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Spider-Man Best Comics (1971-1981)


Spider-Man is without a doubt Marvel's most popular character and one of the most popular superheroes of all time. He's so recognizable than most people who don't know anything about superheroes would be able to know who he just from one look. With more threatrical movies than any other superhero out there other than maybe Batman, multiple animated TV series over the years, and currently 4 ongoing comics, Spider-Man is a character who will never not be popular. And no more is that clear than in the 1970s.


Thankfully, Spider-Man was a character who was able to land on his feet in this decade. While other series floundred from all the behind-the-scenes changes, most notable being Stan Lee leaving writing duties, Spider-Man managed to stay on top. This is mostly due to the fact that when someone got handed the reigns of Spider-Man, Marvel's top seller, they knew they had to bring their A-game.


Gerry Conway was first up to bat, taking over from Stan Lee's legendary run that made the character who he was. So how could Conway hope to measure up to Lee. Well, it was clear that Conway had something Lee didn't which was relatability. At that time, Conway was the same age as Spider-Man was depicted in the comics, which meant he could actually relate to a lot of what Peter Parker was going through. While his early stories fell a bit flat, it didn't take long for Conway to find his groove and prove his worth as a writer. His most notable storyline is obviously where he chose to kill off longtime Spider-Man love interest Gwen Stacy. There were multiple reasons behind this decision which I'll talk about later, but ultimately came down to the fact that the comic needed a big shift and this did it, upending what readers thought and expected and moving Spider-Man, and honestly comics themselves, into a bolder direction. Many consider this story the crux of the Bronze Age of comics, highlighting the darker territory comic creators were now exploring. Conway also started the official romantic relationship between Peter and Mary Jane Watson who most consider to be his greatest love. While Marvel Comics at the moment seem determined to keep them apart, the couple is still a fan-favorite to readers and everyone is anxiously awaiting their happy ending.


Conway set a high bar with his run when new writer Len Wein came up for his turn. Wein proved that while he couldn't quite reach the heights Lee and Conway had climbed, he still could do an efficient job, continuing some plot threads from Conway's run and putting his own twists on them. 'The Longest Hundred Yards' by him proved to be one of the saddest single-issue stories printed at the time and he crafted one of the best stories with his own take on the ongoing Green Goblin saga. When he left, Marv Wolfman took over and, like with his Fantastic Four run, it was noted he was coming close to the big 100th issue milestone which he again managed to nail. Unfortunately, after him came Dennis O'Neil whose run, while still entertaining, fell flat in comparison to those who came before and never really made a real impact. His main contribution was the creation of Madame Web, the clairvoyant who can see into the Web of Life and Destiny.


But that wasn't all for Spider-Man. His popularity was so great in this time, that it just couldn't be contained in one comic. First, Marvel Team-Up was launched, pitting Spider-Man alongside various heroes across the Marvel Universe every issue for new adventures. While those stories never really left an impact, there were still plenty of story threads that carried over between all the various comics and are definitely worth a read.


Even that wasn't enough though as a few years later, Spider-Man's second main ongoing comic Spectacular Spider-Man, was launched. Unfortunately, it proved quickly that it wasn't a match for its sibling Amazing Spider-Man, mainly due to the fact that it didn't have an ongoing writer for most of its first year. After that, Bill Mantlo took on the job but while his storylines were entertaining enough, many of them still fell flat. He took a break for a while and Roger Stern took over but Stern's writing proved even worse than Mantlo's, the storylines becoming a slog and a chore to read for the most part.


It was only in the 1980s that both Mantlo and Stern found their groove, Mantlo returning to Spectacular Spider-Man and making it as great as Amazing Spider-Man while Stern took over the Amazing title and provided actually great stories, making his own mark. But, that's for next time. Until then, enjoy these best Spider-Man comics from the 1970s:


12. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 129: The Punisher Strikes Twice

 

The introduction to one of the darkest heroes in the marvel universe, the Punisher. The man who declares a war on all criminals, seeing death as the only option for them. His backstory and goals are really only hinted here, but it was enough to make him popular with fans and give him his own comic stories. Also introduced here is the Jackal, Conway setting up the villain for a major battle with Spider-Man later in his run. The Jackal hires the Punisher to take out Spider-Man, constantly seen as a criminal, and the two have a wild confrontation before Punisher realizes the truth. While this story was not as good as it was and the Punisher wasn’t used to his fullest, his introduction is still pretty cool and makes this issue worthy enough to stand among the best in my opinion.

11. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 157-159: The Ghost That Haunted Octopus

 

Here, Len Wein continues a story began by Conway, mainly the supposed deaths of Doctor Octopus and Hammerhead. Here, the character who has been making cameo appearances in the last few issues is revealed as Doctor Octopus and is haunted by the ghost-like Hammerhead (who is actually trapped in another plane of existence). While Conway did the battles between the two better (more on that later) Len Wein switches it up by having Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man team-up to take on the Hammerhead who is proving almost impossible to beat in order to save Aunt May which is what helps elevate this story to be better than the rest.

10. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 123: Just a Man Called Cage

 

Taking place right after the death of Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson, who is convinced Spider-Man killed both her and Norman Osborn, hires Luke Cage to track the man down leading to an epic battle between the two across the rooftops of New York. This ends when Peter manages to hold Luke down and explain what really happened, leading to one of the greatest panels in Marvel history of Luke Cage stuffing Jameson’s money back in his mouth. The story is also great as it shows Peter dealing with his grief over Gwen’s death and starting his life without her.

9. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 194-195: The Black Cat

 

After breaking Peter and MJ up and starting to wrap up Peter’s relationship with Betty Brandt, Marv Wolfman decided to bring in a new woman into Spider-Man’s life. Enter the Black Cat. The femme fatale of the Spider-Man mythos who arrives on the scene with style, stealing some documents from the police and planning a prison break. Throughout this story, Wolfman really fleshes out the Black Cat’s character, showing off how different she is from the other villains in that she isn’t really a villain but someone trying to save the life of someone she loves, albeit in a criminal manner. And that confuses Spider-Man who always struggles with the right thing to do. Their combat and banter here are top notch, building up their dynamic really well. While it did end rather abruptly, the story did set up their relationship nicely and was just a pleasure right til the end.

8. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 196-200: Return of the Burglar

 

Approaching the special 200th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Wolfman knew he had to do something big for it, especially after already doing the same for Fantastic Four. Here, he decided to return to Spider-Man’s origin and bring back his first villain, the Burglar aka the man who killed Uncle Ben. In an opening to the story where Peter is told his Aunt May is dead, he begins to question himself and his life choices, especially as Spider-Man in a thoughtful and provoking issue, especially his conversation with Robbie Robertson. Then, Wolfman kicks things into high gear as Spider-Man realizes something is wrong, investigating May’s death and discovering a conspiracy around it. It gets worse as villains such as Kingpin and Mysterio show up for epic battle sequences that, while feeling slightly out of place within the story, still mark as some of the characters’ best moments in the series and cement them as true Spidey villains. But at the center of it all is the Burglar who reveals the reason why he was there that night Ben died. And while the reasoning is clunky at best, it’s the showdown between him and Peter in the 200th issue that makes this story one of the best as Wolfman’s skills as a writer are at their peak and Keith Pollard’s artwork brings Peter’s emotions roaring out. While a little strung out with some unnecessary and clunky plot points, the story’s main moments still shine through to mark this as one to remember and a must read for Spider-Man fans. It also has the breakdown of Jameson, which was a longtime coming.

7. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 191-192: 24 Hours till Doomsday

 

Wolfman’s best work in his run as he brings Spider-Man and longtime nemesis J. Jonah Jameson as close as they can get to each other, literally as he has them tied to a ticking time bomb. After the seeming death of Jameson’s son, their rivalry reaches its boiling point as JJJ goes all out to end the Wall-Crawler once and for all, even returning to previous ally Spencer Smythe. Unknown to him, Smythe is dying from radiation sickness which he blames on Jameson and Spider-Man. So, he manages to catch both and lock them together with the bomb, forcing the two to race across the city in an effort to remove it, with city officials and supervillains getting in their way. The banter between them is as hilarious as always but what works well is how this affects both their lives, with Jameson forced to work with the man he has hated for so long and Spider-Man’s personal life effectively going into the gutter afterwards thanks to the old Parker luck. This is an edge of your seat kind of tale that Wolfman crafts that really fleshes out the two rivals’ relationship. The only thing that doesn’t work is the one moment where Spider-Man winds up unconscious and Jameson has a moment to see under his mask, a plot point that isn’t resolved til several issues later in an unsatisfying way.

6. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 153: The Longest Hundred Yards

 

One of the saddest Spider-Man stories of this time and the story that cemented Len Wein as one of the best writers where former football star Bradley Bolton dies saving his daughter. The man, who gave up his dream of a football scholarship to pursue a better life in computer sciences, is being forced by a gang of criminals to help them steal certain components as they have his daughter. When he does it, the criminals decide to keep his daughter as further insurance. So he runs at them to save her and just manages it but gets shot and dies just as Spider-Man arrives to save his daughter. The saddest part as it took place on the football field finishing line that eluded him years ago. This is a story that shows how sometimes the hero fails to save the day and that they can’t save everyone. While the writing falters at times, the overall plot and themes more than make up for it.

5. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 112-115: Hammerhead

 

Inspired by previous criminal masterminds, Conway introduces the villain Hammerhead to Spider-Man’s rogue gallery but not only as an enemy to the wall-crawler but also to Spider-Man enemy Doctor Octopus. This story marks the gang war between the two as they battle each other for dominance of the criminal underworld and Spider-Man caught in the middle. And not just him but Aunt May as well who herself is forced to battle Spider-Man at one point, in a very hilarious manner. This was Conway’s first big story on the Spider-Man title and he manages to show off his talent for different plot threads as well as continuing Stan Lee’s style while still keeping to his own, winning over fans.

4. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 145-150: Clone Saga

 

The original Clone Saga, born out of angry fan letters over Gwen Stacy’s death and Stan Lee forcing Conway to bring her back somehow. So he brought her back in the form of a clone, creating a mystery for Spider-Man over her return while also battling enemies Tarantula, Scorpion, and new foe Jackal. (Apparently, Marvel liked giving Spider-Man animal themed villains). This leads to the reveal of a Spider-Man clone as well, something that had a big impact later on in the next clone saga, and a major battle between the two and a showdown with the Jackal, the mastermind behind it all. The mystery of this tale and the intense action are at the forefront here and Gerry Conway ends his run with a bang, though he didn’t finish the last issue himself, Archie Goodwin completing it for him.

3. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 136-137: The Green Goblin Lives Again

 

Conway had been building up to this for a while and here is the showdown as Harry Osborn goes over the edge and takes up the Green Goblin mantle from his father, leading to an intense battle with Spider-Man as Harry knows his identity and Peter is desperately trying to avoid fighting his best friend. Harry had been spiraling for a while after his father’s death and here is the climax of it, one of the best stories Conway wrote and one of the most tense battles for Spider-Man as he fights his unhinged friend to the death. This is also the story that introduced the idea of a Goblin legacy with many others taking on the Goblin name after this.

2. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 176-180: The New Green Goblin

 

Len Wein wraps up his run with one of the best stories which of course has the Green Goblin front and center. Except, which Goblin is it? That’s the question the comic asks over these five issues as the reader is led to believe it’s Harry Osborn once more but in fact it is his therapist, Barton Hamilton, who takes up the mantle and wants to take control of the city’s underworld, leading to epic confrontations with Spider-Man, Silvermane, and one last duel with Harry in his own Goblin outfit. And, Peter himself is stretched thin as his Aunt is in the hospital once more with a poor heart condition. Wein brings his A-game here, delivering an action-packed story that ends his run with a bang.

1. Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 121-122: The Night Gwen Stacy Died

 

This is it. The best Spider-Man story of this time and considered to be one of the best Spider-Man stories of all time. The Night Gwen Stacy Died. The ultimate battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin that ends with Spider-Man failing to save the woman he loves. Apparently, when Conway took over from Stan Lee, Lee had been considering killing off Aunt May as he knew the status quo couldn’t stay the same forever and she was a person who came close to dying many times. However, Conway didn’t agree as the readership would expect that and he didn’t want to kill off Peter’s past but rather his future, making it that much more painful. He also killed off Green Goblin in the most intense battle between Spider-Man and his enemy, the villain dying from his own glider that was adapted in the 2002 film. Spider-Man came to kill him but chose not to and in his anger the Goblin messed up and killed himself instead. This comic also contains one of the most iconic Peter and MJ moments as she closes the door, staying to help Peter grieve. There were many important moments in this story that completely upended the Spider-Man line for years and marked Gerry Conway as one of the best writers of the time (and one of the most hated for a while).


And that's it for Spider-Man. A revolutionary time for the character and for comics as a whole. Both ongoing comics as well as a third one launched in the 1980s sent Spider-Man to new heights, but that's next list. Thanks for reading.

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