First and foremost, I am a HUGE Spider-Man fan. The second thing you should know about me is that I subscribe to the idea that Marvel doesn't care about Spider-Man anymore. As far as they're concerned, Spider-Man is spelled $$$$pider-Man and the decline in quality since the Civil War event is painful evidence of that. With that out of the way, let's review...
This TPB collects the beginning of the major 2009-2010 Spider-Man event called the Gauntlet. The basic premise is that Kraven the Hunter's widow (Kraven being one of Spidey's oldest foes who did himself in during the INCREDIBLE Kraven's Last Hunt story...which I can't recommend enough) is behind the scenes plotting something big, and in the mean-time helps some of the deadlier members of Spidey's rogues gallery to enhance their powers, intending to wear him out physically and mentally when he has to face one beefed-up bad guy after another.
I won't spoil anything for you, but I will tell you this...The Gauntlet overall was a disjointed, misorganized and poorly written mess!!! As this is only the beginning it isn't so apparent yet, but believe me...by the time you get into The Gauntlet Vol. 3, 4 and 5 (and especially the books that come after) you'll be ready to give up on your favorite wall-crawler for good.
The issues collected here deal with Electro and Sandman, and are actually decently written. Electro and Sandman recieve some impressive power-ups and both conflicts play hard on Peter's conscience.
A problem with these two stories (and one of the problems that will continue throughout The Gauntlet) is that they don't feel connected (much less deviously planned/designed by Kraven's widow) in any way. The whole idea behind putting Spider-Man "through a gauntlet" is to wear him down with an unrelenting series of challenges. A bunch of coincidential encounters DO NOT equal a "gauntlet" and you most definately won't feel like the battles with Electro and Sandman were anything more than just that...a mere coincidence.
Marvel could have (probably should have) taken some hints from DC's "Knightfall: Part 1" or "Batman: Hush" in this department. If you're looking to see some villains pull a "gauntlet" off right, I highly recommend those. (Hush in particular)
However, my biggest beef with this book is the artwork. Paul Azaceta and Javier Pulido produce some of the ugliest artwork I've ever seen in Spider-Man. The cast of Azaceta's issues look like they wandered in from some other comic book about Neanderthals and Pulido's work looks like the computer illustrations I'd do back in middle school using MS Paint. Now I'm not saying that everybody needs to be Jim Lee or Mike Deodato, as often times a simple style can be quite effective, but the artwork presented here by Azaceta and Pulido is clearly rushed, ugly and COMPLETELY unacceptable for Marvel's flagship title.
For a great example find the panel during the Sandman story where Spider-Man is holding Keemia up off the ground and she is screaming "EEEEE!!! Leggo!!! Daddy!!!".
FINAL VERDICT: 2 Stars. The story is...decent, but nothing more. Worth reading if you REALLY love Spider-Man, Electro or Sandman. HOWEVER, the artwork is SO BAD that you'll have a tough time picking out your favorite characters from the rest of the hastily scribbled-together "doodles".
Oh, and you also get two back-up stories: One is a completely unnecessary opinion on the origin of Electro's powers, the other is a so-so, short and also unnecessary story about Peter Parker standing up to Iron Patriot/Norman Osborn which features art by Adam Kubert. Adam Kubert probably draws the best Spider-Man in the industry right now, unfortunately here his talent is wasted on a meaningless story and thus, not enough to save this collection.