Where to Start Reading Spider-Man Part, Er, Three

As part of the recommended reading series for the Crawlspace, I’ve come up with a list of books to check out after the essentials. These were stories that were good, but maybe just not as good as the absolute best, or perhaps were better if you were already familiar with some of the iconic storylines.

We’ll start with stories that are available as standalone volumes. The idea of MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN #1-12 was brilliantly simple, although Marvel only did it once. The plan was to give A-list creators twelve issues to do their take on Spider-Man, and leave without any encores. The first time around Marvel had the good fortune to get Mark Millar at a time when he was practicing what he preached on shorter comic book runs, believing that if writers stuck around too long, their work would have diminishing returns. The result was essentially a distillation of everything that is good and great about the wall-crawler. Millar, Dodson and Cho reconciled the disparate aspects of the character: the geek aware he’s married to a woman outside of his league, the reckless superhero who picked fights with the Avengers, and the nice guy who will do a tremendous favor for one of his greatest villains. We also get a sense of the how brutal Spider-Man’s job is−something that has previously been more effectively conveyed by the movies−thanks to the edgier tone of the series. The story had some new revelations about one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies, and a change in Venom that has come to define that villain.

Dan Slott and Ty Templeton’s SPIDER-MAN/ HUMAN TORCH #1-5 explored the relationship between the two Marvel icons in different eras from the title: the Lee/ Ditko high school days, the Lee/ Romita college days, the aftermath of Spider-Man’s greatest tragedy, the Alien Costume saga and a present-day team-up that would come to change Spider-Man’s partnership with Marvel’s first family. That wouldn’t matter much if these stories weren’t really good; in fact, these were typically better than average for the era being revisited. This was essentially Dan Slott’s sample for the Spider-Man gig.

Torment collects Todd McFarlane’s SPIDER-MAN #1-5, the first issue of which was the best-selling Spider-Man comic ever. It’s one of the few stories that I read when I was really new to Spider-Man that still holds up, although others may disagree. It’s Mcfarlane’s debut as writer, but I think it mostly works, with a naturalistic take on Spidey in the early issues, before everything goes to hell, and the wallcrawler gets into one of the most vicious fights of his life. Mcfarlane’s SPIDER-MAN had one of the most interesting hooks of any Spider-Man satellite title, essentially turning it into a monster book. The first volume certainly met that criteria when a C-list villain essentially turns the Lizard into a mindless, savage zombie. It’s not about winning and losing for Spider-Man; it’s about survival.

The anthology series TANGLED WEB is particularly useful for self-contained stories, and most of it is worth hunting down. The general idea was to get unconventional talents to tell the stories of people affected by Spider-Man. TANGLED WEB #4 by Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso was the perfect realization of that, with the story of a Kingpin employee who has to meet with the boss after Spider-Man busted a multi-million dollar shipment. Darwyn Cooke popped up for TANGLED WEB #11, showing what Valentine’s Day is like for Spider-Man as he deals with the aftermath of a fight with the Vulture. With TANGLED WEB #20, Zeb Wells and Dean Haspiel tell the origin of J. Jonah Jameson with a combination of humor and pathos. TANGLED WEB #22 capped off the series with a look at a police invesigation seemingly hampered by Spider-Man’s intervention. The twist ends up working on multiple levels.

There are a few other scattered single issues worth hunting down.  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #153 by Len Wein and Ross Andru makes you care about someone who would usually be a peripherary character: a widowed college football coach suddenly dragged into a crime drama when his young daughter is kidnapped. It’s a reminder that Peter Parker is relatively safe as far as the writers are concerned, and there are limits on what can be thing to supporting characters, but that nasty things can happen to those unlucky enough to be dragged into Spider-Man’s world. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Annual #15 features a clash between the Punisher and Doctor Octopus, and a look at the inner workings of the Daily Bugle. It’s probably the best Spider-Man work by writer Dennis O’Neil and obscure artist Frank Miller.

PETER PARKER THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #65 marked the first appearance of Cloak and Dagger, as Spider-Man encounters two young heroes with a different moral code. PETER PARKER THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #127 may just be the definitive Lizard story. WHAT IF? #88 is another personal favorite, showing a Peter Parker who was affected in a different way by the spider bite, and fears that he has cursed his only son.

Full article at the Crawlspace.

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Tangled Webs: Amazing Spider-Man #1-150

For the Tangled Webs series on the Spider-Man Crawlspace website, I followed up on my list of the best Spider-Man stories for new readers with an argument for just reading the first 150 issues building on one of the recommended reading lists.

If the last list was the introductory course to Spider-Man, this is a class that can function as the second semester of the program or as an alternate introduction. It could be better for some new readers to stick to related and interconnected stories until they have a sense of the mythos. Otherwise, readers jumping around might end up getting confused. It’s not just about changes from Point A to Point B, but what happens if someone pick up lots of comics with different status quos (Points A, B, D, H, N, P and S.) The previous list included stories that had an impact on what came next, so there is a sense of continuity and an ongoing narrative. But there can be some confusing elements. A supporting character who tried to kill Peter in one story is his friend in another. Spider-Man gets married, something that’s reversed in the current comics. One of the stories was built on the emotional impact of the death of a character who doesn’t appear in any of the other tales. And then there’s the alternate universe of Ultimate Spider-Man.

Thinking back to how I became a Spider-Man fan, a big help was that the Fox animated series and the comic strip provided the equivalent of jumping into a Spider-Man run. Because of the marriage, the majority of readily available back issues (this was around the time the clone saga started) featured a relatively stable status quo, with Peter Parker as a happily married photographer. Things are a bit different now. The comic strip isn’t as widespread. The current cartoon covers a status quo that never existed in the comics. Peter Parker’s a CEO, working with characters introduced in the last few years. On the bright side, reprints and digital copies are abound from multiple eras and universes. The films do arguably serve as a decent introduction to the mythos. Wikipedia also makes it easier to figure out backstory; all I had was trading cards in the 1990s.

Recommending a stretch of issues isn’t necessarily the same as insisting that new readers should start in the very beginning rather than dive in at some other point. But in the case of Spider-Man comics, the beginning probably is the best place to start. These are the stories that have shaped the public’s perception of the character, and it was early in the series’s history that the writers and artists were able to take interesting risks. They had yet to seriously commit to the Illusion of Change approach, which may have been necessary to preserve the series for another few decades, but did mean that much of the remaining material just wasn’t as consistently exciting.

Full article at the Crawlspace.

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The Infinite Spider-Man: Fans VS Writers

Miles and Peter

There are some unresolved questions about the direction of the Spider-Man comics, and the future of the books in the aftermath of One More Day.

A discussion about the direction of the title also involves considerations of what the title is about. One such conversation is What’s more important to the series: Youth or Responsibility? This gets into a similar question “What is the conceptual engine of the series?

There is also discussion about how readers will view Peter Parker in the aftermath of changes to the status quo. Will he be seen as a womanizer, a loser, or something else? We also have arguments about what it meant for the supporting cast, with some readers claiming that it caused supporting cast members  like Mary Jane, Harry Osborn and the Black Cat to regress.

A major reason for the controversy was the way the subsequent Brand New Day era was pretty much guaranteed to be a Culture Shock, given the way a set of writers from a particular era had an outsized influence on the book.  Another important question is whether writers ever have a reason for telling a story that is guaranteed to be controversial.

What Fans Want

A major aspect of the conversation about One More Day is a good idea is whether it went against the wishes of the fans. The first question on that is the simplest: Did fans prefer the marriage? Was it wrong of Marvel to make an effort at something that many readers claim had failed before? And since fans vote with their wallets, that leads to another much debated topic: What was the effect on Spider-Man sales? And what was the significance of Renew Your Vows sales?

One More Day did seem to highlight a difference in priorities between comics and writers and fans, which led to a tangent on whether writers are neglecting payoff in favor of set-up.

Another apsect of considering what fans wanted is to look at the alternative: What would the Spider-Man comics be like without One More Day?

Fan Theories

There are also a few fan theories about the consequences of One More Day. Some readers wondered if Amazing Spider-Man was still set in the 616 Universe or if the events of OMD had created a new universe, seperate from the adventures of the real Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Another interpretation suggests that Mary Jane was pregnant during One More Day and that this changes the morality of the decision. The final question is whether Spider-Man’s soul is in danger as a result of his deal with Mephisto.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.


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Spider-Man Sales Part 2

Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Now

I’m interrupting a section written in 2012 with an update about more recent Spider-Man comics. If sales were good during the Big Time era, they’ve been incredible after Amazing Spider-Man #700. This leads to two questions: Do the consistent sales of the title demonstrate that fans are happy with the direction of the title, and that the changes necessary to make that happen are retroactively justified? Or do the sales of Renew Your Vows mean that Marvel should undo One More Day, since it shows fans like it when Spider-Man’s married?

For several years, there were passionate discussions about the sales of the Spider-Man comics and what that meant. Around the time Dan Slott became the solo writer, the book started selling out with ten consecutive issues getting second printings. Sales would increase during the Spider Island summer event, and the year-plus Superior Spider-Man mega-arc. It concluded with a relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man that was the best-selling comic book in over a decade (although it would be topped by the Jason Aaron/ John Cassady Star Wars #1 a few months later.)

The Spider-Man crawlspace message board had an active discussion on sales up until June 2010. And then it got quiet. A big part of that is that it was no longer viable to use ambiguous sales numbers as an argument for why the books should be doing better. It was doing as well as can be reasonably expected.

Then the Renew Your Vows mini-series came out, and the first issue sold very well. So sale discussions popped up again, with fans of a married Peter Parker eager to discuss the implications.

Peter MJ Pollard

Some interesting things have happened to the industry. If ICV2 estimates are reasonably accurate, things are better at the bottom. In April 2015, the 100th best-selling comic sold over 30,000 copies. In April 2011, it was an estimated 17,740 copies. So it does appear overall sales are better. As a result, the trends in the industry that hurt the sales of the book during the Brand New Day era have reversed.

Estimates for Renew Your Vows #1 exceeded 200,000 copies. This was a highly promoted #1 and an event comic by any definition, so that’s a major part of why it did so well. Amazing Spider-Man was outselling other books with Secret Wars tie-ins (IE- Deadpool, Wolverines, Captain Marvel and Thor) which was part of the reason why its Secret Wars tie-in outsold related events in other titles. However, to put in context the sales of RNY, Old Man Logan #1, another highly promoted Secret Wars tie-in with A-list characters and a major creative team, is estimated to have sold about 114,000 copies. So there was something special about this Spider-Man book.

It doesn’t mean that the spider-marriage should be restored, since a popular standalone story isn’t proof that this will work in the long term. The overwhelming success of Dark Knight Returns didn’t lead to Batman becoming middle aged in all of the other titles. Part of the appeal of the story was seeing a world where nothing was sacred. Marvel icons could be killed off, and the villain could take over the world. Spider-Man could cross boundaries that the regular books wouldn’t touch. The series could jump forward several years. Since there was no sixth issue on the horizon, readers had no idea where the story was going, and what could or couldn’t happen to their favorite characters.

It’s not the basis for a title in a shared universe, given what happened to the rest of the Marvel heroes, and how a world taken over by a supervillain isn’t exactly the world outside your window.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some kind of spinoff, given how well sales went. There are a few possibilities. It could be interesting to see a world where Spider-Man’s a family man, and the ruler has just been defeated. Structurally, it would still be difficult from Renew Your Vows as maintaining the status quo becomes more important. It could also be fun to see prequels set prior to Peter’s final battle with Venom, when he had just become a dad, and had to balance being Spider-Man with raising an infant.

Marvel’s biggest mistake with the story was not doing more tie-ins. Part of it could be that there was no one to insist on more. Fans of a married Spider-Man didn’t want to endorse any decisions that would involve admitting that the status quo was going to stick around.  While there might not be enough material for this to be a permanent part of the books, it certainly seems like something that could result in enough story material for several issues. I can understand one drawback if there are tie-ins to a Secret Wars tie-in, though there were plenty of Spider-Man Unmasked tie-ins during Civil War.

Writer Dan Slott did respond to the arguments that the sales were so impressive as to justify an immediate sequel. He noted that there was a Spider-Man comic that sold better…

I think the fans spoke 7 years ago.

And they want to see a monthly Spider-Man/Barack Obama team-up book.

He was asked about other titles that got spinoffs.

With SPIDER-GWEN, SPIDER-GIRL, and (yes) even AF #15…
…it wasn’t just a case of overwhelming demand,
it was a case of surprising & disproportionate overwhelming demand.
In each case, Marvel was not expecting these books to be major hits– let alone, blow-the-doors-off major hits.

In the case of RYV…
A Secret Wars tie-in…
A Secret Wars tie-in with Spider-Man…
A Secret Wars tie-in with the long missing marriage reinstated…
A Secret Wars tie-in with art by comic book master, Adam Kubert…
A Secret Wars tie-in written by the regular ASM writer and promising elements that would continue on into the regular book…

Marvel KNEW it was going to be a hit.
Marvel KNEW it was going to do ludicrously well.
So the expectations were set pretty damn high.

That’s a pretty big difference.

The X-Men ’92 mini-series is getting a spinoff, so some Spider-marriage fans argue that it’s ourageous for Marvel not to do the same with the better selling Renew Your Vows. There are still a few differences. The X-Men ’92 writers are happy to continue with that set-up, since that book is their big break. The artist on the new title is roughly on par with the artist of the mini. Meanwhile, Renew Your Vows had one of the least prolific writers in comics and an A-list artist who has a fairly limited output, too. So Marvel would need an entirely new creative team, who would get blamed if the new series flops. It could still be a worthwhile project, but I can see why they’re not rushing to greenlight/ announce it.

The sales analysis is often about trying to prove that Marvel, and especially Joe Quesada, made the wrong decision. So it’s worth considering times when fans and writers seem to have different priorities.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.


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Bernie Sanders Is Old

Bernie Sanders is old

I had a theory for why Elizabeth Warren wasn’t going to run for President that may apply to her, but didn’t end up applying to every candidate. My guess was that she wouldn’t, mainly because she wasn’t a plausible presidential candidate until she was in her sixties, and most older presidential candidates have been running for years. When elderly candidates run for President, it’s usually the case that they’ve either run before (Dole in 1996, McCain and Biden in 2008, Romney in 2012, Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, Hillary in 2016, possibly Biden in 2016), or that they’ve been waiting for a particular opening for a long time (Gingrich in 2012) or had toyed with it for some time (Donald Trump in 2016). Five years ago, Warren did not seem to have a plausible path to the nomination, so it didn’t seem that a poltician would be able to change their mindset that quickly.

The only exceptions I could think of were Gerald Ford (who lucked into the presidency by being a Veep choice acceptable to congressional Democrats at a time of Republican scandal) and Zachary Taylor, who had major military victories at 61 at a time when whigs were willing to pick potential Presidents with unconventional credentials. Bernie Sanders would upend my rationale for why we’re not going to have older first-time candidates by announcing his first presidential run when he’s in his Mid Seventies.

It could reflect how age just isn’t as significant an issue. People are healthier, with some entering politics later in life, often after retiring from their first career. Ben Carson’s running for President, after retiring as a neurosurgeon. Robert Bentley was elected to the Alabama State Senate a few months before his 60th birthday, and was elected Governor eight years later in his first attempt at statewide office. Some would seek promotions at a time when their careers are expected to be over. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced a Senate bid, when he’ll be 75 on Election Day. Janet Yellen became Chair of the Federal Reserve at 67.

Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, so he didn’t have an opportunity to run for President until now.  2008 was out of the question, since he was a second year Senator, and a Socialist wasn’t going to be a popular choice for the party when Republicans were in the White House, and understood to know how to win presidential elections. And he wasn’t going to run against an incumbent President in 2012.

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Possibly My Favorite Spider-Man Panel

Best Spider-Man panel by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

That panel on the right may just be my favorite from the Spider-Man comics. When a friend showed me his collection of  silver age comics, that was the one I wanted to see in the original version. It’s from Amazing Spider-Man #5, one of the character’s first ten appearances, even counting guest starr appearances in a Fantastic Four Annual #1 back-up story, and the Strange Tales Annual #2 team-up with the Human Torch.

It gets to what makes the character so unique. He has moments of incredible pettiness and selfishness, even if he gets past it pretty quickly. He’ll risk his life to save a guy who doesn’t like him, but not without considering how his life would be better if that guy were to get killed off by the world’s most dangerous supervillain.

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The Second Republican Presidential Primary Debate


My view of how the Republican presidential candidates did on the debate on Wednesday (or at least the “Top 11” debate.)

Ben Carson: B
He did pretty well with most answers, sticking to what works (calm affable outsider.) I think his comments on  how it was a mistake to go to war in Afghanistan aren’t going to go well with Republican voters.

Carly Fiorina: A
It was her debut on the big stage, and she’s likely to stick around. She hit Trump and Hillary well, and gave strong forceful responses on planned parenthood, the nation’s drug problem, and her record as Hewlett Packard CEO.

Chris Christie: A-
He reminded people that if it wasn’t for Bridgegate, he would be a top-tier candidate. Won his confrontations, and got good knocks at the frontrunners, while getting his message across. If this can be the new normal for him, rather than a particularly good day, he might become a credible candidate.


Donald Trump: C-
He got hit by the others, especially Fiorina, whose record in business overlaps with his. I don’t think he had anything new to say, although he did have a strong moment arguing against birthright citizenship in a country with welfare. Personally, I was happier when he was off-screen because the discussion was markedly more substantitve. There’s something to be said for the argument that he doesn’t want to be on-camera when anyone’s talking specifics. That vaccine answer is also not going to go over well. Maybe people responding to polls will keep grading him on a curve because he doesn’t act like a normal politician, and that’s the only thing they care about.

Jeb Bush: B-
He had some mixed responses; stumbling for the right answer on some occasions, and forceful on others. He seems smarter than his brother, but less gifted politically.

John Kasich: C-
I like the guy, and he maintained his niche as the moderate in the race, but this was a stumbling performance for a guy on the bubble in polling.

Marco Rubio: B+
He did well with relatively few questions. He can cut a few campaign ads based on his responses on communicating in Spanish, and on foreign policy. If Walker and Jeb continue their slide in the polls, these kind of debate performances do show that Rubio is a good choice to combat Hillary for the establishment Republicans. In a field with Carson, Cruz, Fiorina and Trump, his relative inexperience isn’t as significant an issue.

Mike Huckabee: B
He wasn’t onscreen much, but I thought he handled himself well whenever he was. He’s not my type of candidate, but he’s good on-camera, telling the bible-thumpers what they want to hear.

Rand Paul: B-
He didn’t win some of his confrontations, but he differentiated himself from the other candidates, and advocated effectively for his policies. Though he also seemed to be the guy who asked “Can I speak?” the most, which isn’t very presidential.

Scott Walker: B
He gave a much improved performance compared to the first debate. It’s not going to be enough to change his current status, but won’t serve to disqualify him either. It’s been noted that he had the least screentime of any of the candidates, but that seemed to be by design. He didn’t want to win the debate; he just wanted to do his campaign no harm.

Ted Cruz: C
Maybe it’s wishful thinking to suggest that he gave what was obviously a poor performance. Watching the debate, I realized something about Cruz: He seems to only have one tone. He could be talking about his love for his daughters, or foreign policy, and he won’t modulate his voice at all. That can’t come across well, even if it is always red meat.

I watched the debate with my 69 year old father. He was most impressed by Kasich and Paul, although that might be because they’re the candidates who fit his worldview—moderate, slightly libertatian—most. He didn’t think Carly Fiorina was especially impressive, but that was mainly because he thought everyone on stage did well.

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