What do you know? Another comic book list! What can I say? I love me some comics. For this one, I decided to list my top 5 favorite Spider-Man story arcs. For this list, I have only included multiple issue stories. No singles allowed! So, no “And Death Shall Come,” “Amazing Fantasy 15” or “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” There’s also a lot of really good ones that are going to be left out of this list. There will also be some of the supposed greatest story arcs left out. Which, once again is why it’s a “Favorite” list and not a “BEST.” See, that’s how I cover myself! These are the ones that I immediately think of when I think of Spider-Man. One word of warning, there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS!
5. Cosmic Spider-Man
(Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160, Web Spider-Man #59-61 and Amazing Spider-Man #327-329)
This little story was part of a much larger crossover that affected a good chunk of the Marvel Universe. Thor baddie Loki devised a plan to have several of the Marvel villains switch heroes. Basically, he figured if they attacked heroes who were less familiar with them, they’d stand a greater chance of defeating them. The same fights over and over had grown predictable and that’s why, Loki thought, the villains always lost. So, with the stage set, The Trapster attacks Spider-Man and actually beats him. Then, Spider-Man ends up with powers he can’t quite explain. Eventually he figures out it’s the power of Captain Universe that’s possessed him in order to stop the Tri-sentinel from destroying the world.
Now, what makes this story arc so cool? It harkens back to the origin of Spider-Man where he suddenly develops powers that he has to learn how to control. He fights The Trapster, Titania, Magneto, The Brothers Grimm, Goliath, Hulk, TESS One, Dragon Man and the Tri-Sentinel. It features some of my favorite Spidey artists Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and Sal Buscema. In the fight with the Hulk, he pulls his best Ralph Cramden impression and punches him into SPACE! Now tell me that ain’t awesome. He becomes the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, and frankly, what’s not to love about that?
4. Marvel Civil War
(taking place in at least 95 issues across the Marvel Universe and at least 19 issues of Spidey comics)
This was a HUGE event in the Marvel Universe. Pretty much everyone was involved. The basic premise was that because of an incident that happened involving super powered humans, the US government decided to pass the Super Human Registration Act (SHRA) that would require anyone with super powers to register with the federal government and reveal their identities or face prosecution. Basically, the heroes would now be like nuclear powered policemen. They’d be held accountable. This split the super human community right down the middle. On the side of the government was Tony Stark/Iron Man. Captain America led the resistance. (That’s a REALLY brief description of the events, I encourage everyone to check out the whole story).
Now, you may be asking, well how does Spider-Man play into it? Apart from Cap and Iron Man, Spider-Man was arguably the most important hero involved. Because of his attachment to Stark, he joins up on the pro registration side. One of the biggest points in Spidey’s career was hiding his identity to protect his friends and family. It’s never been a good thing when his enemies find out who he is. So for Spider-Man to reveal his identity to the world was seen as a HUGE push for their side of the argument. He always has doubts about it because it just doesn’t feel right to him, but because of his loyalty to Stark, he agrees. When he learns that Stark and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four have built a prison in the Negative Zone to indefinitely lock up the heroes who refused to register, he bails and joins up with Captain America on the anti registration side.
The war finally comes to an end with Captain America surrendering when he realizes the amount of destruction and death that it’s caused. And what about Spidey? He goes straight into another story arc concerning Aunt May that almost made my list. “Back in Black.”
Overall, this is a remarkably political event that tied into the general feeling around the United States at the time. The only reason this one isn’t higher on my list is simply because it’s not an exclusive Spider-Man story.
3. Maximum Carnage
(Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2, Web of Spider-Man #101-103, Amazing Spider-Man #378-380, Spider-Man #35-37, Spectacular Spider-Man #201-203)
This story arc is just brutal. The alien symbiote Carnage escapes from Ravencroft and goes on the type of killing spree that’s usually not seen in a Spider-Man story. He joins up with Shriek, Doppleganger, Demogoblin and Carrion to form some messed up cult like family. Venom and Spidey join forces to stop Carnage’s rampage. Eventually, Captain America, Black Cat, Nightwatch, Cloak and Dagger, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Morbius and Firestar all join up to help stop the killing. Half of the heroes want to end Carnage permanently by killing him, while Spider-Man’s morals won’t let him take a life, even one as vicious as Carnage. Once again, this is a very abbreviated rundown of the plot. Check out one of the trade paperbacks to read the full thing!
What I really love about this story is we have Spider-Man’s desire to end the destruction without killing versus Venom’s desire to end the source of the destruction all together. You’ve got the dark side (for opposing reasons) of Venom and Carnage. You’ve got a huge gallery of heroes and villains fighting it out amiss a city gone insane with rage due to Shriek’s psychic abilities. You’ve got Spidey fighting against his two greatest modern enemies. It’s got a little bit of everything.
This storyline even inspired a video game of the same name for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. The soundtrack of the game was written and performed by the band Green Jelly.
AND NOW, LET’S TAKE A BREAK BEFORE THE TOP 2
Here’s Spider-Man playing basketball…
OK, let’s move on now.
2. The Night Gwen Stacy Died
(Amazing Spider-Man #121-122)
This is probably the single most important story arc in Spidey history. It may be one of the most important story lines in the history of comics. Period. This story changed the entire landscape of comics. It brought an end to the Silver Age of comics and ushered in the Bronze Age. Before this story, it was unthinkable to kill off a character as important as the heroes’ long time girlfriend. Not only that, but to kill off the heroes’ greatest adversary in the same story was unprecedented. It’s Spider-Man’s biggest fear, that one of his enemies who has discovered his identity will use that by harming the ones he loves.
Ever since he realized that “with great power, there must also come great responsibility,” Peter Parker has tried his hardest to live by the mantra. This is the first time that he failed since that night with the burglar. This is the first time since that night that someone he cared about died because of him. Though it was the Green Goblin who threw Gwen Stacy off of the bridge, it’s pretty clear that in trying to save her with his webbing, Spider-Man broke her neck and killed her. Even though the Goblin says in the story that she was already dead beforehand, Marvel guru Stan Lee has said it was infact the webbing that killed her. To make matters worse, Stacy’s dad was killed during a battle between Spider-Man and Doc Ock. With his dying breath, Captain Stacy made Spider-Man promise to keep his daughter safe. Now he’s failed the Stacy family twice.
After the Goblin escapes, Spider-Man goes on a rampage to find him. He eventually tracks him down and the final confrontation begins. Spider-Man goes nuts and is pretty much about to kill the Goblin before he comes to the realization that killing the Goblin would make him no better. In that brief moment, the Goblin directs his glider to slam into Spider-Man. Of course, you know the trusty old spider sense tingled and he jumped out of the way just in time for the glider to impale the Goblin. If you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, they recreate this scene in the climatic final battle.
So, what story arc could I prefer over one of the most important story arcs ever? Well, it’s a little story called…
1. The Death of Jean Dewolff
(Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110)
This is the story where Spider-Man loses it completely. When his friend from the police force is gunned down in her home by a maniac called the Sin-Eater, Spidey takes it upon himself to track him down with the help of the detective in charge of the case, Stan Carter. With the Sin-Eater’s body count rising, Spider-Man finally finds him and the battle begins. Sin-Eater is shooting at Spider-Man when he dodges the blast, only to realize that the crowd of people behind him have been hit. Fearing that his Aunt May was among the casualties, he ends up abandoning the fight in order to find her. Of course, Sin-Eater gets away.
After someone turns them self in as being the Sin-Eater, Daredevil (who has a large part in this story) notices that the confessor’s heart beat is different than the real Sin-Eater. They go to his apartment and realize that true culprit lived in the next apartment over. It just so happens that the real Sin-Eater is none other than Stan Carter! When Spider-Man realizes it, he flies into a rage that’s seldom been seen. He gets to the point where he legitimately tries to kill the bad guy. His morals have flown out the window and he decides to become judge, jury and executioner. It’s a strange place for Spider-Man to be in considering he’s always known for not becoming the villain himself. Usually at this point is when he realizes how close he came to that dangerous line and pulls back. Not this time. He just keeps pummeling as if to release the rage that’s been built up for years. It’s only because Daredevil gets in the way that he stops. He turns his rage onto Daredevil for stopping him and they fight. Finally, Sin-Eater is going to be transferred to a maximum security prison and the protesters outside decide to finish it up themselves. Spider-Man watches from the rooftop and even turns his back to allow it to happen. Daredevil jumps down to defend Carter (remember, Daredevil is a lawyer in his civilian life and wants Carter to get his fair trial). Spider-Man doesn’t go to help even though Daredevil is wildly out manned. Eventually, Daredevil lets on that he knows Spider-Man’s identity by yelling out his name. Parker finally swings down and saves the day. The two of them end up talking it out and the story is over.
This story is easily my favorite in all of Spider-Man’s unending catalog. You never see him lose control quite like he did during this one. If not for the intervention of Daredevil, Peter Parker would have crossed the line that he swore he never would. It also advances the relationship between Daredevil and Spider-Man to where Daredevil ends up revealing his identity to Spider-Man. There’s also a sub plot of violence against the elderly and self defense that’s quite explosive. This story arc also serves as back story for one of Spider-Man’s deadliest villains, Venom! In Amazing Spider-Man #300, it’s revealed that while doing a piece on the Sin-Eater, Eddie Brock runs with the story of the guy that confessed. When it was revealed that Carter was in fact the Sin-Eater, Brock was fired from his job as a reporter and his wife left him. He blamed Spider-Man for this. When Parker realized that the alien symbiote costume was bonding with him, he managed to defeat it and it ended up joining with Brock. Their shared hatred was enough to make Spider-Man their biggest enemy!
Soooo much good stuff in this story.
So there you have it. My 5 favorite Spider-Man story arcs. I know, I didn’t include “Kraven’s Last Stand.” That one would make my top 10, but these are defining points in the wall-crawler’s life (except maybe the Cosmic Spidey story–screw you, I love that one!). What’s your favorite Spider-Man story arcs? How much do you hate my picks? Join the discussion below. I’d love to hear what you think!