Top o’ the Lot: Spider-Man’s Supporting Characters
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Top o’ the Lot! We’re celebrating Spider-Man this week, so that means it’s time for a new list about our favorite wall-crawler! For this outing, we’re going to be taking a look at the best of the best from Spidey’s supporting cast. Before we start, though, I should probably explain the criteria I used. First of all, I’m not including anyone I would consider a villain; that’s its own separate list if you ask me. Mainly, I’m looking for those characters who do the most to define Spider-Man’s character and his stories. So with that out of the way, on to the list!
Honorable Mention: Uncle Ben
By now, we’ve all heard Spider-Man’s origin story; a wimpy kid raised by his aunt and uncle is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains miraculous powers, but neglects to use them to stop a thief who then turns around and kills his uncle. Well, that uncle was one Benjamin Parker, and though his publication history is brief, he has had an immeasurable impact on Spidey’s life. Not only was Uncle Ben Peter’s father-figure, but the lessons he imparted in life as well as his untimely death made Spider-Man who he is, providing the focus on power and responsibility that is at the core of the character. Uncle Ben is arguably the most prominent and influential character to exist almost entirely as a flashback. But at the end of the day, he is still mostly just a memory to loom in Spidey’s past. So just an honorable mention for him. Oh well!
5) Gwen Stacy
Aside from being flawed and relatable, one of the things that has always set Spider-Man apart from other super heroes is that he was one of the first that we got to see grow up and evolve through different stages of his life. We met him when he was a kid in high school before he graduated and moved on to Empire State. It was at this stage that Peter had another important milestone: meeting his first love. Though he had dated a few girls up to this point, Peter had never been in a serious relationship until he met Gwen. Being both kindhearted and intelligent, Gwen and Peter were a good match, and their romance marked an important step up in maturity for Spider-Man as a character. As most fans already know, though, the fates and comic writers were cruel to Gwen Stacy, and her story ends in tragedy when she is killed by the Green Goblin. Her death marked an important turning point for both Peter as a character and the comics medium as a whole, paving the way for darker, more mature stories to be told in the decades to come. The Gwen Stacy character arc has had a profound impact on Spider-Man in particular and arguably the biggest impact on the comic medium out of anyone on this list. That being said, she’s only number 5 here because Gwen herself is, well, kind of boring. As a character, she helps Peter grow and evolve, but doesn’t do much growing herself. If we’re being blunt, she really is one of the most iconic examples of “fridging” (killing off a character’s love in order to give them something to angst over) to ever exist. It also doesn’t help that some writers performed some retroactive character assassination (a secret affair with Norman Osborn? Come on guys). That being said, she is a character that has had an enormous impact on the Spider-Man mythos, and is no less complex than most of the other characters from her era, so she still remains one of the top supporting characters.
4) Harry Osborn
Coming up next at #4, we have Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn. On top of his uncanny ability to rock the bow tie look, Harry brings a lot to the world of Spider-Man. First of all, he serves as a nice foil to Peter, being an abrasive kid who, though he came from a privileged background, had an uncaring father, which plays off well against Peter’s humble but loving home life. But even beyond this, Harry’s friendship with Peter has provided for some of the best and most unique tension in all of comics. For as we all know, Harry is actually the son of Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin; this pair having to make nice with each other in their civilian identity while being at each other’s throats in their alter egos has made for on of the best dynamics in comic history, and it was all made possible because Harry Osborn forms a link between them. In time, this goes a step further when Harry himself is pushed to don the Goblin mask, driving a wedge between the two friends. Like most things in Spider-Man’s life, his relationship with his best friend is a wonderfully complicated mess, filled with love, frustration, tragedy, and redemption, and has done a great deal to add to the character.
3) Aunt May
Coming in at third place, we have Peter’s Aunt May. As Spidey’s mother-figure, Aunt May has been a major part of the Spider-Man world starting on day one. In addition to her world-famous wheat cakes, Aunt May provides the Web Head with a lot. There are a great many stories out there which revolve around Spidey having to rescue his auntie, including the all-time classic Master Planner arc, but I would argue that she means even more as a moral compass when times are tough. Aunt May provides an important touchstone; throughout all the years and the stories Spider-Man has been on, Aunt May has been there, reminding him why he fights and who he’s fighting for. And in spite of being very one-dimensional in her early days, the character has been given plenty of development over the years, and nowadays can be found happily remarried while heading up the charitable arm of Peter’s new corporation. So while she may have a long history of being a feinting doormat, she is responsible for instilling Peter with his values, and is an indispensable supporting character.
2) Mary Jane Watson
Up next, we have Peter Parker’s most prominent paramour, Mary Jane Watson. Like most of the characters on his list, MJ has been there for Peter during some of the most important stages of his life. Having also met Peter in college, Mary Jane started off as another romantic interest before he started his long term relationship with Gwen. After Gwen’s untimely death, though, Peter and MJ rekindled their relationship, which eventually led to marriage, and in the minds of many fans, MJ became the love of Peter’s life. So by that virtue alone, MJ is an extremely prominent supporting character, allowing writers to explore how Spider-Man’s life would be impacted by marriage, as well as bringing in someone he could share his secret identity with. But unlike other entries on this list, MJ is a very compelling character in her own right. She started off as a seemingly immature party girl, but has been given a ton of development since then, giving us insights to her motivations and letting her grow as a character. Nowadays, she’s become as smart, savvy, and capable as any character you’d care to name. All told, a great character. So who could possibly come in before her? Well…
1) J. Jonah Jameson
Okay, hear me out on this one. J. Jonah Jameson Jr is not as good of a character as MJ. But as a SUPPORTING character, ole Jolly Jonah just cannot be beat. Why, you may ask? Well, to answer that, let’s ask another question: What makes the Spider-Man character unique? There’s a lot of things that go into it, but the the one thing that did more than anything else to put the character on the map was the way the character had to deal with problems and anxieties that super heroes hadn’t really dealt with before. One of those problems was being branded a menace and dealing with a mistrustful public. And all of this was due largely to the influence of one J. Jonah Jameson. By publishing editorials in his newspaper, the Daily Bugle, Jameson was able to turn the people of New York against the Web Head while his super hero career was still in its infancy. But really, Spider-Man could never have been the character we know and love today if it weren’t for Jonah.
To me, J. Jonah Jameson is more than just a good foil or a thorn in Spidey’s side; in many ways, he embodies scornful, pig-headed unfairness that defines Spider-Man’s life. If Jonah wasn’t there, the Wall Crawler wouldn’t have as much of a chip on his shoulder, and honestly he just wouldn’t be Spider-Man anymore. On top of the character’s unforgettable mannerisms and trademark dialogue, Jameson does more than any other cast member to define Spider-Man and the world he lives in, and that’s everything a supporting character should be.
So that’s my list! How did you like it? Please let us know in the comics, and as always, thanks for reading!