My Spidey senses are tingling! This week’s hubbub is all about everyone’s favourite wall-crawler, with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ finally hitting cinemas.
Stan Lee’s best-loved character is on a short-list of truly iconic comic book heroes. Peter Parker’s story is relatable because he came upon his powers accidentally as a teenager, didn’t know what to do with them and was kicked into action by guilt when a person he loved died because of his failure to act.
Spider-man has been a forefront character of the Marvel Universe since he first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, and was given an ongoing series a year later. There have been five decades worth of stories and multiple film and television adaptations, and this most recent return to the screen has been eagerly anticipated.
To mark the occasion, I offer a handful of recommendations. Here are some of my favourite Spider-Man stories of recent history:
1.) Big Time
I’m going to preface this by saying that though I have singled out Big-Time, I am actually referring to the whole of Dan Slott’s current run. This book is the starting point, and it introduces the new status quo, with Peter landing an exclusive scientist gig at Horizon Labs, getting a steady girlfriend who isn’t a redhead or a blonde, and making some neat, smart changes to his Spidey suit.
Slott’s run on the book has been packed with all the stuff you want from your Spider-man story: fun, excitement, snappy jokes, romance, cool employment of technology and science- the works! It’s also very accessible and easy to jump into, so if this hasn’t been on your monthly pull list, put it on there now!
2.) Amazing Spider-Man Ultimate Collection Volume 1 (J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.)
After a funk of lame stories in the nineties, the Amazing Spider-man ongoing was rejuvenated to glorious form by the aforementioned writer/artist duo. Straczynski made some bold, intelligent choices by letting Peter grow up and develop as a person. Throughout the long run, Peter is married to Mary Jane, works as a high school science teacher and behaves like an adult, without losing his snappy sense of humour or trademark hard luck. I would recommend this run as a starting point for new readers who’d like to catch up to the current stuff. It’s a good foundation to build on, and it’s also heart-warming and fun.
3.) Civil War: Spider-Man
This is part of Straczynski’s run, but I’d like to single it out for the fact that it was a really bold moment in Spidey-story history when, in the middle of a televised speech, Peter takes his mask off. It was really satisfying to see the reactions of the other people in his life, from J. Jonah Jameson to Captain America and so on. There was also the fallout to contend with, which was handled believably. It was a jaw-dropping moment that was as well considered in the aftermath as it was sensational.
5.) Grim Hunt
A lot of readers were up in arms after the Straczynski chronology was scrapped in rebooting Peter as unmarried and back on the beat as a hapless photographer for the Daily Bugle, in a run called Brand New Day. It started off a bit clunky, but after a while things started shaping up and some great little stories came out of it. The writing duties were split between four different writers, and my favourite of these stories tended to be by Joe Kelly, who wrote the American Son arc and two amazing issues focusing on the Rhino during The Gauntlet storyline, among others. His standout story, which came near the end of the Brand New Day era, was Grim Hunt. It was the denouement in which the events of The Gauntlet paid off and made way for the return of Kraven the Hunter. Drawn in the gritty pencils of Michael Lark, this is one of the darkest Spider-Man stories you’ll ever read, and also one of the best. There’s a heart-stopping moment of unforgettable imagery that actually made me nearly drop the book.
5.) Spider-Man: Reign
While on the topic of dark Spider-Man stories, another excellent one is Reign, written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews. It’s the Spider-man equivalent to The Dark Knight Returns, and though it is a short book it’s extremely effective. An aging Peter Parker in a nightmarish dystopian future comes out for one last fight, with nothing left to lose. Beautifully told with fantastic art, this is an unusual little gem of a book, full of strangeness and poignancy.
6.) Ultimate Spider-Man
Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Universe retelling of the web-head’s story, set during his high-school years, is a fun, refreshing take on the early days of the character. There are tweaks to keep things interesting (Gwen Stacy is alive, for one) but a lot remains fairly true to your standard Spidey stories. Recently a big shake-up occurred, and Peter Parker was killed off. It was very moving and addressed all the right themes, and if it truly was the end of Ultimate Peter Parker, it was a fitting send-off.
What it also did was pave the way for Miles Morales, the current Ultimate Spider-Man. Miles made headlines for being the first half-black, half-Hispanic character to don a Spidey suit, but the book turned out to be way more than hype. Thirteen year- old Miles is, from the get-go, a really fleshed-out, sympathetic character. His situation has parallels to Peter Parker’s, but he’s different enough to keep things feeling really fresh and unpredictable. With great writing from Bendis (his best current book) and wonderful art by Sara Pichelli, it’s a great continuation of the ongoing series.