There is one problem for new readers looking for a definitive list of good, accessible Spider-Man stories. The same material is available in so many different formats that making sense of it all can be overwhelming for a newcomer.
DC has a tendency to favor self-contained stories over serials, which makes it easy to pick volumes. If you’re interested in Batman, you can pick up The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Strange Apparitions, and about twenty other volumes, and be on your merry way. A Superman fan can pick up All-Star Superman, Superman For All Seasons and an anthology of Moore’s work on the character. Kraven’s Last Hunt, The Death of Jean Dewolff and Spider-Man Blue are three well-regarded Spider-Man stories that are also accessible and self-contained, so these represent a good place to start. Much of the other material comes from larger runs, reprinted in an inconsistent manner.
In many cases, the original issues are rather expensive. Much of the older material is available as 500+ page black and white volumes through the Essential Spider-Man series, 250 page hardcovers through the Marvel Masterworks series, softcover editions of the Marvel Masterworks volumes. There are also a few thousand page Omnibus edition hardcovers collecting the Lee/ Ditko run, the Lee/ Romita run, Todd Mcfarlane’s work on Amazing Spider-Man, Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man run and the beginning of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man.
The first 158 issues of Amazing Spider-Man have also been reprinted in the series Marvel Tales and Spider-Man Classics. So if you like the single issue format, this makes it easier to look for the classic issues. Spiderfan and various other websites can help you match the classic issue with the later reprint.
Many of these issues, but not all, are also available to download from comixology. And much of it is available on Marvel’s digital reader app. If you have a tablet, a subscription to the Marvel Unlimited program on their digital comics service is probably the best bet for a beginner. It allows you to see if you actually like the stuff, and it means you’re less likely to be stuck with material you don’t care for, and helps avoid the beginner’s mistake of buying a less impressive version of a particular collection of stories. It’s also a way to determine if some of the more expensive options for reading certain storylines are worthwhile. That said, it can be a small waste to pay four bucks for Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut on comixology if you eventually find the story in another format.
It’s surprisingly difficult to get a list of the comics available on the service, although Comic Book Herald has a good list. There are some holes in the material available, and it takes some time to update. But it remains a good place for a new spider-fan to start.
Issues Included: #1-#137, #176-#180, #194-#195, #204-#206, #226-#230 (sans #238), #252-#259, #298-#339, #378-#380
Marvel’s done a really nice job digitizing the original runs on their most famous characters, and that’s very apparent with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man. The first chunk of issues alone covers 1963-1974, and includes such monumental arcs as “The Death of Gwen Stacey” (#121-#122) and “Kraven’s Last Hunt” (#293-#294 – the entire arc is spread across a few different Spidey titles – Unlimited has everything you’ll need for the arc: Web of Spider-Man & Spectacular Spider-Man ).
This particular selection also offers Todd McFarlane’s run as artist on Spidey (#298-#339 – he doesn’t draw the whole arc but it starts here) as well as the “Maximum Carnage” issues within Amazing Spider-Man (#378-#380).
The big takeaway that will be clear throughout the rest of the catalog? There are consistent holes as you enter the late 70′s, 80′s & 90′s. You’ve been warned.
Issues Included: #1-10, #30-38 + #41, #500-#684
Includes the vast majority of JMS’s run on Spidey, along with just about all the recent stuff from Dan Slott and co. Arcs include JMS’s controversial Gwen Stacey update, the hugely polarizing “One More Day” arc, “Big Time,” and “Spider-Island.”
There was also a collection of Amazing Spider-Man issues on DVD-rom although that’s now out of print, so it may be expensive to get a copy of that.
The single biggest failing of Marvel’s collections department may be their handling of Roger Stern’s Amazing Spider-Man run. It’s widely agreed to be one of the best runs on any Marvel title, and something I recommend wholeheartedly, but it is rather poorly served in reprint form.
The out of print series Spider-Man Megazine reprinted the first twelve issues so that’s worth hunting down. The second issue includes the memorable conflict with the Black Cat in its enirety. The third issue includes Spider-Man’s legendary battle with the Juggernaut. The fourth issue includes a memorable follow-up with Cobra and Hyde. Several stories from Stern’s run were also reprinted in Wizard’s Spider-Man Masterpieces Edition, which can easily be found in conventions, as well as stores with well-stocked Graphic Novel sections. It also includes The Death of Jean Dewolff, and an early appearance of Venom.
Most of the Roger Stern back issues can be found at a reasonable price. The exception is the Hobgoblin saga, although the early appearances of the Hobgoblin are available in the Trade Paperback Origin of the Hobgoblin.
One further complication is that sometimes Marvel collects several TPBs worth of material in what they call an Ultimate collection TPB. When buying those be careful that you’re not getting the same material as you’ll find in another volume. If you look up the volumes online, you should be able to find what issues are available either through Marvel’s solicitations or through the listings on amazon.com.
Marvel also allows some trade paperbacks to go out of date, issuing slightly different new versions later. So that’s also something to look out for. For example, the Original Clone Saga TPB includes a story that was found in the Clone Genesis TPB, as well as a subsequent follow-up. One of the best Spider-Man stories is a two part battle with the Green Goblin, so Marvel has found several different ways to include it in reprints.
I’ve listed what I believe to be the best Spider-Man stories, but there is much worthwhile material available. Marvel’s TPB program relies on selling series of Spider-Man stories. So an easier way for a new reader to enjoy some Spider-Man comics might be to find a series, and read on from there. If you like the Clone Saga Epic Book One, you’ll probably like Book 2. Although I would recommend Ultimate Spider-Man, or the Big Time Spider-Man comics more if you’re going to start reading the comics that way. It’s convoluted, but I wouldn’t call this blog “What Would Spidey Do?” if I didn’t think that these stories were satisfying and worth hunting down.