Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels

By Susan K. Putney, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Charles Vess, Berni Wrightson, Alex Saviuk, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6065-6

When Marvel began its line of Original Graphic Novels in 1980, the books were based on European Albums: large, square-bound paperback volumes offering 80 to 100 pages of new material on high-quality paper. The project – which began with Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel – produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Both original concepts and established characters were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today as huge successes: debuting many new series, celebrating licensed properties and devising special stories featuring the company’s proprietary superstars.

Marvel icon the Amazing Spider-Man graced a bunch of extraordinary sagas which were reprinted in 2012 and now form the contents of this splendid oversized (190 x 286 mm) hardback and eBook edition.

The web-wrapped wonderment begins with Hookey – originally released as Marvel Graphic Novel #22 in August 1986. This charming fantasy fable written by Susan K. Putney and painted by comic-book legend Berni Wrightson with the colouring assistance of Michelle Wrightson took the wallcrawler on a journey unlike any other he had previously experienced…

Marandi Sjörokker is not the carefree little girl she appears to be. For a start she’s been twelve for over two hundred years, and after introducing herself by calling Spider-Man “Petey”, she goes on to reveals how she knew him when he was a toddler and she delivered newspapers to his Uncle Ben…

And so begins a wild and beguiling other-dimensional romp, full of action and spectacle, as the webslinger takes a break from his grim and grimy reality to help the permanently adolescent sorceress battle against the demonic and unstoppable TordenKakerlakk (which I’m reliably informed is Norwegian for Thunder Cockroach).

Moreover, this witty, whimsical coming-of-age tale is beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by a master craftsman. A wonderful change-of-pace tale that perfectly displays the versatility of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler – and one that once read will never be forgotten…

Marvel Graphic Novel #46 was first released in May 1989, soon after Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson and comes courtesy of Gerry Conway, Alex Saviuk & Andy Mushynsky. By referencing the stories crafted by a host of creators since the Amazing Arachnid’s debut, the tale (with Doctor Octopus as menace du jour) sheds new light on how the newlyweds grew up and grew together against terrible odds to live their now-united but always Parallel Lives

Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth is one of the prettiest graphic novels ever produced, not to say one of the most entertaining Spider-Man adventures ever told and was first released as premium hardcover Marvel Graphic Novel #63 in August 1990.

Here Mary Jane and Peter Parker are astounded and delighted to discover that an unknown relative has left the bride a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands. Setting off for a second honeymoon they soon become embroiled in ancient magic and high-tech abominations courtesy of the Celtic branch of the perfidious Mutants and Millionaires cabal The Hellfire Club

Ghoulies, ghosties and villainous super-criminals combine with some of the best artwork you’ve ever seen for a truly wonderful adventure that desperately needs to be on your bookshelf. Also included here is a delightful pictorial travelogue by Vess entitled ‘A Scottish Journey’

Wrapping up the vintage adventure is Fear Itself by Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which was in February 1992 stand-alone OGN Marvel Graphic Novel #72.

This taut thriller is a good, old-fashioned, nostalgic Spidey yarn for readers who yearn for simpler times long past. Unlike many all-new works, it’s also quite tightly bound to Marvel continuity (perhaps it was intended as an annual but got “promoted” to a more expansive and therefore expensive format?), so if you need a lot of footnotes to read Spider-Man you might want to think carefully before plunging in.

The plot concerns the return of old Captain America villain Baron Zemo – radically transformed here by Hitler’s deranged geneticist Arnim Zola. The revived, resurrected and radically revised Zemo steals a new, weaponized drug from the US government developed at the company owned by Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn.

This chemical contagion drives victims mad with fear and – in alliance with Nazi-hunting mercenary Silver Sable – our hero travels post haste to Bavaria for a series of life-or death showdowns in a terrific ticking-timebomb-thriller.

Although there are some plot holes you could drive a Kampfpanzer through (that’s a big Nazi tank, you know) the dialogue by two of the wall-crawler’s greatest scribes is still effective and engaging, but the real joy is the last hurrah of the fabulous and criminally undervalued art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who had been crafting great comics in innumerable genres since the early 1950s, and were Spider-Man’s artists for a huge part of the Seventies.

Thrills. Spills. Chills. Ancient Hills and indomitable wills: this confection of Spidery classics is something no Fights ‘n’ Tights fans should miss. Go on. You know you want to…
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