I used to write on a site called Comics Vanguard, a place I still love dearly. I’m going to serialise some of the more recent posts from that site onto The Spire, so I can keep a track and update them accordingly as things shift and change.
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 CBR 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:
Amazing Spider-Man #1
Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos are the creative team for the current run of Amazing Spider-Man. The book has a slight falter if you want to jump in completely fresh – it follows on from two distinct previous titles, which both feed into how this storyline plays out. You can basically muddle along, though, as long as you remember this: Peter Parker’s got selective amnesia at the start of this storyline, and has to work out the gaps in his memory and repair several of the broken relationships in his life.
What we have here is the core of Spider-Man, really – the Avengers, Aunt May, Mary Jane are all around, and the stories feature villains like Electro – tying into the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2. Gwen Stacy is already dead in Marvel comics continuity, so she’s not present – or at least not in the form you might expect.
The current storyline here is one called ‘Spider-Verse’. The premise is that someone is going around killing off all the ‘alternate’ versions of Peter Parker and Spider-Man in existence. That means anyone who ever put on a Spidey-mask, characters from alternate realities, allies and villains like Venom/Scarlet Spider – everybody is at risk. Spider-Man’s job is to find the killer before they kill off every Spider-Man who ever existed. As I write this, the storyline is only just about to begin, and we’ve only seen a few glimpses of the bigger picture here.
One of the smaller pictures has been the introduction of an alternate-reality Gwen Stacy, who put on the Spider-Man costume herself after her universe’s version of Peter Parker died. Dubbed ‘Spider-Gwen’ by fans, the character has proven to be an immediate hit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of her in future. She appears in an issue called ‘Edge of Spider-Verse #2’, which is worth tracking down.
ONE STEP BACK:
Superior Spider-Man #1 – #30/Amazing Spider-Man #1
Prior to the current run, we had this one, which kicked off on shock-value (and did occasionally dip into it at points throughout) but turned out to be a consistent, enjoyable series. 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 is collected into six trade paperbacks, which are selling quite cheaply – I got the first four trades for a fiver each. Things wrap up rather nicely, and you can read the whole storyline as a self-contained whole if you so choose.
TWO STEPS 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.
THREE 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.
FOUR 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!
If you jump on and enjoy any of those, you could also try the following.
Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors/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. Web Warriors will see the series continue onwards, following the most recent series of the cartoon.
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.