Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Essential Spider-Man, volume 4

I picked this up last year at the Montreal Comicon on the cheap, and it sat on my bookcase for a few months. I finished reading it a few weeks ago, and wanted to do a quick write-up, but haven't managed to until now.

Essential Spider-Man, volume 4 contains issues of Amazing Spider-Man 69-89, and the 4th and 5th annuals, which were published from 1969 to 1971. Stan Lee is the writer for these books, and the art is by some of the great Marvel crew of that era; John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, and Gil Kane.

When reading these issues, I felt that this was the "Classic" Spider-Man. By that I mean that there was such an iconic presentation of the character in these 22 issues that the character would forever be measured up against these books. Peter Parker goes through all the stereotypical Peter Parker problems and somehow manages to persevere. It's almost funny how these issues laid out Pete's life so that if ever he tried to break from this routine, his fans would never hear of it. The archtype for his "Parker luck" is just hammered home by Lee in nearly every issue, and becomes as important to the character as his web-spinning or his spider sense.

Some of the trials and tribulations that Peter goes through include:
  • Aunt May gets sick. Peter has to fight a bad guy, and can't be there to look after her. Anna Watson disapproves.
  • Aunt May Gets sick. Peter worries about money to help support her.
  • Peter gets fired by J. Jonah Jameson.
  • Peter gets rehired when Jonah wants some great photos Peter took.
  • Peter forgets to photograph a fight he has as Spider-Man, even though he needs money.
  • Peter misses a date with his girlfriend because of his hero duties.
  • His girlfriend is mad at him, but forgives him.
  • Flash Thompson hits on Peter's girlfriend.
  • Harry Osborn is disappointed that his roommate Peter is never around.
  • Peter thinks he should quit being Spidey because of the affect it has on the rest of his life.
It seems almost silly, until you think that it is these books that helped make this the stereotype for Spider-Man. I guess that makes it okay, but I'm hard pressed to understand why so many fans want this Spidey back. It's fun to read for a bit, but after a few issues, the melodrama gets tough to slog through.

Volume four has some good fights, too, so it's not all drama all the time. Mysterio, Kingpin, The Lizard, Electro, The Shocker and Doctor Octopus all show up to get their licks in, and Spidey also tangles with heroes in The Human Torch, Black Widow and Quicksilver. Some lesser known baddies also show up, like The Chameleon, the Prowler, the Kangaroo, Silvermane and Man Mountain Marko, so there's a good tilt almost every issue, and that helps to keep things moving.

My favorite part of this book is how serial the storytelling is. Everything keeps flowing forwards, and it is pretty easy to feel out the whole of Spider-Man's world, more so than in any modern incarnation of the character. The writing follows a pretty simple formula, and the sub-plots that are introduced play themselves out nicely and are tied off once they have run their course. Stan Lee keeps throwing stuff at the read, and keeps pushing the story forward, it doesn't really matter that very little of actual consequence happens (the Spider-Man in issue #69 is not very different than the Spider-Man of issue #89).

All in all, I enjoyed these books. I liked Gwen Stacy, and I liked the non-stop parade of rogues that menaced New York. I don't need this era to be recreated though, as it's already been done, but hey, at least Spidey doesn't do much singing.

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