Since his debut in 1962, Spider-Man has appeared in literally hundreds of comics and graphic novels, showcasing his many clashes with iconic villains like Doc Ock, Venom, and the Green Goblin.
Aside from those regular battles, though, Spider-Man’s comics are also unique for how they explore Spider-Man’s personal life, with the hero struggling to balance his life as Spider-Man with and his personal life as Peter Parker.
With Spider-Man’s next cinematic adventure, Spider-Man: No Way Home, set for release on December 17, we thought we’d take a look at some of Spidey’s best comic books out there, dating back to his original debut in the early 1960s to the more modern portrayals the web-slinger has received in recent years.
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1. “Spider-Man!” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
It may seem an obvious choice to pick the issue that started it all. Still, from his initial appearance in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man was a different kind of hero than anyone had ever seen before. In his spare time, he wasn’t some industrialist with access to mass wealth, a brilliant scientist, or a globe-trotting adventurer. He was simply a geeky teenager whose life is forever changed when a radioactive spider bites him.
In the now-classic origin story that has remained more or less unchanged since the character’s debut in 1962, Peter Parker is an awkward but intelligent and good-natured high school student who—by chance—inherits superhuman, spider-like abilities after being bit by a genetically altered spider. Using his newfound abilities for good, Peter becomes the Amazing Spider-Man, battling criminals on the streets of New York.
The original “Spider-Man!” may seem dated by today’s standards. Still, it remains a classic for its innovation, turning the superhero story on its head and introducing someone who is young, awkward, somewhat unsure of himself, and struggling to accept the responsibility of becoming a superhero. It also cemented one of the most defining moments in Spider-Man’s backstory, wherein Spider-Man lets a criminal go, only for said criminal to kill his Uncle Ben.
It’s an integral moment that established Peter Parker’s tragic past and focused on an important theme that would become relevant in virtually every Spider-Man story in print, on film, or in video games that followed: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Another classic from the early days of Spider-Man, this storyline is also one of the earliest that laid the groundwork for everything readers would come to expect in a Spider-Man story.
Written back in 1965, “If This Be My Destiny…!” showcases so many elements to Spider-Man that would become crucial in the numerous stories that followed. Beginning with Peter’s enrollment at Empire State University, it’s the issue that introduced Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, both of whom would become key recurring characters in Spider-Man’s many, many adventures that followed.
For anyone who wants an introduction to the basic formula Spider-Man stories usually follow, they should start with this one. It balances itself between Peter’s romantic struggles (he’s dating Betty Brant at this point), an iconic Spidey villain behind a fiendish plot, Peter facing problems in his career with J. Jonah Jameson, and Aunt May in a critical peril that Spider-Man attempts saving her from.
It’s a classic archetypal story, but even more so than that, it has the best of original Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko’s work, including the now-famous image of Spider-Man lifting a large amount of debris to free himself.
It’s an image that has been brought to life in film adaptations (notably Spider-Man: Homecoming), and that perfectly sums up Spider-Man as a character: a hero willing to do the literal impossible and who will never admit defeat even in the face of overwhelming odds.
An image as iconic as the abovementioned Steve Ditko splash page showing Spider-Man lifting an overwhelming amount of debris is the equally shocking image by John Romita of Peter Parker walking away from his signature red-and-black suit, left behind in a garbage can.
In this beloved Spidey story, Peter Park begins to feel dejected over his role as Spider-Man, forever saving a city that remains unappreciative of him and costing him time and attention that he could spending on his loved ones, all of whom are beginning to show signs of estrangement from Peter due to his commitment to being a superhero.
Making up his mind to leave his life as a masked adventurer behind him for good, Peter eventually meets a kindly security guard who reminds him of his Uncle Ben, reaffirming his belief in Spider-Man and encouraging him to take up the mantle once again.
There’s something striking about seeing such a beloved costume as Spider-Man’s tossed haphazardly into a garbage can. But the main storyline and its ending all illustrate another main recurring theme that would be revisited throughout Spider-Man’s history.
No matter how unsure of himself he becomes, Peter always manages to come back stronger than ever—a key lesson that made Spider-Man so popular a hero among comic fans of the 1960s and the main reason for his endearing popularity today.
One of the most legitimately upsetting comic books you’ll ever read, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” is divided between two stories. In the first, Spider-Man battles a pretty forgettable, wrecking-ball-wielding supervillain called Thunderball. It’s the issue’s substory that sets it apart from every other superhero comic before or since.
Young Tim Harrison is a boy obsessed with Spider-Man. He’s collected Spider-Man memorabilia, souvenirs, and newspaper strips detailing the web-slinger’s numerous adventures saving the city time and time again. He is very likely Spider-Man’s number one fan.
When Spider-Man drops in to say hello, he and Tim have a long, heartfelt conversation about Spider-Man’s career, with Spider-Man growing attached to Tim and genuinely touched by his adoration, even removing his mask in front of him and revealing his secret identity.
It was a genuinely shocking moment for any Spidey fan, but still not quite as jaw-dropping as the issue’s ending, wherein it’s revealed that Tim is living in a hospital ward for terminally ill cancer patients and that he has only a few more weeks left to live.
It’s a sobering moment to see someone normally as hopeful as the wisecracking Spider-Man interacting with what is perhaps his greatest fan, made all the more gut-wrenching by that twist ending.
It’s a moment that helped humanize Spidey even further in readers’ eyes and illustrated the things Spider-Man holds dear: it’s not about whether the city loves him. It’s about being a role model for kids like Tim and giving them hope and inspiration to live with.
Out of all the comics on this list, this is the one we recommend reading with a box of tissues next to you.
Despite its name, “The Death of Jean DeWolff” isn’t necessarily centered around Jean DeWolff to the same extent as someone like Gwen Stacy was in “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” Instead, DeWolff (a police captain and personal friend to Spider-Man) is killed pretty much at the offset of the story, setting up a murder mystery-style plot that Spider-Man attempts to solve.
As Spider-Man closes in on his friend’s killer, his quest for justice becomes blurred between his darker desire for revenge, with the latter brought out especially by Spider-Man’s Symbiote suit.
Released in the mid-’80s, “The Death of Jean DeWolff” is a darker story than the otherwise lighter Spider-Man stories we’ve highlighted so far. Having been written during Spider-Man’s black suit days, it’s also responsible for introducing the idea that the suit is beginning to take hold of Peter, bringing out some of the more malevolent, violent aspects of his personality.
In perhaps the storyline’s best moment—and one that illustrated just how dangerous the black suit was becoming—Spider-Man is narrowly stopped from beating the DeWolff’s murderer to death by Daredevil, who joins Spider-Man’s investigation to find the killer.
Without Daredevil, who knows if Spider-Man would’ve been able to stop himself. It’s an interesting hypothetical and would lead to Spider-Man’s later realization of how dangerous the suit really is, something that would be more fully explored with the introduction of Venom.
The Amazing Spider-Man‘s three hundredth issue promised something unique: a milestone achievement few superhero characters achieved and recognition of Spider-Man’s continuing popularity among readers since his debut twenty years before this issue.
With that in mind, the duo behind this comic’s issue, David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane had a lot to live up to with The Amazing Spider-Man #300, and boy, did they deliver.
Building on a multi-year arc that had begun with Marvel’s Secret Wars in 1984, “Venom” focuses on the return of the Symbiote suit, which has found a new host in Eddie Brock, the once-promising journalistic rival to Peter Parker who blames Spider-Man for the end of his career.
With the Symbiote finding an ideal host in the envious, vengeful Brock, Brock and the creature take on the newfound personality of Venom, a villain who would go on to plague Spider-Man numerous times over the years and would become one of Marvel’s most popular and well-known villains.
The story itself may be relatively minor compared to the other, more remarkable comics on this list, but it’s worth reading for two significant reasons.
For starters, it serves as another entry in the Symbiote saga that had seen Spider-Man start wearing the black suit, realize its danger, and part with it before it had permanently altered his personality, resulting in Venom’s birth (as seen here) and later the introduction of the fan-favorite Carnage.
There’s also the long-awaited return of Spider-Man’s red-and-blue uniform, last seen after a nearly four-year-long hiatus.
It’s a fascinating enough comic to read and the one that’s responsible for introducing one of Spider-Man’s most memorable recurring villains to readers.
Spider-Man has some of the most over-the-top villains in the entire comic medium, with some characters seeming like they walked straight off the set of Adam West’s The Batman series.
However, what sets Spider-Man’s villains apart is some writers’ abilities to develop these characters past their otherwise stereotypical appearances, giving them a more fleshed-out and intricate backstory and more complex worldviews.
Case in point with the character of Kraven the Hunter in “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” widely seen as the definitive Kraven story and the one that helped cement him as one of Spider-Man’s best, most unique villains.
The story is set in motion when Kraven seemingly achieves his end goal of killing Spider-Man: shooting the web-slinger with a tranquilizer and burying him alive. Even getting his quarry still isn’t enough for Kraven, though, who dons his own Spider-Man suit and begins visually attacking criminals to prove himself better than Spider-Man in every way.
Given how little Spider-Man is actually shown in the comic (he’s only present at the end and the beginning of the storyline), some people believe this story is more a Kraven comic than a Spider-Man story. Frankly, with how heavily it focuses on the infamous hunter, it’s hard to disagree with them.
Still, the general idea of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” sets it apart as one of Spider-Man’s best comics, focusing on the concept of what a villain would do if they actually achieved their goal of killing their heroic counterpart.
The resulting story—Kraven growing from a smug sense of achievement to ultimately feeling that life is pointless now that he’s proven himself the superior—offers an interesting villain-centric story, showing that sometimes the struggle to achieve your goals is more fulfilling than the goals themselves (even if that goal is, you know, killing Spider-Man).
Harry Osborn may be the most underrated character in Spider-Man’s extensive mythology.
Originally a close friend to Peter, their relationship implodes when he learns that his father is the Green Goblin and that Spider-Man is the person who he views as responsible for his dad’s death.
Succeeding the role of the deranged Green Goblin from his father, Harry sets out for revenge, and in his blind rage, ends up hurting everyone involved, including former friends Peter and Mary Jane, and his own wife and child.
In a way, “Best of Enemies” feels like a personal kind of story you’re able to relate to, all about a once close-knit group of people who suffer a bitter falling out that everyone is affected by in some way or another.
However, as sometimes is the case in life, the story ends on a bittersweet note, with Harry finally regaining his sanity and realizing how greatly he’s harmed those closest to him and reconciling with Peter in the last few moments of his life.
Though he dies to save those he loves, his sacrifice serves as a cathartic closing chapter in his life, resolving his lifelong struggle to live independently from under his father’s shadow and finding peace and redemption before his death.
Spider-Man was one of the defining heroes of comics’ Silver Age, a period that saw the industry try for a more family-friendly, lighthearted approach aimed towards younger readers.
Since his introduction in 1962, Spider-Man was seen as practically the figurehead for the Silver Age: a lovable, goofy character whose colorful outfit, witty one-liners, and battles with over-the-top villains like Electro and the Green Goblin appealed directly to young comic fans.
In 1973, that would all change, with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.”
In what is now considered one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, Spider-Man suffers from fatigue and illness that weaken his powers. He returns to New York to find his best friend, Harry, recovering from an LSD-induced breakdown, and an amnesiac Norman Osborn slowly regaining his memories (he had previously forgotten that he was the Green Goblin and that Peter Parker was Spider-Man).
After remembering who he is, the Green Goblin abducts Spidey’s love interest, Gwen Stacy, and throws her off from the top of the George Washington Bridge. Using his web abilities to catch her before she hits the ground, Spider-Man inadvertently causes a whiplash effect that snaps Gwen’s neck, instantly killing her.
Before this issue, no one had ever seen a longtime supporting character—never mind the hero’s main love interest—killed off before, with the hero always overcoming the obstacle, saving his girl, and beating the villain.
Here, not only does Spider-Man utterly fail in his inability to save Gwen, but he is also partly responsible for her death—something that would plague and torment Peter continuously in the future.
It’s the moment where Spider-Man and comic readers grew up a bit, and it is now credited as a starting point for the medium’s darker Bronze Age that followed.
One of the more modern Spider-Man stories on this list, Spider-Man: Blue is also one of the best—an intricate look at a traumatic moment in Peter Parker’s life: the death of Gwen Stacy, which he feels responsible for and sees as perhaps his greatest failure.
Looking back at the abovementioned story through a different lens, Spider-Man: Blue is set on Valentine’s Day, with Peter—feeling blue—venting his feelings through a tape recording addressed to Gwen, recounting their initial meeting and budding romance over the years, as well as some of Spider-Man’s first meetings with some of his most iconic villains.
By the end of the story, Peter seems to come to terms not only with Gwen’s death, admitting the emotional scar left behind, but he’s also managed to find love again with Mary Jane, now his wife. It’s then revealed that MJ has, in fact, heard Peter’s entire story, but rather than being mad, she tells Peter to say “hi” to Gwen for her in what is perhaps one of the most emotional moments in Spider-Man’s more recent comic books.
Written and drawn by the iconic partnership Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (the two men behind equally legendary comics like Batman: The Long Halloween), Spider-Man: Blue may be a newer Spider-Man comic, but its exploration of some of Spider-Man’s most defining moments—both in his personal life with Gwen and Mary Jane and his professional career as the webhead himself—make it just as memorable as any other story that appears on this list.
Given that Spider-Man has been webbing around New York City and fighting the likes of Doc Ock and the Green Goblin since 1962, you can bet there are a ton of Spider-Man comics that followed the web-slinger’s many adventures.
We hope this list best represents the greatest comics that Spider-Man appears in, featuring some of the most iconic moments in the character’s history.
In addition to these ten stories, we also wanted to recommend some of Spider-Man’s other amazing comics, especially “To Have and to Hold” by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr., “The Death of Captain Stacy” by Stan Lee, John Romita Sr., and Gil Kane, and “Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin” by Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, and Tom DeFalco.
This post originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.