Spider-Man is a timeless character; drop him in any year (after 1962), in any part of the world, and his popularity remains sky-high. Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures proved this statement with Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), which may have marked the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Spider-Man trilogy – and the start of something new.
No one really knows where Marvel, Sony, and Tom Holland will take the Web-Head at the moment – but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. Today marks the 20th anniversary of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), which means we’ve got an excellent excuse to look at 12 of the strangest Spider-Man stories ever put to print – or celluloid.
Amazing Spider-Man #386–388
Aunt May and Uncle Ben are core Spider-Man characters. Even when they aren’t on-screen (or in-panel), their influence on Peter Parker is ever-present. The same can’t be said for Richard and Mary Parker – Peter’s deceased parents. Marvel’s tried to change that numerous times – first making them secret agents in Spider-Man Annual #5, then seemingly resurrecting them in Amazing Spider-Man #386.
Soon, we learn that “Richard” and “Mary” are Life-Model Decoys created by the Chameleon. The Parker family reunion gets cut short, and Spider-Man trades blows with a Terminator-like version of his dad. In the end, we’re left with a de-aged Vulture and tons of loose threads that will eventually pave the way for one of the strangest sagas in Marvel Comics history.
Secret Wars #8
Many superheroes are so deeply linked to their costumes that changing one element can incite full-blown riots. Spider-Man is a rare exception to that trend; the Web-Head has worn dozens of outfits over the years, including now-iconic costumes like the Scarlet Spider suit and even the Bombastic Bag-Man suit.
Spidey’s Symbiote costume is easily one of his most famous outfits. It debuted in Secret Wars #8 and marked the first major costume change for the Wall-Crawler. The Symbiote flung itself at Peter and bonded to his damaged costume. A fan named Randy Schueller originally conceived the Black suit, selling it to Jim Shooter in 1982. The strangest part of this story? Marvel only paid Schueller $220 for his idea.
Amazing Spider-Man #100–102
“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” Without looking anywhere near as creepy, that is. Peter’s literal and figurative humanity is a major part of his charm. The sales numbers for Amazing Fantasy #15 would’ve been much lower if Spidey was covered in hair and shot webs from his, ahem, nether regions.
Stan Lee and Roy Thomas gave us the next worst thing in Amazing Spider-Man #100; Peter creates a serum to suppress his spider powers but inadvertently gains four new arms instead! He then spends the next few issues swinging around with eight limbs and slap-fighting with Morbius the Vampire. May the image of Spider-Man’s ridiculously buff rib-arms be forever burned into your mind. It certainly is for us.
Vault Of Spiders #2
What’s that, you want more nightmare fuel? So be it. Direct your attention to Vault Of Spiders #2. This issue ties into the 2018 Spider-Geddon event. Several Spider-People (and animals in Spider-Ham’s case) appear during this event, including Spiders-Man.
That’s not a typo — this character is a walking, talking, crime-fighting colony of spiders who ate Peter Parker and absorbed his consciousness. Wait, it gets better; Spiders-Man primarily operates in “Cruel York”, but he has spider spies in every corner of the multiverse. Every corner… possibly including our own.
The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2: #17–20 (Changes)
Marvel writers seem to get a kick out of, well, kicking Spider-Man. Few characters have endured as much tragedy, calamity, and sheer insanity as he has. To make matters worse, these events often occur for the sake of a retroactive continuity change (or a “retcon” for short).
Take the Changes storyline, for example. Peter’s body horrifically mutates throughout four issues until he transforms into a gigantic spider (for real this time), dies, then gives birth to another human version of himself. Peter undergoes all of this trauma… for the sake of making organic web-shooters canon. Want to know the strangest part? That’s not the worst retcon Spidey has experienced.
Spider-Man: One More Day
Oh no, that dishonor goes to Spider-Man: One More Day. The mere mention of this storyline might boil the blood of longtime Spider-fans. Here’s the thing; as endearing as Peter’s high school antics are, a lot of readers enjoy watching him mature and navigate the pitfalls of adulthood. We also appreciate seeing his relationship with MJ evolve from an unrequited crush to full-blown marriage.
Back in 2007, then-editor-in-chief Joe Quesada said, “screw all that, the status quo is King!” Okay, he didn’t say that, but he did conceive One More Day. Quesada wanted Peter to be a broke, single, stressed-out young adult once again, and he didn’t mind killing Aunt May to make that happen. Mephisto, one of Marvel’s stand-ins for the freakin’ Devil, offers to resurrect Aunt May — in exchange for Peter and MJ’s marriage.
For his part, Quesada genuinely apologized for One More Day after fan backlash grew. Still, the fact remains; Spider-Man made a deal with the Devil for the sake of a retcon. Believe it or not, we’ve yet to reach the bottom of this messy iceberg.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #21
Let’s take a break from some of Spider-Man’s more rage-inducing stories. Trust us, we’ll need it before delving into the last few entries. Spider-Man’s Tangled Web refers to a series of stories that primarily focus on the Web-Head’s vast supporting cast. ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas continues that trend, albeit with a whacky, lighthearted holiday twist.
Sue Storm, Jane van Dyne, and Crystal the Inhuman are the real stars of this show. They get into all sorts of holiday hijinks as they search for Christmas gifts and battle the Puppet Master. Spidey swings in near the end to beat the baddies, help Crystal buy a chainsaw for Black Bolt, and wish readers “happy holidays.” Honestly, the strangest part about this story is how well it works. And the chainsaw bit. That’s weird, even with context.
The Superior Spider-Man Event… Saga… Thing
We hope the title of this entry confused you. That way, you can empathize with our experience reading this storyline. The Superior Spider-Man sees Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doc Ock) hang up his villain jersey and become a hero. Cool — if Venom can change, we all can change! But Venom didn’t have to hijack Peter Parker’s body to turn over a new leaf. Doc Ock didn’t have to either, but you can probably see where this is going.
From March 2013 to September 2014, Doc Ock ran around in Peter’s body while the real Spider-Man just sort of floated in the background. The so-called “Superior Spider-Man” committed nearly every heinous act you could imagine; dude tried to seduce MJ, toyed with Aunt May’s emotions, beat most of his foes to a pulp, and straight-up executed others.
The point of The Superior Spider-Man arc was to prove that Peter’s idealism is preferable to Otto’s pragmatist, “ends-justify-the-means” worldview. And hey, we certainly agree. We’re just not sure if that point needed to drag on for over 30 issues. Plus spin-offs. Plus tie-ins.
The ‘90s were a weird time for comics. DC legitimately killed Superman for a solid year, ultra-violence was all the rage, and a slew of edgy, ‘roided-out anti-heroes took the world by storm. This decade also produced Cletus Kassidy and Carnage, two Spider-Man villains who were similar to Eddie Brock and Venom, but with an extra dose of sociopathy.
Maximum Carnage (dis)graced the Marvel Comics universe in 1993. If you’re a die-hard Carnage fan, this 14-issue storyline might float your boat. But most Spider-Man fans should steer clear, lest they witness one of Marvel’s most beloved heroes just sort of mope around through the entire event.
“Highlights” from Maximum Carnage include Spidey ditching his friends, many senseless deaths, a Spider-Man clone with six arms and Chupacabra teeth, the “Good Bomb”, and a priest rescuing Peter from a demon-possed Hobgoblin. As we said, the ‘90s were a weird time for comics.
This entry likely needs little introduction, considering how popular Emo Spider-Man memes still are to this day. Halfway through Spider-Man 3, Peter gets infected with the Symbiote and gradually becomes darker and edgier. He’s merciless to his foes, he’s abusive towards his loved ones, and he ducks his rent. What a monster, right? But Peter doesn’t stop there; he dons all black clothes, gets an atrocious haircut, and starts… dancing.
This entire sequence is hilarious in hindsight – and it feels like Sam Raimi’s way of sticking it to Sony as he was practically forced to include the Symbiote/Venom in Spider-Man 3. But try to understand how mind-boggling this was for anyone who saw this back in 2007. Back then, we didn’t have “Bully Maguire” memes to make sense of things. We were all just genuinely confused.
Andrew Garfield gave a stellar performance in No Way Home. He was so great, in fact, that folks started begging Sony to release The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM) 3. If such a thing were to ever happen, I just hope the powers that be learned from the past. In the first TASM film, Spidey faces off against Curt Connors, aka the Lizard.
TASM wouldn’t be a high-concept superhero film if the villain didn’t have a nefarious scheme up his sleeve. In the Lizard’s case, he wants nothing more than to transform everyone in New York into lizards. That’s not some sort of euphemism or slang; he wanted big, scaly reptiles to run rampant in the Big Apple. And he succeeds for a brief moment, blessing (read: cursing) us with an image of half-human, half-lizard people just sort of flopping around the place.
The Spider-Clone Saga
At last, we’ve arrived at the ninth circle. This is the big one — the story to end all strange Spider-Man stories. The Spider-Clone Saga. Many readers likely expected to find this storyline in this article, and with good reason. The Spider-Clone Saga is one of the most infamous tales in comic book history!
Former editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco and assistant editor Mark Bernardo originally conceived this storyline as a “three-act play” filled with shocking twists, unexpected turns, and startling reveals. This series initially got off to a great start, garnering critical acclaim and financial success en masse. Then it kept on going, and going, and going. A storyline intended to run for several months ran for a little over two years.
Peter Parker was labeled a clone, prompting Ben O’Reilly to take his place. Later, it turns out that Ben was the real clone all along. But wait, it turns out that Peter and Ben are both clones! Then, some dude named Kaine started ripping people’s faces off. Then, long-dead villains came back to life with no rhyme or reason. If all that seemed contrived or sudden or overwhelming to you, then congratulations — you now have the complete Spider-Clone Saga experience without having to spend a dime!