If you wake up one morning in the Marvel Universe and find yourself hanging out with Peter Parker, run away. Finding some other hero to spend time with might just save your life.
Spider-Man has always been marked by struggle. Not just against supervillains, but to pay the bills, to find love, and to protect the people he cares about. Having him fail to protect people is the perfect way to juice up his suffering — and nobody suffers like Spidey. That’s why way more of Peter’s supporting cast have shuffled off this mortal coil than, say, the folks who roll with Superman or the Fantastic Four.
Peter has actually killed people. This article, however, looks at people he doesn’t kill himself, but those who die because of him (even though a lot of them came back later). Collateral damage. Used as a weapon against him. Killed trying to take him out. Most of the 17 examples here aren’t Peter’s fault, but if they’d hung out with Captain America instead, they might still be alive.
17 Ben Parker
Superman has a tragic backstory. Batman has a tragic backstory. But neither of them have to shoulder the blame for the tragedy. Spider-Man sure does, and that’s what gives his origin so much punch.
After appearing on TV in Amazing Fantasy #15, Spidey’s riding high. When a burglar runs by, Spider-Man doesn’t lift a finger to help a cop stop him; he’s too cool to be a nice guy anymore. He learns his mistake by the end of the story, when it turns out that the same petty crook killed Peter’s Uncle Ben.
Surprisingly, Ben only appears in a couple of panels in Spider-Man’s origin, and his death didn’t come up that often during the rest of Stan Lee’s Silver Age run. He doesn’t even say the “great power, great responsibility” line — that was just a caption over one panel. Nevertheless, the impact of his death shaped the course of Peter’s life; without it, the Spider-Man we know wouldn’t exist.
16 Doctor Octopus
Dr. Otto Octavius is one of the villains on this list whose desire to get even with Spider-Man led to his own death. Unlike most of them, Doctor Octopus got to buy it several times, not just once.
The first time came after one of Doc Ock’s umpteen battles with Spider-Man. Kaine, a renegade clone of Spider-Man, showed up and killed Octavius, seemingly for good. Octavius survived, but he still suffered from the physical damage he'd earned during years of combat.
Eventually, death came calling for the supervillain, but only for Otto’s physical form. His mind transferred into Peter’s body, taking it over. Instead of becoming a villain, however, he opted to prove himself Peter’s better by becoming the Superior Spider-Man. In the end, he failed, so he erased his own mind, allowing Peter to take his body over again and save the day.
15 Ezekiel Sims
When Peter first met Ezekiel Sims, he thought the guy was crazy. Peter knew he’d gained his powers in a freak scientific accident, yet Ezekiel claimed they’d both received spider powers from a spider totem-spirit. Ridiculous, right? Only it turned out that Ezekiel was on the level.
Sims himself was the guy Peter might have become if Uncle Ben hadn’t died, a selfish man who'd used his powers to enrich himself. Initially, Ezekiel befriended Peter. Later, when supernatural forces sought to eliminate Ezekiel, he gambled that he could save his life by setting them on Peter instead (hmm, actually, it’s unlikely Peter would have become that big a dick). Instead, Peter’s own heroism inspired Ezekiel to become a better man: at the last minute, he let the dark forces take his life instead.
Sergei Kravinoff AKA Kraven was the ultimate hunter, his superb skills enhanced by herbal potions. When his former friend the Chameleon recruited Kraven to take out Spider-Man, the hunter thrilled to the challenge.
Only he lost. And lost again. And then he lost some more. With each defeat, Kraven became more obsessed with winning. Finally, in the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” storyline, he defeated the web-slinger at last, then drugged him and buried him alive. Like Doc Ock years later, Kraven assumed Spider-Man’s role, determined to prove he could do it better. He didn’t realize his victories were only because he was more ruthless and brutal than Peter would ever have been. Kraven believed, instead, that he’d finally surpassed his prey; having nothing more to live for, he shot himself.
13 Sally Avril
Although created by Stan Lee, Sally’s Silver Age appearances were limited to two panels of Amazing Fantasy #15. Peter asks her out, she brushes him off, and that’s the last we saw of her.
She returned years later in the retcon series Untold Tales of Spider-Man, set during Peter’s early years. Sally, now with a last name, started shadowing Spider-Man in the hopes of winning a Daily Bugle reward for exposing his identity. That didn’t work, but the excitement of the superhero lifestyle convinced Sally, a talented gymnast, to launch her own career as Bluebird.
After Spidey squashed that ambition, Sally attempted to imitate Peter and become a superhero photographer. Racing to the site of a Spider-Man/Black Knight clash of titans, she died in a car accident. It clearly wasn’t really Peter’s fault, but he took the blame, feeling that if he’d only handled things better, Sally would have been fine.
12 Captain George Stacey
In the Silver Age, it seemed as if the Daily Bugle’s anti-Spidey rants convinced all of New York that the wall-crawler was a villain. That made retired police captain George Stacey an anomaly: he believed in Spider-Man as a hero. Father to Gwen Stacey, he became a surrogate father to Peter, much like Uncle Ben.
Stacey’s death was collateral damage, during a Doctor Octopus/Spider-Man battle. Peter had dosed Doc’s tentacles with a chemical that made them go haywire. That secured a victory, but in their random lashing out, the tentacles sent a piece of masonry toppling from a rooftop down on a little boy. Captain Stacey thrust the child out of the way, but at the cost of his own life. With his dying words, he revealed that he’d figured out Spider-Man’s identity, and begged Peter to care for Gwen, now an orphan. Peter vowed he would, which makes Gwen’s later death (which we'll get to later) even more tragic.
11 The burglar who killed Uncle Ben
It was the perfect showdown for Amazing Spider-Man #200 — Spider-Man vs. the burglar who’d murdered his uncle. And based on all available evidence, he'd just killed Aunt May as well.
Although handicapped by a drug that had temporarily stripped away his powers, Peter relentlessly pursued the killer, first as himself, then as Spider-Man. Eventually, he discovered May was alive. The burglar had been interrogating her in hopes of finding a fortune hidden in the Parker brownstone by a gangster who’d lived there once.
Seeing May tied up and helpless, Peter ripped off his mask before coming after the burglar again. The burglar was already terrified of Spider-Man; learning Peter was Ben’s nephew, he became convinced nothing but his death would satisfy Peter’s lust for revenge. He was wrong, but as Peter pursued him, the burglar’s weak heart gave out. By saving Aunt May from the man, Peter finally felt absolved for Ben’s death.
The burglar never did get named, though several fan theories have been tossed around over the years.
10 Spencer Smythe
In a world without Spider-Man, Professor Smythe might have spent his life as a respected roboticist. Earth-616 in the Marvel multiverse was not that world.
After months of reading J. Jonah Jameson’s anti-Spider-Man editorials, Smythe offered Jameson a robot he’d designed to take the wall-crawler down. Thinking Smythe a complete crackpot, Peter egged Jameson into using the machine. Big mistake: Smythe’s Spider-Slayer came close to defeating him, and so did the follow-up devices Smythe deployed over the years.
Like other villains, Smythe’s obsession with defeating Spider-Man sealed his own doom. His Slayers were plutonium-powered, and by Amazing Spider-Man #192, Smythe was dying of radiation poisoning. With the little time left to him, Smythe sought to kill both Spidey and Jonah out of revenge. He failed, but his son Alistair would take up his vendetta against both the hero and the publisher.
9 Marla Madison Jameson
Jonah had been a widower for years when he recruited Marla Madison to improve on Smythe’s tech. Her Spider-Slayer didn’t prove any more effective than Smythe’s models, but Marla and Jonah found they liked each other. And then loved each other. And then married each other.
It could have been a happy ending, but those don’t happen much in the world of Spider-Man. Revenge-obsessed Alistair Smythe had no qualms about threatening Marla to get at Jonah. Ultimately, though, it was during an attack on Jonah that Marla died, taking a bullet for the man she loved. Jonah didn’t blame Spider-Man for failing to save her, but Peter still felt like crap about it. Her death prompted Peter to vow that literally nobody would die on his watch again — but of course, not even Spider-Man could pull that off.
8 Bennett Brant
Bennett Brant was a weasel and a wastrel, but like Ezekiel Sims, he redeemed himself by making the ultimate sacrifice.
In Amazing Spider-Man #11, readers learned that Bennett was brother to Betty Brant, Peter’s first girlfriend. Although he was a talented lawyer, he thought gambling offered a quicker path to wealth than the law. Instead, he wound up in hock to mob boss Blackie Gaxton, forced to serve as Gaxton’s legal mouthpiece. When Gaxton arranged for Dr. Octopus to bust him out of prison, Bennett served as the go-between, and when Betty tried to help Bennett get out from under, she wound up being drafted into Gaxton's plans as well.
Following his vanished girlfriend, Peter arrived as Doc Ock and Gaxton turned on each other. Spidey’s appearance triggered a firefight; Bennett, finally showing some spine, took a bullet for his sister. Betty told Peter later that while she didn’t blame Spider-Man for Bennett's death, she couldn’t help hating him. Peter told her that the web-slinger would understand.
7 Madame Web
Cassandra Webb was born blind — not to mention disabled by myasthenia gravis — but she was also gifted with psychic abilities. In the early 1980s, she began assisting Spider-Man by using her clairvoyant powers to warn him of approaching danger or help him track down criminals. Peter was initially skeptical, but he soon came to realize that Web was the real deal, a genuine psychic. Her name came from the weblike life-support system that kept her weakened body going.
After years of working with Spidey and other heroes, Madame Web met her end in the “Grim Hunt” arc. The story involved Kraven’s wife Sasha moving heaven and earth to resurrect her late husband, in the process entangling not only Spider-Man but several related heroes such as Madame Web. When the attempt to resurrect Kraven failed, a pissed-off Sasha blamed Madame Web for not seeing how it would turn out. Sasha slashed Cassandra’s throat.
6 Jennifer Foswell
Frederick Foswell started as a crime boss — the Big Man — but wound up reforming, eventually giving his life to save his friend J. Jonah Jameson. Peter was understandably thrown when the Big Man returned in Marvel Team-Up #39, determined to kill Spider-Man. This was, after all, before the MU started resurrecting dead people on every other Tuesday. As if that wasn’t enough, another dead villain, the Crime Master, showed up and fought the Big Man for the right to snuff out Spidey.
The joint resurrection was a tragic coincidence. Foswell’s daughter, Janice, had fallen in love with the Crime Master’s son, Nick Lewis Jr. When they both realized how much they hated Spider-Man, they each launched a secret plan to avenge their fathers’ deaths (Spidey wasn’t responsible for either demise), then live happily ever after. Not knowing what the other was doing, the two mixed-up kids wound up fighting each other instead. After Jennifer died in a gunfight, Nick was left sobbing for the happiness they might have had.
5 Norman Osborn
Spidey never wanted to kill anyone as much as he did Norman Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man #122. After all, Norman, having recovered his memory of being the Green Goblin (he got amnesia a lot), had just murdered Peter’s love, Gwen Stacey, in the previous issue. The gloves were off. The Green Goblin was going to die.
And when Spidey finally caught up with Norman again, it looked like he wasn’t kidding. He beat the Goblin almost within an inch of his life before getting control of himself and deciding to turn him into the cops instead. Spider-Man didn’t know the Goblin had remote-activated his glider to stab Spider-Man in the back, but when his spider-sense screamed DUCK — well, look at the illustration. To Peter’s dismay, it didn’t ease his grief. Even for a murderer, he muttered, death "shouldn’t be just an accident — a stupid senseless accident!”
Even after years of similar deaths, the two pages still pack a punch.
4 Harry Osborn
Growing up with an unstable, demanding father hadn’t been easy for Harry Osborn. Even before Norman’s death, Peter's pal had turned to drugs to give himself a feeling that life was okay. After Norman died, Harry, having learned his father’s secret identity, took up the Green Goblin's mask, determined to avenge the death of his father by taking out Spider-Man for good.
Over the years, Harry bounced from sane to maniacal, law-abiding to murderous. Finally, he plotted a bomb targeting the many prominent men he believed had demeaned his father. When he realized his own young son and Mary Jane would be caught in the explosion, Harry saved them, then rescued a paralyzed Peter. By this point, the Goblin formula he’d taken to match his father’s physical prowess was killing him; this last exertion finished him off. He died satisfied that he and Peter were friends once again.
3 Ben Reilly
Like Doc Ock, Ben Reilly has died more than once. The first time was right after the Jackal, a master of cloning, created a duplicate Spider-Man and set the two Spideys to fighting. A bomb blast apparently killed the Jackal and the clone, but they survived. The clone took the name Ben Reilly — Uncle Ben’s name, plus May’s maiden name — and wandered America. When he finally returned to New York, he touched off the massive story arc known as the Clone Saga. This storyline eventually revealed that Ben was the true Spider-Man and Peter the clone, which freed Pete and a pregnant Mary Jane to retire and leave the Big Apple.
Ben becoming Spider-Man didn’t suit the fans, though. Marvel backpedaled, revealing that a resurrected Norman Osborn had set up the whole arc to torment Peter, and that Ben was the real clone. Ben’s career as Spider-Man ended when Norman killed him, and Peter promptly resumed web-slinging.
2 May Parker
Peter returning as Spider-Man meant that Marvel's most popular character was now an expectant father. That didn’t suit the Spider-creators, who hadn’t planned for the web-slinger to become a family man. The baby had to go, so once again, the writers turned to Norman Osborn to resolve things. An agent of his gave Mary Jane a drug that caused her to deliver May Parker stillborn. After hints the baby had lived turned out false, Peter and MJ forgot about her completely, as if that was a natural response to a child dying. Although in one parallel timeline, May would not only live, she’d have a long, successful career as Spider-Girl.
While Norman was never a nice person, it’s hard to imagine the Silver Age Goblin poisoning Peter’s baby. Is it a sign of how much darker comics have grown over the years? Or just that the writers had painted themselves into a corner and couldn’t think of another way out?
1 Gwen Stacey
Like Uncle Ben’s death, Gwen Stacey’s was a landmark. Sure, characters died in the early Silver and Bronze Ages, but readers didn’t usually see the hero’s great love murdered before their eyes. These days, the only thing less shocking than killing a major character is having them return.
Gwen died because she was Peter’s sweetheart, and the Goblin knew his identity. When Norman regained his Goblin memories, he kidnapped Gwen and offered a trade: Peter’s life for hers. Peter came to her rescue, but at the last minute, the madman threw her off the George Washington Bridge (fun fact: the artist actually drew the Brooklyn Bridge). Peter caught Gwen with a strand of webbing, but the shock of stopping her fall snapped her neck.
That put Gwen’s death on SR’s list of spider-kills, but that’s not really fair. As editor Roy Thomas pointed out a couple of issues later, if Peter hadn’t caught her, she’d have died when she hit the water; there was no way to save her. The blame for her death lies squarely on Norman’s shoulders.
Any victims you'd like to add to Spider-Man's death list? Tell us in comments.