Before that title gets webheads all strung up, let me be clear: I like Spider-Man. I own some of his comics. Not many, but some. I liked the movies for the most part, but I didn’t go crazy for even the good Sam Raimi ones like others did. I don’t think the old 90s Spider-Man cartoon holds up in retrospect (I never thought it was great to begin with). And as a good gamer, I’ve enjoyed some of his games like Spider-Man 2 and Shattered Dimensions. I’ve known for years that while I like Spidey, I wouldn’t rank him high in my list of favourite superheroes. In fact, I don’t think he’d even make it into the top 20.
Recently, though, I realized why he’s not one of my favourites. And I think it all boils down to when I started reading comics and what story started around that time: the dreaded and infamous CLONE SAGA.
I started reading comics in 1993, with The Death of Superman. About the same time, I played an SNES game called Spider-Man & The X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge. My friend John hung out while I played it. In an early level, one boss looked like a giant, black-suited, evil Spider-Man. I knew all of Spidey’s classic villains from the old 60s cartoon, but I didn’t know this “Spider-Man but with teeth.” My friend flipped out. “Dude!” he said. “That’s Venom! He’s awesome!” As lucky would have it, Venom first solo limited series started, Lethal Protector. So technically, my first introduction to Spider-Man’s comics was through Venom.
The 90s was a good time to be a fan of Venom, of course, so I started buying up anything Venom-related. All his mini-series, back issues of Amazing Spider-Man featuring him or Carnage. Really, anything related with symbiotes. The Maximum Carnage series happened and I bought up those issues. Skip ahead a year to the beginning of the Clone Saga.
I don’t remember what drew me into the Clone Saga at the time, but I was obsessed with it at first. All the twists and turns. Major deaths like Doctor Octopus and Aunt May (AUNT MAY). I couldn’t get enough. I discussed the mysteries and possibilities with friends at school. As the story continued, though, I – like many fans – grew tired of the clone nonsense. It felt like it went on forever, with no signs of slowing down. Peter’s the clone. No, Ben Reily’s the clone. No, both of them are the clone. No, Ben’s the real deal. Peter lost his powers oh but no now they’re back. This guy’s the mastermind behind it. No, this guy. No, this guy! It didn’t end! I jumped off far later than many fans. In fact, I think it finally concluded only a year or two after I gave up.
But I think the Clone Saga left a bad taste in my mouth for all things Spider-Man. Creative team runs after that didn’t interest me. For a short period, two books being published were great: J. Michael Straczynski’s long run on Amazing Spider-Man and Paul Jenkins’ run on Peter Parker Spider-Man. Jenkins’ run, I still own in the collected editions. JMS’ run, however, soured on me with the “Norman Osborn banged Gwen Stacey and she secretly had two of his kids” story (Sins Past). It soured me so much, I got rid of the other collected editions of his run.
Then, of course, came the infamous One More Day, where Mephisto wiped the world’s knowledge that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, also wiping away the Peter/Mary-Jane marriage. Basically, Spider-Man made a deal with the devil. Really, the whole story was an excuse to make Pete a swinging bachelor again. I’ve refused to read a single Spider-Man comic since then because of how horribly it was handled. I’ve said to myself that I’ll maybe read Spider-Man again unless they do something like showing Spider-Man punching out Mephisto or remembering the marriage. It was unquestionably the dumbest “reboot,” and an insult to fans. Why use magic to do away with the marriage when a major part of Peter’s life and character is dealing with real issues outside of the mask. Hell, the character is deeply sci-fi with mad scientists and weird, mutated creatures. Of course, revealing his identity to the world in the first place was dumb. I understand they wanted to undo that, but the writers did it in the most awkward, convoluted way possible.
For awhile, I greatly enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. But I greatly disliked his handling of villains. They were bland and bordered on moustache-twirling at points. I particularly hated that he turned Spidey’s greatest villain – the Green Goblin – into a glorified Hulk. I tried a little bit of his Miles Morales Spider-Man. I liked the character, but the comic didn’t draw me in enough to keep reading. Another book I enjoyed was Sean McKeever’s Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, which was more like a lighthearted teen romance book focusing on Mary Jane.
Honestly, the one time I enjoyed Spider-Man more than anything was the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. The theme song was incredibly catchy. I feel like they almost perfectly encapsulated Spider-Man in that series. It was fun. They had a great balance between his superhero and ordinary lives. He applied lessons learned in his superhero life to his ordinary life and vice versa. Heck they managed to actually fool me with the Green Goblin’s identity.
But yeah, I think it was a combination of the Clone Saga, Sins Past, and One More Day that killed a lot of my interest in the Spider-comics. I’m not really interested in Dan Slott’s considerable run, either, since it’s mired by endless flash-in-the pan events. I’ve heard the Superior Spider-Man story was good, but I struggle to find myself interested. And they just wrapped up a RETURN to the goddamn Clone Saga!
At this point, I feel like Spidey’s comics have been bungled for so long by various over-hyped events and disappointing, problematic, or largely forgettable runs. For me, even though I like the character, I’ve had personal qualms with even the most iconic creative team runs that lessened my enjoyment of them. There are few stories that I’d point to and say, “Yes! All of this! Give it to me! Web me up!” Unlike many other superheroes, I can’t really think of any story lines or creative team runs that I’d call the “perfect” Spider-Man. On my bookshelves, I could point out books from an assortment of Marvel and DC characters that I would consider the “best” of that character. The books I’d recommend to any fan of the character. The books that stand out among the rest and hold up to the tests of time.
But Spider-Man? For me, there really aren’t any that I’d put head and shoulders above them all. There’s Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run, of course. But despite some great attempts, I don’t think anyone captured that same magic. I don’t think any creative team has made the same particular mark, defining or RE-defining the character. Sure, you get the odd gem in a single issue or moment, but no full story arc or run. I honestly feel like it’s only gotten worse over the years.
But again, it might be largely because I joined at exactly the wrong time for any Spider-Man fan.