Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making Marvel Mine: The Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1 (Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-20 and Annual #1)

Okay, confession time. First, I should have written this like three months ago, and I didn’t. Hopefully my Iron Man review will be more punctual (Iron Man is next guys, just so you know). Secondly, this review is not going to be nearly as fair and balanced as the others (however fair they may or may not be), because Spider-Man is straight up my favorite super-hero ever (closely followed by Batman). And I straight up love this book. How much? So much that instead of general review like all the others, I’m going to talk briefly on every singe issue in here. It won’t be as boring as it sounds, I promise.

This is the first of these reviews I’ve done where I had already read the book before I started reviewing them. My copy of Essential Spidey 1 is the first edition from 1996. I bought it around 6th or 7th grade, and to be honest I probably didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now. Then again, I know a lot more about the Silver Age then I did when I was 12, so there you have it. And frankly, rereading this now after all the other books before it shows off just how good it is.

I’ve talked before about the “character learning curve”, how most comic books take some time to really hit their stride with the characters. Essential Thor gets drastically better about two-thirds in, Hulk had to take a two year hiatus to really figure out where it was going, et cetera. Spider-Man, however, is a lot more like Fantastic Four in that respect. Nearly everything is there from the beginning, and by issue 3 we have really hit the ground running. Stan the Man and artist Steve Ditko know just what they’re doing, from page 1. And nearly all the villains are in play IN THIS BOOK! It is pretty much amazing, just like the title says, but let me break it down for you more:

Amazing Fantasy #15: One of the most reprinted stories in comics, this is the awesome yet tragic origin of Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. See Spider-Man the movie? Then you know how this goes. Haven’t? Don’t worry, they’re making a remake that has web-shooters (awesome) but also a terrible costume (ugh) that comes out next year, you can catch up then. This is also the first appearance and death of Peter’s Uncle Ben, one of the only people in comics to STAY DEAD (so far). Spider-Man is layered in tragedy, right from the start. Also, moping. Peter Parker does a lot of moping. Oh, and Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and Liz Allen appear too.

Amazing Spider-Man #1: Two stories in this one. First of all: First appearance of America’s Greatest Newspaper Man, J. Jonah Jameson (Take that, everyone working on Spider-Man 4 who say JJJ isn’t important to the Spider-Man mythos!). Also! First appearance of his son, astronaut John Jameson, first Spider-Man: Menace newspaper headline, and Spidey rescues his first rocket ship. Then in the second story, Spidey tries to join the Fantastic Four, which doesn’t go so great, and then it’s time for obligatory Silver Age Communist Spy time! Luckily, this particular spy is actually interesting, because he’s the Chameleon. Sweet.

Amazing Spidey 2 also has 2 stories, the first with the first Vulture appearance. Oh, and Peter sells his first photo to Jameson, and what may be the first Betty Brant is there (she isn’t named at this point). The second story brings us the first Tinker story, who is apparently working for aliens. My commie spy-to-alien invaders ratio theory remains unbeaten. I think this whole story is later retconed as being Mysterio’s fault or something, but this is my Essential reviewing, not current continuity reviewing, so whatever.

By issue 3, things have pretty much filled completely out, like I said. Spidey gets his ass handed to him by Dr. Octopus, complaining that he’s never lost before. Dude, it’s like your fourth fight ever. Chillax. Anyway, because it’s been a whole 2 issues, Johnny Storm makes an appearance, gives a speech, and Spidey feels better about himself and beats Doc Ock.

Issue 4 brings us Sandman! Betty and Peter are flirting! Oh, and the first Jessica Jones, if you’re a total Bendis-phile or something. She doesn’t say anything, but she’s there.

You know who’s awesome? Doctor Doom is awesome. And in issue 5 he fights Spider-Man. Flash pretends to be Spider-Man for the first time. And again, it’s been two issues, so the FF show up. Again. (Jeez.)

Issue 6 has us travel to Florida to fight the Lizard. We meet the whole Connors family, Curt, Martha, and son Billy. After Spidey turns the Lizard human again, Dr. Connors says “The nightmare has ended! At last... it’s over!” Yeah. Of course it is.

Issue 7 returns the Vulture, this time for a full issue! That’s... that’s pretty much it.

Issue 8, the “Tribute-to-Teen-Agers” issue. That’s a direct quote, by the way. A robot comes to school, because it’s 1964, and it might be able to deduce Peter’s identity. Peter and Flash box. Spider-Man shows up at Doris Evans(you remember her?)’ house to show her how he’d be a better boyfriend then the Human Torch. Yep, it’s another FF appearance in Spider-Man. Oy.

Issue 9 brings us Electro! Also, Aunt May in the hospital! This... this will happen a lot.

Issue 10 brings us the most underrated henchmen in Marvel Comics, Ox, Montana, and Fancy Dan- The Enforcers! Oh, and their boss, the Big Man. His identity is supposed to be a surprise, but this comic is 45 years old, so I’m just going to tell you he’s Frederick Foswell, ace Daily Bugle reporter. This will be the start of another trend.

Issue 11 is the first two-parter! Actually, after this, a lot of stories start taking longer form. Doc Ock returns, and he’s made some mob connections. Short version, Betty’s brother owes the mob, and in the fight between Spidey and Doc Ock, not only does Octavious get away, but Betty’s brother gets killed too. Wow, we really do pretty much set up every Spider-Man story cliche in this book, huh?

Issue 12, part 2, and an awesome Ditko cover with Octopus taking off Spider-Man’s mask in front of a bunch of on-lookers! And like the cover says, it’s not a dream, this really happens! Also, more Doc Ock, and zoo animals. How does Peter get out of it? Read it to find out.

Issue 13 brings us the first Mysterio. Unless, you know, that retcon in issue 2 isn’t something I just made up. Honestly, I don’t remember. It’s accurate for now, anyway.

Issue 14 is super important. The Enforcers reappear, the Hulk is there too, but most importantly it’s the first appearance of the Green Goblin! This may sound trivial now, but the Goblin’s identity was kept a secret until issue 39. That’s an over two year wait, and back in the 60’s that was comic book forever.

Issue 15 brings us Kraven the Hunter. I love Kraven the Hunter, and you should too. Also, we hint as the connection between Kraven and the Chameleon. More on that in 30 years. Anyway, the ad on the last page says that next up is #16 and Annual 1, but Annual 1 is at the back of my copy, so we’ll get there in 5 issues. Onward to-

Issue 16! Guest starring Daredevil, still in his yellow phase! The first Daredevil/Spider-Man team up is pretty great, even if they are against the hilariously awful Circus of Crime. Don’t get me wrong, I love these Hulk-reject villains, but they are just awful...

Issues 17-19 is a great three-parter. Guest starring the Human Torch (ten whole issues! wow!) The Goblin returns, kicks Spidey’s ass, the Torch’s too, and its all because Aunt May is in the hospital again. Trends, yes? So, Jonah has a field day about Spidey being a coward, and basically all his villains, and all the superheroes he’s ever met (and a few he hasn’t) wonder why he fled the battle. Peter spends an entire issue feeling bad, Flash tries to pretend to be Spider-Man again, just to get smacked around, and this plus Aunt May getting better convinces Peter to not quit after all. Spidey and the Torch team-up to beat the Sandman and the Enforcers (the Goblin is still MIA), and all is well, except that Jonah hires a detective to follow Peter, to find out how he keeps getting pictures of Spider-Man....

Issue 20 reveals that detective to be Mac Gargan. Gargan can’t catch Peter doing anything weird, though, thanks to Peter’s spider sense always warning him of danger. But Jonah says that’s no sweat, because he knows this scientist named Farley Stillwell, who can give Gargan superpowers. Gargan agrees, because he’s a moron. Thus, the Scorpion is born, and the transformation drives him crazy. So now he hates JJJ AND Spider-Man. Awesome. Oh, and the Scorpion sort of kills Stillwell, which is only important to continuity nerds. So... you know.... me....

Finally, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1! Sweet. Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Kraven, Mysterio, Electro, and the Vulture team up to form the original Sinister Six! It is pretty great. I’m not spoiling it any further. (Oh, and the FF, Avengers, X-Men, pretty much everyone cameos in here at some point or another. Just saying.)

Okay, this is already way too long, but see just how much is already here, in just the first 20 issues? Spider-Man, like Fantastic Four, was pretty much instantly popular, and it’s obvious why. So, if you like good comics, Spider-Man, or awesomeness, this one is for you!

(That being said, the Human Torch is in 8 out of 22 of these stroies. That’s 4/11ths. What the crap, Marvel?)