Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 7

By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1637-0 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5935-3 (TPB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base.

This seventh superbly scintillating full-colour compilation of chronological webspinning wonderment sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wall-Crawler’s adventures for a little time yet, these tales would be amongst his last long run as lead illustrator on the series.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night, the Wondrous Wallcrawler tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close and, by the time of the tales collected herein (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #62-67, Annual #5 and oversized mainstream magazine experiment Spectacular Spider-Man #1-2, all originally released between July and December 1968), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Stan Lee’s scripts were completely in tune with the times – as seen by most kids’ parents at least – and the increasing use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism and an increasing use of mystery plots. Dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists was finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days. Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggia were the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

First however from July 1968 comes Spectacular Spider-Man #1 by Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney: an extended political thriller with charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh ferociously campaigning to become Mayor thus targeted and hunted by a brutish monster seemingly determined to keep the old political machine in place at all costs…

Rendered in moody wash tones, the drama soon disclosed a sinister plotter behind the campaign of terror… but his identity was the last one Spidey expected to expose…

Also included in the magazine and here was a retelling of the hallowed origin tale – ‘In the Beginning…’ by Lee, with Larry Lieber pencils and inks-&-tones added by the great Bill Everett.

Back in the four-colour world Amazing Spider-Man #62 demanded ‘Make Way for …Medusa!’: Lee, Romita, Don Heck & Mike Esposito/DeMeo supplied a fresh change-of-pace yarn as the wallcrawler stumbles into combat with the formidable Inhuman due to the machinations of a Madison Avenue ad man, after which ‘Wings in the Night!’ in #63 saw the original elderly Vulture return to crush his usurper Blackie Drago, and then take on Spidey for dessert.

The awesome aerial angst concluded with ‘The Vultures Prey’ which led to another art-change (with the sumptuous heavy line-work of Jim Mooney briefly replacing the workmanlike Heck & Esposito) in #65 as Spider-Man was arrested and had to engineer ‘The Impossible Escape!’ from a Manhattan prison, foiling a mass jailbreak along the way.

A psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in #66’s ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ (Romita, Heck & DeMeo) as the master of FX illusion engineered his most outlandish stunt, whilst in the background the amnesiac Norman Osborn slowly began to regain his memory.

Although the wallcrawler is subjected to a hugely bizarre form of mind-bending it nevertheless results in an all-out action-packed brawl (rendered by Romita & Mooney) entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’. Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduced Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics. Lee and his staff were increasingly making a stand on Civil Rights issues at this time of unrest and Marvel would blaze a trail for African American characters in their titles. There would also be a growth of student and college issues during a period when American campuses were coming under intense media scrutiny…

The Amazing Arachnid’s magazine experiment then concludes with The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (November 1968). To offset disappointing sales, Marvel had switched to a smaller size and added colour, but it was to be the last attempt to secure older-reader shelf-space until the early 1970s. At least the story was top-rate…

Following monochrome recap ‘The Spider-Man Saga’ Lee, Romita & Mooney dealt with months of foreshadowing by finally revealing how Norman Osborn shook off his selective amnesia and returned to full-on super-villainy in ‘The Goblin Lives!’

Steeped in his former madness and remembering Peter Parker was Spider-Man, Osborn plays cat and mouse with his foe, threatening all the hero’s loved ones until a climactic battle utilising hallucinogenic weapons again erases the Goblin personality… for the moment…

This volume closes with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 by Lee and his brother Larry Lieber (with inking from Esposito – still in his clandestine “Mickey DeMeo” guise) and clears up a huge mystery in the webspinner’s life by revealing the secret behind the deaths of ‘The Parents of Peter Parker!’.

Played as an exotic spy-thriller the tale took Spider-Man to the Algerian Casbah and a confrontation with the Red Skull. Nit-pickers and continuity-mavens will no doubt be relieved to hear that the villain was in fact retconned later and designated as the second Soviet master-villain who featured in the Captain America revival of 1953-1954, and not the Nazi original that Lee and Co had clearly forgotten was in “suspended animation” throughout that decade when writing this otherwise perfect action romp and heartstring-tugging melodrama…

That annual also provided a nifty Daily Bugle cast pin-up, a speculative sports feature displaying the advantages of Spider powers, a NYC street-map of the various locations where the Spidey saga unfolded plus a spoof section displaying how the Wallcrawler would look if published by Disney/Gold Key, DC or Archie Comics, or drawn by Al “Li’l Abner” Capp, Chester “Dick Tracy” Gould and Charles “Peanuts” Schulz.

It all wraps up with ‘Here We Go A-Plotting!’: a comedic glimpse at work in the Marvel Bullpen, uncredited but unmistakably drawn by the marvellous Marie Severin…

Blending cultural authenticity with stunning narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Wish you were here?
© 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.