Spider-Man’s Greatest Moments, Part III

As Marvel celebrates the 50th anniversary or birthday of their greatest superhero Spider-Man, here are some more elements that has best defined everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero. These aspects and many others are the reason why Spider-Man continues to captivate many fans.

A Doubtful Everyman What makes Spider-Man such an endearing hero is the fact that he isn’t the most powerful superhero. He isn’t even the smartest. He gets by with his pluck and determination and sometimes by knowing when to retreat and come back to fight another day.

While he is quite a powerhouse when he puts his mind to it, often he fights more powerful foes or the villains just happen to gain the upper hand. This usually led to bouts of severe doubt. This happened very early in his career in The Amazing Spider-Man # 3, which was the first appearance of his arch nemesis Doctor Octopus. Early in the issue, Spidey easily captured some robbers and he mused to himself that his crimefighting career was too easy. Little did he know that a few pages later he would get a major thumping when he first fought Doctor Octopus. He was so humiliated by his defeat that he considered hanging up his costume until a high school lecture by the Human Torch about not giving up, inspired his alter ego Peter Parker to get back into the fight and eventually defeat Doctor Octopus.

There was another moment when he had to prepare to fight Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man # 78. Most of that issue dealt with Spidey coming to grips that he might not survive the oncoming battle with Doc Ock and was mentally preparing for the ordeal. It was notable because in that issue, Peter took time to say goodbye in his own way to his loved ones. Of course, readers knew that he would come out the winner but he didn’t and his fears and doubts made him very relatable to readers.

Often Peter winds up berating himself over his choices and the consequences from them. He blames himself for his Uncle Ben’s death, for causing his Aunt May so much stress over his disappearances, and so on. The sad thing is that many times Spidey is correct in blaming himself. One of the more boneheaded things to happen to him is that he failed to graduate college (The Amazing Spider-Man # 185) because he didn’t have the required credits and didn’t notice this due to his superhero activities.

When it comes to his anguish nothing could top the aftermath of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s death in The Amazing Spider-Man # 121. In that infamous issue, the Green Goblin kidnapped Gwen to lure Spider-Man to the George Washington Bridge. At one point, the Green Goblin tossed her off the bridge and Spidey snagged her with his webbing. As he pulled her back up, he was congratulating himself on having saved his girlfriend. But what he didn’t realize was that his action actually snapped her neck and killed her. The issues that followed illustrated his rage and grief and to this day, he’s has been shown to be still haunted by her death as would any one of us.

Supporting Cast Unlike many superheroes Spider-Man has been blessed with an excellent supporting cast. Starting with his Aunt May, always on the verge of death until recent writers realized that plot point was used once too often. She first came off as an overbearing mother type, but over time, May Parker learned to let go of Peter and became supportive of him. May had an intriguing development where she learned of her nephew’s secret identity following a brutal battle he had with Morlun (The Amazing Spider-Man # 35, Volume II). However, her knowledge of Peter’s secret identity was undone by the infamous “One More Day” storyline that rebooted the Spider-Man universe.

The most glaring casualty of the reboot was the dissolution of Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Aside from Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane is Peter’s greatest love and ever since her first full introduction (The Amazing Spider-Man # 42) she rocked his world and won over many readers with her flash and verve. Mary Jane was there to pick up the pieces after Gwen died. Her most shocking revelation came at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man # 257 when she admitted to Peter that she always knew he was Spider-Man. This knowledge was a barrier to their on-again-off again relationship, but they eventually married. Naturally, his Spider-Man activities conflicted with his domestic life to the point that she left him at one point (The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2001), though they later reconciled. Foolishly, TPTB at Marvel Comics decreed that Spider-Man couldn’t be married because they felt the marriage plot line was stale. Hence the “One More Day” story where Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto to save his Aunt May at the cost of his marriage. But even though they aren’t married in the new timeline, it was shown in recent issues that they still have feelings for each other, so it may not be over. Continue reading

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Spider-Man’s Greatest Moments, Part II

Continuing a look at Spider-Man’s highlight in the past 50 years, there are more aspects of Spider-Man that has made him one of the most endearing and popular superheroes ever created.

Unlikely Savior

Though Spider-Man isn’t the most powerful superhero, his pluck and penchant for being in the wrong place at the right time make for captivating stories. Many times these out-of-his-element tales often took place in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Other times he was a critical element in some wide-reaching storylines and comic books. For instance, it can be said that he was the heart of the Civil War mini-series. While that story dealt with Captain America and his forces squaring off against Iron Man and his side, Spider-Man was trapped in the middle of the war and both sides. At first, he supported Iron Man’s side about registering superhumans and revealed his secret identity to the world (Civil War # 2). But by the time the mini-series ended, Spidey switched sides and paid a terrible price as he was ostracized and his aunt nearly lost her life.

In other storylines, Spider-Man turned out to be instrumental in taking out an overly powerful enemy. Marvel Two-In-One Annual # 2 had him and the Thing taking on Thanos, who wanted to destroy our sun, and was holding the Avengers prisoner. After the Thing was defeated by Thanos, Spider-Man, as usual, was plagued with self doubt that he was out of his league. However, he overcame his inhibitiosn and freed the Avengers to fight Thanos. That wasn’t all, he alone freed the spirit of Adam Warlock to defeat Thanos, which turned the tide of the battle. Throughout this story, the metaphysical entities Master Order and Lord Chaos claimed that Spider-Man was chosen by them to fulfill his destiny by doing these actions.

Recent stories have shown Spider-Man taking on a larger role in saving the entire world and more. Who can forget the time that he was endowed with the cosmic powers of Captain Universe? Possessing fantastic powers, he even punched the Hulk into orbit, Spider-Man was given the powers to fight the menace of the Tri-Sentinel (The Amazing Spider-Man # 329). The most recent one occurred in the “Ends Of The Earth” story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man # 682-687, but more memorable stories include those featured in The Amazing Spider-Man # 678-679 (“I Killed Tomorrow”) where Spider-Man time travels in a desperate attempt to prevent New York City’s destruction and in The Amazing Spider-Man # 48, 49 (Volume 2) and The Amazing Spider-Man # 500. That story (“Happy Birthday To Me”) had Spider-Man squaring off against the mystical foe Dormammu.

Spidey’s Deadliest Foes

One of the most remarkable qualities about Spider-Man is his large and colorful rogues gallery. Many villains have been introduced over the years and most of them are quite memorable. They include the Lizard, Mysterio, the Sandman, Electro, the Chameleon, the Shocker and the Kingpin. But two villains vying for the dubious honor as his deadliest foe are Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. Introduced waaay back in the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (issues # 3 and 14 respectively), these characters were instantly popular. While Doctor Octopus continuously plagues the Wall-Crawler (and has a major role in the upcoming 700th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man) the Green Goblin took the mantle fairly early as his greatest enemy. That was because he discovered Spider-Man’s secret identity (The Amazing Spider-Man # 39, 40). Those two issues revealed that he was Norman Osborn, the wealthy father of Peter’s best friend Harry. Afterwards, Osborn would use that knowledge of Peter’s secret identity to deadly affect over the years. This culminated in his killing Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man # 121. Continue reading

Spider-Man’s Greatest Moments, Part I

Marvel is celebrating the 50th birthday of their flagship superhero Spider-Man. He’s come a long way since appearing on the last issue of a failing science fiction comic book, but the minute he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy # 15, he became a sensation. Helping to usher in the so-called Marvel Age of Comics, Spider-Man was and is still Marvel’s most popular and iconic superhero. Over the years, our favorite Wall-Crawler has seen his highs and lows when it came to his storylines. There are too many to go through here, so let’s just highlight some aspects of them.

Insurmountable Odds

A hallmark of Spider-Man stories are those where he faces incredibly tough situations or foes. What makes them so special is that Spidey isn’t the most powerful superhero, he can’t shoot beams out of his hands, he can’t even fly. This makes him more relatable to us and is one of the reasons why he is so popular. He’s had to go up against villains that clearly outranked him in power and how he perseveres against them gave us some of the most exciting and hand-wringing stories. Who can forget that two-issue battle against the Juggernaut (The Amazing Spider-Man # 229-230)? Spidey fought this desperate battle against someone who could take on the Hulk. The Wall-Crawler tried everything but couldn’t make a dent against Juggernaut. Still, he wouldn’t give up, and somehow he stopped the Juggernaut by luring him into a bed of wet cement. Then there was his battle with the former Galactus herald Firelord (The Amazing Spider-Man # 269-270), where he shocked the late-arriving Avengers with his sheer will power as he managed to knock out Firelord.

But the best story that showed how determined Spider-Man can be was in the classic comic book The Amazing Spider-Man # 33. In the previous issue, he fought against Doctor Octopus at an underwater base and was left partially buried under tons of rubble and debris with water flooding. Meanwhile, inches away lay a canister containing a cure for his Aunt May’s latest ailment. He spent most of the issue struggling to free himself but failing. He berated himself, resigned to failure. But he couldn’t accept defeat not with his aunt’s life on the line. Spider-Man motivated himself and carefully maneuvered his body to free himself just in time. It was the most dramatic moment seen in a Spider-Man story and copied by others.

Marvelous Team-Ups

Ever since the very first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, our favorite Web-Head was shown to be an integral part of the Marvel Universe. In the first issue, Spider-Man tried to join the Fantastic Four and ever since, he has butted heads and teamed up with Marvel’s rich roster of superheroes. Some were interesting in that he had unusual pair ups (Howard the Duck, Frankenstein’s Monster, the John Belushi-era Saturday Night Live cast and even Superman in the classic cross-company story Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man) or Spidey was way out of his element (Spider-Man Vs. Wolverine one-shot and Marvel Team-Up # 41-46 where Spidey time travels from the past and into the future).

The most natural friendship he’s had has been with Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. The two heroes tended to behave like college roommates and ranked on each other. Some of their best meetings included the Christmas-themed Marvel Team-Up # 1, Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5,and most recently with FF # 17. The latter was a hilarious tribute to mismatched buddy comedies like The Odd Couple and Two And A Half Men, where Parker and Storm briefly live together with the expected disastrous results.

But Spidey’s best team-up stories were in J.M. DeMatteis’ run in Marvel Team-Up #111,112, 114-125, 126-133. In those comics, DeMatteis showcased his writing chops with fun, thoughtful, amusing and sometimes poignant yarns that were able to touch a reader’s  soul (Marvel Team-Up #119, 120, 127). The best part is that these issues can be found relatively cheap in comic bins. Continue reading

The Dark Side Of Spider-Man

Art by John Romita, Jr.

One of the biggest gripes from detractors of the film The Amazing Spider-Man is that it has a dark tone. They blame it on the film studio, which wanted to emulate the mood of the recent, blockbuster Batman films. These critics complain that the character isn’t dark and this new interpretation of Spider-Man doesn’t work for that reason.

However, if anyone looks at the entirety of Spider-Man’s comic books, it can be seen that the character has had dark moments. He isn’t always this light-hearted, happy-go-lucky wise guy that breezes through life. A closer look will show that often his world is bittersweet. Just as often as he loses while he wins. Spider-Man may win a climactic battle against the Green Goblin, but his alter ego Peter Parker faces eviction because he doesn’t have the money to pay rent.

Or the web swinger faces public hostility and derision from the police who consider him an outlaw. Usually, stories in the comic books portrayed him as being persecuted by trigger-happy policemen.

Then there are the tragic periods in Parker’s life.

Dark Origin & History

To start, in his debut story (Amazing Fantasy#15), his uncle is killed by a burglar and Parker learns at the end of the tale that he is responsible for his uncle’s death because earlier in the story, he

Art by Ross Andru

selfishly refused to stop the burglar during an unrelated robbery. It may not compare with the agony of the Punisher’s family being gunned down by mobsters but it’s not anything lightweight. Actually most superheroes have some kind of tragic catalyst that turned them heroic.

Throughout his history, Parker has endured many hardships since he’s become Spider-Man. Probably the worst, after his uncle’s death, is the killing of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man #121. This affected him deeply for several years and is a monumental event in comics because it was one of the first times that a main character’s loved one was killed and marked the end of the silver age of comics.

Going Too Far To The Dark Side

Spider-Man has gone through several grim, brooding periods. Some were rather forced and done to sell issues. This happened in the early ’90s after his supposedly deceased parents showed up alive and well from issues #366-389 in the first volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. At the end of that storyline, they were revealed to be robotic doubles sent by his deceased friend Harry Osborn (a.k.a. the second Green Goblin) to basically screw with Parker’s head. For several issues afterward, the web swinger lost it, he gave up on his Parker identity and ran around town emulating a dark hero like Batman. These issues were poorly written because they went overboard with his psychotic reaction. Unfortunately, this events led to the infamous Clone Saga.

There was also the infamous undoing of his marriage that was done using  a convoluted meeting with the demonic entity Mephisto in the storyline “One More Day”. Going completely against character, the creators had Parker make a deal with the devil to save his aunt with his marriage to Mary Jane being wiped from history as a price. This incident probably damaged Parker more than any other because it showed that by agreeing to deal with the devil he lost part of his soul. He seemed much less heroic. It didn’t have to be that way, the editorial board could have just had him get divorced and move on with his life, but they tampered too much with Parker’s integrity.

Memorably Bleak Moments

Art by Mike Zeck

But the character has faced dark events that were successfully told. Take the classic storyline “Kraven’s Last Hunt”,  written by J. M. DeMatteis, where his foe Kraven the Hunter defeats him, puts him in a death-like state and even buries him alive. Later Kraven assumes Spider-Man’s identity and becomes a twisted, violent version of the hero. Parker has to literally claw his way out of the grave and face his inner demons afterwards.

Then there was issue #36 of the second volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. Known as the  “Black Issue” it’s the one where Spider-Man dealt with the 9/11tragedy. There wasn’t anything cheery or fluffy about this story or the character. In fact, it showed how helpless and angry the superhero felt and it worked because since Spider-Man is more of an everyman character, it was easy to identify with him. We all felt like he did during that terrible day.

The web slinger’s bleakest moment was obviously when he died in Ultimate Spider-Man # 160. In the “Death Of Spider-Man” story arc, the Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Man fought desperately against his greatest foes and met his end after defeating the Green Goblin. It was one of the character’s most unforgettable stories. Thankfully, readers still have Peter Parker to root for in the regular continuity.

Art by Mark Bagley

Of course, not every storyline is bleak and dreary. The comic books balance the mood all the time with gritty stories like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” to more fun-filled yarns like “Spider Island” and even heartwarming ones like “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” (The Amazing Spider-Man #248). Actually DeMatteis’ Spider-Man tales often took on a philosophical and poignant bent with memorable stories like The Amazing Spider-Man: Soul Of The Hunter a sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “A Death In the Family” (The Amazing Spider-Man #400). The bottom line is that throughout many tales, he faced many moral dilemmas and almost always rises to the occasion.

A Light Misconception

The general public has this misconception that Spider-Man is some kind of goody two shoes and that is largely due to how he is portrayed outside of comics. It probably all started during his first cartoon series in the ’60s and when he appeared in silly live-action segments of the kids’ program The Electric Company. Then whenever he appeared in other animated shows, the more grimmer stories couldn’t be used. This however led to lightweight shows like Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films also contributed to this lightweight perception. In the first two films, the character swings around New York yelling out “Wahoo!” with swooning fans cheering at him (a rare occurrence in comic books) and leaves behind perfectly typewritten notes saying “Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. The movies were enjoyable but felt cheesy at times. Things took a turn for the worst with Spider-Man 3 where the attempts to have the character go dark were as laughable as anything seen in the Joel Schumacher Batman films. This isn’t a slight against Raimi, his first two Spider-Man films are fun to watch. If anyone is to blame for this perception it could be the marketing people who want to make sure the character is kid friendly in order to sell more merchandise.

Regardless of marketing efforts, it was refreshing to see the character in a more realistic light during the recent movie which balances thing out. After all, like it or not, sometimes life is dark, even for Spider-Man.

Lewis T. Grove