Where Do I Start With Spider-Man Comics?

New readers come to comics all the time – but comics have been going for decades and decades now, and it can be really confusing to work out a good place to start from. When I first starting reading comics, it was with a mixture of Wikipedia, Ebay and the ComicBookResources forums that I worked out which character was which, what trades I should buy, and which comics were the good comics.
So if you are, with the announcement of the massively anticipated and pre-ordered Amazing Spider-Man 1, looking to get into the recent exploits of Peter Parker – but you don’t want to start sixty years ago – then here’s my guide to the best contemporary starting points for the character, from most recent to most distant:
CURRENTLY:
Superior Spider-Man #1 – #30/Amazing Spider-Man #1
For this guide, I’m going to essentially ignore everything aside from around the last eight or so years of Spider-Man. Because, as I’ll explain later, a big event happened which wiped a lot of it from existence. So we’re looking at the most current reshuffle of Spider-Man here, in which he is young, single, and… dead.
DEAD?! WHAAAAAAAAAAT??
It’s true! Because the current run on Spider-Man is called Superior Spider-Man. In this run, Peter Parker has died, and his arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus has taken over use of his body. So what we actually have here is a villain possessing the body and memories of Peter Parker, and attempting to go straight. Doctor Octopus has always asserted that he would be a force for good if only Spider-Man weren’t around – so now he IS Spider-Man, and he’s doing his best to see if that assertion is true.
This is a surprisingly fun series, written by long-time writer Dan Slott and with art from people including Ryan Stegman and Giuseppi Camuncoli. The run will be ending soon, but will be collected into six trade paperbacks, which are selling quite cheaply – I got the first four trades for a fiver each. When the run does end, it’s going to be replaced with Amazing Spider-Man #1. THIS IS YOUR NEXT JUMPING ON POINT!
Amazing Spider-Man #1 will see Peter Parker come back to life and reclaim his Spider-Man mantle, and head off into a whole new set of adventures. The creative team will remain the same – but this is an issue Marvel will be marketing as the best place to start fresh with Spider-Man stories, if Amazing Spider-Man #2 has gotten you interested.
ONE STEP BACK:
Big Time (Amazing Spider-Man  #648 – #700)
Prior to Superior Spider-Man launching, Dan Slott was the lead writer for a rebranding of the Amazing Spider-Man series which was called ‘Big Time’. In this run, Slott took over as the sole lead writer of the character, joined by Stefano Caselli and Humberto Ramos as artists. And this saw Peter Parker with a girlfriend – Carlie Cooper – and a job. He’s living in his own place, and life is starting to actually go well. 
What’s most notable about this run is that it feels like what would have happened to Spider-Man if Marvel had ever decided to age him, and progress the comic. Mainstream comics all exist in a bubble of sorts, where characters cannot grow up or change drastically, because fans (and shareholders) won’t support a deviation from the marketable and core premise. Batman will never defeat The Joker. The X-Men will never be accepted. Spider-Man will never grow old.
But in this run, we get a contemporary look at what life might be like if Peter grows up perhaps two years, and becomes a twenty-something trying to make a life for himself in New York. He works as a scientist, he compromises and makes important life decisions, and he generally feels like a more realistic version of himself than ever before. I really enjoy this run. 
One thing that is worth keeping in mind, though, is that Slott uses this run to start being more ‘adult’. Up to now, his run had been appreciable by all ages, but in Big Time he starts killing characters off – something which continues on into his Superior Spider-Man run. This is a dark take on Spider-Man, and by the end he’s gone too far as a writer, and overstretched. The run ends with stories in which Peter Parker does things including torture of a captive, and it feels out of character and horrific. 
And at the same time, this is a story with a downbeat ending. If you want to share Spider-Man with your kids, don’t give them the Dan Slott comics. Race to the bottom of this article for my alternative suggestion.
TWO STEPS BACK
The Gauntlet (Amazing Spider-Man #600 – #648)
Spider-Man rebooted itself a few years ago, in essence, and a group of rotating writers and artists took over the character. Amongst them were Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Roger Stern, Dan Slott and Joe Kelly, overseen by editor Steve Wacker. The run starts off with a few stumbles – see below – but really gets going around the time that the ‘Gauntlet’ storyline started to click into place. The Gauntlet was a long-term storyline which brought back most of the classic Spider-Man villains, and forced Peter Parker to deal with all of them in very quick succession.
Each villain gets a particular writer handling them, and they each get a victory of sorts over Peter. Over a quick period of time he is humbled, his friends are put in danger, his family are threatened, and everything is going wrong for him. Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta bring back Electro, Fred Van Lente and Javier Pulido put a new complication in Sandman’s world, Joe Kelly and Michael Lark attempt to resurrect Kraven the Hunter.
It’s a big, bold period of time, filled with short, excellent stories. Slott is actually one of the weaker writers here, although he is paired with the best artists – he takes on Mysterio with the help of Marcos Martin, for example. Everything builds up to an arc called ‘The Grim Hunt’ which is excellent, and concludes with a faintly busy and cluttered finale called ‘Origin of the Species’. This is experimental stuff, filled with classic characters and big events for Spider-Man. It’s my favourite run.
THREE STEPS BACK
Brand New Day (Amazing Spider-Man #546 – #599)
And it comes halfway through the massive, years-long rebranding called ‘Brand New Day’. Following a storyline called ‘One More Day’ in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson sell their marriage to the devil in order to save Aunt May from death – this seriously happens – Brand New Day resets continuity for the characters and starts with a single Peter trying to make money as a photographer for The Daily Bugle, while most of the familiar supporting cast are absent.
This was a period of time with rotating artists and writers, during which new characters like Mr Negative and Paper Doll were introduced. The aim was to create a new world for Spider-Man, and set up some new iconic characters to support, fight, or romance Peter Parker. He gets a roommate, co-workers, new villains, all kinds of things.
It’s wonky, and a little rough. There’re some good stories here from writers like Zeb Wells, and artists like Chris Bachalo and Salvador Larocca all take turns with the webslinnger. This is a lengthy run, broken up by intermittent event comics – if you see a storyline which is six issues long, you can consider that an event, and the story after that will likely be a reasonable jumping on point. I would suggest avoiding this in order to focus on The Gauntlet, which is more focused.
However! This is the very start of the Spider-Man we know today. Everything before this point, classics and all, should be looked into story-by-story. I wouldn’t recommend the run by J. Michael Strazynski which leads up to One More Day, but obviously there are lots of great stories in the Spider-Man back-catalogue. Brand New Day leads to The Gauntlet, which leads to Big Time, then Superior Spider-Man, and finally to the imminent Amazing Spider-Man #1.
That’s your timeline if you want to start with current Spider-Man comics. Have fun!
BEYOND
If you jump on and enjoy any of these, you could also try the following:
Ultimate Spider-Man – Now, I said before that the Dan Slott run isn’t really suitable for all ages. So, instead, I would recommend these comics, by writer Joe Caramagna. They’re based on the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series (which isn’t GREAT, but the comic is) and use panels from the cartoon, with reworked dialogue. They’re fun, breezy, silly and entertaining. If you want to introduce your kids to Spider-Man, this is the best place to do so.
Scarlet Spider – I’m also going to tell you about the various spin-off books Marvel published during the last few years. Scarlet Spider launches after ‘Grim Hunt’ finishes, and sees an antihero-type character move to Houston and attempt to start off his own career as a hero. Written by Chris Yost, this is a decent series.
Spider-Girl Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry handled this short-lived book, which also spins off from Grim Hunt. In it, the former hero Arana accepts the mantle of Spider-Girl from Peter Parker, and takes part in a number of really entertaining adventures. It’s a shame this run wasn’t longer.
VenomRick Remender and then Cullen Bunn handle this series with the villainous alien creature attached this time to war hero (and schooltime friend of Peter Parker) Flash Thompson. Flash uses the symbiote to go on black-ops missions for the Government, and artists like Terry Moore and Declan Shalvey pop in along the way. This is darker, but compelling.
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