5 of the Best "Amazing Spider-Man" Stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Updated on September 12, 2019
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Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.

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Stan "The Man" Lee and Steve "Sturdy" Ditko

It's hard to say anything new about Stan Lee or Steve Ditko. Over their lifetimes, they co-created dozens of heroes for Marvel Comics who have since lived on in the pages of comics and raked in billions at the box office. Though their greatest influence on pop culture may be the heroes they created, let's not forget the stories they worked on.

An issue like "The Chameleon Strikes!" in Amazing Spider-Man #1 may never be as beloved as "Avengers: Endgame," but in each Spider-Man issue Lee scripted and Ditko drew, they crafted the foundations of the Spider-verse fans love today.

That's why I'm discussing five fantastic stories the pair worked on about our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. These aren't necessarily my absolute favorite Spidey comics—well, one of them might be—but they're great stories about the superhero by Lee and Ditko that fans should definitely check out.

1. Amazing Fantasy #15

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Amazing Fantasy #1
"Spider-Man!"
August 1962
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inks: Dick Ayers

Lee and Ditko's first ever Spider-Man story sees the origin of the beloved hero. Young Peter Parker, visiting a science demonstration all alone, is bitten by a radioactive spider. Granted speed, agility, and superhuman strength, Peter becomes a wrestler to earn money. However, after the death of his Uncle Ben, Peter discovers a robber he let go free in a moment of selfishness murdered Ben and vows to use his great powers more responsibly.

Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

I think some people could agree the idea is corny as all get out, but it's a comic, right? If you set aside how coincidental it is that the guy Peter let go just happened to murder his uncle, the rest of the story works beautifully. Lee's writing can be a bit over-the-top, but in just a handful of pages, he gives readers a whole corner of a metropolitan city, populated with fleshed-out characters and a tragedy that inspires real change in a young man. From the get-go, Ditko's design of Peter makes him both lovable and pitiable, turning him into a character you sincerely feel for when bonehead jock Flash Thompson jeers him. The issue's single best panel is Peter, holding his hand to his head, tears streaming down his face as sorrow cascades around him and he realizes his mistake cost his uncle's life. Ditko pumps a lot of life and love into this story, a tale only enhanced by the powerful message Lee weaves through it.

2. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

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Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
"The Sinister Six!"
October 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inks: Steve Ditko

In what is certainly my favorite Spider-Man comic of all time, Lee and Ditko craft Spidey's first fight against the malicious supervillain team known as the Sinister Six. With a classic roster consisting of Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, the Sandman, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and Electro, all of whom had suffered at least one defeat at Spidey's hands, the Six conspired to do together what they had failed to do alone: destroy Spider-Man.

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The issue is to be praised for Ditko's fight scenes alone: each of Spidey's battles with individual Sinister Six members (which makes you wonder why them teamed in the first place) is highlighted by a gorgeous splash panel, a single frame canvas for Ditko to stuff as much action and detail as he can into the story. His pencils keep the longer-than-your-average-comic-book flowing sharply; meanwhile, Lee packs in details of his own. Not only does Spidey face his fearsome foes, he also struggles with doubts and inadequacies with his powers and strives to rescue Aunt May and Betty Brant from Doc Ock's grasp. Pulse-pounding action and great characterization litter every page. This annual is a timeless classic, and Lee and Ditko should both be commended on the work they did here.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #18

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Amazing Spider-Man #18
"The End of Spider-Man!"
November 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inker: Steve Ditko

Let it not be said that Lee and Ditko failed to put Spidey through the ringer on a consistent basis. A continuation from a previous issue, wherein Spidey fled a battle with the Green Goblin after hearing Aunt May was hospitalized, Peter's life maintains it's own little downward spiral here. His actions as Spider-Man in the battle with the Green Goblin have caused others, including J. Jonah Jameson and members of both the human and superhuman communities, to label him as a coward. Aunt May's health and medical bills are still matters of concern, and any attempts by Peter to brand Spidey for some quick cash are left fruitless. The empty-walleted webhead is further demonized after he runs from a clash with the Sandman, even though his intentions are to keep from getting injured so he can care for Aunt May properly.

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The issue features some strong visuals from Ditko, and a wonderful moment at the end where Aunt May encourages Peter to keep fighting. It also ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, leaving Peter with new determination to go out and finish what he started with the Sandman. Overall, the entire issue, though only a chapter in a bigger story, works as a wonderful example of how Lee and Ditko could run roughshod over the life of young Peter. Both writer and artist knew how to convey emotion and keep readers returning to see how the story would end while also endearing fans to a young, relatable hero who suffered problems with his personal and family lives and battled insecurities.

4. Amazing Spider-Man # 25

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Amazing Spider-Man #25
"Captured by J. Jonah Jameson!"
June 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inker: Steve Ditko

Over his storied history, Spidey has faced many foes in battles that raged across the breadth of New York City. The Juggernaut, Morlun...but this confrontation with Spencer Smythe's first Spider Slayer may be the one that started the trend. Piloted by Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, the Slayer represented a shift in the relationship between JJJ and Peter. Up until now, Jameson had paid at least one scientist to create a supervillain powerful enough to defeat Spider-Man (Mac Gargan, the Scorpion). Now, he took matters into his own hands.

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A unique automaton, the Slayer allowed Ditko to stretch his creative abilities in designing an enemy with so many interesting weapons at its disposal and for creating a battle that spans the streets and skyscrapers of New York. Lee also manages to find time to insert additional subplots--we get our first glimpse of Spidey's future girlfriend and later wife, Mary Jane Watson; Lee delivers great conflict between Peter and then-love interest Betty Brant; even Flash Thompson and his relationship with Peter AND Spider-Man are given more screentime. There's a lot to juggle with this issue and the crazy amount of material is handled deftly, leaving a twenty-two page story that never feels overwhelming.

5. Amazing Spider-Man #31-33

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Amazing Spider-Man #31-33
"The Master Planner Saga"
December, 1965 - February, 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Steve Ditko
Inker: Steve Ditko

Held up as one of the greatest Spider-Man story of all time by many fans, the three-issue "Master Planner Saga" is a triumph in long-form storytelling by Lee and Ditko. This trilogy of chapters--"If This Be My Destiny," "Man on a Rampage," and "The Final Chapter"--sees Spidey go to great lengths to save the life of Aunt May. After she falls ill, Peter realizes she's dying from a blood transfusion she received from him in an earlier issue. Understanding it's his fault and knowing he can't be responsible for the death of another relative, Peter seeks out a cure. But when a component for that cure is stolen by the mysterious Master Planner, Peter dons his costume and seeks out the perpetrators.

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So many elements work really well in this storyline--the "Aunt May is dying" plotline is a great reminder of a previous story and shows the attention Lee was paying to continuity; Spidey teams with former foe the Lizard in his Curt Connors form, giving a classic character something different to do than run around terrorizing Florida; the Master Planner is revealed to be Doctor Octopus, providing an interesting twist on an old enemy; and the above splash panel is heralded as one of Ditko's finest Spidey moments during his time on ASM. The entire sequence of Spidey trapped beneath rubble is intense and agonizing. As Lee brings out Spidey emotions through wonderful inner dialogue, Ditko beautifully showcases his physical struggle as he strains to free himself from the wreckage. Is it any wonder they included an homage to this sequence in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming?

In total, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko worked on 38 issues of the Amazing Spider-Man comic series together. Lee went on to write the series for several more years, while Ditko left Marvel behind completely shortly after the publication of that 38th issue. Their time together on the book is an impressive one: the amount of worldbuilding both men did in ASM--crafting several compelling characters that are still often used over fifty years later, inventing a lasting origin that continues to define Spidey this day, and creating storylines that hold up under scrutiny even now--is astonishing. Their legacy on just this character alone is impressive, and I hope the stories mentioned above give a decent sample of the history Lee and Ditko began developing for Spider-Man.

Which of the above tales is your favorite Lee and Ditko Spider-Man story?

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    © 2019 Nathan Kiehn

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