In the last fifty years, there have been a great many great stories told featuring Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man...and now that he's gone, for however long it lasts, we figured it was a good excuse to look back on those fifty years and say, if you were writing a biography of Peter Parker, which are the stories you'd want to be sure to include?
This isn't a "best-of" list. Creating such a thing and narrowing it down to ten would be borderline impossible--but this is a good reading list if you just want to reacquaint yourself with Peter, some of the biggest moments in his life, and some of the ones that won't resonate quite as much with somebody else under the mask.
So, what are our desert-island Spider-Man stories? Here they are, presented in roughly chronological order.
Amazing Fantasy #15
The first appearance of Spider-Man has, let's face it, kind of been done to death at this point. Everyone can recite the story pretty much beat for beat, even outside of comics where we've now seen two feature films based on the story.
Still, it's a brilliantly-told story. In addition to the introduction of the "With great power..." mantra to popular culture, the story was the first superhero origin we can think of where the hero is driven as much by guilt and remorse as by any sense of altruism. It's a totally different feeling than almost any other superhero origin and that's probably one of the reasons it still resonates today.
For fans who grew up after the events of these stories, few Spider-Man tales are more notorious or more frequently referenced and re-read than the deaths first of Captain Stacy (at the hands of Otto Octavius, we might add, who later turned out to be responsible for Peter's death, as well) and then, of his daughter Gwen.
That Captain Stacy died, telling Spider-Man that he knew who he was and that he had to watch over Gwen now, enhanced the tragedy of Gwen's loss even more. Peter hadn't just failed himself, and Gwen, but also her father. The whole arc, which was collected in a Marvel Premiere hardcover not long ago, is an effective and affecting story...and of course informed Kurt Busiek's award-winning Marvels.
Granted, it doesn't "count" anymore...but the Amazing Spider-Man annual in which Spidey and Mary Jane Watson got married was a fun little story that dealt in the same kind of sitcom tropes that accompany so many wedding stories--but with the added wrinkle that since basically nobody knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, neither the bride- or groom-to-be had anyone much to talk to about their doubts and problems.
J.M. DeMatteis told a great many terrific Marvel stories during his time on characters like Captain America and Spider-Man...but almost none of them are as fondly remembered by fans as Kraven's Last Hunt, a story that features the same kind of desperate madness that imbued Dan Slott's "Dying Wish" storyline and kicked off Superior Spider-Man.
One of the greatest superhero stories ever told, Kraven's Last Hunt also features Kraven donning Spidey's tights briefly to prove he's, ahem, superior to Spider-Man. Also, DeMatteis wrote one of the backup stories in Amazing Spider-Man #700. Are they, uh, telling us something?
The Venom Saga
That black costume we've been seeing so much of? Yeah, that's gone now. The wife doesn't approve.
For those of us who grew up reading comics in the '90s, Venom is the epitome of Spider-Man's kick-ass rogues gallery. From the crazy, creative way he was introduced to the idea that he was literally so unbeatable that Spidey fooled him into thinking he was dead (wow, there's another variation on that theme) in order to trap him on a deserted island and nullify his threat.
The Clone Saga
One of those stories that could have been remembered as truly great and instead became emblematic of everything that was wrong with Spider-Man comics, and just comics in general, during the '90s. The event dragged on interminably as high sales led editorial to demand more and more, with various different endings seeming like the obvious place to jump off and the story just plowing right past them.
Nevertheless, it had huge long-term ramifications, both in-story and out, since after this story it took years for Spider-Man to reacquire the audience lost.
The best single issue of the J.M. Straczynski era on Spidey, Peter is finally confronted by Aunt May, who "won't let him lie anymore" when she finds him bruised and bloodied, a tattered Spider-Man costume on his floor in tatters.
It turns out each of them has been blaming themselves for Ben's death for all of these years, both for circumstantial reasons that make sense only to them. The conversation is a great little story that gives a lot of depth to the relationship between Peter and May, something that had suffered in the time since Peter's relationship with Mary Jane got serious.
The last big "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane"-style story to happen before One More Day took everything away from the couple, this annual gave readers a chance to settle in and enjoy one of the best examinations of their relationship in the characters' histories.
One More Day
Whether you like it or not, One More Day has changed Spider-Man forever. Very much like what happened when Hal Jordan was driven mad during Emerald Twilight, it might be a story that doesn't last forever--but it's been around for long enough now that even if it's retconned (a popular theory is that the Superior Spider-Man story will do that for us) there's just no way around its long-term impact on the character and the way fans perceive Peter.
Again--this is a recent and controversial story, so not exactly one that everyone will love to include on a list like this--but what's more key to looking back at Peter's life than the circumstances of his death?