Like classic Doctor Who, comic books published during the Silver Age don’t necessarily hold up well to being binged.
Collecting two years of issues from the run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this volume has some of some series highs and some series moments that may leave you scratching your head a bit. Of course this collection includes the pivotal and comics changing “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” arc, seeing us lose not only Peter Parker’s love interest but also the original Green Goblin over the course of two pivotal issues. This story and the one after it stand out as some of the most intriguing from this influential run, as does a multi-issue run with Doc Ock battling Hammerhead to become the crime boss of New York, all with Aunt May caught in the middle.
There’s also a sojourn to Canada to battle the Hulk and track down and trace down an old family mystery to add to the intrigue.
But then there’s a couple of forgettable enough stories in there as well. While the return of Flash Thompson from the Vietnam War and the implications this has for the character and his friendship with Peter Parker still echo today, there are a few moments that haven’t aged as well and are less than politically correct today.
And then there’s the Gibbon. This multi-issue arc sees a character who wants to be Spidey’s partner in crime fighting only to be humiliated by Spider-Man and then taken under the wing of Kraven the Hunter. It sounds silly and it doesn’t come across much better on the printed page. Odds are they won’t be raiding this arc for future Spider-Man movies. And there’s probably a reason that the Gibbon doesn’t make the upper pantheon of great or even so-so Spider-Man villains.
A decade ago, the controversial “One Day More” storyline saw the Spider-universe hit a ginormous reset button and remove the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson from the continuity. Years later, another huge crossover event would, the second (or is it the third) Secret Wars storyline saw the creation of a parallel universe where Peter and MJ are still married and raising a daughter.
Their daughter, May, has similar powers to those of her father. In the wake of an evil overlord named Monarch who seems intent on collecting all the super powers he can get his mitts on, Peter is hopping to stay one step ahead of the latest detection devices for himself and his daughter. But when they get noticed and rumors of the Spider-Man’s return begin to surface, Peter finds himself fighting to defend his family — and now the family wants to join the fight.
The resolution of that storyline encompasses volume 0 of this series and then things really get going on volumes 1 and 2. Written by long-time Spider-writer Gerry Conway, these collection of arcs is a lot more fun than they have any right to be. Having recently revisited Conway’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I should expect from these issues. But after trying to read much of the current storylines taking place in the Spider-Man universe, I found these refreshingly easy to digest, straight-forward and welcoming to readers who haven’t memorized every detail of comic book continuity for the past decade. Seeing Peter try to juggle his secret identity along with the demands of the two women in his life to be part of the crime-fighting team gives the story some much needed depth. The second collection even raises the stakes a bit by having MJ become motivated to contribute to the team (tech left over from Monarch lets her share Peter’s powers) and turning to Liz Allen for a new version of the Venom symbiote.
These three collections are some of the best recent Spider-Man stories I’ve read and they reminded me of what it was that I initially loved so much about my favorite wallcrawler.
While I still haven’t seen Avenger: Infinity War yet, I’m still curious about the source material that led to what I’ll (eventually) see on-screen. (It hits home theater on physical disc in August and I plan to pick it up then)
So, I checked out a copy of The Infinity Gauntlet from my library’s digital collection and started reading.
The first thing I noticed was this six-issue mini-series was written by Jim Starlin, whose work I previously encountered in the much-hyped Batman mini-series A Death in the Family. You may recall I wasn’t a huge fan of that work, so I will admit I approached this one with a bit of caution.
I need not have worried too much. The Infinity Gauntlet feels like the next big crossover event after they were put on the map with Secret War in the 80’s. All of Earth’s heroes are brought together to take on Thanos, who is trying to impress Mistress Death and win her heart. To do this, he’s assembled the Infinity Gauntlet and trying to show her why he’s the baddest guy in all of the cosmos.
And while Thanos takes on a lot of the Marvel cast and crew, he still never quite wins her heart. An epic story, I can see why Marvel Studios chose this as the culmination of ten years of cinematic storytelling. At times, the story feels cinematic and like one that would work well as a movie. I’m going to assume there are some big differences between what I’ll see on-screen and what’s on the page. But that it’s interesting to see how this will be the jumping off point for an epic film.
With Spider-Man and Deadpool ranking as two of the quippiest characters in all of comics, it was probably only a matter of time until the two crossed paths (just don’t call it a team-up!).
Collecting a dozen or so various issues, Spider-Man/Deadpool: Don’t Call It A Team-Up has some good stories, so so-so stories, and one that is a great technical achievement but at fifty pages overstays its welcome.
Sending Deadpool back in time and having him inhabit the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #47 is an idea that should have a lot of fun. Between imitating the classic styling of John Romita to wholesale digitally inserting Deadpool and other characters from his universe into the original panels, there’s a lot to admire from an artistic point of view. However, like too many Saturday Night Live skits, the story stays long after the joke has stopped being interesting or amusing. Running at close to 50 pages, I kept hoping this wasn’t an indication of what was to come for the rest of this collection. 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.
As a re-imagining of the “Table of Time” saga from multiple issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Forever Young is a bit of a disappointment.
The strongest parts of the story are borrowed directly from a couple of issues in the Stan Lee/John Romita days of ASM. Filled to the brim with angst for Peter Parker, multiple villains for our favorite web-slinger to contend with and a McGuffin to drive the story (in this case, an ancient tablet that contains the formula for a fountain of youth serum), the first half of the story is entertaining, riveting and chock full of classic Spidey goodness. Continue reading
After penning a hundred issues, Stan Lee turns the reigns over to writer Roy Thomas (at least for a couple of issues) and there’s a perceptible change in the storytelling quality.
Seeking to cure himself of being Spider-Man in order to have a normal life, Peter Parker downs an untested serum, falls into a deep sleep (in which we are treated to a summary of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s life up to now) and wakes up with six arms. Horrified by what he’s done, Peter scrambles to find a cure all while battling new threat Morbius the vampire and the return of the Lizard.
Another arc centers on Flash Thompson’s return from Vietnam and the fall-out from his attempting to do the right thing for a group of villagers. The arc starts well for Flash but quickly goes in an entirely less than politically correct direction for the remainder of its run.
Then Spidey and company are off to Antartica to find Ka-Zar’s forgotten world and deliver a photo feature that will save circulation at the Daily Bugle. (Interesting to see that newspapers were having issues with circulation back then and not just as we continue to explore the digital age). Gwen Stacey tags along as a model, which complicates things when Peter has to go all Spider-Man to battle Kraven the Hunter as well as various prehistoric beasts that inhabit the area. 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
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) asks us to look at the dark side with our favorite villains. I’ve decided to narrow the focus a bit to my favorite adversaries faced by Spider-Man.
- The Scorpion. Marvel Tales reprinted much of the Stan Lee/Lee Ditko run of early Spider-Man comics when I was actively reading and I loved them. And while the Scorpion isn’t considered in the upper pantheon of Spidey villains by many, I loved his first appearance and the fact that he could go toe-to-toe with Spidey and almost best him.
- Doc Ock. He unmasked Spidey, he married Aunt May….what didn’t Doc Ock do to torment Spider-Man?!? Added bonus: He’s the villain in my favorite superhero movie of all-time Spider-Man 2.
- The Lizard. Spidey is easily one of the most angst ridden of any superheroes and his conflicted emotions about having to battle the Lizard (he was a scientist who was trying to help himself and the Lizard was an unwanted side effect) always put an extra layer on their battles.
- The Green Goblin. Considered by many to be the quintessential adversary for Spidey, the Goblin is fun, interesting and exciting. Like the Lizard, there’s a personal connection to the identity of the Goblin that causes all kinds of angst for Spidey.
- The Hobgoblin. The identity of the Hobgoblin drove much of the on-going back story during the time I read Spidey comics. His unmasking was a pivotal issue and one I remember well.
- The Vulture. Another classic from Lee/Ditko and one I am intrigued to see come to life on the screen in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming.
- Man-Wolf. A lot of this has to do with the Power Records recording version of this story that I listened to about a billion times growing up. J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son picks up a rock on the moon, has it made into a pendant and turns into a werewolf. Typing that I realize it sounds cheesy as all get out, but with the read-along record and sound effects, it made a huge impression on me at the age of six.
- The Spider Slayers.
- The Kingpin
As part of the last Spider-Man reboot, writer Dan Slott takes us back to the early days of Peter Parker’s career as the web slinger and offers us this series that takes place in between the fables stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Seems that our favorite web-slinger had an early fan — and it wasn’t just Flash Thompson. It’s a fellow science-geek who doesn’t have powers like Peter does but still wants some of the spotlight — or at least to have Spider-Man notice him. To this end, he becomes a villain of sorts called Clash who uses sounds and sonics as his weapons.
There are a few nice moments in this one. Things like Peter having to go to the school counselor to work through his anger and guilt issues (or the perceived ones). The moments of personal exploration of Peter Parker in the early days of his being Spider-Man are well done. It’s just too a shame the rest of the story doesn’t live up to these flashes of fun.
I can see what Slott is trying to do here with Clash and setting up a parallel storyline to what Peter is going through. But a lot of this material falls a bit flat and it begins to lose its impact by the time we reach the end of the story. The title of this storyline is “Learning to Crawl” and, at times, it feels like that is exactly what the story is doing — crawling.
Maybe I’m just not the right audience for Slott. Or maybe my nostalgia for my days of regularly reading Spidey are clouding my judgment.