Note : The following commentary contains spoilers.

Spider-Man Recommended : My Favorite Spectacular Spider-Man Comics

Welcome. This article will point you to the best Spectacular Spider-Man comics ever.

I have read most of the two hundred sixty-three issues and 14 annuals that comprise the first volume of Spectacular Spider-Man. I also made the mistake of wanting, and trying, to own every single issue. My obsessive collecting stopped when I realized that most of the issues simply weren't that good. Some were good enough to read once. Others, I wished I never laid eyes on.

But not the ones I'm about to discuss.

These are wonderfully crafted issues of Spectacular Spider-Man. Comics worth reading and re-reading over and over. If you have these issues then you have got the best of 'Spectacular' for your collection.

Without any further delay here they are, and here's why I think they're so good.

Keeping It Simple : The Beetle and the Cobra

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 16 and 46

In retrospect, the first fifty-issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man were mostly disappointing. One blunder after another. There were so many holes in the early plots of Mantlo, Conway and Goodwin that reading the stories became painful. The only bright spot was the art of Sal Buscema, but then he would give way to Jim Mooney whose pedestrian art should never have been allowed into a comic featuring Marvel's top character. Out of this bleak landscape, we have two, just two, worthies : The first is issue no. 16 which is a great representative of the Bronze Age Spider-Man books; the second is issue 46, a precursor of the Modern Age of comics to come.

Why do this two issues work while the other early issues don't? In a word : simplicity. These early runs of Spectacular had plots that included campus unrest, religious cults and such. It was all too much for the writers. They overreached and the story failed to become believable or logical. Issues 16 and 46 are straight tales about super-villains. The stories were simple, tried-and-true tropes that could not possibly go wrong and they didn't.

Let's look at issue 16 first.

spectacular spider-man 16 cover
Issue 16

Ah, at last. And what a refreshing issue this is, specially when viewed against the backdrop of surrounding issues. The best artist of the early 'Spectaculars', Sal Buscema, meets a strong script from Elliot Maggin. How a script by a famous Superman writer got into Marvel, I don't know, but I'll always be thankful for it. To shine in this crowd Maggin didn't even have to turn in very good writing, he only had to submit something that wasn't very bad and that's just what he did. The smooth, logical, no loophole script allowed Sal Buscema's art to shine through unimpeded by the usual head shaking and angst accompanying the reading of bad writing.

It is the Beetle that shines through in this issue! The Beetle as pencilled by Buscema appears larger than he is - 6 foot 5 to Spidey's 5 foot 10. The Beetle with his goggle-eyed helmet and that purple jumpsuit of an armor and most of all those hands! Those hands with the suction cup fingers so powerful that they could go through concrete! Drawn with florid, flowing style by Buscema the Beetle is a joy to behold! And what is he after? This Bronze-Age bad guy (later to be updated to a more serious armored form) wants nothing more than a suitcase full of cash - simple! Wonderfully simple!

In order to make things a bit more interesting Maggin throws in the story of hero cop Joey Macone and weaves it into the action making a good book better.

After 16, 'Spectacular' resumes the usual plod. Then we get into issue 22 whose art is by newcomer Mike Zeck. There's something about this art, something good. But that's it, not quite good enough. The issues roll on and Zeck's art becomes but a distant memory until issue 46.

spectacular spider-man 46 cover
Issue 46

It's him again. Mike Zeck doing art for a Roger Stern script. Now this issue lives up to the name Spectacular. What we have here is the best super-villain fight scene in the series to date. It is Zeck's art that carrries this one. Clean, detailed and very evidently talented art. Stern's simple, bulletproof story, just like Maggin's in 16, allows Zeck to weave his magic. I still can't get over how Spider-Man tore a chimney in half to get to Cobra. It's Spider-strength against super-evasive powers. Stern puts the cherry on top of the Sundae with a truly satisfying ending.

Treasure these two issues! Treasure them. It's a long lonely walk through the first fifty issues of Spectacular but the Beetle and the Cobra shows us the way!

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 16

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 46

Two Issues That Are One-Of-A-Kind

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 58 and 120

As we move on from issue 46, Bill Mantlo's writing improves considerably, fun factor is up and no more glaring loopholes but we lose artist Sal Buscema - the one bright light in the creative team of the early years. Jim Mooney takes his place. So now we have good writing and bad art. Why is Mooney's art so bad? I did some sleuthing (also called looking it up in wikipedia). Like the above-mentioned Maggin, Mooney is a DC talent who cut a ten-year contract with Marvel to produce art that he sent over from Florida. According to Mooney the money wasn't all that good but at least the paycheck was regular. You know what he sounds like? A drone. A grudging nine-to-fiver working for the paycheck. That must be why his art is so depressing - he must have considered drawing comics a drudgery - something he had to do to survive. I get that vibe from his work. Let me now take a moment to kick myself for taking the time to bag, board, and in the first place, buy, his work. One should never keep bad comics let alone preserve them. That's the whole point why I made this site: so that I get to identify the good ones and make my case for why they're good; and you get to save time and money by avoiding bad reads like Spectacular's with Jim Mooney art. Man, just thinking about it is depressing.

spectacular spider-man 58 cover
Issue 58

But in the midst of all this glum, like a meteor in a dark sky we have issue no. 58. From the cover to the last panel through every panel in between this issue is gold! Three words : John. Byrne. Art. Yes, the legendary artist of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and numerous issues of Marvel Team-Up (I'll get to those happy issues in another post!). It is gorgeous. He's take on Spider-Man is an homage to the original Ditko Spidey, thin and lithe. There is a quality about talented pencilling that just hits you when you look at it - a seamless quality that comes out when you pay attention to the confident linework, the attention to detail, the dynamism. In this issue, this quality is most evident to me - surprisingly - in the way Byrne renders the steel hard rings of the Ringer. By this time I am so excited because I'm thinking maybe Byrne will now be the regular artist. With Mantlo doing the writing Spectacular is bound to give Amazing Spider-Man a run for its money. But. It was not to be. In a way that is good because this issue is one of a kind - the only issue of Spectacular Spider-Man to be illustrated by John Byrne. I don't even have to read this to love it - I just look at the pictures.

spectacular spider-man 120 cover
Issue 120

Apart from the Byrne issue we also have issue 120 - the Giffen issue. Keith Giffen is the artist, who, together with writer Paul Levitz, form the most acclaimed creative team ever to handle the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he did this issue of Spectacular, and only this issue of Spectacular. I am so used to his particular style in LSH that it's a joy to see him drawing the Spider - this is what Spidey would look like in the impossible event that he joined the Legion. My taste in comics art could be described as Classicist - I like near realistic art in my comics but I am seduced by Giffen's style - the most abstract yet to have been done in Spectacular. What a strong storyteller Giffen is, I have a feeling we can forego the narrative boxes and half the dialogue and still get a clear understanding of the story. But the art alone isn't enough to make it on my list. Bill Mantlo does a strong storyline and gives us a ringside seat on a foe that Spider just can't beat.

The Byrne and Giffen issue of Spectacular - two one-of-a-kinds.

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 58

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 120

Drop Dead Sexy : The Mark Beachum Issues

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 112 and 115

spectacular spider-man 112 cover
Issue 112

For some reason the cover of issue 112 of Spectacular Spider-Man is very famous around the Net. It features a smoking Santa sporting a semi-automatic pistol. Forget the cover. Go inside this issue and browse through the art. Notice anything? About the women? The way they're drawn? I was fifteen when I first read this issue so hormones might have something to do with it, but probably not, the art is every bit as striking now as it was then. For the first time in Spectacular, I'm not even looking at the story. Unlike some, or is it most, men? I'm not that taken over 'modelly types' like what Beachum draws but this is some wonderfully rendered girl art. Great eye candy.

spectacular spider-man 115 cover
Issue 115

Beachum gets back to us again in issue 115. Maybe because there's less girl art than in issue 112 the story gets some attention; or maybe its just because Dr. Strange is here and I'm a big fan of the Doctor.

Another thing I'd like to point out in the Beachum issues is his drawings of the Black Cat. The best ever. The Black Cat/Spider-Man relationship is a big part of Spectacular Spider-Man. Sadly, those other Cat/Spidey issues simply don't make my list so I'm holding on to the Beachum
issues in part as my momento of Spider-Man's Black Cat days. If it were up to me she would have succeeded in convincing Peter to drop the civilian identity and be Spider-Man exclusively - what a perfect pair they made.

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 112

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 115

Cloak and Dagger

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 64

Cloak and Dagger continue to be part of the 616. I remember seeing them in Civil War as members of Cap's team. Cloak had a major role there providing teleportation capabilities to the heroes. They had their own mag for a time but before that, they had their origin issue here in Spectacular Spider-Man 64.

Is an origin issue enough for me to include it in my best list? Nope. This issue is in the list partly because of the origin story but mostly its the exceptional Bill Mantlo story paired with
beautiful Ed Hannigan art. This guys are the creators of Cloak and Dagger and they seem to take extra care in crafting a great origin issue.

spectacular spider-man 064 cover
Issue 64

It starts with the cover. This gets my vote for the best Spectacular Spider-Man cover of the entire run. The creative layout is superb and the color palette just brings it all together. You give a comic a cover like this the inside must deliver on the expectations. And it does. Bill Mantlo calls for a storyline that practically makes New York City a character in the comics and Ed Hannigan delivers with his moody, detailed artwork. Although I have another Mantlo/Hannigan comic in the list, I consider this the showpiece for this creative pairing. I can't help but presume that the fact that it's so well done contributed to the longetivity of
Cloak and Dagger in the Marvel U.

Full Review : Spectacular Spider-Man 64

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