This volume covers issues from Nov. 1970 to Oct. 1972. After Captain Stacey's tragic death in the first issue of this volume, Lee swerves dramatically from the mythical universe that he had created from the very first ASM issue.
Lee moves elsewhere, perhaps trying to imbue his Spider-Man series with realism represented by corrupt politics and racism, terrorism, drug use, and even Attica-like prison riots. In issues 91 and 92, SM faces a neofascist and racist Sam Bullit, in issue 95 he faces terrorists in London as PP pursues Gwen Stacey, fights real-life drug dealers and thugs and helps Harry Osborne as the latter is affected by drug use in issues 96-98, and in issue 99 Spider-Man has to solve a prison riot and even takes a stand for prisoner's civil rights. Absent from this riot are the usual cast of super-villains you would expect to find there. As Lee depopulates these early issues of 1971 of ASM's usual larger than life super villains, the mythical universe that surrounded Spidey at first gets weaker plot-wise. So far, from 1962-1970 the Spider-Man plot took on a life of its own, being one of the most unique superheroes in the comic book industry. The plot was self-sustaining all along until the real world starts to replace the SM universe. Jonah Jameson suddenly becomes a civil rights hero and his cartoonish image loses its strength in many of these issues. Although I've got no qualms with comic books addressing social issues, and even criticize such problems as drug use, the dialogue in the Harry Osbourne issues concerning drug use and Spidey's speech on T.V. on prisoner's rights sounds too didactic. Lee's desire to abandon his universe seems so strong in these early issues of the present volume that the only two opponents appearing in these early issues are The Prowler (#93) and The Beetle (#94). Neither have proved to be the kind of challenge that a Doc Oc or Kingpin have been.
After the prison riot issue, Lee once more takes another imaginative detour into B-movie story type. As Peter Parker tries to get rid of his powers, he prepares a formula that adds four arms to his body (#100). After this, Lee allows Roy Thomas to give us more, should I call it B-comic book stories with Morbius, a vampire (#s 101-102) and a King Kong style story which features a giant monster kidnapping the beautiful blonde Gwen Stacey (how original can Thomas get?) in issues 103-104. This fantastic story combines King Kong with a Ray Harryhausen film. Although these stories are well written, they lack the imaginative strength that so far had characterized the ASM in the previous decade. In these stories, Lee's universe has been replaced by myths created elsewhere.
It is only in issue 103 and after where Lee tries to revive the old Spidey universe and slowly turns directions to the world he created. The story on "Vengeance from Vietnam" may seem to be too much like Shangri-La and Fu-Man-Chu combined, but the stories on Dr. Smythe and his robot (#s 105-107), and the Kraven and the Gibbon (the only new villain created by Lee in this volume) are more like in the original SM. Gerry Conway, a new writer for ASM, lives up to the old Lee spirit as he has Spider-Man struggling with high-strung nerves, Aunt May's disappearance, Doctor Octopus, and a new villain in town called Hammerhead, which fits the larger-than-life cast of foes that often populates the Spidey universe. These latter two issues are action-packed and filled with the old Spidey dilemmas: fighting with Doc Oc while looking for Aunt May and dealing with physical exhaustion from lack of sleep. It was these latter issues that kept this volume a worthwhile read.
Along with these plot detours, Flash Thompson returns from Vietnam for good (I notice that Vietnam is never mentioned in the previous years), Harry recovers from drug addiction, and Mary Jane becomes an unpredictable character, constantly making passes at Peter Parker. Harry's father reappears as the Green Goblin, but his appearance never matches the Goblin's ruthlessness in early SM episodes. He didn't seem to me as menacing as before, and his defeat was too easy this time around.
The SM stories continue to be a challenging read for the targeted audience because of the above level diction used in these texts. Although not as solid as before, plot-wise that is, this volume is still a good read.