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.