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Spider-Man vs. Peter Parker on the cover of Web of Spider-Man #117, Marvel Comics (1994). Steven Butler,Randy Emberlin/Marvel Comics

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Sneak Peek: Spider-Man art book gives the web-slinger star treatment

Five decades of Peter Parker in one book

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular, out next week from Insight Editions, is a visual tour of Marvel’s most popular superhero, with loads of commentary and interviews from Spider-Man creators through the ages.

Polygon’s got six whole pages of it that you can take a look at right now, with quotes from J.M. DeMatteis, Tom DeFalco, and Gerry Conway. But we didn’t want to leave them out here naked: We got some commentary on the commentary, from author Matt Singer. Enjoy!

With almost 60 years of comics to choose from, it’s almost impossible to select just the single best Spider-Man cover of all time. But Gil Kane’s cover for The Amazing Spider-Man #131 might be my pick. Kane’s artwork is terrific, and I love the priest’s line at the bottom “With this ring, I thee — web?” That’s just the icing on the wedding cake. (Or webbing cake, I guess.)

The scene this cover depicts isn’t a dream sequence, either; this scenario basically plays out in the story. During this period of The Amazing Spider-Man, Aunt May fell in love with Doctor Octopus, never realizing he was actually a megalomaniacal super-villain hellbent on world domination. (In her defense, he did a pretty decent job of hiding the world domination part when she was around.)

Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis marrying his only living relative is a pretty silly concept, but it also has an element central to just about every good Spider-Man story from 1962 to today: It creates a conflict that puts Peter Parker and Spider-Man at odds. Here, Peter knows Otto Octavius is bad news, but he can’t let on — as Peter or Spider-Man — without revealing his secret identity. It’s a quintessential Spider-Man dilemma. — Matt Singer

I really like the whole chapter in the book about the infamous “Clone Saga.” While I certainly wouldn’t defend every single issue or storyline, going back and rereading the entire thing during my research, I was surprised how many of the issues I enjoyed — and how much I liked the character of Ben Reilly, Spider-Man’s long-lost clone, who’d been created more than a decade earlier and then was forgotten until 1994 when the storyline began.

One of the interesting things about the Clone Saga within the broader scope of Spider-Man’s history is it comes during this period where a character who had been introduced as the quintessential teenage hero had grown into a man with a wife and adult responsibilities. Part of the creative impetus behind the Clone Saga was a desire to literally rejuvenate the character by replacing him, at least in the short term, with Ben Reilly, who didn’t have quite so much emotional baggage and could bring the character a little closer to his roots.

Particularly in the early issues of the Clone Saga — and both of these pieces are from the very first part of the story — you have these images of Spider-Man fighting Peter Parker. Once you’ve read the comic, you realize that’s not the “real” Peter Parker, that’s his clone. But on a purely symbolic level, it’s like the folks at Marvel took the idea of Peter Parker being this problem dragging Spider-Man down, and turned it into the fodder for the story. — Matt Singer

Gwen Stacy died about 20 years before I started reading Spider-Man comics obsessively as a kid, so I never had a particularly strong relationship with that character. Talking with Gerry Conway, the man who wrote the issue where Gwen was killed by the Goblin, really put these issues into perspective for me, and made me think about them in a way I never really had before.

Certainly, the death of the hero’s girlfriend has become a tired cliche in modern comics, but it was basically unprecedented when Conway, Gil Kane, and John Romita did it in 1973. And while (at least according to Conway) it was initially conceived as a simple means of increasing “reader involvement,” the death of Gwen Stacy has remained one of the most important Spider-Man stories ever told because it speaks to something intrinsic in the soul of the character. Remember: Peter Parker might have taken the name Spider-Man after he got bitten by a radioactive spider, but what made him a hero was his decision to help others after he could have saved his Uncle Ben from a mugger — and didn’t.

In other words, failure is as embedded in Spider-Man’s DNA as radioactive spider venom. Gwen Stacy’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin resonates with Uncle Ben’s death in that way. Once again, Peter fails to save someone he loves. He is imperfect, and I think those imperfections are a big reason why the character is so beloved. Because he’s not Superman. Spider-Man is not the guy who always wins. He’s the guy who always tries. — Matt Singer

Marvel’s Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular hits shelves on Oct. 15.


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