Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 8

By Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2074-2) (HB)                   978-0-7851-8807-0 (TPB)

This eighth astounding full-colour compilation of webspinning wonderment again follows the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through deadly dangers and romantic rollercoasters as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to Spider-Man’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would be amongst his last long run as lead illustrator on the series.

After a shaky start – suffering cancellation before his first issue – The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera became 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.

Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering 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 has 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 accelerated as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close and, by the time of the tales collected herein (Amazing Spider-Man#68-77 originally released between January-October 1969, plus an obscure thriller from Marvel Super-Heroes #14), 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 observed 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, gangsterism dominated (probably due to the contemporary buzz caused by Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather) and an increasing use of mystery plots balanced a dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists: all 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.

Issue #68 (by Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney) started a lengthy saga featuring the pursuit of an ancient stone tablet by various nefarious forces, beginning with The Kingpin who exploited a topical moment of student dissent to foment a ‘Crisis on the Campus!’

When a seemingly inevitable riot erupted, the Big Bad tried to swipe the artefact, leaving a few teenagers we’re all too familiar with looking very guilty…

Meanwhile Peter Parker, already struggling with debt, a perpetually at-Death’s-Door Aunt May, relationship grief with girlfriend Gwen Stacy and no time to study, was accused of not being involved enough by his fellow students…

During this period scripter Lee increasingly tapped into the student unrest of the times in various Marvel titles and ‘Mission: Crush the Kingpin!’ further tightened the screws as the student unrest exploded into violence whilst the corpulent crime czar incriminated Spider-Man in the tablet’s theft.

Hounded and harried in ‘Spider-Man Wanted!’ the web warrior nevertheless managed to defeat the Kingpin only to (briefly) believe himself a killer after he attacked personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson in a fit of rage; causing an apparent heart attack in the obsessive, hero-hating publisher.

At his lowest ebb, and now stuck with the tablet, Parker is attacked by sometime-Avenger Quicksilver in ‘The Speedster and the Spider!’ (#71), before John Buscema signs on as layout-man in ‘Rocked by the Shocker!’

No sooner does Spider-Man leave the stone tablet with Gwen’s dad – former Police Chief Stacy – than the vibrating villain attacks, pinching the petrified artefact and precipitating a frantic underworld civil war. The Maggia dispatch brutal over-sized enforcer Man-Mountain Marko to retrieve it at all costs in ‘The Web Closes!’ (Lee, Buscema, Romita & Mooney) as upstart lawyer Caesar Cicero makes his long-anticipated move to depose aged Don of Dons Silvermane

However, the frail, elderly crime-lord knows the true secret – if not the methodology – of the tablet. To that end, he abducts biologist Curt Connors and his family to reconstruct the formula hidden on the stone and bring him ultimate victory.

Unfortunately, nobody but Spider-Man knows Connors is also the lethal Lizard and that the slightest stress might unleash the reptilian monster within to once more threaten all humanity. ‘If this be Bedlam!’ (Romita & Mooney) leads directly into ‘Death Without Warning!’ as the decrypted power of the tablet causes a cataclysmic battle that seemingly destroys one warring faction forever, decimating the mobs, but also freeing a far more deadly threat…

Amazing Spider-Man #76 sees John Buscema become full penciller with ‘The Lizard Lives!’ whilst concluding chapter ‘In the Blaze of Battle!’ witnesses the webspinner trying to defeat, cure and keep the tragic secret of his friend Connors, all whilst preventing guest-starring Human Torch Johnny Storm exterminating the marauding rogue reptile forever…

Closing this comics compendium is a one-off yarn from Marvel Super-Heroes #14 (May 1968). ‘The Reprehensible Riddle of the… The Sorcerer!’ actually debuted a year previously in the try-out title and reads to me like an inventory tale rushed out to fill a deadline gap or printed just before its “use-by” date expired. Nonetheless, as crafted by Lee, Ross Andru & Bill Everett, it offers a different spin on the wallcrawler as an enigmatic psychic targets Spider-Man, using psionic strikes and voodoo tricks to draw the hero to New Orleans and a death duel with a synthetic, science-tinged homunculus…

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera slices, 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. Why not see why…?
© 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.