It’s the Halloween season and while the costumes and outlandish antics that come along with Halloween can go hand in hand with comics and Spider-Man, it also brings up another aspect that doesn’t always so readily blend with the superhero genre. Horror themes and scary stories don’t always work well in the four-color narratives, yet being scared silly–and sometimes not so silly–can be important to the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve (hence the success of big seasonal haunted house attractions and horror films in general).
We at Superior Spider-Talk love both Spider-Man and Halloween, and have taken it upon ourselves this year to compile a list of stories that put the spook in spectacular, and the “AAH!” in amazing. These are stories that portray varying degrees of horror, genuine fear, or unsettling images, characters, and situations that our beloved webslinger has found himself in. While the superhero racket may not be fertile grounds for telling genuinely scary stories, a few of Spidey’s creators have found ways to incorporate them into the mythos, and they’ve made for some at times memorable and haunting moments in Spider-Man.
So sit back, relax, turn all the lights off, and look at our list of scary, freaky, and soemtimes horrific Spider-Tales.
Tony Goodwyn’s Picks
“Kraven’s Last Hunt”
Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132.
The central image of this story alone is enough to induce nightmares: Spider-Man, desperately clawing and pulling himself out from underground, with a tombstone bearing his name looming over him. While the idea of being buried alive is one of the staples in horror fiction I genuinely never expected to see it happen to Peter, not to mention the plethora of other horrific situations that take place in this title. It portrays identity theft, mental illness, a rat-infested cannibal (hello, Vermin), and most hauntingly, a victorious villain. Kraven (spoilers!) dies in this story, but does so on his terms, having beaten Spider-Man, assumed his identity, and beaten Vermin alone when Peter could not. While it has an ultimately more or less happy ending, readers are still left haunted by Peter’s experience, as well as that of the man who caused it all, in a story that is nothing short of unforgettable.
“I Walked With a Spider”
Edge of Spider-Verse #4
This story was part of the setup series for “Spider-Verse” (kind of), and with the arguable exception of Edge of Spider-Verse #2, is the most memorable of the bunch. This story takes the Peter Parker origin story and puts it through the grinder of a genuine, Stephen King-style horror movie, complete with unlikable main characters, grotesque bodily transformation, and more implied cannibalism. Patton Parnell gets bitten by a spider, begins to transform, and uses his abilities to lash out at the world that had abused him, with often graphic and gruesome results. And that ending… wow. As before, I won’t spoil it here, but anyone familiar with the awesome Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books will know what I’m talking about. Very creepy and absolutely memorable.
Eric Wilson’s Picks
“Ultimate Strange” and “Morbius”
Ultimate Spider-Man #70-71, 95-96
There are plenty of genuinely horrific moments in Bendis and Bagley’s legendary Ultimate Spider-Man run; in a universe where Doctor Octopus is more sociopathic, Norman Osborn is more obsessed, and Carnage is more inhuman, you can expect plenty of scares sprinkled in with your superhero action. But then there’s these twin tales of terrors that plunge right into supernatural shenanigans that Spidey is absolutely not prepared for: “Dr. Strange” and “Morbius.”
These two stories are treated as one because they both follow the same pattern, taking Peter out of his friendly neighborhood and revising characters he’d initially come across during the then-defunct “Ultimate Marvel Team Up” book. To make matters even more complicated, both stories take place as “breather” issues after larger story events: the death of Gwen Stacy and the outing of his relationship with Kitty Pryde, respectively. With all this weighing on him, Spider-Man is ripe for manipulation by supernatural forces, whether they’re the parasitic dream demon Nightmare or a gang of vicious vampires intent on setting up shop in New York. The horror doesn’t just come from the physical and emotional threats posed by these villains, but the existential dread that Spider-Man just doesn’t belong in, and can’t function in, the dark world these creatures spawn from.
The Sensational Spider-man (vol. 2) #23-27
What would a zombie outbreak film look like if it was filtered through a Spider-Man comic? It’d probably come out a lot like the early 2006 story “Feral,” by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Angel Medina, with covers and fill-ins by Clayton Crain. Someone or something is causing violence and unrest among the population of New York, and the disturbances are making their way through the entire animal kingdom, driving beasts like the Lizard, Vermin, and Man-Wolf completely, well… feral. Spider-Man is trying to find what’s causing this madness, but it’s becoming pretty apparent that no one is safe from its effects.
If “Torment” was the original “Alien”, then “Feral” is definitely “Aliens”: same concept, similar tone, but with a grander scope and greater stakes. Further, the threat isn’t merely external: many of those infected are sympathetic characters, and even civilians like Mary Jane start to fall under the thrall of whatever force is impacting the city. The longer the threat continues, the greater the odds they’ll become monstrous themselves, a risk that’s never ignored. Like in any good zombie movie, Spidey doesn’t just have to save the day: he has to save his humanity, as well.
Dan Gvozden’s Picks
“The Six Arms Saga”
Amazing Spider-Man #100-102
After the death of Gwen’s father, Peter Parker began to rethink the whole “I am Spider-Man!” thing, dreaming of a more sedate life alongside his current girlfriend Gwen Stacy. With J. Jonah Jameson constantly haranguing him, the New York City populace fearing him, and people dying all around him, Peter set about to cure himself of his genetic ties to spiders.
Apparently, he’s been working for years on a cure to his radioactive powers, just in case the radiation ever became dangerous to him. So he drinks the potion only to find himself face to face with some of his deadliest enemies, later revealed to be mere illusions of his foes. The most lasting impact of the potion is that from his sides sprouts four additional arms, positioning him to have eight arachnid-like appendages.
In a panic, Peter calls Curt Connors, his only other friend who has experienced turning partially into an animal (go figure!). Curt tells him of a safe house he has that he’ll often retreat to so that his lizard form doesn’t hurt anyone. Peter, as a six-armed Spider-Man, swings off to the resort to try and figure out a solution to his problem or vow to mope endlessly about how his life is over.
Now, here is where things get truly terrifying. In a boat offshore is the vampirous Morbius, who, like Dracula, is feeding off the sweet blood of sailors who venture to close to the safe house. Before-long Spider-Man finds himself caught up in Morbius’ sordid affairs, as he meets a horror villain for the first time (plus The Lizard shows up to get in on the fun as well). The issues themselves aren’t exactly terrifying, but they are notable monster fun for a book that had remained relatively street-level up to that point. That Stan Lee wrote the introduction of Morbius into such a landmark issue of the series is also worthy of noting. Plus, Spider-Man has never truly forgiven Morbius’ murderous ways as presented in this issue, feeling compelled to slug him at first sight from this moment on.
“Madness Means the Mindworm”
Amazing Spider-Man #138
There are many Spider-Man fans who pass off this story as just another forgettable, villain-of-the-month story that Gerry Conway wrote in-between killing Gwen, making Harry the Green Goblin and introducing The Jackal, but Mindworm has a special, if awkward, place in my heart. In this story Peter goes to move into an apartment with Flash Thompson, after Harry destroyed his own digs, and hops on the subway out to Far Rockaway. Turns out that there is a psychic villain living in a nearby, iconic-looking house who can feel and control the emotions in the people around him.
What makes this story horrifying, beyond the design for the Mindworm, is that the character sends hoards of bathing suit-clad people after Spider-Man, like zombies, all while complaining about how overpowering Spider-Man’s emotions are. There’s something deeply disquieting about going to the beach only to be attacked by attractive zombies.
To round out just how insane this story is, in our interview Gerry Conway, he told us that Ross Andru based the house that the Mindworm lived in off of a real house and eventually so many people were making the trip to the real house that the people living there became increasingly angry enough to put up signs about loitering and would actively yell at passersby. I suspect it was the Mindworm influencing their actions…
Venom (vol. 2) #22
Rick Remender’s run on the relaunched Venom title will be remembered for its harsh brutality and harrowing series of challenges it put Flash Thompson through. Most of these violent and psychologically damaging attacks were perpetrated by none other than the smiling face of Halloween himself, Jack O’ Lantern. This version of the character not only wore a pumpkin head and was missing most of his teeth, but he also carved out the heads of his victims and put a candle inside to create the eerie glowing face we’ve all become accustomed to this time of year.
In the final issue of Remender’s run he finally put Venom up against Jack to settle things once and for all. However, the most horrifying image yet to grace the series appears about halfway through as Flash finds his abusive, alcoholic father sitting at the dining room table, his head empty, and an eerie candlelight coming through his mouth and eyes. I can think of no more startling an image to end a run with than that.
Spider-Man: The Short Halloween
Not all the books on this list need to be absolutely terrifying to be a memorable Halloween addition to Spider-Man’s world. Spider-Man: The Short Halloween #1, is a delightful one-shot written by SNL alumni Bill Hader and Seth Myers that trades in identity swapping, as a man dressed as Spider-Man gets mistaken for the real deal on Halloween night. The two different Spider-Man find themselves in countless humorous situation as they attempt to deal with both drunken antics of friends and super villains intent on their destruction. It’s a light affair to be sure, but a hugely enjoyable one that begs for a sequel from the same creative team.
Cain Winstead’s Picks
Marvel Graphic Novel #22: The Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky
Back in the late ‘70s, Marvel decided to add another imprint to the line called Marvel Graphic Novels. The MGN line was supposed to be Marvel’s answer to the European (mostly French) comic: larger pages, glossy paper (this was back when comics were still on newsprint) and less serialized, more novelistic story telling. Some of Marvel’s greatest stories came out of the MGN line, including X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills and The Death of Captain Marvel. So while Marvel Graphic Novel #22 The Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky is a deeper cut than some of the other stories from the MGN line, it is still a fantastic story in its own right. Before Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” re-cemented low-fantasy settings as what was visually hot, there were a multitude of brilliantly imaginative fantasy works, such as Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards” or even Hayao Muyazaki’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.” These kinds of fantasy focused less palace intrigue and histories and more on modern-day myths and archetypes. Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky lands firmly in this tradition.
Telling the story of young wizard Marandi Sjorokker, Hooky leads Spider-Man to a brilliant fantasy world filled with wonder. Soon after entering a magical relm, Marandi and the Web-Slinger are assaulted by the “Tordenkakerlakk,” a fearsome and terrifying creature who is spell-bound to kill Marandi as part of a death curse. Each time the creature is defeated, it morphs into another abomination, more grotesque than the next, in a style that will ring familiar to those who have seen “Videodrome” or “Akira.” While writer Susan K. Putney’s script is spot-on Bronze-Age Spider-Man, it is acclaimed horror illustrator Berni Wrightson who really brings the book to life with beautifully painted panels teeming with imagination that shift to the unsettling grotesque to mirror the narrative arc’s themes of turmoil and angst in the face of abandoning one’s childhood. While not your typical monster-mash Halloween fare, Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky sends plenty of nightmarish creatures your way if you’re looking for a little variation in your Halloween reading list.