Monday, August 13, 2012

Happy 50th: Spider-Man's Best Stories

      I don’t think it is humanly possible to have a great superhero with no great stories, and Spiderman proves this. Not only does he have great stories, but he has countless amounts of them even from the very beginning. There are hundreds of legendary Spidey stories but, just as I did in my previous articles, have only chosen a select few; stories that were critically acclaimed at their time and stories that are just particular favorites of mine. So here they are, 5 renowned stories spanning the Webhead’s 50 years of publication.

      If everyone is a “Spiderman”, then no one is, including the original. The Jackal, catalyst of the unforgettable clone saga arc, returns to cause even more mischief and mayhem for out friendly neighborhood hero. This time around, the Jackal has somehow created thousands of radioactive spiders, very similar to the one that gave Peter his spider-powers some 50 years earlier. The spiders spread across Manhattan like a deadly virus, infecting every civilian in their path turning everyday men and women into spidermen and spiderwomen creating the phrase: “if everyone is a Spiderman, then no one is.” This distinctively unique story spanned across the entire Marvel Universe affecting almost every hero in New York. An idea that everyone had superpowers was something that had rarely been explored in comics and worked particularly well in Spiderman’s world. Spider-Island may be one of the most recent of the story arcs, but for me, it became an instant classic, an arc that, 20 years down the road, I’m going to remember as a truly great Spiderman story.

The Clone Saga Epic/ The Ben Reilly Epic
     What began as “The Original Clone Saga” with the recreations of the late Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker clone turned into arguably the most confusing, controversial Spiderman stories of all time, but it was just so damn cool. What may have been frustrating for others were wonders for me. Was Peter Parker a clone? For the past 5 years, after seeing him drop his purposively dead “clone’s” body into that smoke stack, had we been viewing the life of a mere clone? Marvel really confused Spidey fans for one of the first times in the characters history. People really didn’t know the truth between Ben Reilly and Peter Parker and neither did they and frantically people didn’t think the writers were too sure of it either. This series did include a diverse group of talented writers and artists, introduced us to a now legendary character in the Scarlet Spider and made sure this was a Spiderman story that no one in their right mind would ever forget… And it probably doesn’t help that I seem to bring it up in every other Spiderman article.

The Night Gwen Stacy Died
      Right before issue #121, fans assumed that Gwen was the girl Peter would spend the rest of his life with, and then came the tragedy. Shortly taking place after the death of her father, Gwen is abducted by the Green Goblin and taken to the top of the George Washington Bridge. This issue saw the return of Peter’s greatest foe, the first foe to ever discover his secret identity and use it to his ultimate advantage. The Goblin was also the first villain to take his evil acts to “the next level.” The Goblin drops Gwen’s body off the top of the bridge and Spiderman looks over just in time to snag her with his web, but as we all know, as he pulls her up he realizes she’s dead. Much speculation has occurred as to whether the Goblin killed her before hand or whether the sudden stop from Spiderman’s web had accidentally snapped her neck. All we know for certain is that Peter lost the love of his life, and defined this moment as the second most intrical part to Spidey’s crime fighting career, next to the death of Uncle Ben.

Spiderman, No More
      Everyone knows that Peter Parker is the most relatable hero in comics. His problems are realistic, his characters are realistic and certain aspects of his universe are realistic, including the idea of getting fed up with caring about everyone else instead of himself. Never before has a superhero decided, “why should I sacrifice the things I want the most, what mustn’t I have the things that I want.” Peter Parker said something along those lines when he realized that his grades, his jobs and his relationships with his friends were slipping and that his persona of Spiderman was slowly taking over his life. For almost an entire issue Peter had given up his responsibility, but it didn’t take long before he realized what he wanted wasn’t as important as what was right. Spiderman returns after saving an innocent man from being mugged, just in time to stop the Kingpin. No More sparked one of the most memorable panels in all of Marvel (Peter walking away from his costume in the trash, walking away from his power, his responsibility) and a theory that being a superhero isn’t easy for anyone, especially for someone “who could be anyone of us under that mask.”

Amazing Fantasy #15
       Written by Smilin’ Stan Lee, penciled by Jolly Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko. Three of the most legendary contributors to comics in Marvel history all had a hand in the first comic featuring old Webhead. This first story not only introduced us to characters we would fall in love with for many years after, and still be in love with 50 years later. It also introduced the unforgettable lesson that young Peter Parker learned the night his whole life changed. I wont say it, because we all know it, but none of what happened in the past 50 years of Spiderman’s history would of happened if it weren’t for the work put into Amazing Fantasy #15. Somewhere along the way, many have forgotten the importance of the issue and how pivotal it is in Spidey’s history. So yes, this is the most significant issue in Spiderman’s history, ironically one of the few issues to not have his name in the title.

     Doomsday & Beyond continues to celebrate Spiderman’s 50th birthday when we examine Spidey’s best artists, so stay tuned.

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