Perfect 10: Spider-Man

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

  1. The Original Hobgoblin Saga: Amazing Spider-Man #238-239, #244-245, Spectacular Spider-Man #85, and Amazing Spider-Man #249-251: By Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco, John Romita Jr., Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson and more. I’m gonna give it to you all straight, Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, is Spider-Man’s BEST villain. Let me tell you why: He’s a mastermind genius that has a thug tell him about an old Green Goblin hideout; kills said thug and takes all the equipment for himself. He then comes up with a new, COOLER take on the Goblin identity. But does he go out himself to start his new super-villain career? No, he ends up brainwashing dupes to pretend to be him to do what he wants until he cracks the infamous Goblin formula, gets rid of the part that turns you insane like it did Norman, and gain all the power with none of the downsides. He is a shrewd cocky bastard that always has a plan and I love him. You should too. Roger Stern’s run on Spidey is an alltimer, and a huge reason for that is the slow, methodical “Who is it?” build up of this new arch-enemy to take the then deceased Green Goblin’s place as Spidey’s new chief villain. The only bad part of this story is Stern leaves the title before he can fully wrap it up and actually reveal this is Roderick Kingsley. Tom DeFalco pinch hits at the end admirably and keeps this story on the tracks though. The combination of Stern’s masterful characterization combined with JR Jr.’s FANTASTIC pencils and Hobgoblin design make this story something special. Some of the most pure Spidey and satisfying comic villain material you’ll ever read.

2. Spider-Man: The Parker Years: By Evan Skolnick, Joe St. Pierre, Al Milgrom, Gregory Wright, Malibu Color & Jim Novak. I’ve written extensively about this story here. This single issue is my number one favorite comic ever. It is the top spot Comfort Food Comic. It was one of those books I got as a kid that left such a profound effect on me that I still adore it to this day. If I only got to read 10 Spider-Man picks for the rest of my life, then I’m glad this is here, as it gives us a wonderful recap of everything Spider-Man dealt with from around Amazing Spider-Man #150 up to Amazing #406 or so. Peter and Mary Jane’s recap is done in a charming fun way alongside some beautifully unique art by Joe St. Pierre. This is Spider-Man: Grand Design before that concept ever existed, except better.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #100-102: By Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Tony Mortellaro & Artie Simek. Ahhh, the Spider-Man Horror comic, with a capital H. Make no mistake, that’s what this arc is, as we get a triple shot of body horror. Spider-Man, eager to marry Gwen Stacy, takes a formula that will supposedly get rid of his powers. Instead we later see him chillingly wake up with four extra arms! Six Armed Spider-Man baby!! It’s disgusting and horrifying and a brilliant comic book idea. But it doesnt end there. We need more gruesome comic book science transformations. Later, Pete absconds off to Curt Connors’ abandoned Southampton villa to work on a cure. The house is far from abandoned however as a vampire now lurks within!! But not just any vampire, the Comics Code loophole “living vampire”, Morbius makes his debut! Later we get our third ghastly transmogrification when Curt Connors shows up, panics like any normal person should when they see a vampire and a six armed man fighting, and promptly turns into the Lizard. This story is insane and keeps piling on all the comic pseudo-science terror you can handle. It’s everything I could want out of this medium.

4. Spectacular Spider-Man #178-200: By J.M. DeMatteis, Sal Buscema, Bob Sharen and more. This isn’t so much a whole story as it is one full season. The overarching plot of this chunk of comics is Harry Osborn losing his mind and reverting back to the villainous Green Goblin persona. This is pound for pound, a contender the best run on Spider-Man of all time. I think of it as one big story that may not have a continuous plot but instead is one big meditation on trauma and psychology and mental health. That may be a more common thing these days, but for the time, DeMatteis was exploring themes and content that is so far ahead of it’s time in such a smart, nuanced way. I feel this material is better than the seminal Kraven’s Last Hunt by DeMatteis, and allows him to go so much deeper as he psycho analyzes The Vermin, Harry Osborn, The Puma, The Vulture, Baron Zemo, Mary Jane and most of all Spider-Man himself. It’s not all deep, mature themes though as we get some hilarious sequels to a couple of DeMatteis’ Marvel Team Up stories featuring Leap-Frog and White Rabbit as well as a Spidey/X-Men adventure. The issue 200 Harry Osborn climax is still one of the most emotional, powerful issues of a comic ever made. Throw in Sal Buscema doing possibly his best sequential work ever and you’ve got something tremendous and deep here. Something that really matters.

5. Maximum Carnage: (Spider-Man Unlimited #1 , Web of Spider-Man #101, Amazing Spider-Man #378, Spider-Man #35, Spectacular Spider-Man #201, Web of Spider-Man #102, Amazing Spider-Man #379, Spider-Man #36, Spectacular Spider-Man #202, Web of Spider-Man #103, Amazing Spider-Man #380, Spider-Man #37, Spectacular Spider-Man #203, Spider-Man Unlimited #2): By David Michelinie, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, Tom DeFalco, Mark Bagley, Randy Emberlin, Sal Buscema, Tom Lyle, Ron Lim, Alex Saviuk, Sam de la Rosa, Al Milgrom, Scott Hanna and more. Ok, let me preface this by saying this story is NOT very good in the technical sense. Heck you may hate it. Sometimes I even find it a slog to get through. It is the picture of excess. So what the hell is it doing here? It’s here because it’s COOL and it’s EXTREME!! For me, a 90’s kid who wanted Spider-Man injected directly into my veins since I was about 3 years old, this was the greatest piece of art ever created. For people who didnt grown up in the midst of this, it’s hard to express just how cool the Symbiotes were. I lived and died for Venom and Carnage. These were the coolest characters ever conceived in western fiction. Reading this comic hits all of your senses in a way only the 90’s could -You taste Hi-C Ecto Cooler. You hear the booming roar of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. You feel the tickling touch of a koosh ball on your nerve endings. You smell a freshly opened container of Gak. And what you see, well that’s a team of Carnage, Shriek, Doppleganger, Carrion and Demogoblin engaging in mortal combat with a team of Spider-Man, Venom, Black Cat, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Cloak & Dagger, Firestar, Nightwatch, Morbius and Captain America. This story is a big, dumb, bloated mess; but hey that was childhood and that was the 1990s and I wouldnt trade that blast of nostalgia for anything! It’s a big beautiful contradiction of everything that made that era great, and everything that made that era the worst. Read it, even if to just look at the rad art of Venom, Carnage and the ever awesome Doppleganger.

6. Spider-Man – Life Story: By Chip Zdarsky, Mark Bagley, John Dell, Frank D’Armata & Travis Lanham. This series’ genius premise is Spider-Man ages in real time and each issue is set in a different decade. Zdarsky uses this premise to its full advantage as he blends whatever was happening in the real world at the time with whatever was happening in comics as well. It’s such a wonderfully unique project that can only be done now as a tribute to the past 60 years of Marvel Comics. It hits all the best parts of Spidey’s history while never taking the easy road into just fanservice. It ends up being a gripping, emotional tale akin to a Dark Knight Returns but done better. This is the Netflix Original documentary series on Spider-Man. It’s astonishing how well this works.

7. Amazing Spider-Man #498-500: By J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr., Scott Hanna, Dan Kemp & Randy Gentile. This story is framed by a dimensional invasion by Dormammu and his Mindless Ones. Joining Dr. Strange and other heroes to help, Spider-Man is cast adrift outside time. He sees what was, what is and what will be still. But in order to get back, he needs to relive every experience he’s ever had as he climbs his own timeline. This story is so great because you get a nice sampler platter of all the charming bits that made the first half of the JMS era so memorable: Peter as a teacher, the supporting cast, beautiful JR Jr. art, exciting emotional moments with that witty voice for Peter. You also get the dark future Last Stand Spider-Man in that sublime costume which is a real treat. Once you get to issue #500 you get a nice greatest hits package of old Spidey moments that serve to remind you why Peter is the best “never give up” hero. The entire story ends with Peter getting a ten minute time defying reunion with Uncle Ben for his troubles all drawn by John Romita Sr. Its so sweet it can rot your teeth, but you dont care, it works and works well. This is the absolute pinnacle of this era and it’s status quo.

8. Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 – If This Be My Destiny/The Final Chapter: By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Sam Rosen & Artie Simek. What can I say about this landmark classic that hasn’t already been said. This story is the foundation upon which every Spider-Man comic, hell, every Marvel comic stands upon. It is so monumentally important and formative that it’s inherently baked into the DNA of every comic since this. This is the one core truth to the character: Spider-Man defies impossible odds because he has a responsibility. It’s so simple and it’s done in such a perfect way in this comic as he quite literally has to push the weight of burden off of his shoulders to continue soldiering on. It’s THE Marvel Comic.

9. The Cosmic Spider-Man Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #326, Spectacular Spider-Man #158, Web of, Spider-Man #59, Amazing Spider-Man #327, Spectacular Spider-Man #159, Web of Spider-Man #60, Amazing Spider-Man #328, Spectacular Spider-Man #160, Web of Spider-Man #61, Amazing Spider-Man #329): By David Michelinie, Gerry Conway, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Sal Buscema, Alex Saviuk, Colleen Doran and more. We recently discussed & ranked every single issue of the Cosmic Spidey Saga on the Podcast. I LOVE this story. Let me turn into Stefon from Saturday Night Live for a minute. This one has it all: Acts of Vengeance, Spidey vs Magneto, Larsen artwork, Conway, Spidey vs Grey Hulk, McFarlane artwork, Spider-Man with the power of Captain Universe, Dr. Doom, Doran artwork, Graviton, Nick Katzenberg, Mary Jane’s blown out hair, Gerry Conway, a Tri-Sentinel, Sebastian Shaw, David Michelinie, Flash Thompson showing midriff, Paste Pot Pete and more! For real, this whole big title spanning story is so tight and so fun. When the major villains of the Marvel Universe get together and swap heroes to fight in Acts of Vengeance, Spidey needs some help, and gets it with mysterious new Captain Universe powers. You get a couple of alltimer issues when Erik Larsen draws Magneto sparring with our new leveled up Web-head, and a Todd McFarlane masterpiece of Grey/Mr. Fixit Hulk getting absolutely wrecked as well. It’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s inventive, it’s organic and it never overstays it’s welcome. This is some of the most fun you will ever have reading a Marvel Comic, period.

10. Amazing Spider-Man #298-300 and #315-317: By David Michelinie, Todd McFarlane, Bob Mcleod, Bob Sharen & Rick Parker. Spider-Man VS. Venom by Michelinie & McFarlane. These comics should always come with a pair of sunglasses on because they are the epitome of COOL. This is the first appearance fight for Venom against Spider-Man and the followup rematch story. The Michelinie/McFarlane run of Spider-Man is just pure late 80’s fun. Michelinie’s constant forward moving yuppie Pete & MJ combined with McFarlane’s industry redefining art style are a sight to behold. You can feel the magic in this run as they change comics forever. The best thing to be conceived by this pair is none other than Venom. There’s a reason why he and the Symbiotes became such a big deal and it all starts here in a grounded terrifying start. Michelinie’s offbeat personality for Eddie Brock alongside McFarlane’s huge, bulging muscles and maw for Venom make this character an instant hit. This is pure high octane adrenaline as Spider-Man faces a bizarre new foe who seems to be the dark shadow reflection of him that is able to counter every move he makes. You actually think for a second that Spider-Man won’t make it out alive through this one. These first two matchups between Eddie and Pete are everything superhero comics strive to be.

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