Though I've not been keeping up with the other Epic lines from Marvel's latest and greatest reprint program, I feel safe in saying this is the first casualty of the 'reprint EVERYTHING' mindset when it comes to Amazing Spider-Man comics. In order to have the full unbroken run on any potential set of shelves in our collecting futures, there's going to have to be some degree of trash on there, and with reserved gladness I welcomed this collection knowing that it presents arguably the very worst of Amazing Spider-Man and at least I could look forward to forthcoming installments without wincing at the prospect of this run's inclusion.
Bad bad bad bad bad comics, is what this is.
Round Robin: The Sidekick's Revenge is an early example of the practice of writing for trades that has since become the norm for US comics, and collects Amazing Spider-Man #353-358 from late '91 and early '92. Written by Al Milgrom (filling in for David Michelinie, the series' then-regular scribe) and collecting some of Mark Bagley's earliest issues as long-term penciller, the story concerns an erstwhile sidekick of Moon Knight's, Midnight, who's been resurrected as a cyborg and is feeling vengeful. Also figuring into the mix for no good reason at all are New Warriors Nova and Night Thrasher, and the Punisher. Oh, and Spider-Man, but that's not important.
Oh, wait, that IS important. It's important that Spider-Man feature in his own book. I just forgot because Al Milgrom evidently doesn't want me to think so.
Yes, this is gluttonous, nutrient-deficient 90's Marvel at its very worst: a six-issue saga featuring a cavalcade of heroes and villains so far down the list they bypass a letter of the alphabet altogether, fighting and fighting, and then pausing to relay their origins and innermost thoughts once an issue or so, and resuming fighting and then fighting some more 'til the story ends because someone blows up or has a change of heart or something equally as compelling happens.
That might seem harsh, but it's a fair description of the headline story for this volume. Michelinie was a great writer and I've never read an issue of Spider-Man that he wrote that I didn't like (though he tried his damndest with The Assassin-Nation Plot). Milgrom, on the other hand, is not a great writer. Many would argue he's not even a great artist. Thankfully, that's not an issue here (even though Bagley's early work isn't particularly exciting, much as it honestly shames me to have to admit it). Milgrom throws cyborgs, a shady cult, personality-free grunts (including The Seekers: Sonic, Grasp and Chain!) and daddy issues aplenty at us and nothing sticks. I paid close attention while reading - I'm not in the habit of not reading things while I'm reading them - and even now I'd struggle to give you a detailed rundown of what happens. I remember the early reveal that Aunt May loves watching wrestling on TV, that no fewer than three characters have some variation of 'night' in their name and a misjudged post-coital quip from Peter and that's about it. Oh, and a panel in which Punisher conveniently recounts his origin in his sleep for the benefit both of the characters who've only just met him and unfamiliar readers that made me laugh aloud.
What you have is something that can't even merit a second star. There's just nothing there for it. The writing's bad, the art's not great and the plot isn't, well, it isn't there. Worst of all, it's never explained why it's called "Round Robin". That just bugged me from start to finish, that did.
Bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad.
As for the rest of the issues, when Michelinie DOES return to his writing duties, Bagley takes a few issues off! The Mitch and Bags team was a highlight of early 90s Marvel but, for these issues alone, it was hard to get the two of them together at once.
Also included are a number of Annuals containing several stories, mostly written by Michelinie, that go nowhere and shine spotlights on characters generally undeserving of their own series, and some assorted artworks and text pieces at the back relevant to the reprinted material.
With this being volume 22 in the series and Cosmic Adventures
as volume 20, we know at least that volume 21 ought to contain issues #334-350, which has some very fun Erik Larsen artwork covering a great Sinister Six six-parter.
I suppose there was no better time to release it, given the prominence of Ultron and Kingpin on the cover and those two villains' appearances in high-profile Marvel productions onscreen recently, but there's no doubt that whichever the next volume is, from the likely (Invasion of the Spider Slayers maybe) to the less so (already-collected Silver Age content), it'll be a damn sight more enjoyable than this.