Pop culture can be as forbidding as it is inviting, particularly in areas that invite geeky obsession: The more devotion a genre or series or subculture inspires, the easier it is for the uninitiated to feel like they’re on the outside looking in. But geeks aren’t born; they’re made. And sometimes it only takes the right starting point to bring newbies into various intimidatingly vast obsessions. Gateways To Geekery is our regular attempt to help those who want to be enthralled, but aren’t sure where to start. Want advice? Suggest future Gateways To Geekery topics by emailing email@example.com.
Geek obsession: Spider-Man comics
Why it’s daunting: Clones. Alternate universes. Mystical spider totems. A deal with the devil that rewrites a huge chunk of the character’s timeline. Like most superheroes, Spider-Man’s history is a total clusterfuck; and as one of Marvel’s flagship characters, he gets so much exposure that it makes it even harder to figure out a good jumping-on point for the character. Further complicating matters is the recent death of Peter Parker in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and his heavily publicized replacement with the half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales. There are now two Spider-Men for readers to follow, and each exists in his own separate continuity. It’s not as confusing as it sounds, but that doesn’t make it any less intimidating for the casual superhero comic-book reader.
Potential gateway: Ultimate Spider-Man
Why: While the mainstream Marvel version of Spider-Man was in the middle of arguably the worst story in his 50-year history, Marvel launched a new line of comics in 2000 that stripped its characters of past continuity and re-imagined them for a modern audience. Ultimate Spider-Man was the first Ultimate title, and continues to be one of the company’s strongest comics 12 years after its debut. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, who is joined by artist Mark Bagley for the book’s first 104 issues, Ultimate Spider-Man immediately sets itself apart with its emotional opening arc. Expanding Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s classic origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 into six issues, Bendis and Bagley take their time developing the relationship between Peter Parker and his uncle Ben, making Ben’s murder all the more impactful.
The biggest reason why Ultimate Spider-Man makes a great gateway is because it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. If readers like the first collection, they can keep reading through the end of Peter Parker’s journey. “The Death Of Peter Parker” is one of Spider-Man’s finest moments, building on years of stories as Peter makes his last stand to protect his family and friends. Reading the entirety of Ultimate Spider-Man is an extensive lesson in the Spider-Man basics, and will help make the transition into the mainstream Marvel universe easier. Although Peter might be dead, the adventures of Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man are proving just as intriguing as his predecessor’s (if not more so), and Bendis continues to explore the storytelling possibilities the Ultimate line allows.
Where not to start: The early issues of Amazing Spider-Man are worth a peek for Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr.’s artwork, but Stan Lee’s scripts don’t hold up to modern standards. These issues have their charms but are very simple, as most superhero comics tended to be back then. In the complete opposite direction is Kaare Andrews’ Spider-Man: Reign, a failed attempt to give Peter Parker his own Dark Knight Returns. The artwork is striking, but the less said about the plot the better. (Mary Jane dies from cancer caused by Spider-Man’s radioactive sperm. ’Nuff said.) The biggest thing to stay away from is “The Clone Saga,” the abysmal storyline that ran through the Spider-Man titles for most of the mid-’90s. A bunch of convoluted nonsense stretched out over years, it’s the work of an editorial team that nearly killed Marvel Comics.