Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 TPB Paperback – 9 Jun 2010
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In the words of the song yes life was so simple then, Spidey's origin is pretty basic but the things that make these stories stand out are the writing, Peter Parker's personal issues as a teenager are at the forefront of all the tales along with strong supporting characters like J Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson, an early love triangle with Liz Allan and Betty Brant, Aunt May and a whole host of memorable villains who have been the basis of many great tales down the years.
As well as the tales involving the original Sinister Six both individually and as a team Vulture. Dr Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, Kraven and Sandman there's also the Chameleon, Tinkerer, Dr Doom, The Enforcers, Green Goblin, Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime and a runaway robot.
The Epic Collection series reprints these classic early tales in colour and leaves the original bloopers intact like calling Peter Parker Peter Palmer several times in one story, calling Spidey Super-Man and Liz Allan's dad Mr Brant and they never missed a chance to plug their other titles with the amount of cameo appearances here especially in the Sinister Six story.
There's a load of extras at the back of the book the original artwork for his origin in Amazing Fantasy 15 with lots of comments on changes, unused covers, adverts for other titles and best of all photographs of the Marvel Bullpen although Steve Ditko was not there when the photographs were taken.
The main factor for buying this volume (my first of the Lee/Ditko Spidey volumes) was the reprinting of issues 31 to 40, specifically the last two parts of the incredible Master Planner trilogy which concerned the safe retrieval of a radioactive isotope hijacked by one of Spider-Man's rogues gallery needed to save the life of Peter (Spider-Man) Parker's frail, elderly Aunt May again...
These two issues, #'s 31 & 32 respectively, are rightly heralded as THE defining storyline for our friendly neighbourhood webslinger, in particular the sequence where our hero is seemingly trapped under several tonnes worth of heavy machinery. Desperate and exhausted, Spidey pushes himself to his utmost to free himself culminating in a superb full page rendition of the massive weight being thrown off with herculean ease. Since Spidey's a middleweight strength-wise in the Marvel Universe (see the back up feature in Amazing Spider-Man #15), to read this at the time of publication in late 1965 must have been a revelation and almost fifty years on, it's still a powerful read and by itself makes this volume worth buying.
Sadly, the tales that follow this show artist/co-plotter/co-creator Steve Ditko marking time before he abruptly left the title to work at Charlton comics (for less money) on their own line of action heroes, Captain Atom (the inspiration of the Watchmen's Dr. Manhatten), the Blue Beetle (aka the Watchmen's Nite Owl) and Rorschach, sorry, Mr. A., sorry, the Question!
No's 34 & 35 feature the returns of Kraven the Hunter and the Molten Man respectively. Issue 36, featuring the Looter aka Norton G. Fester (Sample dialogue: "They mock me because I'm too smart to work -- too clever to hold down a job! Everyone's JEALOUS of me!". On the same page, Stan Lee's gift for humour is evident when he captions our malcontented miscreant as "You guessed it, friend! N.G.F. is a part-time nut!). Along with the previous two tales with Kraven and the Molten Man, "When Falls the Meteor" is a self contained single issue story that manages not to retread old ground too unimaginatively.
Issue #37 has another Spider-slayer type robot harass our hapless hero but a sub-plot featuring the alter-ego of the Green Goblin and this robot's creator, Professor Stromm, has a rather dark resolution which would forcibly come to a head several issues later in this volume. #38 features yet another ordinary schlub gaining extraordinary powers from an unusual source similiar to # 36's Looter character (who'd later become the Meteor Man) and while it's hardly brilliant, still has moments of genius. In issue #39, new artist John Romita Senior., fresh from drawing Archie & Veronica, made his debut as penciller and ushered in a whole new era for Spider-Man as the conflict between Spidey and his arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, was finally resolved in rather daring fashion in #40.
Curiously, sales on Amazing Spider-Man after Ditko left skyrocketed and Ditko, legend has it, allegedly gave the title up after disagreeing with co-plotter Stan Lee over the eventual identity of the Green Goblin and ended up going with Charlton comics editor Dick Giordano to DC Comics to work on a variety of new characters such as Hawk & Dove before alternating mainstream superhero work with his own characters such as Mr. A as well as illustrating for magazine publishers such as Warren Comics, and is still going strong, even with the likes of Neil Gaiman and Jonathon Ross attempting to interview him on camera in a recent BBC4 documentary.
So, if you're a big fan of Ditko's work like myself, this volume is his absolute last stand with Spider-Man as he never returned to the character that he made his mark with so successfully at Marvel Comics. Extra material included here includes: the cover rough to ASM #31 and pages 1 - 20 of Ditko's pencilled and lettered pages. If like me you've ever picked up a pencil and tried to render your own depictions of Spidey, etc, then these pages give a most valuable insight into how a page of comic art is produced. A fitting end to the Ditko Spider-Man era!
I'm giving this book five stars simply because of issues 31 & 32, the wisecracking humour of #36 and the first two Romita Snr issues and for the extra material. Even mediocre Ditko Spidey stories have their moments so, buy this book now!
So you get the curious origins story and some great villains (some of whom I notice are still around today) but what makes it so good is that SM / Peter Parker is an ordinary (well, talented) student who has PROBLEMS. His double-life gives him a real head-ache.
My son (7) has got into Spider-man and asked for more and is interested in the other Marvel characters. Of course, here in the Norfolk Bayou I was raised with the Yanks from the bases and my best pal was American. This takes me back to those enchanted afternoons when we would lie on the floor looking through piles of comics from Sad Sack, Richie Rich and Casper to Thor, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk. Just make a peanut butter sandwich and pour the root beer and enjoy!
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