Spider-Man is Marvel’s most acclaimed superhero, and few characters have had a greater influence on popular culture. Peter Parker, at his core, is a flawed everyman who tries to do the right thing. He’s someone who lives a life similar to ours, but at the same time, is constantly attempting to squeeze in his commitment to being a hero in tights. One of the things that makes Spider-Man unique among the major superheroes is the small scale nature of his stories. He goes to high school, then goes to college, struggles to pay his bills, gets married — his life is filled with the same sorts of events that a regular person would go through. Even when he suits up as Spider-Man, he’s less likely to stop an alien invasion than he is to rescue a crowd of NYC bystanders from the latest Doc Ock attack.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But for such a great character, the wall-crawler has had a lot of terrible stories. And as we’ll see, all horrible Spidey stories have a key factor in common: as soon as they deviate from the “regular person” narrative, things fall apart.
Want to know the key indicators that a Spider-Man story is going to be awful? If you see buzz terms like “the story that changes everything,” or “biggest ever,” or “nothing will be the same,” then it’s almost a sure bet that ugly times lie ahead. And as we trudge down this road, get ready for some really ugly times, from androids to clones, Mephisto to corporate CEO Peter. Monstrosities await as we explore the 15 Worst Spider-Man Stories Of All Time.
15. Peter’s Parents Come Back From the Dead… and Become Androids
The pattern becomes evident early on. Crazy events, twist reveals, and shocking retcons tend to be very, very bad for Spider-Man. The 1990s were when these terrible storylines first really began kicking off, and this was one of the earliest head-scratchers: the running storyline where Peter’s parents seemingly came back from the dead.
Peter being an orphan is a pretty important part of the Spider-Man narrative. The whole “Peter’s parents were government spies” storyline is silly enough, but it was made only worse by this story, which “reveals” that they’ve secretly been alive this whole time, trapped in a prison camp.
The heartfelt reunion goes sour when Peter’s decision to show them his secret is followed by the shadowy reveal that they are now plotting their son’s death. Later, it’s revealed that these fake “parents” are actually just lifelike killer androids, and that the whole deception was an evil plot by Harry Osborn and the Chameleon. As goofy as the androids retcon is, it’s at least less damaging to the mythos than if they really had been his parents. However, worse things await…
14. Sins Past
If the android parents nonsense should have taught Marvel at least one lesson, it’s this: don’t drudge up things from Peter’s past and then skew them sideways for new storylines. Unfortunately, the lesson was not learned. Instead, we eventually ended up with the much-hated storyline where the Green Goblin has sex with Gwen Stacy.
Sins Past reveals that before Gwen got killed, she gave birth to twins named Gabriel and Sarah. The father is Norman Osborn. Apparently, the actual reason that he killed her was because she threatened to cut him off from their children. So yes, this story fundamentally undermines the entire point of one of the most iconic Spider-Man moments ever. The children rapidly age to adulthood, have healing factors, and Gabriel Stacy ends up becoming the “Gray Goblin.”
The writer, J. Michael Straczynski, intended Peter to be the father of the twins when he first plotted out the story, but editorial shot this idea down. In fact, JMS so hated the “Osborn is the father” twist that he tried to wipe the whole story from continuity. Marvel also shot this down, and the Stacy twins narrative continued.
13. Sins Remembered
This is how a bad thing becomes even worse. Sins Remembered was the follow-up to Sins Past, and it chronicled what happens to Gwen’s daughter, Sarah Stacy, after the conclusion of Sins Past sees her brother transformed into the Gray Goblin. After Peter comes to get her out of the hospital, where Sarah was evidently “waiting for him to rescue her,” it rapidly becomes apparent that Sarah has a massive crush on him. Yes, the daughter of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn has a crush on Peter Parker, her dead mother’s boyfriend, which is more than a little bit weird.
The story delves into Sarah and Gabriel’s back story a bit, and it’s generally just uncomfortable from start to finish, particularly when Sarah tries to kiss Peter in front of his wife, Mary Jane. While Sarah Stacy has disappeared since this storyline, Gabriel “Gray Goblin” Stacy has, unfortunately enough, reared his head in subsequent appearances.
No, that’s not Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy. It’s, um… Aunt May.
Trouble, the 2003 comic created by Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, was a story about teen pregnancy that was supposed to resurrect the long-dead genre of romance comics. It tells a story about four hormonal teenagers, who just so happen to be named Ben, May, Richard, and Mary, and their romantic exploits. There’s a plot twist when May cheats on Ben, her boyfriend, with Ben’s brother Richard. May gets pregnant with Richard’s son, and is so afraid to reveal the truth to her parents that Mary “saves the day,” by pretending to the world that the child belongs to her and Richard, and that May was never pregnant.
Obviously, the names are no coincidence. This story was written with the intention of revising Peter’s origins so that Aunt May was really his mother, having cheated on Uncle Ben with Richard Parker. This twist didn’t fly with the fans, who immediately rejected the story, and pointed out its numerous contradictions with established continuity. Trouble was quickly buried in the backyard, and has never been referenced since.
This bizarro little tale sees Spider-Man face off against this new telepathic, insect-powered villain named the Queen, until she lays a giant kiss on the wallcrawler, which then causes him to start experience some, uh… changes.
First, he grows a couple of extra arms, some eyes, and some fangs. No big deal. Then, his transformation completes when he is changed into a giant spider. The Queen then announces that Peter is pregnant (despite the fact that Peter is still male, but whatever). The Queen gets all excited that the Spider-Man-turned-giant-spider is going to give birth to her offspring, but instead, he just dies, causing her to weep at the tragedy of it all. But wait! From the spider’s carcass, the child is born, and it’s a very-human Peter Parker, back from the dead, but with a couple of random new powers like insect telepathy and organic webbing.
So yeah, this story was basically an excuse to give comic Peter the organic webbing of movie Peter. If that was really necessary, there was probably a less weird way to do it.
10. Mary Jane’s Fake Death
The strange and pathological hatred that Marvel editorial has for Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane is a terrible saga unto itself. Since the 1990s, multiple editors tried to destroy the Spider-marriage, leading to many of the awful storylines on this list. One of these “kill the marriage” attempts was this storyline, where a huge mystery played out about someone stalking (and then killing) Mary Jane. One would think that Peter’s wife would immediately tell her spider-powered husband about such a thing, but instead, the story makes her keep it a secret (why?), until she boards an airplane — which then blows up in a ball of fire, killing her.
Of course, she’s not actually dead. Sometime later, it’s revealed that her stalker has been holding her captive, and that he’s a psychic supervillain who wants to steal Peter’s life. After Mary Jane is rescued, the subsequent reunion is filled with more weird and out of character beats, like the fact that she decides to separate from Peter shortly after getting home.
9. The Gathering of Five/The Final Chapter
Basically, this whole storyline involves Norman Osborn putting together some arcane ritual involving magical relics, called “the gathering of five,” where five individuals must gather willingly so that each can receive magical “gifts.” But to understand just how much this story sucks, some additional context is needed. Some years before this, Aunt May had died in Amazing Spider-Man #400, a heartbreaking comic where she reveals that she knew Peter’s identity the whole time. Some more backstory: Mary Jane suffered a miscarriage. Something weird was implied to have happened with the remains of the stillborn Parker child, who would have been named May. Fans were buzzing for years about whether “Baby May” was alive, and if Osborn had her.
Got it? Okay.
After Osborn’s mystical ceremony, Mary Jane hears that “May is alive.” Spider-Man desperately tries to find his daughter, fighting his way through the Green Goblin, only to find out that this living “May” is actually Aunt May. The retcon here involved plastic surgery, a hired actress, DNA infusion… let’s not go into it, but it definitely ruins #400 for no good reason whatsoever.
8. The Clone Conspiracy
Don’t worry, folks, the Clone Saga will be coming up soon. But The Clone Conspiracy, a recent follow-up story, is also pretty rotten.
The Clone Conspiracy has Spider-Man’s old villain the Jackal reemerge in an interesting new Anubis-inspired costume, and with an all new cloning plot: reviving dead people. There’s also a whole thing where the Jackal is set to cause global devastation by unleashing the Carrion Virus upon the population. Taken on their own, these story ideas have potential. But then, Jackal takes off his mask and reveals himself to be Ben Reilly, the former Scarlet Spider.
This is an act of pure character assassination on Reilly, and for no reason whatsoever. Ben Reilly died at the end of the Clone Saga as a hero. He’s continued to be a fan-favorite character ever since his death in the 1990s, with many clamoring for his return. But no one wanted him to come back as a villain, betraying all of his values, and acting like an entirely different character than the hoodie-wearing rebel from the 1990s. In the end, this story takes the few good things that came out of the Clone Saga and rubs them in the dirt.
7. The Other
This is the one where Morlun eats Spider-Man’s eye.
Though fan opinions on the “totem” era vary, one thing that most can agree on is that Morlun is one of the most effective new Spider-Man villains of the 2000s. His original storyline, by JMS and John Romita Jr., is cinematic in scope, and could easily be adapted into a great Spider-Man movie.
The same can’t be said for The Other, another of these obnoxious huge events that litter this list, loaded with tag lines like “everything changes forever…again” and lots of noisy press releases that hyped it up (ever wonder why fans hate big events these days?). To be clear, The Other‘s problems have little to do with Morlun. The story starts with Peter finding out that he’s dying, leads to a blowout fight with Morlun with the whole eye-eating episode, and then concludes with Peter getting reborn (again) by shedding his old skin and regenerating, or… something. It all ends with him conversing with some mystical spider-being, a potentially cool story element in… say, a Doctor Strange comic, but which has no business in a web-slinging adventure.
6. Doc Ock Almost Marries Aunt May
Not all of the terrible Spider-Man stories come from the last few decades. Most of them, yes. But even the classic era had at least a few stinkers.
Doctor Octopus has had many devious and intelligent plans, but this one was not one of his shiniest. The whole thing happens because Octavius discovers that Peter’s Aunt May is about to inherit a major nuclear plant. For whatever reason, Octavius determines that the best way to steal the inheritance from her is to get married to her, a proposition which Peter is obviously not too excited about. Luckily, the wedding gets interrupted by Hammerhead. Not so luckily, this story still occasionally gets referenced, which means it must still be part of continuity. Can we just pretend that this story didn’t happen, please?
5. Corporate Peter
Spider-Man is the everyman. It’s the whole nature of his appeal. Except this plot element, which is still running in the comics today, totally destroys that appeal by turning Peter Parker into a second-rate Tony Stark ripoff.
Sure, by the time Peter’s in his late 20s, he shouldn’t be working freelance at the Daily Bugle anymore. The comics of the 2000s solved that problem by placing him as a high school science teacher at his old school. But now, as the CEO of Parker Industries, Peter Parker is suddenly this cocky billionaire playboy who flies to different Parker Industries branches all over the world, and uses the Spider-Man identity as both his “bodyguard” and as the mascot of his company. Basically, the whole thing changes Peter from a working class hero into an annoying 1% percenter.
4. Spider-Man: Chapter One
Since Spider-Man was created in the 1960s, a lot of those early comics do show their age, so the notion of updating them for the present day isn’t a bad one. In fact, the same idea led to the highly successful Ultimate Spider-Man comic. But here, it didn’t work so well.
Like Batman: Year One, the series Spider-Man: Chapter One was supposed to a retelling of the original Spider-Man comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, modified to suit more contemporary sensibilities. But the problem is that unlike, say, Sam Raimi’s rather faithful Spider-Man retelling, this version changes things just for the sake of changing things. For example, the iconic radioactive spider-bite scene is rewritten from a small incident into a catastrophic radioactive explosion, which kills almost everyone in the building except Peter. On top of that, Otto Octavius is also caught in the devastation, and it’s this explosion that bonds those metal arms to him.
3. The Clone Saga
Few storylines are so infamous. We could go on for hours about all of the problems in the Clone Saga — and have, actually — but the best way to put it is this: not only does it fit all of the criteria for crappy Spidey stories (Shocking events! Twists from the past! Everything has changed forever!) But, arguably, this is the bad story that set the mold for everything bad that followed.
Once again, the story begins with an interesting concept, involving the idea of a Spider-Man clone who may or may not be the real Peter. But thanks to editorial interference, this whole thing got dragged out for three years. Three years of clone issues will eventually make anyone sick of clones, especially when the storyline keeps introducing new twists, new turns, and new characters every two seconds.
But then, the ending just makes it all worse. As famed Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out, the true greatest sin of the Clone Saga was that it resurrected Norman Osborn. The dead Norman was a complex figure, and his legacy in death held a looming presence over Peter’s life; after the Clone Saga, Norman has often been written more like DC’s Lex Luthor.
2. One Moment in Time
After the ugly reception that the One More Day retcon led to (hang tight, we’re almost there), editorial refused to backtrack, but they wanted to somehow make things “better.” To that end, the story One Moment in Time was created, to offer a revised explanation for why Peter and Mary Jane “never” got married, and why everyone has conveniently forgotten Spidey’s identity after he outed it in Civil War. Basically, there’s a whole shebang about how the marriage was canceled because the web-head missed it, and the forgotten identity reveal is chalked up to Doctor Strange’s magic.
None of this fixes the problem.
One Moment in Time is a half-hearted editorial attempt to make excuses for One More Day — without actually fixing any of the problems that One More Day created. The whole thing reads like an act of self-justification, as if the story knows it’s wrong, it knows that it messed up, but it wants you to pretend otherwise. Even if there are alternate explanations for why the non-marriage “happened” in this new continuity, they still only “happened” because Spider-Man did a deal with the devil. Which brings us to our final entry, the worst Spider-Man story of all time…
1. One More Day
Seriously, could there be any doubt that this is the single worst Spider-Man story of all time? Really, nothing else compares. JMS may have been stuck as the writer for this one, but none of the blame falls on him; JMS basically had a gun to the back of his head, and he even wanted his name removed from the comic. One More Day is forced editorial lunacy at its absolute worst. It was Marvel’s attempt to “rectify” Spider-Man, by betraying everything that makes the character worthwhile.
For any who haven’t heard of this story, let’s put it in black and white: Peter’s Aunt May is dying, and nobody can save her. So Peter meets up with Mephisto — the Marvel equivalent of Satan — and strikes up a deal. Yes, that’s right. This story has Spider-Man literally make a deal with the devil. And the terms? For May to be saved, Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage will be wiped off the face of reality, as if it never happened.
The concept here is utterly childish, because there’s probably not a person on the planet who would make such a dumb deal, much less Mr. Power-and-Responsibility Peter Parker. Furthermore, this story also demonstrates incontrovertible proof that Marvel Comics editorial does not understand Peter Parker, whatsoever. The Clone Saga may have been terrible, but it didn’t fundamentally undermine the character like this story did. Until the day that this story is somehow reversed, retconned, or wiped off the map — and no, One Moment in Time doesn’t count — then the comic book version of Spider-Man will forever have a black mark on his name.
Were there any other terrible Spider-Man stories that we missed? Let us know in the comments!