There are really only three superheroes that have reached iconic status: Batman, Superman & Spider-man (with the hyphen). And while all three have universal appeal, Spider-man elicits sympathy and empathy more than any other superhero. Batman and Superman both have wonderful and rich origins that have shaped their lives, in the heroic sense as well as their moral values and belief system. So you certainly can feel for Bruce Wayne at the loss of his parents and you can sympathize with Clark Kent for being strange visitor abandoned on Earth by his parents, but to understand Peter Parker as Spider-man you have to enter a whole different world.
Peter became Spider-man out of three strong feelings: guilt, a sense of responsibility and love. He felt guilty for allowing a criminal to escape, who would kill his Uncle Ben only hours later. How does a teenager deal with that? You must also remember that Peter Parker was a kid in high school with no parents and only his elderly, albeit loving, Aunt May to care for him. This young kid was secluded and isolated from the world except for his Aunt and Uncle. Being Spider-man became his real life and he used his powers because he was given them for a reason…to help his fellow man. And when he feels he can’t go on and his will has faded he uses his love for others to give him renewed strength.
I share this so you can understand why these stories were chosen here as the top ten Spider-man stories. You can see where he came from and what drives him. “With great power comes great responsibility.” That is Spider-man’s mantra; it is what makes him put on that crazy suit everyday and risk his life for strangers. Every story selected grows from that one ideal and that is why he will never give up, he will never quit and even in the face of impossible odds Spider-man will always persevere. He is the ultimate superhero and here are the ten best Spider-man stories. I encourage you to find them and read them all. They may not change your life, but then again…they may.
10. The Reason is Karma
Issue: Marvel Team-Up #100
Creators: Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, and John Byrne
Three comic legends team-up to bring you the greatest Spider-Man team-up book of all-time. This isn’t your typical Spidey story, it’s a solemn tale, and an emotional journey into the life of Karma, and all the pain she’s had to endure. This book is classic Frank Miller, on par with his work on Daredevil. Truly one of Marvel’s hidden gems.
Reprinted in: Marvel Tales #250, Spider-Man’s Greatest Team-Ups (TPB)
Issue: Amazing Spider-man #300, 315-317 Marvel Comics
Creators: David Michelinie, Todd McFarlane
Never before had Spider-Man fought a villain like this, Venom had all of his same powers, was stronger and didn’t set off his spider sense. Fortunately, Peter has a brilliant mind along with those amazing spider-powers and he used that to defeat Venom. Todd McFarlane became a superstar artist, and celebrity during his run on Spider-Man.
Reprinted in: Marvel Collectible Classics #1, Spider-Man vs. Venom (TPB), Spider-Man: Visionaries – Todd McFarlane (TPB)
Buy it: Spider-man vs. Venom (TPB)
8. Ezekiel & Morlun
Issues: Amazing Spider-man #30-35, Marvel Comics
Creators: J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr.
Prior to Straczynski taking over writing duties on ASM #30, Spidey actually had quite a few years of mostly mediocre stories. Thankfully JMS came along to not only breath fresh air into Spidey’s life, but he also crafted one of the best Spider-Man stories of all-time on his first ever story arc. He introduces us to two brand new characters, Ezekiel, who has the same powers as Peter and the villain Morlun, who wants to feed on their life force. In a welcomed change of pace, JSM also takes Peter back to school, this time as a science teacher at Midtown High.
Reprinted in: Marvel Must Haves #13, Marvel Tales Flip Magazine #1, Amazing Spider-Man Vol.2 Collected Edition, Spider-Man TPB (Amazing) #1
Buy it: Amazing Spider-man, Vol. 1
Issues: Amazing Spider-man #229-230, Marvel Comics
Creators: Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr.
This story is a true David and Goliath tale, and a very fun story to read. It also has some of the best action scenes ever to grace the pages of a Spider-Man book. The Juggernaut is nigh unstoppable, invulnerable and a monstrous powerhouse. He supremely outclasses Spider-Man in almost every way possible. Yet despite repeated failures and not being able to even phase Juggernaut, Spider-Man never gives up. This is a classic tale of persevering in the face of adversity, and Spidey shows us why he is the hero we all love, even if it’s his “Parker luck” that eventually saves the day.
Reprinted in: Marvel Visionaries, John Romita, Jr., Spider-Man Megazine #3, Murder By Spider (TPB), Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut (TPB)
6. Introducing SPIDERMAN!
Issue: Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics
Creators: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby (cover)
This is it, the story that started it all. The first appearance and origin of our beloved hero Spider-Man. If you don’t know why this issue is so great, you shouldn’t be reading this list. With the cancellation of Amazing Fantasy with issue #15, the publisher Martin Goodman let Stan Lee create a story about a teenager who wasn’t a sidekick and had ordinary problems. At the time, this was unheard of, and the only reason they let Stan lee create the story was they felt they had nothing to lose since the title was being canceled anyway. As it turned out The Amazing Spider-Man story was one of their biggest sellers! This issues is also responsible for Spider-Man and Stan Lee’s single greatest quote, “With Great Power There Must Also Come — Great Responsibility,” also known as, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”
Reprinted in: Amazing Fantasy Omnibus #1 , Marvel Masterworks #1 , Marvel Tales #1, 137, Essential Spider-Man #1, 100 Greatest Marvels Of All Time #1, Origins Of Marvel Comics, Marvel Visionaries, Stan Lee and about a dozen more issues and TPBs
Buy it: Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks
5. The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
Issue: Amazing Spider-man #248, Marvel Comics
Creators: Roger Stern, Ron Frenz
This is merely the back-up story to the main story where Spider-man fights Thunderball, yet it contains the second most emotional Spidey story ever crafted (You’ll have to wait for our #1 story to see the most emotional story). Spider-Man goes to visit his biggest fan. In an interview with Roger Stern, he said, “Partly, I’m sure that it sprang from a desire on my part to do a short human-interest story in the style of Will Eisner — that’s why the story is partially advanced through newspaper clippings… I was trying to be Eisneresque.” Nothing else needs to be said about this story so as not to spoil anything. If you don’t own ASM #248, you should, or at least the Wizard Hardcover reprint.
Reprinted in: Wizard Best of Spider-Man Limited Deluxe Hardcover
Buy it: Amazing Spider-man #248
4. Sin-Eater and the Death of Jean DeWolff
Issues: Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110, Marvel Comics
Creators: Peter David, Rich Buckler
What kind of superhero saves himself only to let an innocent bystander get shot? What kind of superhero almost beats a man to death? Find out in these issues as Peter David unravels the second best murder mystery story in comics (behind only Watchmen, DC Comics), staring Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain Jean DeWolff and the zealous psychopathic killer Sin-Eater. This is a mature, bone chilling tale, the likes of which has never been seen in a Spider-Man book before or since. Peter David made Spectacular Spider-Man, (not Amazing Spider-Man) THE book to buy during his run. And as an added bonus, you get a glimpse into Venom’s origin.
Reprinted in: The Death of Capt. Jean DeWolff (TPB)
3. Kraven’s Last Hunt
Issues: Amazing Spider-man #293-294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132, Web of Spider-Man #32-33 , Marvel Comics
Creators: J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck
DeMatteis takes the once laughable villain, Kraven the Hunter and crafts one of the best Spider-Man stories ever told. We’re taken deep inside Kraven’s mind an shown what madness lies within. Kraven, having hunted every other prey on earth, hunts Spider-Man down and defeats him in the worst way imaginable, burying Spider-Man alive. Throughout the tale, Peter has to come to grips with his own mortality, Mary Jane has to show impeccable inner strength while her newlywed husband is missing and Kraven takes on a villain Spider-Man couldn’t defeat alone. The ending is so memorable, it helps propel this story to the top of our list, with only two stories remaining.
Reprinted in: Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt (TPB)
Buy it: Kraven’s Last Hunt
2. If This Be My Destiny…!
Issues: Amazing Spider-man #31-33, Marvel Comics
Creators: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Another Stan Lee, Steve Ditko classic. This story is the basis for much of the Spider-Man 2 movie. It contains one of the most iconic and memorable moments in all of comic book history, not just Spider-Man’s history. It can be argued that Doctor Octopus is the quintessential Spider-man villain and this tale helps propel that argument as Doc Ock pushes Spidey to his absolute limits. If ever there was a moment, while reading a comic book, to jump out of your chair cheering for Spider-Man with your arms held high, this is it! This is the ultimate “feel good” Spider-Man story. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these issues also contain the first appearances of Harry Osborne and Gwen Stacy, the latter of whom is immediately smitten by Peter when she meets him. And Peter starts his first day at Empire State University. All of this ads up to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s magnum opus. If you want to read a story that tells you exactly who Spider-Man is and what he’s capable of, this story is the one to read.
Reprinted in: Marvel Masterworks #16, Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1, Marvel Tales #24-26, 170-172, Marvel Visionaries, Steve Ditko, Essential Spider-Man #2
Buy it: Marvel Visionaries, Steve Ditko
1. The Death of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn
Issues: Amazing Spider-man #121-122, Marvel Comics
Creators: Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr. (covers)
This story was so revolutionary and important that it is one of the markers of the end of the Silver Age of comics. Never before had a character so popular, so important, and so integral been killed. The damsel in distress plot had been used throughout comic book history, but the hero always arrived just in the nick of time… but not this time, and nobody saw it coming. For those of us who loved Gwen as much as Peter did, it was a heart wrenching ordeal to watch, and easily makes this the most emotional Spider-Man story ever told. Gwen Stacy was the love of Spider-man’s life, and as far as I’m concerned, his one true love (Sorry M.J.). She is one of the few comic book characters to have died and remain dead, Uncle Ben and Batman’s parents are others that instantly spring to mind. The death of Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, is included here mainly because it takes place within Gwen’s story, although it helps make this the epic story that it is. This issue also marks the first time we see Mary Jane’s passionate caring side, and becomes the first step in what will eventually lead to Peter and M.J.’s marriage. Lastly, there is an air of controversy surrounding the story about whether or not Gwen died from the “shock” of the fall, or from having her neck broken when Spider-Man’s web snagged her. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how she died, her death marks the top Spider-Man story of all-time.
Note: Also read Marvels #4, where you can get the story from the perspective of photographer Phil Sheldon, as he witnessed the event.
Reprinted in: Marvel Tales #98-99, 192-193, Essential Spider-Man #6, Death of Gwen Stacy (TPB), Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin (TPB)
Buy it: Death of the Staceys (TPB)
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 – First battle with the Sinister Six!
Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244, 249-251 – First Hobgoblin story arc
Spider-Man vs Wolverine 1-shot – The second greatest Spidey team-up
Spectacular Spider-Man #134-136 – Return of the Sin-Eater and the best Electro story
Amazing Spider-Man #50 – Spider-Man No More!