Zechs concludes his look at the 26 Greatest Spider-Man of All Time with 6-1! Which Spider-Man tale shall reign as his top pick?!
Welcome to the finale. Where I, you're ever loving Zechs reveal to you the final top 6 Spider-Man stories of all time as selected by me! Now I know what you're thinking:
Really you shouldn't fear. After all I haven't steered you wrong so far have I? These stories I've selected are vastly under-rated. I really do feel a l ot of these just don't the due I think they so deserve, until well now. Yes, there have been the usual regulars that have shown and will shown. To that I say, well you can't knock down the perfection of those stories. They're that damn good, just that there are other ones out there too. So with that in mind let's begin on the final six:
6.) Kraven's Last Hunt (Web of Spider-Man #31-32, Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132) --
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis, Pencils: Mike Zeck
What happens when the villain kills the hero? This sort of question is answered as Kraven succeeds in what he's always wanted: "killing" Spider-Man. Despite drugging Spider-Man and burying him alive, the hunter's hunger is still there and his need to fill that void still gnaws at him. So he finds the need to prove his superiority over his defeated foe by becoming him and going after Vermin, a villain Peter has had trouble with. Yet with every success the emptiness of his victory still lingers. For if Kraven is truly the best now, what more is there for him to hunt? Ironically the option Kraven chooses denies Peter the satisfaction of any sort of justice for the crimes Kraven did to him.
The art and writing throughout this story is powerful. You get the sense of the inner demons Kraven is fighting throughout his life and the one that's symbolized fully in Spider-Man. On Peter's end, this is just a crushing defeat. It's a loss that will haunt him for quite some time throughout the 90s and even at the conclusion of Brand New Day. The ending though negated recently during Grim Hunt, still packs a punch. Just when you think this story will go one predictable way, it goes another. It's the total anti-thesis of you expect and that's why it's so riveting to read.
5.) The Gift (Amazing Spider-Man #400) --
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis, Pencils: Mark Bagley
I could list the JMS reveal of Aunt May finding out Peter is Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #38. However, I enjoy this issue far more than that given the added punch it gives. The story itself is Aunt May coming out of a long-ridden coma (brought about by the revelation of what Peter's "parents" were i.e. they were androids. Don't ask it was the 90s just bare with the times of things being EXTREME). Everything appears to be back to normal for the most part. The Parker family is living their lives happily.
Then, at the Empire State Building, it happens. Aunt May confesses to Peter that she knows he is Spider-Man. No surprise costume trick. Like MJ before her, she always knew but hid the fact. I buy it, because other than MJ she is the only other person in Pete's life to put two and two together. It's a nice warmhearted and touching confession added with her being proud of her nephew. Then we're given the sucker punch and the downhill spiral hits. From what became a loving touching moment is now turned into one of the last moments Pete and May share as the later passes away.
You just can't help but get all watery-eyed and cry at this point. This issue was pretty profound and still is. Yes most of it was retconned away due to the insidious run of Howard Mackie/John Bryne/John Romita Jr. Spider-Man reboot/relaunch books. Yet it's moments from stories such as these that do make the second Clone Saga worthwhile. Those who remember that Saga still consider this issue to be one of the best tales told from that era. Well, not I, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
4.) The Death of Gwen Stacy (Amazing Spider-Man #121-122) --
Writer: Gerry Conway, Pencils: Gil Kane
Someone once told me when referring to Spider-Man that Uncle Ben's death made Peter a hero, while Gwen Stacy's made him an adult. I agree fully with that assessment since for the most part (Doc Ock/Aunt May's marriage and 90s EXTREME aside) the structure of Spider-Man's tales shifted and everything changed. Not just Gwen Stacy dying, but her murderer Norman Osborn the Green Goblin met a grisly end in the story as well. There's truly a lot of drama to be had there and not just on Pete.
Even though the impact of the story was softened by Norman's return to the land of the living and the infamous Sins Past story, the Death of Gwen Stacy still has that impact and edge. It just guts you as much as it rips Peter apart every time you read it. There is no happy ending for him in this story, only tragedy. He'll never save her. EVER! Nor can he ever get the satisfaction of what happens to Norman as that's equally a tragic moment in Peter's life.
Again it's the story that changed everything. Peter, Harry, and Mary Jane in particular all went through changes that are still felt to this day. That's just what makes the story even more riveting realizing the paths some of these characters took because of this event.
Speaking of those consquences...
3.) The Child Within/The Osborn Legacy/Best of Enemies (Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184, 188, & 200) --
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis, Pencils: Sal Buscema
I like to group these three collection of stories together since they're all a whole cohesive story that I refer to as the Harry Osborn Saga, because he's the primary focus through most of it and it was his swan song (until he came back during Brand New Day, which makes sense since at the end of this story Peter never recovered and never had a best friend to fill Harry's void ever again, until Harry returned). If the death of Gwen felt like a gut punch, this was a slow agonizing journey of watching one man lose his complete grip on sanity, and plunging downward to only his own tragic implosion.
Every time I read this story, I keep hoping that somehow, someway, Harry will get the necessary help he needs and defeat his inner demons. Alas, the poison of what Norman did to him and the specter of the Green Goblin is just too toxic. It just pains you to watch Harry's regression and implosion repeating the cycle of mistakes Norman made to him on everyone he loves: his family, his friends, and his very life. The story too is of Peter trying to help his friend, again though the feud between the Green Goblin and Spider-Man is too great. There's only one outcome even when Peter gets his "victories" here and there from Harry because in the end the latter just degrades further. The approaching tragedy is coming for both friends and when it hits, there won't be a dry eye in the house.
Some consider Kraven's Last Hunt to be DeMatteis's masterpiece, I disagree. The writing with the art of Sal Buscema is a hundred times more powerful and visceral here. The expressions on the characters to the way the panels are staged are so riveting and psychological. It's truly a crime Marvel still has yet to fully reprint this story (only released a portion of it through via the trade Son of the Goblin).
Perhaps like the next entry it will finally get the due it so deserves...
2.) The Hobgoblin Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, 244-245, 249-251 and Spectacular Spider-Man #85) --
Writer: Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, and Bill Mantlo, Pencils: John Romita, Jr., Ron Frenz, and Al Milgrom
Come on. Those who know me knew this story would rear its head in some form or another. How can I not consider this to be one the best Spider-Man stories of all time? It has it all! Everything from gripping characters to epic action pieces and so much tense drama. The best part of all? This is all about entertainment for a reader new/old, and probably the greatest introduction of a Spider-Man villain ever. No I'm not kidding, not a single villain created by anyone has ever topped the first appearance of the Hobgoblin. It's paced perfectly in art and writing that the final reveal of the gruesome new visual of evil.
When you think about it, the idea of the Hobgoblin should be of a mort level. He SHOULD be in the pantheon that others fell into: Scorpina, the numerous Vultures, Lady Ock, the Grim Hunter, and all those goblins that have come after him. Yet, writer Roger Stern excels at establishing a menace that would plague Spider-Man for quite some time and create a antagonist who'd become the favorite of many (including myself).
There are other reasons why I enjoy this story so much. Everyone from Pete's supporting cast gets their little moments throughout this saga. Though to note on Spider-Man himself, it's Peter's own irresponsibility of not catching a single crook that allows the unholy birth of the super-villain. Pete's also balancing his social life which well is in a bit of a mess. His relationship with the Black Cat is rocky, given she's licking her wounds after a savage beatdown at the numerous hands of Doc Ock (from the Doc Ock/Owl turf war going on when this story was happening).
Then there's the recently returned Mary Jane, who teases and perplexes Peter even more so than ever before, though we don't find out the cause of this until much later and after Stern's run. Her character is a welcome sight to have again. Really the only character not to have much is Aunt May who's enjoying a nice quite time with her beau Nathan Lubensky.
The other two characters besides our beloved hero and hated villain to show great perspective in this arc are Harry Osborn and J. Jonah Jameson. Here both their skeletons in the closets have come back to haunt them. For Harry it's revelation that his father was the original Green Goblin (a fact he had forgot at this point) and this was the first domino of many that led to his eventual nervous breakdown and into my #3 favorite Spider-Man story.
On Jonah's end, it's his failure of trying to create a "superhero", instead he got the Scorpion, and covered the whole mess up. Jonah is faced with a perplexing dilemma: to remain as he is and hide this drama from all or man up and take the rigorous path. His eventual choice leads to one of my favorite moments in all of Spider-Man books between an exchange he has with the wall-crawler himself after the later stumbles across what the former is up too.
That's why I enjoyed the Hobgoblin. It was a reversal of the relationship Pete had with the Green Goblin. The Hobgoblin never cared about Spider-Man. Crushing the spider was on the third tier of priorities. Instead, gaining money through crimes that affected the lives of those around Peter is what made me take notice of the Hobgoblin.
In fact that's what most people just don't understand when comparing him to the original Green Goblin. Yes they're both more men in suits and goblin attire. It's funny in a way how many people forget this fact including the writers at times. But it's the guilt of their crimes that are the difference. Every life that the Hobgoblin either takes or ruins is all a result of Peter's carelessness and the guilt will always continue to mount. While Norman we all know his crime of killing Gwen. This is but one of many differences between Hobby and the Green Goblin that Stern lays out in this very Saga itself.
Regardless, this is one thrilling roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. The fights in the book are all grand confrontations. Of all the Spider-Man stories I've read, it's one I always can dig into constantly and enjoy for what it is. It's just pure comic book bliss.
However, there's only one Spider-Man story that I consider just so better than this and it just might surprise folks...
1.) Night of the Goblin (Peter Parker, Spider-Man vol. 1 #75) --
Writer: Howard Mackie, Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
I can already hear the words to my choice upon listing it. "What? That's you're #1 Zechs? What are you, nuts? Are you insane? You listed the freaking end of the Clone Saga? A Howard Mackie story at that! WHY? I'm closing this window right now and going to post to complain about it! YOU IDIOT! YOU FOOL!"
And I retort: "Why not?"
Look, I know the Clone Saga is infamous for a reason ... or reasons. Yet, if it was so bad why do people keep hoping beyond hope for Ben Reilly's return? Why does #400 resonate so well with many? Why does a character of it (Kaine), currently have an ongoing and another off shoot of it (Mayday) have such a long lasting one that still some fans hunger for to return? Yes, there were stumbling blocks during the Clone Saga. Horrific ones in fact (Maximum Cloneage I'm looking at you). But when this stuff was on, this stuff was on! That's this issue to me.
The first three parts of this crossover are pretty meh and it feels like an exercise for the Spider Team to close this. However, the actual finale of Clone Saga itself in this very issue was probably the greatest story that Howard Mackie ever wrote and John Romita Jr. drew. The two went to town on this book and it showed. The visuals and emotions via the characters Romita Jr had in this are just so engrossing. Really for me this was the highest he had ever got in comics. This is his apex and anything after is nothing close to this.
What I truly enjoy most and again showed to me why when it came to making things personal, nobody knew how to do it like a Green Goblin. I admit fully I enjoy Roderick Kingsley and Harry Osborn more as the superior Goblins. More so, I enjoy Doc Ock as the superior Spider-Man villain.
Norman is literally the ghost of the greatest tragedy of Peter's, more so than Uncle Ben's. You must remember this loss of losing Gwen happened because he choose to accept the great power and the responsiblity that came with it. The reminder of that great loss and that fate didn't give Pete the satisfaction that Norman wouldn't bother him ever again. Nope, Norman's back, more insane, more obsessed, more driven, and more imposing than ever before. That's why when he tells Jonah he's never been more saner, you're as chilled as everyone in that room by those words when Pete enters it stating, "That's the scariest thing you said all night Norman." You have to fully agree with him in that assessment. Norman has made a trap so layered and has literally almost EVERYONE in Peter's life at his mercy; J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Liz Allen, Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, Ben Urich, and so many more. This is Peter's worse nightmare come to frightening life.
But this is why I enjoy and cherish reading about the adventures of Peter Parker. He just doesn't give up no matter how personal Norman has made it. He doesn't waver after being drugged, beaten, and having to sit through the revelations of Norman's past machinations against his life. Pete won't yield, he just keeps fighting and the most ambitious fight ever in comics occurs. Even then after the fact that two great tragedies occur in this issue due to Norman: the death of Ben Reilly and Baby May. Pete still doesn't let Norman have his victory.
That's why I enjoy this story so much. It's even more so capped with Pete and MJ being there for one another in the aftermath of this event. It ties things up so well. The only real bad thing is, it's a real downer ending for any fan of Ben Reilly. Here's a character that we really got to know through this event, through the rough and good times. Marvel almost had the answer they long sought in having two Spider-Men that satisfy their fanbase: one to be married and the other single. We couldn't have had that good luck, and truthfully there couldn't be any room for Ben due to the fans and editors. It was Peter or bust. And it's all the more reason why it's such a gut punch. I will say one thing though. Ben went out on top. He saved everyone in his and Pete's lives from Norman. He also was the one who pushed Pete out of the way and took the hit on the Goblin's glider. For a single issue this packed a huge wallop for me. There are so many changes to the Spider-Man books that still echo to this day. Better or not, this book always touched me by having it all and was a fitting end for this era of Spider-Man.
So there you have it: all twenty-six of my favorite Spider-Man stories. Like I said before, I wasn't going to what critics on other sites have gone in the past. These are MY choices and mine alone. No doubt some will be vocal on some of my choices and lack thereof. Go ahead be vocal. I like to hear the opinions of others. It's humorous in a way; even with twenty-six it was hard for me to choose them because there are so many good Spider-Man stories. So many good writers (yes even you and your run SLOTT!!!) and artists lent their talents along to the various stages of Spider-Man. The depth of variety just astonished me when I really thought of it. Not to mention how conflicted I was in which stories to choose and part of me hungered to put stories that nobody would ever had put on a list and avoid the easy choices, even though they're just so darn good too.
In the end, I went with my gut and the stories that still linger in my mind. The ones I re-read again and again. I wonder if I really surprised you all with the list. I hope I did. I bet I did save for number two. I cannot help it. I am a Hobgoblin fan to the bitter end and defend any character I enjoy. Though I confess fully I love them all. Spider-Man and his world mean a lot to me. It made me hunger to be a writer and just relish the tapestry of art some of the artists on the books did. So congratulations on your 50th Anniversary Spider-Man! May you bring us more amazing spectacular sensational ultimate stories for fifty more years to come!
Written or Contributed by: Zechs