With literally thousands of comics featuring him over a fifty year publishing history, the amazing Spider-Man is the kind of pop culture icon that’s almost impossible to keep up with. Like Batman, everyone knows his story: Great powers, dead uncle, great responsibility.
After the modern comic book movie boom, Marvel Comics did a lot to make the webslinger’s publishing history more convoluted. It renumbered all its long-running series, then introduced a hip, modern parallel universe and then folded both universes together into one gestalt continuity.
But just because it’s brand new days for Spider-Man, doesn’t mean the old stories stopped being great. Because while he might be famous for his questionable combat repartee, it’s when his unthinking selflessness and resilience in the face of tragedy are on display that we see why Spider-Man is the best.
“Spider-Man!” was published in Amazing Fantasy #15, and is usually included as part of most essential reprints, including Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1. It is also available in digital form via Marvel Unlimited.
This is where it all began: in the pages of a title that was about to be cancelled. With Amazing Fantasy #15 serving as the final issue, writer Stan Lee had the opportunity to try out his new idea: a teenage boy who wasn’t the sidekick and driven by the moral implications of a tragedy he failed to prevent. The origin is so familiar now, but it established the elements of Spider-Man that have remained essential for decades. With great power, comes great responsibility.
If This Be My Destiny!
“If This Be My Destiny!” ran through The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #31-33. It is collected and reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4. It can also be read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
Spider-Man’s famous debut and origin set the tone of insecurity and despair that defines his worst days. But it’s this story arc that ratcheted it up several notches. A pivotal scene features Spidey trapped under a ton of machinery in a flooding room. While most artists would have dealt with this struggle in just a few panels, Ditko drew out Spidey’s anguish for a full eight pages, haunting him with visions of his late Uncle Ben and a dying Aunt May.
Spider-Man No More!
“Spider-Man No More!” was published in Amazing Spider-Man #50 and was reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 5. It can also be read digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This single issue story sees a dejected Peter Parker decide he’s fed up with being Spider-Man. With a public fearful of Spider-Man, Peter begins to wonder if stopping crime is worth the time and energy. He takes his outfit and throws it in the trash, making for an iconic visual now widely imitated and parodied. It’s not a change that lasts as ultimately, Peter’s sense of responsibility wins out, but it emphasizes his choice to be a hero despite the high cost to his personal life.
The Night Gwen Stacy Died
“The Night Gwen Stacy Died!” ran through Amazing Spider-Man #121-122. It is reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 13. It is also available digitally via Marvel Unlimited.
This story was groundbreaking. It pioneered the death of a major character and romantic interest, a kind of failure that had been unthinkable for a series lead outside of an origin story. This established the ultimate cost that superheroism could exert on personal life. The other lesser recognized aspect of this story is its contribution to Peter Parker’s story. When Peter returns to his apartment, he and a distraught Mary Jane comfort each other beginning a romantic arc that wouldn’t be emotionally fulfilled until…