Essential Spider-Man Volume 5 TPB Paperback – Apr 15 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
There's a few issues with pure JOHN ROMITA art, which are a joy to behold compared to the rest. (Romita plotted "Vengeance In Viet Nam" all on his own, it was his big Milton Caniff tribute!) There's also a couple near the end which had Romita pencilling over layouts by JIM STARLIN! But overall, the tone of the series had gotten very dark, downbeat and pessimistic. In a word-- unbearable.
For anyone who'd wonder why I have NO interest in reading ANY new Spider-books ever again, here it is. I have BOXES of the stuff in my back room, and don't have the time for that right now-and that's the GOOD stuff! To me, there are 2 and ONLY 2 Spider-Man artists who matter-- Steve Ditko and John Romita. Everybody else is just wasting their time trying to fill their shoes. 30 years is a LONG time for a character to be living off his past reputation!
Anyhow, this volume includes several pivotal moments in Spider-Man's history: the death of Captain Stacy, the infamous Green Goblin/Harry Osborn on drugs trilogy where the comic did not receive Comics Code approval, and the 100th issue where Peter Parker decides to concoct a magic formula to take away his spider powers and ends up growing two extra sets of arms instead (talk about weird science, huh?). The Marvel tendency to try and be realistic pops up as well as Flash Thompson returns from Vietnam with a story to tell. There is a nice bookend effect to this volume, which begins and ends with Doctor Octopus. I know the Green Goblin is the most important of Spider-Man's villain (knowing Spider-Man's secret identity sort of makes that a moot point), but overall I think some of the best Spider-Man stories involve Doc Ock, and it is not just because of the similarities of their animal totems. Also includes in these issues are Spider-Man visiting Ka-Zar in the Savage Land and the first appearance of Morbius the Living Vampire (a character that I could never take seriously).Read more ›
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Anyhow, this volume includes several pivotal moments in Spider-Man's history: the death of Captain Stacy, the infamous Green Goblin/Harry Osborn on drugs trilogy where the comic did not receive Comics Code approval, and the 100th issue where Peter Parker decides to concoct a magic formula to take away his spider powers and ends up growing two extra sets of arms instead (talk about weird science, huh?). The Marvel tendency to try and be realistic pops up as well as Flash Thompson returns from Vietnam with a story to tell. There is a nice bookend effect to this volume, which begins and ends with Doctor Octopus. I know the Green Goblin is the most important of Spider-Man's villain (knowing Spider-Man's secret identity sort of makes that a moot point), but overall I think some of the best Spider-Man stories involve Doc Ock, and it is not just because of the similarities of their animal totems. Also includes in these issues are Spider-Man visiting Ka-Zar in the Savage Land and the first appearance of Morbius the Living Vampire (a character that I could never take seriously). But then there is the Gibbon, a "villain" so bad even Spider-Man laughs at him.
It looks like Volume 5 might be the last of the "Essential Spider-Man" series, although this is just a bad hunch on my part. After all, Stan Lee stopped writing the comic at this point and the key issues of what would be the next volume are currently available as "The Death of Gwen Stacy." I have to admit that I do not mind that these comics are in black & white; certainly this helps to keep this a remarkably inexpensive series and the strengths of some of these artists (most notably Steve Ditko) actually stand out more without the color being added. There is also something to be said for not having to take your comics out of their bags to read them (or for having to pay big bucks to go out and buy all these back issues). I am looking forward to picking up some more of the classic Marvel comics from the Sixties in this format.
Included is the controversial Amazing Spider-Man #97 (which did not receive the Comics Code Authority approval seal) that dealt with Harry Osborn's dependence on drugs and that pictured montages of pill-induced hallucinations that the son of The Green Goblin was having to endure. Truly this was a strongly implicit message that dealing with illegal substances is no way to battle inferiority complexes or depression. In Harry's case, the personal problems he perceived to be having loomed larger by taking this particular route.
In addition to this classic is the Amazing Spider-Man #100, where Peter Parker, in his attempt to rid himself of the "spider within", drinks a serum he concocted in order to regain what he deemed what was once his physically normal state only to find out at the end that that which he was trying to destroy was augmented!
Immediately following are what I think are, in ASM #101 & #102, two of the best back-to-back issues in the comic book's history that did not include The Green Goblin. Introduced is the vampire, Morbius, who, as the renowned scientist, Dr. Michael Morbius, conducted radical experiments to cure himself of a terminal blood condition only to end up as a Draculalike psychopath. His initial attempts to make things better for himself and for those he loved would all go wrong, leaving him in ultimate despair. With the combination of Gil Kane's art and Roy Thomas' finely-honed writing style, especially since those late 1960's Avenger issues, this particular storyline in these two aforementioned issues is perhaps among the most Shakespearean in comic book history.
Though there are some stories in between that don't stack up quite so well, such as the ones with The Gibbon and The Beetle, they were nonetheless momentary distractions from key turning points that starkly set a foreboding tone that tragedies were awaiting Spider-Man's future. Also included in ESMV5 is the issue that ends with Capt. Stacy's death.
With all the seriousness and tragedies contained, The Essential Spider-Man, Volume 5 is a rather Gothic assemblage and is arguably more ominous than the any of the bound Dr. Strange Essentials.
Volume 4 had ended with the return of Doctor Octopus and Issue 90 picks that up with Peter continuing to fight Doctor Octopus but in Issue 90, Captain George Stacy gives his life saving a child endangered in the crossfire. The death of Captain Stacy was a benchmark in the Spider-man universe with great consequences. It had been hinted that Stacy knew of Peter's true identity and in Issue 90, Captain Stacy actually confirms that's the case.
Peter Parker was in love with Gwen Stacy, who blamed Spider-man for the death of her father. The incident was used by a corrupt candidate for District Attorney to further his own campaign (91-92) and media cover led X-men charter member Iceman to attack. Issue 93 had Spider-man attacked by the Prowler leaving Peter unable to get to Gwen in time. Issue 94 saw Peter ready to hang up the Webs until the Beetle makes a big mistake. Issue 95 has Peter going to London and try and speak to Gwen but Spider-man has a supervillain he has to fight.
This mini-arch around the Death of Captain Stacy was superb, leading to some very good stories where Peter Parker's emotions and conflicts are portrayed realistically and great humanity. I loved Spidey in London.
Issues 96-98 were another landmark in the series featuring the return of Green Goblin, but also Peter discovering that his best friend and roommate Harry Osborn had a drug problem. The last two issues were printed without Comic Book Code approval and was a true landmark with Lee discussing a vitally important issue in a way that was not too preachy and also very human with Peter Parker getting into action against a band of drug dealers.
At the end of that arch, Gwen Stacy returned and the two are quite a couple. Issue #99 was more forgettable with its focus on prison reform which seemed less like Spidey. Issue 100 was a great retrospective on Spidey with Peter deciding to quit being Spider-man and take a concoction that he thinks will cure him of his Spider-powers. Instead, it gives him six arms. This issue is hard to hate because the six-arms thing is so iconic though Spidey deciding to quit comes out of nowhere because he's with his girlfriend, he's got a job staff photographer, and his problems are limited.
This leads into Roy Thomas' mini-run. Issues 101 an 102 resolve the six arms issue while also introducing Morbius the Vammpire who ends up fighting the Lizard. Issues 103 and 104 has J Jonah Jameson responding to fall circulation numbers by taking Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (in a bikini) to the Savage Lands, where they meet Ka-Zar who ends up fighting Kraven the Hunter and a creature named Zog.
Thomas is a good writer and these are fun stories. However Thomas' weakness (particulary in the second arch) is that he seems to forget, this is supposed to be the magazine about Spider-man as Spidey becomes an after thought in his own magazine.
Issues 105-107 feature the return of the Spider Slayers, a story arch that causes some reviewers to roll their eyes as it was the third appearance of Professor Spencer Smythe and his robots. I liked the arch because the robots are far more menacing than the silly things that showed up back in Amazing Spider-man #25. Plus there are additional elements that are nice to see such as Smythe using anti-crime big brother cameras that he'd been contracted by the city to install and service to commit crimes. Issues 108 and 109 are a story about Flash being haunted for something that occurred in Vietnam and it's a memorable serial that has a good reason for featuring a cameo by Doctor Strange.
Also in Issue 109, Gwen Stacy finally tells Aunt May that she's been babying Peter too much and acting like he's an infant. May reacts like a mature elderly woman would: she runs away from home.
Issue 110 is unfortunate in that it's Stan Lee's last issue and it introduces the weak character of the Gibbon, a hair guy who was such a fan of Spider-man that he wanted to be Spidey's sidekick. Spidey blows him off while searching for Aunt May leading to him to become a villain.
This is consummated in Issue 111 under the tutelage of an A-list Spidey villain who had been thought dead. Unfortunately, both the villain's return and Conway's first issue were wasted by his plot.
Issue 112 sees Spidey running away from fighting crime so he can find Aunt May, and the newspaper labels Spidey as a coward which hails back to Issues 15 and 16 of the story and feels kind of tired but ends on an upswing as Spidey ends the book where he began it: forced to confront Doctor Octopus.
Despite the last few issues, most of these stories stand up pretty well with the Death of Captain Stacy, the Return of the Green Goblin (with Anti-drug message), and Stan Lee's last spider-slayer story being strong highlights. Conway's issues are a bit of a tease as we begin to get an idea of what his era (which would reshape Spider-man) would be like. It's telling that these last three issues feature very little of Gwen showing from the beginning struggled with what to do with the character. He would decide what to do with the character in the next Essential.
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.
Some of the most reprinted Spider-Man stories appear herein, including the famous `Death of Captain Stacy' issue (#90) and the `Green Goblin Reborn' story (#96-98) that eschewed the archaic 1970s Comics Code to address Harry Osborn's drug use.
Also featured are the `Six Arms Saga' that introduced Moribus, a trip to the Savage Land, the third incarnation of the Spider Slayer, and a Flash Thompson Vietnam War story. Peter's tenuous relationship with Gwen Stacy features prominently and she even moves to England for a while.
Many of these issues were also reprinted in issues #71-92 of the mid 1970s Marvel Tales series (and reprinted again in MT #225-227 and 251-253).
I prefer the Amazing Spider-Man DVD-ROM for its complete collection of the entire ASM run in full color PDFs. However, the Marvel Essentials series offers convenient, inexpensive access to these 40-year old Spider-Man comics without needing a computer.