Thu
Jul 12 2012 3:30pm
Dissecting Spider-Man: The Comic Storylines That Inform The Film

It’s the reboot being heard across the Marvel nation, the star-studded recreation of the big-screen adventures of The Amazing Spider-Man. With the film set to recapture the wall-crawler’s fans with some cinematic success, what storylines can we hope to see in any future Spidey flicks?

Right now, the writers seem to have gone back to the basics and trimmed the complex storyline to something they can live with, and it’s probably just as well. Spider-Man has had one of the more convoluted histories in the Marvel Universe, and that’s saying a lot! So how is one to figure out where to look to get the right spread of Spidey stories after the film? Thankfully, I’m here to help you navigate the hallowed halls of Spider-man canon. 

Once you’ve seen the movie, here are some suggestions for storylines you might want to check out that tie into the film’s new canon. Not all of them are amazing but they definitely reflect aspects of the iconic Spidey “feel,” from the serious, to the dark and creepy, to the downright bizarre and hilarious.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Amazing Spider-Man film, and for comics that came out a long time ago. You have been warned!)

 

Start At The Beginning - The Origin of Spider-Man

Unlike a lot of the comic origin stories, I believe the Spider-Man origin stands as one of the best-aged of the Stan Lee Marvel Era. Beginning in Amazing Fantasy #15 and collected in Marvel Masterwork - Amazing Spider-Man #1, the story of Spidey’s evolution from nerdy Peter Parker into the web-slinger we all know and love is almost required reading for anyone who considers themself a Spidey fan. It also provides the basis for the dynamic between Uncle Ben and Peter, for anyone who enjoyed the interactions between Martin Sheen and Andrew Garfield in the film, as the death of Uncle Ben is one of the single most important moments in Peter’s life. This beginning sets the groundwork for everything that comes after and, as an origin story, is perhaps one of the most grounded ones out there. It gives Spidey the everyman feeling that lets fans feel like he is a relatable super-hero that we can empathise with. While not everything in the original is what you see in the film, the version depicted in The Amazing Spider-Man certainly sticks very close to the comic, with a little millennial flare added in. 

 

The Death of Captain Stacy - Personal Tragedy In Spider-Man

Launching into a milestone of Spider-Man comics, let’s talk about the Death of Captain Stacy. In the film, Dennis Leary portrays Captain George Stacy of the NYPD, father of Gwen and the man trying to keep New York City together while dealing with a guy in spandex dressed like a spider and a giant lizard guy. While the film doesn’t allow a lot of time for developing a relationship between Captain Stacy and Peter Parker, in the comics the two have a warm relationship. Captain Stacy becomes almost a surrogate father figure for Peter, which makes his death even more impactful. Just like in the film, he dies a hero; he’s killed when Doc Ock attacks Spider-Man and the captain sacrifices himself to save a small child from falling debris. That death shakes Spider-Man to the core and, along with other personal tragedies in his life at the time, drives Spider-Man to try to put down the burden of being a superhero. This storyline is one of personal sacrifice and loss, but is often overshadowed by another major death in the Stacy family that is much more well known. 

 

The Six Arm Saga - Spidey-Science In Action

This storyline shows just how badly Spider-Man’s life can often get and also gives us a look at Amazing Spider-Man villain Doc Curt Connors, aka The Lizard! In this 1971 story arc in Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey had just lost his good friend Captain George Stacy. He’s had enough of his superhero life so he mixes up some chemicals to kill his spider powers so that he can just become Peter Parker again. Stan Lee goes a little kooky with this one and Spidey wakes up with his powers not gone but increased, now with six arms! The whole thing gets a little convoluted in the end as Spidey goes to Doc Conners and ends up fighting Morbius the Living Vampire — mostly because I think they just wanted an excuse for Morbius to show up — but in the end, Spidey returns to normal. Though this story arc might not be the easiest to take seriously, it highlights two important things about the Spider-Man stories: one, whenever Spider-Man tries to shirk his responsibility it all goes wrong, and two, Spider-Man has more incredibly hilarious looks than you would ever imagine. This is zany Stan Lee-era Spidey at its best, just don’t take it too seriously.

 

Bonus Scene Excitement - Ezekiel And Morlun?

When it comes to good writing, it’s hard to go wrong with the brilliant J. Michael Straczynski. For his first run on Amazing Spider-Man, he took a whack at revitalizing Spidey after a long streak of blah comics. Not only did he manage to get the humor back into Spider-Man, he also tackled a difficult 9-11 tribute and Aunt May’s discovery of Peter as Spider-Man.

But it was his creation of Ezekiel that made everything a little crazy for Spidey. Ezekiel shows up with the same powers as Spider-Man and explains that Peter is actually a totem of the spider, which is what gives him his powers. Then along comes the terrifying Morlun, an ancient creature trying to destroy the bridge between man and beast by consuming our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s an interesting new take on the Spidey mythos that got mixed reviews, but the writing itself is so solid that it’s a heck of a ride. Morlun also comes back in the storyline Spider-Man: The Other, which is a heck of a read, too.

Why do I mention this here, when no such Ezekiel or Morlun appear in the film? Well, I have my theories about the after-credits scene and the identity of the man in the bowler hat. Could it be that The Amazing Spider-Man writers are going with the Ezekiel/Morlun storyline? Or could it be they’ve got other ideas, such as....

 

Norman Osborn - The Identity of the Green Goblin

One of the staples of Spidey’s rogue gallery is Norman Osborn, aka The Green Goblin. Though he was a staple of the previous Sam Raimi Spidey films, Osborn is only mentioned as a plot device in this film: he is the reason that Doc Connors is being pressed so quickly to complete his regeneration serum, as Osborn is dying. Still, considering the bonus scene, it may be important to know just who Norman Osborn is. Norman was originally introduced as the father of Harry, one of Peter’s best friends, but quickly evolved into a power hungry nightmare that has stalked Marvel comics and brought down havoc on not only Spider-Man but most recently the Avengers and Asgard. For the full origin of this mentally unstable supervillain, you’ll have to go back to early Spidey issues of Amazing and some of those Marvel Masterpiece Collections. The best of these storylines culminates in issues #39-#40 of Amazing in which Spider-Man and Norman Osborn discover each other’s identities. 

One can only hope that Osborn is going to show up in the films, too. He plays an important part in perhaps the second most definitive moment in Spider-Man comics, an event set into motion in the film when Peter Parker refuses to stay away from his love interest Gwen Stacy. That event, is of course....

 

The Death of Gwen Stacy - The Death Heard ’Round the Comic World

Okay, so this one falls into the realm of “will we see it happen in any upcoming sequels?” rather than something that happened in this recent film. However, it’s a no-brainer that when it comes to important Spidey stories, there are few story lines that hit comics quite as hard as the death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin.

This single event is often cited as the day that Marvel Comics lost its innocence, the shocking moment that transitioned the Silver Age of comics into the Bronze. Gwen Stacy, girlfriend of Peter Parker, is taken hostage by the Green Goblin and dropped off the side of a New York City bridge (pictured as the Brooklyn Bridge but written as the George Washington). When Spider-Man tags her with a web-line to save her, Gwen is killed due to the short stop at such high velocity. Stan Lee has gone on record as saying her neck probably snapped and the fans have been speculating about the death ever since. In the end, though, the tragedy is still the same: Spider-man’s true love, Gwen Stacy, died at the end of his web-line, killed by a madman out to hurt him.

The storyline was very shocking to readers because Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker were seen as such a perfect couple, and that was half the problem. The writers were not sure where else to take them without getting the young couple married, and the relationship to them had gone stale. So off a bridge Gwen went and with it the heartstrings of readers everywhere. The depth of sorrow it brought to Spider-Man’s life was intense. Gwen Stacy was yet another pivotal reminder of how people in Spidey’s life get killed just for being around him.

The entire event was considered very controversial as well. Gwen Stacy’s death has been noted as both one of the greatest moments in comic history and also the typical example of the well-documented “’dead superhero girlfriend” syndrome, sometimes called Gwen Stacy Syndrome but mainly known as the “Women in Refrigerators” trope in comics. This is the idea that the female SO’s of superheroes are forever suffering ignoble deaths to further the male character’s storylines. Still, despite the discussion of the actual politics or reasons behind the event, Gwen Stacy’s death remains one of the defining points for Peter Parker and Amazing Spider-Man.

 

Those cover the stories that directly impact the movie-verse as far as it’s been established for now, including some possible tidbits for the future. What are some other possible goodies to read if you’re interested in more Spidey goodness? Here are a couple more. 

Kraven’s Last Hunt

Written by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck, this storyline took a character previously the butt of a lot of folks jokes, namely Kraven the Hunter, and turned him into a vicious and terrifying psychopath. The storyline starts out with Kraven seemingly shooting our favorite web-head dead, donning his costume, and playing the part of Spider-Man better than Parker can. If you think that sounds like it shouldn’t work so well, think again — Kraven’s crazy all right, but the writers take the opportunity to show off just how crazy (like a fox) he can also be. The story is all about the madness that Kraven has fallen into and the damage that his obsession has caused him. The story also contains one of the most iconic Spider-Man images, in my mind, when Spider-Man digs his way out of his own grave. Originally known as “Fearful Symmetry” this storyline had a haunting, dark edge that was a sobering addition to the Spidey library. The ending is particularly dark and not quite what one might expect...

 

Venom

Perhaps the most iconic villain of the entire Spidey rogue’s gallery has got to be the grinning, drooling terror that is Venom. First introduced as an alien symbiote picked up by Spidey while on another planet, Spidey soon shakes loose the symbiote when it becomes apparent that he can’t control himself while in the costume. The symbiote then finds a host in Eddie Brock, who hates Spider-Man with a passion, believing Spider-Man responsible for ruining his career and his marriage. With Brock dying of cancer, the symbiote gives him another chance at life and two battle Spidey as Venom. Venom’s appearance is also the way that writers got our favorite web-head back into the iconic red and blue Spidey-suit, but Venom was more than just a wardrobe malfunction. He became the ultimate vengeful, hate-filled nightmare that has chased Spidey for years. Venom also spawned multiple other psychotic villains, like the serial killer Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage. This storyline explains everything you need to understand Eddie Brock and the beginnings of this epic rivalry and features the debut of Todd McFarlane’s art in the book that made him the comic legend he is today.

 

So what other story lines am I missing? Some honorable mentions include the original Clone storyline, “The Boy Who Collected Spider-Man,” as well as the Sin-Eater storyline. Any others that you might suggest? Toss them out.

Meanwhile, who knows what direction the movies might go from here, now that the reboot has occurred? The reboot has definitely started out with a bang, let’s see what direction they take our newly reminted friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Will we see Venom? Mephisto? Only time will tell.


Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com

7 comments
Syllabus
1. Syllabus
The article really needs some proofreading.
Syllabus
2. Aaron Gallaway
Some more issue #'s in this article would have been great. There were only two of the storylines that you mention which issues to check out, and one of them was for only part of the story. Since you're suggesting stories for people to check out, issue #'s would certainly make it easier to track those down.
rob mcCathy
3. roblewmac
It has been a long time since I read Amazing Spider-MAN 15 but I SEEM to remember Kraven being the first villian whose whole purpose was to KILL Spider-man. NOT a joke by 60s Marvel standards.
Michael M Jones
4. MichaelMJones
I'm hoping that future installments will avoid the Green Goblin, if only because we've seen that done so many times before. Instead, they should rmmage around in Spider-Man's rogues gallery and pick out a few who really haven't seen much attention.

Option 1) A two-fer team-up of the Chameleon and Mysterio. One's the ultimate master of disguise, the other the ultimate special effects artist. In the recent "Ends of the Earth" storyline, we saw how they might play well together. I think those two could really turn Spider-Man's world upside-down and give him a mental, physical, and emotional run for his money. Their agenda? Take your pick.

Option 2) Team up two of Spider-Man's gimmick villains for an old-fashioned robbery spree with fights galore. Electro and Shocker might make for great pals, since they both have the same "work ethic" and similiar but different power sets. Together, they'd really be able to put our hero through the wringer before he beat them. And as a bonus, they can always be working for The Evil Shadowy Mastermind.

Option 3) Stir in some romance with the Black Cat...although that might be risking comparison with Catwoman in the new Batman movie. But have her do her usual not-a-hero shtick after stealing something important, and throw in someone chasing her. Maybe the Vulture, for some high-flying action?

Option 4) Maybe the time is right to play up a crime war angle instead, and work in the twin mastermind menaces of the Big Man and the Crime-Master. Bring in the Kingpin, if he's not still tied up in Daredevil rights. How would Spider-Man handle an escalating series of threats that weren't superhuman in nature? Admittedly, this is a real long shot.

If none of those villains appeal, there's also the Rhino and the Scorpion, but they pretty much provide more physical fights.

If one really wanted to play the long game, they could introduce the Shadowy Figure Behind Everything to be Doctor Octopus doing his Master Plan routine.

The important thing is that all of these options provide interesting stories, without going back to the same old same of Green Goblin, and they also avoid using Venom or Sandman, which we saw in the Raimi trilogy. Spider-Man has a huge rogues gallery, and we need to embrace it, not stagnate. (And no Ezekiel/Morlun/The Other/Mephisto mumbo-jumbo, please!)

@2 - Kraven's Last Hunt can be found, in its entirely, in the recently-release Marvel Essentials collection, Web Of Spider-Man #2, along with a decent run of other comics from that particular title. Black and white, but an affordable $19.99 for 19 issues including an annual.

In fact, you can find just about all of the storylines listed above, reprinted in the Essentials for Amazing Spider-Man.
rob mcCathy
5. roblewmac
They have GOT to avoid any comics after the very early 1990s if they want anyone to LIKE Peter PARKER.
Ashe Armstrong
6. AsheSaoirse
I think, if done with respect and not just a way to get butts in seats, a Maximum Carnage trilogy could be pretty freakin good.
Syllabus
7. Damian Dunbar
I have found a mistake in the film of the amazing spiderman and people have spent millions of pounds watching this film I no its seems stuiped but but tge film is fantastic but for the money the spend on making the film they should get it perfect come on its 2013

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