Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Essential Amazing Spider-Man – Vol. 1

The Essential Amazing Spider-Man – Vol. 1
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

(covering Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-20, Annual #1)

The Amazing Spider-man is one of the world's most recognizable characters, matched in comics books only by the likes of Superman and Batman. He is an icon. An icon that has lasted for over 45 years and shows no sign of losing popularity. But was he cool even when he was introduced way back in 1962? The Essential Amazing Spider-Man – Vol. 1, which collects the original issues in an affordable black and white volume, is a great way to find out.

The answer? It was genius from the start. I wasn’t sure how well this would hold up, but it’s a home run, plain and simple. There is nothing not to like. (Except the Enforcers.)

Unlike the Fantastic Four, which in 1961 got off to an awkward and unsteady beginning, the Amazing Spider-Man hit the ground running and was a fun read from the very first issue. Sure, Peter Parker is kind of a jerk in the first two issues (his fight with the Vulture in issue #2 happened because Peter was trying to snag some money), but that’s part of what I like. From the start, Spider-Man and Peter Parker were evolving as characters, and they evolved in a very natural way.

It’s interesting to see this embryonic version of Spider-Man, having previously read only the origin and first issue, maybe a few others. Some core elements, like Flash Thompson and J. Jonah Jameson, are in place from the start, but other stuff we now consider essential – Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, the Osbornes, etc. – are absent. Nifty, that. Goes to show you that Spider-Man is a character built upon an ever-changing status quo. Much more so than any other Marvel title at this time, Spider-Man was built as an ongoing saga that continued from issue to issue. Such is the case even today.

Though out of date by today's standards, Stan Lee’s writing is whimsical and fun. As much as I want to groan at it, I get a real kick out of the constant “the Marvel Age of Comics!” hype. Rather than off-putting, it's charming and endearing.

Adding to this is Steve Ditko’s art, which was a delight. I hadn't taken real notice of his work before, so this was eye opening. His quirky figures and expressive characters make Spider-Man stand out from the cookie-cutter comics of the era.

The steady stream of classic villains helps this collection reach great heights of totally awesomeness. So many iconic characters in just the first batch of issues! (Well, okay, there was a dud or two. I could do without ever seeing the Enforcers again. GOOFY!)

Aside from some really silly diversions, like the awful “Living Brain” issue, this stuff holds up remarkably well. It’s easy to see why readers were so excited by it and why Spider-Man was (allegedly) an instant hit. I LOVE the way Ditko lets the action unfold, and LOVE the way Lee gets us right into Peter's head.

It's a multi-generational hit, too. I gave my copy to my son after I was finished reading it, and he devoured the stories – in random order, of course, just like a kid should – and has since read it two or three times.

Even forty-five years later, this is top shelf fun.

Read my regular, everything-and-anything (usually on writing and music) blog right over here.

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