By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Millar, Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
Here’s a masterfully moody little lost snippet of full-on Marvel Madness from the early days of graphic novel compilations that might amuse and will certainly delight all-out aficionados and neophyte Spidey fans alike.
Released in 1989, but still readily available and affordable, this full-colour 80 page compendium collects two supremely impressive Amazing Spider-Man Annuals (#s 14 and 15) by veteran scripter Dennis O’Neil and then rising star Frank Miller, yet still finds room for a classy classic from the Astounding Arachnid’s earliest days (Amazing Spider-Man #8) by Marvel’s triumvirate of top creators.
Inexplicably the action starts with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981) with Klaus Janson inking ‘Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?’ wherein maniac vigilante Frank Castle (five years before the Steven Grant/Mike Zeck miniseries catapulted him to anti-heroic superstardom in The Punisher) returns to the Big Apple and becomes embroiled in a deadly scheme by Doctor Octopus to poison five million New Yorkers.
It’s not long before both Peter Parker and his colourful alter-ego are caught in the middle of a terrifying battle of ruthless wills in this tense and clever suspense thriller, which perfectly recaptures the moody mastery of Steve Ditko’s heydays.
Next up is the previous year’s summer offering: a frantic magical mystery masterpiece wherein Doctor Doom and extra-dimensional dark god Dread Dormammu attempt to unmake Reality by invoking the Arcane Armageddon of The Bend Sinister.
‘Vishanti’, inked by Tom Palmer, sees an unsuspecting dupe capture Doctor Strange for the malevolent masterminds and nearly unleash cosmic hell with only the Amazing Spider-Man left to literally save the world; a fascinating magic and mayhem romp that once more deeply references and reverences the glory days of Ditko, particularly ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’, the legendary team-up of web-spinner and wizard from Spidey’s second annual.
As if that brace of brilliant yarns was not enough high-quality comic excitement, this slim tome also includes ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’, a masterful, light-hearted 6-page vignette written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Ditko wherein a younger, boisterous and far more carefree wall-crawler gate-crashed a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend, leading to a clash with the entire Fantastic Four with explosive and thoroughly entrancing consequences.
The most enduring and effective component of Spider-Man’s success was always the soap opera continuity element, but this rare collection of stand-alone stories perfectly demonstrates the character’s other star properties: sharp humour, heroic ingenuity, incredible action and beguiling empathy with the readership.
Sensational Spider-Man is one of the best individual collections of the hero ever assembled and makes a perfect primer for anyone looking to discover the magic for the first time.
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.