You could split the Spider-Man comics into four eras, many of which can be subdivided into later categories. The Silver Age, covered in the Spider-Man 102 reading list, included the runs of Stan Lee and Gerry Conway from Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-150. The Illusion of Change era of the bronze age essentially started with Len Wein’s run. This was a a decade in which the character didn’t change. He graduated college and went to Grad School. He dropped out of Grad School, but there was always the possibility he could go back. That was followed by The Married Spider-Man era, as Peter Parker had a confidante and new responsibilities. That was followed by the current post-One More Day era.
Here are some highlights from the later periods, appropriate for readers with some exposure to the wall-crawler.
The Return of the Burglar
The Burglar saga from Amazing Spider-Man #193-200, featured the first appearance of the Black Cat, the final appearance of the Kingpin (before he went on to become more of a Daredevil foe), the apparent death of Aunt May, as well as the rematch between Peter Parker and the man who killed Uncle Ben.
More Roger Stern
In the 101 section, I noted the highlights of Stern’s run which can belong on lists of the best comic book stories. The entire thing (Amazing Spider-Man #226-227, 229-236, 238-251) is worth hunting down, as it may just be the most consistently excellent run in the series’s history. The Hobgoblin Lives mini-series a few years later ties up some loose ends, and finally reveals the true identity of one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies.
The Owl/ Octopus War
This eight-part storyline from Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #72-79, featured some of the most memorable confrontations between Spider-Man and one of his greatest enemies, as well as major developments with the Black Cat, one of the great loves of Peter Parker’s life. It fits pretty well between Amazing Spider-Man #236 and 238 from Stern’s run.
The Alien Costume Saga
The first eight issues of Tom Defalco’s Amazing Spider-Man run (Issues 252-259), with the Alien Costume saga are worth reading. The Black Fox, Rose and Puma would go on to torment Spider-Man again, while the alien costume has become one of the most significant additions to the series. There were also some major developments with Mary Jane.
More Peter David
Peter David was an irregular presence on Spider-Man in the 1980s, sometimes filling in for writers on other titles. But it includes several highlights for the series, especially the return of the Sin-Eater in Spectacular Spider-Man #134-136, and the commuter saga from Amazing Spider-Man #267, ad Spider-Man deals with the menace of suburbia. Web of Spider-Man #13 had a great take on Spider-Man’s conflict with J Jonah Jameson.
David Michelinie wrote Amazing Spider-Man for about eight years, so he had quite a few notable stories, aside from just the introduction of Venom. The wedding from Amazing Spider-Man #290-292 and Annual 21 was an important part of the series’s history. “The Return of the Sinister Six” from Amazing Spider-Man #334-339 was likely Erik Larsen’s magnum opus on the title, and marked the Sinister Six becoming a regular presence in the title, after a 25 year absence. Carnage was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #361-363, which also featured the first team-up between Spider-Man and Venom.
JM Dematteis and Sal Buscema’s Spectacular Spider-Man
JM Dematteis’s 23 issue run on Spectacular Spider-Man #178-200 with artist Sal Buscema, features the best-written mega-arc in the series’s history, as Harry Osborn becomes the Green Goblin once again. The ending was adapted rather faithfully for Spider-Man 3. In other highlights, the Vulture deals with the consequences of a bad thing that he did during “Return of the Sinister Six” and the Rhino makes a mistake.
The first nine issues of J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr’s Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #30-38 are well worth hunting down. Morlun and Ezekiel are introduced, Peter Parker gets a new job, and someone learns his secret identity. These feature one of Spider-Man’s greatest battles, a question that shakes the series to the core, as well as Spider-Man’s responsible to the greatest tragedy in New York’s history.
In other highlights from the run, Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #50 features the reunion of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, after being separated for several years. Amazing Spider-Man #506-508 ties up the Ezekiel saga. The Happy Birthday arc from Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #57-58, 500, 502 features glimpses of Spider-Man’s future.
Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man
The idea of Marvel Knights Spider-Man was brilliantly simple. Give A-list creators twelve issues to do their take on Spider-Man, and repeat. The first time around Marvel produced a masterpiece. This is pretty much the single definitive Spider-Man story, a collection of all that is good and great about the wall-crawler. The new Venom went on to have an impact on the series.
Best of Ultimate Spider-Man
While the entire 150+ issue run is worth getting, someone interested in the highlights of Ultimate Spider-Man (after the first year) should check out several smaller volumes. Ultimate Spider-Man #29-32 may just be the best story in which Spider-Man is framed, a common trope in the series. Elements from the story were used in the Amazing Spider-Man film. Ultimate Spider-Man #33-39 reimagines the origin of Venom. The clone saga from Ultimate Spider-Man #97-105 is one of the defining storylines of the series, as Bendis mines the worst stories of the 90s to find some gems, and reminds readers that anything can happen in this book. Ultimate Spider-Man #156-160 features the biggest event since the first issue. Ultimate Fallout introduced Miles Morales, whose origin is covered in Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 3 #1-13. Spider-Men is the first crossover between the two worlds.
I’m going to do a list later of the Spider-Man stories worth reading to put Superior Spider-Man into context, but there are a few Spider-Man tales from the Brand New Day and Big Time eras that are sure to be talked about years from now. These are recommended for anyone with an interest in the Spider-Man comics. New Ways to Die (Amazing Spider-Man #568-573) pit the wall-crawler against Norman Osborn’s Thunderbolts, with gorgeous art by John Romita Jr. Flashbacks (Amazing Spider-Man #574) had some life-changing developments for Flash Thompson. Unscheduled Stop (Amazing Spider-Man #578-579) introduces a significant supporting character, and marks the moment Marcos Martin was essentially accepted as one of the best artists in the industry. The Gauntlet mega-arc featured shake-ups for the Rhino (Amazing Spider-Man #617, 625) and the Lizard (Amazing Spider-Man #630-633) as well as a few significant returns (Amazing Spider-Man #634-637.)
The Big Time (Amazing Spider-Man #648-651) introduces a new Hobgoblin, and the cast of Horizon Labs. No One Dies (Amazing Spider-Man #655-656) was an artistic tour de force dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy. Spider Island (Amazing Spider-Man #666-673) wondered what would happen if Spider-Man’s powers became a lot more widespread. Dying Wish (Amazing Spider-Man #698-700) set up the Superior Spider-Man era.
There are a few scattered single issues worth hunting down. Tangled Web #20 reveals a lot about J Jonah Jameson. Amazing Spider-Man #271 revealed the fate of Crusher Hogan, the wrestler from Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man VS. Wolverine is one of the great tragedies, as well as the most notable team-up between Marvel’s two most popular characters, as Peter Parker getting involved in affairs way out of his league.
Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #127 may just be the definitive Lizard story. “To Have And To Hold” from Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 is a great standalone story from the Spider-Man era, although your brain may explode trying to figure out how all of that got reversed.
Best of Spider-Man Watch
These issues tend to appear on the lists of the greatest Spider-Man stories. So just to confirm, that this is the conventional wisdom, here’s the breakdown of those lists.
From Wizard’s 1998 list of the ten greatest Spider-Man stories…
- 10. Spider-Man VS. Wolverine
- 3. Caught in the Act (Amazing Spider-Man #231-232)
From Comic Book Resources list of the 50 greatest Spider-Man stories….
- 43. The Conversation (Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #38)
- 41. The Wedding (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21)
- 40. I’m With Stupid (Spider-Man/ Human Torch #1-5)
- 39. Return of the Burglar (Amazing Spider-Man #198-200)
- 38. Return of the Sinister Six (Amazing Spider-Man #334-339)
- 37. To Have and to Hold (Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1)
- 36. The Commuter Cometh! (Amazing Spider-Man #267)
- 35. Down Among the Dead Men (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1-12)
- 34. Return of the Sin-Eater (Spectacular Spider-Man #134-136)
- 33. Venom (Ultimate Spider-Man #33-38)
- 32. New Ways to Die (Amazing Spider-Man #568-573)
- 29. Unscheduled Stop (Amazing Spider-Man #578-579)
- 28. Spider-Island (Amazing Spider-Man #666-673)
- 27. Death of Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man #156-160)
- 23. The Second Hobgoblin Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #259-261)
- 19. No One Dies (Amazing Spider-Man #655-656)
- 17. The Owl/ Octopus War (Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #72-79)
- 14. The Alien Costume Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #252-258)
- 13. Coming Home (Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #30-35)
- 10. The Harry Osborn Saga (Spectacular Spider-Man #178-200)
From IGN’s list of the 25 greatest Spider-Man stories…
- 25. Down Among the Dead Men (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1-12)
- 23. The Conversation (Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #38)
- 21. The Wedding (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21)
- 20. Rage of the Rhino (Amazing Spider-Man #617 and 625)
- 19. Venom (Ultimate Spider-Man #33-38)
- 18. Ultimate Fallout
- 17. I’m With Stupid (Spider-Man/ Human Torch #1-5)
- 16. The Original Clone Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #143-150)
- 14. Shed (Amazing Spider-Man #630-633)
- 13. The Commuter Cometh! (Amazing Spider-Man #267)
- 12. No One Dies (Amazing Spider-Man #655-656)
- 8. The Harry Osborn Saga (Spectacular Spider-Man #178-200)
- 5. To Have and to Hold (Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1)
From the spidermanreviews.com Top 50 (to be fair, I was involved in this one)…
- 48. I’m With Stupid (Spider-Man/ Human Torch #1-5)
- 32. The Commuter Cometh! (Amazing Spider-Man #267)
- 28. No One Dies (Amazing Spider-Man #655-656)
- 23. Spider-Man VS. Wolverine
- 17. Death of Spider-Man (Ultimate Spider-Man #156-160)
- 15. Happy Birthday! (Amazing Spider-Man #498-500)
- 14. To Have and to Hold (Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1)
- 13. The Wedding (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21)
- 6. Down Among the Dead Men (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1-12)