The Insufferable Spider-Man

Analyzing the contenders for the worst story of all time

Marvel/The Atlantic

While anxiously awaiting the retconning/re-marriage of Peter Parker, I came across this io9 list of the four worst Spider-Man stories of all time. The contenders are The Clone Saga, The Gathering Of Five, Sins Past and One More Day. I'm not sure if these are in order of awfulness or not, but I agree with the listing—these are all pretty bad. The contest is a little unfair: You can go back and read through earlier issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and find some forgettable stories. But when the "event" era hit Marvel—huge crossover, multi-issue epics—awfulness mixed with hype. Nothing, then, was forgettable. And then there's the Internet generation—many of us remember The Clone Saga in a way that we don't remember, say, the earlier escapades of the Jackal and Gwen Stacy (always a bad idea), so the awfulness of the 90s and the aughts resonates in a way that awfulness of the 60s, 70s and early 80s doesn't.

And I'm not sure that's totally fair to Marvel. When "big" works it works. Greg Pak's rendition of the Banner family, told across a number of years, is awesome. (Nerd diversion: There's a really gripping scene in Incredible Hulks #619 where Jarella, Glen Talbot and Hirom Oldstrong come back from the dead to fight for the Hulks. OK, back to business.) I'm really enjoying Jonathan Hickman's sprawling Time Runs Out storyline, even if I don't fully understand all of it. And Kraven's Last Hunt, if slightly more contained, is one of my favorite Marvel stories of all time. When you go big, everyone remembers—for good and bad reasons.

So which of io9's four do I dub truly most baleful?  My disdain for One More Day is fairly well known, and I feel like, at this point, it's a little too easy to hate on. I'm going to go with The Clone Saga for the great sin of resurrecting Norman Osborne. Since that resurrection, and since his departure from the Spider-books, he's proved to be an interesting villain. (See Matt Fraction's take on him in The Invincible Ironman.) But he's been made interesting by basically being made into a new character. Osborne has been resurrected in name only, and what's been lost is the force of presence he exerted off-panel for nearly 25 years:

And then the final out was resurrecting Norman Osborn, the single worst move ever made by Spider-Man writers. He had attained a reputation and fearsome aura in death far greater than in life, haunting Peter so much. To explain he'd spent 24 years of stories "recovering in Europe" was ridiculous, as was making him the true mastermind of all this then turning him into a poor man's Lex Luthor. 20 years later and it's still the storyline that all Spider-Man fans grit their teeth at.

I don't think all resurrections are bad. But in a genre where death is malleable, I think it's easy to miss how well certain characters work while dead, how they exert a gravity on the main story. Perhaps more than any major superhero, save arguably Superman, Spider-Man is a character largely defined by death—the death of his parents, of Gwen Stacy, of his Uncle Ben. During the formative years of his life, it seemed like everything he touched turned to ash. This included the father of his best friend. It was powerful stuff while it lasted. I just wish it lasted a little longer.