While reading through the Marvel Masterworks reprints of The Amazing Spider-Man, I encountered the first appearance of a lesser-known Spidey foe, the Gibbon. The Gibbon wasn’t exactly what you’d call even a B-list or C-list level of villain for Spider-Man. Beyond the hook of the Gibbon wanting to be an ally to Spider-Man (mirroring a bit Spidey’s attempts to join the Fantastic Four back in the day), I’d argue there wasn’t much memorable about the character.
So, imagine my surprise when reading this story arc, “Hunted,” when I found myself getting a lump in my throat when the Gibbon is killed off in the issue focusing on him. Somehow Nick Spencer took what was a minor villain in the Spidey-verse and not only made me connect with and care about him, but he actually made me get a bit weepy when he died.
That alone has to be worth an extra star when it comes to rating this arc in the current run of The Amazing Spider-Man. Continue reading
Collecting a dozen or so issues from the mid-70’s run, Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 14 showcases a successful comic book and character treading water for close to three-hundred pages.
Yes, Harry Osborne finally goes over the edge and embraces his inner Green Goblin. But like his father before him, he will conveniently forget that a)he’s the Goblin and b)Peter Parker is Spider-Man by the time anyone in authority arrives. Harry’s transformation is teased across multiple issues (and I believe they started planting seeds as early as issues in the last collection). But the return of the Green Goblin lacks the emotional punch it could or should have, possibly because the last time we saw Spidey tangle with the Gobin it was one of the high points not only of the character but one of the iconic turning points in comic books.
Other villains include the return of the Molten Man and Mysterio and new threats like the Mind Worm and the Grizzly. Yes, you read that right. Spider-Man spends not one but two issues battling it out with a former wrestler who has an enhanced grizzly bear costume and has decided its time to give J. Jonah Jameson his comeuppance for ruining his wrestling career. And yes, I’ve just re-read that sentence and I know how silly it sounds. The comic book presentation isn’t much better.
Of course, the infamous start of a certain saga that nearly killed Spider-Man as we know it in the 90’s is also beginning here. So, maybe part of my lack of love for this collection of issues is knowing where it will all pay off in twenty years’ time. Or maybe it’s just that writer Gerry Conway’s stories don’t really add all that much to the Spidey canon. Look, I know not every issue from my favorite era of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were masterpieces. But at least there was always some hook, some threat or some narrative point to keep me interested. That’s not often the case here. These issues feel like they come down to a formula for writing and Conway’s just happy to plug in various characters as we move slowly between battles with that issue or arc’s central villain. It comes down to Spidey meets villain, Spidey gets his you-know-what handed to him by said villain, Spidey as Peter beats himself up about it and interacts with the supporting cast, Spidey goe out and find the villain again and the battle goes Spidey’s way this time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s all so formulaic in nature — and I think reading the issues close together in a collection like this only underlines this. I can’t help but think if I read these monthly as they originally came out (or were reprinted), I might end up enjoying them a bit more. Or be more forgiving of certain tropes that seem to show up issue after issue like clockwork.
This collection is Spider-Man fully on cruise control. And in a collection that features the Spider Buggy (yes, that was a thing!), that’s pretty damn ironic.
Collecting a dozen or so issues of the original run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this may represent the most memorable stories of the Gerry Conway era. Starting off with the epic two-part story that “changed comics forever,” “The Night Gwen Stacey Died” set a new tone for the Peter Parker and his secret identity. It’s one of the few comic book deaths (outside of Uncle Ben) that has really stuck, though Marvel has certainly tried to mess with this by having clones of Gwen come back and then later revelations that Gwen and Norman Osborne were hooking up while she was off in London.
The two part story that features the end of Gwen and the original Green Goblin has been retold and given homage in multiple re-tellings of the Spider-Man story. But few are better than what Conway does in these two issues. Knowing the ending allows you to sit back and really examine how Conway and the creative team on ASM toyed with readers of the day, building up and foreshadowing the two major deaths to come.
As if that monumental two-part saga weren’t enough, we also get the introduction of the Punisher to the Marvel-verse and the Jackal to the Spider-verse. And both of these introductions occur in the same issue. The sad part is that said issue isn’t necessarily much to write home about. The Punisher is an interesting force to be reckoned with, but in his debut, he’s pretty much a one-note character. The backstory that we associate with the character comes later. Continue reading
Stan Lee always wrote his comics as if each issue was someone’s first entry into the universe of that particular hero or team of heroes. So there are times reading any collected edition of his works that you may feel like the story is repeating itself a great deal or going back to reflect on the origin of whatever hero or team he’s chronicling.
And while that happens a bit in this collection of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s hard to find a few gems from a creative team that was firmly in a grove at this point. Collecting issues 88 to 99 of the original run, Spidey does battles some classic and not-so-classic foes all while Peter Parker’s life is upended by his decision to continue being Spider-Man. The collection includes a couple of pivotal events in the life of Spider-Man from the death of Captain Stacy to the infamous drug addiction storyline that Marvel had the courage to print without the endorsement of the comic code authority. Re-reading this story now, it seems a bit light-weight and a bit like something you’d see on a daytime drama. But looked at through the prism of when it was published, it’s downright revolutionary and hard-hitting. Continue reading
Peter Parker returns from the dead (or at least exile inside his own body that was taken over by a dying Doc Ock) from the latest comic book continuity reboot.
In case you missed it, a couple of years ago Marvel killed off Peter Parker by having Doc Ock take over his body. For a little over thirty issues, Ock was in control of Peter’s life and his powers, helping Peter earn his doctorate, start his own company and begin a romantic relationship with Anna-Maria. He also earned a Peter’s alter-ego Spider-Man a new reputation for ruthlessness and efficiency as he went up against some of Spidey’s old foes.
But Peter wasn’t dead — just lurking inside of Ock’s brain waiting for the right moment to reassert himself and take control back. That moment just happened to tie-in with the release of last year’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 because you wouldn’t want movie audiences coming to the comic books to find Doc Ock in control and not Peter Parker. It also gives you the marketing tie-in opportunity of launching (or in this case re-launching) your flag ship title with a first issue and lots (and lots) of variant covers.
All of this brings us to the first collection of the newly rebooted Amazing Spider-Man with Peter once again firmly in control of his body, but trying to pick up the pieces of his life that Ock left behind. Peter has no idea that Ock and Anna Maria are close (even living together) or how to complete the various projects that Ock has put into play at his new company. He’s also had to publicly distance his company from Spider-Man due to the concluding events of The Superior Spider-Man. And somehow the excuses he uses to run off and go into Spidey mode are wearing thin with colleagues who have tied their future and earning potentials to his company.
Reading this collection of six issues, I couldn’t help but wonder where all the fun of reading Spider-Man comics has gone. Re-reading some of the early days of the character, there was always the real-world angst to Peter Parker, but there was also a sense of fun to balance that out. With this latest reboot, it feels like Dan Slott and company have forgotten that comic books can and should be fun and not feel like they’re pushing some corporate agenda (this isn’t helped by the fact that the main foe for this series is Electro, tying in to last summer’s movie.) Slott did some interesting things early on with Ock taking over as Spider-Man, but that fizzled out quickly, ending with a thud as Marvel hit the reset button (yet again!).
This new series stumbles out of the gate, failing to recapture the magic that made me love Spider-Man so much when I first discovered him years ago. Maybe I’m getting too old and too cynical to enjoy the book these days, but I hope that’s not the case.