Five Most Controversial Spider-Man Stories

of 06


spider man brand new day
Marvel Comics

 Spider-Man has been consistently one of Marvel's best-selling characters pretty much since his inception, spinning off into at times dozens of different ongoing series, crossovers, all that fun stuff. He's also one of the most beloved of the publisher's superheroes, but that doesn't mean he doesn't sometimes run afoul of fanboy ire – in fact, when there's so much Spidey content out there, and it's been going for so long, the law of averages suggests some of it will be naff. And still more of it will be so offensive as to become infamous.

From the terrible retcons to character-ruining plots, here are five of the most controversial Spider-Man comic book stories.

of 06

5. Chapter One

spider man chapter one
Marvel Comics

Now relegated to Star Trek photo-comics, John Byrne was once considered one of the hottest properties in comic books – along with drawing many great Fantastic Four and X-Men stories, he was behind the post-Death of Superman reboot series Man Of Steel, which updated DC's premier superhero for the modern era. Hoping to imitate the success of their distinguished competition, Marvel poached Byrne to come do the same thing for Spidey.

Spider-Man: Chapter One retold the character's origin with some significant changes: Peter gets his powers after being bitten by a spider following a huge radioactive explosion he's involved in (during a demonstration by Otto Octavius, who also survives but has his octopus-like scientific apparatus fused to him); Mary Jane's mom is the cop that tells Peter and Aunt May about Uncle Ben's death; most of the villains get revised costumes and power sets; plus it's revealed the Green Goblin actually masterminded most of Spidey's early battles with bad guys.

Why The Hate

Fans love Spider-Man, and when you love something, you probably don't enjoy seeing it tampered with. Byrne's series trampled over a lot of classic stories, including the unassailable Amazing Fantasy #15 where the character first appeared, and introduces a lot of unnecessary connections between Peter and his supporting cast of friends and enemies. The fact that all these changes were confirmed as being “canonical” – thanks to Byrne and writer Howard Mackie taking over on the main series title, Amazing Spider-Man, as Chapter One was coming out – were enough to get fanboy hackles up.

The other disappointment was that Chapter One essentially junked the fan-favorite series Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which revisited the classic Lee-Ditko/Romita era of the character from the sixties, telling stories in that vein which took place between existing and beloved plots. Byrne basically rendered all of that obsolete by updating Spidey so the sixties stories never took place, his new version replacing them. 

of 06

4. The Clone Saga

spider-man ben reilly clone saga
Marvel Comics

It's a storyline that began in the seventies, but only really kicked into gear during the mid-nineties comic book boom: decades after Spider-Man fought super-scientist villain The Jackal, who had somehow produced clones of both himself and dearly departed ex-girlfriend Gwen Stacy, the genetic double he had left for dead in a smokestack returns – bringing with him the revelation that, in fact, the Peter Parker comic readers had been enjoying adventures with since the seventies (and who had since married his college sweetheart, Mary Jane Watson) was, in fact, a clone.

This other guy – who had taken the identity of Ben Reilly in the interim – was revealed to be “the original” Peter Parker. Just to prove it, Fake-Peter begins losing his powers. So he and MJ leave New York and, for a brief period, Ben Reilly became the headline Spider-Man. He also contends with another, failed Spidey clone called Kaine, and a resurrected Jackal who knows Peter's secret identity.

Why The Hate

Well, the most obvious answer is that readers felt cheated. Trying to sell the twist that, for all intents and purposes, they had been spending their hard-earned money on comics detailing the ongoing life and superhero career of a knock-off Spidey wasn't easy. Least of all because it felt like rocking the boat simply for the sake of causing controversy and boosting sales – which was absolutely the impetus behind it, and the result it had, Marvel hoping to imitate the success of DC's Death of Superman and Batman: Knightfall storylines, which involved significant if temporary changes to the status quo of those superheroes.

It also had the result of major fan outcry. You know something's a major screw-up when the publishers hasten to scrub the whole thing from existence soon after, which is exactly what Marvel did. “The Clone Saga” was wrapped up with the return of Norman Osborn, Spidey arch nemesis the Green Goblin, who revealed he was behind the whole thing, and then Ben actually was a clone. He just wanted to mess with Peter's head. Comics!

of 06

3. Reign

spider man reign mary jane
Marvel Comics

As Chapter One was a reaction to Man of Steel, and the “Clone Saga” an attempt to ride the coattails of Death of Superman and Knightfall, so did the miniseries “Reign” use a mega-popular DC Comics title as its template. Albeit too little, too late, the story by Kaare Andrews is very directly inspired (possibly even ripped off) from 1986's The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller's iconic, gritty Batman story which inspired a certain recent movie. As that comic saw the Caped Crusader older, gruffer, and living in a dystopian future Gotham City...well, just replace “Caped Crusader” with “Spider-Man” and “Gotham” with New York.

Peter Parker is retried, supervillains having been wiped out by a somewhat authoritarian police force called “The Reign”, under orders of a totalitarian Mayor Waters. The sixty-year-old Spidey is moved back into action by the fascistic, violent mayor, who unleashes the long-imprisoned Sinister Six. Rather sweetly, it's J. Jonah Jameson who urges him to get back into costume, having sold The Daily Bugle out of guilt over having bad-mouthed Spider-Man all these years.

Why The Hate

First of all, it's a pretty blatant facsimile of The Dark Knight Returns. Marvel even invoked the comic, one of the bestselling and iconic of all time, during its marketing for “Reign”; there's also a cop character in the story called “Miller Janson”, for Frank Miller and collaborator Klaus Janson. It's also nowhere near as good as The Dark Knight Returns is, lacking its originality, fierceness, and invention. Plus, the dystopian future suits a brooding hero like Batman far more than the happy-go-lucky, joke-flinging wallcrawler.

Secondly, and more pertinently, is the reveal mid-way through “Reign” that Mary Jane's untimely death was all Peter's fault – the radioactivity coursing through his system, as a result of the spider bite that have him his superpowers, slowly poisoned her every time they had, erm, adult cuddles without wearing protection. That is slightly inappropriate for a superhero comic and also, super gross. You hate it too now you know, right?

of 06

2. Sins Past

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski presided over any number of controversial changes during his tenure writing Amazing Spider-Man, including bringing the character more in line with the then-current Sam Raimi movies – organic webshooters, that sort of thing – with a storyline where Peter Parker is revealed to be the latest in a long line of “spider totems”, his powers as much the result of magical, cosmic destiny as an accident in a science lab. Fans were divided on that, and even more so on what came next.

“Sins Past” makes huge changes to beloved Spidey stories and characters. Namely, it reveals that Gwen Stacy had an affair with Norman Osborn whilst she was dating Peter, and the result were a couple of twins she gave birth to shortly before her death. Hidden from public view and experimented upon by Osborn, they become adults at an accelerated rate and are sicced upon Spidey by his arch nemesis.

Why The Hate

Because Gwen Stacy's tragic death seems a little more messed up when it's not just the Green Goblin wanting to ruin Spider-Man's life – it's also because he doesn't want his clandestine lover messing up the plans he has for his new potential heirs. Plus the romance of Peter and Gwen, and the guilt he has to this day over her untimely demise, is spoilt a little when you realised she was bumping uglies on the DL with Norman Osborn pretty regularly.

Once again, it's one of those big changes to classic continuity that fans hate, and a particularly distasteful one at that. Apparently the plan at first was to reveal that Gwen had had Peter's babies without telling him – inexplicably, Marvel thought it better to make Osborn the father, rather than making Spider-Man feel too “old.” Nice one guys.

of 06

1. One More Day/Brand New Day

spider man one more day mephisto
Marvel Comics

There is something worse than “Sins Past”, and it's guaranteed to send a shiver down any Spider-Man fan's spine. As a result of the complicated continuity they had built for the character over the decades – including the addition of the likes of “Sins Past” and “The Clone Saga” – Marvel editor Joe Quesada made the executive decision of completely rebooting the character and his history. Actually, he mainly just wanted to split Peter and Mary Jane up, with the resulting tidying up of everything else more a happy side-effect.

So, “One More Day” and its sequel “Brand New Day” sees Aunt May being shot by a sniper and in critical condition after Spidey revealed his secret identity during the “Civil War” crossover. In order to save her life, he and MJ agree to “sell” their marriage to Mephisto, the Devil of the Marvel Universe. Consequently, the two's marriage is undone, a change which sends ripple effects through the wall crawler's history. Well, actually the main changes are just that he's single and Harry Osborn is alive, but still.

Why The Hate

The alpha and omega of controversial Spider-Man comics, “One More Day”/”Brand New Day” has everything fans hate: retconning of beloved stories and characters, retooling Spider-Man in a major way for no real reason, and doing it all in the silliest way possible. As in, selling a marriage to a devil.