Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5975-9

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base and this 14th high-powered hardback compendium (also available as an eBook) of chronological web-spinning adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero facing even greater and evermore complex challenges as he slowly recovers from the trauma of losing his one true love and greatest enemy in the same horrific debacle…

Original creator Stan Lee had replaced himself with young science fiction author Gerry Conway and the scripts acquired a more contemporary tone (which of course often feels quite outdated from here in the 21st century, Man!): purportedly more in tune with the times whilst the emphatic use of soap opera subplots kept older readers glued to the series even when the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Moreover, as a sign of the times a hint of cynical surrealism also began creeping in…

Thematically, there’s a decline in the use of old-fashioned gangsterism and a growing dependence on outlandish villains. The balance of costumed super-antagonists with thugs, hoods and mob-bosses was gradually ending and soon the global resurgence of interest in supernatural stories would result in more monsters and uncanny happenings…

Nevertheless, the wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth and defined being teenaged for young readers of the 1970s, facing incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

For newcomers or those just visiting due to exposure to the hype surrounding the latest Spider-Man movie: High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, developed a stress ulcer but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

And then she was murdered by the Green Goblin and Parker had to pick up the pieces of his life…

This volume – collectively spanning May 1974 to March 1975 – reprints Amazing Spider-Man #132-142 and includes a terrifying team-up tale from Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974), opening here with a spate of peculiar robberies.

Illustrated by John Romita Sr., Paul Reinman & Tony Mortellaro, the moody mystery sees the weary Spider-Man returns to New York after saving Aunt May from becoming a collateral casualty of atomic armageddon at the hands of Hammerhead and Doctor Octopus. All too soon he stumbles into ‘The Master Plan of the Molten Man!’ as old school flame Liz Allen resurfaces, needing help. Peter has no idea she is secretly trying to help her criminal stepbrother…

As a super-strong metal-skinned bandit Mark Raxton was only a minor inconvenience to the wallcrawler but now his chemically induced condition has worsened and he is swiftly turning into an incandescent human fireball. By the time ‘The Molten Man Breaks Out!’ in #133 (illustrated by new regular creative team Ross Andru and inkers Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt), however, there is nothing the hero can do except fight until one of them is dead…

Infuriatingly breaking up that 2-part saga – presumably due to a rather doctrinaire attitude to following strict chronology – is a classic monster action yarn from Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1.

With the monster boom in full swing, Marvel during this period flooded newsstands with horror-themed heroes and antiheroes and cannily teamed two of the Amazing Arachnid’s eeriest enemies in a double-length epic as ‘Man-Wolf at Midnight!’ (Conway, Gil Kane & Mike Esposito) finds John Jameson again gripped by murderous moon-madness. This time, however, the tormented former astronaut has been enthralled by Living Vampire Morbius and used to help the bloodsucker secure a possible cure for his appalling condition ‘When Strikes the Vampire!’

That dynamic dust-up led directly into a flurry of over-sized Giant-Size Spider-Man editions, but as none of them are included in this volume we return to Spider-Man #134 (July 1974) wherein the webspinner again crosses paths with The Punisher after a South American bandit – trained to be his oppressive regime’s Captain America before going freelance – attempts to pillage and ransom a Manhattan tour boat in ‘Danger is a Man Named… Tarantula!’ (Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt).

Once again unwilling allies, the ethically-estranged duo dutifully dismantle the villain’s larcenous schemes after a ‘Shoot-Out in Central Park!’ but the real danger is building elsewhere as Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn accepts at last the infamous inheritance of his devilish, recently departed dad…

The compelling, long-brewing clash of former friends kicks off with completely crazy Harry attempting to blow up Peter and Mary Jane Watson in ‘The Green Goblin Lives Again!’

Privy to his best friend’s secrets, the maniac then targets all Parker’s loved ones, precipitating a desperate, deadly duel when ‘The Green Goblin Strikes!’ and resulting in doom, destruction, shocking revelations and another tragedy for Peter to feel forever responsible for…

‘Madness Means… the Mindworm!’ the finds the still-reeling Peter Parker evicted from his apartment and relocating downmarket to Queens, just in time to encounter a macabre psychic parasite feeding off the denizens of the district. Issue #139 introduces a bludgeoning brute with a grudge against J. Jonah Jameson on the ‘Day of the Grizzly!’

When Spidey intervenes he is soundly thrashed and handed over to the costumed crazy’s silent partner the Jackal who melodramatically reveals he knows the hero’s true identity… Even though Peter escapes his diabolical trap in ‘…And One Will Fall!’ the major maniac flees and remains at large…

A long-running comedy thread ends as the ridiculous Spider-Mobile ends up in the river, but the wallcrawler barely has time to care as an apparently dead enemy returns in #141’s ‘The Man’s Name Appears to be… Mysterio!’ Despite aggressive psychological assaults escalating and Peter continually questioning his own sanity, the mystery is solved in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’, wrapping up this transitional period in the life of Peter Parker and setting the scene for another shocking epic, life-changing encounter next time…

Supplemented by a series of contemporary Annual and compilation covers, House ads, original design sketches, and original art pages by Romita this book also includes full creator biographies and a fascinating Introduction. ‘Telling Stories’ – by author Conway – rightfully praises and appraises the work of collaborator Ross Andru and includes behind-the-scenes, real-life origins of many characters and situations transformed into Marvel magic in these pages.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious 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 instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This action-packed collection comprises one of the most momentous periods in Spider-Man’s astounding life and is one every Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic should see…
© 1974, 1975, 2011 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.