The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. – (Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-100 roughly)
By the early 60s, Stan Lee was pretty much sick of comic books. He had been working in the industry since he was a teen and the monster and romance books held little meaning to a man entering middle age. Then, in 1961, he wrote the comic he wanted to write figuring that if it didn’t work, he was leaving comics anyway. Well, Fantastic Four was a hit and Stan and Jack Kirby began to create their own universe to play in. I think Stan stayed in, mainly, because for the first time ever he was getting feedback. And these weren’t just letters from kids, students from places like Yale were stopping in the Marvel offices, wanting to talk to Stan…readers of Rolling Stone were talking about Marvel…Stan was feeling like what he was writing actually mattered to thinking people. While FF is the darling of the comics intelligentsia, especially big time Kirby fans, its family of characters still trail behind Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, in the hearts of most folks. I think the genius of the character, from the minds of Stan and Steve Ditko, was that many of the known tropes of superhero comics were used, but were tilted in a way never fully explored before. Clark Kent lost his parents and was raised by an older, loving couple – check. Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a street thug – check. An accident with radiation gave a person incredible powers (FF, Hulk) – check. Peter Parker had all of these…so what made him special? He didn’t start out with goodness in his heart or a sense of justice…he had to learn it the hard way. That pushed Spidey closer to all of us. Because of the fantastic origin story of Spider-Man, Peter could never completely put himself above the petty crime, the greed, or the selfishness he fights against. Batman looks at a criminal and sees the person who took his parents. Superman can’t understand man’s inhumanity to man. But Pete knows, in his heart of hearts, that, while he didn’t kill his beloved uncle, he certainly played an important part in the events that led to his murder. Peter Parker had to live with his aunt after those events…had to watch her mourn…and it had to twist his stomach. But…and this is important…Peter didn’t let this make him sullen. He made a life-change and it launched him into action. To start out so tragically, but become so upbeat, a force for hope and goodness…that’s what we love about the character and his adventures. And it certainly helped that 1) Stan, Steve, and John surrounded Peter with a fantastic cast of supporting characters (the best in mainstream comics) and 2) Stan wrote some great, laugh-out loud dialog accompanied by Ditko’s strangely beautiful art and Romita’s window into the New York of the 60s and 70s.
While Superman and Batman may still be the most iconic superheroes in the world, Peter Parker, the amazing Spider-Man, is the most human and, ultimately, the greatest creation of 20th century comic books.