Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

03 April 2006

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, v. 2

Collects: Spectacular Spider-Man (v. 1) #32-53, Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1-2, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13, Fantastic Four #218 (1979-81)

Released: February 2006 (Marvel)

There was a time when things were simpler, and comic books had longer names. The Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man takes you back to that time.

The Essential reprints, in glorious black and white, issues #32-53 and the first two annuals of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (the title was shortened to Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988), along with a couple of associated stories. If you’ve seen the Essential format before, you know whether you think $16.95 for more than 500 monochrome reprint pages is worth it. If you haven’t seen Essentials before, I’ll tell you it’s worth it ... if the stories are any good.

Are they? Well, the majority are written by Bill Mantlo, who did a lot of Spider-Man at the time and did it pretty well. There are a few odd stories in this volume, but it’s absolutely nothing like Lightmaster or Razorback in the first volume, so if your tolerance for men in giant pig hats is low, then this one’s safe. And Roger Stern, who did an exellent job on Amazing Spider-Man in the ’80s, does a few stories as well, including the introduction of the man who would eventually become the first Hobgoblin. So it’s got that going for it. The art comes from a wide range of creators, including John Byrne, John Romita Jr., Jim Mooney, and Mike Zeck — good stuff, for the most part, from creators who have done a lot of Spider-Man.

But really all you need to know is that this is quintessential ’70s Spider-Man: you have classic villains, goofy villains, and newer villains trying to make classic status. That, along with money trouble and the constant sacrifice of his personal life, is all Spider-Man truly needs. (Are you listening, Straczynski?) Dr. Octopus, Vulture, and the Lizard — the Mindworm and Swarm — Belladonna, Morbius, and the Tinkerer. Not to mention (yet another) Lizard knockoff, the Iguana, and the Spider-Lizard. But hey, it’s all in good fun, even if Peter Parker isn’t having fun.

There are two oddities about this volume that have nothing to do with supervillains and deathtraps. The first is that the Essential actually contains one more issue than is listed on the front cover: Fantastic Four #218, the second part of a two-part Frightful Four story. (This time the Frightful Four says nuts to girls and chooses Electro as its final member. The next time they show up, they’ve decided Electro isn’t the answer but a woman of another humanoid species might be, adding Llyra.) So you get an extra issue for your money.

The other is a downside: three issues (#40, #43, Annual #2) have atrocious reproduction, so instead of the tight line that marks most of the volume (and most of the Essentials series), the art is blotchy, muddied, and overall difficult to make sense of. Marvel must have made the reproduction from a different kind of source on those three issues — or perhaps it was just a printer’s mistake, one that might show up only in my copy.

Even with those problems, this is another of the quality reprints Marvel has been producing in the last decade. It’s well worth your time — as are the other Spider-Man Essentials (Essential Spider-Man #1-7, Essential Peter Parker ... #1, and Essential Marvel Team-Up #1). I’m just looking forward to the next volume in all three series.

Grade: A

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