50 years of Spider-Man. 50 years of web-slinging, wall-crawling and crimefighting. 50 years of social awkwardness and relationship problems. 50 years of duking it out with some of the best villains in all of comics. This August marks a half-century since the publication of Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, which brought us the exciting and tragic origin story of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. Sure, he started out in his teens and has only managed to make it to (maybe?) his mid-30s, but if you were Spider-Man, you could probably stretch 15 years of your life into 50 years of stories, too. One of the most enduring characters in Marvel's entire pantheon, Spider-Man is so ubiquitous that even though he's not as powerful as Superman and he was predated by Captain America, he is nonetheless their flagship character, their franchise player. So how did he get to this point? Let's take a look back.
Amazing Fantasy #15 was actually the last issue in a cancelled series usually called Amazing Adult Fantasy. It was an anthology of short, weird little stories, and this last issue included a creepy tale of a time-traveling mummy case and martians infiltrating society, all done by talented artist Steve Ditko and a writer named Stanley Lieber, who went by Stan Lee. Lee had previously created the Fantastic Four in 1961 and the Incredible Hulk earlier that year with the legendary Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America, and they had ushered in a superhero revival in the comic book industry.
Now the actual mechanics of who contributed what exactly to the genesis of Spider-Man gets muddled, as it comes from the memories of three men who never expected it to be as huge as it's become. Lee often gets a lot of crap for taking too much credit and boxing out the artists he worked with back in the heyday, but he has cited the pulp hero The Spider as an influence. It seems that Lee wanted to create a teenage superhuman character with real-life problems – something unheard of at the time of square-jawed heroes. That's apparently part of why he thought Kirby's classic burly heroic style wasn't a good fit – even though Kirby said he and Joe Simon had ideas for an orphaned boy who found a magic ring which gave him spider-powers years before, even using the name Spiderman before changing it to The Silver Spider.
However, Lee turned to Ditko, who is the man truly responsible for creating the coolest superhero costume in Marvel history – one that always comes back to its original form no matter how often modern creators mess around with it. Except for the armpit webbing. That usually tends to be left out these days, although every once in a while you get a retro guy who puts it back in. The general "Marvel Method" at the time was that Lee would pitch a concept and a synopsis, and the artist did the bulk of the work in crafting the story and drawing the panels, including margin notes to explain their pacing, and then Lee would script the dialog and sound effects. So you can see why there'd be some debate as to who should get credit and how much. The artists might as well be co-writers.
Ditko is somewhat of a recluse these days while Lee loves the limelight, so we see a lot of Lee cameos in movies, cartoons and the like. That's all well and good, since he's irresistibly charming and affable, and he makes a great spokesperson for Marvel Comics as a figurehead. If you've ever seen him at a Comic-Con panel, the man knows how to work a room. However, if you take a look at photos of Ditko, and his own self-portrait, you can't help but think there's a lot of Young Ditko in the design of Peter Parker. Here's a page of Ditko's original work on Amazing Fantasy #15.
Even though Lee didn't go with Kirby's designs for the character, he did turn to the tried and true King when it came to the cover image that is now famous the world over.
And, of course, you also have to include the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #1, which was released months later in March of 1963 once skeptical publisher Martin Goodman saw how well Amazing Fantasy #15 had sold. So why not mix Spidey up with the popular Fantastic Four?
The main thing that was so different about Spider-Man is that A.) he was the first teenage superhero that wasn't some adult hero's sidekick – he was the main guy and B.) he wasn't some iconic, larger-than-life swashbuckler. He was a messed up orphan who inadvertently facilitated the murder of his beloved Uncle Ben, which would be the beginning of 50 years of guilt and pathos. He's not a flawless adventurer – he's a kid who makes mistakes – sometimes grievous ones – he struggles to make ends meet, and he's socially awkward. You could identify with Peter Parker rather than simply admire him like many other superheroes. He helped define the ways Marvel would become different from DC at the time – their characters were often tarnished and in search of some kind of redemption.
Lee and Ditko worked on Amazing Spider-Man for years, until their working relationship deteriorated for uncertain reasons – some cited personality conflicts, others mention Ditko being frustrated with losing his editorial control. Ditko's last issue was #38 in 1966, and he was succeeded by John Romita Sr. The Lee-Romita era lasted until 1972, when Lee moved on to become the publisher (however, Lee and Romita would reunite in 1977 to start the Spider-Man newspaper comic strips, don't ya know). Roy Thomas wrote the first Spider-Man story that didn't involve Lee, and he became editor-in-chief under Lee as well, and thus Gerry Conway took over the character at age 19.
Let's take a look at just how many fantastic characters came into the pantheon during Lee's tenure – including the villains, which remain part of the best rogues gallery in comics (although Batman fans will likely take issue with that statement).
Peter Parker is blessed with one of the best supporting casts in comic books, and they've all gotten caught up in his secret life as Spider-Man at one time or another. Here's a run-down of the many friends, employers and great loves of the young man's life during the Stan Lee tenure on the book with Steve Ditko and John Romita, in the order they appeared.
PETER PARKER'S PALS
There's no way you can't start with AUNT MAY and UNCLE BEN PARKER, Peter's aunt and uncle who raised him from childhood when he lost his parents (in the comics, Richard and Mary Parker were secret agents who were killed in the line of duty – and we'll see what the movie world does with them in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot film). Without Ben's tragic death in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter might never have learned that with great power comes great responsibility, which is why he's the one character in comics that has to stay dead – even if the recent ASM Annual #39 has a weird temporal hiccup that allows the adult Peter to visit with his uncle and get some strong words of encouragement – words Peter always seems to need.
May, however, has been with Peter all his life, as a mother figure throughout his childhood, and then often as someone whose safety he constantly worried about, due to her older age and intermittent infirmity. She always used to say horrible things about Spider-Man while supporting Peter in any and every way she could, but much later on it would be stunningly revealed that she was aware of the secret identity all along, and was trying to discourage Peter from risking his life so much. Truth be told, given how flaky Peter was, she'd have to be pretty oblivious not to notice, but part of the time she was in denial. She once had a heart attack and a very poignant death scene in Amazing Spider-Man #400 in the midst of The Clone Saga, but that was eventually changed in one of the worst retcons ever, when it was revealed that Norman Osborn hired a genetically-altered actress to die in her place, while he held May captive. Yeah, The Clone Saga had its problems. We'll get to that. While at one point May actually dated Dr. Octopus, and may or may not have had a thing with the Avengers' butler Jarvis, she is now remarried to John Jonah Jameson, the father of J. Jonah Jameson, and the couple have moved to Boston. Thanks to Satan messing around with Peter's life (we'll get to that, too), May no longer knows Peter's secret identity, but she's also out of New York City, where Peter doesn't have to worry about her so much.
Right off the bat in Amazing Fantasy #15, we meet EUGENE "FLASH" THOMPSON, the star athlete at Midtown High who is always insulting Puny Parker and shoving him around like a bully. In contrast, he was always Spider-Man's #1 booster, even in the face of public opinion turning against him – as it often did. He eventually went to college at Empire State University with Peter as well, and they continued to butt heads, although it gradually became less antagonistic and more good-natured once Flash realized that Peter was actually fairly popular with the ladies.
It was eventually revealed that Flash's childhood was rather miserable, and his father was an abusive drunk – a pattern Flash would repeat later in life. He joined the U.S. Army (initially, he was drafted into Vietnam, but these days there are much more recent wars to choose from, sadly), and suffered from PTSD once he returned from his tour of duty, which drove him to his own descent into alcoholism. He finally dropped all pretense of hating Peter and the two became fairly close friends now that he'd matured, although his drinking problem eventually led to a car crash and a coma.
For a time, Flash and Peter both taught at Midtown high – gym and science, respectively – until the Iraq War started and Flash re-enlisted. This time, there was a much more tragic result – Thompson lost both of his legs in an act of heroism, and the Medal of Honor is small consolation. While he managed to pick himself up as a paraplegic and move on with his life, it eventually went into a very dangerous direction. The military called upon him and his exemplary service record to volunteer as the host soldier for the newly captured Venom symbiote – a highly dangerous alien creature that tends to possess its hosts and drive them mad with rage and nastiness. However, as the comic book military often does, they see its potential as a weapon, and Thompson answered his country's call and has his own ongoing Venom series written excellently by Rick Remender. And has fallen off the wagon when his personal life became a mess. He even stole Captain America's motorcycle… and yet they let him kinda sorta join the Avengers. They'll let anybody in these days.
For my money, there might not be a better antagonist in comic books than JOLLY J. JONAH JAMESON. Right from Amazing Spider-Man #1, the head of Jameson Publications and NOW Magazine (as he was first introduced, shortly before they attached him to the Daily Bugle) had it in for the wall-crawler, singlehandedly ruining any potential career Spidey might've had in show business by loudly libeling him at every turn, insisting he was a masked menace. That single-minded obsession drove him crazy enough to create Spider-Slayer robots and even the Scorpion, never realizing that he was employing his hated enemy as a freelance photographer and never guessing his secret of how he got such amazing pictures of Spider-Man fights. The anger was initially revealed to be the result of a deep-seated jealousy and inferiority complex to the apparent selflessness of the hero, but the truth of things rarely came to the surface. It's very hard to convince Jameson he's wrong about anything.
Aside from his raging blind spot for the wall-crawler, however, Jameson was eventually depicted as a strong crusader for truth and justice, thanks in no small part to the guiding conscience of his colleague Robbie Robertson. He was a staunch advocate for mutant rights, for example, and when the chips were down, he knew how to be a journalist. That is, until the last decade, when the vaunted newspaper industry began to disintegrate, and it became apparent that Marvel was going to need to find a new way to keep JJJ relevant, as his hilarious blowhard nature was far too fantastic to lose to something as transient as technological progress. Hence, Ol' Flattop is now the mayor of New York City, and that's never going out of style – especially considering that real-life Mayor Bloomberg just allowed himself to defy term limits, and there's no way Jameson isn't ballsy enough to do that as well. One of his first orders of business was to create an Anti-Spider Squad charged with apprehending Spider-Man. The guy has problems.
It bears noting that Jonah's son, John Jameson, is an astronaut and the kind of hero Jonah thinks people should be celebrating instead of Spider-Man – and John is one of Spidey's staunchest supporters, too (when he's not being the Man-Wolf, that is). What's more stunning is that Jonah's also now Peter Parker's step-cousin, since his father married Peter's aunt. That means that he has to share the dinner table with Spider-Man at every holiday. That's made all the more frustrating to Jameson after the recent death of his second wife, Marla at the hands of Alistair Smythe – a death Peter blames himself for not being in time to prevent. During the recent Spider Island event, JJJ actually got spider-powers himself, and nearly killed Smythe with them before he mutated into a fugly spider-monster. He got better (and was recently captured by Moloids, of all things), but he remains a thorn in the side of Peter Parker at every turn, as he has since the get-go. Plus, he's hilarious, and the early Lee dialog for him was the kind of stuff you don't see anywhere anymore.
"On what charge?"
"Charge, schmarge! He's a fink!"
LIZ ALLAN was technically the first love interest for Peter Parker, even though they never became any more than friends. A high school classmate of Peter's and occasional girlfriend of Flash Thompson, she agreed to go on a pity date with Parker and got mighty upset when he cancelled it in Amazing Spider-Man #4. She still was a mitigating factor to Flash's verbal abuse, and nursed a slow-building crush on Peter (not to mention being dreamily taken with Spider-Man for a while after a dashing rescue). She confessed her feelings when they graduated high school, but she never acted on them. It turned out that she was the step-sister of Mark Raxton, aka The Molten Man, one of Spidey's foes, and later she would actually marry into the Osborn family – Harry, that is. When Norman apparently died, and a while later Harry died as well, she actually took over Osborn Industries. She even dated Daredevil's partner Foggy Nelson for a spell. These days, however, both of those Osborns have returned from the dead, and Liz spends most of her time now protecting her son Normie from super-shenanigans.
BETTY BRANT was actually the first girl Peter Parker thought he loved. They met when he first started working for Jameson, as she was the long-suffering secretary for the big blowhard, first named in Amazing Spider-Man #4. She showed Peter kindness that was rare in his life. It seems she left Midtown HIgh early to get a job, since her brother was deep into gambling debts and she was trying to save him. Spider-Man eventually pitched in with that, but her brother was accidentally killed in the fracas, and Betty blamed the webhead for a while. When she settled down, she still hated the notion that Peter kept inviting danger by getting his pictures of Spider-fights, causing Peter to get the bright idea to start driving her away because he could never tell her the truth about his secret identity. The two did grow apart, and she eventually married Bugle reporter Ned Leeds – although tragedy would strike them later when he died after getting mixed up with the various Hobgoblin identities. In recent years, she's become an accomplished investigative journalist in her own right, has an on-again, off-again relationship with Flash Thompson (very much off at the moment since he keeps lying to her about Venom-related stuff), and has a kind of a brother/sister relationship with Peter – still one of his best friends.
HARRY OSBORN was initially a bit of a dick to Peter when they started at Empire State University together, since he met Flash Thompson first and got an earful – not to mention the fact that Aunt May was deathly sick at the time and Peter was absolutely oblivious to anyone's attempts to talk to him. Eventually, though, they managed to bond when Harry had to vent about his distant jerk of a father, and they soon became good friends. Harry dated Mary Jane Watson while Peter was dating Gwen Stacy, but when the free-livin' MJ broke up with him, he took a downward turn into drug addiction. His overdose sent his father over the edge, and once Norman killed Gwen as the Green Goblin and died soon after in a fight with Spider-Man, Harry finally learned the truth about his father, and endeavored to cover it up. But he was broken enough to take up the mantle of the Goblin, blaming Spider-Man for everything and flipping out when he discovered Peter's secret. Eventually, though, he got concussed enough to forget that, and some medical help brought him back to a somewhat-normal state.
In that time, he met Liz Allan at Betty Brant's wedding and the two began dating, eventually marrying and having a son together named Normie (creepy and ominous, sure, considering how awful his grandfather is, but hey, he was dead at the time). He also took up the Goblin mantle once again as an almost-hero, when he had to fight the Hobgoblin – a Green Goblin knockoff villain – but Peter discouraged him from actually trying to becoming a superhero in the guise of a murderer. Later, however, Harry would relapse – thanks to some mystical malarkey going on in X-Men books during the "Inferno" storyline – and go full-on Goblin, ingesting a modified Goblin formula to make him as strong as Spidey. However, it turned out that the formula also poisoned him, and after he finally came to his senses in the middle of a nasty bomb plot of his own devising, he apologized profusely to Peter in the back of an ambulance, before dying on the way to the hospital.
Years later, Satan showed up to steal Peter's marriage and mess with his life in general (and retcon things that Marvel Editorial wanted to erase), and suddenly, Harry Osborn was alive again – his death apparently faked by Mysterio somehow and Harry was sent to rehab in Europe by his also-not-dead father and please don't think too much about it. Upon his return, though, his marriage to Liz deteriorated and they got divorced, and Harry became a bit of a serial marriage artist, Kardashian-style. That is, until he met Lily Hollister. When they started dating, however, she stumbled into a secret Goblin lair and decided to become Menace, fashioning her own costumed identity and committing public attacks on her father to engender public sympathy for his mayoral campaign. It seems that Harry can't escape the Goblin legacy – in fact, even after Harry became engaged to Lily, there was some skullduggery afoot that led Harry to believe that Norman had impregnated her after getting her sprung from prison for her crimes. That turned out to be untrue, but the fact that it COULD have been is decidely creepy. Lily eventually gave birth to baby Stanley, but ran off, feeling entirely unfit, and now Harry's left New York to raise the child on his own. Given his instability, that's a little scary.
GWEN STACY's name has become legend in Spider-lore. She first appeared right alongside Harry Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man #31 and quickly became drawn to and vexed by Peter Parker from the get go. Aunt May was sick, and Peter was also still hung up on Betty Brant at the time, so he didn't even register Gwen's presence at first, having been so wrapped up in his problems. That started playing into the old adage that the quickest way to get a woman's attention is to ignore her. When Peter finally got over Betty, he actually started to pay attention to his surroundings, and when a "beauty queen" like Gwendolyn Stacy is a part of them, you take notice. Of course, right after it seemed the two were destined to get together, Peter finally met Mary Jane Watson, who wowed him with her freewheeling attitude. Fortunately for Gwen, MJ was very much unwilling to be tied down, and Peter eventually refocused on Gwen, and the two started dating.
Given that Peter had a reputation as kind of a flake, thanks to always having to ditch his friends to play superhero, their relationship had problems, but her father, Captain George Stacy, approved of Peter and did his best to keep them together. However, when Captain Stacy was accidentally killed in the midst of a fracas between Spidey and Dr. Octopus in one of Peter's greatest failures, he revealed to Peter he knew his real identity and asked him to watch over Gwen, which would become another of his greatest failures. Gwen blamed Spider-Man for her father's death, and thus Peter felt conflicted when she decided to move to London with her aunt and uncle, even though she secretly wanted him to propose to her to keep her around. He didn't, so she didn't. Later, though, Peter actually went to London to try to get her to come back, but had to do the Spidey thing, and Spidey in London is weird enough that, if Peter actually showed up there, his secret would be out. However, Spidey's actions there helped convince Gwen that maybe she was wrong about Spidey – and she realized that passive-aggressively pressuring Peter to get married wasn't the way to go.
She came back, and they were good again for a while, even though their friends' lives were falling apart – Norman Osborn had relapsed as the Green Goblin, Harry was hooked on drugs after MJ had dumped him, and she was blatantly macking on Peter despite Gwen's presence. Still, Peter and Gwen had some fun together, even taking a field trip to the Savage Land, and he was ever closer to actually popping the question – that is, until tragedy struck, robbing us all of Gwen's light forever. More on that later.
That's a hell of an opening line from MARY JANE WATSON, who knocked Peter Parker off his feet from the moment they met in Amazing Spider-Man #42 – a moment that almost never happened. Aunt May and her friend Anna Watson had been trying to set Peter up with Anna's niece for the longest time, and Peter kept ducking the blind date, feeling she'd probably be, in today's unfortunate parlance, an "uggo." Instead, he met a vivacious redhead who knew she had it going on from the get-go. A magnetic personality in search of nothing but fun and an eventual acting career, she fell right in with Peter's new college friends, taking up with Peter right away – much to Gwen Stacy's chagrin. But once it became clear that MJ wanted nothing to do with anything serious, Peter eventually made his way back to Gwen. MJ began dating Harry, and they were all mighty good pals.
She began to grow up a bit from her carefree lifestyle in the aftermath of Harry's descent into drugs after she dumped him, and much more so when Gwen Stacy died – all things a light-hearted girl like her had trouble dealing with. Eventually, though, she was there to support Peter through the aftermath, and the two got close again. While their bond was strong, MJ shot down Peter's eventual proposal twice before finally agreeing to marry him – having either figured out his secret identity on her own, or having always known when she caught sight of Spider-Man crawling out of Peter's window before they ever even met – but since current and awesome Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott hates that story, let's ignore it.
The marriage was fraught with trouble, of course, as any marriage to a superhero would be, but she was always a stalwart supporter of Peter in the best and worst of times, while her career tended to spin its wheels in B-movie after B-movie and occasional modeling gigs. She became pregnant at one point, but it was during the madness of The Clone Saga, and a lot of things were messed up then, and the daughter was apparently stillborn (or stolen by Norman Osborn somehow). After that, their marriage was stressed, and MJ tried to get him to quit being Spider-Man, something Peter had trouble doing. They had fits and starts, but they'd always come back together – and things got really interesting once Peter revealed his secret identity to the world during Civil War, and the whole family moved in with the Avengers for protection.
Then, Satan stole their marriage and wiped everyone's minds clean of Spider-Man's secret identity in the events of "One More Day" – except for MJ. Nowadays, she's Peter's best friend and only Spider-confidant, but their relationship is over. Or is it? During Spider Island, we saw that MJ is still in love with Peter, but he's unaware of it as yet. We'll have to stay tuned.
JOE "ROBBIE" ROBERTSON was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #51 as the City Editor at The Daily Bugle, one of the first black supporting characters in comics, and he became the sage conscience to J. Jonah Jameson whenever he'd go off the deep end – which was often. He was also the devil's advocate to all of JJJ's anti-Spidey rants, and he was also one of Peter Parker's biggest boosters as well. He's the wisdom to Jameson's passion. He was also smart enough to pretty much figure out Peter's secret identity, and also cool enough not to blow the whistle on him. However, when Peter revealed his identity to the world during Civil War, JJJ flipped out at the betrayal, but Robbie went to bat for him – and got himself fired. Spidey managed to convince JJJ to rehire him, natch, and Robbie only went back to work there when Jameson admitted that Robertson is the man he still aspires to be.
Recently, The Daily Bugle was bought out from under Jameson by Dexter Bennett, who turned it into a sleazy tabloid called The DB, prompting Robertson to quit and join the upstart rival newspaper Frontline, started by ex-Bugle reporter Ben Urich. Eventually, though, Bennett's paper crashed, and Mayor Jameson bought it back to give to Robbie – and Frontline has become The Daily Bugle once again. As it should be.
A superhero isn't much without a bunch of cool bad guys to fight – it would get a little boring watching him beat up purse-snatching schnooks all the time, since he outclasses them in all regards. That's why Lee and Ditko couldn't stop with just creating a really snazzy-looking character with a great hook – they needed stuff for him to do. In comics, that means jerks for him to fight. Here are the most enduring big guns they fashioned to point at Spider-Man, in the order they rolled them out.
THE CHAMELEON was the first bad guy to bother Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Dmitri Smerdyakov is a master of disguise, and in his first appearance, he was a Commie spy who disguised himself as Spider-Man to frame the new hero for his crimes of stealing top secret plans. Through sheer guesswork, he also figured out a scientific way to telepathically communicate with Spider-Man through his spider-sense (although to be fair, Lee and Ditko still seemed to be trying to figure out what exactly spider-senses do). In subsequent years, he was revealed to be the half-brother of Kraven the Hunter (who we'll get to soon), he ingested a serum to make his face actually featureless and shapeshifty rather than having to craft elaborate masks and… one time, he was defeated by Aunt May and an Ambien-laced batch of oatmeal cookies.
THE VULTURE showed up in Amazing Spider-Man #2 as a crafty thief that Spidey had to defeat on a hunch about how his whole bird-suit worked. As an added bonus, this issue is when Peter first realized he could make money selling photos of his exploits as Spider-Man fighting colorful bad guys. Adrian Toomes has always looked creepy, and that was made even more so later on when he became obsessed with reversing his aging process, preying on the young to steal their life forces. It's rare that an elderly man is a premiere supervillain, but the Vulture's flight harness also enhances his strength to make him a capable foe. He's been at death's door on several occasions, and most recently was seen farming out the actual flight-suit larceny to young, wayward ne'er-do-wells as part of his own criminal enterprise.
DOCTOR OCTOPUS arrived in Amazing Spider-Man #3, and has become one of Spider-Man's most vexing enemies. Dr. Otto Octavius was just a smart scientist who invented a cool harness to allow him to manipulate dangerous substances with mechanical arms, but an explosion fused it to his body and, upon seeing his power's potential, immediately turned to crime. He would be the first to unite a group of Spidey's foes to form the Sinister Six to gang up on the wall-crawler, and he was also responsible for the death of retired police captain George Stacy, father to Peter's then-girlfriend Gwen Stacy – a loss she blamed on Spider-Man.
If that wasn't personal enough, Otto even tried to marry Peter's Aunt May as part of a scheme to liberate her from a strategically important inheritance. In the current "Ends of the Earth" storyline, Octavius's health has failed him, and thanks to a hideous cybernetic body, he's cheating death long enough for one final master plan to prove his genius to the world who never respected him before he shuffles off this mortal coil. He's not only employed the Sinister Six (the group of Spidey-villains he first brought together in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 in 1964) in this endeavor, but he's even taken mental control of the Avengers. We still don't know whether or not Doc Ock is trying to save the world or destroy it – and the fact that he could truly do either/or is what makes him so compelling.
SANDMAN, aka Flint Marko aka William Baker, is not to be confused with that guy who's supposed to visit you when you sleep, nor with DC's Wesley Dodds Sandman or Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Marvel's Sandman is just a guy in a green shirt and brown pants made out of sand. To this day, he is still a guy in a green shirt and brown pants made out of sand, and he's just as hard to stop as he was then. When he debuted, he was a selfish criminal wanted by the feds who tried to hide in an atomic testing ground and found himself transformed into living sand he could manipulate as he wanted to. What did he do with that power? He robbed banks and tried to bully Peter Parker's high school staff into giving him the diploma he never got. Since then, Sandman's been on both sides of the good guy/bad guy line, working with the Sinister Six and the Frightful Four as well as Silver Sable's benevolent mercenary group the Wild Pack and even with the Avengers. These days, he's joined forces with Doc Ock's Sinister Six again in an effort to clear his criminal record thanks to Ock's master plan, and thus make it so that he can actually have custody of his estranged daughter.
THE LIZARD is an interesting one, and has been since he showed up in Amazing Spider-Man #6. Dr. Curt Connors, who lost his arm in "the war," became a reptile expert to try and create a way for humans to replicate their abilities to regrow their own limbs – and of course, it went wrong and turned him into a instinctually territorial and savage monster – one who still liked to sport the cool white lab coat, though. The only reason he became involved in Spider-Man's life is because J. Jonah Jameson dared him to go to Florida to fight him, since the Lizard was terrorizing a swampland area. Since then, Connors has always been more of a tragic figure than a bad guy, but when the Lizard-mind is in control, he can be ferocious and nasty. We'll be seeing more of him not only in the upcoming movie (Sorry, Dylan Baker) and in upcoming comics, as current Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott's got something on deck following Doc Ock's big story.
Despite the goofy mask, ELECTRO is nothing to laugh about. Max Dillon is a strictly for-profit kind of guy, no matter what laws he has to break, and he has an absolute mastery over electricity, to the point where these days he can actually become it. This makes him an extremely dangerous foe who is tricky to defeat, although Spider-Man used to do it all the time by finding a way to get him wet – like the firehose that douses him in his first appearance, Amazing Spider-Man #9. Most recently, Electro had joined up with the Sinister Six again for Doc Ock's last grand plan, only to be the first of the Six to fall when fighting the Avengers, thanks to Thor's hammer absorbing his electric form and shooting him into space.
Here we go. The good stuff. MYSTERIO. The weird-looking dude. Former movie special-effects master Quentin Beck's criminal costume was so outlandish that he was even mocked in his very first on-panel appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #13, as you can see above. Beck's initial plan was to frame Spider-Man for his crimes, and then pose as the hero for hire who would bring the real deal to justice, and it almost worked. While this master of illusion is often used as a punchline throughout the decades, most poignantly in Kevin Smith's Daredevil run, which was the pinnacle of his humiliation. He was said to have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and since he was uncertain if the current Spider-Man at the time was the true one (Oh, the Clone Saga), he tried to take one last stab at regaining his credibility by destroying Daredevil's life. When that failed, and DD gave him a soliloquy about how pathetic he was, Beck killed himself.
Only, he's back now, so it seems he didn't. But if anybody's actually going to fake their death successfully, it's motherscratchin' Mysterio. Nowadays, he's back in the crime game with crazy souped-up tech and a much more fun mercenary attitude rather than his prior delusions of grandeur. In fact, he may have just sold out Doc Ock to Spidey in the last issue of ASM. But who knows where his true loyalties lie, if he even has any? He's a mystery. He's Mysterio. Respect the fishbowl.
THE GREEN GOBLIN is what you call an arch-enemy. Sure, Spider-Man has a lot of regulars on his to-punch list, but Norman Osborn – the father of Peter's best friend Harry – has made it his mission to ruin Peter Parker's life. When he first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #14, he was a masked man riding an electronic broomstick who tricked Webhead into thinking he could star in a movie about himself, only to get him on location and then ambush him with the help of a trio of goons called The Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan and Ox). If it wasn't for the accidental involvement of the Hulk, he might've beaten Spidey right then and there. In #39, the Goblin actually discovered Peter's secret identity, always a bad trump card to hold. Osborn's particular brand of madness was once a split-personality disorder, where the benevolent Norman had no idea what he was doing as his alter ego, the Goblin with his pumpkin bombs, and he scored one of the most shocking triumphs against a superhero ever when he caused the death of the love of Peter's life, Gwen Stacy – a crime for which he died by his own accidental hand (or glider, rather) soon after.
Or so Peter thought. Norman would resurface many years later as the mastermind behind a lot of shenanigans in Peter's life (including, uh, hiring an actress to die in the place of his Aunt May while he held her captive… some of these were not the best of stories). Most recently, he has morphed into a sort of combination of Lex Luthor and the Joker – the megapowerful and shrewd business tycoon who managed to convince the American government to make him the head of global security with his S.H.I.E.L.D. replacement group H.A.M.M.E.R. despite his criminal past, and the secret cackling madman murderer with a green and purple color scheme who can't really be reasoned with. He repainted Tony Stark's Iron Man armor and became the Iron Patriot, formed the Dark Avengers and achieved almost complete power in the world before he began to unravel into his true Goblin nature and led an ill-fated Siege of Asgard. Now, he's trying to marshal the forces of "megacrime" to regain some semblance of power, and he's moved far beyond his provincial feud with Spider-Man… but Parker is never far from his mind.
Amazing Spider-Man #15 brought us Sergei Kravinoff, aka KRAVEN THE HUNTER, who was brought from the jungles to New York City by the Chameleon (who would turn out to be his half-brother) in order to track down and kill the wall-crawler – the world's most dangerous game! With cunning prowess, crafty tricks and the help of his master-of-disguise partner, he nearly bagged and tagged Spidey in his first outing, only to be handed his first defeat – and that kind of thing becomes a lifelong obsession to a man such as this. That single-minded need to conquer Spider-Man resulted in the famous J. M. DeMatteis story "Kraven's Last Hunt," wherein he seemingly kills and buries Spider-Man, and then assumes his costume and identity to wage a ruthless campaign against crime – in order to prove that he can become his prey and prove his superiority utterly. Sure, Spidey managed to crawl out of his grave, but Kraven remains so satisfied with his ultimate victory that he has no further goals in life. As such, he blows his own brains out. That is hardcore.
However, he's since been resurrected by his wife Sasha and his family (a bunch of master hunters themselves), much to his chagrin, and they all currently live in The Savage Land – an odd Antarctic jungle where they can hunt dinosaurs. That didn't stop him from recently beating the tar out of Flash Thompson, though, who was there in the Venom guise. More on that later.
THE SCORPION was an experiment gone wrong, and while it wasn't the first time J. Jonah Jameson's obsession with ending Spider-Man caused him to collude with supervillains, it was the first time he actively created one. In Amazing Spider-Man #20, Mac Gargan was a private dick hired by JJJ to trail Peter Parker and learn his secret about how he gets such great pictures of Spider-Man, but who never figured it out, since JJJ got the scheme to call up a scientist and pay him to jack up Gargan with scorpion power to sic him on Spider-Man. And he won, but like you do, the power went right to Gargan's head, and he went off on a crime spree that Jameson was helpless to stop. The beastly instincts turned him evil and eventually pretty crazy throughout his criminal career, repeatedly seeking revenge on both Spidey and Jameson for the condition he was in, even trying to kidnap JJJ's second wife Marla on their wedding day.
In recent years, Gargan shed the Scorpion identity and became the new "Dark Spider-Man" by bonding with the Venom symbiote, working under Norman Osborn during the "Dark Reign," but once Osborn was deposed, Gargan was forcibly removed from the alien goo-monster, and eventually a jerk named Smythe would put him back in a souped-up Scorpion outfit. He's still a pretty nasty customer.
Steve Ditko had left the book by the time Amazing Spider-Man #41 rolled around to give us the debut of THE RHINO, and John Romita had taken his place as the illustrator, but Stan "The Man" Lee was still at the writing helm, and that creative team gave us this big burly bastard who's about as classic a supervillain design as you can get. He's as strong as a rhino, he's dressed like a rhino, and his name is The Rhino. He's got a reputation as a dim bulb, but in his original incarnation, the rhino suit developed by mercenary spy scientists augmented Aleksei Sytsevich's intelligence as well as his raw power. He's gone up against the Hulk nearly as often as Spider-Man, and more recently, he's even tried to go straight.
He turned himself in for all his crimes, had the suit he was stuck in forcefully (and painfully) removed by S.H.I.E.L.D. so he could do his time, and was eventually released for good behavior once he refused to take part in a prison break. He even managed to settle down and get married to a woman named Oksana… but as happens all too often, tragedy found a way to strike him again, as a new Rhino kept attacking him and trying to kill him, succeeding only in killing his wife. That being Aleksei's main reason to live, he gave up and got back in the old Rhino suit and absolutely crushed and murdered the new pretender. Now, he's serving in Doc Ock's Sinister Six again with a much more nihilistic view of the world, and Octavius has promised him something for his services more important than money. Could it be sweet release from life, or might it be Oksana's resurrection? We don't know, but The Rhino isn't the dummy most folks would have you believe.
We'll get into more modern villains later, but these are the biggest of the big names in Spider-Man's rogues gallery, as originally created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita. There's also the Kingpin of Crime Wilson Fisk, created in ASM #50 by Lee and Romita, but he's become much more of a Daredevil villain over the years. They're the usual cast of characters you get whenever they unite to form the Sinister Six and try to take down the wall-crawler – and recently, they've even taken down the Avengers. They may look crazy, but they're nothing to take lightly, folks, and what's more, much like Spidey's original costume, the character designs for most of these villains have not really changed much since Ditko and Romita's days. That's how damn good these looks are.
Of course, that's not EVERYBODY, but those were the major players from the get-go, but Stan Lee stopped scripting The Amazing Spider-Man in 1972 with issue #110, and there have been 40 years of comics since then. There have been great highs, dark lows and god-awful travesties since then. Let's start with the highlights – the good things that have happened in Peter Parker's life. The bad things get all the attention, even from Peter, and we'll give them their due. But let's acc-ent-u-ate the positive first.
THE POST-STAN LEE ERA: THE GOOD…
Just as an aside, but FYI, SPIDER-WOMAN, who was created by Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney in 1977, actually has nothing to do with Spider-Man, beyond the fact that she was apparently created specifically to thwart any other company from trying to copyright that name. Thus, we got Jessica Drew, the private-eye secret agent of varying loyalties. She was generally an obscurity until the '00s, when Brian Michael Bendis' famous fetish for her allowed her to be elevated to a marquee level, and she's been an Avenger for quite some time now.
THE BLACK CAT, however, arrived in Amazing Spider-Man #194 in 1979, although she was originally intended by Marv Wolfman to be a foil for Spider-Woman and, even though she's a thrill-seeking cat-themed cat-burglar, Wolfman says she was inspired not by DC's Catwoman (who, outside of the '60s Batman TV series, wasn't wearing a black catsuit until long after Black Cat appeared), but instead by the Tex Avery cartoon "Bad Luck Blackie."
Felicia Hardy showed up during a time when Peter's proposal had been turned down by Mary Jane, and she left the book for years. Her father was a world-class thief, and she followed in his footsteps, but found herself attracted to Spider-Man – enough to try to earn his trust despite being a thief herself. Eventually, Spidey saw enough good in her that they tried to give it a ago – even though when he actually revealed his identity as Ol' Puny Parker, Felicia flipped out when the mystery was ruined and she realized he was just some normal schlub. However, she still liked him enough to secretly go to the Kingpin to get super-powers in order to not be a liability to Spidey – and the Kingpin's plan to give her bad luck powers just to mess with Spider-Man actually worked for a while.
The secrets between them, however, caused Peter to break off the relationship, and Felicia did not take that well at all. She eventually planned an elaborate ruse with her new beau, a super spy named Foreigner, to destroy Peter's life – although she couldn't go through with it and wound up doublecrossing her partner and heading off to Paris – not returning until after Peter married MJ – another thing she did not take well. Not only did she threaten MJ, but dated Flash Thompson out of spite. Eventually, though, she chilled out on all that and learned to become close friends with Peter and MJ, fighting by their side. These days, she's sometimes a private eye, sometimes a thief, usually a good guy and always an unrepentant flirt. Ask Daredevil about that.
Despite all those lady problems (including the huge one we'll mention in The Bad Things), PETER PARKER MARRIED MARY JANE WATSON in 1987's Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. To hear current ASM writer Dan Slott relate the story (as he did in our 100th Book Report Podcast!), this was an editorially-mandated decision handed down to writer David Michelinie and artist John Romita Sr., in an effort to make the main comics echo what Stan Lee decided to do in the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. Thus, metatextually, it didn't feel organic to the story, but nonetheless it happened, and it was A Big Deal.
In the Spider-books, their marriage had plenty of troubles – career issues, supervillain attacks, money problems, what-have-you. It wasn't always a smooth ride (it rarely is in comics), but MJ became a rock for Peter most of the time, and fans grew to really like them together – to the point where some folks are still fiery pissed that Satan took the marriage away, leaving them both single again – we'll explain that when we get to The Ugly Things. MJ is still very much in Peter Parker's picture, though, never you fret.
Artist TODD MCFARLANE came onto Amazing Spider-Man with issue #298 in 1988 and made himself famous, and made everybody draw Spider-Man like this for a while. Even though he's got a lot of critics these days, and one can argue how good this actually was, no one can deny he had a massive effect on the industry as founder of Image Comics.
In a neat undertaking that ended too soon, in the 1990s, Marvel launched a series of titles taking place 100 years in their future, and the flagship title was SPIDER-MAN 2099. Peter David gave us Miguel O'Hara, a brilliant, self-centered and acidically snarky geneticist working for the evil Alchemax Corporation. Through the machinations of his evil boss Tyler Stone, he becomes addicted to a genetically-bonding drug called Rapture, and his attempts to cure himself of that are sabotaged by an angry colleague, and the assassination attempt instead results in his DNA being spliced with a spider's. O'Hara was older than Peter Parker, and a bit more surly, constantly reluctant to do what he had to do as Spider-Man, since it was much, much harder in a world where the police force is a privatized, overbearing high-tech organization called the Public Eye. There were other 2099 titles that lasted for a few years (and Doom 2099 is of particular interest for those who like Dr. Doom so much they'd love to see him as a protagonist), and eventually, there was a crossover where Miguel met Peter, and thus got to assure him that his legacy is revered enough to carry on a century into the future (and where O'Hara meets J. Jonah Jameson and savagely insults him by telling JJJ that he's barely even a footnote in history).
Although he'd been a reserve member of the world's premiere superteam for ages, in 2005's New Avengers: Breakout, SPIDER-MAN JOINED THE AVENGERS full-time in the aftermath of Scarlet Witch going apeshit on the world in Avengers: Disassembled. It was part of a plan to switch up the definition of the Avengers to be more like DC's Justice League – the team where the most famous heroes teamed up – which in this case included roping in perennial X-Man Wolverine and usual solo hero Spider-Man. It had always been the case in-story that Spidey refused full-time membership, claiming he worked better alone. Captain America then said "yeah? And how's that working out for you?" Upon considering how misfortune befalled him so much that it became known as "The Parker Luck," Spider-Man finally changed his mind, and now regularly fights alongside Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
We mentioned before that newspapers becoming a dying breed made for a tricky transition for J. Jonah Jameson that eventually worked out extremely well. The fact that Peter was still scraping by as a directionless freelance photographer needed to be addressed as well. So in 2001, PETER PARKER BECAME A SCIENCE TEACHER AT MIDTOWN HIGH SCHOOL, the site of all his childhood tormenting. It was a step in the right direction, since Peter always strove for a career in science, but that career path was destroyed when he revealed his identity to the world during Civil War.
Spider-Man had some serious problems in the 1990s (which we'll get to) and some really questionable things going on in the early '00s (which we'll also get to), but when DAN SLOTT came on board to write Amazing Spider-Man with the post-Satan "Brand New Day" era in 2008, and becoming the sole writer in 2011 cranking out two issues a month, he started to make people forget about Satan – or at least accept it and move on. Slott has been working at a breakneck pace with dense writing, entertaining dialog and introduced some great new elements. Such as…
CARLIE COOPER was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #545 in 2007. She was the best friend of Harry Osborn's wife Lily Hollister (the one who kind of went crazy and become a goblin-knockoff named Menace) and she was also a childhood friend of Gwen Stacy's. These days, she works as a forensic tech for the NYPD (and busts heads as a roller derby girl called "Crusher Carlie" in her free time – an homage to Crusher Hogan, the wrestler that Peter first fought to earn money when he first got his spider-powers). Her father was an NYPD officer she thought was long-dead, but eventually resurfaced and turned out to be corrupt, which led her to turn him in. She and Peter recently had a pretty solid thing going, until the whole Spider Island mess happened, wherein The Queen of Spiders tried to turn the whole of Manhattan into her kingdom, turning all the citizens into spider-monsters. Considering the fact that her job involves figuring things out, she put two and two together and realized that Peter was Spider-Man, and dumped him for being a liar – especially since, when SHE got spider-powers during Spider Island, she told Peter immediately. However, they've since come to a truce, and even a working relationship, since he needs a contact with the cops and she could always use an independent operator to get around legal channels.
Photojournalism was never really Peter's calling, but his current job at HORIZON LABS is absolutely his dream gig, which he landed during the "Big Time" storyline in 2011. Run by legendary supergenius (and Peter's hero) Max Modell, it's a scientific think-tank employing geniuses, giving them their own labs with complete freedom, letting them work at their own pace, with their own style and setting their own hours. It's an absolutely perfect position for a guy like Peter, who moonlights as a super-hero and is generally considered too flakey for most actual jobs – Harry Osborn even said "Pete's like a brother to me, and even I wouldn't hire him for a nine-to-five." Horizon, however, not only gives him a cool cast of colleagues, such as the chrono-miscreant Grady Scraps and the kid genius Uatu Jackson (named after The Watcher), but it also allows him to spend a lot of time whipping up gadgets for use in the field – including the anti-Sinister Six armor he's currently rocking in the "Ends of the Earth" storyline. As a bonus, it lets Aunt May swell with pride at a parenting job well done, as we see in the sudden, wonderfully touching moment she has after seeing Peter off on his first day.
With his team-joining cherry broken with the Avengers, it only made sense that Peter eventually followed up on the intentions he had way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1, when he tried to get a paying job with the Fantastic Four. Peter always had a special affinity for The Human Torch Johnny Storm, ever since Amazing Spider-Man #3, when a speech Johnny gave at Midtown High inspired Peter not to give up being Spider-Man just because Doc Ock kicked his ass. When he was believed to have died in the Negative Zone last summer, his superhero family retired the familiar blue togs, gave themselves a new-look and a new name as the Future Foundation and, at Johnny's request, asked Peter to fill his slot. Thus, SPIDER-MAN JOINED THE FF, and got a really snazzy new costume as a result. As Slott told me last year, he pitched the idea to FF writer Jonathan Hickman mainly so he could have Aunt Petunia's Favorite Nephew Benjamin J. Grimm AKA The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing in his book whenever he wanted.
… THE BAD…
Despite his reputation as a swashbuckling quipster, Peter Parker's life has been defined by its horrors as much as its happiness. A lot of that comes from the constant returns of his abundance of villains which we've already gone over, but there are some significant post-Lee developments that require a closer look as well. Things that cause Spider-Man all sorts of angst and anguish.
Aside from losing his Uncle Ben, the most deeply personal tragedy of Peter Parker's life is THE NIGHT GWEN STACY DIED. Their relationship had its problems, but they were absolutely nuts about each other, and looked to be on course for marriage – which, even then, was a bad word in the eyes of Spidey creators. Thus, seeing no other way around it, young writer Gerry Conway worked on the story with John Romita Sr. and crafted a shocking story in Amazing Spider-Man #121 in 1973 that stunned the industry at the time. This was so unheard of – it was akin to killing off Lois Lane.
Harry Osborn was in the throes of a drug addiction and was on death's door, causing the unstable Norman Osborn to flip out and succumb to his madness again as the Green Goblin, since he blamed Peter Parker for all of it. So he abducted Gwen and took her to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. Unfortunately, Peter was as sick as a dog at the time and completely off his game. When he arrived, Gwen was already unconscious, leading some to believe she was dead already, but that would turn out not to be the case. During the fight, the Goblin tossed Gwen off the bridge, and Spidey apparently didn't have the wherewithal to jump after her, so he just fired out a webline and snagged her leg – but the sudden momentum shift snapped Gwen's neck. Thus, when he pulled her back up, believing he'd saved her, he was horrified to find that she was gone. Another deeply-scarring failure to blame himself for. His resulting rage drove him to the edge, determined to kill Norman, but he managed to stop himself from crossing that line. However, Norman saved him the trouble, because an attempt to remote-control his goblin glider to kill Peter backfired, and he impaled himself with it, and thus he was thought dead for decades.
The experience shattered Peter, matured Mary Jane, and cast a long shadow over their lives. People have tried to bring Gwen back in weird alternate forms – such as clones from the Jackal or something much, much worse (both of which we'll get to in The Ugly), but she's one comic book death that seems to remain sacrosanct.
For a good long while, Norman Osborn's death was also considered to be carved in stone, but there were always pressures to resurrect Spider-Man's archenemy. Instead, in 1983s Amazing Spider-Man #238, writer Roger Stern and Romita Sr. gave us HOBGOBLIN. If you thought it was hard to keep track of the Green Goblin between Norman and Harry slapping the mask on, wait until you get a load of these guys. The list of guys who've donned this costume is extensive, starting with Roderick Kingsley, who got the idea when stumbling upon a hidden Green Goblin lair. Other guys in the garb include Lefty Donovan and Peter's friend Ned Leeds, both victims of brainwashing by Kingsley, Jason Macendale (formerly Jack O'Lantern, a schtick not too dissimilar from the goblins, although the flaming pumpkin head is a nice touch), Phil Urich and once even a pre-Deadpool Wade Wilson was hired for a gig he botched. Anyway, when Norman Osborn returned from the grave, he and Kingsley got into a nasty Goblin-Off that drove the latter out of the goblin business for a long while. When he tried to come back, Urich beat him to the punch and killed him. These days, he's one of the Kingpin's goons. And we're not even going to get into Demogoblin and all the others.
THE SYMBIOTES. Oh, god, the symbiotes. You can't think about Spider-Man in the 1990s without thinking about these nasty goo-monsters, but it all started in 1984's Secret Wars. That's where a bunch of Marvel super-types were abducted by an omnipotent disco god called The Beyonder and forced to fight on a patchwork planet made of chunks of various other worlds – including a bit of Denver, Colorado, which eventually gave us Julia Carpenter, who would become the second Spider-Woman and, recently, the cryptic soothsayer Madame Web.
Anyway, Peter gets his classic outfit torn to crap in the fighting, but he finds some kind of weird machine that he thinks is there to give him a new suit. It spits out a black sphere, which quickly forms around his body as "The Black Suit," the really cool and striking look that Spider-Man would sport for the next few years. However, it turned out that this costume was actually a living being that could mimick Peter's powers, and it wanted to permanently bond with him. It went so far as to crawl onto Peter when he was asleep and go out to fight crime on its own without waking him. When Peter finally figured out what the deal was, he severed the bond and rejected the symbiote.
That really pissed it off, and when it eventually ran into Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter whose fraud was uncovered when Spider-Man caught the Sin-Eater, a serial killer whose identity he'd previously fabricated, the two formed a nasty creature dedicated to the purpose of revenge on Spider-Man. It was called Venom, who first appeared in ASM #299 in 1988. He took the form of the black-costumed Spider-Man, only much bulkier and with a cartoonishly toothy grin that eventually became a full-on prehensile-tongued brain-eating slobberfest. He had all of Spidey's powers and more, able to snake out super-strong gooey tendrils and – the kicker – negate the vaunted "spider-sense," thus allowing him to sneak up on the previously un-sneak-up-on-able. The fights between Venom and Spider-Man are always brutal and generally disturbing, although the beast has had bouts of conscience and even had his own series as a "Lethal Protector" for a while.
The real trouble comes with Venom's symbiote spawn Carnage, a blood-red entity which bonded with mass murderer Cletus Kasady and has absolutely no remorse about anything. That's where the fighting gets particularly nasty, as Venom HATES Carnage more than it hates Spider-Man. Carnage would eventually spawn a new symboite of its own, called Toxin, which bonded with a cop by the name of Patrick Mulligan and has actually been used as a force for good (when Mulligan can control it). There are also lots of other symbiotes out there, as Venom has spawned several and others have come to Earth, with names like Phage, Riot, Scream, Agony, Hybrid, Dreadface, etc., because Venom was super-popular in the '90s and they milked symbiotes to death.
The Venom symbiote itself eventually left the cancer-stricken Brock and bonded to Mac Gargan, who was on a hiatus from being the Scorpion at the time. The Gargan version served on Norman Osborn's Thunderbolts and his Dark Avengers, while Brock stared death in the eye and began to repent his life's crimes. Gargan eventually tried to kill Brock, but the ensuing fight brought something strange to the fore – some kind of leftover substance within his blood that went into overdrive and acted as a poison to Venom. Hence, when it enveloped his body like a new symbiote, he called himself Anti-Venom, even looking like a photonegative version of Venom, and dedicated himself to destroying his former symbiote as a form of redemption. Eventually, though, Brock had to burn out all his Anti-Venom power to save the whole of New York from the Spider Island threat. But his illness was gone, and he then dedicated himself to becoming a symbiote hunter.
These days, things are a bit different. Gargan was captured and the symbiote was forcibly removed from him, and the government then enlisted war hero Flash Thompson as a candidate to use the Venom entity in their service, believing they had it under control – and trying to make sure Flash doesn't stay in the suit for any more than 24 hours at a time, to prevent the kind of bonding process that led to the slobbering goo-monster stuff. While it's given Flash the ability to walk again, it's also severely messed up his life and relationships. However, it does look pretty badass, with a look that's a cross between the black-costumed Spidey and Snake-Eyes from G.I. Joe. In the most recent issues of Rick Remender's Venom, Brock has been forcibly bonded with the Toxin symbiote by a jerk called The Crime-Master, and he's been sent after Flash's ex-girlfriend Betty Brant, forcing Flash to finally reveal his secret identity to her. That's a good series. You should check it out.
…AND THE UGLY…
No discussion of The History of Spider-Man would be complete without mentioning the biggest disasters and most frustrating clusterfucks stuck in between all the greatness and fun that have helped him endure for 50 years. The three biggest that come to mind were all attempts to reinvent past stories in ways that didn't work, sometimes catastrophically so. So let's bull through these quickly, shall we?
THE CLONE SAGA was developed in the 1990s as a way to answer the tough question of how to break up Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson without divorce or making him a widower. As stated earlier, "marriage" is a bad word for the folks at Marvel when it comes to Spider-Man, because they tend to feel that he's a better character when he's single and juggling relationship issues and skewing younger, and marriage/kids makes him skew older. Writer Gerry Conway killed off Gwen Stacy because they didn't want a married Spider-Man, and apparently the publicity of synching up the comics with the newspaper strip and getting him married to MJ was a problem they'd been trying to undo ever since.
The idea at the time was to pull the big swap-out, and replace Peter Parker with a clone of his, dredged up from Conway's stories from soon after the end of Gwen Stacy in the early 1970s, wherein he created the character of the Jackal. His true identity was that of Peter and Gwen's science teacher Miles Warren, who was secretly in love with Gwen, and cloned her to keep her alive (and to mess with readers' heads). He also created a clone of Peter, and then discovered that he was actually Spider-Man. He made Spidey fight his clone, and when he won, he dumped the clone into a smoke stack to be incinerated.
However, come the '90s, it was revealed that the clone survived and left New York, living for years under the alias Ben Reilly (using Aunt May's maiden name as his surname). It was also revealed that there was an eariler, flawed, deranged and disfigured clone of Peter calling himself Kaine who had dedicated his life to destroying any life Ben tried to build for himself, jealous that he was a success where Kaine was a mistake. Eventually, Ben returned to New York in his new guise as the Scarlet Spider, meeting up with Peter again and this time forming an almost brotherly bond in the midst of a lot of shenanigans.
The kicker came when MJ became pregnant, Aunt May died, and some science malarkey revealed the apparent truth – Ben Reilly was the real Peter Parker, and the one who'd been living as Peter since the early 1970s comics was actually the clone. The plan was to have clone Peter and MJ move across the country to Oregon to start their family, while Ben Reilly kicked it in NYC as the single (and bleach-blonde) Ben Reilly, starting a new life from scratch. While new readers (such as myself at the time) were glad to have a Spider-Man we could check in with from the ground floor, most everybody else in the fandom went absolutely ballistic, feeling this move negated 20 years of Spider-Man stories they loved. Thus, Ben Reilly as Spider-Man, while sporting a kinda neat new redesign of the classic red and blue, never got any traction, and eventually Marvel bent to the will of the masses and reversed that decision, putting Peter back in the togs, killing off Ben and revealing Norman Osborn to be back from the dead as the mastermind behind everything. It was quite a big mess.
That said, some interesting things have come out of all that. For one, Norman Osborn these days is one of the premiere bad guys in all of Marvel instead of just being devoted to Spider-Man. For another, even though most people hated the idea of Ben replacing Peter, there is a small but vocal amount of people who would like Ben Reilly to return in some other fashion, as Peter having a brother like that was still kind of a cool idea. However, his version of the Spider-Man costume is worn in a potential Marvel future known as MC2 by Peter and MJ's daughter Mayday Parker, who fights crime as Spider-Girl. The fans wanting Ben's return will need to be mollified for now with the brand new Scarlet Spider series from Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman, which is actually pretty cool. It puts Kaine in a new spider-suit after he's been saved from his inevitable cellular degeneration thanks to the events of Spider Island, and is now facing a life of redemption for his murderous past as a reluctant superhero in Houston.
It also bears noting that some of the original creators of this whole thing, Howard Mackie and Tom DeFalco, recently revisited it in a miniseries called Spider-Man: The Clone Saga to re-tell it from the beginning and hopefully provide a better, much more streamlined story, and at the end of that one, Ben Reilly lived on.
We will only mention this once, to let you know we will never mention it again. My skin is crawling even thinking about typing this paragraph. In the early '00s, for some horrible reason, they decided to reinvent the history of Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker's relationship. When Gwen left to live with her aunt and uncle in London after the death of her father (and Peter's lack of a proposal), she was gone for a period of time, and then came back to New York and Peter. That was established back in the Lee-Romita era. In the "Sins Past" story arc, it was revealed that the real reason she went to London is because, even though she and Peter had been dating but never slept together, she decided to give up her virginity to Norman Osborn out of the blue one night because she thought he looked sad, and then she was knocked up and gave birth to twins, who then grew up abnormally fast since they had Goblin-serum in their genetics. This was awful and creepy and skeevy and stupid and everybody hated it, including the guy who wrote it, J. Michael Straczynski, who had every intention of retconning it out of continuity at the end of his run, but was denied the opportunity. Thus, the GWEN STACY GOBLIN KIDS are right up there as one of the worst ideas in the history of comics and nobody mentions it anymore, and they never should ever because fuck that godawful shit.
The most recent bit of ugliness, which still has some fans angry enough to not read Spider-Man to this day, was "ONE MORE DAY," aka I SOLD MY MARRIAGE TO SATAN. The problem remained that Marvel wanted to get rid of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson wedding without divorce or widowing. What's more, they had also revealed Spider-Man's identity to the public at large during Civil War, and thus had a public, happily married Spider-Man that didn't much resemble the character as conceived anymore. So, in 2007, Marvel honcho Joe Quesada worked with Straczynski to fashion a story wherein the mystical might of Mephisto – a Marvel Universe allegory to Satan, with power over a netherworld of his own and who makes Faustian bargains with people – was brought to bear. Aunt May had been shot, and Mephisto offered to save her life in exchange for Peter's own wedded bliss with MJ. It's an offer they accept, after much agonizing, and Mary Jane offers something else secret to the demon in order to protect Peter. That's very ominous. Thus, Mephisto waves his hand and changes the world, but not before taunting them with the image of a daughter they'll never have. In the aftermath, we learn that Peter's superhero identity has been erased from everyone's minds but Mary Jane's, and also that Harry Osborn is also alive once again somehow.
Originally, the plan was to bring Gwen Stacy back to life as well, but many folks within Marvel lobbied to keep her dead. Even with that classic story preserved, fans did not react well to this, and in his day and age, bad reactions are loud and vitriolic and all over the internet in all-caps. Such was the anger that people were determined to hate all Spider-Man comics going forward. However, the "Brand New Day" era that immediately followed has built and built into something undeniably great, relentlessly entertaining and full of life and joie de vivre. Also, to further appeal to fans who've sworn off Spidey since Satan-time, current writer Dan Slott insists there's nothing stopping Peter and Mary Jane from dating again – and indications have been in recent issues that they could start up again, as we've seen that MJ has secretly fallen in love with him all over again. Anything is possible.
Anything but marriage, that is. At least, not if you're Spider-Man. No multi-tiered cakes for you anymore, wall-crawler. Enjoy your commitment-free nooky!
"Beyond" sounds cooler, but we should probably term this entry "Outside The Comics," because "beyond" kind of implies that these other forms of media are above and superior to the stories from whence Spider-Man came. These aren't necessarily that. These are, however, cartoons, TV shows and movies starring Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, which undeniably helped to make him the ubiquitous presence in our lives that he is today. Here's the rundown, in chronological order.
BEYOND THE COMICS
1967: SPIDER-MAN'S FIRST CARTOON SERIES
1974-1977: "SPIDEY SUPER STORIES" on THE ELECTRIC COMPANY
1978: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN LIVE ACTION TV SERIES
1981: SPIDER-MAN'S SECOND CARTOON SERIES
1981: SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS
1994-1998: SPIDER-MAN'S THIRD CARTOON SERIES
1999: SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED
2002: SPIDER-MAN – THE MOVIE
2003: SPIDER-MAN – THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES
2004: SPIDER-MAN 2
2007: SPIDER-MAN 3
2008: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN
2012: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
2012: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN