Monday, May 13, 2013

Review # 7: Spider-Man Number Ones

OK, so it's gotta be pretty clear at this point that Marvel is my comic brand of choice. I've got well over a hundred Marvel trades compared to a whopping SIX by DC. That puts me into definite fanboy territory. So since I love Marvel heroes so much, that means I must love Spider-Man!

But I don't.

While Peter Parker is great as the supporting wise-cracker among the New Avengers and has had some absolutely incredible stories, I do not feel the need to delve beyond the quintessential. His "woe is me" attitude bugs me as he's spent FIVE DECADES complaining about relationship problems or a lack of money. Just as it seemed he was turning the corner towards more complicated dilemmas, Joe Quesada and (a reportedly reluctant) J. Michael Straczynski erased his marriage to Mary Jane Watson from history in a ridiculous story where he practically sells his love for his wife to the devil to save that old bag Aunt May.

But recently Marvel opened up the vault and gave away nearly all of their number one issues for free digitally over a two-day window and I took the plunge, snapping up more than 300 of the more than 900 made available. Much to no one's surprise, there's a lot of Spider-Man in there. So here's a look at four number ones and a non-number one that pretty much is anyway.

Amazing Fantasy #15

Whatever your opinion on Spider-Man may be, it's difficult to deny that this is perhaps the greatest superhero origin story of all time. In the span of only 15 pages, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko craft a masterpiece. Spider-Man is fully-formed straight out of the gate as we learn not only why he has powers, but the tragic circumstances that made him a hero. "With great power comes great... blah blah blah." Despite the odd teen writing of Stan Lee that I've referred to before, the most important aspect of Spider-Man's success is that in the beginning he WAS a teen. After that age group had been relegated to sidekick roles for decades, putting a teen front-and-centre resulted in an almost-unexpected explosion in sales. There was quick demand for Spidey to get his own ongoing series. And sure enough...

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

...he got one. After his endearing story involving the tragedy of Ben Parker's death we get... Spidey kinda acting like a dick as he tries to get a paying job with the Fantastic Four. He splits when he finds out they're non-profit. There's some business with the Chameleon who has the distinction of being Spider-Man's first supervillain, however the real meat of this story is Spidey's attempt to save astronaut John Jameson from a space disaster. Peter, of course, does so but in the process is ripped apart by John's own father in the media. John's father, of course, is J. Jonah Jameson. This establishes another part of the Spidey mythos, though the relationship between Parker and Jameson would get much more complicated down the line.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

A year later Spidey practically has his entire rogues gallery filled out with Doctor Octopus as the biggest baddie of the bunch (Green Goblin would catch up later.) In this issue, we get a landmark moment as the Sinister Six teams up for the first time. Cool, huh? Too bad this issue is completely stupid. Doc Ock, you see, feels after Spidey had ripped through his rogues gallery that the key is to attack him all together. His brilliant plan? Have them attack Spider-Man one at time. Oh, and kidnap Aunt May and Betty Brant. Oh, and make sure to leave Spidey clues as to where the are. Ingenious. So Peter kicks the crap out of Vulture, Electro, Kraven, Mysterio and Sandman (coincidentally running into cameos by EVERY SINGLE MARVEL HERO on the way), beats up Otto and rescues May and Betty. But that's not all. To bring the idiocy to another level, Aunt May is clearly smitten with Doc Ock. The same Aunt May who was married to the sacred cow of everything that's right in the world, Ben Parker. Right. This led to a story down the line where May and Otto get married and I really don't know where the hell to start with that.

Spider-Man #1

Fast-forward nearly 30 years to 1991 during the comics spectators boom where Marvel introduces a new Spidey series written and drawn by Todd McFarlane, without a doubt the most successful Canadian in the history of comics. This issue set an all-time record of 2.5 million sales (broken later that year by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee's "X-Men") and... it's pretty bland. Spidey beats up some thugs, the Lizard kills someone, and they never meet up by the time it's over. McFarlane drawing Spider-Man as a contortionist is neat, but not essential. Pass.

Superior Spider-Man #1

Fast-forward again to the start of this year as Marvel NOW relaunches Spider-Man in a creative new way. The previously mentioned Doc Ock - while on his deathbed - has managed to implant his personality into Peter Parker's body. Otto - much like Kraven in the iconic "Kraven's Last Hunt" in the 80s - feels he can do a better job in the role than his arch-nemesis and arrogantly sets off to fight crime, taking on a new D-list Sinister Six. He gets pummeled. After a creepy date with Mary Jane later (a bit of a mind-bender since their marriage was erased), Otto takes them down with ease in attempt number two... however it appears there is more of Peter left in him than he bargained for. This is actually a pretty interesting concept and I've gotta admit I'm curious to read more.

So there you have it... a brief history of Spider-Man that skips over about 99 percent of the important parts. Out of these stories, I'll say this: you NEED to read Amazing Fantasy #15. You can practically google image the whole thing. It still holds up for the most part which is stellar for something that's 50 years old. I don't see myself digging into McFarlane's solo run but chances are you're going to see more of Doc Ock as Spidey on this blog in the future.

Rating(s): 10/10 (Amazing Fantasy # 15), 7/10 (Amazing Spider-Man #1), 4/10 (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1), 3/10 (Spider-Man #1), 6.5/10 (Superior Spider-Man #1)

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