With The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my top five graphic novels starring everyone’s favorite web-head.

Read more reviews of top graphic novels.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1

If you truly want to understand the mythology behind the new movie, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1 is the place to start. Marvel’s Ultimate comics line is a complete reimagining of the iconic characters from the Marvel Universe. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Mark Bagley, the elements of the Spider-Man you know are here. Peter Parker, high school student and science geek, is living with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben when he is bitten by a radioactive spider, which gives him enhanced strength, speed and agility, a.k.a. like the spider. Peter takes on the responsibility of fighting crime when he fails to stop a thief from killing his Uncle Ben.

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The differences are many, but one stands out from the crowd. We have an extended period of time to get to know Uncle Ben, making his death that much more poignant, which impacts the reader as much as it does Peter. We gain a real sense of the responsibility—and the guilt—our new hero takes on. I’m not usually a fan of reboots, but I have to admit this one has real punch.

kraven Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt

Sergei Kravinoff burst onto the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1964. Since, he has hunted Spidey relentlessly in the hopes of proving to everyone he is the greatest hunter in the world. Collecting Web of Spider-Man Nos. 31-32, Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 293-294 and Spectacular Spider-Man Nos. 131-132, Kraven’s Last Hunt, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mike Zeck, brought Kraven and Spider-Man together for their final confrontation.

Driven mad by his inability to defeat Spider-Man, Kraven the Hunter launches his ultimate end game, actually defeating the web-head by shooting and burying him. To further prove that he is the greatest hunter in the world, Kraven takes on Spider-Man’s mask and hunts his latest enemy, Vermin, defeating him in a brutal attack. Two weeks later Spidey wakes up—turns out he was drugged, not killed—and has to dig his way out of his grave. By this time, however, Kraven is no longer interested in him. But Vermin is out for revenge following the beat-down that Kraven has just given him.

The ending is excellent, and I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll just have to check it out yourself.

death of hts tacys Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys

The death of his Uncle Ben set Peter Parker on the path to being a hero, but there were other deaths along the way that hit him just as hard and shaped the man he would become. 

A retired police captain, George Stacy met Peter Parker through his daughter, Gwen.  Capt. Stacy started following the exploits of Spider-Man, and felt that he was not the villain he was painted as being, even telling Peter as much. In Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 88-92, Spider-Man is battling Doctor Octopus across the New York skyline. When crumbling bits of buildings start raining down on the gathering crowd, Stacy races to save a child.

You never forget your first love. For Peter, that love is Gwen. She was every bit his intellectual equal. In Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 121-122, Peter’s worst fears were realized when The Green Goblin uses someone he loves, i.e. Gwen, against him. The Goblin, Norman Osborn, who has figured out Spider-Man’s secret identity, kidnaps Gwen and holds her hostage on the George Washington Bridge, demanding that Spider-Man face him. When Spidey arrives, The Goblin throws Gwen from the bridge.

birthofvenom Spider-Man: Birth of Venom

When the Marvel universe heroes were transported to the Beyonder’s Battleworld, forced to fight their enemies again and again, no one had time to bring spare uniforms. Spidey’s own red and blues were getting shredded, and he had a secret identity to protect, so when he saw the other heroes suddenly sporting fresh new outfits, he asked them how they managed it. They told him there was a machine that used your thoughts to whip up a new costume. What Spidey should have done is ask for better directions because the machine he used gave him something very different…

Compiling parts from the Marvel Secret Wars No. 8, Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 252-259, Fantastic Four No. 274, Spectacular Spider-Man No. 100, Web of Spider-Man No. 1, Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 298-300, 315-317, and Annual No. 25, Birth of Venom shows the origins and ultimate defining moments in the creation of one of Spider-Man’s most lethal foes, Venom, a symbiotic creature focused first on bonding with Spider-Man, to only later destroy him.

spiderdeath Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man

To bring this list full circle, see Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man. We have seen plenty of “deaths” in comic books throughout the years (Flash, Superman, Captain America, Batman, Supergirl). As a rule, these deaths usually don’t stick (running to save the universe, not “really” dead, phasing in and out of space and time, sent through time by Darkseid, transported to the 31st century).

Norman Osborn, The Green Goblin, has escaped the Triskelion island headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is set on killing Spider-Man/Peter Parker. He enlists the help of Sandman, Kraven the Hunter, Electro and Vulture, and heads to Peter’s home where they are confronted by Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Bobby Drake (Iceman). Peter returns to find the battle underway. Already wounded from an earlier encounter with The Punisher, Peter wades into the fight unmasked. In front of neighbors, friends, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and his Aunt May, Peter battles his greatest enemy, The Green Goblin. And he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the ones he loves.

Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.