats - because I know that right now it is utter sacrilege to praise a Howard Mackie story (I never thought that Howard was that bad just before the reboot - but I will be the first to admit that the first couple of years after the reboot has been one of the ugliest periods in Spidey's history). It is also not kosher to validate any part of the Clone Saga, or Norman Osborn's return - but I thought this issue rocked. Parts 1-3 of the controversial Revelations storyline are really rather ordinary but Part 4 brings back Norman Osborn - the original Green Goblin - with a flourish. In my humble opinion, Osborn was never better than in this story, not even during the Lee-Ditko and Lee-Romita eras. Finally, we are given a glimpse into the true depths of the conflict between Parker and Osborn. For the first time, we learn that it is more than two guys dressing up in Halloween costumes who like to fight - it's the violent convergence of how two completely different men have come to grips with the tragedies in their lives, and how those divergent philosophies will continue to put them at each other's throats for as long as they both live. Never was their battle more personal, as Norman comes back with renewed motivation in light of Harry's death, (no more - "I hate you Parker because you interfered with my nefarious plans to control the underworld" - yawn). With the bad blood that already existed due to Gwen's death - the Parker/Osborn confrontation takes on all of the passion inherent in a genuine blood feud. The story is packed with action as these two foes pummel each other senseless, and reaches a high when Peter Parker proves that his stamina, resiliency, and sheer will to live, are greater than the sum of all the grief, physical and psychological, that Norman Osborn can throw at him.

The downer to this story, though, is the lame way in which Ben Reilly, first the clone/then the real Spidey/then the clone again, meets his death. I don't totally disagree with the philosophy behind killing Ben off (I didn't really like it because Ben had a lot of potential, he and Peter played off each other very well, and Marvel had invested more than two years in getting us to care about Ben). After this whole miserable course of events, Marvel had to put a definitive end to the clone saga. If Ben had survived, the whole question of "who is the clone?" probably could not have been definitively answered. But he could have been dispatched with a lot more heroic flare than he was (goblin glider in the back), and Marvel was remiss for not giving us some scenes of Peter coming to grips with Ben's death (oh yeah, it was in the expanded trade paperback - but I, and no doubt several others, are loathe to pay $15 or more for a reprint of issues we already have just to get a handful of "new scenes").

This story also represents the most tangible evidence that Baby May is still alive, as there is really no doubt by Osborn's language that he has "taken" May from Peter. Marvel thinks we'll forget this, though.

6. Amazing Spider-Man 238-251 - the first Hobgoblin story arc

Hobby was never as well written as he was here - a worthy successor to Norman Osborn as Spidey's greatest villain. He was rational, thoughtful, and calculating where Norman could be just plain nuts. There was a genuine tension to the stories as it appeared to be building to a great issue #250 which would be a revelatory issue - but ultimately, that never happened. To this day, I still think it was a cheat that we did not learn Hobby's identity after this story arc, when the character's fate was firmly in the hands of Spider-Scribe extraordinaire Roger Stern. I was hoping that Hobby would eventually discover Spidey's i.d. and become in effect another Osborn. Unfortunately, after Stern left, the Goblin became a fairly mundane character and we went through more "who is the Goblin" riddles which by then had lost their effectiveness. Inexplicably, Marvel decided that Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin (which was rather odd, because Leeds had never exhibited the kind of scientific expertise that Hobby displayed, plus it was fairly obvious that the Goblin was a wealthy man, not a working class stiff) and even more inexplicably, let him get killed off in the Spider-Man v. Wolverine one shot, so that we had the death of the Hobgoblin happening entirely in a flashback, with no chance for a Spidey-Goblin confrontation in which our hero learned in the heat of battle that his deadliest enemy was one of his oldest acquaintences. Then the former Jack O Lantern, Jason Macendale, became the Hobgoblin for the next several years. Macendale was simply a goon with little character or depth, and the Hobgoblin went through the bizarre "Demogoblin" phase, which was simply dumb. Finally, Roger Stern, the man who created the character in the first place, gave us the miniseries Hobgoblin Lives in which Roderick Kingsley was revealed to be the original Hobgoblin, reviving a great villain.

Unfortunately, right now, Roddy is in limbo with Norman back from the dead, because his character is essentially redundant. Also, Norman's angry and tortured character makes for better drama. But, I wouldn't count the Hobgoblin out. Some day, hopefully, a good writer will be able to bring him back and make him work, maybe even as a foe of Osborn's.

7. Amazing Spider-Man 200

Spidey comes full circle as he settles his oldest score - with the Burglar who murdered his Uncle Ben. In what was really either an amazing (no pun intended) show of restraint, whether deliberately or by lack of interest, it took this long (more than 15 years) for Spidey to confront the Burglar again. While the current staff of Amazing has been justifiably criticized for subplots that never seem to get resolved, this was one that almost appeared forgotten. In Amazing Spider-Man #174, after Aunt May has moved out of the Parker house and into the nursing home, a mysterious individual buys the property proclaiming that the secrets it possesses will be his. Then he doesn't show up again until issue #193! Apparently what had happened in the interim was that Len Wein, who wrote Amazing up to #180 had started this subplot, but then left, and Marv Wolfman, who took over the writing chores beginning with #182, wanted to wait to resolve the storyline in issue #200.

The final confrontation between Spidey and the Burglar does not disappoint. After Spidey pounds the Burglar from wall to wall in the old warehouse, the criminal, sensing the pure animosity in our hero's attack, demands to know what this has become so personal for him. So Spidey shows him why it's personal - by revealing that he is Peter Parker. This triggers the Burglar's fatal heart attack. As Spider-Man backs the Burglar into a corner, slowly and menacingly approaching, the hood is positive that Spidey will kill him, and then vaporlocks. Peter comes to realize how useless harboring all of this hatred for such a pathetic loser really is, and had only planned on taking the Burglar to the cops, even if it meant the end of Spider-Man and his exposure. While the passing of the Burglar in this climatic moment is something of a cliche (how convenient that he happened to have an attack at just that moment), it was necessary to ensure that the character was never used again, since any future appearances would have diluted his significance and impact. With the Burglar's death, Spidey is able to, seemingly, put his past behind him and look forward to the future (until another writer came along and tread all over the same ground). He also reaches out to Aunt May and she begins her long journey to accepting Spider-Man (and as Amazing #400 seemed to indicate before it was retconned by the insipid events of "The Final Chapter" - the fact that it was her nephew under that mask) rather than fearing him.

But wait a minute - as a result of the Clone Saga, the Burglar was resurrected, not literally, but as a plot point, when Ben Reilly began dating Jessica Carridine, who - guess what - turned out to be the Burglar's daughter, and she hated Spider-Man for causing his death. Fortunately, before this subplot could gain too much momentum, the decree to bring Peter back as Spider-Man had been issued, and it was resolved and Jessica left town in Sensational Spider-Man #6 and has not been heard from since.

8. Amazing Spider-Man 147-149 - The First Clone Saga

Speaking of Clone Sagas - remember the first one? This one actually worked, although in an ironic gesture, Gerry Conway had to write a full page explanation in a later issue of Amazing resolving many of the questions he left unanswered. I guess I'm nostalgic about this in a way because it was my first "saga" as a Spider-Man collector, and I was captivated by the mystery of the Jackal, the first "who is the man behind the mask?" drama since the original Green Goblin (and now, sadly, done to death). Beginning with issue #129, and wrapping up in #149, I was stunned to see the Jackal to be revealed as Professor Miles Warren (o.k., I was a little obtuse in those days. I was like, 12, you know), Peter's biology professor, and a man we all believed to be a friend. Issue #149 gives us a little clue to Warren's motivations "I hate you because you're young. I hate you because you were loved." We learn that Warren had an unhealthy fixation for Gwen Stacy, and when she died, he was devastated, as he apparently was a lonely man with very little else in his life. When he died, it seemed like he would really stay dead (kinda like Norman, but we know what happened there). Unfortunately, when he did come back 20 years later, it was for the disastrous second Clone Saga, and he bore no resemblance to the tortured college professor. Rather, he was turned into a Joker-like ripoff incessantly making these stupid rapid-fire puns that not even the writers could have thought were entertaining. Then there was the world-domination plan that was so unlike the character he originally was (Not to be outdone, Norman had to come up with one as well for "The Final Chapter"). And I haven't even mentioned that he was inexplicably furry. Like, wouldn't he be picking fleas off himself all the time? Gross.

9. Spectacular Spider-Man 25-31 - The first Carrion story

In my opinion, this is how a mystery should unfold. Carrion appears in issue #25, takes a backseat for a couple of issues as another story wraps up, then becomes the major focus of the plot, and his identity and the storyline are completely wrapped up within 6 months. Nothing is left hanging, and the story is over while it is still interesting. Contrast that with the second Clone Saga, which lasted forever, "Maximum Clonage," which was 14 issues of the same thing over and over, and "Revelations," which actually revealed very little (although I liked Part 4). Carrion was truly a spooky villain, and would have been ideal for Halloween storylines since he was one of the few horror derivatives that actually worked well in Spider-Man. The fact that he was also a botched clone of Professor Miles Warren (aka the Jackal) made the story more personal and tightened the continuity somewhat. Unfortunately, this was the Warren clone's only appearance as Carrion, as the character and the story were retconned at least twice, and the character continues to be less effective each time he appears because he isn't Warren, but usually that Malcolm McBride loser. Go home to your momma, "Malcolm." Hopefully, after the Dead Man's Hand one-shot post-Clone Saga which tried to wrap up still more dangling loose ends from that disaster, we have seen the last of Carrion.

10. Spectacular Spider-Man 107-110 - Who Killed Jean Dewolfe?

Spidey gets pushed to the limit. Since Peter Parker has few friends, and Spider-Man even fewer, the loss of one is typically devastating to Peter/Spidey. The brutal, senseless murder of police captain Jean DeWolff, one of Spider-Man's few friends, is doubly hard when, rifling through her personal effects looking for clues, Spidey discovers that the good captain was romantically attracted to him. This comes as a total shock since DeWolff always came across as tough as nails, and although our Petey can be clueless at times, he was never given any reason to suspect her feelings for him. When the villain of the piece, the Sin-Eater (something of a misnomer, I think. I mean, the Foolkiller kills fools, the Punisher punishes, and the Sin- Eater "eats" sin? How do you do that?) comes within in a hair of murdering Betty Brant, one of Peter's friends, Spidey has had it, and administers one of the most brutal beatings he has ever dished out. Only Daredevil's intervention at the last minute stops Spider-Man from killing the Sin-Eater. But, Spidey's not done feeling angry. After being taken into police custody, the Sin-Eater is beset upon by an angry mob about to complete the job Spidey started, and our hero is going to stand by and let them do it. However, Daredevil, being a goody-goody, jumps in to save the Sin-Eater and is overcome by the mob himself. He snaps Spidey back to reality only by calling out for "Peter," which wakes up the web-slinger and he comes to the rescue - but he's still not happy about it.

I must admit, I'm always thrilled when Spidey blows his stack not only because of my right-wing politics on matters of crime and punishment (particularly since I'm moderate on most everything else), but because it's a dose of dramatic reality. We've all seen instances where cops lose it because they've seen so much evil and meanness they can't take it any more - so why should superheroes be any different? Plus, deep down, Spidey is still a young man who is naive in many ways. He was raised by good people with the proper sense of values, and it's apparent that he still has problems coping with the depths of human evil. His confrontations with the older, wiser, more mature Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil), who was the product of a less stable upbringing, are the stuff of good storytelling.

The Sin-Eater did come back in a fashion a couple of years later, but he was a shell of the man he had been, largely due to the brutality of Spider-Man's beating. Writer Peter David wanted to show what would happen to a human body after being savagely beaten by a super-being such as Spider-Man, and it wasn't pretty. Other than this realistic take, the second Sin-Eater storyline was ineffective, and diluted some of the impact of the original when Stan Carter (Sin-Eater's real name) revealed that he and Jean DeWolff had been lovers. Like, unnecessary plot element which took away some of the original shock of Spidey's earlier discovery that DeWolff liked him.

Notable Exceptions

As usual, there are some well-known storylines that did not make my list. What they were, and the reasons they didn't make it, are as follows:

Amazing Spider-Man 121-122 "The Night Gwen Stacy Died"

This was Number 11 on my list. or maybe 10 1/2. It probably is one of the most famous comic stories of all time, and certainly one of the major turning points in Spider-Man's career. For you to understand Spidey, you have to read this story. We also get to see a little bit more of what motivates Norman Osborn to be the Green Goblin, rather than delusions of grandeur. The Goblin identity is a refuge for him when major problems enter his life such as his son's relapse into drug addicition and business failures, which converge upon him at the same time, shattering his fragile veneer of sanity. It is easier to blame his business rivals or Peter Parker for his problems than himself, and it is easier for him to become the Green Goblin than deal with his problems as Norman Osborn. Spidey is also pushed to the brink as he comes within a whisker of killing the Goblin, but then backs off, realizing that not resorting to murder is the one thing that distinguishes him from the Goblin.

So, why isn't this story in the top 10? What's wrong with it? Good question - but one reason it fails to make the cut is that it is actually too short, and should have gone on for another part or two. This story also illustrates perfectly what a cipher, rather than a character, Gwen Stacy had become by this time. As a result of tired writing by Stan the Man himself, Gwen had devolved from a sexy, spunky tart into a shallow character, a whiner who complained about Peter's disappearances and blamed Spider-Man for the death of her father. She had stopped growing as a character, and her murder, rather than being a completely unexpected and surprising tragedy, was really the next logical step for her character as she had surpassed her usefulness, and the depth and length of her and Peter's relationship meant that she couldn't just walk out of the titles into oblivion ala Deb Whitman. Her death scene gives us no additional insights into her character, and we know no more about her in her final moments than we did at any time before. We don't even know what her emotions where during the final confrontation between Peter and Osborn because she was unconscience. She became an object to be killed, which is a shame. Fortunately, she was partially redeemed by J.M DeMatteis' backup story in Webspinners #1, but that was 25 years too late.

Plus, frankly, Norman Osborn was out of gas as a viable character himself. He had his memory returned and taken away twice since the classic Amazing Spider-Man #39-40 and it was clear that he was killed off at this time because the writers didn't really know what to do with him anymore. This was several years before the 80's and the "Decade of Greed" which made corporate moguls viable comic book villains in their own right.

I'm not so sure time has really been kind to this story, either. For one, much of its impact has been blunted over the last three decades by copycat storylines in which the woman close to the hero dies, not to mention Marvel going to the well again when it decided to off Mary Jane in the plane crash (but we all know she really isn't dead....).

The Lee-Ditko Era - Amazing #1-38

Cumulatively, this was truly Spidey's greatest era as his personality is established and his most famous villains are created (they are still his core rogues gallery 30 years later). But, let's admit it, the stories themselves now seem dated and unsophisticated relative to today's storytelling. Even the dramatic first confrontation between Norman Osborn and Peter Parker unmasked in Amazing #40 reads like traditional comic book camp now. However, these stories are still are better than the Chapter One retreads, but that's the subject for another article (which I wrote! check out Why Chapter One Failed).

Kraven's Last Hunt

I honestly believe that the real reason people rave about this storyline is because the villain literally blows his brains out at the end. Look, of all of Spidey's classic villains, Kraven was the lamest. I never liked Kraven, and I never cared for his "half-brother" Puma who could at least turn himself into an animal. I mean, how many villains do we need who can track the hero down by smelling him? Not to mention the good guys, including Wolverine, who learned Spidey's i.d. in the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one shot by, that's right, smelling him. "The Most Dangerous Game" is probably one of the most frequently recurring themes in comics, on TV, in the movies, and it gets old. So, Kraven knocks Spidey out, buries him, dresses like him to ruin his reputation, then blows his own brains out. Whoopee. And Spidey never gets to really even the score, but rather we have to settle for a battle with Vermin the Rat-Man, whose presence also interfered with my enjoyment of "The Child Within" storyline by diluting the primary conflict between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn.

This story also unfortunately started a trend of "Spidey is a mental case" storylines which continued with "The Mad Dog Ward" literally right after "Kraven's Last Hunt," and then there was "The Child Within," then "Lifetheft," "Pursuit," and "Beware the Rage of a Desperate Man" in quick succession, followed by the two agonizing years of the Clone Saga, and even after that we had a four part Chameleon story in which he tried to make Spidey doubt his identity.

Suddenly becomes very easy to understand why sales plummeted and why the fans haven't come back since.

Anything with Venom

I have never liked Mr. Brains for Dinner, and I will readily admit that I am probably in the minority opinion on this one. I never really liked the fact that although Eddie Brock knew the connection between Peter and Spider-Man, the stories lacked the personal conflict that gripped the battles with the Goblins or the Jackal. So he knew, so what? Whatever potential as a great villain Venom did have (again, my opinion here) was completely buried as the character became grossly overexposed. Venom appeared so often that Marvel tried to change him into a semi- good guy "The Lethal Protector," who made peace with Spider-Man and only killed those who deserved it, like those who harmed "innocents" (although that didn't stop Venom from murdering a young cop in Amazing #300 while talking about how the taking of innocent life was such a waste. Like - read the back issues folks!). And then, since Venom had lost his edge, the writers decided to create Carnage, in which serial killer Cletus Kassidy was bonded with another symbiote that happened to actually be part of the original Venom symbiote. Carnage killed even more people than Venom and was needlessly violent. And then Marvel went symbiote crazy with even more people possessed by symbiotes, including Eddie Brock's ex-wife, and one fellow who called Hybrid and was really a good guy.

Plus, I always though the alien symbiote jazz was too sci-fi for Spidey, more in line with a Fantastic Four plot line than a Spider-Man one.

Which brings to mind "Maximum Carnage," a relentless 14-part slugfest in which almost nothing of consequence ultimately took place. A story which could have easily been told in a Super Giant or "Monster" issue was stretched out beyond belief, and the ultimate resolution turned out to be some goofy machine which made everybody feel touchy feely and all good and warm inside. I'm not joking. It is clear that many of Spidey's problems stem from these dreadfully long, convoluted storylines, and it is equally unclear why Howard Mackie and Marvel continue to give us more of a bad thing.

Conclusion

The common thread of the stories that I like is that Spidey is often pushed to the emotional or physical brink - and usually in the story lurks a great villain. In these instances, Spider-Man reacts very much like a normal human being would, whether with compassion, grief, rage, or mindless violence. The fact that many of them took place during my college years when Peter Parker and I were relatively the same age is probably a coincidence since I never considered college to be the best time of my life. The fact that Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern were the writers during this period of time is more on the money. Bill Mantlo was also the author of the Micronauts - the only non-Spidey, non-Star Trek comic series I collected religiously.

It's probably not an accident that with the exception of "Revelations Part 4" (a controversial choice no doubt considering how much rage Howard Mackie inspires on the Message Board), all of the stories above are 15-25 years old. Marvel, to milk as much out of Spidey and its other characters as possible, resorted to double platinum cover gimmicks, reboots, new Number 1's, cross title events, and guest stars, and forgot that the key to sales and popularity is good stories with a minimum of editorial interference. Marvel also became fixated on the mistaken belief that Spidey's marriage was a popularity killer, even though Mary Jane was consistently one of the most popular Marvel supporting characters. And the company wonders why it went bankrupt.


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Copyright © 1998-2006 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.