SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIPS VOL. 2 (Marvel, First Softcover Printing, 2014)
Collects Spider-Man newspaper strips from January 29, 1979- January 11, 1981
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Romita, Sr. and Larry Lieber (November 10, 1980- January 11, 1981)
I could never get into this strip as a kid because there weren't any super-villains and the story seemed to move too slow for my tastes. As an adult I can really appreciate Stan Lee's more human take on the character. The newspaper strip seems to focus more on Peter Parker and his life, with Spider-Man thrown in to complicate things. There is certainly action, but this is a slower paced read than the comic books from this era. Having said that, Lee's writing is great and the artwork is stellar. The transtion from Romita to Lieber is so subtle that you barely notice the difference. This is why, for my money, “house style” artwork works.
While this is a separate continuity from the comic books it should appeal to fans of Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics. After a quick arc where the Kingpin tries to frame Spider-Man for crime, we are introduced to Peter Parker's other major love interest for the duration of this book: Carole Jennings. The competition between her and Mary Jane Watson give this a little more of a soap opera vibe, but a good story is a good story, especially when given the backdrop of The Loomis Cult. Stan Lee does a lot of “ripped from the headlines” type of writing here, making things more realistic and believable than Spidey battling, say, the Rhino or whatever. The Loomis Cult is likely based on the Jim Jones cult which was all over the news at this time.
Carole floats in and out of Peter's life as each arc unfolds, with Spider-Man always throwing a wrench into things in the usual way (i.e. Peter has to leave a date to fight some crime, etc.). After The Loomis Cult is broken up we see the return of Kraven The Hunter. Lee plays up the show biz angle of his shtick, again making it more believable to a non-comic book audience than what would normally be found in a Spider-Man comic.
The next arc is a fleshed out, reinterpreted version of The Prowler's first appearance. Amazing Spider-Man #78, the character's first appearance. It was one of the very first back issues that I owned, costing me .75 in 1983 for a nice reader copy. I have always felt a fondness for a character, and while his '90s revival seemed to flounder I think that maybe it is time for him to get another spin.
Peter wrestles with being Spider-Man, with the strip kinda floating between a handful of events for a bit before the next arc begins. The Kingpin is released from jail, and there is a hilarious guest star in the form of the Kingpin's new neighbor, Richard Nixon. This strip is rife with then-current popular culture references. Younger fans may be confused by some of them, but I assume that it is no different than when I read old comic books from the 1940s. Thank God for smartphones, as I Google stuff all of the time when I am reading them to make better sense of the reference or joke.
Things with Carole come to a head as a result of the Kingpin arc, as the age old Peter Parker dilemma of not being able to marry someone due to the danger that him being Spider-Man comes into play. It may seem like a tired plotline, but Lee is the one who pioneered it, and for my money it still works. We all saw what happened when Spider-Man did eventually get married, and it only proved Lee right. Never give the fans what they think they want.
We see the return of the remnants of The Loomis Cult and perhaps the corniest villain of all-time, The Protector, a local tough with a bullwhip who shakes down money out of the poor elderly citizens of the neighborhood. Stan Lee writes a lot of relatable stories that were real concerns at this time. Remember, New York City in the 1970s had become a cesspool of crime. I am sure that things there aren't perfect today, but my visits there have been wonderful. Lastly, we see Peter Parker fed up with being poor and deciding to use his spider-powers for crime, successfully robbing a museum before his conscience got the better of him and he ends up with a reward that runs true to the ol' Parker luck.
This was a highly enjoyable read. I burned through this book fairly quickly, knocking out all 312 pages in a few sittings. The writing is solid, the artwork is easy on the eyes, and Spider-Man rules. What more could you ask for?
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This is the most unique Marvel trade paperback in terms of dimensions. It is shorter and wider than their standard books, being presented in landscape format to better accommodate the material.
Linework and Color restoration: The Sunday strips have full blown restoration and look great. Many of these strips are sourced from original art and film which is in good shape. A handful of these strips are from visibly inferior sources, likely scanned from newspapers. The drop in quality when those strips pop in is painfully apparent. Fortunately there are only a few of them.
Paper stock: Matte coated stock of sufficient thickness and weight. This is the same stock found in the softcover Marvel Masterworks and Epic line books.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover notes: Thick waxlike lamination.