Tag Archives: Spider-Man

Marvel’s Top Ten Stories: 1961-1965

Presenting, just for fun, Marvel Comics’ ten best stories from 1961-1965!

Why only a five-year period? For proper apples-to-apples comparisons, firstly. The comics medium has changed quite a bit over the years, so it’s hardly fair to compare, say, ten-year-old comics to fifty-year-old comics. Plus, the shorter period is more manageable and allows me to highlight more great books over time—sometimes complete storylines, sometimes standout single issues, whatever is merited. (I’ll get to later periods…eventually. And note that these are grouped by release date, not cover date.)

So we begin at the dawn of the Marvel Universe. True, many books from this era don’t hold up particularly well, not to the adult reader. They are dated indeed. But in the foundation of each series are strong, enduring concepts and flawed but heroic characters that people of varied backgrounds can relate to. Plus, the old comics offer plenty of charm with their fast-paced displays of free-flowing imagination. Looking back on these early issues, it’s not hard to see why the characters have survived the decades.

(Spoilers ahead, but these came out over five decades ago, so…)

Let’s get to it. As Stan Lee would say, Face Front, True Believers! Make Mine Marvel! Excelsior! ’Nuff Said!

Wait. Not ’Nuff Said yet. We need the list…

10) The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)

The superhero genre has a simple but effective formula: The hero almost loses to the villain but ultimately prevails, often improving him or herself along the way. Doctor Octopus’s debut shows an early example of that formula in action, back when flawed superheroes were still a fresh idea. As the book opens, Spider-Man is feeling supremely confident in his crimefighting abilities, and he’s itching for a challenge.

And he gets one, and he gets clobbered, leading Peter to wonder if he’s even cut out for this superhero lifestyle after all. So he’s got a choice: quit, or try again but do it better this time.

Peter Parker is still growing into his role at this stage, and that’s part of what made this series so novel—the superhero was actually growing as a person.

And we haven’t seen the last of Spider-Man on this list. The Amazing Spider-Man was easily Marvel’s strongest series of this era. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)

Spider-Man is best as the underdog. Against the unstoppable Juggernaut, yeah, he’s very much the underdog.

In The Amazing Spider-Man #229, Juggernaut pursues the psychic Madame Web, and only Spider-Man is available to come to her aid. But he’s totally ineffectual against an invulnerable opponent who’s as strong as the Hulk. He seeks help from other superheroes, but they’re all out of reach (conveniently for the story, inconveniently for Spidey). It’s all on him. He tries. He fails.

But for Spidey, failure is motivation. Someone was counting on him, and he let her down. That hits hard, especially given his previous failures in life. So he picks himself back up and resolves to capture the Juggernaut, no matter the personal cost, and issue #230 shows Spidey giving it all he’s got until he prevails.

It’s a great structure for a two-parter. The hero fails, regroups, and perseveres, because like hell he’s failing again.

A textbook example of a superb superhero story.

Writer: Roger Stern

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Jim Mooney

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

Yesterday I discussed when main-continuity Aunt May discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity. Now let’s turn our attention to the Ultimate continuity, when Peter told Mary Jane.

This is basically the inverse of yesterday’s revelatory issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #13 was very early in this Spider-Man’s career, so no secret-identity tensions have been building up over the course of years. Peter and MJ are teenagers who have been friends for a long time, and Peter proactively reveals his secret because he doesn’t want to lie to her (and, being a teenage guy, he no doubt wants to impress his closest female friend).

But like yesterday’s issue, this entire comic is a conversation. The action and adventure take a break, allowing us to zero in on the characters—which will help us care about them more when the action/adventure commences again.

Comics aren’t supposed to feature talking heads, but this one works remarkably well because of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art. The page layouts are key here. The panels are used to punctuate each beat of the conversation, allowing everything to flow smoothly and organically. The reader gets an excellent sense of the pacing and timing of everything that’s being said. And Bendis knows when the keep quiet and let Bagley show the characters’ reactions so that even with the focus on dialogue, it remains a visual experience.

It’s a rather happy issue (and funny in places), providing a nice break from the angst, and it deepens the bond between two main characters. It also does what every teen superhero book should—it captures that wonderful anticipation of exciting new possibilities.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2: Learning Curve (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (2002)

In the category of “long-overdue conversations” …

Aunt May discovers that her nephew Peter is Spider-Man—which means he’s been lying to her for years. It’s the sort of thing that requires setting aside some time to chat…perhaps an entire issue to chat.

The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (or #479, since the cover plays it both ways) features no super-heroic action whatsoever. It’s just Peter and May talking. Between all the history behind the conversation and how well J. Michael Straczynski writes it, it’s engaging throughout, full of emotion rather than melodrama. Both characters have been holding secrets in, and the release is scary, relieving, and scary all over again.

A nice touch is how much credit the story gives Aunt May. She had often been portrayed as elderly and frail, but here Straczynski gives the impression she’s a remarkably resilient old lady, and she would have to be to single-handedly raise a teenager after her husband’s murder and in the face of repeated health problems and financial troubles.

The issue doesn’t reach any tidy resolution. There’s no happily ever after—there’s just moving forward.

Straczynski had a memorable run on Spider-Man a few over fifteen years ago, and this was the best thing he did with the book. It needed to happen (though I’m pretty sure it was retconned along with Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Scott Hanna

Cover: Kaare Andrews

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2: Revelations (TPB)

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #5 (2001)

I’ve heard people complain that origin stories are boring. That’s a misleading statement, though. How characters gain their powers generally isn’t all that interesting. Why they decide to use those powers to help others…that’s the interesting part. That’s when the characters are at their most dynamic.

Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a utilitarian plot device. At best, it qualifies as an attention-getting inciting incident. But Peter deciding not to stop a thief, and that thief then murders his uncle, thereby supplying Spider-Man with motivation for all future stories? That’s the compelling part.

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original story ran in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, it packed a surprising amount of depth for an eight-or-so-page comic story. In 2000-01, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley expanded it to six issues for the inaugural storyline of Ultimate Spider-Man, which gave us a modern teenage Spidey free from any continuity baggage (until the Ultimate line amassed its own messy continuity, that is, but Spider-Man had the only series that remained strong throughout).

The story deserved this expanded retelling. The extra length allows us to spend more time on each significant moment, and issue #5 depicts the defining night of young Peter’s life. He’s just learned his Uncle Ben was murdered, but his recently acquired powers allow him to at least apprehend the killer.

Bendis and Bagley take us from Peter’s anger, to his shock at recognizing the killer, to his anger at himself, to his guilt, to his understanding of what his uncle was always trying to teach him, and ultimately to a heartrending final page. Peter wasn’t Spider-Man in the first four issues; he is by the end of this one. The creators utilize the extra space to such superb effect, it makes it all the more impressive that Lee and Ditko nailed the story in so few pages all those years ago.

Whether told in eight pages or more than a hundred, Spider-Man’s origin story holds up as among the greatest—not because of any sci-fi spider bites, but because he learned a life-changing lesson through tragic failure.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1: Power and Responsibility (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Mockingbird #5 (2016)

Zombies. A super-powered Mockingbird (sort of). Back-up in the form of the Miles Morales Spider-Man and Howard the Duck.

Yep, it’s a fun time indeed in Mockingbird #5. You really can’t go wrong with zombies overrunning a SHIELD medical facility. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before (or maybe it has—I can’t read everything, alas).

Writer Chelsea Cain has developed a distinct voice for this series, keeping both the humor and the stakes high throughout. She also brings an unconventional plotting style. Each of the first five issues can stand on its own as a self-contained story (well, maybe less so with #1 and #5), and they can ostensibly be reread in any order while still building the same larger narrative. I haven’t tried the latter, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Nothing wrong with a good structural experiment, especially since it’s all entertaining regardless.

I’m up for more.

Writer: Chelsea Cain

Penciler: Ibrahim Moustafa

Cover: Joelle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Mockingbird vol. 1: I Can Explain (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Spider-Man #6 (2016)

Even with a Civil War II tie-in, Spider-Man remains strong. It always helps to have a Jessica Jones guest appearance.

However, Jessica is ultimately a small part of issue #6. Iron Man swoops in and steals a chunk of page-time with his current moral conundrum. I’ve read only the first three issues of Civil War II on Marvel Unlimited, so I’m reserving overall judgment, but it’s at least stronger than the original (many like the original story, but I’m not a fan; the movie’s great, though). Basically, there’s an Inhuman who can see the future. Captain Marvel wants to use the young man’s powers to preemptively avert disaster, but Iron Man foresees a slippery slope in going after criminals before they strike. It’s a solid sci-fi premise.

So Iron Man poses his conundrum to young Miles, and Miles, in turn, poses it to his father. The latter interaction is what helps this tie-in be successful, as it facilitates a nice father-son moment. Miles’s family life grounds the series in a relatable, human foundation…even when his grandmother does things like hiring a private investigator to find out if he’s on drugs.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Nico Leon

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Peter Parker: Spider-Man #20 (2000)

For Spider-Man more than most superheroes, the man behind the mask is far more important than the colorful crimefighting persona. That was a huge part of his original appeal, which was pretty novel back in the ‘60s—Peter Parker was, at his core, a regular guy with regular problems who just happened to be a superhero, and a highly imperfect one at that.

When writer Paul Jenkins took over Peter Parker: Spider-Man, he did an excellent job focusing on Peter’s humanity. It’s especially evident in his first issue, #20, in which Peter, despondent over a recent loss, visits his Uncle Ben’s grave for some soul-searching.

Nothing is funny anymore, Peter feels, and he reflects on his childhood growing up with his aunt and uncle, particularly how he and Ben would repeatedly prank each other, constantly trying to make the other laugh.

The flashbacks fill in details about this important relationship in his life. After all, it was his uncle’s avoidable murder that motivated Peter to use his powers to help others. Not only is it nice to deepen the relationship, but it also shows us how Peter developed his distinctive sense of humor. Great character work throughout.

There’s no super-villain plot here, but there’s plenty of emotion. And it all comes to an uplifting ending.

Writer: Paul Jenkins

Penciler: Mark Buckingham

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Peter Parker: Spider-Man: A Day in the Life (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Spider-Man #5 (2016)

What a fun series this is!

In #5, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) is captured by Black Cat, foe and ex-girlfriend of the original Spidey, and Hammerhead, foe of the original Spidey but not an ex. His best friend has to cover for him with his mother, shortly after he’s committed a major secret-identity faux pas. His father meets with a certain government agency to protect him. His grandmother hires a certain private investigator to see if Miles is doing drugs. And a former trainee of a certain mutant team has entered his life.

The book is so full of character. Life is never easy for the protagonist. No one in the supporting cast lacks motivation for their behavior. And the various plotlines move forward at just the right pace, always plenty going on.

It’s Spider-Man as he’s meant to be, even if he’s not Peter Parker in this case.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Sara Pichelli

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up