Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks Vol. 4 Hardcover – Dec 10 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
As good as the current comic book incarnation of the webhead may be...no one quite writes the characters in the mythology the way Stan Lee did. Along with original artist Steve Dittko, the two made quite a team and helped put Marvel Comics on the map in the sixties. Lee has an unmistakable style. Simple tales of good and evil, made even more fun, thanks to a complicated personal life for our hero's alter ego Peter Parker. Witty, action packed, and fun, the book features the first appearance of Mary Jane (in comics they met when Peter went to college). The wall crawler has run ins with villians Rhino, Electro, and The Green Goblin for a great three part story. We also get to see his relationships with Aunt May, J, Jonah Jameson, the lovely Gwen Stacey and pal Harry Osborne put through their paces. Ironicaly we even see John Jameson, who plays a role on film in Spider-Man 2
The art for this particular collection features work from industry giants John Romita (who took over for Dittko) and Gill Kane, whose distictive style makes Spidey's battles with the Green Goblin leap off the page.
For the book Lee pens both an introduction and epilogue in his own style. If you can find a copy, the book is recommened, and well worth the hunt.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
From a nerd's perspective, it's packed with 'key' events. The volume begins with Peter Parker's entry into college and his first encounters with Harry Osborne and Gwen Stacey; it ends with the incredible two-parter wherein Green Goblin and Spider-Man learn each other's secret identities, establishing the Goblin as Spidey's arch-nemesis. In between, there are classic battles with Doctor Octopus and Kraven the Hunter, the first mention of Mary Jane Watson, the first appearance of Norman Osborne, the famous "Just a Guy Named Joe" story and the much more famous sequence of Spidey struggling under rubble for five pages- truly a tour de force of comic art.
Which brings me to my critical perspective: scriptwriter Stan Lee was reveling in the popularity of the title at this point, maintaining his cheery cheesy breezy style while always ensuring (relative) depth to his characters and situations. Some of the writing is typically over the top (CAP: "But, once alone in his room, the complex, sensitive, anguished youth who is Peter Parker finds that he cannot study... he cannot concentrate on anything... EXCEPT..." PETER: "Am I really being a COWARD?") but it can be charming and even genuinely (deliberately) funny sometimes. The real force behind the work collected here was Steve Ditko, who was obsessively pouring all he had into the title at this time: plotting, penciling, and inking the work all himself (Lee doesn't even take credit for "co-plotting" here; it's all Ditko!). I think Ditko's art improved throughout his stint at Marvel, and then began to decline, making this his very best work. Although less 'clean' or consistent than in the early issues, he is much more bold in his panel arrangements, featuring more effective and varied 'camera' angles, and his figures have a growing dynamism which is actually aided by his own slightly sloppier inking style. Like the very best Golden Age comics, a white-hot frenetic energy radiates from the pages. Perhaps most impressively, the issues here form a complete story. Each issue tells its own story, but a well-crafted arc of subplot progresses almost invisibly throughout them until, by the last chapter, it has become the main story.
In the 1960s, mainstream superhero comics hadn't yet succumbed to the commercial model of the cigarette companies, which in our present stage of capitalism has been adopted by nearly every industry. What I mean is a comic book back then was made to SATISFY the reader; today, they are made specifically to leave one UNsatisfied, so the reader will want to buy more, forever. I guarantee that this 200-page book, or any other collection of stories from this era, will take about three times as long to read as the same amount of new comics. Part of this is a higher word-per-image ratio, but the stories are also structured and paced so that after reading one or two issues, one feels like they've had enough for awhile- a feeling of fullness that takes ten or twelve issues (if not more!) of modern comics. To the kids waiting a whole month between issues, a little went a long way- so do as they did, and savor these.
I've read that sales picked up with Romita (and I'll admit that I thought his art was better when I read them ages ago); however, looking back, Ditko's art has withstood the test of time. Romita drew more attractive women and made Peter look more like a leading man from a romance comic--thus more mainstream. But that wasn't what made Spider-man great.
Even so, it was a brilliant move by Lee to start with the secret identities of Spider-man and the Goblin revealed with those transition issues. No one would pass those up. (I've read that revealing the identity of the Green Goblin was the straw that broke the Lee-Ditko team. If so, it's too bad they couldn't see what they had going.)
A one issue Electro story follows with Marvel's atypical ending. But the heart of this book is the awesome 3-part Green Goblin juxtaposed with Harry's drug trip stories. The books the comics code refused to approve and Marvel, thankfully, printed anyway, cued the beginning of the end for the comics code. This trilogy is to Spider-Man what the Galactus trilogy (so recently adapted to film) is to the Fantastic Four. Not to be missed!
Reprinted in this full-color trade paperback are Spider-Man issues #42-43, 82 & 96-98. Oh, click on the customer image above to see a small version of the beautiful cover of Peter Parker ripping off his shirt to reveal Spider-Man.
Update - On February 8 I spoke with John Romita about that last panel of issue #42 and he told me "You want to know something funny? I inked Mary Jane and I ruined it. ... You should have seen the pencil. The pencil on the Mary Jane was gorgeous. ... Only I know how good it could have been. Everybody else loves it, every time I look at it it's a failure." I told John I considered it to be one of the greatest comic panels of all time and one that made me want to get into comics. He told me that panel proved something to him. That, "It's the story that counts, the drawing does not matter, all the drawing has to do is tell the story." That is true, but it proves more than that. It also proves John will always be one of the greats! If my 'successes' in comics were half the quality of John's 'failures' my life would have been very different... Of course, John did not remind me in the conversation that the original "gorgeous ... pencil" was HIS own drawing in the first place! As well as being a great artist he is modest - an all around great man that to me embodies the best of humanity. I really miss working with him.