Yes everyone’s favourite wall-crawler is back for another collection that takes us up to issue #185. For the uninitiated the Essential line of comics reprints old issues in black and white, meaning that you can read the saga in chronological order easily, rather than having to hunt down lots of individual issues.
It’s a time of change for Spider-Man and his alter ego, Peter Parker. He’s going steady with Mary-Jane and graduation is approaching, so adult life starts to rear its head. Can he commit to a settled life of marriage and a career when he spends most of his time swinging around the city? That struggle is the main theme that runs through this collection. But it begins with an issue that features appearances from Nightcrawler and The Punisher, and in fact introduces an iconic Punisher enemy in Jigsaw.
But the collection lacks the drama and intensity that existed in the first 120-ish issues, and that’s probably due to the lack of exciting enemies. The new ones introduced are, quite frankly awful. I mean, I don’t even know what Rocket Racer’s motivation is, and the other ones are all forgettable. You can kinda tell that the writers thought this as well, as they bring back The Lizard, Kingpin, and everyone’s favourite – The Green Goblin (which actually was built up well and had a nice pay-off). But I don’t know, I think by this point Spider-Man had entered into a formula and the stakes didn’t feel as high as they once did. Even when J. Jonah Jameson was developing another Spider-Slayer it just felt formulaic.
But from reading this collection it’s clear that Spider-Man was popular and the book was used to promote other works. When Nightcrawler appears it’s in the formative years of the X-Men relaunch, and I’m guessing that The Punisher needed a bit of a boost as well. The other guest-star is Nova, and he features in a crossover where Spider-Man went over to his book. Evidently Marvel wanted to push this new hero but there’s nothing distinguishing about him, and even after reading this story there’s nothing that makes me want to find out more about him.
But The Amazing Spider-Man ticked along, and another thing happening in the background was the launch of The Spectacular Spider-Man, so there are references to that title in this collection.
It’s still Spider-Man, and Len Wein is a good writer (although I think Gerry Conway is still my favourite Spider-Man writer) so it’s a fun read, but the most interesting aspects are the stuff that happens away from the superheroing. I liked seeing Peter struggle to keep up with his studies and Mary-Jane, even if some of the plot developments seem forced (like MJ’s reaction towards the end of the collection).
Oh, and there’s a special issue that celebrates the history of Spider-Man. It’s practically entirely made up of flashbacks to Spider-Man’s origins and the notable events that have happened in his life so far, and provides a nice summation of Parker’s life, but it also serves as a reminder at just how good the Spider-Man stories have been, and how this collection is a drop in quality.