There is no medium quite like comics. Whether it's film, TV, books or music, nothing else seems to inspire the same kind of rabid, nitpicky, loyal, and passionate fan base as comic books. While indie comics remain relatively free to do what they like with their creations, Marvel and DC are bound by the constraints of the iconic characters that they have spent decades developing.
There is perhaps no other character who has simultaneously starred in as many titles and had more heartbreaking retcons than your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man – well, except for the X-Men. Whether one chooses to rail against this fact or embrace it, there’s no denying that this is really just part of the magic of comics.
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, Peter Parker has always been the most relatable superhero, which is why Spider-Man’s popularity has never diminished, regardless of the direction in which his writers and artists have chosen to take him.
Controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although many questionable decisions have been made throughout the Wall-crawler’s journey, that doesn’t mean that those choices never worked out in Spidey’s favor. Some of these stories have gone down in history as the character’s worst, but others will forever be looked at as the best. Here are the 16 Most Controversial Spider-Man Stories Ever.
16 Death of Gwen Stacy
The first story on this list is a perfect example of why controversial doesn’t have to mean bad. “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” was a 1973 arc written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Gil Kane and inked by John Romita Sr. In this two-issue story, Spider-Man squares off against his arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin. During their climactic battle, Peter’s longtime girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, falls to her death, despite his best efforts to save her.
Killing off a beloved character is a controversial move, but this tale paved the way for more mature stories to be told in the Amazing Spider-Man comics. It illustrated the sad fact that Spidey’s power was not absolute, as he failed to save the woman that he loved. The story not only gave readers very real stakes, but also dealt realistically with the ramifications of death and the painful realities of grief.
On top of all that, this small arc even brought new depth to Mary Jane, who is there for Peter despite the way that he cruelly lashes out at her. Although the story is definitely a product of its time, Gwen’s death remains one of the most hard-hitting, emotionally engaging arcs in the Wall-crawler’s history.
15 The Symbiote Costume
One of the most iconic aspects of a superhero is their costume, which is why comic fans get so bent over even the most minor of changes to a character’s classic garment. Until Amazing Spider-Man #252 hit stands in 1984, Spidey’s costume had remained largely unchanged since his debut.
Such a drastic alteration to Spider-Man’s suit was a risky move and initially, not all fans were pleased with his new look. However, the black costume paid off, not just in terms of the Webslinger’s appearance, but also the stories that unfolded as a result.
After Spider-Man’s suit was damaged during Secret Wars, he donned the black costume which, unbeknownst to him, was an alien symbiote. Due to unfavorable reactions, there were actually plans to revert back to the Spidey look that fans knew and loved before #252 even hit the stands. However, sales actually spiked, so Marvel decided to keep the black suit around. This decision would, of course, lead to the birth of fan favorite, Venom, several years later.
14 Kraven’s Last Hunt
This celebrated 1987 arc, written by J. M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck, crossed over into all three Spider-Man titles. Widely considered to be one of the greatest Spidey stories of all time, “Fearful Symmetry” was also incredibly controversial due to its dark subject matter.
Kraven the Hunter became completely consumed by the need to not only best Spider-Man, but also to become him. One of the most fascinating aspects of this epic tale is that the villain actually triumphs. He defeats Spider-Man, buries him alive, and takes on his mantle for two weeks. In the end, it’s not even the Webhead who beats Kraven, because the Hunter commits suicide.
This brilliant arc had an intensity that remains unmatched by most Spider-Man stories written before or since. Thematically the story was also interesting for the ways that it played with perception, and who Peter Parker is with or without his mask.
13 The Clone Saga
While the first three entries on this list were controversial stories that worked out for the best, “The Clone Saga” certainly didn’t. In fact, it remains one of the most despised arcs in the history of the Webslinger. Part of this is due to the fact that taking place from 1994-1996, the story simply wore out its welcome. It was meant to wrap in less than a year, but the comics sold well, so Marvel continued to let the tale unfold.
The company was hoping for a large-scale event that would rival DC’s “Death of Superman” and in terms of mirroring the disappointment fans felt in the wake of that infamous arc, Marvel certainly succeeded.
Unleashing twist after turn and clone after clone, what began as an interesting concept, grew increasingly incoherent the longer it continued. It’s crazy to think that part of the arc’s original intent was to bring Spidey “back to basics." With too many writers and editors to form any sort of cohesive narrative or emotionally engaging content, this is one tale that no Spider-Man fan really wants to revisit.
12 The Final Chapter
Speaking of stories that no one wants to reread, “The Final Chapter” definitely falls into that category. Resurrecting dead characters has become a hallmark of superhero comics. Whether fans accept or reject the fact that no one stays dead in these stories, any one of them will admit that certain characters would be better off left that way. Aunt May’s tragic death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 was incredibly moving, a moment that most readers feel should’ve remained untouched.
Generally speaking, the only way that resurrection ever feels truly right in any medium is when that return to life is earned. This is certainly not the case in “The Final Chapter” when we learn that the May who died was an actress, who had been genetically altered and hired by Norman Osborn to impersonate Peter’s aunt – while he held the real May hostage.
What was Osborn’s brilliant plan, you ask? Well, of course, it was to return May, who had been implanted with a device, which if removed, would trigger a series of earth-shattering explosions. Fortunately, Peter knew a guy named Reed Richards. Unfortunately, fans had to read this terrible story.
11 Ultimate Spider-Man
It’s safe to say that comic fans don’t love change. When Marvel launched their Ultimate line with Ultimate Spider-Man in 2000, it was a fairly risky proposition. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley – their team-up set the record for longest run on a Marvel series by two people – the book reimagined Peter Parker’s origin from a modern standpoint… and it was awesome! The Ultimate line didn’t take place in normal continuity, so the writers had a freedom with these Marvel heroes that they hadn’t had in decades.
Fans were skeptical of this new fangled Spider-Man, but that changed when they read the book. Ultimate Spider-Man perfectly captured the essence of a beloved character, all the while updating his story for a modern audience. Bendis continually found new and inventive ways to tell somewhat familiar Spidey stories without retreading tired ground. Bagley’s sleek artwork was the perfect accompaniment, bringing these characters to brilliant life.
10 Sins Past
Let’s get this out of the way: J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man was legendary. However, if it remains marred by one thing, it’s this terrible 2004 arc. Remember the soul-crushing death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of Norman Osborn? Would you believe that he threw her off that bridge because she secretly gave birth to his twins? Yeah, no one else did either.
This actually wasn’t all JMS’s fault though. He initially wanted Peter to be the father of the twins, but his idea was shot down by editorial, who then decided that Osborn had a secret affair with Gwen. The twins were raised by Osborn and blamed Peter for their mothers death, so naturally, they wanted revenge. Oh yeah, and they had superpowers and aged at an advanced rate, thanks to Osborne’s DNA.
Aside from the fact that this story most likely makes your skin crawl, it also doesn’t make much narrative sense and ruins the character of Gwen Stacy. It’s a shame that such an amazing, character defining run will forever be associated with this awful arc.
9 Sins Remembered
To add much insult to this most grievous of injuries, rather than let us forget the disaster of “Sins Past”, Marvel gave us a follow up story. “Sins Remembered” manages to be an even worse tale than its predecessor. Appearing in the pages of The Spectacular Spider-Man in 2005, this arc delves into the backstory of the twins. Seriously though, who asked?
Aside from giving us a barrage of unwanted information, this tale also gave us more of that icky feeling we became so familiar with thanks to “Sins Past”. Gabriel Stacy apparently died at the end of that story, but Sarah – who, of course, looks exactly like her mom – seeks out Peter’s help for her rapid aging. Also, she tries to kiss him… in front of MJ! Plus, spoiler alert, Gabriel would later return.
In a way, this tale is more contentious than Straczynski’s, because after the awful reception that one received, this not only continued the story, but also fleshed it out. All around, both arcs were just comprised of one poor choice after another.
8 Civil War
Civil War wasn’t just a Spider-Man story, but his unmasking was certainly one of the most controversial moments in the character’s history. Spider-Man had always been incredibly serious about keeping his secret identity an actual secret. This makes perfect sense considering the consequences of Norman Osborn discovering Spidey was actually Peter Parker. Written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven, this watershed 2006 Marvel mega-event forever changed the Webslinger’s life… at least until “One More Day”. Hang tight, we’re almost there.
In solidarity with Iron Man’s pro-registration side of the conflict, Peter revealed his identity to the public. He would switch to Team Cap before the issue was resolved, but it was too late. Just as Peter had feared, this revelation resulted in villains seeking retribution, with his loved ones paying the price. A sniper on Kingpin’s payroll accidentally shot Aunt May when aiming for Peter.
The fallout from this deeply upsetting moment would lead to the arc that basically supplanted “The Clone Saga” as the story most hated by fans of the Webhead.
7 One More Day
Although several of the entries on this list weren’t stellar stories, none are quite so maligned as this 2008 arc. J. Michael Straczynski – the writer of ASM at the time – hated the direction of the story so much that he actually requested that his name be taken off it altogether. Not only did this tale undo much of Straczynski’s run, including the changes Peter underwent in the divisive “The Other” arc, but most controversially, it erased one of the most beloved marriages in comics: Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
Peter makes a deal with the devil – in this case that means Mephisto – that would sacrifice his marriage to save May’s life. Apparently, Peter is easier to relate to when he’s a young bachelor. However, we had Ultimate Spider-Man for that. Plus, what could have been a tragic, but fitting ending for May was undermined once again.
Marvel obviously had clear plans for Spider-Man’s new direction, but the way that they got there was utterly ridiculous. Almost ten years later, fans are still mystified by the execution of this awful arc and the impact that it had on subsequent stories.
6 Brand New Day
The thing about “Brand New Day” is that, despite all the hate heaped onto the story that preceded it, the new Spider-Man comics weren’t bad. Actually, some of them were awesome. Hit and miss, to be sure, but you could say that about any of the significant runs on the book. Regardless of where the story went, the title had one amazing artist after another, including Chris Bachalo, Steve McNiven, and Marcos Martin.
“Brand New Day” certainly brought the Webhead back to basics. Not only had his marriage never happened – he and MJ had broken up for an unspecified reason – but Harry was still alive and Peter was back to using web shooters. Spidey got a larger supporting cast, as well as some original villains. No one will ever defend “One More Day”.
However, Dan Slott, one of several writers for the rebrand, eventually took over sole writing duties and his tenure has become one of the foremost runs in the character’s history.
5 One Moment in Time
Ready for another story that no one asked for? After winning fans back with some truly great Spidey stories, Joe Quesada chose to revisit the terrible arc that readers were still trying to forget. “One Moment in Time” is meant to take place between “One More Day” and “Brand New Day”, and shed some light on the infamous deal between Peter, MJ and Mephisto. The story essentially answered a bunch of questions that we were all done asking, and the results were unsatisfying to say the least. The one plus side was Paolo Rivera’s gorgeous artwork.
The idea that MJ basically left Peter because she’s “not strong enough” to be with him is fairly ridiculous, considering what we know of her character. It did a disservice to the Mary Jane that fans had come to know, in a similar – albeit far less creepy – way to what “Sins Past” did to Gwen Stacy’s character. It took firmly established aspects of who she was and threw them out the window.
4 Death of (Ultimate) Spider-Man
Ultimate Spider-Man had been a successful book for over a decade when Marvel decided in 2011 that it was time for a change. Not only did Brian Michael Bendis kill off teenage Peter Parker, but he also planned on keeping him dead. Peter went out like the hero that he was, saving the people that he loved most one last time, before succumbing to his injuries. Fittingly, he met his demise at the hands of longtime foe, the Green Goblin.
It may have been a heartbreaking finale for Peter, his family and friends, and those of us who read it with tears in our eyes – according to Bendis, he cried while writing the story – but it was more than just an ending. Peter may have been gone, but Spider-Man was not.
3 Miles Morales
We’ve discussed how attached comic fans get to their characters’ costumes, but what about the heroes themselves? Ultimate Spider-Man bit the dust and while fans were coming to terms with this, Marvel threw a brand new Spider-Man into the mix. It was controversial to bring in another Spider-Man so soon after Peter’s death, but the one detail that people focused on the most was his race.
Miles Morales is half-black and half-Latino, and from the moment that he took off his mask in Ultimate Fallout #4, his reception was mixed. Some were overjoyed at seeing more minority representation in comics, especially with such a major character. However, without even taking a moment to get to know Miles, many chose to judge him harshly based on whatever outdated ideas they had about what a superhero should look like.
Miles Morales isn’t just some alternate version of Peter Parker. He is an awesome character in his own right. Technically, Miles already exists in the MCU, as he was given a nod in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but who knows how long it’ll be before he actually shows up. We’ll need the comics to tide us over – which are excellent – until he makes his animated feature debut in 2018.
Worlds collided in this excellent miniseries when Peter Parker came face to face with Miles Morales. The comic was written by Bendis and drawn by Sarah Pichelli in 2012. Many fans were hesitant to read what clearly appeared to be a gimmick. However, the comic proved to be so much more.
Peter finds himself accidentally in the Ultimate Universe – Mysterio was involved – and swinging right into a Spider-Man that he never knew existed. The book could’ve easily been contrived, but instead it was funny, action-packed, and full of heart. It also highlighted the myriad of differences between the two different earths in interesting ways.
Bendis rarely writes bad stories and this was no exception. Pichelli did a wonderful job of capturing not only the Spider-Men, but also both universes. The scene where Peter goes to visit May was especially beautifully rendered.
1 Superior Spider-Man
You know when an idea sounds absolutely awful on paper, but in execution it winds up being fantastic? It certainly doesn’t happen often, but Superior Spider-Man is a prime example of this. A terminally ill Doc Ock switches bodies with Peter Parker right before he dies. It sounds terrible, right? Even superhero comics have their limits and it seemed Marvel had gone too far.
The thing is, Otto Octavius as Spider-Man was awesome! Similarly to “Kraven’s Last Hunt”, the comic examines who Peter Parker is behind his mask and what about him is so intrinsic to Spider-Man. However, there are certain ways in which Otto actually is superior. Sure, he’s a monster, but in a sense that actually helps make him a more effective Spider-Man. While it’s fun to watch him be as awful as you’d expect, it’s also pretty fascinating to see the undeniable improvements that he makes.
With Superior Spider-Man, Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman took what could’ve been a very one-note idea and turned it into something truly spectacular. It was the Spider-Man book that fans never knew was needed until they actually read it.
Are you a fan of any of these controversial Spider-Man stories? Let us know in the comments!