Are you counting down the days until Spider-Man: Homecoming? It's just a short while now, even if every day feels longer than the day before it.
So, why not fill that time up with some Spider-Man comics?
Having been around since the early 1960s, there's a wealth of Spidey backstories we can turn to in our time of need … but I thought I'd break it down to a few select titles to pick up before we head into the theater to see our favorite webslinger (hopefully) kick butt, take names and crack quips. Presented in no particular order, here are six Spider-Man stories to read before Spider-Man: Homecoming (or you know, whenever you want).
(Warning: Pretty much all these comics contain some problematic pieces because, well, COMICS.)
Spidey Vol. 1: First Day (2016)
Words by: Robbie Thompson
Art by Nick Bradshaw (#1-3) and André Lima Araújo (#4-6)
Colors by Jim Campbell, Rachelle Rosenberg (#3-4), Java Tartaglia (#5)
Letters by Travis Lanham
I cannot recommend this fairly recent Marvel Spider-Man series enough. The first volume collects issues 1-6, so you get a little bit of everything: Sandman, Doc Ock and even an Iron Man team-up against the Vulture! (Sound familiar?) The series has some of my favorite Spider-Man art, and the hilarious quips we've all come to know and love. It's a great entry point if you saw Captain America: Civil War and thought "Hey, I love that spider-dude!"
What you need to know: Nothing, really. There's a one-page origin story explainer at the top, and the rest is a great entry point for people who haven't picked up the comics. There's no real connection to the current Amazing Spider-Man universe; Spidey is an isolated series that takes us back to Peter's high school days (as if they took place in current times). It's less confusing than it sounds, I promise.
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (1974)
Words/Pencils by Jim Starlin
Art by Joe Rubenstein
Colors by Petra G.
Letters by Anette K.
I'm not including too many older comics on this list, as they tend to have a higher barrier to entry, but this issue is one of Spidey's first galactic adventures (which is something we'll be sure to see in Infinity Wars), and it's interesting to read Peter's inner monologue of self-doubt. He's just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but we're getting a glimpse of the hero he becomes as he expands his experience outside of New York.
What you need to know: The first few pages give you a thorough background of what's happening in the story, so you can go into this as a fairly casual fan, though Jim Starlin's chaotic art can take a minute to get used to. Most of the major characters are ones we've seen in the movies, and context will tell you what you need to know about any characters with whom you may be unfamiliar.
Amazing Spider-Man #2 (1963)
Words by Stan Lee
Art by Steve Ditko
Letters by John Duffy
I promised I wasn't going to do a ton of early comics, but this is so early there's no information you don't already know! This is the first appearance of the Vulture, and ooh is it a good one. He's stealing things left and right, and no one can figure out how or even get a glimpse of him. After overhearing how excited his classmates are about possibly seeing the Vulture, Peter decides that he can probably sell a picture of the guy for a ton of money to the press! So we basically have the Vulture to thank for Peter's illustrious photographer career.
What you need to know: Peter Parker is Spider-Man and fun fact: He calls The Vulture "birdman" in this issue. So was it fate that Michael Keaton is playing Adrian Toomes? MAYBE SO, MAYBE SO.
Marvel Knights: Spider-Man Vol. 1 (2004)
Words by Mark Millar
Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Frank Cho (#8)
Colors by Avalon’s Ian Hannin, Laura Martin (#8)
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit, Chris Eliopolis (#8)
This mini-series is tangentially related to the Vulture, who seems to be the Big Bad in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The first volume of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man collects issues 1-12, which chronicles the whole story of a deeply disturbing kidnapping. This is definitely one of the more mature Spider-Man titles, wherein you find out why exactly Peter tends to hide his pain with a lot of bad jokes. In the first issue, we find out Aunt May’s been taken by a mysterious person who knows Peter's identity. The only one on the block with that knowledge is Norman Osborn, but Pete's just put him in jail for what he hopes is the final time. The 12 issues contained in this volume hit on issues of anxiety, desperation and intense fear … we see Peter having to make impossible choices. It also gives us a more nuanced view of the Vulture. He's not the main bad guy, but in the first 8 of the 12 issues, we get a side of his story that makes him a slightly more complex villain.
What you need to know: This takes place while Peter and Mary Jane are married and he's working as a science teacher at his former high school. Oh, also Peter and the Black Cat dated for a hot minute. Norman Osborn killed Peter's first sweetheart, Gwen Stacy. I know a lot of what we see of surface Spidey is his jokes and relatability, but at the end of the day he's a superhero, and this series deals with the darker side of that life. The text is pretty mature, and I'd recommend this for older readers.
Ultimate Spider-Man #1-7 (2000)
Words by Brian Michael Bendis, Bill Jemas
Pencils by Mark Bagley
Inks by Art Thibert
Colors by Steve Buccellato
Letters by Richard Starkings and Comiccraft
In 2000, Brian Michael Bendis brought a teen Peter Parker back to the forefront in a brand-new series called Ultimate Spider-Man. The entire 133-issue run is pretty amazing, and the first seven issues are a solid entry point for the Ultimate Universe. The differences are small at first, but unlike both the original Amazing Spider-Man and Spidey, you sense a more sinister undertone to Bendis' Spider-Man story right from the get-go. For example, instead of a Goblin who hides behind a cartoonish mask, the Ultimate Goblin is an actual giant, fire-hurling monster. The series can get very 2000s with a fascination of teen trends and a need to be too-cool-for-school, but the story is solid and I dare you to try to stop once you've started. (True story: I binge-read the entire series in about two weeks a few years ago. Worth every ugly tear I spilled at the end.)
What you need to know: The Ultimate Universe is not our universe. Amazing Spider-Man and the Peter Parker who began in the 1960s are in what is ostensibly our Earth (or in the Marvel Universe, Earth-616). The Ultimate Universe is a parallel earth, Earth-1610. Peter Parker as Ultimate Spider-Man ran from 2000-2009.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War (2007)
Words by J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils by Ron Garney
Inks by Bill Reinhold
Colors by Matt Milla
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
This collection includes just the Amazing Spider-Man issues of the Civil War event, issues #532-538. There are definitely moments in the text that aren't explained, but that's okay. What this volume does do is give us a glimpse at the relationship between Peter and Tony Stark (which we'll see some of in the new movie, as well). It's a little different than the current MCU, because in this comic Pete is in his mid-to-late 20s rather than a kid, which puts a slightly different spin on the relationship between these two super-guys. That being said, a power dynamic still exists. Tony is smart, confident and very, very rich. Peter is smart, not as confident and definitely lacking in the money department. It's disconcerting to watch Tony pull the strings, especially when you know it can't end well ... but Peter was looking for a boss/mentor/father figure who could understand what it meant to put on a costume. This is about Peter thinking through what it means to be a public figure, what he believes in and what it means to fight people he knows and trusts. It's a great character study and may be somewhat controversial in choice, but I think it's truly an excellent read because of how much we get to know, not just what Spider-Man is like but what Peter Parker is like.
What you need to know: 2006's Civil War event started with a group of C-list supervillains accidentally blowing up a school and killing lots of children. It was this incident that caused the government to create the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring every superhuman in the Marvel universe to register their real names and faces with the government. Tony Stark sides with the government, while Captain America sees the act as a civil rights violation. Superheroes then take sides. Peter, currently married to Mary Jane, sides with Tony.
There are so many other comics not mentioned that could be picked up (special shout-out to the Spider-Verse event in Amazing Spider-Man, mostly because Olivier Coipel may be my favorite Spider-Man artist ever, don’t @ me) but this list was never meant to be the end-all-be-all of Spidey. Sound off if you think there's something I missed! Otherwise, I'll see you all at the movies.