The Daily Adventures of Spider-Man, Vol 1

The Daily Adventures of Spider-Man, Vol 1

By Stan Lee & John Romita (Marvel/ Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN13: 978-1-905239-32-0

By 1977 Stan Lee had all but surrendered his role as editor and guiding light of Marvel Comics for that of a roving PR machine to hype-up the company he had turned into a powerhouse. In that year two events occurred that catapulted Marvel’s trademark character into the popular culture mainstream. One was the long anticipated release of the Amazing Spider-Man live action TV show – a mixed blessing and pyrrhic victory at best – whilst the other, and one much more in keeping with his humble origins was the launch of a syndicated newspaper strip.

Both brought the character to a wider audience but the later offered at least a promise of editorial control – a vital factor in keeping the Wallcrawler’s identity and integrity intact. But even this medium dictated some tailoring of the “Merry Marvel Madness” before the hero was a suitable fit with the grown-up world of the Funny Pages.

Which is a longwinded way of saying that completists and long-time fans will be happy with this collection of strips, as will any admirer of the black-and-white artwork of the senior John Romita (latterly inked by the great Frank Giacoia); but the stories, tame, bowdlerised and rather mediocre, struggle without the support network of a Marvel Universe, and are necessarily dumbed-down for readers not familiar with the wider cast or long history.

If the reader is steeped in the common folklore of Spider-Man, the adventures introducing Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus are merely heavy-handed, but for newcomers they are presented as if all participants are already familiar, with no development or real explanation. A new villain The Rattler comes next, followed by the more appropriate (for strips at least) gangster The Kingpin before the strip finally gets around to a retelling of the origin, but now based on that aforementioned TV show rather than the classic Lee/Ditko masterpiece. It is safe to say that in those early years the TV series informed the strip much (too much) more than the comic-books.

A revised Kraven the Hunter came next, which presented an opportunity to remove Mary Jane Watson from the strip in favour of a string of temporary girl-friends, more in line with the TV version, and this also signalled a reining-in of super-menaces in favour of a less fantastic string of opponents such as a middle-Eastern terrorist. The launch of a Spider-Man movie took Peter Parker to Hollywood and a new version of deranged special-effects genius Mysterio, before Dr. Doom returned, attempting to derange our hero with robot pigeons and duplicates of Peter Parker’s associates.

This is followed by an exceptional run as three street thugs terrorise Aunt May for her social security money, and Spider-Man has to foil a crazed fashion-model who has discovered his identity and is blackmailing him. These human-scale threats are a perfect use of the hero in this more realistic milieu – and they are the best stories in this collection (reprinting the first two years of the feature; from January 3rd 1977 to January 28th 1979), which regrettably ends with a (feel free to shudder) protection racket story set in the Disco owned by Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn.

The wonderful art sadly can’t counteract the goofy stories that predominate in this collection, nor has time been gentle with the dialogue, which is so antiquated that it might be dug up on Time Team, but there is nonetheless a certain guilty pleasure to be derived from this volume if you don’t take your comics too seriously….

© 1977, 1978, 2007 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 4: Legacy

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 4: Legacy

By Brian M. Bendis, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0968-4

After Marvel’s problems of the mid 1990s, the company came back swinging, and one new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture. The ‘Ultimate’ imprint abandoned the monumental continuity that had been Marvel’s greatest asset and the company’s major characters were given a separate universe to play in and makeovers to appeal to a contemporary, 21st century audience.

As the Ultimate wall crawler ended his second year the characters had stabilised, the relationships had crystallised and everybody concerned accepted that the series was here for the long haul. Bendis, Bagley and Thibert were beyond the experimental stage and were crafting stories in their teen-friendly soap-opera that could aspire to something other than novelty value.

This sequence (originally printed as issues #22-27 of the monthly comic) features the return of Norman Osborn, the insane millionaire industrialist whose experiments led to the creation of Spider-Man. Believed killed as the mutated Green Goblin, he is back, and knows Peter Parker’s secrets. He also intends to make Peter his accomplice, if not slave, and threatens Parker’s nearest and dearest to get his way.

Luckily Nick Fury steps into the picture. Running covert agency S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury is responsible for handling superhuman affairs for the government. Unable to tackle Osborn himself, Fury will safeguard the innocents and give Spider-Man free rein to deal with the deranged and vengeance-crazed Goblin. All Peter needs to do is beat the most dangerous super-maniac in the world….

And even if he wins, he’s only got until he turns eighteen before he’s legally an adult and Fury can legally draft him. How different is it to be owned by a millionaire madman or an elected one?

Frenetic and compelling, the charisma of the misunderstood outsider fuels this readable pot-boiler of teen-angst and school-daze. Light but addictive, and stuffed with hot chicks, this glossy super-soap brings good comics to the post-literate generation.

© 2000, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 3: Double Trouble

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 3: Double Trouble

By Brian M. Bendis, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert & Erik Benson (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0879-3

After Marvel’s problems of the mid 1990s, the company came back swinging, and one new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture. The ‘Ultimate’ imprint abandoned the monumental continuity that had been Marvel’s greatest asset and the company’s major characters were given a separate universe to play in and makeovers to appeal to a contemporary, 21st century audience.

Collecting issues #14-21 of the ultra-updated Ultimate Arachnid, this volume amps up the angst with the newly modified Doctor Octopus and the Australian TV star Kraven the Hunter, each setting their sinister sights on the spindly neophyte superhero: One for revenge and the other for publicity and a movie contract.

The convoluted silliness of the original Spider-Man is just beginning to creep into these tales, but quite frankly, that’s unavoidable if you’re producing soap-opera super-heroics. For the moment however there’s still Peter’s developing relationship with drop-dead-gorgeous girl-next-door Mary Jane, the introduction of stunning – and possibly psychotic – bad-girl Gwen Stacy, loads and loads of glossy action and a running stream of people who might have deduced Spider-Man’s secret identity…

Frantic fun with a sharp edge to it, this version of Spider-Man is very similar to the movies and that must surely be a benefit to all those converts from celluloid to paper adventuring.

© 2000, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 2: Learning Curve

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 2: Learning Curve

By Brian M. Bendis, Mark Bagley & Art Thibert (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0820-3

After Marvel’s problems of the mid 1990s, the company came back swinging, and one new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture. The ‘Ultimate’ imprint abandoned the monumental continuity that had been Marvel’s greatest asset and the company’s major characters were given a separate universe to play in and makeovers to appeal to a contemporary, 21st century audience.

Puberty is hard enough for anybody, but if you’re the high school science geek, every bully’s target of choice, suddenly the man-of-the-house and soon-to-be-breadwinner, life is horrible. Compound that with the suspicion that the Most Beautiful Girl in the World might have the hots for you – or might not – and that you’re a superhero driven by overwhelming guilt to risk your life fighting monsters and super-villains every chance you get, and what you have is the second collection of the other, newer Peter Parker: Spider-Man.

Highlights in this highly readable tome include Peter getting a job at the Daily Bugle, Aunt May’s attempt at the “Birds and Bees” talk with her hapless nephew, Mary Jane’s reaction to learning one of Peter’s secrets and of course the Die Hard-inspired assault on the overlord of crime’s skyscraper fortress as Spiderman tries to destroy the Kingpin of Crime.

The early incorporation of old Spidey foes such as The Enforcers and Kingpin into the new mythos was a canny move. Neither is as outlandish as many old villains and at the start establishing the hero as the most uncanny element was important. Even the inclusion of Electro was low key, and his costuming restrained. Using Crime rather than World Conquest kept the fantasy realism intact. But soon enough the baroque nature of superheroes will be straining at sensibilities and credibilities again…

This is a sharp, credible effort to make a teen icon relevant again and a funny, thrilling read for the old and jaundiced.

© 2000, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 1: Power and Responsibility

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol 1: Power and Responsibility

By Brian M. Bendis, Bill Jemas, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert & Dan Panosian (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0786-X

After Marvel’s bankruptcy problems of the mid 1990s the creative fraction of the company came back swinging, and one of the most successful concepts was the brutal remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the Hip and Now ‘Ultimate’ imprint. Eschewing the hide-bound continuity that had originally taken Marvel to the top of the comicbook heap, the company’s major characters were given complete makeovers, a new universe to play in and were carefully re-crafted to appeal to a young, contemporary, 21st century audience.

Peter Parker was once again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, there was a much more scientifically feasible rationale for the spider bite that gave him super-powers, and his Uncle Ben still died because of his lack of responsibility. The Daily Bugle is still there as is the outrageous J Jonah Jameson. But now in a more cynical, litigious world, well-used to cover-ups and conspiracy theories, arch foe Norman Osborn – a corrupt and ruthless billionaire businessman – is behind everything.

Any pretence to the faux realism of traditional superhero fare is surrendered to a kind of tried-and-tested TV soap-opera melodrama that links all characters together in invisible threads of karmic coincidence, but, to be honest, it actually doesn’t hurt the narrative. As long as internal logic isn’t contravened, it doesn’t have to make sense to be entertaining.

By reworking key moments of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, the creators have captured the core value of the original and cast in it terms that modern youngsters can readily assimilate. The Ultimate Peter Parker speaks to the new young reader in the same way the 1960s incarnation spoke to my generation.

The storyline is very close to what movie-goers saw in the first Spider-Man movie, which is no coincidence and a big bonus if watching the film turned viewers into comic collectors. The art is frenetic and vivid, Brian Michael Bendis’ dialogue as fresh as anything on television and the pace is non-stop. If you need to recapture or recreate an audience, this is a very positive way to do it.

© 2000, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt

Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt

By J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-2330-X

One of the most memorable Spider-Man epics of the last forty-odd years has finally been repackaged and is available again. No cheap paperback edition yet (that I know of) but Kraven’s Last Hunt (originally collected as Spiderman: Fearful Symmetry) is probably worth the extra cost and a more sturdy format.

The eerie psycho-drama that originally ran in 1987 through Amazing, Spectacular, and Web of Spider-Man saw a dark and obsessed Kraven the Hunter finally defeat his arch-nemesis and Oedipally replace him, before inevitably succumbing to his tragic just desserts.

After years of battle, 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. Kraven’s initial success only serves to highlight the fundamental differences between them, such as how each deals with the savage and 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 that impinge upon the lives of protagonist and antagonist equally.

Despite the heavy psychological underpinnings, Fearful Symmetry is a gripping thrill-ride adventure, simultaneously moody and fast-paced. Writer DeMatteis curtails his wearisome tendency to overwrite, stifles his leanings toward flowery sentimentality and the maudlin, and lets the art team of Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod have plenty of opportunities to impress with traditional 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 medium.

© 1989 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Knights Spider-Man

 Down Among the Dead Men

MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN: Volume 1 DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
ISBN 0-7851-1437-8

Venomous

MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN: Volume 2 VENOMOUS
ISBN 0-7851-1675-3

The Last Stand

MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN: Volume 3 THE LAST STAND
By Mark Millar, Terry & Rachel Dodson and Frank Cho (Marvel Comic)
ISBN 0-7851-1676-1

The Marvel Knights imprint is pretty much credited with saving “the House of Ideas” after the near disastrous financial collapse of the mid-1990’s. It’s become a watchword for edgier, more worldly-wise, almost tongue-in-cheek material aimed at an older, more discerning fan. There are one or two stinkers, but generally this has produced a better quality of story, more accessible to new and/or older readers. The three books here comprise one extended adventure, blending that real-world sensibility with the truly bizarre continuity that had grown around Marvel’s most over-exposed character.

After yet another defeat for the Green Goblin (who has known Spider-Man’s secret identity since the earliest days of the hero’s career), which has lead to that villain’s actual incarceration for a change, our hero gets a mysterious phone call that literally changes his life in an instant. The mystery caller knows all Peter Parker’s secrets, and moreover, has kidnapped his beloved Aunt May. All Parker’s loved ones are at risk and someone out there has an irresistible hold over Spider-Man. He can’t even be sure that she’s even still alive, a notion that becomes increasingly real as the weeks pass with no word.

In a protracted search through the far corners of the Marvel Universe the increasingly desperate hero encounters old friends and a veritable legion of old foes who aren’t the clowns and bozos he – and we – were used to anymore. By the end of the saga our view of the status quo is utterly changed, and the world is a much darker and cynical place.

Sharp, edgy and funny scripting is wonderfully blended with the hyper-realistic illustration of the Dodsons and Frank Cho for a harsh and vivid revitalisation of many of the web-slingers greatest foes to produce an epic romp that is ideal to jump on or jump back to the amazing world of Spider-Man. However this should always have been one volume, not three. Maybe Marvel can rectify that error with the next imprint.

© 2004, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: Skin Deep

Amazing Spider-Man: Skin Deep 

By J. Michael Straczynski & Mike Deodato Jr. (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN 978-1-905239-56-6

Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and family has always been important to him. Perhaps that’s because when he was a nerdy science geek at high school, he didn’t have many friends. Perhaps that’s why when one of those rare school-chums turns up begging a favour, Peter doesn’t think as long or hard as he should before acquiescing.

Uber-geek Charlie Weiderman had a worse educational experience than Parker, and the casual brutalities he experienced made him a man with no compunctions in using any method to achieve his ends. When his experiments turn him into a monster capable of almost any feat of murder, nothing will deter him from his goals. Not friends, not Parker’s family, not even Spider-Man himself!

Although sporting impressive creator credits this is a slow little tale, with lots of character-play and insights into Peter Parker’s past, but a decided lack of old fashioned Spider-action and indeed the costumed persona himself. I’m a great proponent of people over punches but even I felt the urge to shout “Get on with it!” every few pages. Also, casual readers should note that this was originally printed as Amazing Spider-Man issues #515-518, and the tactics of periodical publishing don’t always transfer conveniently to a trade paperback. It all starts with a hanging plot thread and closes on a partial cliff-hanger, so you might feel a little bit gruntled by show’s end.

© 2005, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1964

Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1964

By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko with Jack Kirby

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 978-1-905239-58-0

The early years of Marvel Comics produced nothing but evergreen classics, and this cheap and cheerful softcover collection of the Spider-Man stories with cover-dates of 1964 – (issues #8-19 of the comic, plus the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual) is a wonderful way to introduce very valuable stories to the greater public in an accessible manner and at a very reasonable price. I’m not going to attempt to explain the vagaries of the US distribution system – just remember that in America the month on the cover denotes when the issue should be taken OFF sale – that’s why all the Christmas stories have February or March cover dates. This is a book for readers not collectors, okay?

The second year of the moody and misunderstood Peter Parker’s superhero career kicked off with a battle against a robot that divined his secret identity before going on a rampage at his high school, and a battle with the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch (drawn by Jack Kirby but inked by Spidey’s artistic godfather Steve Ditko, who drew everything else web-based in those formative years). Closely following were the first encounters with Electro and The Enforcers as Lee and Ditko balanced costumed villains with more down to earth criminals. Doctor Octopus made a return appearance and then Mysterio, The Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter all took a bow. For added flavour – and free advertising – Lee began using guest appearances of his other heroic characters. The Hulk appeared with the Green Goblin, and Spider-Man actually teamed up with Daredevil to battle the Circus of Crime.

The growth of comics continuity can be seen here, as a storyline – innovative for the times – stretched over three episodes when the returning Green Goblin, Sandman and Enforcers seemingly made a coward of the web-spinner and not even the Human Torch could help him. It all worked out eventually, of course, and the year “concluded” – for the purposes of this book at least – with a re-presentation of the landmark, and still magnificently thrilling, battle against the ‘Sinister Six’. When a team of villains comprising Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Vulture, Sandman and Doctor Octopus kidnap Aunt May and Peter’s girl friend Betty Brant, Spider-Man must defeat them without his Spider-powers! Also included are original pin-ups and special feature pages and the comedic short ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man’.

Full of energy, verve, pathos and laughs, gloriously short of post-modern angst and breast-beating, these fun classics are quintessential comic book magic, and along with the Fantastic Four, they form the very foundation of everything Marvel. This volume is a fabulous opportunity for new readers of all ages.

© 1964, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.