Spidey volume 1: First Day


By Robbie Thompson, Nick Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9675-4

Since its earliest days the company now known as Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are on the wane and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In the 1980s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and in 2003 the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and mixed it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time.

In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: First Day – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by looking back and succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey #1-6 (originally released from February to July 2016), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem commences with a fresh introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourists Jim Campbell & Rachelle Rosenberg

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still (or rather once again) a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between classes. He’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media when he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor.

Not only is she the hottest girl in school but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

Things really kick off later, on a field trip to techno-industrial wonderland Oscorp, when a madman calling himself Doctor Octopus busts in and the neophyte Spider-Man is compelled to intervene and drive the maniac away.

That’s when uber-creepy Norman Osborn introduces himself to Peter, predicting big things for Peter…

The really smart trick in this series is that battles with other supervillains such as Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio are backdrop: referenced simply as having occurred in other moments, allowing Peter Parker’s life and character room to develop, with only new battles dictating how certain villainous players have evolved from standard Spider-Man mythology…

A month later Peter is still coming to terms with his double life when ‘Enter the Sandman’ finds him battling a grittily shapeshifting bank robber, after which New York is overrun by tiny reptiles as old ally Dr. Curt Connors is once again tragically transformed into the ravenous ravening Lizard

In Spidey #4 André Lima Araújo assumes the art duties with ‘Doomsday Off!’ as Peter stumbles into an art robbery. He might even have stopped the thief… if the bad guy hadn’t been Doctor Doom! Tracking down the ultimate villain does no good and Spidey is once again soundly thrashed, but after the Amazing Arachnid gets a pep talk from a little kid, he tries again and achieves a partial victory…

‘Dead End’ (with Java Tartaglia joining the colouring squad) sees the first inconclusive confrontation with a major nut job called the Green Goblin after which the ebullient effervescent escapades conclude with a first team-up in ‘Making the Grade’, as the mysterious Spider-Man intervenes when flying felon The Vulture burgles Stark Industries.

The Invincible Iron Man shows up but naturally gets the wrong idea – as does SHIELD agent Phil Coulson – before the situation is straightened out. One crisis over and feeling cocky, the very junior hero – smitten with Gwen Stacy – even asks the Armoured Avenger for dating tips but that doesn’t go so well…

Featuring a covers and variants gallery by Bradshaw, Lima Araújo, Skottie Young, Humbert Ramos & Edgar Delgado, Oliver Coipel, Julian Totino Tedesco and Gyimah Gariba, this a sublimely refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon offering an intriguing and certainly more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt


By J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2330-9 (HC)                    978-0-7851-3450-3 (TPB)

A character with the longevity and sheer number of separate venues to shine in as Spider-Man throws up a lot of dross over the decades, but is also infinitely evergreen when thoughtfully handled by top flight creators. Sometimes the writers and artists involved don’t even realise at the time that their crafting something memorable and timelessly special…

Kraven’s Last Hunt (originally collected as Spiderman: Fearful Symmetry) is just such a saga and is thankfully handily available in a variety of formats from spiffy hardback to cheap‘n’cheerful trade paperback – and now even as a digital edition for all true sons and daughters of the 21st century…

Heck, there’s even a picture-free novelisation by Neil Kleid out there, but perhaps that’s a step too far for most comics addicts…

The eerie psycho-drama originally ran in the October and November 1987 issues of Web of, Amazing, and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man; following darkly obsessed and suicidal Russian émigré Kraven the Hunter as years of rivalry and constant defeats are turned around, leading the aging monster inexorably to his greatest triumph and ultimate downfall.

In the process the sinister stalker conquers, inters and Oedipally replaces his arch-nemesis, before inevitably succumbing to his own tragic just deserts.

After years of pointless struggle, Kraven here is back-written into an intrinsically noble but twisted relic of a bygone era, whose compulsion to defeat Spider-Man spirals into a demented desire to consume and then become him. The Hunter’s initial success only serves to highlight the fundamental differences between him and his prey, such as how each man deals with the savagely cannibalistic rat/man hybrid Vermin who brutally rampages through the rain-soaked and terrified city in a compelling and efficient sub-plot, or with those ordinary people who impinge upon the lives of protagonist and antagonist equally.

After years of generally C-List villainy, Kraven’s latest plan initial succeeds in ‘Coffin’ (Web of Spider-Man #31) after the Hunter ritualistically devours his foe’s totems before ambushing the webspinner…

In ‘Crawling’ (Amazing Spider-Man #31), sewer-dwelling psychopath Vermin begins brutally marauding through a sodden city, drawing delusional “Spider the Hunter” – now wearing his foe’s pelt (for which read Spider-Man costume) – into conflict. Kraven is attempting to take his beaten enemy’s place even as newlywed Mary Jane Watson-Parker starts really worrying over the current whereabouts of her husband…

When she sees Spider-Man savagely thrashing a pack of street thugs, she knows the man standing before her isn’t Peter…

‘Descent’ (Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131) sees Kraven capture Vermin and finally acknowledge that his own victory is not what he wanted, before seemingly dead and buried Peter Parker literally resurfaces in ‘Resurrection’ (WoS #31) to battle his own shattering psychological demons. Final scores are settled in ‘Thunder’ (ASM #32), before all the horror comes to a shocking halt in PPSS #132’s epic confrontation ‘Ascending’

Despite its heavy psychological underpinnings, Fearful Symmetry/Kraven’s Last Hunt is a gripping helter-skelter thrill ride, simultaneously moody and fast-paced. Writer J.M. DeMatteis curtails his tendency to overwrite, stifles his leanings toward snappy one-liners or maudlin sentimentality and lets terror and trauma rule, giving art team Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod plenty of opportunities to impress with traditional yet spectacular comic art set-pieces.

This series electrified Spider-Man fans when it first appeared and it has lost none of its power today. This is a must-have item for any fan of the Amazing Arachnid or the superhero medium.
© 1989, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 15


By Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6631-3

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man quickly rebounded, rapidly proving a sensation with kids of all ages and rivalling the creative powerhouse of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming, action-packed comicbook soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

Previously: Peter Parker was a smart yet 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 with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, 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 Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base, and this 15th exceptionally enthralling full-colour compendium of chronological web-spinning adventures confirms that notion as the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero survives one of the most macabre and Byzantine vengeance plots ever conceived. Further backing up the thought is author Gerry Conway’s farewell Introduction – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – which candidly revealed why after killing Peter’s one true love the editors and especially publisher moved heaven and earth to bring her back…

With the material in this sturdy Hardcover compilation (and latterly eBook) Stan Lee’s hand-picked successor Conway moved on after reaching a creative plateau giving way to fresh authorial guide Len Wein. However, scripts continued to blend contemporary issues (which of course often feel quite outdated from here in the 21st century) with soap opera subplots to keep older readers glued to the series as the outrageous adventure and bombastic battle sequences beguiled the youngsters.

Thematically, there’s further decline in the use of traditional crimes and gangsters, as super-science, outlandish villains and monsters took centre stage, but the most sensational advance was an insidious scheme which would reshape the nature of the web-spinner’s adventures for decades to come…

For all that, the wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth; defining being a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

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

This volume – spanning April 1975 to April 1976 – re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #143-155, Annual #10 and opens with Amazing Spider-Man #143 ‘…And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!’ (Conway Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt).

Peter Parker is in Paris to deliver a ransom and save kidnapped publisher J. Jonah Jameson but soon calls in his arachnid alter ego to deal with a hyper-fast French super-villain. The story is fairly run-of-the-mill but the real kicker comes from an overly-fond farewell expressed by “casual chum” Mary Jane Watson: a kiss that finally shifts traumatised, depressed Peter’s thoughts from his beloved, recently murdered Gwen

The creative team capitalised on the situation when Pete returns to New York and his – rather extraordinary – daily travails as #144 launched ‘The Delusion Conspiracy’, whilst #145 focuses on a baffled girl’s confusion and terror at everyone’s reactions when she comes home and the entire world screams ‘Gwen Stacy is Alive …and, Well…?!’

With Gwen somehow resurrected and Peter on the edge of a breakdown, Aunt May is hospitalised just in time for another old foe to strike again in ‘Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?’, but the real kick in the tale is irrefutable scientific and medical reports proving the increasingly bewildered Miss Stacy is not an impostor but the genuine article…

In Spider-Man #147 Peter finds some answers as further tests prove Gwen is actually a true human clone (remember, this was new and cutting-edge stuff in 1975) but all too soon he’s distracted by another foe bad-guy with a grudge and hungry to prove ‘The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast’ (illustrated by Andru, Esposito & Hunt).

It’s all part of a convoluted and utterly Byzantine revenge scheme conceived by a malign old enemy. When the hero is ambushed by a mesmerised Gwen at the behest of the archfiend, ‘Jackal, Jackal, Who’s Got the Jackal?’ (art by Andru, Mike Esposito & Hunt) at last discloses some shocking truths about one of Peter’s most trusted friends before the Delusion Conspiracy explosively concludes with #149’s ‘Even if I Live, I Die!’ (Andru & Esposito).

Learning that he and Gwen had been covertly cloned by their biology teacher Miles Warren, the Amazing Arachnid has to defeat his alchemical double in a grim, no-holds-barred identity-duel, with neither sure who’s the real McCoy. The battle eventually results in the copy’s death… maybe…, perhaps… probably…

That moment of doubt over who actually fell informs anniversary issue Amazing Spider-Man #150, as Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia take the hero down memory lane and up against a brigade of old antagonists to decide whether ‘Spider-Man… or Spider-Clone?’ survived that final fight, before debuting regular scripter Len Wein joins Andru & John Romita Sr. to launch a new era of adventure…

After disposing of his duplicate’s corpse in an incineration plant, Spider-Man finds time to let Peter reconnect with his long-neglected friends. However, a jolly party is soon disrupted as blackouts triggered by a super-menace lead the wallcrawler down into the sewers for a ‘Skirmish Beneath the Streets!’, resulting in our hero almost drowning and nearly being ‘Shattered by the Shocker!’(Esposito & Giacoia inks) in a conclusive and decisive return engagement…

A moving change-of-pace tale then finds a blackmailed former football star giving his all to save a child in ‘The Longest Hundred Yards!’ (Andru & Esposito) but it is left to Spider-Man to make the computer-crook culprits pay, after which #154 reveals ‘The Sandman Always Strikes Twice!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Esposito) – albeit with little lasting effect – until devious murder-mystery ‘Whodunnit!’ (Buscema & Esposito again) cunningly links three seemingly unconnected cases in a masterful “Big Reveal”…

This copious compendium then concludes with some contemporary house ads, an editorial explanation of the original “Clone Saga” and biographies. Despite some qualifications this is a superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man was and still is a crucial part of many youngsters’ existences: living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the good taste allow.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious art and making a dramatic virtue of the confusion, awkwardness and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive prime time melodrama moments, 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…
© 1975, 1976, 2011, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man 2099 volume 1


By Peter David, Rick Leonardi, Kelly Jones, Al Williamson and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8478-2

Hey look! Another Spider-Man movie…

Comics phenomenon and teen-angst icon Peter Parker evolved from humbled beginnings into a globally recognised character with a life of his own. As such, the Amazing Arachnid has been subject to a myriad of permutations and spin-offs. This snazzy trade paperback – also available in assorted digital editions – is one of most intriguing takes on the whole idea of wallcrawling wonders ever conceived and has in recent times, following the company’s continuity reboot, even been assimilated into the mainstream Marvel Universe…

In the early 1990’s – a time when Marvel’s product quality was at an all-time low – following a purported last-minute dispute between the company and prodigal son John Byrne (who had re-invented himself by re-inventing Superman), the House of Ideas launched a whole separate continuity strand with all new heroes (and franchise extensions), set more than a century into the future.

This world was corporate and dystopian, the scenarios were fantastical and the initial character-pool was predictable if not actually uninspired. A lot of the early material was – by any critical yardstick – sub-par. But then again there was also Spider-Man 2099.

Some analogue of the webspinner is always going to happen in any Marvel imprint (remember Peter Porker, Spider-Ham?), and in those insane days of speculator-led markets (where greedy kids and adults dreamed of cornering the market in “Hot Issues” and becoming instant susquillionaires) early episodes were always going to be big sellers.

What nobody expected was just how good those stories were to actually read…

Now the first ten issues are available in a fantastic and entertaining full colour collection.

In 2099, world governments are openly in the capacious pockets of sprawling multi-national corporations which permeate every aspect of society. All superheroes have been gone for decades, although their legends still comfort the underclass living at the fringes – and below the feet – of the favoured ones who can survive in a society based on unchecked, rampant free-market capitalism.

Miguel O’Hara is a brilliant young geneticist fast-tracked and swiftly rising through the ranks of Alchemax. He enjoys the seductive privileges afforded to him for his work in creating super-soldiers for the company. He loves solving problems.

…And now, despite the constant interference of the salary-men and corporate drudges he’s forced to work with, Miguel’s on the verge of a major breakthrough: a technique to alter genetic make-up and combine it with DNA from other organisms…

But after a demonstration goes grotesquely awry the arrogant scientist makes a big mistake when he tells his boss that he’s going to quit. Unwilling to lose such a valuable asset, CEO Tyler Stone poisons O’Hara with the most addictive drug in existence – one only available from Alchemax – to keep him loyal and in his place.

Desperate, furious and still convinced he knows best, the young scientist tries to use his genetic modifier to reset his tainted physiology and purge the addiction from his cells. Sadly, one of the lab assistants he used to bully sees a chance for some payback and sabotages the attempt, adding spider DNA to the matrix…

Fast-paced and riotously tongue-in-cheek scripts from Peter David kept the series readable but the biggest asset to Spider-Man 2099 and the greatest factor in its initial success was undoubtedly the fluid design mastery and captivating dynamic, panoramic pencilling of Rick Leonardi, wedded to the legendary Al Williamson’s fine ink lines. The art just jumps off the pages at you.

After the eponymous origin issue, #2’s ‘Nothing Ventured…’ – introducing cyborg bounty hunter Venture – and concluding chapter ‘Nothing Gained’, which sees Miguel soundly defeat Alchemax’s go-to hired-gun, the early editorial policy downplaying “super-villains” results in yet another hi-tech Corporate raider attacking the new Amazing Arachnid.

In ‘The Specialist’ and ‘Blood Oath’ (issues #4 and 5) Stone, his cronies and his business rivals go to extraordinary – but not so much extra-legal – lengths to uncover the secrets of the first costumed adventurer since the mythic “Age of Heroes” ended…

In issue #6 the hero’s Pyrrhic victory leaves him wounded in the dank shanty-zone far beneath the giant skyscrapers of the productive citizenry. Spider-Man has to survive ‘Downtown’, encountering an unsuspected underclass of discarded humanity, but soon falls foul of its top predator (and first super-villain) Vulture in #7’s ‘Wing and a Prayer’ and concluding chapter ‘Flight of Fancy’.

Kelley Jones & Mark McKenna substituted for Leonardi and Williamson in #9’s ‘Home Again, Home Again’ as our reluctant rebel and increasingly acclaimed antihero finds himself the latest Idée Fixe of celebrity imitators – or are they actually John the Baptists for a brand-new religion?

All through the stories a strong family cast including younger brother Gabe, girlfriend Dana, Miguel’s astonishingly over-close Latina mother and his just-plain-crazy personal computer Lyla provide drama and scintillating laughs in complex and enthralling sub-plots, but in the last tale of this collection ‘Mother’s Day’ they all take centre-stage as we get a peek into the childhood that made Miguel O’Hara the man he is.

His reaffirmation of purpose at the end of the tale closes this superb sidelined gem on a merry high and promises great things to come…

Marvel’s output seldom achieved this kind of quality after the mid-1980s, especially in a character and setting that didn’t demand prior knowledge of an entire continuity. To share sheer enthusiastic enjoyment and old-fashioned Marvel Magic you simply need to step into this particular future…
© 1992, 1993, 2009, 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 13


By Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785150367 (HB)

In these days of an infinitude of fan-sites, publicity cycles and gleeful spoiler-mongers, it takes a lot to keep a shock-ending from the readership, but back in 1973 comics consumers had only word-of-mouth and the story itself. Thus, the lead story in this particular compilation totally staggered everybody when it was released, and within mere months of that, the on-fire creators would also introduce an antihero to shake up the entire comics industry…

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base, and this staggering 13th full-colour compilation of chronologically congregated Arachnoid Adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero endure a second and life-altering failure: one that forever altered the tone and timbre of his existence even while continuing the steady climb to becoming a global household name…

After a rather nervous nativity, the wallcrawler became a certified 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.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman 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…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #121-131 – originally released between June 1973 and April 1974 – the culmination of a decade of suspense and intrigue began on ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ (by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro), the initial instalment of a two-part tale which gobsmacked fans as Peter’s greatest efforts proved insufficient to save his intended from the insane rage of a resurgent Green Goblin.

Ultimate nemesis Norman Osborn had recovered the lost memory of his evil alter ego after his son Harry fell back into drug abuse and, once restored to his malign potency, kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend to force a final confrontation…

The tragic episode leads inexorably to ‘The Goblin’s Last Stand!’ one issue later and a grim and gritty new direction…

With Spider-Man accused of murdering Osborn and erroneously implicated in Gwen’s death, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson takes advantage of a new kind of metahuman champion in #123; engaging emergent Hero for Hire Luke Cage to bring the webspinner to justice in‘…Just a Man Called Cage!’

However, the clash only proves that the antagonists’ lives are more tragically similar than different and Marvel’s pre-eminent African American adventurer recuses from the case in a most distinctive manner…

As previously stated elsewhere, at this time horror was on the rise and the trend permeated all aspects of Marvel continuity. In #124, Jameson’s astronaut son John was revealed to have picked up a strange gem during a clandestine moonwalk which later transformed him into a lupine beast bearing ‘The Mark of the Man-Wolf!’

Deranged and deadly, the hairy horror stalks his own fiancée Kristine Saunders as well as his scandal-obsessed father, with a still-traumatised fighting-mad Spider-Man reacting in a far more brutal manner than ever before…

The conclusion marked the introduction of the next star penciller to the strip as Ross Andru joined Conway and Romita to delineate the end of the Man-Wolf saga in ‘Wolfhunt!’, offering a particularly grisly cure for the astrally-altered astronaut…

In #126 a new subplot bloomed as a marketing firm hired the astounded and unbelieving arachnid to build a “Spider-Mobile” (thanks in cold, hard fact to a budding toy-merchandising deal Marvel was currently negotiating) whilst an old and extremely inept enemy returned when ‘The Kangaroo Bounces Back!’ (illustrated by Andru and inked by Jim Mooney).

Short of cash and desperate, Spidey ropes in best frenemy Johnny (Human Torch) Storm to help assemble the anticipated automobile, but is totally unprepared for his Australian attacker since the Kangaroo has had a rapid and ultimately unwelcome power upgrade from a rogue and extremely deranged doctor named Jonas Harrow

And in the apartment Peter shares with Harry Osborn, the son of the Green Goblin finally succumbs to the mental illness that has been sucking him down since the death of dear old Dad…

Peter’s great friend and good time girl Mary Jane Watson comes under the spotlight in #127 as ‘The Dark Wings of Death!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt) finds her targeted by a strangely familiar monster who believes she witnessed his last kill. The mystery concludes in ‘The Vulture Hangs High!’ wherein an incredible truth about the avian atrocity is revealed…

Portents of future trouble manifest as Parker’s biology tutor Professor Miles Warren warns that the scholarship student’s grades are slipping and his position is far from secure…

Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt then crafted a true landmark in comics history in Amazing Spider-Man #129 with ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice!’ which introduced not only the renegade gunslinger but also nefarious manic mastermind The Jackal.

Although one of the industry’s biggest hits from the late 1980s onwards, compulsive vengeance-taker Frank Castle was always an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comicbooks. His methods are always excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come to mind) the Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective; The Punisher never toned down or cleaned up his act…

He was created by Conway, Romita Sr. and Andru; an understandably toned down and muted response to popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner: the cutting edge of a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s.

In this short, sharp shocker the man with the skull logo was duped by his manipulative partner into hunting Spider-Man. Still a suspect in the death of Norman Osborn, the hero was easy to frame for the murder of the Punisher’s personal gunmaker…

A long-running mystery over Aunt May’s connection to Doctor Otto Octavius is at last addressed in #130 as ‘Betrayed!’ finds up-&-coming ganglord Hammerhead prodded and provoked by the Jackal just as arch-rival Doctor Octopus resurfaces.

Distracted by the now-completed Spider-Mobile, the webslinger is slow to react until he finally discovers why his Aunt May Parker is so important to the villain, but by then she’s in the process of becoming Mrs. Otto Octavius…

Spiderman is just about to bust up the wedding in ‘My Uncle… My Enemy?’ when Hammerhead beats him to it. As the three-way battle escalates the truth comes out. May has inexplicably inherited a desolate Canadian island which just happens to be teeming with uranium deposits and its own Fast Breeder Atomic Reactor which both Ock and Hammerhead want to secure as the means to becoming an independent nuclear power…

When the rivals furiously clash it is all Peter can do to get May out before the entire place becomes an atomic inferno…

Supplemented by a series of Annual and compilation covers, House ads, original design sketches, and unpublished and lost pages of Kane and Romita artwork, this book also includes a fascinating Introduction ‘Turning Point’ – by original author Gerry Conway – describing the thinking behind the groundbreaking storyline, offering context and revealing who was originally slated to bite the bullet.

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…
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis: volume 1


By Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5712-0                  978-0-7851-5713-7(TPB)

When the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man died, writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel promised that a new hero would arise from the ashes…

Marvel’s Ultimates imprint began in 2000 with a new post-modern take on major characters and concepts to bring them into line with the tastes of 21st century readers – apparently a wholly different market from those baby-boomers and their descendants content to stick with the precepts sprung from founding talents Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee… or simply those unable or unwilling to deal with decades of continuity baggage (seven if you include the Golden Age/Timely Comics tales retroactively co-opted into the mix which saturated the originals).

Eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor and in 2008 the cleansing event “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of super-humans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

In the aftermath Peter Parker and his fellow meta-human survivors struggled to restore order to a dangerous new world. Spider-Man finally gained a measure of acceptance and was hailed a hero when he valiantly and very publicly met his end during a catastrophic super-villain confrontation…

This collection – published before the mega-crossover events Time Runs Out and Secret Wars which resulted in the merger of the Ultimate and mainstream Marvel Universe – re-presents the introductory teaser from Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 (August 2011) and follow-up Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Who is Miles Morales? #1-5) with a new and even younger Arachnid Avenger and describes how, just like his predecessor, a troubled boy learned the painful price of misusing the unique gifts fate had bestowed…

The epic opens with a skinny kid having the poor taste to parade around town in a cheap imitation costume of fallen hero Spider-Man encountering and somehow defeating vicious super-villain The Kangaroo. Then the revelations begin by spinning back to the relatively recent past where manic industrialist Norman Osborn repeats the genetic experiment which first gave Peter Parker his powers (see Ultimate Spider-Man volume 1: Power and Responsibility) via the bite of an artificially-mutated spider.

Unfortunately, the deranged mastermind didn’t expect a burglar to waltz in and accidentally carry off the latest test animal as part of his haul…

When grade-schooler Miles Morales gets into prestigious and life-changing Brooklyn Visions Academy Boarding School by the most callous of chances, the brilliant African American/Latino lad quickly and cynically realises life is pretty much a crap-shoot… and unfair to boot. Feeling guilty about his unjust success and sorry for the 697 other poor kids who don’t get his chance, he sneaks off to visit his uncle Aaron.

The visit has to be secret since his uncle is a “bad influence”: a career criminal dubbed The Prowler. Whilst there, a great big spider with a number on its back bites Miles and he begins to feel very odd…

For starters he starts fading from sight…

Suddenly super-fast and strong, able to leap huge distances and fade from view, Miles rushes over to see geeky pal Ganke, a brilliant nerd already attending Brooklyn Visions. Applying “scientific” testing, the boy also discovers Miles can deliver shocking, destructive charges through his hands. When Miles goes home Ganke continues online research and deduces a connection to Spider-Man; strenuously pushing his friend towards becoming a costumed crusader.

However, after Miles assists during a tenement fire, saving a mother and baby, shock sets in and he resolves never to use his powers again…

Time passes: Miles and Ganke are roommates at the Academy for almost a year when news of a major metahuman clash rocks the city. Troubled Miles heads out and is an accidental bystander at the scene of Spider-Man’s death.

Seeing a brave man perish so valiantly, Miles is again consumed by guilt: if he had used his own powers when they first manifested he might have been able to help; to save a true hero…

As part of the crowd attending Parker’s memorial Miles and Ganke talk to another mourner, a girl who actually knew Parker. Gwen Stacy offers quiet insights to the grieving child and a phrase which alters the course of his life forever: “with great power comes great responsibility…”

Clad in a Halloween Spidey costume borrowed from Ganke, Miles takes to the night streets for the first time and stops Kangaroo from committing murder…

His third night out the exhilarated 13-year old encounters the terrifying and furiously indignant Spider-Woman who thrashes and arrests him, before dragging him to Government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, where Hawkeye, Iron Man and master manipulator Nick Fury coldly assess him.

However, before they can reach a decision on Miles’ fate, murderous malcontent Electro breaks free of the Triskelion’s medical custody ward and goes on a rampage.

Despite easily defeating the seasoned heroes the voltage villain is completely unprepared for a new Spider-Man: especially as the boy has a range of extra powers including camouflage capabilities and an irresistible “venom-strike” sting…

As Miles considers the full implications of his victory, Fury imparts a staggeringly simple homily: “With great power…”

Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli crafted a stirring new chapter both engaging and intriguing and this stirring debut volume (available in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and digital editions) also contains a gallery of alternate covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Pichelli.

Tense, breathtaking, action-packed, evocative and full of the light-hearted, self-aware humour which blessed the original Lee/Ditko tales, this is a controversial but worthy way to continue and advance the legend Fights ‘n’ Tights addicts will admire and adore…
A British Edition ™ & © 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 12


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Romita, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4214-0 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a series that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As the depressing weight of the Sordid Seventies continued, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

By the time of these tales Stan Lee was easing out of writing and here replaces himself with 19-year-old science fiction author Gerry Conway. The scripts – aided in no small part by the plotting input and mentoring of resident illustrator John Romita – achieved a more contemporary tone (but, naturally feeling quite dated from here in the 21st century, Dude!): purportedly closely in tune with the times. Combined with the emphatic use of soap opera subplots which kept older readers glued to the series even when bombastic battle sequences didn’t, Amazing Spider-Man grew to ever greater heights of popularity.

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 eroding and soon a 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 a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

Lonely High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #110-120 (originally released between July 1972 and May 1973) the astonishing tales in this titanic twelfth Masterworks tome begin with ‘The Birth of… the Gibbon!’ (by Lee & Romita) which finds a despondent and world-weary wallcrawler battling another shunned and lonely outcast. Orphaned drifter Martin Blank possessed an anthropoid frame which made him an outcast and brought out the cruel worst in humanity. When he reaches out in friendship and admiration to Spidey he is rebuffed again and savagely lashes out…

The Gibbon retuned a month later when psychopathic stalker Kraven the Hunter brainwashed the hapless outcast ‘To Stalk a Spider!’ in a tale which saw the beginning of Gerry Conway’s tenure on the title, after which #112 follows up with another periodic crisis of faith for Peter Parker as ‘Spidey Cops Out!’

The harassed and exhausted hero is ready to chuck it all in until another nightmarish old adversary resurfaces as part of a burgeoning gang war…

They Call the Doctor… Octopus!’ (Conway & Romita with art assistance from Tony Mortellaro and Jim Starlin) sees the city plunged into chaos when the multi-limbed madman squares off against mysterious gang-boss Hammerhead with a rededicated but fearfully overmatched Spider-Man caught in the middle…

The next chapter in a brutal and comparatively long-running duel for control of New York’s underworld played out in ‘Gang War, Schmang War! What I Want to Know is … Who the Heck is Hammerhead?’ by Conway, John Romita Sr., Mortellaro & Jim Starlin, with our angst-ridden arachnid trapped between the battling mobs of 1930s movie gangster pastiche Hammerhead and sworn nemesis Dr. Octopus; each seeking to top the other’s callous, staggering ruthlessness.

In the melee Spidey is captured by the bizarre newcomer and learns from the boastful braggart how an ordinary amnesiac gunsel was rebuilt into an unstoppable cyborg by a rogue scientist named Jonas Harrow.

Seconds from death, Spider-Man is driven to risk everything on a wild escape bid after he overhears that Ock will be meeting up with an old lady. The agonised wallcrawler fears that his beloved, befuddled, missing-for-months Aunt May is once more sheltering the many-armed menace…

Dashing into the Westchester countryside, he breaks in to Octavius’ HQ only to be brained with a vase by the terrified May Parker. Moments behind him are Hammerhead’s goons and, all too soon, ‘The Last Battle!’ is underway…

As the mobsters decimate each other, Spider-Man barely escapes being shot by his closest relative and is more than happy to disappear when the police show up to arrest (almost) everybody.

In the aftermath, however, the Widow Parker astounds everybody by revealing that she will be staying in Octopus’ mansion until he is released…

Amazing Spider-Man #116 began an extended political thriller as charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh opens a savvy campaign to become Mayor, only to be opposed and hunted by a brutish monster and hidden mastermind in Suddenly… the Smasher!’

Older fans will recognise much of the story and art since it was a recycled Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney monochrome saga from 1968’s Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine (augmented with additional art by Romita & Mortellaro and bridging scenes scripted by Conway): all neatly reconfigured to encompass new subplots regarding May’s absence and publisher J. Jonah Jameson’s involvement and obsession with Law-&-Order demagogue Raleigh…

The drama deepens with ‘The Deadly Designs of the Disruptor!’ as the monster’s masked master intensifies efforts to destroy the would-be Mayor – with only Spider-Man seemingly able to deter the maniac – before the affair finally culminates in a ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ wherein the true architect of the campaign of terror is exposed and destroyed…

Peter’s problems exponentially increased in #119 as a mysterious telegram for Aunt May calls him away to Canada to meet a lawyer named Rimbaud. Before he leaves, however, Peter’s best friend’s father has a disturbing episode.

Norman Osborn had been the maniacal Green Goblin until cured by hallucinogen-induced amnesia. Now as Parker readies himself for a trip to Montreal, Osborn seems to be recovering those obscured memories…

With no other option, our harried hero heads north, arriving in time to be caught in a city-wide panic as another verdant former sparring partner hits town. ‘The Gentleman’s Name is… Hulk’ (an all-Conway & Romita collaboration) saw the wallcrawler utterly overmatched but still striving to stop the rampaging green juggernaut, spectacularly culminating in ‘The Fight and the Fury!’ (illustrated by Gil Kane with Paul Reinman and inked by Romita & Mortellaro).

With the immediate threat averted, Peter at last rendezvous with Rimbaud only to see the secretive legal eagle murdered before he can share whatever he knows about May Parker…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, fabulously far-fetched and full of innovative thrills, these tales again proved Spider-Man was bigger than any creator and was well on the way to becoming as real as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan
© 1972, 1973, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 11


By Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3507-4 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As memories of the Swinging Sixties sank beneath the depressing weight of the Sordid Seventies, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

This electrifying eleventh full-colour collection of chronologically congregated early adventures of the Amazing Arachnoid sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero foreshadowing a major change in the tone and timbre of comics even while continuing the long climb to becoming a global household name…

After a rather nervous nativity The Amazing Spider-Man soon became a certified 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.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman 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…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #100-109 – originally released between September 1971 and June 1972 – the astonishing tales begins with ‘The Spider or the Man?’ (by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia): a long-anticipated anniversary issue which proved to be a game-changing shocker as, determined to retire and marry, Peter attempts to destroy his powers with an untested self-concocted serum…

The result is a hallucinogenic trip wherein action ace Kane got to draw an all-out battle between Spidey and an army of old enemies, culminating in a waking nightmare when Parker regains consciousness and discovers he’s grown four additional arms…

With #101 Roy Thomas stepped in as scripter for ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’, as the eight-limbed hero desperately seeks some way to reverse his condition. Fortuitously, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. Making matters even worse is old foe The Lizard who turns up, determined to kill them both…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code in 1954 were horror staples vampires and werewolves, but the changing comics tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the horror section of the Code and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates) and Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense, three-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile join forces to hunt the a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the vampire’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ briefly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brings the tale to a blistering conclusion and restores the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Designed as another extra-length epic, ‘Walk the Savage Land!’ began in the now conventionally paginated #103 but was sliced in half and finished as #104 ‘The Beauty and the Brute’ in #104.

When the Daily Bugle suffers a financial crisis, bellicose publisher J. Jonah Jameson takes Peter Parker and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy on a monster-hunt to the Lost World under the Antarctic, to encounter not only dinosaurs and cavemen but also noble savage Ka-Zar, perfidious villain Kraven the Hunter and terrifying giant alien baby Gog in a fabulous pastiche and homage to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong delivered with love and pride from Thomas, Kane & Giacoia.

Capitalising on an era rife with social unrest and political protest, Stan Lee returned in #105 with ‘The Spider Slayer!’ as the New York City police install spy cameras on every rooftop and discredited technologist Spencer Smythe resurfaces with an even more formidable anti-Spider-Man robot for Jameson to set against the Wall-crawler.

The story also features the release of Harry Osborn from drug rehab and former school bully and gadfly Flash Thompson returning from Vietnam, but the big shock is discovering the once beneficent Smythe has gone totally bonkers…

Responsible for the police spy-eyes too, Smythe observes Spidey without his mask and in ‘Squash! Goes the Spider!’ (triumphantly pencilled by the returning John Romita Sr.) the Professor sells out old employer Jameson, allies with criminal gangs and attempts to plunder the entire city. When the Amazing Arachnid attempts to block the banditry, he finds himself facing the ultimate Spider-Slayer before valiantly battling his way to victory in ‘Spidey Smashes Thru!’

The secret of Flash Thompson starts to unfold in issue #108’s ‘Vengeance from Vietnam!’ (with Romita inking his own pencils) as our troubled war hero reveals an American war atrocity. The event left a peaceful in-country village devastated and a benign wise man comatose and near-dead, consequently setting a vengeful cult upon the saddened soldier’s guilt-ridden heels, which all Spider-Man’s best efforts could not deflect or deter.

The campaign of terror was only concluded in #109 when ‘Enter: Dr. Strange!’ sees America’s Master of the Mystic Arts divine the truth and set things aright, but only after an extraordinary amount of unnecessary violence…

Blending cultural authenticity with captivating 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 is Spider-Man at his very best and also shows the way in which the hero began to finally outgrow his (co)creator.
© 1971, 1972, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 10


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2932-5 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As the Swinging Sixties segued into the Sordid Seventies, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

This breathtaking tenth titanic full-colour tome of chronologically compiling the early adventures of the Arachnoid Amazement sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero achieve truly national prominence as the real world intersected with the niche realm of comics…

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.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman 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…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #88-99 – originally released between September 1970 and August 1971 – the spider-sagas revel in the fact that Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were practically household names and the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia throughout America and the world. Stan Lee’s scripts tapped into the always-evolving zeitgeists of the times and the deft use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t. And here a sharp reminder came – that in those days at least – funnybooks were not immune to tragedy…

The wonderment starts to unfold in ‘The Arms of Doctor Octopus!’ (Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney) with the many-tentacled terror escaping jail and capturing a jetliner full of Chinese diplomats. It all ends with explosive suddenness and apparent suicide after the wallcrawler intervenes but is promptly followed by ‘Doc Ock Lives!’ which heralded a new era of visual dynamism as Gil began a sporadic but memorable run as penciller whilst Romita reverted to inker. The octopus rampages through town causing carnage until Spider-Man again confronts him. The battle took a lethal turn in ‘And Death Shall Come!’ wherein Peter Parker’s attempts to stop him led to the death of a beloved cast member…

With that tragic demise of a cast regular, the webslinger became a wanted fugitive and already fanatical publisher J. Jonah Jameson began backing “Law and Order” election hopeful Sam Bullitt in a campaign ‘To Smash the Spider!’, utterly unaware of the politician’s disreputable past and ultra-right-wing agenda, but the secret came out in #92 ‘When Iceman Attacks’

The ambitious demagogue convinced the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man had kidnapped Parker’s paramour Gwen Stacy but the Wondrous Wallcrawler’s explosive battle against the mutant exposed the corrupt and explicitly racist Bullit in an all-out action extravaganza featuring some of the best fight-art of the decade by two of the industry’s greatest names.

Romita resumed pencilling with issue #93, which saw the return of an almost forgotten frenemy in ‘The Lady and… The Prowler!’. Hobie Brown was a super-burglar gone straight, but when he saw that the Amazing Arachnid was wanted, he too was all too ready to believe the media hype…

Amazing Spider-Man #94 (Lee, Romita & Sal Buscema) offered a fresh glimpse of the hero’s fabled origin as part of a dynamic dust-up with The Beetle ‘On Wings of Death!’, after which Peter headed for London to woo his estranged girlfriend Gwen, who had fled the manic violence of America.

Sadly, ‘Trap for a Terrorist’ found the city under threat from a gang of bombers, which apparently only Spider-Man could handle, so she returned home, never knowing Parker had come after her.

Everything was forgotten in the next issue when deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remembered he once had another more macabre persona before once more attacking Peter in #96’s ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Kane & Romita.

Lee had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in his stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare approached him to tackle the issue, Lee crafted the 3-part Green Goblin tale. When it was refused Code approval, the writer-editor went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly normal rich white kid and Peter Parker’s best friend – could be drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and toxic overdose…

Frank Giacoia began inking Kane with the second instalment, ‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ as the elder Osborn ran riot, almost killing the webslinger and preparing for his final deadly assault even as his son lay dying, before the saga spectacularly concluded with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ as, in the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proved his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

This collection closes with a placeholder yarn designed to set up major events for the anniversary 100th issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #99 portrays ‘A Day in the Life of…’: an all-action, social drama-tinged palate-cleanser with Peter and Gwen finally getting their love-life back on track, only marginally diverted by a prison breakout easily quelled by the Arachnid Avenger, whilst highlighting the growing scandal of prison conditions.

The best was yet to come…
© 1970, 1971, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster?


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9600-6

Chronologically collecting the Jade Juggernaut’s earliest appearances, this titanic tome (available as a hefty paperback and relatively weightless digital edition) gathers Incredible Hulk #1-6, Fantastic Four #2 and 25-26, Avengers #1-3 and 5, Amazing Spider-Man #14, Tales to Astonish #59 and a memorable clash with Thor from Journey into Mystery #112: cumulatively spanning early 1962 to the end of 1964.

The Incredible Hulk was new-born Marvel’s second new superhero title, although technically Henry Pym debuted earlier in a one-off yarn in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). However, he didn’t become a costumed hero until the autumn, by which time Ol’ Greenskin was not-so-firmly established.

The Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic and, after some classic romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After six issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as they could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format in Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Cover-dated May 1962, the Incredible Hulk #1 sees puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the desert, perpetually bullied by the bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the World’s first Gamma Bomb test.

Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Banner endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

At the final moment Banner sees a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically rushes to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial resistance he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

In six simple pages that’s how it all starts, and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings or comicbook retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe that’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked…

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels along as the man-monster and Jones are kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting. In the second issue the plot concerns invading aliens, and the Banner/Jones relationship settles into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the good doctor transforms and is locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stands watch helplessly. Neither ever considers telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ is formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inks Kirby; imparting a genuinely eerie sense of unease to the artwork. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably changed to his more accustomed Green persona…

Although back-written years later as a continuing mutation, the plain truth is that grey tones caused all manner of problems for production colourists so it was arbitrarily changed to the simple and more traditional colour of monsters.

The third issue presented a departure in format as long, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster, with the story thus far reprised in 3-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’ after which Marvel mainstay of villainy the Circus of Crime debuts in ‘The Ringmaster’. The Hulk goes on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ before aliens and Commies combine in the second escapade ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 is a joyous classic of Kirby action, introducing immortal Tyrannus and his underworld empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’ whilst those pesky Commies came in for another drubbing when the Jolly Green freedom-fighter prevents the invasion of Lhasa in ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’

Lee grasped early on the commercial impact of cross-pollination and – presumably aware of disappointing sales – inserted the Jade Juggernaut into his top selling title next.

Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963) featured an early crossover as the team were asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale from Lee, Kirby & Ayers packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony as  series of spectacularly destructive sabotage incidents puts the heroes on the trail of a monster when they should have been looking at spies…

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these simplistic classics – some of the greatest, most rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the Hulk series was not doing well, and Kirby moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled all the art chores for #6: another full-length epic and an extremely engaging one.

‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ has astounding action, sly and subtle sub-plots and a thinking man’s resolution, but nonetheless the title died with the issue, also dated March.

Another comic debuted that month and offered a life line to the floundering Emerald Outcast.  ‘The Coming of the Avengers’ is one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, creators Lee, Kirby & Ayers assumed that interested parties had at least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles, and wasted very little time or energy on introductions in the premiere issue.

In Asgard Loki, god of evil, is imprisoned on a dank islet but still craves vengeance on his step-brother mighty Thor. Observing Earth the villain finds the monstrous Hulk and engineers a situation wherein the man-brute goes on a rampage, hoping to trick the Thunder God into battling the bludgeoning brute. When sidekick Rick Jones radios the Fantastic Four for assistance, Loki diverts the transmission so they cannot hear it and expects his mischief to quickly blossom. However. other heroes pick up the SOS – namely Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp.

As the costumed champions on the desert converge to search for the Hulk, they realize something’s amiss…

This terse and compelling yarn is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, and one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales of all time!) and is promptly followed by ‘the Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman), another unforgettable epic, in which an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the group from within.

Ever-changing, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team only to return in #3 as a villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ This globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history.

Three months later Fantastic Four #25 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and pretty much ever since. Inked by George Roussos, ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and concluding tale ‘The Avengers Take Over!’ in FF #26 offered a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster comes to New York in search of sidekick Rick with only an injury-wracked FF in the way of his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of the Thing, the action amplifies when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Lee for decades) and his Jaded Alter Ego.

Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

Over in Avengers #5, ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman) revealed another incredible romp as Earth’s Mightiest battled superhuman subterraneans and a lethally radioactive mutating mountain with the unwilling assistance of the Hulk… his last appearance there for many months…

The next cameo came in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964): an absolute milestone as a hidden criminal mastermind debuted by manipulating a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler. Even with guest-star opponents such as the Enforcers the Incredible Hulk steals all the limelight in ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ (by Lee & Ditko) which is only otherwise notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy (sarcasm alert!).

The second chapter of the man-monster’s career was about to take off and Tales to Astonish #59 (September) offered a bombastic prologue as ‘Enter: The Hulk!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman) sees the Avengers inadvertently inspiring Giant-Man to hunt down the Green Goliath.

Although the Human Top devilishly engineered that blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind, as with the next issue The Hulk began starring in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages.

This wonderfully economical compendium of wonders closes with the lead story from Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965). ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’ is a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “Who’s stronger…?” Possibly Kirby and Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, it details a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work and would an ideal place to close proceedings but fans and art lovers can enjoy further treats in the form of assorted House Ads, original artwork by Kirby and Ditko, a gallery of classic Kirby covers modified by painter Dean White (originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks editions), plus reproduced Essentials collection and Omnibus covers by Bruce Timm and Alex Ross…

Hulk Smash! He always was and with material like this he always will be.
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