Best Spider-Man Stories # 5: If This Be My Destiny

Posted by SMReviews Team 09 July 2012


I doubt that anyone will be surprised by the appearance of this three-parter on our list. It may just be the definitive Spider-Man story. 

5. If This Be My Destiny (Amazing Spider-Man #31-33)

Creative Team: Stan Lee (Writer), Steve Ditko (Artist/ Plotter)

What Happened: Peter Parker has just started college, but everything takes a backseat, to the detriment of his social life, to Aunt May's sudden illness. She falls sick due to radiation poisoning, the result of a blood transfusion Peter had given her earlier. 

Why It's In The Top 50: Mister Mets thinks it's the definitive Spider-Man story.
The story is best known for a single sequence in the third issue, which is deservedly one of the most famous in comics (and deservedly so), but there are a lot of other great things about this story. 
The highlights of the first chapter include Peter's college orientation, (shown perfectly in less than a page, including his meeting with Flash Thompson), his panic when he discovers Aunt May's sick, Peter repeatedly ignoring Gwen Stacy (an attractive girl who is interested in him) and people who would want to be friends, all because of his mind is preoccupied with the health of the most important person in his life (an excellent example of the Parker luck in action), Spider-Man searching for crime so he can take pictures for the Daily Bugle and finding nothing, Spider-Man using his scientific expertise against new enemies, a mysterious master villain, and a tragic cliffhanger. 
The highlights of the second issue include Peter realizing how he's responsible for Aunt May's illness, pawning everything of value, getting angry while at the Daily Bugle (and probably jeopardizing his romantic relationship with Betty Brant), the return of Curt Connors (I knew there was some way to add a Lizard story to the top ten), the failure of a plan to save the sickly Aunt May, a really angry Spider-Man looking for information (see the cover for an example), a brief but excellent battle with one of his greatest foes, and a great cliffhanger. I'll admit when I first read this story I was disappointed by Spider-Man's battle with the enemy of the piece, mainly because I read on a trading card that it was the villain's greatest battle, but I now doubt there would have been a better way to tell the story. 
The highlights of the third issue include an endlessly copied scene with Spider-Man under a weight the size of a locomotive (the most famous scene in perhaps all of Spider-Man), further problems for him, the realization he has more thugs to fight, resting while taking a beating, not realizing he's won, being unable to do anyhing but wait for good or bad news on Aunt May (although I'm pretty sure everyone here knows how that's going to end), realizing why he can't be with his girlfriend, Peter finally standing up to Jonah, and a beautiful final sequence.
This is Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko's masterpiece on the title. It may be the single most important story to read if you want to understand the character of Spider-Man. And it's pretty damn good too.
The Death of Gwen Stacy is a key story for what happens in it. Its repercussions make it what it is more than its content. It's a decent story, but its place in history is won by its being an Important Event, not from its being a particularly great story.

The Master Planner story, though, is the best Spider-Man story there ever was, and one of the best Marvel stories ever. It pulls together so much about what makes Spider-Man work as a series that if the series had ended there, it'd still be a masterpiece.

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Related Stories: Aunt May was poisoned by a blood transfusion she received in Amazing Spider-Man #10. The Master Planner's men were figures in Amazing Spider-Man #29-30. Portions of the story were retold in the Parallel Lives one-shot. Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn would go on to become significant members of the supporting cast. Curt Connors was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #6, and this story featured his return to the Spider-Man books.

Scene Analysis:

Before the story gets really serious, Lee and Ditko show the humor of Peter's overwhelming introduction to college. And then there's Flash Thompson's cameo in that sequence.
Life is often unfair for Spider-Man, and this is an excellent example. Because he's worried about his aunt, he makes a poor first impression to Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy.

Ditko demonstrates his skills as a storyteller by making three panels of Peter Parker sitting at a desk compelling.
Because when Peter Parker smashes a desk, the lamp goes flying at the reader's direction. This is the most intense we've ever seen Ditko's Peter Parker.
It's always great to see Spider-Man when he's really pissed off, and this is a prime example as he destroys cars and staircases. And it's a great touch that there are two thugs on the staircase as it's torn apart.
Doctor Octopus's appearance in the story is rather brief. But it's an impressive set-up to the obligatory battle. It may have been a mistake to reveal in the beginning of the issue that Doc Ock was the Master Planner, as it would have made this scene more of a surprise, but at this point most people who hear of the story know who the villain is.

The scene with Spider-Man struggling under the wreckage has been adopted in other stories. Roger Stern viewed the Juggernaut as his version of the great weight, while Kraven's Last Hunt had that sequence with Spidey digging himself out of the grave and "Unscheduled Stop" turned a similar situation into an excellent two-parter.

Stan Lee's superheroes have always been unusual. so here's Spider-Man resting while his enemies think they're hurting him.
The cost of his duties as Spider-Man essentially ends Peter's relationship with Betty Brant. The reference to her brother's death is appreciated. And Peter Parker looks like a guy who just fought a supervillain.

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