I think there are times when being a fanboy of a certain pop culture phenomenon or nerd-dom gives people the wrong impression of your personality. They tend to think of you as somebody who won't accept any change to your beloved characters and is incapable of making any objective judgments about what you're reviewing. Well what I'm here to tell you right now is that even if Spider-Man is my favourite fictional character ever, he has had quite a few stories over his 50 years in existence that make me want to burn every comic, film, television show and piece of clothing of the character that I own.
Created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man has become one of the top three most popular comic book characters ever, based not just on his amazing look and spectacular backstory, but also because of the great stories he's had over his history. Stories like "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", the original Clone Saga from the 1970s and "Kraven's Last Hunt" have all shown us why we love the character of Spider-Man so much. The fifteen stories mentioned below though are ones which show us Spider-Man and his supporting cast at their absolute worst.
The fifteen stories mentioned are all bad, don't get me wrong, but the worst of the worst are the ones that are not only stupid, unoriginal and devoid of any value, but also demonstrate that the creative teams behind them had no respect for the characters created by Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Steve Ditko and all the other legendary contributors to Spider-Man. I think when you see my number one pick you'll understand what I mean, but until then, let's start with a story from Stan Lee himself...
15 The Six Arms Saga (Amazing Spider-Man #100-102, Vol.1)
All in all, this wasn't quite an awful story, but it was definitely a disappointing and lazy end to Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee's original 100 issue run on his most famous creation.
After being called a menace by the public for the umpteenth time, Spider-Man decides to finally commit himself to girlfriend Gwen Stacy and give up being up being a superhero for good. Shhh, don't bring up the fact that by issue 100 Peter has already tried this at least twice, but there's a twist you see! He now has an untested serum he concocted himself that will supposedly remove his superpowers.
Instead of removing his powers though, the serum mutates him even further and causes him to grow four extra arms because, teehee, he's now even more like SPIDER-man. He obviously makes a cure by the end of the story, but it also marks the debut of Morbius The Living Vampire, a horror villain that seems so out of place in the world of Spider-Man.
Spidey deserved much better for his 100th issue.
14 Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do
Fun fact: Kevin Smith has written a Spider-Man story. Fun fact number two: Kevin Smith should never write another Spider-Man story.
Not only did Smith take a classic Spider-Man villain in Mysterio and kill him off in a Daredevil comic, but then he took another Spider-Man character and brought the angle of rape to her character when it wasn't needed. Yes, because along with wanting to continue her father's legacy of being a cat-burglar and enjoy the thrills that come with it, Felicia Hardy also became Black Cat as a way to let her out her rage from being raped by a boyfriend in college. Urghh.
The whole story (only six issues) took years to complete and in the end was an icky (the book also had a child molester in it), unnecessary and badly told series best left forgotten about.
Unfortunately for Black Cat fans, this wasn't the first time Felicia Hardy got screwed by Marvel writers...
13 Spider-Man Unmasks To The Black Cat (Spectacular Spider-Man 86-87 Vol.1)
While she was a very popular character at one point in Spider-Man's publication history, few fans would see a guy like Peter Parker ending up with a girl like Felicia Hardy. Parker is too much of a morally upright and modest guy to fully get behind Hardy's lifestyle of moral ambiguity. Their relationship deserved a better ending than this though.
After partnering together and having a bit of a complicated relationship for a few years, Spidey drops the big bomb in this storyline on Miss Hardy. At the time of this storyline in 1984, this was the first person Peter Parker ever unmasked to. And how does Black Cat react to this? With disgust. Instead of being honoured that Spider-Man would divulge his biggest secret to her, she instead didn't want to know the normal Peter Parker. She only wanted the thrills of Spider-Man.
While the previous storyline might have been ickier, this revelation damaged her character much more due to it being early on in her history and taking place in one of Spidey's main books rather than a mini-series that was mostly forgotten about. They took Felicia Hardy from a smart, cunning and fun character and turned her into an immature headcase.
12 Maximum Carnage
Some comic fans of the 1990s might have a soft spot for this story because it stars fan favourite villain Carnage, but please take off your nostalgia glasses, '90s comics reader. Once you do, you will see this story for what it really is; an excessively long crossover that has no place in the Spider-Man mythos except for marketing a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis game.
In retrospect though it's obvious how this story was perfect for a video game. Every issue is an excuse for another (mostly) C-list villain or hero to enter the fray and get a long overblown fight scene in. There's no substance to the plot (Carnage and his cronies mindlessly slaughter people, yipee!) and Spider-Man himself is treated as an afterthought with all the other characters hogging the panels.
The poster-child of why Marvel tanked in the 1990s, this is saved from occupying a higher spot because there was no real lasting damage done to any of the characters in the story. It was just a big, dumb and pointless 14-PART crossover.
11 Spider-Man: Reign
I have to admit a dirty secret; when I was a teenager I actually thought that this book was decent. I'm now here to repent for my prior sins. Or should I say my Sins Past? We'll get to that later.
Anyway back to Spider-Man: The Dark Knight Returns. This alternate-universe story takes place in a dystopic future where New York has given up their freedoms to our villain of the story, Mayor Waters, who is also in control of the Venom symbiote. This police state now prompts Jonah Jameson (who should be a billion years old considering how old Peter Parker looks in this drivel) to push Peter Parker to once again don his red and blues and save the city. Did I mention that Mary Jane died because of Peter's radioactive semen and the animated corpse of Doc Oc makes an appearance?
Simply put, this is an ugly, dark and off-putting story that absolutely doesn't feel like a Spider-Man story. Our villain is bland, Peter Parker is a pathetic wimp for most of the story and a lot of concepts and imagery in the story make me sick. If this was in-continuity, it would be way higher.
10 The Lizard's Tale (Spectacular Spider-Man #11-13, Vol.2)
At his best, Paul Jenkins was one of the finest Spider-Man writers ever. This storyline however was his darkest hour and a plot that gave the character of Dr. Curt Connors a black eye which darkened over 40 years of previous stories.
In this three-parter from 2004, Curt Connors is down on his luck. His wife has just passed away from cancer and he lost a research grant to a fellow scientist. So what does the good doctor, family man and longtime ally of Spidey do? BLOW THE HELL OUT OF THE LABORATORY AND KILL THE SCIENTIST. Not out of uncontrollable rage though, out of pre-meditated assault because he reveals to Spider-Man (who he out of nowhere knows is Peter Parker) that he's been able to control his Lizard persona for a long time and uses it as a way to excuse his evil deeds in the public eye.
So rather than a loving family man and tragic villain, Lizard is instead reduced to a maniacal sicko. The stupidest part has yet to come though. The storyline ends with Connors getting shaken out of lunacy because he put his own son in danger. To make sure he isn't a danger to society, he decides to attempt a bank robbery in human form and then get locked up in a standard prison where he can't hurt anybody.
Ask somebody who's been in an American prison, I'm sure they'll tell you it's a perfectly stress-free environment where Connors could control his Lizard transformations. For the sheer lack of logic in this story and the evisceration of a classic Spidey foe/ally, this ranks at number 10.
9 Spider-Man: House of M
This is one that I don't see on many people's radar but I scratch my head as to why that is, because this is thrash that is shockingly written by normally great writer Mark Waid (writer of the DC Universe masterpiece Kingdom Come).
Taking place in a world where mutants are the majority of the population and humans are the minority, the book follows a Spider-Man in his perfect world. He is a science and Hollywood superstar, he's married to Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben is alive. While the world thinks he's a mutant, he is actually a human, a secret which would strip everything away from him. It'd be a shame if a certain goblin knew who he was...
While there are several problems with the book (including Peter dressing as the Green Goblin for no good reason), the main one is how badly Peter Parker is characterized here. Rather than someone we can relate to, Parker in here comes off as a selfish, vain and cruel bully. I understand that this is technically an alternate universe, but this doesn't come close to resembling the character it is based off of.
For its complete ripping apart of the Peter Parker character, Spider-Man: House of M earns the number nine slot.
8 Spider-Man: Chapter One
The origin of Spider-Man is the most timeless and classic of any superhero. Everyone knows it and it requires absolutely zero alteration except for maybe the radioactive spider part. So why do some creative teams feel the need to keep mucking around with it?
One of the older attempts to reinvent the Spider-Man mythos comes courtesy of legendary X-Men artist John Byrne. In 1999, he wrote and drew 13 issues that essentially retold the early issues of Spider-Man while adding some new twists and "correcting" some oddities from the old issues. This was originally meant to essentially be Spidey's new origin, but the tepid reaction it got led Marvel to reconsider.
Why the tepid reaction? That would be because Byrne added nothing worthwhile to Spider-Man's history and most of what he did add was thrash. As the Amazing Spider-Man film series showed, having Norman Osborn be behind all of Peter's villains is a terrible idea, but this book beat Sony's series to the punch by over a decade.
For adding nothing to Spider-Man's history and for having the gall to try and replace his original stories, Spider-Man: Chapter One makes the list.
7 Changes (Spectacular Spider-Man #17-21, Vol.2)
Fans might recognize this story line as the one that ends with Peter Parker famously giving birth to himself. I could try to explain it, but long story short a kiss from a villain named The Queen is now causing Spidey to mutate in a giant spider and Peter Parker's "rebirth" results in him having the ability to speak to insects and have organic webbing.
The rest of the story's problems have to do with the lame villain (who is yet another failed super-soldier experiment in an effort to recreate Captain America) and characters like Mary Jane acting like complete fools. The general grossness of the storyline and the fact that his new powers rarely came in to effect after these five issues make it the warm-up to the next entry.
6 Sins Remembered (Spectacular Spider-Man #23-26, Vol.2)
Everyone by now should know of the awful "Sins Past" storyline from 2004 where it was revealed that Gwen Stacy gave birth to twins (one boy, Gabriel, and one girl, Sarah) before she died. The father to her children wasn't Peter Parker however, but the Green Goblin himself, Norman Osborn. Osborn raised the children by himself in Europe while they grew up biologically at an accelerated rate because of the Goblin formula in their DNA, but mentally they were only around 10 years old. What could be worse than that revelation? The followup a year later.
Rather than explain how the hell any of this is possible in the continuity of Spider-Man, this storyline instead focuses on Sarah's developing drug addiction and her romantic feelings towards Peter. Not only is it bad because Peter is married to Mary Jane, but also because Sarah thought Peter was her father until a few months prior! By failing to answer the questions raised in the previous storyline and just being so very wrong, this storyline is best left forgotten, not remembered.
5 The "Death" Of Mary Jane
A small segment of Spider-Man fans and all of Marvel's editors seemed to be dead-set against the idea of Peter Parker being married to Mary Jane in the 1990s and 2000s. While I vehemently disagree with that, you could make a decent story out of Mary Jane and Peter developing some understandable issues with each other which would end in a divorce. Or you could do this and pretend to kill her off in an ultra-stupid storyline.
In the issues prior to her supposed death, Mary Jane had been getting calls from a stalker. Rather than tell her SUPERHERO husband, she keeps it to herself until she boards a plane which explodes, seemingly killing MJ. It obviously doesn't because this is a comic book, but the backstory behind the stalker is so dumb that it made the supposed death of Peter Parker's wife even more horrendous.
So it is revealed nearly a year and a half (in real world time) later that MJ had been abducted by a telepath gone insane. Through a chance meeting with Spider-Man, the telepath decides to take over Peter's life by becoming him through some kind of psychic brain hacking. However, realizing that he could never truly be Peter Parker, the telepath kills himself.
This farce of a story was how Mary Jane "died" and how she was eventually brought back. It's insulting, lame and lazy storytelling at its worst.
4 The Robot Parents
While Peter Parker's parents may have died when he was a child, the parenting he received from Uncle Ben and Aunt May was more than enough to get him through life. However, this didn't stop the creative team in the early 1990s from bringing Pete's parents back from the dead. Sort of.
In this storyline, it is ultimately revealed that they're not actually Richard and Mary Parker but robots created by the Chameleon to get close to Peter in order to find out Spider-Man's secret identity. Why Spider-Man didn't put his parents through rigorous tests with the help of The Fantastic Four or another super scientist is beyond me. Also, I guess Chameleon never thought that Parker might not know Spidey's identity, but that's just the start of the dumbness.
Peter eventually tracks down the Chameleon's hideout where he fights off his father while acting like a delusional idiot with thought bubbles like "how can I fight my own father?" as a robot fist comes for his head.
For the ridiculous plot of the Chameleon and the portrayal of Peter Parker as a naive and delusional man-child, this robot parents storyline is undoubtedly one of the worst.
3 The Final Chapter
This storyline from 1998 was the last story before Marvel "rebooted" the Spider-Man titles (it was a reboot only in the sense that they launched new #1 issues for all the core books), so you would expect some dramatic changes to occur from this. Unfortunately for us, they were all awful.
The plot revolves around Norman Osborn participating in the "Gathering of the Five" ritual which would grant each of its five participants one of five gifts; power, madness, death, wisdom or immortality. Hints are also dropped that Mary Jane and Peter's baby, who was kidnapped or killed depending on who you ask, might have been discovered. At the end of the third issue it seems that Norman draws power and with his gift he kills and unmasks Spider-Man in public.
However all these tantalizing ideas are all thrown out the window with these revelations:
- Spidey and MJ's baby isn't actually alive, but it was actually Aunt May brought back after seemingly passing away in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #400. The character who died in that story was actually a genetically modified actress designed to plunge Peter Parker into darkness.
- Green Goblin didn't actually obtain power but madness; the victory shown to the readers was all in his head and Spider-Man actually beat him. So the book didn't even show us the real fight.
- Peter ends the story by burning his costume and saying he will never be Spider-Man again. Good one, Marvel.
I could go on (I didn't even mention Norman's grand masterplan which is up there with the dumbest supervillain plans ever), but needless to say it is one of the wort storylines in Spider-Man history.
2 Maximum Clonage
*To keep it simple, the man who was ultimately revealed to be a clone at end of the clone saga will be referred to as Ben Reilly and the original will be called Peter Parker.
I hesitate to put the entire Clone Saga on the list for a couple of reasons. One is that some of the stories in the clone saga are great and also because it's not really one story but a two year long piece of madness. This particular storyline however, is the worst of the worst from the Clone Saga.
At this point of the saga, it was thought that Ben Reilly was the original Spider-Man while Peter Parker was the clone. As a result, Peter decides to join up with villain The Jackal for... I'm not entirely sure, everyone in this story acts like an absolute moron except maybe for Ben Reilly.
This story has everything to put a Spider-Man fan into fits. Bizarrely out of place villains (Judas Traveller, Google him if you want to smash your head across your desk), pointless crossovers (the ultra 90s team New Warriors), plot threads that are left dangling by the end (there's a clone of Gwen Stacy who just kind of disappears at the end of the story) and horrendous artwork (particularly the last issue of the story which is one of the ugliest books in the history of the comic book medium).
There's so much bad with storyline that you could easily make the argument that is the worst ever. But at least all the damage from this story was repaired. Not so much with number one...
1 One More Day
Yes, of course it's One More Day. And no, it wasn't even close.
Numerous other Spider-Man fans like Linkara and J.R. Fettinger have already done marvelous jobs at crapping on and de-constructing One More Day for the sickening piece of fiction that it is, but I'll do my best to explain concisely why it's so bad.
If you don't know, this is the story where Spider-Man sells his marriage to Mephisto (the Marvel Universe's devil) in order to save his old Aunt May's life which is coming to an end courtesy of a sniper who tried to kill Peter Parker. So yeah, Peter Parker makes a horrendously stupid deal with SATAN.
That right there should be enough to show you why this is the worst, but there's so much more. The spirit of Aunt May appears to Peter prior to the storyline, saying to let her die, but Peter puts his own guilt ahead of his own aunt's wishes. This is a common theme throughout the story; everyone acting either out of character or like complete idiots.
This four-parter is filled with plot holes, mis-characterization, insulting messages and as the rotten cherry atop this disgusting sundae, it ret-conned the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane out of existence. Since 2006, the mainstream Peter Parker hasn't been married to Mary Jane Watson.
And all of that, is why this will always be the worst Spider-Man story of all time.