Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spiderman - why it's good and what to read

OK, as I have already spotlighted the Origin of Venom from 1984 way back in my July post (there’s even a pic of his first appearance) you might be wondering what’s new and interesting in Amazing Spiderman since then. We all know how since the 80s many of the battles between Spiderman and his villains (including Venom) were rehashed again and again and the Spiderman formula was pounded into an action-heavy, tiring and unfunny mess. But in 1999 Marvel recruited former Babylon 5 writer J Michael Straczynski to work on the comic book, and he began his landmark run with a strong series of tales which really pushed the hero into unexplored territory.

The best thing is – the collected stories can be found on Amazon second-hand for around £2 per volume, so it’s easy to get started. You’ll want to start with Volume 1: Coming Home, which introduces a new mystical villain, Morlun, and an intriguing new character who is at first shrouded in secrecy and goes by the name of Ezekiel. He meets Spiderman on the side of a building, and proves that he shares the same powers as Peter – a mystery that is only resolved after several more Ezekiel appearances, leading to a shocking finale in a kind of team-up story in Volume 6 (The Book of Ezekiel).

Straczynski not only had some creative ideas to bring to shake up Peter Parker’s life, he also keeps things fresh, peppering the book with new characters Spiderman encounters around New York, pop culture references and a good dose of humour. My personal favourite Spiderman story is in Volume 4: Unintended Consequences, in which Mary Jane and Peter finally re-unite, and the commanding and evil dictator Doctor Doom has to be protected from terrorists in the subway because of his political immunity at that time. Also I think the insight we get into Aunt May’s feelings in later issues provides a brilliant and grounded counter-balance to all the fantasy and conflict going on in Peter’s life – we really see through her eyes, and learn what is important to her.

A note of warning here: If you plan to buy the paperback collections, bear in mind that the same stories are published in different collections here in the UK than those in the US – but confusingly they have similar names! For instance the US volume called The Book of Ezekiel is Volume 7. So your options are: getting the ones produced by the UK publisher Panini or those from Marvel US. At the time of writing has the UK ones in stock. You might also want to check out Spiderman: Reign - a short but satisfying dystopian future tale in which a cranky Jonah Jameson attempts to get an aging Peter Parker to change his whole right-wing, oppressive, anti-mutant society. It also overlays this with some ideas about how fairy tales are meant to frighten you or warn you about the dark and very real dangers of the world.

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