Rave : 2012 : Our Favourite, Least Favourite Issues of ASM
Amazing Spider-Man #700 is the final issue of that title. None of us at SpiderFan believe that, you may be sure. Amazing will be back someday, when Superior Spider-Man has run its course. Still, we're not above using the purported end of the title to reflect on the issues of ASM that we liked best, and the ones we liked least. The results of those reflections follow.
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #648, the beginning of the “Big Time” arc. I’m well aware this choice may seem ridiculous. It’s been just two years since this issue came out, and the history of ASM goes back fifty. Surely only someone with no sense of history could choose this issue?
Well, no. I think this issue is a very defensible pick. And here’s why.
I've only been reading ASM since the 1980s, and my record is quite spotty, as I dropped the title the instant I didn't care for it any more. Thus my run of Amazing consists of parts of the Stern run from the 1980s, a separate chunk from #400 on till after the end of the Clone Saga, and again from the “Civil War” event to somewhere in the middle of the Brand New Day era, around the time of the reveal of Menace’s identity. Then I picked it up again with “Grim Hunt” and I've been collected it since then. To my mind, #648 stands out in that crowd: only some of the Hobgoblin stuff in the Stern run might beat it, and none of those issues impressed me the way that #648 did.
#648 impressed me a great deal. If you want an extended riff on why, go back and read what I wrote at the time (click the link above). But if you’d prefer not to, let me quote myself, because this is it in a nutshell:
It seems to me that during the Brand New Day era [or indeed, much of ASM’s history], you’d have to be a masochist to root for Peter Parker. Losing his wife (er, I mean, live-in girlfriend); being fired by the DB! and then the Mayor’s office; losing his reputation as a photojournalist; being forced to live with an emasculating creep; always being poor and struggling to meet his expenses; constantly disappointing the women in his life; and more! This isn't The Hero Who Could Be You, this is The Hero You’re Glad You’re Not.
Whereas in the Big Time era, it’s implied we’ll now have a Peter who is competent at his work; is well-compensated for it; is respected, or at least tolerated, by his colleagues and boss; has a steady girlfriend; and has the freedom to pursue his Spider-Man career without disrupting his day job... I’m much more interested in reading about this Peter Parker than the sad sack of the BND era.
And more than fifty issues later, it’s still true.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #634, i.e., the opening of the “Grim Hunt” arc. Man, I hated this issue, and if you read my review, you’ll see why. Careless plotting; pretentious, pseudo-intellectual dialogue; and the unflinching depiction of child-murder. Whee!
And it’s all in the service of undoing one of the great Spider-Man stories, “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, by bringing Kraven the Hunter back from the dead. If anything, this story has worsened over time, as it’s become clear that there wasn’t any thought put into it: all this to bring Kraven back, and he’s been essentially left unused since that time. So what was the point?
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #300. I first started reading Amazing around 1986, which I think was a fantastic period. The black costume, the mystery of the Hobgoblin, and plenty of great storylines. To me, this whole period culminated in ASM #300, the first issue-length appearance of Venom and my favorite issue of Amazing, also probably my favorite comic book of all time, full stop.
Call it nostalgia, but I still hold up #300 as the peak of Spider-man in general. You had a vital new talent in the artistry of Todd McFarlane. You had a great menacing new foe in Venom, who matched Spider-man in about every way (and this issue was another example of an outmatched Spider-man having to use his wits to defeat the bad guy). It was also the end of Peter wearing a cloth version of the black costume, which was the end of another era. I must've read this issue several dozen times (I even remember taking it to church with me when my family still went to church weekly). My copy is dog-eared, worn and is far from what a mint copy of #300 probably fetches. I wouldn't trade it for much of anything.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #264.
Red 9. What the hell was that all about?
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... ASM #294. Kraven’s Last Hunt is far and away one of my favorite comic stories ever written. Nothing I say could do it justice. Just read the story.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... Its tough to name just one but all of the 1998 reboot is awful. Mary Jane was supposedly killed in a midair plane explosion in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #13 (or 454 if you like) and in the next issue, Peter hardly mentioned the incident at all. J. Jonah Jameson muttered something about sending Peter a fruit basket as condolences and all of issue 14 focused on the new Spider-Woman. Jonah was never the warm and cuddly type but he has shown more consideration for his employees than just offering a fruit basket. Peter didn't suit up and find a way to get to the crash site to find his wife but moped around saying he couldn't sleep? Get the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Defenders, someone to help you find the love of your life, man! Say what you will about JMS’s run on Amazing, but it was a breath of fresh air after 30 issues of Mackie.
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... Amazing Spider-Man #200. Spider-Man goes full circle and proves that Peter Parker, powers or not, is a proactive hero. I really love this one and I can never really put my finger on why. The art is great but not astounding but the writing is crisp. Wolfman was a daring writer and he dared to kill off the Burglar in this classic and I just loved it. I honestly prefer #400 but I have a closer emotional attachment to this ish and I figured someone else would grab the big 4-0-0.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... Amazing Spider-Man #630. Now, my worst issue is nowhere near as ironclad as my best one is in my mind but I was ranting about this issue today so why not.
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #33. I was originally going to pick an obscure story as my all time favorite Amazing Spider-Man issue to show off my extensive knowledge of the Spidey canon, but who am I kidding? It doesn't get any better than ASM #33. Just one look at the iconic Steve Ditko cover tells us everything we need to know about this classic tale. Spider-Man is in a very precarious predicament, trapped under the rubble of the Master Planner's crumbling underwater base. With his beloved Aunt May at death's door, Spidey must deliver a serum to Dr. Connors before it is too late. In the most climatic ordeal in the history of Spider-Man comics, our hero lifts the enormous weight of fallen debris off of himself by sheer will alone. While the issue also features an exciting battle that pits a worn and beaten Spidey versus a legion of the Master Planner's men and also an emotional exchange between a battered Peter and a worried Betty Brant, it's the escape that transpires on the opening pages that make this the most memorable (and my favorite) Spider-Man issue ever.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...ASM #545. This is the issue that made me drop the book. It's a comic so bad and so poorly thought out that I didn't buy another Spider-Man book for nearly five years. Peter's "deal with the devil" was infamous upon its release, but not too many people drew the line in the sand like I did.
Harry was back? The marriage is over? It wasn't just that Pete and MJ's marriage had ended, actually it wasn't that at all, it was the way that it happened. One More Day was a lazy plot device that pretty much spit in the face of every creator that put their heart and soul into 20 years of making a married Spider-Man work. I still shudder when I think about this particular era of Spider-Man, and my disdain for it far outweighs that of the clone saga or the other generally derided Spidey eras.
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #35. This was right after that awful, awful Howard Mackie re-boot. I had been collecting Spider-Man comics since the Clone Saga was coming to an end, so I had seen a pretty rough time for the wall crawler in terms of story writing. I had enjoyed the pre-Final Chapter stories enough, but really, really disliked everything since the re-boot: Spider-Man “quitting”, MJ “dying”, Peter becoming a dishwasher, Mackie re-writing his origin, and Peter’s character in general. Then came the JMS era. I know there’s still some controversy surrounding his use of mysticism, but to me, he captured the true spirit of Spider-Man: The heroics, the humor, and that unwavering moral code and obligation to do what’s right by everyone. JMS also managed to make Aunt May more than just an old, out-of-touch caricature of a person. He made her realistic and savvy. Anyways, issue 35 captured Peter’s intellect, his ability to overcome a seemingly unstoppable force, and his inability to take a life, even when his own was on the line. A true story of heroism, with a mix of humor, and began the path that would lead to Aunt May coming to fully understand everything her frail nephew can really do. That and I really just happened to like Morlun.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #16. This one was...much harder to pick. Would it be ASM #545 for the complete lack of regard for continuity or fan feelings? Maybe one of the many dreadful BND-era stories that introduced yet another throw away villain? And if I pick a Mackie-era one, how do I choose? Some many of his issues had little significance or seemed to be trying so hard to be memorable that they were grating. I was torn between this issue, #4 ( with the Sandman and the FF), and # 27 (that stupid cat issue), but I chose #16. At the time, I wondered who this mysterious woman was and what her significance to anything in the Marvel universe was (I still have no clue). And I had no idea who the Ghost was or why I should care, and this issue didn’t really answer that. The cover also assigned some level of significance to this and tried to capture the campy, melodramatic feel of generations past, but the story itself was so boring and I was getting so tired of the constant parade of “How can we make Peter’s life MORE miserable” that I rolled my eyes more than anything when he lost his job. In fact, giving it to him in the first place hardly seemed worth mentioning! I know that the “Parker Luck” is part of Spider-Man’s charm, but there’s a fine line difference “bad luck” and “constantly having terrible, terrible things happen”.
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...Amazing Spider-Man #179 The fact that I was born in 1980 denied me the privileged-perspective of reading the various issues of Amazing Spider-Man in the chronological order of their publication. Moreover, when I did go back and read the old issues, I did not read them in sequential order (I didn’t start doing that until Amazing Spider-Man #350). And although this may seem like an ‘overcome-able’ obstacle when deciding a favorite issue, allow me to explain. When I began reading Spider-Man comics in the early nineties I was vaguely familiar with Spidey’s rich history (how he got his powers, what happened to Uncle Ben, the identities of some of the key villains, etc). The result of this vague familiarity and my sporadic uncovering of the Spiderverse meant that reading classics like Gwen Stacy’s death (ASM #121-122) or Harry Osborn’s descent into madness as the second Green Goblin (ASM #135-137) did not provide me with the same shock-factor that it did for people who enjoyed the books right off the racks. So my favorite issue of Amazing Spider-Man may be one that is off the radar of the widely-acclaimed stories within Amazing Spider-Man title. End disclaimer.
At the onset of the Green Goblin story arc featured in Amazing Spider-Man #176-180, it appeared to be a the same-old retread of a Green Goblin story. An Osborn re-succumbs to his Goblin tendencies which ignites his desire to destroy Spider-Man and take over the criminal underworld. Yawn. But as Len Wein’s story gets cooking, the reader is taken down an unexpected path as we uncover in Amazing Spider-Man #179 that Harry Osborn is not the one behind the mask, rather Harry is the Green Goblin’s captive! Most Spiderfans are well aware of this story arc and that the infamous title of Green Goblin III belongs to Harry’s psychiatrist, the now-deceased “good doctor” Bart Hamilton. And with that, a deeper level was introduced within the Goblin mantle as Harry was now the literal prisoner of the Green Goblin, as opposed to the years Harry spent as a metaphorical prisoner of the Green Goblin…
Amazing Spider-Man #179 also introduced a few new concepts into the Spiderverse that today we take for granted. First, The Green Goblin, or any Goblin for that matter, need not be an Osborn…the corrosive, intoxicating perceived-power of the Goblin mantle can bring almost anyone under its spell. Second, The Green Goblin need not be a villain hell-bent on taking over a criminal enterprise…in fact, they can even behave heroically (as seen by Harry’s role at the conclusion of this story arc). Since Amazing Spider-Man #176-180 was published how many times have we seen a heroic or non-Osborn Goblin? There’s been a few instances for sure. One other positive attribute to this story, which may sometimes get overlooked, is how succinct the revelation of the Green Goblin’s identity is. When compared to the original Hobgoblin or even the more recent Menace, in which months (and even years) went by before the reader was provided with the character’s alter ego, this example took only five issues. And I don’t want to hear that this is the era of ‘decompressed’ comic book story telling because one of the basic pillars of good-story telling is to provide people with the explanations BEFORE they’ve lost interest in the character themselves.
Finally, the portrayal MJ during this Goblin story arc (as highlighted by this issue) illustrated a caring/loving and yet actively helpful MJ. Far from a damsel in distress, MJ, who was not even married to Peter at the time, showed her true love and devotion for Peter by putting herself in harms-way throughout the story. Gosh, I miss that character! As an added bit of continuity wrap-up, this story arc explains how the pictures of Spidey dumping the clone’s body ended up on J. Jonah’s desk (back in Amazing Spider-Man #169). I love it when continuity gets addressed!
Not every issue of Amazing Spider-Man has led me to anxiously await the next installment, and I cannot recall an issue of ASM that I wanted to read more than Amazing Spider-Man #180…and for that, I credit Amazing Spider-Man #179 as my favorite issue in the series.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...Amazing Spider-Man #639 Picking a favorite issue of Amazing Spider-Man was significantly more difficult than picking my least favorite, which probably makes sense for a Spiderfan since (hopefully) I enjoyed more issues than I disliked. Amazing Spider-Man #639 was the second part of the four-part story arc infamously entitled OMIT (One Moment in Time).
When Brand New Day began with Amazing Spider-Man #546, there was no explanation as to how this new status quo (Peter no longer married, his secret identity as Spider-Man no longer public knowledge, etc) came to be other than a presumed ‘comic book magic’ mechanism. In lieu of an in-story account of the hows/whys of the new-fangled Spiderverse, readers were told that “only Peter’s marriage was gone” and that all those stories we’d read over the years still occurred with the exception that Peter and MJ never tied the knot. As odd as that sounds, it wasn’t that much of a departure from things comic book readers have been forced to do over the years in order to mesh continuity. And then came Amazing Spider-Man #639 and the rest of the OMIT arc…
After 1.5 years of waiting for an explanation, we finally got one, unfortunately we also got something else…the revelation that MJ had never been pregnant! This violation of the promise that ‘only the marriage was gone’ represented the official removal of Baby May from the Spiderverse. I’m sure many Clone Saga fans are aware of how important MJ’s pregnancy/Baby May are to that epoch of Spider-lore. Also, during the OMIT arc readers found out that it took only a solitary brick to sufficiently knockout Spider-Man such that he would be unable to attend his wedding. Now this is a superhero who has battled the heavyweights of the Marvel Universe including (but not limited to) the Hulk, Juggernaut, and the Rhino…yet a ‘brick to the head’ is enough to knock him out for extended period of time?! I’m not quite sure what was more distasteful about Amazing Spider-Man #639, the amount of time I had to wait to hear the explanation or the explanation itself. Thus Amazing Spider-Man #639 is my least favorite issue, ‘nuff said!
My favourite issue of Amazing Spider-Man is...Amazing Spider-Man #10 Okay. My favorite issue is easy. It's been my favorite since I was a little kid. ASM #10. It's got gang wars, the Enforcers (still my favorite team of villains), the mystery of the Big Man, and why JJJ hates Spider-Man. It's sometimes hard to look at these early issues all these years later and realize that the characters were not yet institutions. The way Stan and Steve approached the series from the start also made you realize that anything goes. So, the whole idea that JJJ could be the Big Man was very real. He'd only been around for 10 issues, so why not? (Just as ASM #50 had me worried that it really was "Spider-Man No More" when I grabbed it off the spinning rack. Spidey gone after 50 issues? It seemed very possible to me.) This story makes you believe in JJJ as the Big Man (when the Big Man tells Montana that "Of course I know him [Peter Parker]!" what else CAN you think?) and the reveal of Foswell is a genuine surprise. Even Spidey is surprised by it. And let's not forget the scene where Peter gives a blood transfusion to Aunt May, a subplot that is picked up again over 20 issues later! THAT was never done back then. The issue has Stan scripting his heart out and that great Ditko artwork, particularly in the fight scenes in which Spidey seemed to be everywhere at once. (Which is what makes the Enforcers such great foes for him.) You can't get any better than this.
My most hated issue of Amazing Spider-Man is... Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #29 Least favorite? This was harder for me. At first I thought I'd go with an issue from one of those endless plotless events like "Sidekick's Revenge" or "Maximum Carnage." But it's hard to pick one out of the entire stinking pile. So, instead I'm going with ASM (Vol. 2) #29, the start of the end of the whole horrid "Stalker/MJ's dead" saga in which none of the previously planted clues are used and the story makes absolutely no sense.