Snapshot: The Night Spider-Man Died, and was Revived by Death.


I like to crack open an old issue of Spider-Man every once in awhile, so for this week’s Snapshot -the segment where we take a look at any cool thing regarding the Wall-Crawler, I’d like to bring you back to the 1990 run of Spider-Man. Having concluded his run on Amazing Spider-Man, Todd McFarlane, creator of classic anti-hero Spawn, was given control of his own Spidey title. In issue #17 of this comic, the highlight of this Snapshot, Spider-Man died, perished, retired, you name it. The cover depicted a giant Thanos carrying a limp Spider-Man in his Infinity Gauntlet wearing hand, with the tagline: “At the hand of Thanos! The death of Spider-Man. You will BELIEVE a man can DIE!” It was an interesting issue, not so much for the death and revival of a hero (as is widely considered the norm in comics nowadays), but more for it’s dialogue and how it progressed.

The funny thing is that it begins with the serious situation of Peter swinging home to deliver Aunt May some barbecue sauce. Moments later two window washers begin to plummet as their platform unhinges. He quickly saves them with a “double shot of sharp shootin’ web line,” as he calls it, but realizes the platform is about to collide with a cooling machine that stands very close to a nearby mother and daughter, and that the cooling machine is full of Freon! As you can see, the nearby citizen in danger scenario was a tad more creative back then (more so then the rubble falling on them directly as is seen in many stories). He leaps to save them, covering them from the blast, and this is where the narration turns a little grim:

"“In his head, he hears a high child’s pitch squeal; “have no fear, Spider-Man’s here!” All this, in the space of a heartbeat, just before the skin splits off his face. His lips and gums roll back to spit out the sins… the sins his gut, so sick of itself, has just chucked out… and it turns into one relentless scream. It impacts like a train wreak, The icy freon wraps Spider-Man’s mortal flesh in a cryogenic crypt.”"

Quite a macabre description of his death, and it went on longer than that excerpt. With the woman saved, Pete’s spirit begins floating away from his body. He starts having an existential inner-monologue to himself about death when next thing you know, he’s face to face with Thanos and the omniscient Death herself! Thanos begins to taunt Peter, saying that his heroism was an act of futility, that he tried to save lives that were already claimed by Death, and in doing so played God. He implores him to look back, into a nearby pool that allows him to look into the world of the living. He sees his dead body, but also discovers that while he managed to save the mother, he didn’t save the daughter. After finding out the little girl’s spirit is halfway into the afterlife and half still alive, Spider-Man demands they return her to life and starts attacking Thanos… but Thanos takes the blows and laughs, as nothing can be solved physically beyond death.

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He continues taunting Pete, and says something thought-provoking. It’s not as if no villain has ever said something along these lines, but I like how confident and delighted Thanos is when he delivers these lines:

"“Great heroes inspire great villainy. That’s why we let you heroes live so long! You inspire so many creative villains, that you end up causing more destruction than you could ever fix! Your every Heroic act, ends up causing multiple deaths! It’s the hero’s domino! A ripple effect of destruction you can’t even see! Beautiful, isn’t it?”"

Though he is being beat down, Peter doesn’t agree, exclaiming that no matter what guilt he feels and how much he worries, he knows that what he’s doing is


Surprisingly, Death herself agrees. As you can see in the panel below, she sides with Peter and sends him back to the realm of the living. Fortunately, she also brings the little girl back to life. Having forgotten his trip to the afterlife, Pete begins to swing the little girl to the hospital, his final thought of the issue ironically being how he’s doomed and dead since he dropped Aunt May’s barbecue sauce.

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For a one shot episode of Spider-Man this issue proved compelling. The argument between Thanos and Spider-Man on the true nature of heroism really demonstrated two sides of the coin that is trying to be a hero, and I can’t think of two better characters to have such a discussion. The way the dialogue flows has changed from back then up until today, as it should, but it’s nice to go back and see the way the banter was written. Plus, it’s always great to see Death spurn Thanos’ advances… yet again (man does he love her).

As we conclude this Snapshot I ask: do you have any favorite older issues? If so, drop a comment below sharing an issue you remember and enjoy!