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One of the biggest and most controversial turning points for Spider-Man as a character came in the late 2000s, when the Marvel editorial team decided that an adult, married Spider-Man whose identity was known to the public simply wasn't the storyline they wanted to pursue any longer for Peter Parker - and so, in one of the most baffling and convoluted storylines this side of the Clone Saga, Peter sold his marriage to Mary Jane (???) to Mephisto (aka Marvel's iteration of the Devil) in order to save his dying, elderly aunt's life (with some assistance from Doctor Strange). The net result was that Peter was no longer married to Mary Jane (nor did they really have much of a relationship at all, period), no one knew his identity (which had been made public in the course of Civil War), and he was back to his old antics - being an irresponsible single young guy Spider-Man!
It was...hard to get over. Sure, comics always return to some kind of status quo, but erasing decades of history and cutting short the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane was a huge blow to fans of the comic. The event that followed, Brand New Day, was fine - it was all about getting readers back accustomed to the Spider-Man of old, but with a new set of villains, allies, and circumstances (J. Jonah Jameson exits the Daily Bugle very early on). But Spider-Man didn't fully get back on its feet as a title until BIG TIME.
BIG TIME was a pretty big deal - mainly because it marked the beginning of writer Dan Slott becoming the main (and really, only) writer on the book for the next 8 years. But it also introduced one of the best ideas in recent Spider-Man history: Peter finally gets a job befitting of his intelligence. For so long, Peter struggled to make ends meet as a photographer - despite being a straight-up scientific genius. BIG TIME finally sees Pete start making good on his potential by getting a gig at Horizon Labs, a big tech consortium where brilliant scientists are allowed to pursue weird and wild projects. It was great to see Peter finally moving forward as a character after having been moved backwards so abruptly - but mostly, it's a great reintroduction to Spider-Man and his world to anyone who may have fallen out of the book or is interested in the character and looking for a good place to start.
Plus, the nightmare sequence that leads into one of the best sections of the story ("No One Dies") is the perfect encapsulation of everything that motivates Peter Parker to keep putting himself through Hell to save lives:
Buy it here.
Again, dissolving the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was a huge blow to fans of the characters and their long and rocky, but ultimately loving and caring relationship. And all thanks to Jonathan Hickman's very cool yearlong event, Secret Wars, we got to see a continuation of the storyline everyone thought was gone for good.
See, the whole deal with Secret Wars was basically a lot of "What if...?" storylines that allowed writers and artists to remix all sorts of established elements in the Marvel canon and play a lot looser with everything - and Renew Your Vows saw a future where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson were still married...and had a daughter, Anna-May Parker. To say anything more would be to give away too much, but suffice to say: Marvel editors screwed up majorly when they thought a married Spider-Man wouldn't work, because a married Spider-Man who also has to deal with the responsibility of fatherhood works SO GODDAMN WELL that it makes me giddy just thinking about it.
And thankfully, Renew Your Vows continued past the Secret Wars event, and currently has an extremely good ongoing title that continues to be one of the best Spider-Man stories in ages - and it did it all by letting the character grow up. Who woulda guessed?
Dan Slott gets a lot of guff over some of his shorter or one-off issues, but I don't think anyone can deny that the guy knows how to formulate an event like few others. In many comics, "events" are lame, overblown, overcomplicated stories that get stretched out way too far, involve too many other titles, and generally feel much more like a marketing ploy than an orgnically good story idea. But Spider-Island is not that - Spider-Island is one of the most purely fun and inventive Spider-Man ever: thousands and thousands of New Yorkers on the island of Manhattan have mysteriously developed powers identical to Spider-Man overnight, including a number of Spider-Man's enemies.
If you like Agent Venom (a mercenary version of Venom bonded to Flash Thompson, which is legitimately awesome), tons of insane action (watching that many Spider-people battling and causing chaos is a ton of fun, especially thanks to the art by Humberto Ramos), or J. Jonah Jameson ranting nonstop, you're in for a treat:
Speaking of changes to the Spider-Man status quo that got a ton of guff, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN. The difference here is that it was genuinely a bold, interesting, and (duh) non-permanent experiment that proved to be one of the best Spider-Man stories ever...and Peter Parker is barely in it.
The story had been in the works for the past 100 issues, when it was first introduced that Doctor Octopus was dying, his brain and body breaking down from too many beatings at the hands of Spider-Man. For 100 issues, he tried to take over/destroy the world in order to cement his legacy as an unmatched genius before he bit the bullet, and each time he failed...until Dying Wish. In Dying Wish, Ock managed to pull off the most incredible scheme yet - swap his consciousness with that of Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker's mind trapped in Ock's dying body, while Ock got to swing around masquerading as Spider-Man. It's a thrilling storyline - and, at this point, I don't think it counts as a spoiler to reveal that Ock gets away with it. Peter comes close to regaining his body, but he fails - leaving Ock victorious.
But victory doesn't sit with Ock the way he had anticipated. For one, Pete did manage to upload some of his consciousness into Ock's brain and help instill him with a slight sense of decency and purpose for why Spider-Man became the hero that he was. And so, Ock renounces villainy and declares that he will be a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker was ever capable of - that he would be....superior.
Slott writes a great Doctor Octopus - his arch villainy, his overwhelming egotism, the old-timey language he employs, and his flaws and weaknesses. Watching Doc Ock navigate life as Peter Parker is incredible - not to give away too much, but he falls in love, he makes Peter more successful than he ever dreamed, and he even manages to (almost) be a better protector of New York.
Again, it doesn't last forever - the status quo is returned, but the journey is wonderful, hilarious, thrilling, and ultimately heart-breaking.
If you are a Spider-Man fan, this is the thing for you. Spider-Verse is a geek's love letter to all things Spider-Man - his entire history, his entire potential, everything about Spider-Man that makes him such a great character. The basic premise is that there are a family of interdimensional elites who are hunting down "Spiders" in every dimension - sometimes the 'chosen' Spider-hero is Peter Parker, sometimes it's Gwen Stacy (this is the story that introduced Spider-Gwen), and sometimes it's...well, I don't want to spoil everything.
Also, this is an event filled with Easter eggs and nods towards Spidey's history - almost too much to take in. Everything from Supaidâman to the 60s cartoon Spider-Man to Miles Morales to Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Spider-Man is represented - and it is so entertaining.
If you really want to get into a fresh introduction to teen Spider-Man, without the baggage of several decades of continuity, retcons, and details that sometimes feel overwhelming, Ultimate Spider-Man is a pretty solid place to start. And in the last ten years, the one story I'd recommend everyone read is Ultimate Death of Spider-Man. I don't think it should be much of a spoiler, but - Spider-Man dies in it. You probably knew this - that Peter Parker bites it and Miles Morales takes over the mantle of Spider-Man, but actually reading Spidey's one last fight (with no takesy-backsies here - this iteration of Peter is perma-dead) is especially heartwrenching, especially his final goodbye to the most important person in his life. If you don't cheer at a few parts and tear up at the end, I would be real surprised.
Miles has had some truly great storylines himself (you should 100% check out the Miles' origin story through the Prowler arc), but his favorite of mine is the crossover Spider-Men - pairing up Miles with the main universe's adult Peter Parker and acting as a coda to the people Ultimate Peter Parker left behind when he died. Miles explores his own heroism, the person who inspired him, and wonders what could have been had things gone a different way. Plus, it's a lot of fun, features a great scheme by Mysterio, and is never dull for one moment.