Monday, July 2, 2012
On July 3, 2012 the feature-length film The Amazing Spider-Man will premiere. In honor of the new film from Columbia Pictures, I'll be doing a list of my top ten favorite comic book stories featuring the everyone's favorite web-head, Spider-Man! If you haven't already, be sure to check out History of Comics On Film Part 30,50, and 54 which all feature everyone's favorite web-slinger!
10. Spider-Man's Tangled Web #13
Okay, you got me. Spider-Man isn't really featured in this done-in-one tale by Ron Zimmerman and Sean Phillips. This one is really all about a triumvirate of his deadliest villains. I adore this comic book for strictly sentimental reasons which require some exposition and explanation.
See, back in the early 2000's, two of my closest friends and I spent a great deal of time together. We ourselves were a triumvirate that reveled in our passion for Comic Books, Films and Video Games. Comic book Wednesday would often see all three of us headed down to Comics Ink in Culver City for our weekly fix. Countless hours were spent playing Marvel Vs. Capcom and X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 on the Playstation. I even drew all three of us as a faux superhero team called The Revengers! There was Keith X, Captain Vargas and myself (my superhero name involved an exclamation mark at the end of my first name).
By the time I'd read this particular comic, those days were long gone. Not so much my friendship with either one of them, but the "Revengers" as a superhero team, had broken up and gone their separate ways. So seeing 3 famous Spider-Man villains meeting up in the infamous "Bar With No Name", had connotations of a simpler and happier time. Or at least in the way that one loves to romanticize the past. In some crazy fashion this entire story seems like a (somewhat twisted) celebration of those days of yore.
The funny part was that I was always hesitant to bring up the comparisons, as I felt like it may hurt some feelings to think I may see a friend as the down-on-his-luck Vulture and the Lothario, Alyosha Kravinoff. However, when this issue came up later in life, I found at least one of my friends felt almost exactly the way about it that I do. He presented the caveat that all three villains had aspects of all of our personalities, but the same sentimentality about it was there. As that friend is ever so fond of pointing out when he sees a similarity, "Hey! You see that? That's you!"
Essentially the three men all meet at the bar to swap their "Almost Got 'Em"-esque Spider-Man stories. While I've never been a fan of bringing Norman Osborn back from the dead, I have to say that the punchline in this issue almost makes it all worth it.
9. Amazing Spider-Man#280-281
"The Sinister Syndicate" and "When Warriors Clash!"
Believe it or not, these two books from Tom DeFalco and Brett Breeding were my first Amazing Spider-Man comics ever! Spidey teams up with the mercenary Silver Sable to capture the terrorist Jack O' Lantern. Unfortunately for the both of them, he has led them into a trap on Coney Island. Now Spidey and Sable must contend with the Sinister Syndicate!
The Syndicate had a few members I was familiar with like Rhino and The Beetle from various Spider-Man cartoons, but there were many characters that I was exposed to here for the first time. There was the speedster who I could only see as The Flash turned crook, called Speed Demon. Then the assassin with trick razor-rangs and explosive Boomerangs appropriately having the name, Boomerang. Finally, rounding off the group was this dude who was like Sandman only made of water calling himself Hydro-Man. As a young lad I wondered, where was the Sandman I remembered from the cartoons?
I was already super-familiar with Spider-Man's black costume due to Mattel's Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars toy line. So that was pretty much old hat to me by then. However, what was all-new to me at the time was that the Sandman had retired and mended his ways. So this was probably my first exposure to a super-villain who was looking for redemption. These days Sandman has flip-flopped back and forth about as much as Magneto, but I will always appreciate his character development as William Baker rather than his regression to Flint Marko.
This was also back in the days where comics weren't written for the trades and you got a lot of bang for your buck. Not only were you treated with the A-plot of Sable, Spidey and Sandman versus the Sinister Syndicate, but we also got to see the Hobgoblin (who I also knew of from Mattel's Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars toyline) go mano a mano with his rival Jack O' Lantern in the B-plot.
This issue also introduced me to the Spider-Man trope of the character as the comeback kid. The David that kicks Goliath's ass. Spidey would always find himself getting pummeled at all ends by all manner of baddies in the comics. However, even against the toughest of opponents, he always got that second wind in time for some good ol'round-o two powah!
8. Web of Spider-Man Ann. #3
I know there are those out there who are under the impression that Annuals can be a waste of space. My good buddy was used to interconnected half-assed summer crossovers where you'd need to buy all four Spider-Man annuals to get a complete story written by novices and penciled by try-out artists getting their first big break at your eye's expense. This is definitely not the case here. In fact, I wish they made more annuals like these. This Web of Spider-Man Annual written by Danny Fingeroth is made up of character profiles of not only Spider-Man himself, but his extensive supporting cast and odd collection of foes as well.
The majority of the pencils are from Alex Saviuk who I always felt drew the definitive Peter Parker. Other artists may have had their fancy webs and big googly eyes, but when Alex drew Peter Parker, I felt like I was looking at the man instead of a character model with some color corrections. For comic readers who are familiar with all of the characters it's a pleasantly drawn history lesson with additional pin-ups from greats like Charles Vess. While to those brand new readers, like I was at the time, it's a Holy Bible giving you all the dirt and detail you could ever want to dive right into the deep end of the Spider-Man pool. If you enjoy books like the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or DC Comics Who's Who in the DC Universe, then you'll appreciate this Annual as the rare gem it is.
7. Amazing Spider-Man#39-40
"How Green Was My Goblin!" and "Spidey Saves The Day!"
Even though Gwen barely makes and appearance and the tale predates Mary Jane Watson, you gotta love John Romita's Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson. Just as I feel Alex Saviuk does a definitive Peter Parker, so too does Mr. Romita pencil the best MJ and Gwen in comic books.
To be honest I really think the entire Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko and Stan Lee/ John Romita runs are essential Spider-Man reading. But these two issues are landmark issues where things start getting serious. The Goblin negates Spidey's famous Spider-Sense which enables him to follow him home and discover his secret identity. Catching Peter Parker unaware, the Goblin drags his hated enemy back to his lair. Once settled in, the Goblin reveals to Parker that he is actually Norman Osborn. None other than the father of one of his fellow students at Empire State University, Harry Osborn.
Osborn mentions in Tangled Web #13 about things between the Goblin and Spidey getting personal, and these issues for me is where it all kicks off. Even though the Goblin has Peter Parker in his clutches right where he wants him, his ego gets the better of him and he releases Parker in order to defeat him as Spider-Man. This time Peter would get a reprieve from from the amnesia Osborn receives at the climatic finale of their confrontation. Later stories would not see Spider-Man quite so lucky.
6. Kraven's Last Hunt (Web of Spider-Man #31-32, Amazing Spider-Man # 293-294, and Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132)
Kraven's Last Hunt takes place in an era where I had been reading and collecting comic books for only about a year and a half. Of course Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man were all titles that I followed whenever possible. At times I would get the comics from 7-11's or Quick Stops and eventually I discovered the local Fremont Comic Shop called Comic Zone and would get books more regularly from that establishment. It was a simpler time for me and was not colored by countless events and pseudo-deaths in comic books. Not that those things never happened before 1987, but I wanted to set up what a shock and surprise it was for me to see Spider-Man get gunned down by longtime foe Kraven The Hunter in the kick off of this six part storyline by master storytellers J.M. Dematteis and Mike Zeck.
The use of mood on behalf of both the artist and the writer sets up the seriousness and insanity of the last hunt. Spider-Man fittingly is wearing his black costume and has been dwelling on all the deaths throughout his life and career. What I'll call Peter's yellow super-ego and ego captions seem to reflect a more rational state of mind, yet the red id captions seem to go wild, punching through a rational caption before it can even finish a complete thought. Even when reading you might tend to think in the same crazed fashion. "Oh he'll be okay, he's Spider-Man, he gets out of everythi- - " "HOLY CRAP! KRAVEN JUST SHOT SPIDER-MAN!"
Before all the praise and accolades were given to Batman The Animated Series for giving Mr. Freeze a compelling and relatable back story, we have a great deal of added character dimension for Kraven The Hunter. We learn of his family history and the insanity that runs through the Kravinoff family line. We see the weight of pride and honor take their toll on the tired old hunter. I understand to many it is a fine line between character deconstruction and total character destruction. However, coming out of the era that gave us Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, I think Kraven's new character aspects reflect that new balance. In my opinion, it has a style and tone that would go on to be echoed in work such as The Killing Joke.
The story also features DeMatteis' pet character, Vermin, who started out as one of Baron Zemo's experiments gone incredibly awry. The character is fairly tortured and works well in a setting such as this. I think other creator's pet characters have not worked out nearly as well.
I've also laughed at how the story has been parodied in things like What The!? where Raven fights Spider-Ham and eats mounds and mounds of Bacon instead of a room full of spiders. Or the wacky "Pig Remix" of William Blake's "The Tyger."
But, I don't think it would be so funny if the original story hadn't struck such a chord with me. I found myself letting spiders crawl up the walls when I would find them in my home in real life, just because of the metaphor DeMatteis sets up in the beginning of the story. One thing I'm always a fan of is when a story can still give me chills after reading it multiple times, and this piece pulls that off in spades.
5. Cosmic Spider-Man Saga (Spectacular Spider-Man #158-160, Web of Spider-Man #59-61 and Amazing Spider-Man #326-329)
by Gerry Conway, David Michelinie, Alex Saviuk, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, Colleen Doran and Erik Larson
Acts of Vengeance is a line-wide crossover event whose banner fell on the majority of titles Marvel Comics produced, the Spider-Man books included. The villains scheme is a simple, but effective one; swapping their regular opponents who have become accustomed to their powers and plans for foes who are unfamiliar with their ways and methods.
Luckily for Peter Parker, he is imbued with a powerful energy source from a lab accident at Empire State University gone wrong. The accident increases his powers and abilities just when all these extremely powerful assailants begin their attacks on Spider-Man.
Foremost at the helm of these attacks is Doctor Doom himself, who hopes to wield Spider-Man's new cosmic powers for his own ends. This is fairly similar to Doom's track record with others imbued with Cosmic Powers such as the Silver Surfer.
Spidey continues to take the new found responsibility of these increased powers seriously even when fighting powerhouses like the Doom-sent Titania. Of course he does eventually get to cut loose on ol' Skeeter.
The storyline contained all the fun of Spider-Man, but also a brand new take on the character which saw him dealing with Firestorm or Superman level super-powers. Unlike Ronnie Raymond, who might have to rely on the knowledge of Professor Martin Stein to work out the atomic structure of elements, Spider-Man (always adept at the sciences) takes to this aspect of his new found power fairly quickly.
Even Magneto himself begins to suspect that Spider-Man may have triggered a latent mutant ability, but soon dismisses that possibility when he observes how many varied new abilities Spider-Man now possesses. It was also pretty cool to see Spidey flying around New York City, though his dialogue would seem to indicate that this was one aspect of his new cosmic powers he might never get used to.
While a villain swap is a clever idea for a company-wide crossover, it also refreshes the Spider-titles themselves. I enjoyed seeing Spider-Man face off against unfamiliar opponents such as Graviton, Dragon Man, or the Brothers Grimm.
Another moment of pure awesome is seeing Kingpin send Power Man to rid himself of Spider-Man forever, only to see the huge giant laid out with a cosmic right blow to the face!
You know a Spider-Man story is priceless when you laugh your ass off as Spidey clowns the Kingpin.
Spidey also has the claim to fame of knocking the Incredible Hulk into Orbit. But don't worry Hulk fanboys, he flew up and grabbed him before he turned back into Banner.
The ultimate conclusion sees Spider-Man up against Sebastian Shaw's Tri-Sentinel by way of some Asgardian trickster magic. A gigantic monstrosity that seeks to eliminate all life on the planet. In this final battle we learn that Spider-Man wields the powers of Captain Universe for the very purpose of confronting this destructive force.
I loved this concept so much that I would use it myself in a fan-made Marvel Comics version of Transformers The Movie with Spider-Man/Cosmic Spider-Man in the role of Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime!
4. Marvel Graphic Novel #22: The Amazing Spider-Man in Hooky
My mom always liked the artistry of Berni Wrightson, so I believe I inherited her love for the man's work. She was the one who helped me track down the first ten issues of Swamp Thing. She also got me the Creepshow movie adaptation and would later delight in Wrightson's illustrated Frankenstein. So this original graphic novel from writer Susan K. Putney has always made a lasting impression on yours truly.
While Spidey is in the midst of stopping some thuggery, he meets a young girl dressed like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western. Though her full name is Marandi Sjorroker, we learn she goes by the nickname Mandi. Always at the forefront of our hero's mind when fighting crime is his Uncle, who has since passed away, Ben Parker. Spidey is rightly surprised when Mandi offers to give her regards to Spidey's fallen Uncle.
I suppose modern audiences are a bit spoiled by the magic of computer generated movies that can take you anywhere and do anything (even if your mind is constantly telling you the human being you are seeing starkly contrasts with the computer generated image). However, the setting of Cloudsea is much more fantasy oriented than I'd ever seen in a Spider-Man comic book before, and I can only imagine if this were a film it would have the budget of Avatar and give off the vibe of The Never Ending Story.
Also Wrightson just has a wonderful gift when it comes to showing the blood, sweat and tears of the monstrous Tordenkakerlakk's transformation.
The creature's metamorphosis takes an Akria-esque turn, but eventually evokes imagery from the movie Dragonslayer, only with Spider-Man in place of the lead character Galen.
This book is a great coming of age story, has some fantastic imagery and should not be missed!
3. The Origin of the Hobgoblin (The Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251, and 259-261)
Roger Stern adeptly introduces the character who would carry on Norman Osborn's legacy as the Hobgoblin during his run on Amazing Spider-Man. This villain was a deliberate planner and schemer who executed his plans with a precision unseen before in a foe of Spider-Man. The Hobgoblin storyline ran throughout Amazing Spider-Man for many years and even when I first starting reading Spidey comics his true identity was still unknown. The mystery behind the character is just as alluring as his concise nature.
Unlike say, Hush or The Long Halloween, there are multiple suspects that could've been the man behind the mask. Stern does a terrific job of fleshing out these supporting cast members, regardless of whether they turn out to be Red Herrings or not.
I think most of my initial interest in the Hobgoblin sprung from the fact that he was included in the second wave of Mattel's Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars toy line. As far I can remember he was not an easy figure to come by even back during his release. Eventually my Aunt in Queens was able to find one and sent me a Hobgoblin. Though it's funny how they tried to pair him up with Falcon as an arch nemesis. The purple Goblin Glider he came with was pretty excellent, but I recall using Tunnel Rat's over-the-shoulder pouch as the bag where Hobgoblin's goodies such as razor-rangs and pumpkin bombs were kept.
Even though it's not on my Top Ten list, I'd suggest if you do enjoy The Origin of the Hobgoblin as I do, that a good follow up story and cap on the whole affair is the mini-series titled Hobgoblin Lives!
2. Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184,189,200 and Amazing Spider-Man #389
"The Child Within" "The Osborn Legacy" "Best of Enemies" and "The Faceless Man"
A legacy of evil from Father to Son is passed on in a series of Spider-Man comics that I would privately refer to as the "Evil Harry Saga." Obviously there were periods prior to these stories where Harry had gone crazy and donned the Green Goblin costume before. Sometimes he was just wigged out and other times he attempted to be some kind of super-hero. However, starting with the six part "Child Within" Harry becomes a credible threat to Spider-Man. We see a man plagued with psychological issues who took glee in tormenting his once best friend Peter Parker.
While "The Child Within" would also continue the story of Vermin from "Kraven's Last Hunt", the primary focus of J.M Dematties' "The Osborn Legacy" and "Best of Enemies" were age-old confrontations between a hero and villain who went from the closest of friends to the bitterest of enemies. Harry would violate Peter and Mary Jane's privacy by leaving them little "gifts" with the same message over and over, so there was no doubt who they came from.
Eventually Peter and Harry would have their final confrontation and the remains of the good man that Harry Osborn once was would reemerge right before the experimental Goblin Formula took him away from the world of the living forever. (Or he was just kicking it in Europe with Brenda Walsh.)
While I may have become disenfranchised with the Spider-Man titles somewhere around Amazing Spider-Man #375, I will never forget what I consider to be the cherry on the top of this long running A plot in the Spider-Man titles. At the close of the four part storyline that fell under the banner "Pursuit" we learn that the Mother and Father Peter Parker thought had returned to him were nothing more than robotic constructs. Originally the reader is under the impression that the idea for these spybot automations came solely from Dimitri Smerdyakov aka The Chameleon who is seeking revenge for the fallen Kraven The Hunter. Nothing shocked me more than to see it was one of Harry Osborn's unfinished schemes to make Peter Parker suffer in the same manner as Harry had suffered when his father was taken away from him. I never would have expected that a plan of Harry's would continue on after he was "long dead" in a million years and that's what makes it awesome!
1. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #20
"Man Of The Year" is a 1986 story by Fred Schiller and Ken McDonald with pencils from Mark Beachum. I realize this one is an Annual, but again this one is a done in one tale that epitomizes almost everything I love about Spider-Man. Including his hottie next door neighbors.
We begin our story in the far flung future. Well, 2020 was a long ways away back in 1986, so cut me some slack. The Iron Man of 2020 is hard at work juggling his military contracts to make 100% destructive nuclear warheads along with his real passions. His wife Cythnia and son Arno Jr and his plan to make himself the "Man of the Year" by creating a Time Machine that will bring him out from under the shadow of his ancestor Tony Stark. Unfortunately for Arno, his facility has come under threat of a Terrorist attack from a cyborg called Robert Saunders.
Once Arno realizes Saunders has placed his wife and child in danger, he ends up unintentionally killing the cyborg in a scuffle. However, Arno's right hand man Hawk advises him that since Saunders alterations to the device the warhead cannot be deactivated without his retina scans. Luckily Arno's passion for time travel comes in handy and he is already on his way to 35 years into the past!
In the present day we find what should be a typical trope of Spider-Man. The man is making me laugh out loud while stopping Blizzard and his gang from robbing a bank.
After Blizz and his gang are webbed up for the cops "compliments of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man", Peter Park heads to the Daily Bugle in dire straights for some quick cash. The city editor, Kate Cushing, who handles the cash payments is out for the day. Even though Robbie Robertson is a typically good guy, there's not too much he can do for Peter with the city editor out. While roaming the Bugle, Peter discovers he has a tiny admirer in the form of a young boy named Bobby who is also loitering about the newspaper. Just when Spidey thinks "the ol' Parker luck" has got him beat, ol' Skinflint himself, J.Jonah Jameson proves to be his unlikely savior by offering Peter an overseas photo assignment.
After this exchange with Mary Jane, Peter, this time as Spider-Man, again comes across Bobby. Bobby has come to Peter's apartment building in the hopes that his idle will train him in the ways of photography. Spidey ends up dropping the kid off at the Daily Bugle since he won't give up his address or call his folks. Unfortunately for Bobby, the Blizzard's lawyers have made a quick turnaround and now Blizz is back on the streets and abducts the boy. Just when you think Spidey has come back to lay the smack down on Blizzard and his crew for a second time, we discover the guy ripping open the top of the van is none other than the Iron Man of 2020.
Blizzard mistakes him for present day Iron Man and that mistake ends in Arno easily dispatching the icy themed crook. Arno almost scans the boy's retinas when Spidey shows up. Arno is quick on the offensive and attacks first,and while Spidey prioritizes the boy's life Arno's retina scanner is destroyed. A desperate Iron Man presses on his attacks and demands to bring the boy with him. However, he fails to go into details of the boy's future as a terrorist in the year 2020. Eventually the kid is struck with flying glass in the face, which not only accounts for his cyborg appearance in the future, but really gets Spidey mad. Here we have another terrific example of how Spider-Man's David fights Arno's Goliath and the story puts his "round-o two powah" in full effect.
Arno's time is finally up and he vanishes back to his 2020 timeline like a chump.
Turns out Bobby's Dad is pretty well off and we have a happy ending for Spidey as he takes a loan for the money he needs to cover the rent.
Meanwhile this is juxtaposed back in Arno's time with the chilling reality of nuclear devastation and the bitter irony that while his Time Machine worked perfectly, the trigger on the nuclear device went off way too early. Not only is this a great Spider-Man story that evokes wit and his never-say-die mentality, but it's also a wonderful comic book in general that will bring chills to your spine with it's final word. You can almost hear Rod Sterling narrating the last couple pages.