Monday, December 3, 2012

Review- ESSENTIAL PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN VOL. 5

1985...the world as I knew it was in turmoil. Coca-Cola had changed it's formula, with the dreaded “New” Coke being the only one available until the Fall of 1985 when Coke Classic came out. Still, things would never be the same, as they switched sweeteners to high fructose corn syrup. I turned 12 when issue 107 was the new issue on the stands. My voice started changing around this time as well. None of which has anything to do with these comic books.
ESSENTIAL PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN VOL. 5 (Marvel, 2011; Softcover)
Collects Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Nos. 97-114 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual No. 5 (cover dates December, 1984- May, 1986)
Writers: Al Milgrom (97-100), Cary Burkett (101, 102), Peter David (103, 105-110, 112, 113, and Annual 5), Bill Mantlo (104), Len Kaminski (114), and Jim Owsley (111)
Artists: Herb Trimpe (Penciler, 97-99), Jim Mooney (Inker, 97-99, 102), Larry Lieber (Penciler, 102), Rich Buckler (103, 107-111), Luke McDonnell (Penciler, 105, 106), Bob McLeod (113), Mark Beachum (Annual 5, 112)
I bought every single one of the issues off of the spinner rack at the 7-11 two blocks from my house, with the exception of issue 97 and 104, which were bought at the Book Bin in Lincoln Park, MI. While I have nostalgia for some of these issues, I have to admit that the 11-12 year old me didn't think much of the bulk of the issues collected in this here phonebook.
Things start off well enough, with issues 97-100 (released in September-December, 1984) building up to, and finishing off, a storyline that Al Milgrom inherited from Bill Mantlo: the Black Cat's acquisition of bad luck powers from the Kingpin, and the ramifications of those actions. There is, of course, lots of adventure amidst this character development. The Spot is introduced in issue 98, and I must admit that I have a soft spot (no pun intended) for this goofy villain. Issue 100 was such a high point for this series (or so I thought at age 11).
Issues 101 and 102 were obvious inventory stories, with a few panels' worth of thought balloons re-written to coincide with current goings on. Issue 101 has a very cool John Byrne cover, with the black and white costume against a black and white background. It's is a visually interesting piece that has absolutely nothing to do with the story inside, as Spidey wears his traditional red and blue rags in this issue. I didn't know what an inventory story was in 1985, so I'll fill you in now. Back in the days when issues shipped on time or else heads rolled, editors often commissioned stories from writers and artists not typically affiliated with the title to use in a pinch if the regular creative team missed their deadline.
Little did my 11 year old self realize that he was seeing the writing debut of a future superstar writer in the form of Peter David in issue 103. I'll admit that I was, shall we say, underwhelmed by that issue when it came out. The cover was so badass, and the story was so...not. As an adult, I realize how amazing a writer David was right out of the gate. A fully formed story idea with plenty of wit without cliches...not a bad first turn at bat. Issues 105 and 106 are a two part story featuring the Wasp and Paladin, and are again surprisingly fully formed even if some of David's early dialogue was a bit sophomoric. 
One gripe that I had at the time of publication and that I still have now is how David portrays Spider-Man as a weakling. Lower rung villains and nobodies make mincemeat out of ol' webhead. Annual 5 is a prime example of this, with Michael Jackson look-alike villain Ace giving Spider-Man a run for his money. The same Spider-Man who, that same summer over in Amazing Spider-Man, gives Firelord a beat down. Firelord, a herald of Galactus, couldn't defeat Spider-Man, but Ace...now there was a foe to be reckoned with! I wonder if he was supposed to be a mutant or something. Mark Beachum's artwork is so uneven that it's unsettling. He draws some photo realistic stuff, but his anatomy, specifically in action sequences, is all off.
The crown jewels of this book are issues 107-110, The Death of Jean DeWolff. This arc is available in a nice hardcover, and will be reissued in trade paperback via a new printing early next year. People point at Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns as the start of the grim and gritty, psychologically probing comic books, but I'll point to this era as a whole. There was a sea change in comics going on in the mid-1980s. Rich Buckler's artwork is fantastic in issues 107-109, but 110 was obviously running late, as it has inking by M. Hands. M. Hands was short for Many Hands, a Marvel in-joke, where multiple people, or “many hands” finished a book that was running behind schedule. The drop in quality is noticeable. 
Issue 111 was a Secret Wars II crossover where the Puma goes after the Beyonder. The way that this book is set up is unsatisfying, though, as this plotline was building and was continued over in Amazing Spider-Man. I implore Marvel to merge all 3 lines of Spider-titles at this time into one line, as events are referenced and, in some cases, continued and rectified in other titles. Issue 100, for example, was continued in Web of Spider-Man No. 1, not included here. Nor is issue 100 included in Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1. Once the Marvel Masterworks line reaches this point we are going to have a mess on our hands. Only one cohesive line, or a line of Omnibus hardcovers, could alleviate this forthcoming problem. Masterworks Editor Cory Sedlmeir has stated that he will do them as separate lines, which I believe is a mistake that will come back to haunt Marvel.
Issue 113 has terrific Bob McLeod artwork, while issue 114 was an inventory story through and through. From it's generic “iconic image” cover by Detroit's own Keith Pollard to the story, everything screams filler. Marvel resorted to “iconic image” covers in the Aughts, and they all sucked. A cover should have something, anything to do with the story inside.
This was a fun trip down memory lane. I am mentally ill, however, because I bought this black and white phone book when I still have the original comic books. I must be either insane or I just hate my money.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.75 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Marvel's Essential line of phonebook-sized trade paperbacks are inexpensive ways to catch up on a character's history, or just to get a generous chunk of reading (typically 500+ pages) for MSRP $19.99.
Linework restoration rating: 4 out of 5. There are a few pages with linework dropouts.
Paper rating: 2 out of 5. The cheap pulp paper is what makes these collections so affordable. Lack of color is the other thing that keeps the costs down. Some folks won't buy these books for their lack of color, while others praise this line for being able to see the artwork without the primitive, limited four color printing process' palette.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Typical glued binding. Many of the earlier Essentials from ten or more years ago had glue issues. I have a first printing of Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1 where the cover came clean off the first time that I read it. No one remembers the books that hold up over the years, only the ones that fall apart.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. Typical Marvel wax-coated cardstock which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It's pretty durable when handled with reasonable care.

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