Amazing Spider-Man Annual #24 - cover by KaneSpidey's Totally Tiny Adventure

(1990 - three issues, Marvel Comics)

Writers: David Michelinie, Stan Lee, Gerry Conway and others. Art: Gil Kane, Rick Buckler and others

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #24, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #10, The Web of Spider-Man Annual #6

Okay, this isn't technically a mini-series, per se. Marvel and DC both went through phases where they would do massive story arcs interconnecting all their annuals in a given year -- often with mixed creative results. But Marvel, inparticular, recognizing how unwieldy such efforts could be, also tried a few micro-crossovers, only involving a handful of titles. In this case, 1990s three Spider-Man annuals.

The premise has Spidey inadvertently getting shrunken...and shrunken...until he ends up microscopic in size. It's not a particularly complex, or demanding read, it's not challenging or sophisticated, or anything.

But darn it, it was kind of enjoyable.

It's fairly light-hearted, without being out-and-out silly or campy; and Spider-Man is a character that lends himself to light-hearted better than some. Each issue/chapter has some sort of self-contained conflict -- in the first one, Spidey teams up with the Ant-Man to battle some would be robbers of a science fair. And, yeah, the plotting can be thin. But, as I say, it was just kind of fun, a welcome relief from too much dark n' gritty comics without, as I say, sliding so far into camp you lose the heart of the characters.

And the A-list creative talents help, too. The first and last chapter are illustrated by comics legend Gil Kane, and the first chapter, inparticular, in which he's teamed with inker Rudy Nebres, is just gorgeous. The middle chapter is drawn by Rich Buckler, who is in top form here. The first chapter is written by David Michelinie. The next two are plotted by Gerry Conway, but scripted by -- wait for it -- Stan Lee himself. And though Lee's later-day projects have often underwhelmed, here, he's in good form. I think it's because Lee's heyday trademarks was angst and humour, and here he's allowed to go with the humour, the quips, the funny-'cause-it's-real sort of dialogue.

Each annual features the lead 25 page Spidey story, then a bunch of shorter back-up tales -- none featuring Spidey, per se, but characters from his "world" (The Prowler, a reformed Sandman, Solo -- a kind of Punisher type -- as well as Mary Jane and Aunt May, etc.) or otherwise thematically relevant to the main story arc (Ant-Man, Captain Universe). The latter can actually provide extra info for the lead story -- in the lead, there's a passing reference to the "uni- force", but you get a better explanation of it in the Captain Universe story.

Such fillers can often seem like just that: fillers. But again, perhaps because of the impressive creators on hand, here they provide a rather high dosage of entertainment, with stories ranging from straight, well told adventure pieces, to more contemplative/character stories, to some light-hearted ones. Artists involved include such "classic" guys as Steve Ditko, Ross Andru, Mike Zeck, as well as Todd McFarlane and June Brigman (paired with comic strip artist Stan Drake for some particularly nicely realist art) and writers like Tony Isabella, Peter David and J.M. DeMatteis. The back up stories in the Web of Spider-Man are probably the weakest, simply because they all go for the light, humorous touch, rather than more variety. But they're still enjoyable.

Maybe this just struck me in the right frame of mind, but this collection of a breezy 75 page Spidey saga and various shorter tales, just hit me as a fun grab bag of tales. And at only three issues, and featuring Spider-Man, it shouldn't be hard to track down in the back issue bins...even if it's not, technically, a mini-series.