Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

First Published: March 2007

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #54 (May 1981) to #74 (January 1983); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Luke McDonnell, and others

Key First Appearances: Cloak, Dagger

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

Once again, this volume breaks out into two separate sections, much like the Volume 2. The difference is we start out with the Roger Stern stories first. These stories are serviceable, but are generally one-and-done issues. The various “villain of the month” shows up to make Peter don the blue-and-red costume, with the occasional check-in with life on the ESU campus. During this run, the highlights of these issues may be the covers, as Frank Miller does many of the cover images.

The second section picks up with issue #61, as Roger Stern hands over writing duties on the title back to Bill Mantlo. (Stern gave up this title to take over the writing duties of Amazing Spider-Man.) Mantlo, working with artists such as Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, introduces a new tone to the title. It no longer feels like a secondary book to Amazing, but as a top-level book in its own right. Obviously, the biggest event in this volume occurs in issue #64, as Cloak and Dagger are introduced, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest surprises of the 1980s. The volume concludes with the start of a gang war between Doctor Octopus and the Owl, and it leaves us hanging with the final page return of the Black Cat.

What makes this Essential?: This may be the first volume in the series that is truly worth picking up. While there are teases to events ongoing in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, this book can be read as a self-contained series of issues. The writing is solid, as Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern have mastered the Spider-Man story formula. The art is decent, but not spectacular, if you will pardon the pun. My biggest complaint is that this volume ends with issue #74, which is right in the middle of the Doctor Octopus vs. Owl storyline. That story finally wrapped up in issue #79, so it might have pushed the limits to include it in here.

If you like this volume, try: the Cloak and Dagger mini-series from 1983. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by Rick Leonardi, the break-out stars from this volume of PPTSS jump over into their own four-issue series. We find our duo hiding in a church, where Father Delgado befriends the two. We get their origin – two runaways from different backgrounds arrive in New York City, They were taken into a shelter along with other runaways, and are given an experimental drug designed by the Maggia to be a replacement for heroin. The drug reacts with latent mutant genes in their bodies, mutating the two characters into the light and darkness personified. As a result, Cloak and Dagger make it their personal mission to take on the drug trade every chance they can. This series was released as a hardcover in 2009, so it should be easy to find.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

First Published: August 2006

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #25 (September 1974) to #51 (November 1976); and Marvel Two-in-One #17 (July 1976)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, and others

Key First Appearances: Jean DeWolff, Wraith

Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3

Overview: As a New York City-based character, Spider-Man continues to be the center of attention in the Marvel Universe, and in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, as seen in this second Essential volume.

As with the first volume, Marvel Team-Up partners the various Marvel characters with their most recognizable hero in Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. While most of these stories are one-and-done, we do see some multiple-issue story arcs. Spider-Man moves from one team-up to the next, all as part of the same story. For example, see the Defenders story in issues #33-#35; a multi-part story focusing on the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in issues #41-#44; and the Iron Man arc from issues #48-#51. This last story arc introduced NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff, one of the few officers that recognize Spider-Man as a hero working with the police, and Jean’s brother-turned-villain, the Wraith.

The Human Torch makes the last of his appearances as the lead feature in Marvel Team-Up #36 in this Essential. However, the Human Torch would still cross paths three more times with Spider-Man in this title over the run of the book.

What makes this Essential?: Is this really an Essential title? Absolutely not, when looking at the significant moments of the characters’ life stories. However, this title, as well as the other team-up books from Marvel and DC, is the perfect way to introduce a new reader to a world of characters. From this volume, a reader could go explore the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Defenders, The Avengers, Doctor Strange, Killraven, and many others. So give this a read and see what interests you next!

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
Marvel Team-Up #25 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #26 – Human Torch & Thor
Marvel Team-Up #27 – Spider-Man & the Hulk
Marvel Team-Up #28 – Spider-Man & Hercules
Marvel Team-Up #29 – Human Torch & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #30 – Spider-Man & Falcon
Marvel Team-Up #31 – Spider-Man & Iron Fist
Marvel Team-Up #32 – Human Torch & the Son of Satan / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #33 – Spider-Man & Nighthawk / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #34 – Spider-Man & Valkyrie / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #35 – Human Torch & Doctor Strange / Essential Defenders Vol. 2
Marvel Team-Up #36 – Spider-Man & the Frankenstein Monster
Marvel Team-Up #37 – Spider-Man & Man-Wolf
Marvel Team-Up #38 – Spider-Man & the Beast
Marvel Team-Up #39 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
Marvel Team-Up #40 – Spider-Man & the Sons of the Tiger
Marvel Team-Up #41 – Spider-Man & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Team-Up #42 – Spider-Man & the Vision
Marvel Team-Up #43 – Spider-Man & Doctor Doom
Marvel Team-Up #44 – Spider-Man & Moondragon
Marvel Team-Up #45 – Spider-Man & Killraven / Essential Killraven Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #46 – Spider-Man & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #17 – The Thing & Spider-Man / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #47 – Spider-Man & the Thing / Essential Marvel Two-in-One Vol. 1
Marvel Team-Up #48 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
Marvel Team-Up #49 – Spider-Man & Iron Man 
Marvel Team-Up #50 – Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
Marvel Team-Up #51 – Spider-Man & Iron Man

If you like this volume, try: the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up series from 2001 & 2002. The Ultimate universe was created by Marvel in the early 2000s as a way to tell stories featuring their most popular characters without the 40+ years of continuity weighing them down. The stories mirrored many of the original character stories but told to match the modern society. For example, teenage Peter Parker did get a job at the Daily Bugle, but he was helping out on the paper’s website.  For Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, the entire series (16 issues and one special) is written by Brian Michael Bendis, with art from a variety of artists. These issues serve as a way to introduce many Marvel characters into the Ultimate Universe, so the first appearances of Ultimate Hulk, Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Daredevil, etc. My personal favorite was issue #14, where Spider-Man crossed paths with the Ultimate version of Black Widow. The art is done by Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise) who was the perfect choice to show teenage awkwardness of Peter against the sleek beauty of Natasha. The entire series has been reprinted multiple times in multiple formats, so it should not be a challenge to track these issues down.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32 (July 1979) to #53 (April 1981); Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1979) and #2 (1980); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 (1979); and Fantastic Four #218 (May 1980)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Roger Stern, John Romita, Jr., Mike Zeck, Marie Severin, and others

Key First Appearances: Marcy Kane, Dr. Morris Sloan, Steve Hopkins, Roderick Kingsley (Hobgoblin), Nathan Lubensky

Story Continues From: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 3

Overview: Welcome back to the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS). This book remains a companion book to Amazing Spider-Man, but focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his collegiate life.

This volume breaks out into two separate sections – the first is written by Bill Mantlo, continuing the stories he started in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1. Mantlo wraps up the Carrion storyline, but not before bringing in the Lizard, the Iquana, and the Swarm. Following another appearance by Morbius, Mantlo concludes this run of PPTSS with a crossover with Fantastic Four, another title he was writing at the time.

The second section picks up with issue #43, as Roger Stern takes over writing duties on the title. Stern brings back the Vulture and the White Tiger, and introduces two new characters into Peter Parker’s life – Nathan Lubensky would become a long-time tenant at Aunt May’s boarding house, and Roderick Kingsley, a background character in PPTSS, but will don the Hobgoblin costume when Stern moves over to Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: I really want to give this a strong recommendation. I do. I like to think of PPTSS as the little book that could. But, the simple fact remains that this title plays second fiddle to every other book that Spider-Man appears in each month. You need to be a hard-core Spider-Man fan to want this volume. The stories are not bad, per se. Some of them are quite good. But each issue just reminds the reader that there are other stories you should be reading, which can be found in the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13 were also reprinted in Essential Spider-Man 9.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip, which started in January of 1977. Originally done by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., this was a syndicated comic strip that told stand-alone stories not set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. Other comic notables, such as Larry Lieber, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk, Joe Sinnott, and Roy Thomas, have helped out on the strip over the years. There have been a few collections of the early years of the newspaper strip. If your local newspaper does not carry the strip, it can still be read online at several websites.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #138 (November 1974) to #160 (September 1976); Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10 (1976); and Giant Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975) and #5 (July 1975)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, and others

Key First Appearances:  Mindworm, Grizzly, Mamie Muggins, Mysterio (II), Glory Grant, Cyclone, Ben Reilly/Spider-Man clone, Mirage, Human Fly, Moses Magnum,

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8

Overview: So, picture you are Gerry Conway. You’ve just written the storyline that killed off Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, which shocked the world in an era with no spoilers or Previews magazine. How the heck are you going to top that storyline? By bringing Gwen back to life. What?!?! With that, let’s dive into Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7.

There are 25 comics collected in this volume, and a lot of great 1970s villains show up here, such as the Grizzly, Cyclone, and Mirage. We get classic returns by Doctor Octopus (still hoping to wed Aunt May), the Sandman, and the Shocker. But this volume is dominated by the first clone saga, which runs through the first half of this book.

We find out that Professor Miles Warren, introduced back during the Lee-Ditko run, is secretly the super-villain known as the Jackal. He also has been secretly in love with Gwen Stacy. Overcome by grief following her death, Warren develops clones of both Gwen and Peter Parker, and as a result, discovers the secret of Peter’s other identity. Blaming Spider-Man for Gwen’s death, he uses the clones to attack Peter and Spider-Man, tormenting him on multiple levels. The Spider-Man clone revolts against his programming, and teams with our hero to defeat the Jackal. One of the Spider-Men is killed when the Jackal is stopped, and we are led to believe that it was the clone that was killed. (In the 1990s, this story is revisited, when the question is asked whether or not it really was the clone that died in that battle, which led to a mega storyline that dominated that decade. And there is not enough rum in the world for me to properly discuss that fiasco.)

Many new characters join the Peter Parker universe in this volume. Glory Grant is introduced to us as a neighbor of Peter’s in his apartment building. She is a would-be model looking for work, and Peter helps her get a job at the Daily Bugle as J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary. Also at his new apartment, Mamie Muggins is the landlord, who would constantly torment Peter for his past-due rent.

What makes this Essential?: This volume is a love-it-or-hate-it edition – no trying to straddle the line with this collection. This Essential is dominated by the first clone saga, which would influence the biggest Spider-Man storylines in the 1990s. That 1990s story is extremely polarizing among all comics fans from that era. If you liked Ben Reilly and the new direction of Spider-Man in the 1990s, then this Essential is a must own. If you abhor all things about the clone storyline, then you may want to skip this collection.

One thing I will say in defense of this volume: It’s in these issues that we see Peter Parker start to develop a romantic relationship with Mary Jane Watson. For years, she had been the cute girl-next-door that was a good friend to Peter, but they were always romantically attached to others. Following the events in the last Essential volume, we see Peter and Mary Jane spending more time together as a couple.

Footnotes: Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 is also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: tracking down a copy of Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man from 1976. This is the first official inter-company crossover between Marvel and DC, initially released as an oversized tabloid edition for the lofty sum of $2.00. (It has been reprinted in at least two of the Crossover Classics collections.) Having worked on both title characters in the past, writer Gerry Conway and artist Ross Andru were tasked with bringing the two icons together in one story. Following another defeat which lands him back in prison, Lex Luthor meets Doctor Octopus, and the two team up to escape their captivity and get revenge on their nemeses. Through the convenient misunderstanding, Superman and Spider-Man find themselves facing off against each other, before realizing the mistake and directing their energies against the true foes. This really was a huge event at the time, and it should hold a place in some format in your collection.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1

First Published: February 2005

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (December 1976) to #31 (June 1979)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Frank Springer, Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Lightmaster, Razorback, Hypno-Hustler, Carrion

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2

Overview: Following the long-established comic trend of duplicating success, Marvel introduced another Spider-Man title to the newsstands in 1976. Currently featured each month in Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel TalesMarvel Team-Up, and Spidey Super Stories, a new title was added to the list with Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS).

In a column in issue #1, writer Gerry Conway explained that this new title was added to help give more room to feature the supporting cast of characters in Spider-Man’s life. We got longer stories involving Glory Grant, Mary Jane Watson, the White Tiger, and others. This title gave us more access to Peter Parker’s life beyond the red-and-blue costume.

Familiar foes like the Tarantula, the Vulture, Morbius, and Kraven make appearances in this run. But the new foes introduced are a mix of intriguing challenges (such as Lightmaster and Carrion) to downright pop-culture bad guys anchored in the 1970s (such as Razorback and Hypno-Hustler). In addition, a long story arc involving White Tiger and the Sons of the Tiger tie in with the popularity of martial arts at that time.

What makes this Essential?: This is a borderline essential book. Spider-Man was the most popular character at Marvel in the mid-1970s, and would be soon making the jump to television with the live action series, so introducing another title featuring Peter Parker made sense. However, within the first year, there were two fill-in issues, so I wonder how much effort was ongoing to make sure the book shipped on time. Compared to the stories in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up at this same time, I feel like these stories are a step below in quality. For the Spider-Man fan, this should be a must read. For the casual Marvel fan, you could skip over this and just concentrate on the Essential Spider-Man line of books.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #22 and #23 were also reprinted in Essential Moon Knight Vol. 1.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #6 is a reprint issue from Marvel Team-Up #3. A new introduction and final pages were included, and a few panels were re-worded. This did lead into the Morbius storyline beginning in issue #7.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #11 appears to be a filler issue that was originally intended for Marvel Team-Up. The issue is written by Chris Claremont, the then current scribe on Marvel Team-Up, and this would be the only issue of PPTSS that Claremont would write. No reference is made in the story to the previous or following issues.

If you like this volume, try: the Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man released in 2002. This collects various issues that Frank Miller drew involving Spider-Man, including Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #27 and #28, which are found in this Essential. There is also a cover gallery of the numerous covers that Miller did involving Spider-Man over the years. This is a great volume to read some classic stories done by one of the modern masters of the comic industry.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

First Published: July 2004

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #114 (November 1972) to #137 (October 1974); Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (June 1974); and Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 (July 1974) and #2 (October 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and Ross Andru

Key First Appearances:  Jonas Harrow, Man-Wolf, Frank Castle/Punisher, Jackal, Tarantula, Equinox

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7

Overview: Peter Parker is pushed to his limit physically and emotionally  in this volume. And when Peter is at his breaking point, the Amazing Spider-Man is at his best.

As if battling Doctor Octopus, the Hulk, and Dracula was not enough, Spider-Man faces down the Green Goblin, who kidnapped and killed Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. Spider-Man fights Norman Osborn for what we think will be the final time, as the Green Goblin is accidentally killed by his own goblin glider. Of course, that still does not stop J. Jonah Jameson from accusing Spider-Man of murder.

Spider-Man meets up with a new set of heroes that represents the spirit of the 1970s. Hero for hire Luke Cage is retained by Jameson to bring in Spider-Man dead or alive. The Punisher places Spidey in his targets after reading one too many Daily Bugle editorials about the supposed crimes of our star. Finally, Spider-Man teams up with Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, who uses his martial arts skills to thwart the mad schemes of his father.

This volume ends with the debut of a new Green Goblin, who is seeking revenge on Spider-Man for the death of his predecessor. Spidey quickly realizes that this new Goblin is one of his best friends, Harry Osborn, creating a whole new set of problems for Peter.

What makes this Essential?: This should be a must own for many reasons. For character introductions, we meet the Man-Wolf, the Jackal, the Tarantula, and, perhaps most importantly, the Punisher. Even though he was exaggerated to comic proportions, the mission of Frank Castle could easily be replicated in real life. At the same time, we witness the most tragic event in Peter Parker’s life since the murder of his Uncle Ben. The death of Gwen Stacy came with no warning, no lead-up, no spoilers. It changed Peter, and it changed the tone of the book. My feeling is that between the death of Gwen Stacy and the introduction of the Punisher, Marvel left the Silver Age of comics and entered the Bronze Age. These stories should be part of any collection.

Not only is he Amazing, he’s Spectacular: In 1968, Marvel entered into the magazine business when they partnered with Warren Publishing to issue a Spectacular Spider-Man magazine. Warren was known for their horror magazines at this time. Spectacular Spider-Man was a black-and-white magazine which featured new original stories from Stan Lee, John Romita, Sr., and Jim Mooney. The lead story of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 was broken up and re-used for Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, which is collected in this Essential. The lead story for Spectacular Spider-Man #2 was edited and re-used in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9.

The magazine experiment ended with issue #2. However, in the 1970s, Marvel got back into the magazine business with their then owner Curtis Publishing. Curtis helped distribute a wide range of black-and-white horror magazines with content that might not have passed the Comics Code Authority at that time.

Footnotes: In Amazing Spider-Man #130 (March 1974), the infamous Spider-Mobile makes its debut. According to interviews with Gerry Conway, a toy executive had approached Stan Lee and suggested that all of the characters should have some kind of vehicle to use. Lee readily agreed, knowing that he wouldn’t actually have to write the story. When Conway pointed out the flaws in the idea, Lee said he didn’t care what Conway did with the car once it was introduced. As a result, the Spider-Mobile soon ended up at the bottom of the Hudson River. Despite that, Spider-Mobiles can still be found included in nearly every line of Spider-Man toys since then.

Amazing Spider-Man #129, #134, and #135 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: going back and looking for the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man Vol. 7, available as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback. What makes this volume important is that it contains the two Spectacular Spider-Man magazines complete and unedited. Outside of owning the physical magazines, this is the only way to read Spectacular Spider-Man #2, as it has never been reprinted completely in any other fashion.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1

First Published: April 2002

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #1 (March 1972) to #24 (August 1974)

Key Creator Credits: Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, and Sal Buscema

Key First Appearances: Misty Knight, Man-Killer, the Orb, Basilisk, Stegron

Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2

Overview: The comic industry has proven time and time again that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If a character sells well for one company, an imitation of that same character should sell just as well for a second company, or a third. In the early 1970s, DC Comics had made The Brave and the Bold a Batman team-up book. By all accounts, it was doing well, or at least well enough for Marvel to take notice and create their own team-up book featuring their marquee character, Spider-Man.

Marvel Team-Up ran from 1972-1985, with 150 issues plus seven annuals. Spider-Man was the lead co-feature in all but nine issues, which were shared between the Human Torch and the Hulk. So this is generally considered a Spider-Man book. The title ran bi-monthly for the first year before adjusting to become a monthly book.

Outside of the initial story arc with Spider-Man and the Human Torch, these are one-and-done stories featuring Spider-Man teaming up with a variety of characters. Some of these are characters who have recently debuted in other books, such as the Cat, Werewolf, or Ghost Rider. Other times it was to just keep the characters active, such as the X-Men team-up in issue #4. (Hard to believe now, but there was a period in the early 1970s where Marvel was not publishing any new X-Men stories on a regular basis.)

What makes this Essential?: I really like the team-up books. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Marvel had two titles (Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One), and DC had two titles (The Brave & the Bold and DC Comics Presents) that allowed for a wide variety of characters to meet up. This Essential volume features some incredible creative talents, with art by Gil Kane and Ross Andru. The stories are written by Gerry Conway and Len Wein, two of Marvel’s key writers of the 1970s. This is a gateway book — a good way to introduce a reader to the Marvel Universe. In the grand scheme of things, this is probably not truly an essential book to own, but it is a great book to bring someone into the world of comics.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#1 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#2 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#3 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#4 – Spider-Man & the X-Men / Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3
#5 – Spider-Man & the Vision
#6 – Spider-Man & the Thing
#7 – Spider-Man & Thor
#8 – Spider-Man & the Cat
#9 – Spider-Man & Iron Man
#10 – Spider-Man & Human Torch
#11 – Spider-Man & the Inhumans
#12 – Spider-Man & the Werewolf / Essential Werewolf By Night Vol. 1
#13 – Spider-Man & Captain America
#14 – Spider-Man & the Sub-Mariner
#15 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#16 – Spider-Man & Captain Marvel
#17 – Spider-Man & Mr. Fantastic
#18 – Human Torch & the Hulk
#19 – Spider-Man & Ka-Zar
#20 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#21 – Spider-Man & Doctor Strange
#22 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#23 – Human Torch & Iceman
#24 – Spider-Man & Brother Voodoo / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 2

If you like this volume, try: the Fearless Defenders comic from 2013 by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney. Of the handful of characters that made their debut in this Essential, Misty Knight is the most recognizable of the list. She has been a supporting character for 40 years, most often appearing alongside Power Man and Iron Fist in the Heroes for Hire books. In 2013, Misty Knight and Valkyrie were tasked to pull together the Valkyrior, an all-female team of heroes. A team is assembled that crosses all sections of the Marvel Universe. The book told good stories featuring strong female characters, while not taking itself too seriously. The covers by Mark Brooks were incredible, with homages to other sources from the world of pop culture. Sadly, low sales forced this title to be cancelled at issue #12. This title is available in trade paperback collections: Volume 1 came out in September 2013, and Volume 2 will be released at the end of February 2014.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: March 2002

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970) to #113 (October 1972)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway

Key First Appearances:  Arthur Stacy, Dr. Michael Morbius, Martine Bancroft, Emil Nikos, Sha Shan, the Gibbon

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6

Overview: Never let it be said that Peter Parker’s life is easy, in or out of the Spider-Man costume. This book opens with the (then) shocking death of Captain Stacy, who reveals with his dying breath that he knew Peter’s secret all along. Before he (or Gwen) can recover from that, a handful of familiar foes come back to keep Spider-Man busy, such as the Beetle, Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and the Spider Slayer.

For issue #100, Peter tries to put his scientific knowledge to good use in an attempt to rid himself of the powers. In typical Parker fashion, the serum backfires, and instead causes four new limbs to appear on Peter’s body, making him a true Spider-Man. That takes Peter to call on Dr. Curt Connors, which means the Lizard is not far behind. And this story also introduces a new villain that would become a key player in the Marvel Universe: Dr Michael Morbius, who specializes in blood disorders by day, and haunts the nights as a living vampire.

What makes this Essential?: The more I revisit this book, the more I think this is truly an essential Essential. We see Stan Lee turn over the writing chores for the title to the new generation of comic writers, first to Roy Thomas and then to Gerry Conway.  We see real relevant topics pop up in the stories, such as drug abuse or the struggles of vets returning from Viet-Nam. We are introduced to Flash Thompson’s girlfriend Sha Shan, which may be one of the first interracial relationships in comics. The art in here, from Gil Kane and John Romita Sr., remains spectacular, to borrow a familiar adjective. Between this volume and the next Essential, these may be the best Spider-Man stories since the end of the Lee-Ditko run of the early 1960s.

Respect My (Comics Code) Authority: In the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Stan Lee about doing a story in comics that showed the dangers of drug abuse. Lee agreed, and worked the story into his ongoing run on the Amazing Spider-Man. In issue #97, Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn turns to drugs in an attempt to handle the pressures of life. The Comics Code Authority (CCA) rejected the story back to Marvel. Lee felt that the request from the government overruled the decision of the CCA, and published the issue without the CCA seal on the cover. The story earned great praise, and it forced the CCA to revise its guidelines.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man #92 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.

If you like this volume, try: David Hajdu’s book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Hajdu is a historical researcher who focuses his attention on pop culture subjects of the 20th Century. In this work, he dives deep into the world of comic books from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. He looks at Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, and how it impacted the subsequent Senate hearings and the comic book industry. While it focuses more on Bill Gaines and his EC Comics, the impacts of this era led to the Comics Code Authority, and the self-censorship of American comics by the publishers. The faults of the Comics Code Authority is seen quite clearly in this Essential volume, with the Harry Osborn drug issues and the creation of Morbius, a “living vampire”, because undead vampires were not allowed at this time. IWhile the tide was changing in the CCA offices, these stories from Marvel certainly helped to see the CCA revise their guidelines, allowing for the classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula to appear in comics, and allowing drugs use to be shown in a negative light.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (second edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (second edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (third edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (third edition)

First Published: December 2000

Contents: First and Second Editions: Amazing Spider-Man #69 (February 1969) to #89 (October 1970), and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 (1967) and #5 (1968); Third Edition: Amazing Spider-Man #66 (November 1968) to #89 (October 1970), and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 (1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Romita Sr., John Buscema, Jim Mooney

Key First Appearances:  Vanessa Fisk, Martha Robertson, Silvermane, Man-Mountain Marko, Hobie Brown/Prowler, Richard Fisk/Schemer/Rose, Mary Parker, Richard Parker

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5

Overview: Spider-Man swings into the 1970s with this Essential volume. Still battling traditional foes like the Lizard, Doctor Octopus, and the Kingpin, new foes are introduced with Silvermane and the Prowler. We see more of the real-world social issues of the era creeping into the pages of the comics, as student protests are the norm across the Empire State University campus. Other characters from across the Marvel Universe, such as Quicksilver and the Black Widow, get caught up in Spider-Man’s webs. For those occasions when he is out of costumer, Peter has a daily challenge to balance the demands on his time – from Aunt May to Gwen Stacy, from college classes to freelance photographer.

What makes this Essential?: After five plus years of publication, Stan Lee had developed a predictable formula with his stories in Amazing Spider-Man. The art team, which rotated between John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, and Jim Mooney (with a touch of Gil Kane for good measure) perform admirably in their assignments. But the story structure doesn’t seem to alter much. Most stories end with the villain being defeated, but rather than celebrating his victory, Peter laments about how bad his life is – troubles with Gwen, overdue college papers, and he forgot to take photos for the Daily Bugle. The supporting characters introduced flesh out the storylines, but they don’t advance it along either. If you are a Spider-Man completist, look for this volume if you don’t already own the original issues. For the average Marvel fan, your collection will not suffer with this Essential not being on your shelf.

Footnotes: Please note that there are different content listings between the first and second editions and the third edition of this Essential. Volume #4 had different content listings between the editions, due to the placement of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4.

If you like this volume, try: the original Ultimate Spider-Man HC collection from 2002. This collects the first 13 issues of the Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley series that launched in late 2000. Marvel’s Ultimate line was introduced as a fresh way to look at the characters, without the 40+ years of continuity behind them. With the Ultimate Spider-Man title, Peter Parker works on the Daily Bugle website after school. We get to see the true relationship between Peter and his Uncle Ben, tearing at the reader’s emotions as we all know how the story is going to play out. Issue #13 stands out as one of the best single-issue stories involving Peter Parker, finding a new confidant in Mary Jane Watson. Bendis & Bagley created an incredible legacy with this book, often putting out as many as 18 issues per year during their seven-year run on the book together. While the Ultimate Spider-Man title had a tremendous run, this first collection contains the best issues of the series.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 (first edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 (first edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 (second edition)

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 (second edition)

First Published: July 1998

Contents: First Edition: Amazing Spider-Man #44 (January 1967) to #68 (January 1969); Second Edition: Amazing Spider-Man #44 (January 1967) to #65 (October 1968), and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 (1967)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Romita Sr.

Key First Appearances:  Shocker, Wilson Fisk/Kingpin, Joe ‘Robbie’ Robertson, Captain George Stacy, Randy Robertson

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4

Overview: This Essential volume shows a change in tone with the Amazing Spider-Man. Story lines were stretched over multiple issues. The daily adventures of Peter Parker were just as interesting as the daily adventures of Spider-Man.

Peter Parker tries hard to balance his crazy life – attending classes at Empire State University; working as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle; allocating time for his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, his friends, and his Aunt May; and using his abilities to protect others as Spider-Man. Ongoing story arcs showcased villains, like the Green Goblin or the Kingpin, manipulating people from the shadows, testing the limits of Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: This is an interesting volume. During the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko years featured in Volumes 1 and 2, most were one-and-done stories featuring the villain-of-the-month. In this volume, you see Lee start to fully develop all of the characters, making them real people versus just a way to advance a story. Peter is not the only character to have life problems. New characters such as Joe Robertson and Captain Stacy provides Peter with new father figures that he can talk to and seek out for advice.

Footnotes: Please note that there are different content listings between the first edition and the second edition of this Essential. Volume #5 will also have different content listings between the first and second editions, due to the placement of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4.

The cover to Amazing Spider-Man #50, used as the cover art for the second edition, is one of the most iconic covers of all time. It has been homaged dozen of times with other comics, and used in the Spider-Man 3 motion picture.

If you like this volume, try: Marvel Visionaries: John Romita Sr. While he is most closely associated with Spider-Man, Jazzy John Romita managed to work on most every Marvel title at some point. In the 1970s, Romita became the Art Director for Marvel, providing direction of how Marvel books should look. This volume collects the two-part Daredevil story featuring Spider-Man (which served as an unofficial tryout before taking over Amazing Spider-Man from Ditko); Fantastic Four issues he did following the Kirby run; and assorted stories featuring the Hulk and Captain America. Also included are some romance and sci-fi stories that he did for Timely Comics, before it was rebranded as Marvel Comics.