Sunday, May 31, 2015

Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 192: The Amazing Spider-Man

 The Spider-train keeps on rollin', with MARVEL MASTERWORKS, VOL. 192: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, collecting THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #'s 143-155, and material from THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1.
 Following an insightful foreword from Gerry Conway, who wrote the majority of the stories collected in this volume, we start off with an unusual two-parter that finds Spidey in France, battling J.Jonah Jameson's kidnapper, Cyclone. It's unusual to see Spidey off of his home turf of NYC, and I've always wondered how dense his friends/associates/enemies must be to not say "Hey, Peter Parker was here with me in Paris, and Spider-Man was here, too....I wonder if...?" Conway has a clever bit at the end that shows that Spidey worries about it, too. As usual for these classic stories, Conway also spends quite a bit of time with Spidey's supporting cast, sowing the seeds for Gwen Stacy's return to the book in issue #144.

 After returning from Paris, Spidey faces off against the recently-paroled Scorpion, whose costume was happily returned to him as he was released from prison. I'm no criminal psychologist, but I think giving a newly-released criminal the means to return to his life of crime LITERALLY THE MINUTE HE IS RELEASED is probably not a good idea.

Gwen's return from the dead kicks off a six-part epic that finds Spidey finally squaring off against The Jackal, and uncovering the clone plot that would come back to haunt him decades down the line.

(SPOILERS FOR A FORTY-YEAR-OLD STORYLINE AHEAD!!!! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!!

The revelation that The Jackal was actually Peter's college professor, Miles Warren, never really rang true to me. So Warren had a crush on one of his students who died, and that led him to, seemingly overnight:

Invent cloning.

Commit cold-blooded murder.

Get in crazy-good shape.

Learn how to fight.

Not only wear a crazy furry suit, but wear a thong over the crazy furry suit.

Almost take over the underworld.

Buddy up to The Punisher, Hammerhead, The Grizzly, The Scorpion, and The Tarantula, and have the stones to betray them all..

 No, it still doesn't ring true, and the story has so many plot holes that they had to use issue #153's entire letter column to try to explain them away, but...it's still a really fun story. Ross Andru's art is wonderful, and the little character touches he throws in (See J.J.J.'s struggle to keep a priceless vase from breaking in issue #152) go a long way toward making the characters come to life. Andru's Mary Jane Watson, in particular, is beautifully realized, with little character beats that show us the real woman under the party-girl exterior. Andru was one of the best Spidey artists ever, in my opinion.

After the clone epic, Conway departs, and we have a one-issue guest stint by the legendary Archie Goodwin. Goodwin's story is basically filler, but he does attempt to reassure readers that the Spider-Man they're reading about is the real deal, and not a clone. (This would plague Spider-Man and his readers decades after the fact....)

 From there, new writer Len Wein takes over, and we're back to fairly straightforward super-heroics, as Spidey battles The Shocker, The Sandman, some as-yet-unnamed criminal organization, and a sentient computer, created to stop crime, who now wants to "..become undisputed RULER of the underworld..."
(What would a computer program gain from ruling the underworld...? Money? Woman? Fast cars....? Luckily, no one worries about this stuff but me.) The book is rounded out by a selection of new material from THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1, a treasury edition from 1975, as well as the aforementioned letters page from ASM #153.

 One of my pet peeves about these ASM Masterworks has been the omission of certain ancillary books, specifically the GIANT-SIZE SPIDER-MAN issues. Kris Shaw, of Junk Food For Thought fame, helpfully explained that the omitted issues were earmarked for Masterworking in the MARVEL TEAM-UP MASTERWORKS, but I really can't agree with that decision by Marvel. Yes, the GSSM issues DO feature Spidey teaming up with other Marvel characters, but they are all written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by Ross Andru and Gil Kane, and they're referenced in issues collected in the ASM Masterworks, so...I feel that they should have been included here. There are two GSSM issues that would, in a perfect world, have been collected in this volume- I'll touch on them in my forthcoming review of ESSENTIAL AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL. 7.

 All in all, this was a good, solid group of stories, and although I mourn the end of Gerry Conway's classic run, I'll be interested in seeing how Len Wein's issues hold up. I haven't read them since I was a kid, but I have fond memories. The next volume will collect the batshit-crazy "Hammerhead's Ghost" storyline, which I remember as being absolutely, insanely over-the-top. Stay tuned......