GRAPHIC NOVEL AND TRADE PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm

Spider-Man reviews page 6


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Spider-Man published by Marvel Comics
 

Spider-Man/Kingpin: To the Death 1997 (SC GN) 48 pages

cover by Romita, Sr.Script by Stan Lee (story Tom DeFalco). Pencils John Romita, Sr. Inks Dan Green
Colours: Steve Oliff. Colours: John Roshell. Editor: Ralph Macchio.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Additional notes: sketchbook and commentary by John Romita Sr. Afterwards by Lee and Romita.

This graphic novel (or prestige format comic, if you don't wanna be pretentious) is a bit of an exercise in nostalgia. Though set in the then current period of Spidey stories, it reunites Stan Lee and John Romita Senior -- guys who hadn't worked together on Spider-Man since the early 1970s. As well, it tosses in Daredevil -- whom Lee and Romita had worked on in his very earliest period. And makes the Kingpin the villain -- the Kingpin used to be a Spider-Man foe before he was moved over to being Daredevil's arch-nemesis. So having Lee and Romita present a Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin tale is definitely meant to resonate with old time fans.

The story has someone going around dressed as Spider-Man murdering crooks, leading everyone to assume that Spidey's gone rogue (allowing for a brief cameo by a few other super-heroes trying to bring him in) -- everyone except Daredevil, who teams with Spidey to figure out what's behind it all.

And the result is...an enjoyable page turner.

Sure, Lee's dialogue is a bit clunky and corny -- not simply because his style has dated, but because most of Lee's recent efforts seem to lack that extra spark, that extra edge he could sometimes bring to his 1960s work. Maybe it's because one-shot stories like this don't really allow Lee to indulge in what was surely his signature -- the soap opera-y angst. At the same time, the nature of the premise at least allows for a bit of angst on the part of our harried hero, and Lee works in some amusing quips and self-reflectively humorous captions in among the drama and thrills. Although there is something funny about marketing this as a Lee project when he's really just writing dialogue for a Tom DeFalco plot.

The plot itself is paced out well, with enough going on to keep the pages turning and a desire to see where it all is headed. Though there are some technical lapses, I think, particularly involving a drug and how long it lasts.

The art by Romita Senior is especially attractive, showing the sturdy, old school sensibilities that are kind of missing from so many modern comics. His figure work is nice, his visual composition dead on, and Dan Green's inks give a softer, almost Joe Kubert-esque vibe to the pencils. And Steve Oliff's understated but moody colouring enhances the whole thing, sheathing things in a lot of warm but sombre hues that, while not oppressive, maintains a sense of melancholic mean streets, as if the whole story takes place in the twilight hours -- just right for comicdoms hardluck hero.

The marketing concept behind this is, of course, a bit odd. It's called Spider-Man/Kingpin: To the Death...but it's not like either of them die, or that you even assume they're going to. And though Kingpin is the villain, it's not like he's an equal character to Spidey, at least any more than any foe is in an adventure story. Yet, inside, the book is even listed simply as "Kingpin"! It might be more appropriate to have called it Spider-Man/Daredevil, though it's still more a Spider-Man story than a Daredevil one.

Ultimately, I won't pretend this is some classic waiting to be discovered. But I quite enjoyed it on its level, as a well paced, self-contained -- if occasionally corny -- tale, strangely moody and beautifully illustrated. And though it might lack some of the sophistication of modern comics...it also lacks the vices that plague too many modern stories, too.

Original cover price: $8.40 CDN./ $5.99 USA


The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's First Hunt 2008 (HC TPB) 96 pages

coverWritten by Marc Guggenheim, with Bob Gale, Dan Slott, Zeb Wells. Pencils by Phil Jimenez, Paulo Siqueira, with Patrick Olliffe. Inks by Andy Lanning, Mark Pennington, Paulo Siqueira.
Colours: Chris Chuckry, Antonio Fabela, Jeromy Cox. Letters: Coris Petitopolous. Editors: Stephen Wacker, Tom Brennan.

Reprinting: The Amazing Spider-Man #564-567, plus a short story from Spider-Man: Brand New Day - Extra #1 (2008)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

If you can forgive the hyperbolic declaration that "you've never read a Spidey story" like it, the opening, relatively stand alone tale, "POV3!", is a light, entertaining tale of Spidey tackling a recurring villain, Overdrive -- working for another recurring foe, Mr. Negative. The story is broken into three acts, telling the event from three different perspectives -- Spidey's; his roommate Vin (a cop who hates Spidey); and Overdrive -- with each act written by a different writer.

It's light and frothy, with plenty of amusing quips, just a hint of character stuff (relating to Vin more than Spidey) and attractively illustrated by Paulo Siqueira with a realist style which is a contrast to a lot of other Spidey stories I've read in the last few years, where often the artists employ a more stylized bent.

But remember that phrase "light and frothy" -- we'll be coming back to it.

The eponymous three parter has a young, female huntress targeting Spider-Man. The title is a riff on the classic Kraven's Last Hunt, a dark, brooding, psychological tale that culminated in arch foe Kraven's suicide. It seems oddly, um, presumptuous...when this story isn't even trying for the same level of grandeur.

Anyway, this new huntress deduces Spidey's secret identity so that she can first undermine his civilian life before attacking him physically. That idea has been done before, sometimes well, sometimes kind of wasted, and this falls in the middle -- seeming a bit rushed cramming it into the first chapter. But that first chapter builds to a clever twist, one that both makes sense and that lets you flip back through earlier scenes to see how it was done. From there the next two issues are...well, perfectly okay, in a light, frothy way. (Told ya that phrase would come back).

Spidey loses his costume, so has to borrow one from buddy Daredevil, and another foe, the sewer dwelling Vermin, crops up -- further emphasizing the connection to Kraven's Last Hunt (which also involved switched costumes and Vermin). All further emphasizing how light and minor this story arc is in contrast.

Don't get me wrong -- the quips are generally amusing, the light heartedness not unappealing. But the key to Spider-Man was always the mix of light and dark, the wisecracking Spider-Man as a mask for the angst-riddled Peter Parker. Here it just seems to render the whole thing as almost a sitcom, where there's no real gravatus to what's happening. Vin, Peter's cop roommate, is framed for murder by the huntress...and buddy Harry Osborn teases him as though it's no more serious than he's misplaced his car keys. And Spider-Man rarely seems to shift from the quips to the "okay, this is serious" mode that would let you believe the fights are dangerous.

The whole style of repartee seems as though the writers have studied everything Joss Whedon ever wrote and applied it phrasing-by-phrasing, syntax-by-syntax to Spider-Man. I like Whedon's stuff, but it doesn't entirely "sound" like Spidey. It comes across like a comic people would say is trying to emulate the Spider-Man formula...more than that it is Spider-Man. Spidey seems more juvenile than he did even when he was a teen, and the writers seem to ignore facets of the character -- like having Peter grumble about hating math...when he's supposed to be a science whiz! And the problem with that style of humour is it can veer too often into self-reflective, "it's all a show, kids", unreal comedy.

I'd commented in my review of some of the Essential Spider-Man volumes that the Lee-Ditko stories could occasionally seem more like comedies than super hero adventures. But their comedy was still rooted in a believability -- that's what made it funny. Read those old issues, or -- as a latter day example -- Peter Parker, Spider-Man #37 (reprinted in Trials & Tribulations) to see how Spidey can be comedic, without losing the "real".

And if the intent is just to be light and good natured...the "grittiness" of the fight scenes, with characters constantly spitting blood when hit, seems a bit uncalled for.

The art for this arc is supplied by Phil Jimenez whose style is heavily evocative of comics legend George Perez (one story I heard had Jimenez and Perez jokingly greet each other at a Comics Convention as "dad" and "son"). Jimenez is a popular talent and like with Siqueira, his more straight forward realism is a nice contrast to some other Spidey artists like John Romita Junior (though I have come to appreciate JRJR's storytelling skills). But like with Perez himself, Jimemez's art, though striking and beautiful at times, can lack a certain...dynamism, or flare. Sometimes realism isn't just about making sure proportions are correct, but about capturing body language, and the right camera angle.

It's not till the end of the three issues that it's revealed the villain is related to the dead Kraven -- but the title of the arc is Kraven's First Hunt kind of negating any "surprise"! I guess it's because this wasn't marketed as "read the gripping story about a mysterious foe who targets Spider-Man", but as "hey, kids, read this story that introduces a new Kraven, soon to be featured in all sorts of Spidey crossover mega events! (and no doubt an action figure or two)". Though, visually, the new Kraven lacks the visual pizazz of the original, looking like an emaciated fashion model in impractical high heel boots.

This follows on the heels of the controversial Brand New Day story arc wherein Marvel's editorial regime decided to drag Spidey back to his roots by literally erasing his 20-some year marriage to Mary Jane, and even resurrecting Harry Osborn from the dead, thanks to the mystical intervention of Mephisto. Now I might agree that Spider-Man comics had lost touch with some of the roots of the character...but I don't think that was the way to get back to them. Spider-Man was a series all about consequences and repercussions -- to suddenly just throw in a magical re-boot negates the very essence of that. It also kind of saps any sense of, well, growth from the series. After all, when Stan Lee was writing Spider-Man in the 1960s, it was probably the first super hero series to really depict an evolving life, as Peter Parker aged, graduated from high school, etc. With the Brand New Day "fix all", Marvel seems to be shutting the door on any notion that Spider-Man will, well, grow. J. Jonah Jameson seems nowhere around...but has simply been replaced by a carbon copy character!

Clearly the creators are having a blast trying to recapture the "old" flavour (at one point, the editor even appropriates Lee's old nickname, "Smilin'"). But I would argue the heart of the old Lee-era Spider-Man wasn't that he was single, or that he hung around with Harry Osborn (much as I missed the guy) it was that he lived in the real world surrounded by real friends. And that's something that still seems to be missing -- at least from these issues. There's very little sense of a larger supporting cast (Harry appears, rather extraneously, in a couple of scenes) with the main supporting character Peter's cop room mate -- so instead of surrounding him with "real" people divorced from the super heroing, he's buddied up with a crime bustin' cop!

Ultimately, this collection is not unentertaining. It clips along briskly enough, the jokes are amusing if occasionally distractingly self-aware. But it remains a pretty slight, breezy adventure.

This is a review of the stories as they were presented in the original comics.

Cover price: ___ USA.


Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt 1994 (HC & SC TPB) 140 pages

cover by Zeck/McLeodWritten by J.M. DeMatteis. Pencils by Mike Zeck. Inks by Bob McLeod.
Colours: Janet Jackson. Letters: Rick Parker. Editor: Jim Salicrup.

Reprinting: Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man (1st series) #293-294, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man (1st series) #131-132  (1987)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Originally collected in a TPB in 1994, this has recently been re-released in a prestigious hardcover version.

Spider-Man recurring foe, Kraven, The Hunter, feels his life is nearing its end -- physically and, more to the point, spiritually. Before he can shake off his mortal coil, though, he figures he's got something to prove to the world and, more importantly, to himself: that he can whup Spider-Man.

And that rather flippant synopsis doesn't really describe Kraven's Last Hunt, one of the most atmospheric and critically regarded Spider-Man stories in, well, Spidey's history, and which brought the curtain down on Kraven. Originally published over two months as a story crossing over into all the Spider-Man titles then being published, Kraven's Last Hunt (which originally looked as though it meant to carry the title: "Fearful Symmetry") is an unusually dark, brooding, intense saga.

Kraven captures Spider-Man and buries him alive, in order that he may adopt Spider-Man's identity, to prove he's a better Spider-Man than Spidey is. Caught up in this kind of danse macabre between the two old foes is Mary Jane, Spidey's wife, left home to brood and wonder when Spidey doesn't come home, and another Spider-Man foe, the both pathetic and horrific sewer-dwelling killer, Vermin.

There's nary a quip or wisecrack in sight. The piece is heavily character driven, the scenes filtered through Karven, Spidey, Mary Jane and Vermin. It's also minimalist. Other characters make very occasional appearances (Joe Robertson in one scene as Mary Jane seeks out someone to talk to when Peter is overdue), but basically there are only four characters in this drama. And there's a touch of dreamlike surrealism. The story takes place over two weeks, but the rain never stops (until the end) and almost all the scenes take place at night. The result is a sense that this all happens during one endless, melancholy night, as if a bubble of timelessness has wrapped itself around the four players and won't let go until the drama plays itself out.

This is decidedly more than just a super-villain seeks revenge story of the kind that you can probably read in almost every second comic you pick up in any given month. Though there's plenty of action scenes, this is much more a psychological study of both Kraven and Spider-Man.

To Kraven, Spider-Man has come to represent so much more than just the guy who kicks his butt periodically. A White Russian, a self-styled aristocrat and man of honour, lost in contemporary urban society, to Kraven Spider-Man personifies the modern world, and its iniquities that he feels have dogged him all his life, robbing him of his mother, of the life he would have liked to lead. In a way, of course, he's right. Spider-Man remains one of comicdoms most grounded super heroes, the one that seems most like a person who just happens to have funny powers, a figure rooted in the real world. In that sense, "The Spider" (as Kraven sees him) is everything Kraven fears. On the other hand, Kraven has clearly lost his marbles.

The story starts out seeming about mortality, with both Kraven and Spider-Man separately ruminating on death. As the piece evolves, though, it becomes more about fear. Kraven doesn't fear Spider-Man -- his foe, the guy to go a few rounds with -- he fears "The Spider", the embodiment of a world that frightens him. In conquering Spider-Man, Kraven hopes to conquer his personal fears. Likewise, Vermin is both a source of terror to his victims, and a victim of terror, frightened, like Kraven, of the world and its protector. The irony is that Vermin, a deranged man living in fetid sewers, the product of sinister experiments, more closely represents what Kraven fears than does Spider-Man: the breakdown of Western civilization.

At the same time, De Matteis throws in another quirk, hinting at a certain homoeroticism, suggesting that Kraven, much as he hates and fears Spidey, may also harbour other feelings.

Spider-Man, meanwhile, fears death, fears losing Mary Jane, and in the climax struggles with the vestigal fears of his premature burial. Perhaps most fundamentally, though, he fears becoming precisely the figure of terror Kraven and Vermin perceive him as. It could be argued that Kraven, in his attempt to conquer Spider-Man, ultimately fails to conquer his fear, because "The Spider" is a false symbol. While Spider-Man succeeds in conquering his fear, simply by not allowing it to change him, to rule him, the way Kraven and Vermin were, ultimately, ruled by their fears.

It's also interesting to note that writer J.M. DeMatteis gives Spidey a source of empowerment in his love for Mary Jane. Kraven and Vermin have nothing but their fears and hates, while Spidey is strengthened by love and compassion.

There's more than a sense DeMatteis (and his editors) were thinking of Batman when concocting this, particularly in the overall darkness of the tale, emotionally and visually (this was also at the time when Spidey was wearing a black costume). In its portrait of a villain losing himself in his arch foe's identity, there's a whiff of Bat-foe Hugo Strange (see such Batman TPBs as Strange Apparitions and Prey). And in the way Spider-Man is expressed as a dichotomy -- of Peter Parker and "The Spider" essence -- there are definite echoes of Frank Miller's take on Batman in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The cross-pollinization may go both ways, though. In its story of a familiar foe going over the top in an effort to "prove" something, it anticipated the graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke. I was never a big fan of The Killing Joke, so it probably doesn't mean much when I say this seems the superior of the two. DeMatteis would even later echo himself with a not dissimilar Batman-Joker story -- Going Sane (a very good, though neglected, story -- maybe even a better one).

The art is overall quite effective. I'm generally ambivalent about Mike Zeck's art, an artist whose style can change radically from project to project, but Bob MacLeod is one of those inkers who tends to embellish and flesh-out an artist's pencils. Between the two, the art chores are handled quite effectively, aiding and abetting the sombre mood while keeping the face and figurework decidedly in the "realist" style.

Like any "psychological" piece, there's a fine line between insightful and nonsensical, and it could be argued that all the undercurrents aren't brought to their full fruition. DeMatteis's use of parallel voice overs, as if depicting two levels to a character's consciousess, can seem over done in spots, as if he fell in love with his own stylistics. It's arguably a bit too dark and violent in spots. (Though, vis-a-vis the violence: I realize, dunderhead that I am, that the "violent" scene near the beginning, of Kraven tearing apart some animals...is actually Kraven tearing apart some already stuffed and mounted animals!)

There's also some interesting insight into gender politics. Kraven's bare backside is depicted in this Comics Code Approved story, but I doubt it would've received the same O.K. if, instead, it had been Mary Jane flashing her bottom for the kiddies.

Whatever its shortcomings, Kraven's Last Hunt is an atmospheric, haunting odyssey. Though dark and brooding, it remains, like the better Spider-Man stories, awash in empathy and humanity. A few years later, DeMatteis, Zeck and MacLeod did a follow up one-shot graphic novel called Spider-Man: The Soul of the Hunter. Interestingly enough, I believe Kraven has stayed dead...although Marvel has simply resurrected the character concept by having Kraven's look-a-like son adopt his costume!

Cover price: __ 


Spider-Man Marvel Team-Up by Claremont and Byrne 2011 (HC TPB) 240 pages

coverWritten by Chris Claremont (with Ralph Macchio). Pencils by John Byrne. Inks by Dave Hunt, with Bob Wiacek, R. Villamonte, Tony DeZuniga, Al Gordon.
Colours/letters: various

Reprinting: Marvel Team-Up #59-70, 75 (1977-1978)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed: Feb. 2015

Over the years there has been more than one variation on a monthly comic featuring Spider-Man teaming with various guest stars -- most notably Marvel Team-Up which ran from 1972-1985. Never really seen as a seminal Spider-Man series (since it generally eschewed the heavy sub-plots and soap opera of the "main" Spidey comics), it boasted variable but decent creative teams over its run. A particularly significant teaming was writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, who collaborated on a few projects back in those days, most significantly their seminal run on The Uncanny X-Men that helped turn that team into one of Marvel's flagship properties.

Claremont wrote some other Marvel Team-Up issues not drawn by Byrne, and Byrne drew some not written by Claremont, and the two even collaborated on a 10 pg. back-up story in Marvel Team-Up #100 -- but it teamed The Black Panther and The X-Men's Storm, without Spidey (who was only featured in the lead story). So this TPB collects only the issues which involved all three together -- Claremont, Byrne, and Spider-Man (including #75 for which Claremont is only credited with the story, the actual scripting being by Macchio)

And the result is generally agreeable page turners by guys who were important figures.

But those expecting lost classics would be better to look elsewhere. Instead what you have are fairly breezy team up/action stories, light on twists or character nuance, prone to minimalist plotting and long action scenes. On the flip side, given Claremont can be guilty of over-writing at times, and self-conscious introspection (even when the stories aren't as deep as he'd like to pretend) here he keeps things fairly tight (save The Man-Thing team-up). Byrne's art is attractive but can be a bit uneven -- this being at a point when Byrne was arguably only just starting to hit his creative stride.

Claremont uses the series to trot out quite a number of characters with whom he had some sort of pre-existing connection, including Captain Britain, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist & The Daughters of the Dragon, Power Man (in a separate story from the Iron Fist one), and the X-Men's Havok. He also features the Man-Thing who I'm not sure he had written for at that point, but he would later in the character's 1980s series. This run also introduces villains Claremont would later reprise such as the theme park-themed assassin, Arcade, and the demonic D'Spayre. Although a casual reader might quibble over a writer turning a series into his own little playground, conversely -- and particularly read as this latter day collection -- it makes it more definitively "Claremont (and Byrne's) Marvel Team-Up."

About the only characters here with no obvious Claremont connection (that come to mind) are Ant-Man & The Wasp, The Human Torch, Tigra, and Thor. (An interesting sidebar is the pre-ponderance of female guest stars -- Claremont, in his day, seen as a promoter of strong female heroines).

There's a surprising number of two-parters given the ostensible gimmick was to change guest stars each issue.

In the case of Captain Britain, he really is the featured guest star over two-issues. While Ant-Man and The Wasp are the official guest stars in one story, then Ant-Man is knocked out of the action and The Wasp guest stars in the conclusion. Likewise the Iron Fist/Daughters of the Dragon two-parter kind of has the characters bleed over into each other's issue. While The Human Torch/Ms. Marvel two-parter and the Havok/Thor two-parter structure it so the different guest stars do get the focus in each half.

As I say: these are often light, inconsequential stories -- even the two-parters, with both the Ant-Man/Wasp story and the Human Torch/Ms. Marvel story involving a single, super powered foe of minimal motivation who the heroes have to slug it out with (well actually the Human Torch story is slightly atypical, focusing more on strange doings at the Torch's Baxter Building home, with the foe only revealed at the end to lead into the Ms. Marvel half).

Head and shoulders the best story is the Iron Fist/DoD story, presumably because it was actually being used to wrap up dangling plot threads left from Iron Fist's recently cancelled comic (also by Claremont and Byrne). There's some back story that has to be explained, but the flip side is it feels deeper, more character-driven, than the other stories, allowing the tension and plot to build and develop. Once again it's a single adversary, but the very fact that he's a more down to earth foe (a martial artist rather than a super being) actually ratchets up the tension by keeping the action more grounded.

I suppose the Havok/Thor story also benefits from a little more sense of a story building, rather than just hitting the "fight" button. It also has some nice inking. Most of the issues are inked by Dave Hunt, whose clean, firm style certainly suits Byrne's pencils, but the Havok issue is inked by Villamonte and the Thor by DeZuniga who bring some extra atmosphere to things.

Probably the weakest story here is the Tigra one. Maybe that's because Tigra was a second tier heroine (and didn't even have as much personality as she would later, when she would become more an "everywoman" heroine). But also the "plot" itself -- involving Kraven the Hunter -- is just an excuse for fight scenes.

There's nothing too memorable here (other than the Iron Fist/DoD story) but equally, nothing too bad in a "breezy action/adventure" way. Issues #68-70 (Man-Thing, Havok/Thor) were previously collected as a black & white pocket book for an enjoyable enough read.

The point of this collection is, of course, to feature the work of Claremont and Byrne. But I suppose the down side is it makes for a certain sameness (as opposed to maybe a more diverse collection of creators for a "best" of Marvel Team-up). Yet if you're harkening for a collection of unpretentious Spidey tales, without too much reliance on on-going sub-plots and continuity, and featuring an eclectic array of guest stars, to delve into on the occasional rainy night, it's enjoyable enough.

This is a review of the stories as they were presented in the original comics.

Cover price: ___ USA.


The Amazing Spider-Man: A New Goblin 2009 (SC TPB) 96 pages

coverWritten by Len Wein. Pencils by Ross Andru. Inks by Mike Esposito, with Tony DeZuniga, Jim Mooney.
Colours: Glynis Oliver Wein. Letters: Joe Rosen, John Costanza.

Reprinting: The Amazing Spider-Man #176-180 (1978)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed March 5, 2010

A New Goblin is a story line culled from Spider-Man comics circa the mid-1970s. The original Green Goblin was still dead, and the most recent wearer of the costume was Peter Parker's friend, Harry Osborn. Harry seemed on the road to recovery...so Spidey is shocked and disappointed when the Green Goblin returns, both targeting Spidey...and with plans to become king of the underworld, leading to a power struggle with recurring mob boss, Silvermane. And if that's not enough for our harried hero, his Aunt May suffers a heart attack and ends up in hospital.

I've commented before that one can wonder why certain comics are collected and why at certain times. With Marvel releasing its black & white Essential volumes, this story already appears in Essential Spider-Man, vol. 8. As well, just a year or so before, it had been serialized in the pages of the monthly Spider-Man Family -- a massive (104 pages per issue) anthology comic mixing new and reprinted material. So since it had already been reprinted, why collect it as a TPB? Maybe having reprinted it in Spider-Man Family (#1, 2, 4-6), it received enough good notice from readers to make Marvel decide it warranted its own TPB. And with the Green Goblin such a key part of the Spider-Man movie franchise, presumably Marvel is always on the look out for GG material. As well, at five issues, it may have the distinction of being the longest Green Goblin saga of the Silver Age/Bronze Age.

And it's a decent page turner.

Despite its five chapters, it's not perhaps crammed-to-bursting with plot twists...yet it comfortably fills out its page count. The three pronged conflict involving Spidey, Goblin, and Silvermane allows for enough plot turns and variation in the action, so the thing doesn't seem repetitious. Scripter Len Wein even treats us to a surprise revelation or two. As well, though again the soap opera-y undercurrents aren't multitudinous, nonetheless the sub-plot involving Aunt May is more than just a minor diversion, but is a big part of the plot, anchoring the super heroics with a more realistic crisis -- and one that ties into the main plot, as Spidey's conflicts with the Goblin keep him away from the hospital just when the doctors need him to sign surgical consent forms!

Plus, of course, there's the inherent ambivalence Spidey feels battling the Goblin...given he was his best friend. Wein even cleverly portrays Spidey's own emotional confusion, as when fighting the Goblin he has to keep reminding himself that this isn't the same Goblin as killed his girlfriend Gwen Stacy long ago. All of which means that underneath the high flyin' action and witty quips...there's a nice grounding of human drama, and real emotions.

With all that being said, there's maybe nothing that stands out here. I mean super villains attempting to take over the New York mobs are a dime a dozen in Spider-Man...The Green Goblin himself had been that route before.

But it's an enjoyable adventure, juggling the super hero and the civilian, well paced out over five issues. The plot is also fairly self-contained. That is, obviously it draws upon the background involving Harry and the Green Goblin, and toward the end a revelation is made concerning another long bubbling sub-plot that, otherwise, isn't referenced in this story. Nonetheless, the story begins in the first issue, and resolves in the last, and with no dangling sub-plots. Making for a nice grab-it-and-read-it-for-itself collection.

Ross Andru's art is a bit rough at times. Interestingly, when reading reprints of Andru's Spider-Man from just a few issues previous (in Essential Spider-Man, vol. 7) I commented on how the art really enhanced the scenes. How Andru's detailed backgrounds created a sense of a real city as a backdrop, and the use of shadows really shaped the images. By this point, maybe he was getting bored with the gig, or maybe other factors meant he couldn't devote the same care to it. But the backgrounds are far less detailed, and the figures themselves can be a bit rougher. And since there are various inkers involved, one has to assume its the underlining pencil work that's the problem. With that being said, it's still perfectly decent work, with Andru having a solid eye for composition and storytelling, so that the scenes flow smoothly enough.

This is a review of the comics as they were reprinted in Spider-Man Family.

Cover price: __ 


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