Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

spiderman11First Published: June 2012

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #231 (August 1982) to #248 (January 1984); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982) and #17 (1983)

Key Creator Credits: Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, John Romita Jr., Bob Hall, Ron Frenz, Ed Hannigan, and others

Key First Appearances: Monica Rambeau/Captain Marvel, Hobgoblin

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

Overview: OK, if you have been following along at home, so far I have written five reviews for Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, four volumes of Essential Marvel Team-Up, and this will be the eleventh volume of Essential Spider-Man, highlighting the run in Amazing Spider-Man. So on the off-chance I repeat myself at any point in this review, just understand that there is a good reason why I might re-use a joke or line. Because if comics has taught me anything, it’s that you re-use whatever works best as many times as you can!

As we left off with the last collection, these issues are primarily done by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. For as many good teams that have worked on Spider-Man over the years, this may be one of my favorite creator teams to ever work on Amazing Spider-Man. In these stories, Peter Parker is focusing on his photo-journalism work for the Daily Bugle. In his personal life, we see Mary Jane Watson becoming more of a potential romantic interest for Peter, but she’s not the only one.

The highlight of this volume has to be the introduction of the Hobgoblin. Someone has discovered one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and has modified the Green Goblin identity for his own purposes. It makes for an intriguing storyline (not really seen since the time the Green Goblin was first introduced) as Peter (and the readers) try to unravel the identity of this new costumed villain. The Hobgoblin became a break-out star in the Spider-Man books, building up over a year’s time to a fiery conclusion.

Another character introduction comes with a familiar name, as Roger Stern and the John Romitas (Sr. and Jr.) gave us Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel. Obviously, Marvel did this as a way to maintain the rights to Captain Marvel, keeping it away from DC Comics. This Captain Marvel was able to transform into any form of energy and developed into a strong character even after she ceded the Captain Marvel name, becoming first Photon and then Pulsar. While introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Stern would bring her onto the Avengers team during his five-year run on that title.

One of my all-time favorite Spider-Man stories comes at the end of this collection, with “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” from Amazing Spider-Man #248. This came during Marvel’s infamous Assistant Editor’s Month when many titles decided to have fun with issues that month. But we get an incredibly touching backup story from Roger Stern and Ron Frenz. Spider-Man pays a visit to a young boy named Tim, who claims to be Spider-Man’s biggest fan. Peter shows off for Tim, answers some questions, and then shares with Tim his secret identity. It’s only an 11-page story, but I still tear up every time I read this.

What makes this Essential?: I really enjoyed this volume. Obviously, the introduction of Hobgoblin was significant at the time, but it seems diminished now looking back on it more than 30 years later. John Romita Jr’s art really shines in the black and white format, and I believe Roger Stern is a criminally underrated writer who doesn’t get the proper recognition he deserves. Stern helps usher in a new era to Spider-Man and Peter Parker in particular, moving his away from his graduate studies and focusing more on his photojournalism work.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin trade paperback. My biggest complaint is that this collection stopped three issues too short. This book needed to include Amazing Spider-Man #249 to #251, which would have wrapped up not only the Hobgoblin storyline (for now) but also the red-and-blue costume era as the black symbiote costume is introduced in #252. The Hobgoblin story had been building for a year, causing a lot of speculation as to the identity of the villain. If you can’t track down the individual issues, find this trade paperback to complete the story.

Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 4

ghostrider4First Published: October 2010

Contents: Ghost Rider #66 (March 1982) to #81 (June 1983); Amazing Spider-Man #274 (March 1986); and New Defenders #145 (July 1985) and #146 (August 1985)

Key Creator Credits: J.M. Dematteis, Roger Stern, Michael Fleisher, Don Perlin, Bob Budiansky, Tom Sutton, Ron Frenz, and others

Key First Appearances: Asmodeus, Hamilton Slade/Phantom Rider, Red Fowler

Story Continues From: Essential Ghost Rider Vol. 3

Overview: Get your motor runnin’ as Ghost Rider races to the finish line of his first series. This Essential collection brings the 1970s series to an end, perhaps with some of the best issues of the entire run.

This is an interesting take on the character, as I think the book finally gets the right creative team and directions for the comic. Rather than treating the book as a reluctant hero, it becomes more of a horror title, focusing on a title character struggling to keep a demon in check. It’s too bad that the direction came so late because there was no way to avoid the dreaded cancellation ax by this point. I almost wish Dematteis & Budiansky had more issues to play with this concept.

Despite the cancellation of the title, we do get two epilogs of sorts to Johnny Blaze and to the demon Zarathos. Johnny Blaze gets to bid farewell to many of his former Champions teammates over in the pages of New Defenders, while Zarathos is used as a pawn by the Beyonder to test the limits of Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man.

What makes this Essential?: The good news is that this is the final Essential volume for this character. I’m running out of ways to be diplomatic with my comments. Nonetheless, I like the way that writer J.M. Dematteis and artist Bob Budiansky brought the whole series to a conclusion, picking up many of the plot threads and characters introduced years earlier. Given the way so many other titles abruptly ended in this era (I’m looking at you, Spider-Woman!), this was a nice way to say so long (for now) to Johnny Blaze. 

If you like this volume, try: the Ghost Rider by Jason Aaron omnibus from Marvel. Released in 2010, this collects writer Jason Aaron’s run with the Ghost Riders (Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch), with art by the likes of Tony Moore and Tan Eng Huat. My issues with Ghost Rider is not that I don’t like the character. The 80+ issues that I have read over the four Essential volumes are just not that great. Whether the stories do not hold up over the years or that the stories are just really bad can be debated. There have been some writers on this run who I really like, but I don’t know that their Ghost Rider work is the best example of their abilities.

So, with all of that said, I truly believe that Jason Aaron is one of the best writers at Marvel today. His volume of work stands out across multiple titles and genres. I think you could find the most obscure Marvel character, and Aaron could find a take on the character that will blow everyone away. Please check out his current work (Mighty Thor, Doctor Strange) and track down the Ghost Rider omnibus.