Arguably no character in Marvel’s endless lineup of superheroes and super-villains is as famous or as easily recognizable as Spider-Man.
Spidey has a long history in comics that goes all the way back to 1962 and since then, there have been countless iterations of the webslinger, spanning several different comic book series. And that’s not even counting the seven films the character has appeared in since 2002, with no end in sight, or the various Spider-Man cartoons and video games.
Of course, however, it all goes back to the comics. And while Spider-Man’s bibliography is absolutely massive, there are certain storylines from the comics that every fan must take the time to read for themselves at some point. Stories that were either incredibly good, influential, contentious, or all of the above.
Sure, comics can be a real pain to get into, but thanks to the internet and collected editions, it’s easier than ever to get a hold of old comics if you’re just in them for the story. And if you’re a burdgeoning Spidey-fanatic who wants a firsthand look at some of his most pivotal moments from the medium that started it all, these are some good places to start.
Spider-Man: Reign is a controversial story, to say the very least. However, sometimes controversy is important when exploring a beloved character’s history.
Published under the Marvel Knights imprint, it was essentially Spider-Man’s own version of The Dark Knight Returns. It follows an elderly Peter Parker in a dystopian future where New York is at the mercy of a brutal military police force called the Reign.
It’s a brutally grim story that sees a decrepit Spider-Man having to battle his greatest enemies one last time, all while being haunted by the memory of Mary Jane Watson, his deceased wife.
It’s also a very divisive story, with some praising its darker look at the character of Spider-Man, and others rejecting it and its more questionable elements. However, it’s not a comic you should just take someone’s word for, no matter what side of the fence they land on.
It’s simply series you must experience for yourself and form your own opinion on. You may love it, you may hate it, but there’s only one way to find out.
10. Maximum Carnage
Carnage, the spawn of Venom and alter-ego of serial killer Cletus Kasady, is probably the most iconic Spider-Man villain to originate in the 1990s. After all, it’s one thing when a symbiote attaches to someone mentally strong, like Peter Parker or Eddie Brock, but it’s something entirely different when one attaches to an absolute psychopath.
Carnage made a big splash following his original debut, and was given his own fourteen-part mini-series entitled Maximum Carnage shortly thereafter, which spread across five different Spider-Man comics series.
After recruiting Shriek, Doppelganger, Demogoblin, and Carrion, Carnage begins to cause widespread destruction. In response, Spider-Man had to team up with Venom, as well as the likes of Captain America and Iron Fist to try and take Carnage and his faction own.
It’s a prime example of Spider-Man characters becoming bigger than themselves and essentially overtaking the Marvel Universe at large. Hence, why checking it out is so important for fans.
9. The Death Of Spider-Man
One of the most noteworthy storylines of not only Spider-Man’s printed career, but also the Ultimate Marvel Universe as a whole is the Death of Spider-Man.
Seeing the last days of an iconic hero unfold before your very eyes is always an exceptionally harrowing experience, and this is certainly no exception.
What makes this story especially painful is just how much Peter’s life was improving when his untimely demise was just around the corner. He got his job at the Daily Bugle back, J. Jonah Jameson finally respected both Peter and Spider-Man, he had a scholarship lined up, and he proclaimed his love for Mary Jane Watson during his birthday party.
Then it all came crashing down at the hands of Norman Osborn.
It’s one of the most heart-wrenching Spider-Man storylines out there, and it brought the original Ultimate Spider-Man to an end, paving the way for Miles Morales to take over. In short, even though it wasn’t part of the prime Marvel Universe, it seldom gets more pivotal than this.
8. One More Day (And Brand New Day)
Speaking of pivotal, One More Day was the storyline that completely changed the status quo for the Spider-Man series. With Aunt May dying as a result of being shot, Peter is driven to desperation as he attempts to save his life.
This desperation leads to him and his wife, Mary Jane, cutting a deal with Mephisto, who offers to save May’s life in return for Peter and Mary Jane giving up their marriage. They ultimately accept, on the condition that Peter’s secret identity be erased from public knowledge (following Civil War.) Thus, a new timeline is created.
It’s a compelling look at what can go through a person’s head when they are forced to choose between two people they love and what it’s like when you only have “one more day”.
Also, after reading One More Day, it’s encouraged that you also take a look at the follow-up storyline Brand New Day, which shows Peter going off in this new world that was created for him.
7. Alien Costume Saga
The Alien Costume saga is the storyline that defined Spider-Man during the late 1980s. It began during the Secret Wars limited series when Spidey obtained the now-iconic black suit after the original was torn to shreds.
When he returned to Earth, Peter got a better idea at just how much the suit could do, offering him such things as organic webbing and enhanced strength. The caveat, however, was that it was an alien symbiote, a parasitic entity dead-set on permanently merging with him.
This laid the foundation for Spider-Man’s greatest enemy, Venom, to be born. After battling and finally ridding himself of the symbiote, it fell into the hands of Eddie Brock, a journalist with a vendetta against Spider-Man.
Chances are you’ve already seen the watered-down version of this story in the film Spider-Man 3, but if you want to experience this iconic arc the way it was meant to be experienced, you should give the comics a read.
6. Civil War
The Marvel Civil War event was another fairly controversial storyline, but love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it shook the Marvel Universe to its very core.
Apart from the main Civil War limited series, probably the most engaging aspect of the event was what was Peter Parker’s own personal story arc that was taking place on the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man.
We see his inner struggle as his allegiance during the Civil War begins to shift and he starts to feel caught in the middle of the conflict.
Also, arguably no superhero out there is more protective of his secret identity than Spider-Man, so seeing him unmask to the public was a massive deal while this event was first going on. And we see the psychological toll that aspect of the Civil War takes on him as well.
Peter’s story during the Civil War is about one coming to terms with what they think is right in a time when the lines of morality are blurred. And it’s definitely worth a read.
5. Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut!
Despite only being two issues long, Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut! is still widely considered to be one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written. So much so that it was even given a sequel twenty-eight years after its initial run in The Amazing Spider-Man #229 and #230.
This arc shows Spidey at his most desperate, as he is tasked with caring for a nearly-dead Madame Web while painstakingly looks for some way to get the upper hand on the X-Men series’ Juggernaut.
We see Spidey start off the fight as his old, wise-cracking self, but things quickly take a turn as he realizes that absolutely nothing is working. After failed attempt after failed attempt to, well, stop the Juggernaut, he is forced to use literally every skill he has at his disposal to at least fend him off for just long enough.
In other words, this storyline is quintessential Spider-Man and more than worth any fan’s time.
4. If This Be My Destiny…!
In one of Spidey’s oldest, yet most noteworthy storylines, If This Be My Destiny…!, we see some incredibly important characters in introduced and Spider-Man take part in one of his most personal battles to date.
It was in this arc that both Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn first appeared, both of whom would be incredibly important to Spider-Man’s chronology in the coming years.
In addition, the main plot of this storyline revolved around Spider-Man attempting to stop a mysterious villain, later revealed to be a returning Doctor Octopus, in order to save the life of his dear Aunt May (which seems to be a recurring theme, but is important nonetheless.)
Plus, the conclusion of this arc is one of the most memorable in Spider-Man’s long history, with him escaping from a massive pile of heavy, broken machinery by sheer force of will in a scene that would ultimately inspire one of the best moments from 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
3. The Death Of Jean DeWolff
One of the best and most important Spider-Man storylines to take place completely outside of the main Amazing Spider-Man series was The Death of Jean DeWolff, which was featured on the pages of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.
It’s one of the most down-to-earth Spider-Man tales out there, featuring Spidey ruthlessly trying to solve the murder of his close friend, police captain Jean DeWolff. During this time, we are reminded that superpowers or not, Peter Parker is still very much human, as we see his emotions get the best of him. In fact, it’s implied that he would have beat the culprit, Sin-Eater, to death had Daredevil not intervened.
Speaking of Daredevil, we also get to see him and Spidey go toe-to-toe at one point, something fans of both characters can get behind. So, at the end of the day, this is one of the single most enthralling storylines to ever appear in not only Spider-Man comics, but Marvel comics in general.
In a major crossover between the Marvel Universe (Earth-616) and the Ultimate Marvel Universe (Earth-1610), the first event of its kind, we see Spider-Man join forces with none other than Spider-Man.
To be more specific, Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man, ends up in Earth-1610 thanks to Mysterio, and has to team up with the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, to figure out what’s going on and try and find a way back home.
Seeing the experienced Peter give impart wisdom to greenhorn Miles was as entertaining as it was touching. And the fact that Peter gives Miles his blessing as the Spider-Man of Earth-1610 was the true passing of the torch moment that Miles needed.
Plus, the sheer amount of confusion expressed by both characters as they scramble to figure out what’s happening makes for both great conflict and great humor.
Finally, throughout this mini-series, both respective Spider-Men are at their absolute best. And every Spidey fan should experience this phenomenal story that features two of their favorite hero.
1. The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Much like Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!, The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a storyline that only spans two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, but has still managed to endure as one of the single most essential Spider-Man arcs of all time.
Apart from his superpowers, Spider-Man’s most important characteristic is his guilt complex. It’s not only that bad things happen to Peter and the people he cares for, but that he is in some way responsible. And the death of his beloved Gwen Stacy was the single biggest turning point in Peter Parker’s life since losing his Uncle Ben and becoming Spider-Man in the first place.
That said, it should come as no surprise that The Night Gwen Stacy Died is arguably the single most pivotal Spider-Man story in terms of the way it altered his life path, rivaled in that regard only by One More Day.
After this storyline unfolded, nothing for Spider-Man was ever the same. (It came out during a time when death in comic books still meant something, after all.) And if you fancy yourself a fan of the webhead, you owe it to yourself to experience it firsthand.