The 5 Best Spider-Man Comic Books for New Readers
Spider-Man is one of the most iconic superheroes…Scratch that, most iconic comic book characters…Scratch that, Spider-Man is one of the most iconic fictional characters Western popular culture has ever yielded. He’s all over films, TV, video games, pajamas, and bed sets. Oh, and comic books. That’s where it all started, but say you came to him from one of the many other avenues of Spidey self-promotion.
Maybe you’ve never read a Spider-Man comic before. Heck, maybe you’ve never read a comic before full stop. Either way, there are literally thousands of the things you could start with, and if you choose poorly – well, it could put you off the art form for life. That would be a darn shame. If this sounds like you, well, you’re in luck.
Below is a list of Spider-Man comics that are ideal for the new reader; whether that’s you, or somebody you want to get into the source material of the teen superhero (a kid, significant other, pet…). Light spoilers ahead!
Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7, “Power And Responsibility”
Even the greenest Spider-Man novice knows the basics of the friendly neighborhood hero’s origins: A radioactive spider bite gives high school nerd superpowers and he has a sense of responsibility instilled in him by subsequent murder of the uncle who raised him. All of that gets explained succinctly in the character’s first appearance, 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15.
That is a rather condensed version, and not the easiest to read for modern audiences. It’s also clearly an early version of Spidey before all of Peter Parker’s foibles were properly decided upon. For a more modern and involved take on the hero’s early days, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man is a good place to start. Instead of fifteen pages, the origin is told over seven issues, which allows us to really get to know Peter and all his high school tormentors, his friends and family – which makes everything that happens later all the more exciting, amazing and tragic.
The teenage slang and dialogue are a lot better than Stan “The Man” Lee ever managed, too…
Amazing Spider-Man #31-33, “If This Be My Destiny…!”
Teenage drama, the difficulty of balancing high school crushes with crimefighting and hip lingo are all important parts of Spider-Man as a character. But more than anything, his superhero side is defined by his indomitable spirit. From his earliest stories Peter Parker’s life is tinged by tragedy, and what makes Spidey such an enduring and beloved character is his ability to carry on in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, in situations which would cause your average to just tap out.
To get a sense of this, and the classic sixties era of the original Amazing Spider-Man comic book series, you should check out writer Stan Lee and genius artist Steve Ditko’s “If This Be My Destiny…!” Facing a new, unseen enemy manipulating a series of trials behind the scenes – all whilst trying to get medicine to his elderly Aunt May, close to death in hospital – Spider-Man comes up against some of his most difficult challenges thus far.
It’s the final chapter, cannily named “The Final Chapter”, which makes this one of the most iconic Spider-Man stories in the character’s history. In one bravura sequence, the webhead talks himself into escaping from beneath a huge piece of machinery that would otherwise have been his certain doom – if that doesn’t give you chills, you must have been chugging anti-freeze.
Spider-Man: Blue #1-6
Although Mary Jane Watson is probably the better known of Peter Parker’s love interests (again, as evidenced by certain movies), Gwen Stacy was the first to claim Spider-Man’s heart as her own. As played by Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man film series, the chemistry between the two has never been better put down on the comics page than by artist Tim Sale and writer Jeph Loeb – the latter of whom works on the Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. TV series – in their 2002 miniseries Spider-Man: Blue.
Whilst Ditko and Romita’s art is iconic, it might be a little difficult for those used to the slicker, modern-day comic book style. Sale’s work in Blue is a nice middle ground, stylised and strong and painterly, with a nod to the retro. Exactly right for an in-depth retelling of older Spider-Man stories, focusing on the burgeoning relationship between Peter and Gwen.
Much like what Ultimate Spider-Man does for the character’s origins, Spider-Man: Blue takes an existing storyline that was a little thinner, adding weight and depth along with making it more palatable to contemporary sensibilities. Your mum might even like this Spider-Man comic!
Amazing Spider-Man #39-40, “How Green Was My Goblin!”
A superhero is only as good as his villains. It’s at least part of the reason for Batman’s popularity – that cavalcade of colorful bad guys he comes up against. Spider-Man’s rogue gallery is no less well stocked, but as with the Dark Knight, there is a single arch nemesis of our hero that stands above all the others: Gotham has The Joker, and Marvel’s New York City has the Green Goblin. What’s worse is that Spidey’s ultimate adversary is the father of his college roommate…
The saga of Norman Osborn unfolded over a period of months, and remains one of the key conflicts in the Spider-Man comics; the Goblin just turned up again to try and ruin Peter Parker’s life for the umpteenth time, at the end of the Superior Spider-Man. But back in the sixties, his secret identity remained a secret, so the revelation that beneath the Green Goblin’s mask laid the face of Harry Osborn’s dad was quite the shock. So, erm, sorry for ruining that.
You’ll already have known it if you’d watched any Spider-Man film, though. So the reason to read Amazing Spider-Man #39-40 in the modern day is to see the elemental version of the Spidey/Goblin relationship: the bad guy tries time and again to not only defeat his enemy but wants to destroy his personal life as well, with Peter struggling to square an everyday knock-down drag-out supervillain battle with the fact that his adversary is related to someone close to him. Plus it involves some of John Romita’s iconic artwork.
Amazing Spider-Man #121-122, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”
Until she gets to the end, anyway. If you know anything about Gwen Stacy, you probably know that – SPOILER ALERT – she dies tragically, at the hands of the aforementioned Green Goblin. Norman Osborn’s crowning achievement as arch-nemesis of Spider-Man was defining for both hero and villain for years to come and marked a real turning point in the comic book series. The stakes of the melodrama were more clearly defined, and the reasoning behind Peter keeping his identity a secret makes perfect sense all of a sudden.
Come for the dramatics, stay for the horribly effective twisty-turny plot and cliffhangers, capably handled by writer Gerry Conway and artist Gil Kane, whose run on Amazing Spider-Man is relatively unheralded. So read this and you’ve not only got a classic Spidey story under your belt, likely itching to get your hands on more, but also a ready-made cool opinion about the most underrated of his creators…