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On This Page: "It is extremely hard to believe young people ever spoke like this."

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You Are Here:  Hell On Earth  >  Heresies  >  Spider-Man, Essentially

Everything A Spider Can

The Spider-Man Comics Which Started It All

The Essential Spider-Man
Vol. 1: Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-20, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
Vol. 2: Amazing Spider-Man #21-43, , Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2&3
Vol. 3: Amazing Spider-Man #44-68
Marvel Comics, 14,95 US-Dollars each

At a time where comic books are lavishly colored on the computer and printed on glossy paper at high resolution, Marvel Comics has decided to re-print their seminal comic book super hero Spider-Man, starting out at the very beginning.

Instead of a deluxe, re-colored and hard-bound edition, they went back to the basics: "The Essential Spider-Man" is printed on standard newsprint, in black and white, in paperback.

At a fair price of 15 US-Dollars a volume, three tomes are presently available, each covering roughly fifteen to twenty stories, beginning with his very first appearance in "Amazing Fantasy" #15.

In addition to the lack of color, the print quality is rather poor. Where the original books displayed elegantly curved line work, all too often the reprint offends the reader's eye with clumsy bold strokes. But then, the point of these collections is not to showcase the art (nice as it nonetheless is), it's to give a new airing to the old stories. [click here to see an example]

A Spider On Memory Lane

Should you presently be in your Thirties and remember having read Spider-Man comic books as a kid, you may dimly recall some dangling plot holes from yesteryear:

How did Spidey ever get out of the underwater fortress in which he was buried under a giant steel machine? Obviously he did get out (since they are still publishing the book), but how exactly did he succeed?

Now you have the chance to finally find out.

Curiously, even the stories which have obviously dated since their first publication in the 60's seem to be crafted with more energy than many Spider-Man's current adventures. A fresh breeze runs through these stories: the villains were new, not yet part of an established canon, unbound by stone-chiselled origins and fixed rules.

Babes And Villains

I could become the greatet COSTUMED CRIMINAL of all time!!Often enough, though, the book is unintentionally funny: When one villain realizes "I'm stronger.. smarter.. TOUGHER than anyone else! And I have all sorts of SCIENTIFIC DEVICES in my chemical company that I can use!", he immediately decides on the best career path, given his circumstances: "I could become the greatest COSTUMED CRIMINAL of all time!!!"

That's why they have vocational guidance counselors these days.

Ironically, it's when the comic introduces Mary Jane Watson -- later to become Spider-Man's wife -- the books show their age. For months, the writer teased its readers with dramatic foreshadowing, displaying mere glimpses of her. Once, the artist went so far as to obscure her face with a strategically placed flower bouquet.

Then, there she is: Gorgeous for sure, but the main attention grabber isn't how she looks but the things she says. Mary Jane spouts lines which make contemporary readers howl in disbelief: Uttering such horrible phrases as "It's a real HAPPENING, man!" and "You're utterly MAAAAAD, dad!". It is extremely hard to believe young people ever spoke like this.

Origins Of A Formula

Soon after Mary Jane appears, the writer start rehashing previously-used formulas and bringing back villains from previous issues. Of course, Old Web Head can't just go and defeat his old nemesis exactly the same way he did before. Thus, the enemy has either gained new powers or Spider-Man loses one of his. Hence, Spider-Man breaks an arm, gets tunnel vision, catches a cold (!) and repeatedly loses his powers entirely.

Whenever Spider-Man meets a physically stronger enemy, the writer compensates for this by depriving the villain of the capability of inner monologue: "I'll follow these underground tunnels till I reach the edge of town! Then.. no one will EVER be able to find me!" Maybe, if he'd kept it to himself, it could have worked.

Every villain spends considerable time hiding, plotting and scheming, sometimes even quite intelligently. Peter Parker spends his time between fights feeling miserable and sorry for himself. As soon as Spider-Man heads for battle, though, only he is allowed to retain a modicum of intelligence. Throughout the elaborate fights against his enemy du jour, his thought bubbles track the battle's progress while his mouth spouts witty wisecracks -- multitasking at its best.

But whatever the outcome of the actual battle, the writers almost always cheat their hero of a full, satisfying victory.

No Rest For The Hero

Even when Spider-Man has defeated his antagonists, his alter-ego Peter Parker remains in deep psychological angst: There's never enough money; romantic involvements cause more heartache than hormonal release and then there's fragile Aunt May, his only surviving relative, stumbling from one medical calamity into the next and causing hair-rising hospital bills which puny Parker has to pay off as a freelance photographer.

The triumph of battle is denied to the bespectacled teenager: After vanquishing a villain, Peter spends sleeples hours torturing himself in bed (no double-entendre intended): This time he was lucky, but how will he be able to confront his foe the next time they meet?

The obvious solution, of course, is never even considered. Spider-Man doesn't kill, ever. When his enemies leave prison, usually early on good behavior (even after annihilating several blocks of downtown New York), their first and only thought is to get their revenge on Spider-Man.

And so the wheel keeps turning and Spider-Man remains forever trapped in a cycle of never-ending adventures, with a new terror awaiting him every month, concocted by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita: Good, if repetitive, fun.

This Thought: © MOATMAI (January 2000)

Previous heretic thought: The Devil Made Them Do It
More heretic thoughts: To Index

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Don't ask how I'm doing; you don't want to know: Too Much Honesty

It's all Steven Spielberg's fault: Grow Up, Already

A true, if indiscreet, story: Christmas In A Tree

A musical obsession: Hating the Pet Shop Boys

Yet another opinion about Littleton: The Devil Made Them Do It

Spider-Man, The Early Years: Everything A Spider Can

Babies in Airplanes, Oh My: The Screamer

About the Terrorist Attack on New York and Washington: Terrorizing People

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