Spider-Man is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable and beloved superheroes of all time. This status can be attributed to many reasons. However, I often find that people find Spider-Man to be a relatable character that manages to speak to the common person.
Candidly, one of the reasons I love Spider-Man is because his mythos comprises a multitude of tonally diverse stories. At times, Spider-Man's adventures can be full of humor and pure entertainment. Other times, his stories dig deeper into complex and tragic situations that reflect life's greatest struggles.
Consequently, I have come to discover that Spider-Man speaks to me the most when his stories challenge his own humanity.
With this and with the intention of helping anyone get acquainted with the iconic Marvel Comics character, here are some Spider-Man stories I cannot recommend highly enough.
Spider-Man: Blue (2002 - 2003)
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have created a plethora of memorable comic book stories including my personal favorite, Batman: The Long Halloween. Regarding their works with Marvel Comics, the two have found great acclaim via their notable "Color" series. This particular series includes four stories: Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Gray, Captain America: White, and Spider-Man: Blue.
Though these stories differ in content, they each maintain a rather melancholic tone as the titular character of each story presents an intimate retrospection of a formative time in their heroic career.
The events of Spider-Man: Blue traverse a sorrowful Peter Parker as he recollects his life prior to the death of his former love, Gwen Stacy.
The story itself takes place long after Gwen's passing. Despite this, Loeb and Sale make an effort to showcase the lasting effects loss has on an individual, even if they have superhuman abilities and appear as though they can overcome anything.
Ultimately, Spider-Man: Blue remains one of my favorite Spider-Man stories as it provides a raw and human portrayal of loss and its subsequent aftershocks. It also provides an honest depiction of the impact Peter's role as Spider-Man has had on his life. Yes, the responsibility of the role in addition to the superhuman abilities that come with it have brought a lot of positive aspects to Peter's livelihood.
However, Spider-Man forced Peter to grow up a lot faster than he anticipated.
Overall, Spider-Man: Blue may not necessarily have the aspects one would expect to see in a Spider-Man story. Despite this, the story is incredibly poignant and honestly allows us to get to know Peter Parker in a different, more personal manner.
Spider-Man: Back in Black (2007)
J. Michael Straczynski's run on Spider-Man is undoubtedly a must-read for any fan of the character. Sure, there are a couple of arcs in the mix that I would rather forget (i.e. "Sins Past","One More Day"). However, some of the arcs, like that of "Back in Black" are simply epic.
"Back in Black" is a five-issue arc that follows Peter's own descent into darkness after Kingpin hires an assassin to kill Peter. However, when the assassin makes his move, his bullet strikes Aunt May instead of Peter. So, with Aunt May in critical condition, Peter decides to don his black Spider-Man suit once more and hunt the Kingpin down, vowing to kill him.
"Back in Black" is particularly notable for challenging the common perception of Spider-Man. In the events of this arc, Peter exemplifies a violent streak in addition to an abandonment of his long-esteemed "code", in which he refused to excessively beat, torture, and kill criminals.
He reflects on whether his alignment to this "code" actually made a difference when after all his years of crimefighting, his loved ones are still subjected to the acts of his enemies.
Ultimately, "Back in Black" may offer an unfamiliar and bold take on the Spider-Man we all know and love. However, Straczynski's deconstruction of the character provides an incredibly nuanced story that leads us readers to question if we would do anything differently if we were to be in Peter's position.
The Death of Jean DeWolff (1985 - 1986)
This four-issue story, from writer Peter David, presents another grittier turn in the Spider-Man mythos. As the title suggests, The Death of Jean DeWolff traverses the mystery surrounding the murder of NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff.
This particular arc is yet another personal Spider-Man story as Jean DeWolff was actually one of Spider-Man's closest friends at the time of her passing. Consequently, upon discovering that his good friend was murdered by an unknown killer, the case becomes personal for the webslinger.
There are a variety of aspects that have established The Death of Jean DeWolff as a definitive Spider-Man run. Among these is the featured dynamic between Spider-Man and Hell's Kitchen's own Daredevil.
Though the two fight for the same side, they actually disagree at various points throughout the story. Additionally, the story reads like a detective, crime thriller, a genre that is not exactly as popularized as it should be within the Spider-Man mythos.
Overall, The Death of Jean DeWolff is a pivotal work in the Spider-Man mythos that challenged various archetypes at the time of its publication. It provides a deconstructive approach to Spider-Man himself while also subverting the orthodox method of comic book storytelling.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the overarching villain of the arc is not one you would expect.
So, if you want to get acquainted with a monumental Spider-Man comic that has stood the test of time, please read The Death of Jean DeWolff.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (2019)
Via a collaboration between writer Tom Taylor and a fleet of talented artists including talents such as Juan Cabal and Ken Lashley, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man serves readers entertaining adventures, captivating artwork, and touching arcs that establish a cohesive and modern Spider-Man saga.
Now, the bulk of the series features our favorite webslinger helping some of his closest friends who are in need of a helping hand. Some of these jobs are small in scale while others feature Spider-Man traveling to an alternative version of New York City.
However, in the midst of these jobs, Peter Parker finds himself facing the reality of Aunt May's cancer diagnosis. Consequently, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man does a fantastic job in providing a holistic perspective of Peter Parker's life, as Spider-Man, a nephew, a boyfriend, an ally, and every other role Peter wears day-to-day.
In fact some of my favorite issues of 2019 were from this series, some of those issues being Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6, #11, and #14.
So, if you are seeking out some heartwarming Spider-Man adventures that truly give you a thorough depiction of the webslinger and various aspects of his life, this is the series for you.
The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 (1963)
Spider-Man is a character that has literally persisted for decades. Thus, there are literally generations of individuals who have been inspired by the character.
Now, Spider-Man was created back in 1962 by the iconic, comic book duo of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Their three-issue arc entitled "If This Be My Destiny" has remained an exemplary depiction of Spider-Man as it perfectly showcases the character's perseverance and inability to let others down.
Ultimately, the story follows Peter Parker's struggles in juggling a variety of obstacles in his personal life with his duties as Spider-Man. With this, Peter carries a great burden upon himself, one that is riddled with guilt deriving from Uncle Ben's death and Aunt May's bouts with illness.
"If This Be My Destiny" provides an unapologetic view of Peter Parker's humanity and, thus, his own faults. In this arc, we witness Peter become susceptible to self-doubt and confusion.
In the end though, he overcomes his own uncertainties via a series of unforgettable panels that have solidified themselves in comic book history.
So, if you are looking to revisit the beginnings of Spider-Man's comic book history, look no further than The Amazing Spider-Man #31 - 33.
Per usual, there were a multitude of comics I could have included on this list, but I thought I would narrow it down to five for your own convenience.
Spider-Man has a rich and dense history. So, it can be difficult to find a starting off point.
Hopefully, this reading list can give you the guidance you need.