on 8 October 2014
NOTE: FOR SOME REASON, AMAZON IS COUNTING THE VOLUME 1 REVIEWS AS VOLUME 2 REVIEWS; I HAVE APPENDED THE VOLUME 2 REVIEW TO THE END OF THIS ONE - BOTH VOLUMES GET FIVE STARS.
The Epic Collections, up until now, have largely focused on less widely-available, more obscure stories from Marvel's back catalogue. That's a description that certainly doesn't apply to this latest offering. Yes, as part of their 75th anniversary celebrations, the House of Ideas are giving us Spidey Volume 1 - the first stories of their most famous character. These tales have been released in so many trades, reprints and omnibi over the years that many readers will own them already. But let's face it - WHAT stories to own!
These formative issues, from 1962-1964, give us one of the greatest origins (if not THE greatest) in superhero history, as timid teen Peter Parker gains amazing abilities after a radioactive spider bite, and through personal tragedy learns that with great power... well, you know the rest. As the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter battles a never-ending roster of colourful bad guys, while dealing with school bullies, money and girl problems, and the pressures of looking after his aged aunt.
It was the Marvel style that made such waves in the Sixties; superheroes with feet of clay and human foibles. Moreso, Spidey was, as a shy, awkward but intelligent teenager, a figure that the readership could quite directly relate to for the first time. Stan Lee's patented snappy patter meant that the schoolboy was as interesting, if not more so, than the wisecracking webslinger.
These collected issues represent possibly the strongest run of memorable villains ever seen, too, as the majority of Spidey's rogue's gallery make their debuts here. Doctor Octopus, Electro, Green Goblin, Sandman, Vulture, Mysterio, and more... it's quite the list. Steve Ditko's art, owing as much to idiosyncratic caricature as to traditional superhero comics, gives us a wealth of incredible character designs, and populates Spider-Man's world with a cast of oddballs that give the book an off-kilter feel that is completely unique.
So, yes, many of you will already own these stories in some form or another... but as one of the strongest runs of any superhero title and a genuine piece of pop culture history, it's something any self-respecting fan should own. And as with most of the Epic Collections, you have the added bonus of original art and promotional material at the back of the book! It's certainly a wonderful format to collect such wonderful comics.
Volume 2, then, continues right where the first left off and takes us through to 1966 and the end of Ditko's tenure on the book. It's no secret that the Lee/Ditko partnership was becoming increasingly fraught towards the end, and certainly the last few issues collected here suggest that Ditko's heart was no longer really in it, but before that sad point we get another run of magical stories, as well as the pinnacle of their tenure together on the title.
With the bulk of the rogue's gallery already assembled during the first volume, this one focuses more on the deep emotional subplots concerning Peter Parker (and especially his relationship with Betty Brant) and the return of some of those favourite villains. Stan n' Steve still find time to introduce the Scorpion, however, with lesser villainous creations like the Molten Man and the Looter also making their first appearances here.
More importantly, once Peter finishes high school, we're treated to the first showings of some vital supporting cast members, particularly Gwen Stacy and the Osborns, Harry and Norman. There are dozens of fabulous J. Jonah Jameson scenes here as well; ol' skinflint has rarely been more entertaining.
The main draw here is, of course, the Master Planner saga, revolving around a dying Aunt May, a mysterious gang of robbers and an enormous pile of debris. There's a reason this storyline is still fondly remembered, and it's because it crystallises the character and determination of the character to utter perfection. I'd say it would be worth buying the volume for alone, even if the other stories weren't excellent as well.
There's a real treat in the extras, as well; an entire issue representing the last known example of Ditko's raw pencils on the Spider-Man title. It's a wonderful look into his working process. Included too are a poster and ads from the time, as well as the covers for the first four Spidey Masterworks. A wonderful companion to Volume 1, and similarly must-have.