When Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko over 50 years ago, he was the first teenage superhero and the first hero to have relatable problems. Not only did Spider-Man have to worry about fighting villains, but also worry about looking after his elderly aunt and finding money to pay the rent – issues that the reader could relate to. Due to this, Spider-Man has been able to consistently popular for more than 50 years.
Throughout these 5 decades there have been an abundance of quality stories featuring your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. I have composed a list of 14 Spider-Man stories you should read. This list is a good mixture of stories throughout the decades, with all of them being well received critically or fan favourites.
Amazing Fantasy #15
This is where it all began. Before Spider-Man had his own series he appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, a title that was going to be cancelled. The advantage of being cancelled was that Stan Lee was able to try out the character, which the publisher thought was stupid, without any real financial repercussions. As we know, this ended up being a good move and Spider-Man is still with us today.
As for the story, Amazing Fantasy #15 tells the origin story of Spider-Man, a teenage boy who was bitten by a radioactive spider and is ultimately motivated to become a hero because of the guilt he has from his Uncle’s death. Spider-Man’s origin is one of the best and rightly so. It is powerful and has elements that the reader can relate to on a human level.
Amazing Spider #15 is worth large amounts of money so I suggest one of three options.
- 1. Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1.
- 2. Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1.
- 3. OR track down a reprint of the story. The most recent one in 2012 will be the easiest to track down and has been nicely recoloured. Also available digitally.
The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt
Written by Mark Waid, Fred van Lente, Joe Kelly, Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, and Zeb Wells. Art by Paul Azaceta, Adam Kubert, Barry Kitson, Javier Pulido, Max Fiumara, Marcos Martin, Michael Lark, Luke Ross, Joe Quinones, Michael Gaydos, Lee Weeks, Chris Bachalo, Jefte Palo and Emma Rios.
At one time Amazing Spider-Man was being three times a month, which allowed for some great long form stories, such as The Gauntlet. The idea of the Gauntlet is that a group of Spider-Man’s classic villains have come back new and improved and Spidey has to take them on one after the other. This builds up to Grim Hunt, in which the family of a former villain take advantage of Spider-Man’s predicament in a way that spider-Man did not see coming.
The Gauntlet sees some of the best Spider-Man villains return, including The Rhino, Electro, Sandman, The Lizard and more upgraded, making them all that more dangerous for Spidey.
The Gauntlet consists of many stories that build upon each other through Amazing Spider-Man #612-633 and The Web of Spider-Man #2-6. They are collected in 5 collections, as listed below…
- Book 1 – Electro & Sandman
- Book 2 – Rhino & Mysterio
- Book 3 – Vulture & Morbius
- Book 4 – Scorpion & Juggernaut
- Book 5 – Kraven & The Lizard
The conclusion of the Gauntlet builds up to Grim Hunt, which follows directly after. This ran through Amazing Spider-Man #634-637 and is collected in trade paperback and digitally.
If This Be My Destiny…!
If This Be My Destiny…! is important as it shows the next step in Peter Parker’s life, with him beginning his time at Empire State University. This is where he meet his friend (and soon to be enemy) Harry Osborne and his future love, Gwen Stacy.
Although the best part of the story comes in the final chapter as Spider-Man is trapped under heavy machinery in a flooding room. The way Spider-Man gets out of the predicament is truly powerful. Comics Historian Lee Daniels describes the scene:
“Steve Ditko squeezes every ounce of anguish out of Spider-Man’s predicament, complete with visions of the uncle he failed and the aunt he has sworn to save.”
If This Be My Destiny…! ran through Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 which is collected in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol.4. Essential Amazing Spider-Man. The three part story is also available digitally.
The Death of Jean DeWolff
Jean DeWolff was a police officer and a close friend of Spider-Man, who appeared regularly during the years previous. When it is discovered that she had been murdered in her sleep, Spider-Man goes on a quest to find her killer – the notorious Sin-Eater. In his search he crosses paths with Daredevil, as Sin Eater has also killed a close friend of his.
The Death of Jean DeWolff was quite a different Spider-Man story for the time. Not only was it more mature, it featured the death of a character right at the start of a story – instead of valiantly at the end. Additionally, Sin-Eater wasn’t a super powered villain – but a psychopath with a shotgun. The team-up with Daredevil also works well to question Spider-Man’s morality, when faced with something personal.
The Death of Jean DeWolff ran through Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110 and is collected in trade paperback.
Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!
Traditionally, The Juggernaut has been an X-Men villain, which has taken a whole team of mutants to take down, but what would happen if Spidey went face to face with the unstoppable Juggernaut? That’s what happens in this two-part David vs Goliath story.
The odds are truly staced against Spider-Man, as he throws everything at The Juggernaut to no avail. What makes this story so fun is the ways that Spider-Man tries to stop him, which are cleverly thought out and look great on the page.
Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut! ran through Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 and is collected in Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 10 as well as available digitally.
The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
Out of all the Spider-Man stories featured, The Boy Who Collects Spider-Man is the most touching. This one-off tale of Spider-Man visiting a young boy, who happens to be Spidey’s biggest fan, is moving and has tale that is shows Superhero comics are not always about battling bad guys.
This boy collects everything and anything Spider-Man from newspaper clippings to memorabilia from battles with villains. Throughout the issue the two converse, sharing stories, and Spider-Man even reveals his identity to the young boy.
The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man is a very human tale that shows what it means to be a hero and how, even with all the criticism he gets from the Daily Bugle, that it is the opinion of one small boy is what counts the most. The final page, which I wont spoil, also pulls an emotional string for the reader and maybe even shed a tear.
The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man is told in Amazing Spider-Man #248, which is collected in Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 11.
What if Peter Parker wasn’t the only one with spider powers? What if everyone in New York City had them? This is the concept behind Spider Island after the villainous Jackal creates an infestation of bedbugs that gives ordinary people powers similar to Spider-Man. As you would assume this causes all kinds of craziness and Spider-Man has to try and stop it, with a little help from some other heroes.
There is also the subplot running through Spider-Island of Peter Parker attempting to keep his identity a secret from his girlfriend – something that has become difficult now that she has spider-powers herself.
Spider-Island starts with a prologue, which works well at explaining the current status quo of the character, which makes the story new reader friendly as possible.
Spider-Island ran through Amazing Spider-Man #666-673 as well a handful of tie-ins. Spider-Island is collected in hardcover, trade paperback and digitally.
Kraven’s Last Hunt
Originally intended to be a Batman story, Kraven’s Last Hunt has often been listed as one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time. Kraven the Hunter is hunted every animal known to man. Now he has he sights set for a bigger game – Spider-Man. Once achieved, Kraven plans on becoming the new Spider-Man – the intention of proving to the world that he is a more superior Spider-Man.
Much of the story is an exploration of Kraven, exploring his motivations and what ultimately happens when he has achieved all his goals. What do you do once you have defeated Spider-Man?
Kraven’s Last Hunt ran through Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294 and Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132 and is available in trade paperback and digitally.
Kraven’s Last Hunt was our June 2016 Book Club book, so if you’ve read this come join in the discussion!
Maximum Carnage is 14-part mega event, running through all the Spider-Man titles in 1993, that had huge stakes for the people of New York. The symbiote, Carnage, has always been murderous and big trouble for Spider-Man, but when he is able to recruit like-minded murderers things go from bad to worse. Carnage and his gang go on a destructive killing spree and it is up to Spider-Man a group of heroes including Black Cat, Captain America and Cloak and Dagger, and others to stop them. Although, the big draw of this team is the recruitment of Venom, a sworn enemy, and popular villain of Spider-Man.
Full of big action, Maximum Carnage is a blockbuster story that also explores the relationship between Spider-Man and Venom, as well as their contrast in attitudes and morality.
Maximum Carnage ran through Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2, Web of Spider-Man #101-103, Amazing Spider-Man #378-380, Spider-Man #35-37 and Spectacular Spider-Man #201-203 and is available in trade paperback and digitally.
Spider-Man: Blue is a tribute to the era of Spider-Man when the dynamic of the title was closer to a romance series with super heroics. Throughout this miniseries, Peter gives an audio love letter to Gwen Stacy as he reminisces on when he first fell in love with her.
If you like the romance aspect of Spider-Man then Spider-Man: Blue is for you. The series is very sweet and you can tell the creators were having a lot of fun while making this series.
Spider-Man: Blue is a six issue miniseries that has been collected in trade paperback and available digitally.
Spider-Man No More
In this one-shot story, Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man due to a lack of respect from the public. Throwing the costume away, it ends up in the hands of J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle. Although, it isn’t until Peter helps a man who is being robbed on the street that he is reminded as to why he became Spider-Man in the first place. This motivates Peter into becoming Spider-Man again, but first he has to get his costume back.
Spider-Man No More plays upon the classic theme of “great power comes great responsibility” that is a big part of the character. Not only is this story a classic, it is also the first appearance of The Kingpin – who would go on to be a regular villain for Spider-Man and Daredevil.
Spider-Man No More was told in Amazing spider-Man #50 and can be read in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 5 or Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 3. It is also available digitally.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s girlfriend, is kidnapped by the Green Goblin and it is up to Spider-Man to save her. The battle between the two is taken over to a bridge in which, in a last-ditch attempt to win the fight, Gwen is thrown over the bridge. Using his webs, Spider-Man is able to catch her by the feet. although, when he pulls her up she is found to be dead. Did she die by the hands of the Green Goblin or did her spine snap during the recoil of being caught? While this question is never answered, Spider-Man blames himself for the her death.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a significant story as it was one of the few instances where a main character died. Many comic historians believe that this event also closed the Silver Age of comics, paving the way for the Bronze Age.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died ran through Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 and is collected in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 13 and Essential Amazing Spider-Man vol. 6. It is also available digitally.
Ultimate Comics: Ultimate Spider-Man
In the early 2000’s The Marvel Universe had gotten to a point where it is overly complicated and confusing. So in a attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the Ultimate Universe was born. The Ultimate Universe works separately to the regular Marvel universe, telling its own stories. Ultimate Spider-Man, which ran for 160 issues, was one of the most popular of the Ultimate titles until Peter Parker died valiantly in the final issue. In the aftermath a new Spider-Man rose, Miles Morales.
At the time, the introduction of Miles Morales was controversial as some people saw it as an excuse to introduce a minority character (Miles is half African-American and half Hispanic) for the sake of introducing one. Although, most of this criticism has been silenced as the title has been of a high quality. Brian Michael Bendis has been able to use Miles Morales to portray the teenage experience in a way that you would never be able to with Peter Parker. There are family dynamics, different issues and anxieties explored throughout the series, which have contributed a quality story overall.
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man recently finished with issue #28, with a total of 5 collections. The series will be relaunched as Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man in the first week of May after a recent shake-up of the Ultimate Universe. It is also available digitally.
Superior Spider-Man is a bit different to all the other Spider-Man stories featured here as it stars Dr Octopus inside the body of Peter Parker. How is this possible? A dying Dr Octopus tricked Spider-Man into swapping bodies – trapping Peter Parker in Doc Ock’s and left to die. Although, don’t worry kids, Peter Parker has just recently returned in the title.
The title explored the differences between the two Spider-men. While Peter Parker stood a high morale ground, developed by the teachings of Uncle Ben, Doc Ock takes a much harder stance. He was more violent, willing to take out his opposition instead of simply incapacitating them. Additionally, just like many villains he is an egomaniac, which would eventually put those around him in danger. It is really an exploration how Spider-Man could be if he didn’t have the mantra of “great power comes great responsibility.”
While it was received well critically, Superior Spider-Man had mixed results with fans. Some hated it, as they believed that it had permanently ruined the character. Dan Slott even received death threats over the change. Others saw it as an exciting new avenue to be explored, full of interesting new dynamics that could only be possible with the change. Personally, I have the view that it is an interesting idea as I knew it would not be permanent.
In total, Superior Spider-Man ran for 31 issues, which is collected in 6 hardcover/trade paperbacks. It’s also available digitally.
Want Even More Spider-Man Stories?
I’ve talked about a handful of modern Spider-Man stories you should read here.
What Are Your Favourite Spider-Man Stories?
Trevor Van As
Trevor Van As is the founder of How to Love Comics and has loved comics all his life. When he's not reading or talking about comics he can be found eating frozen yogurt and dancing like no one is watching.