A while back, I looked at some of the best rogues galleries in comics, and I had Spider-Man’s list of nemeses as the second best of them all. But what makes his collection of villains so great? Today, we are going to look at his top ten foes from his history!
If Steve Ditko had done nothing else… if he had just shown up at Marvel one day, designed Electro, and left… he’d still be one of the greatest legends in the comic book field. LOOK AT THAT OUTFIT. It’s glorious. A crook gained electrical powers and decided to commit crime with them, BUT FIRST, he had to design the flashiest, least subtle apparel he could think of. A cowl with five pointed lightning bolts coming off of it? OF COURSE. Can you imagine robbing a bank in anything less? His gloves have lightning bolts coming off the wrist, too! Are they bladed? Probably not! That’s merely an aesthetic choice, ladies and gentlemen.
The single biggest crime of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was Sony not getting Jamie Fox into this get-up. The MCU tried to correct that with a snazzy visual effect in No Way Home, sure, but it was barely a salve compared to what we could have had.
I’m not being facetious, either. Maybe a little ironic, but just a bit. This costume is GREAT. Instantly recognizable and just so god damn bombastic. It feels like 60’s superhero comics were supposed to feel. Larger than life! Prestigious! Out-of-this-world!
All that, and a villain with enormous potential who went from a 60’s zappy laser beam baddie to someone who could wreck entire teams if need be. Electro has even occasionally been portrayed as somewhat sympathetic (like in the 1990’s Light The Night story from the adjective less Spider-Man book).
I love that Ditko created Electro, and also Sandman. One gets this absurd outfit that marvels the eyes. The other gets… a striped long-sleeve T-shirt! Hey, Steve knew how to pace himself.
I mentioned that while it’s not common, Electro has had moments in the books where he has been pitiable and not entirely villainous. Sandman has made a career out of such moments, though! He has lamented his evil ways, fought against his co-conspirators, joined The Avengers for god’s sake, and gone back to the nefarious path several times over his career. Sometimes he is a desperate man doing what he needs to for the people he cares about. Sometimes he has multiple personalities waging war. Other times he just goes full evil. But usually there is some real depth to William Baker. Or Flint Marko. I don’t understand why he had so many names.
He’s also up there with Electro as being a guy whose powerset should be WAY over Spider-Man’s head, but doesn’t usually live up to his potential.
I love comic books!
So two of Spider-Man’s arch-nemeses so far are:
-A guy who can control all forms of electricity, even being able to travel by it and turn into it.
-A guy made out of sand, who can merge with more dirt/sand, change his size, shape, density, form… just do a laundry list of powerful things!
Oh, and he fights those two guys and is given just as much of a hard time as he is by an AARP member with wings attached to his arms.
That’s it! Wing-arms.
Vulture has changed over the years. He was young for a while. And the wings got eventually moved to his back so he could, you know, FLY AND HOLD STUFF, which seems pretty basic. But ultimately: flying old man.
And yet! He has murdered one of Aunt May’s lovers. He has almost killed Peter multiple times over. He unmasked Peter once and, disappointed that Parker wasn’t famous, just chucked him out of the sky to die (had Black Cat not saved him). He had another one of those great, quasi-sympathetic stories in Spectacular Spider-Man where he just wanted to apologize to May for killing Nathan.
Old man with wings!
But they’ve done some good stuff with him.
The Lizard eventually ATE HIS OWN SON, and holy crap was I shocked when that happened.
(Subsequently over stuff happened involving clones and his son’s actual, honest-to-goodness soul and stuff, but hey… comic books, kids)
The Lizard is one of the more direct analogies to how bad things could have gone for Peter. They both gained their powers from scientific procedures involving animals. But while Spider-Man remained who he was and was able to use his abilities for good, Lizard became possessed of an animal state of mind and became a monster. So The Lizard is very much a “there, but for the grace of god, go I” kind of character, and there are always subtle underpinnings of that when they meet up.
I kind of want to see a Spider-Verse where Peter goes remorsefully monstrous and Conners is a celebrated hero now. Huh.
6. Kraven The Hunter
I imagine, based entirely on speculation without any evidence, if you asked 100 comic book fans to give you the biggest/best/most-important Spidey tale of all time, the number one answer on the board would be Kraven’s Last Hunt.
(And now I very much want a comic book based Family Feud, so THANKS FOR THAT, brain)
Kraven’s Last Hunt was a psychological look at Kraven, what drives him, and what he really wanted. Is it my favorite Spidey story personally? It is not! And it hurts saying this because JM DeMatteis may be my favorite Spidey writer, but I always think KLH is a bit heavy-handed. There is A LOT of good to it, but I also think the gimmick DeMatteis uses across the arc kind of gets a bit annoying.
Anyway, Kraven gets a spot on the list almost entirely based on that famous tale.
I want to say that Morlun is kind of the king of diminishing returns on a solid character (as far as Marvel goes). His first appearance was powerful and impactful. His second appearance was important and kept him feared. And then after that, he just kind of got worse and worse.
Eventually, Morlun got a whole family of multiversal hunters feasting on Spider-Men across all of reality, and by that point, any resemblance to what J. Michael Straczynski originally created was little more than coincidence. It felt like by the time we had made Morlun a multiversal threat with a mini-army at his side, Marvel had lost focus on what made him so impactful.
For me, it’s the first fight he ever had with Spider-Man. He was a force of nature, sure. One of Spidey’s most powerful foes, unquestionably. But he wasn’t fixated on Spider-Men alone and was still beatable.
The odd thing is that, since the 1970’s, Spider-Man has had precious few villains that showed the lasting impact of his earlier ones. And Morlun is one of the few that has! So that, plus the strength of his earlier stories, gets him this spot!
4. Harry Osborn
If I allowed myself a bit more subjectivity, Harry might well be #1 on this list. While his time at the top of the Spidey villain food chain may have been short, his tenure as the bane of Peter’s existence in the 90’s was an incredibly powerful one.
I mentioned DeMatteis earlier, and his Spectacular run is one of those transformative runs for me that changed what comics were. Not everything was black and white. There were characters with shades of gray. Not everything is fisticuffs and bright action. There is emotion and heart. And I felt that way because of what he did with Harry.
Harry wasn’t evil. He was sick. He was Peter Parker’s best friend, and he needed help. But he was in the position of knowing Spider-Man’s identity. Hell, he lived one floor down from Peter! His wife and son were part of the Parker family, and his madness affected them, too.
And the hardest part? After Harry died. After he redeemed himself and made peace with Peter again… the machinations he put in motion before he passed were still there to torture his one-time best friend. After Harry’s redemption, we saw the Parker parents ploy tear Spidey’s life apart again.
My love for Harry Osborn aside, for me, Spidey’s rogues gallery comes down to what order you put the very obvious top three in.
And of those three, while all are iconic characters, I have to grade Venom out as the lowest just because he has spent so much time as a hero and his whole identity is splittable. Sometimes he is VENOM. Sometimes there is Eddie Brock and a separate alien symbiote. So despite what all he has meant to Spidey as a foe, he lacks the consistency of the next two.
Still? Early to mid-90’s Venom? When he stalked Peter’s family and didn’t affect the Spider-Sense and could camouflage into a crowd or any background? He was a terrifying figure! And god, he looked amazing. Sure when Todd McFarlane designed him, he was scary, but then Erik Larsen came in and perfected him with the maniacal tongue and disjointed jaw
So yeah. Venom is visually striking. Wildly popular. Creepy with a nifty powerset. He’s top-shelf.
2. Norman Osborn
He murdered Spider-Man’s girlfriend.
He made his own son mad and turned him into a legacy villain.
He has a look almost as glorious as Electro’s!
He is the boss monster of both the first and most recent Spider-Man films.
And typically when you think of Spidey villains, Norman Osborn is at or near the top of the list.
But why isn’t he number one?
1. Doctor Octopus
Simply put, no one–not Venom, not Harry, not Norman, not Morlun–ever beat Spider-Man like Doc Ock beat him.
Doctor Octopus not only killed Spider-Man, but assumed his identity for months and proved that, in my regards, he WAS the superior Spider-Man.
And even then… he only lost what he had achieved of his own volition when he let Peter’s drowning consciousness take control of their body because there was no other way to stop the Green Goblin.
That was a pretty definitive victory that put Ock, long one of the web head’s biggest foes, at #1 for me!
That’s my list! Who do you have? Give me your top 10 enemies of our wall-crawling hero!
Until next time… take care!