They say in comics that a hero is best defined by his villains. The bigger the hero, the better the villains. The Rogues in Flash are legendary. The X-Men villains are pretty popular. Batman’s Rogues Gallery sports some of the most iconic villains known the world over. But when it comes to a group of villains that fit their protagonist so perfectly that you almost always find yourself wondering if this will be the end for our fair hero, one has to look no further than the deadly foes of Spider-Man. If there’s a hero that’s been up against the ropes more times than Spidey, you’ll have to introduce me to him. With next week’s release of the Amazing Spider-Man 2 in theatres, a film boasting a collection of spider-foes that are ready to clean Peter Parker’s clock, I thought it fitting to look back on some of the greatest stories that bring on the bad guys! What follows is a list of great stories that not only feature some of the best Spider-Man villains, but star them as well. These are stories where the villain takes center stage. Yes, Spider-Man most often makes an appearance but he might not be the main focus of the tale. Some are standard classics. Others, hidden gems. All are worth your time. So without further ado, here are some of the best stories featuring Spider-Man’s villains. Read on, you just might learn something.
Kraven’s Last Hunt
(Web of Spider-Man #31-32, Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132 – October to November 1987)
Written by: J.M. DeMatteis, Artwork by: Mike Zeck
Anything you can do, I can do better. This is essentially what Kraven the Hunter sets out to prove when he shoots Spider-Man and buries him six feet under. Hopped up on a mixture of drugs and herbs that enhance his senses, Kraven dons the black spider suit and takes to the streets to dole out brutal vigilante justice to the criminals of New York, culminating with the capture of Vermin, a creature that took the combined efforts of Spidey and Captain America to take down. Two weeks after being defeated, Peter Parker eventually climbs out of the grave Kraven left him in and comes looking for revenge. What he gets is a tussle with a very pissed off Vermin. Kraven stops him from killing Spider-Man and lets him go free. He tells Parker to go after Vermin as his own hunting days are now over. While Spidey takes care of business, Kraven finds peace….in a matter of sorts. This was an interesting take on Kraven as he essentially beats Spider-Man. At no point does Peter get the upper hand and even the final moments appear to be part of Kraven’s overall plan. He bests Spider-Man but lacks the humanity of the hero to keep going. It was a great ending for this character…..that was eventually sullied by the character’s return. That notwithstanding, this story still holds up as one of the greatest (and darkest) Spider-Man tales of all time.
Spider-Man: Made Men
(Spider-Man: Made Men One-Shot – August 1998)
Written by: Howard Mackie, Artwork by Norman Felchle
Set against the backdrop of Marvel’s criminal underworld, Made Men is a story of two friends who have a run in with the Kingpin when they’re young. One ends up working for the Kingpin. The other becomes an undercover cop. At this point in the comics, Kingpin has been “retired” from the game for a few years and has decided to return to the game. This causes these two former friends to be on opposite sides of a war for the streets of New York. Narrated by Daily Bugle Reporter Ben Urich, the story gives an overview of each of the big players in the world of organized crime (Kingpin, Hammerhead, Norman Osborn, The Rose, Silvermane) and those that are fighting to stop them (Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher). The two young men (the crony and the cop) get caught in the crossfire as Kingpin attempts to make his way back up the ladder to sit atop the crime world’s throne. While not the best executed one-shot that I’ve read, Made Men does a great job of introducing all the New York mobsters of the Spider-Man universe in one go, showcasing what makes them deadly and what makes them interesting. Mackie is by no means a fantastic writer (he’s responsible for setting the Spideyverse back a step on more than one occasion) but here he shows that he can spin an interesting yarn and present characters that you actually give a damn about. This prestige format comic is hard to track down but worth the read if you can find it.
The Devil’s Demon (Guardian Devil Part 7)
(Daredevil Vol. 2, #7 – May 1999)
Written by: Kevin Smith, Artwork by: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti
You’re probably thinking, “Whaaa? I thought this is a list of Spider-Man villains. What’s a Daredevil comic doing on here?” Yes this is a list of Spidey villains and this is a Daredevil comic. Very observant of you. However, this Daredevil comic stars a Spider-Man foe. In this tale, Mysterio has captured Daredevil and like a Bond villain, is explaining his plan (and the events of the six previous Daredevil issues) to his captive. We find out that Mysterio is dying and wants one last kick at the can at defeating a worthy foe. Why not take on Spider-Man then? At the time, Peter Parker had been replaced by Ben Riley (Peter’s clone) in the comics (remember me mentioning Mackie’s bad moves with the character?) and Mysterio could sense something was off. He knew there was a different spider under that mask. So he chose Daredevil because like him, he was a “second stringer”. A majority of the tale is told in flashback and does a great job of taking a low level Spidey foe and making them an A-lister for a brief moment.
Days of Our Lives
(Peter Parker: Spider-Man #22 – October 2000)
Written by: Paul Jenkins, Artwork by: Mark Buckingham
So things are not going well for Sandman. After a run in with an out-of-control Venom, a major chunk of his body (the part that enables him to keep a solid form) has been ripped from him and now he’s falling apart. Giving what could be called his last will and testament, Sandman looks back on his life as both a hero and a villain and decides to go for one last shot at revenge on Spider-Man (a trend with great Spidey villain stories apparently). After a tussle with the wall crawler, Sandman decides to show mercy and slink away from the battle, leaving a beaten and battered Peter Parker alive to fight another day. Sandman would eventually find his way back to solid form again but this tale of him on the edge was an eye-opening one to be sure.
Flowers for Rhino
(Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #5-6 – October to November 2001)
Written by: Peter Milligan, Artwork by: Duncan Fegrado
The Rhino has never been a smart guy and he’s generally been okay with that. But that all changes when he saves Stella, the daughter of a mob boss. He is hired as her full time bodyguard and takes a liking to her. The feeling is not mutual as Stella says she could never fall for anyone as stupid as he is. So Rhino goes to the men that helped give him his impenetrable hide to see if they can make him smarter. They do help him…..a little too well. After the surgery, Rhino becomes a super genius, not only winning the affections of Stella but also becoming the king of the criminal underworld, foiling Spider-Man at every turn. In the end, he becomes bored with Stella because she’s too dumb for him now. Everything has become too easy. It’s lonely at the top. In order to get his life back to “normal”, Rhino turns to the one man that can help him: himself. In a story that pays tribute to the classic novel Flowers for Algernon (with a very different ending) this tale of the Rhino stands out as one of the best stories about a villains journey and shows that you should be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.
(Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #13 – June 2002)
Written by Ron Zimmerman, Artwork by Sean Phillips
I was never a fan of Ron Zimmerman’s contributions to the Marvel Universe with the exception of the “villain bar”. In an undisclosed location in New York City, there’s a bar with no sign where the baddest of the bad hang out and unwind. Some of the most ruthless villains – mostly street-level, mostly Spider-Man’ foes – meet up and converse over drinks in this fine establishment. Three such villains – the Vulture, the son of Kraven the Hunter, and a mystery man in a hat and trenchcoat – sit down to discuss the wall-crawler in great detail. Both Kraven and Vulture share tales of how they were thrwarted by Spidey earlier that week. The story is relatively simple until the very end when the third gentleman is revealed – a man from Spider-Man’s past who may very well be his greatest advisary of all time. Fantastic artwork by Sean Phillips (of Sleeper, Criminal and Fatale fame) makes it one of the best looking issues of the entire Tangled Web series.
Getting the Band Back Together
(Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1-6 – July to December 2013)
Written by Nick Spencer, Artwork by Steve Lieber
What’s better than leading the Sinister Six? How about leading the Sinister Six but only having to split the money five ways. Boomerang has put together a team consisting of Shocker, the new Beetle, Speed Demon and Overdrive. Together, they’ll be an unstoppable force of criminal power! Well maybe, if they weren’t fighting over leadership of the team. And then there’s dealing with the likes of the Punisher, The Chameleon, The Heroes for Hire, and Boomerang’s new parole officer, Mach V. These guys, eh? Sheesh! It’s a rough life being a crook. Not only was this one of best comics of last year, it was also one of the funniest. If you’re looking for a story that’s equal parts laughs and excitement, check out the Superior Foes.
So there you have it. Here’s some of the grestest stories focusing on Spider-Man’s Foes. Give ’em a read to put you in the mood for Amazing Spider-Man 2. Or don’t, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about ’em.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!