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 Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2

wosm2First Published: July 2012

Contents: Web of Spider-Man #19 (October 1986) to #32 (November 1987); Web of Spider-Man Annual #3 (1987); Amazing Spider-Man #293 (October 1987) and #294 (November 1987); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131 (October 1987) and #132 (November 1987)

Key Creator Credits: David Michelinie, Larry Lieber, Len Kaminski, J.M. Dematteis, James Owsley, Mike Zeck, Marc Silvestri, Steve Geiger, and others

Key First Appearances: Humbug, Solo

Story Continues From: Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1

Overview: Swinging across the city and across the pond, Spider-Man is back in action with amazing adventures and spectacular scenes. This is Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2!

The stories in this collection fall at either end of the scale – these are either really good or really bad. Focusing on the good tales, Peter and Joy Mercado travel to the United Kingdom, where Spider-Man must rescue Margaret Thatcher from an assassination attempt. We don’t get many political or real-world scenario stories with Spidey (generally), so these issues stand out as a change of pace.

We also get the typical New York mob story as we get the origin story of the Rose, who is the estranged son of the Kingpin. In addition, we get a wrap-up to the Ned Leeds/Hobgoblin arc that had been building for years across the various Spider-Man titles.

The volume concludes with one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time, Kraven’s Last Hunt, which ran across the three monthly books for two months. Kraven takes out Spider-Man and dons his costume to replace him. Kraven buries Peter in a shallow grave. Meanwhile, Vermin is back, kidnapping people into the sewers to feast on them, and his most recent victim is Mary Jane. The storylines all converge together, and Peter must reclaim his title as Spider-Man, leaving Kraven a shattered shell of his former self. This magnificent story from J. M. Dematteis and Mike Zeck remains as one of the greatest arcs of all time.

What makes this Essential?: First, my apologies for spoiling this review. I promoted the Kraven’s Last Hunt storyline with my review of Essential Daredevil Vol. 5, not fully realizing that this storyline would be included in this collection. In all fairness, I wanted to make sure I pointed people to this story, one way or another! his is a title that I read sporadically as it came out. I just didn’t have much interest in Spider-Man at this time. The problem I have with this book, and I think Marvel has realized it at different times along the way, is that there is nothing unique to this book that distinguishes it

So, yes, the reason to own this collection is for Kraven’s Last Hunt. This is one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time. This still stands up nearly 25 years later, and it should be part of any collection.

The fact that we get other Spider-Man stories is an added bonus – sort of! The stories from David Michelinie and James Owsley (Christopher Priest) are solid stories. The fill-in issues that round up this volume feel so out of place when lined up against these other tales. This might be a volume where you check the issue credits before reading the issue.

If you like this volume, try: finding two books that were never reprinted in the Essential format, but would be helpful to have read when reading this volume.

The first is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987), which features the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. This was a landmark issue years in the making, as the two lovebirds finally tied the knot. The issue featured two different covers – the first had MJ and Peter, with their friends and family in the background, while the second had MJ and Spider-Man, with his enemies in the background. MJ’s dress was actually designed by real-life wedding dress designer Willie Smith. Marvel actually made it into a real event, hosting a ceremony at Shea Stadium. This has been reprinted in multiple trades including the Marvel Weddings TPB.

The second is Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (February 1987). This was a stand-alone special edition book that gave us the identity of Hobgoblin, a mystery that had been building for four years in the various Spider-books. Turns out that it was [SPOLIER ALERT FROM 30 YEARS AGO!] mild-mannered reporter Ned Leeds who had been tormenting Spider-Man and trying to take over the crime rackets in New York City. We get a follow-up issue of Web of Spider-Man to this special edition – too bad it wasn’t included in this collection.

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

Essential Marvel Team-Up Vol. 4

First Published: February 2013

Contents: Marvel Team-Up #76 (December 1978) to #78 (February 1979), and #80 (April 1979) to #98 (October 1980), and Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 (1979) and #3 (1980).

Key Creator Credits: Chris Claremont, Steven Grant, Mike Vosburg, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino

Key First Appearances: Cutthroat, Mister Fear, Dansen Macabre, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Alexi Vazhin

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

Overview: Living in New York City, Spider-Man has the opportunity to cross paths with many different heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe. A casual stroll through Greenwich Village usually prompts an encounter with the mystical Dr. Strange. Being sent on a photo shoot for the Daily Globe allows Peter to meet up with the Invisible Girl. And you just never know when Howard the Duck might drive his cab from Cleveland to Manhattan.

While references are made to ongoing events in Spider-Man’s other monthly books, these stories usually follow the one-and-done format, giving the reader a complete story within the 20-plus pages per issue. These stories also tend to be more lighthearted, giving into the absurdity that brings some of these team-ups together.

What makes this Essential?: The team-up books, such as this or Marvel Two-in-One, are a good way to read a particular character, be exposed to a variety of other characters, and not get bogged down in continuity from the main character’s books (usually). While mostly one-and-done stories, there are a couple of mini-story arcs (#76, #77, #80, #81; and #82-#85) that make for more interesting stories. While this is not a must-read volume to understand Peter Parker, this is a friendly  way to introduce a new reader to the world of Spider-Man.

Footnotes: Marvel Team-Up #79 is not included in this Essential volume. That issue teamed Spider-Man up with Red Sonja. Marvel no longer holds the rights to publish Red Sonja, so it could not be included in this Essential.

Who’s Who / Reprinted Elsewhere:
#76 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange
#77 – Spider-Man & Ms. Marvel
#78 – Spider-Man & Wonder Man
#80 – Spider-Man & Dr. Strange and Clea / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#81 – Spider-Man & Satana / Essential Marvel Horror Vol. 1
#82 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
#83 – Spider-Man & Nick Fury
#84 – Spider-Man & Master of Kung Fu
#85 – Spider-Man & Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Nick Fury
#86 – Spider-Man & Guardians of the Galaxy
#87 – Spider-Man & Black Panther
#88 – Spider-Man & Invisible Girl
#89 – Spider-Man & Nightcrawler
#90 – Spider-Man & Beast
#91 – Spider-Man & Ghost Rider
#92 – Spider-Man & Hawkeye
#93 – Spider-Man & Werewolf
#94 – Spider-Man & Shroud
#95 – Spider-Man & Mockingbird
#96 – Spider-Man & Howard the Duck
#97 – Hulk & Spider-Woman / Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 2
#98 – Spider-Man & Black Widow
Annual #2 – Spider-Man & Hulk
Annual #3 – Hulk & Power Man, Iron Fist, and Machine Man

If you like this volume, try: the first Hawkeye mini-series from 1983. We see Hawkeye in Marvel Team-Up #92 working as the security chief for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE). Hawkeye would work for CTE during his many leaves of absence from the Avengers. The mini-series brings the CTE storyline to a conclusion, as Hawkeye discovers that the cousin of CTE’s CEO is the villain Crossfire, who is hatching a plan to destroy all superheroes. Working with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird (first introduced in Marvel Team-Up #95), Hawkeye stops Crossfire’s plan. The series ends with Hawkeye and Mockingbird getting married. This series has been collected in a trade paperback and as a Marvel Premiere edition.

Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 1

WofSM1First Published: September 2011

Contents: Web of Spider-Man #1 (April 1985) to #18 (September 1986); Web of Spider-Man Annual #1 (1985) and #2 (1986); and Amazing Spider-Man #268 (September 1985)

Key Creator Credits: Louise Simonson, Greg LaRocque, Danny Fingeroth, Peter David, David Michelinie, Ann Nocenti, Mike Harris, Marc Silvestri, and others

Key First Appearances: Kathryn Cushing, Chance, Foreigner

Story Continues In: Essential Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2

Overview: He’s back in black — or sometimes red & blue. It’s the Amazing ….. no, that’s not right …. let’s try the Spectacular …. no, still not working here. Guess we better give the Web of Spider-Man a try!

Web 0f Spider-Man replaced the previously canceled Marvel Team-Up on the stands. We were still getting three new Spider-Man titles each month, just with fewer guest appearances. That’s not to say we don’t see guest stars in this collection – from the New Mutants to Dominic Fortune to David Letterman, this book has a little bit of everything.

These issues take place a few months following the Secret Wars event. Spider-Man is still haunted by the symbiote that returned to Earth with him. The series kicks off with Spidey fighting the symbiote, long before it would attach itself to Eddie Brock. A host of other familiar Spider-Man foes, such as the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, and the Shocker, soon follow.

Two longer stories really stand out in this volume. The first is a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (complete with interlocking cover images) that ties into Secret Wars II. The Beyonder has turned a New York City building into gold, and the government, aided by the Kingpin, is in a mad scramble to remove the building before it destroys the economy. Spider-Man is more concerned about the people trapped inside, and gets upset when he realizes that the Kingpin is going to profit from this event. Spider-Man swings off with a gold notebook, which leads to the ethical questions of what he should do with it while also trying to find a way to unload it too.

Another ongoing story that crossed multiple issues featured Peter Parker as a neighborhood hero. Peter stops a mugging at the laundromat, earning him praise from his neighbors and the media. But the thugs he stopped come back to target Peter, vandalizing his apartment before eventually firebombing his place. Peter struggles to deal with these problems without reverting back to his costumed identity.

What makes this Essential?: This is a title that I read sporadically as it came out. I just didn’t have much interest in Spider-Man at this time. The problem I have with this book, and I think Marvel has realized it at different times along the way, is that there is nothing unique to this book that distinguishes it from Amazing Spider-Man or PPTSS.  There are several issues or moments that stand out in this book, such as Peter’s conversation with Flash Thompson about the high school bullying in issue #11 or Spider-Man chasing Warlock through New York City in Annual #2. But the highs don’t offset the lows in this collection. Maybe low is too harsh. The better word might be pedestrian or average. For the Spider-Man fan, I’m sure you will like this book. For the casual Marvel fan, you might consider other volumes first before this collection.

Footnotes: Web of Spider-Man #replaced Marvel Team-Up on the newsstand. Marvel editorial took a good look at the sales figures and realized that the numbers for Marvel Team-Up rose or dropped based on the co-star. Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter surmised that Marvel would be better off publishing a third Spider-Man solo title, and work in guest-stars when they were appropriate for the story.

If you like this volume, try: the original Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars. This volume has the two-part story that was tie-ins to the Secret Wars II event going on. I am not recommending you go out and read Secret Wars II. Trust me, having read it as it was happening, I have no desire to revisit Secret Wars II anytime soon. But I do go back and revisit the original Secret Wars every couple of years. Yes, this book was created specifically to sell toys. Lots of comics got their start that way, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers. But Marvel took the opportunity to make it a meaningful story, one that would have impacts on the Marvel Universe for years to come. The way the timing happened, we knew what those changes would be as the heroes returned to Earth in the comics that were released one week after Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1. The biggest change is that Spider-Man returned wearing that spiffy black costume that reacted to his thoughts. What he soon found out is that the suit was an alien symbiote, and the Fantastic Four helped Peter separate himself from the symbiote. In Web of Spider-Man #1, we see the symbiote on the loose, tracking down Spider-Man. At the end of this volume, in Web of Spider-Man #18, we see a mysterious hand push Peter into the path of a subway train. Peter’s spider sense did not warn him, which is one of the advantages that Venom would have over Spider-Man when he made his full proper first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #300. In addition to the Spider-Man costume, Secret Wars also gave us She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four, and the Thing staying behind on the Battleworld. The Hulk returns with a broken leg and is slowly reverting more and more to his mindless monster mode. And within the Secret Wars series, we see the X-Men working side-by-side with Magneto, which will lead to Magneto taking over the responsibilities for the Xavier School in Uncanny X-Men #200. Give this series a revisit – it’s available in multiple formats (trades, hardcovers, and omnibus editions).

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

First Published: July 2011

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #97 (December 1984) to #114 (May 1986), and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #5 (1985)

Key Creator Credits: Al Milgrom, Herb Trimpe, Peter David, Rich Buckler, Luke McDonnell, and Mark Beachum

Key First Appearances: The Spot, roommates Randi, Candi, and Bambi, Sin-Eater,

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

Overview: Once again, we swing into the crazy life of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. We see Peter struggling with his relationship with the Black Cat, who only has feelings for him when he is in costume. There is the question of the Black Cat’s new powers – how she came to get them, and why they are driving her away from her Spider. All of this gets wrapped up in the anniversary issue #100, with an all-out battle between Spider-Man, the Black Cat, the Kingpin, and the Spot. Yes, the Spot!

After that, we are given a lot of one-and-done stories to fill out this Essential. The title has a rotating creative team until Peter David and Rich Buckler take control of the book, creating some memorable storylines, detailed below. A benefit to these issues were some amazing covers by John Byrne for issues #101 and #102.

There is one issue towards the end, #111, which was a Secret Wars II crossover. Spider-Man’s adversary, the Puma, decides that it is his life purpose to destroy the Beyonder, and Peter finds himself with the moral dilemma of saving someone like the Beyonder.

What makes this Essential?: This book could be divided into two halves, one labeled Before Peter David, and the other Written By Peter David. The Before Peter David stories wrap up the ongoing storylines from Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4, featuring the long-running story between Spider-Man, the Black Cat, and the Kingpin. The stories here are very similar in tone and quality to the other stories of this time (Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up).

There is a marked shift in tone when Peter David comes on board. These stories are his earliest work at Marvel, and they quickly show what an excellent writer he is of comics. The characters feel more real, more alive under David’s guidance. He shocked readers with the killing of long-time supporting character Jean DeWolff, not just proclaiming it on the first cover of the storyline, but with her dead body on page 3 of the story, giving no one the chance to say good-bye. For the work that David showed here, it is worthy of picking up.

Footnotes: Peter David would bring back the Sin-Eater in a second storyline, which ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #134 (January 1988) to #136 (March 1988). These three issues, along with the original four-issue storyline, were collected in a Marvel Premiere edition, Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff.

If you like this volume, try: Spider-Man 2099 This was one of the first four titles in the Marvel 2099 line launched in 1992. Originally conceived as a Marvel: The World of Tomorrow project by Stan Lee and John Byrne, the concept eventually morphed into the 2099 line. The Spider-Man title ran for 46 issues, plus two specials, with almost all of the issues written by Peter David. In this story-arc, Miguel O’Hara is trying to recreate the abilities of Spider-Man when a freak accident causes half of his DNA to be over-written by the DNA code of a spider. There have been two trade paperbacks collecting the first year of the title, but the entire series is worth tracking down in the back issue bins.

Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10

spiderman10First Published: June 2011

Contents: Amazing Spider-Man #211 (December 1980) to #230 (July 1982); and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981)

Key Creator Credits: Denny O’Neil, Roger Stern, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, and others

Key First Appearances: Hydro-Man

Story Continues From: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 9

Story Continues In: Essential Spider-Man Vol. 11

Overview: It’s AMAZING to think that by the time this volume finishes, Peter Parker will be entering his twentieth year slinging webs around New York City. He’s come a long way since his humble beginnings as a novelty character in the final issue of a monster comic, Spider-Man has become one of the most recognizable characters in all of the comics. This is Essential Spider-Man Vol. 10.

The adventures in this collection are overseen by three key players. Veteran writers Denny O’Neil and Roger Stern oversee the majority of the tales in this book, while (then) young artist John Romita Jr. becomes the regular artist on Amazing Spider-Man, following in his dad’s footsteps. These issues are fairly typical of the time, usually one-and-done stories. We do get the occasional appearance from some up-and-coming stars such as Moon Knight and the Punisher.

One new character is introduced in this volume with the creation of Hydro-Man. Given that one of Spider-Man’s long-time foes is Sandman, it’s surprising that it took nearly 20 years to get a Hydro-Man. Thankfully for Peter, he gets some help early on from the Sub-Mariner with taking down the new villain. It won’t be the last that we see of Hydro-Man, and he will often be partnered with the aforementioned Sandman.

The volume wraps up with one of the most memorable Spider-Man stories from the 1980s. Spider-Man goes one-on-one with the Juggernaut, who is on the hunt for Madame Web. She reaches out to Peter for protection, guiding him along the Juggernaut’s path in an attempt to stop him, if not just slow him down until other help can arrive. But there is no one else – the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and even Doctor Strange are all unavailable. Spider-Man finally brings the Juggernaut to a halt at a construction project. Peter launches a tanker truck full of gasoline into the Juggernaut, causing a horrific explosion and making him angrier. So angry, in fact, that the Juggernaut does not notice that he is being led directly into a freshly poured foundation of wet cement. The Juggernaut’s weight sinks him to the bottom of the foundation, where he remains trapped — for now!

What makes this Essential?: This is a very good book. I don’t know if it is Essential, other than the final two issues collected in it, but these issues are worth reading. You don’t have to be reading Peter Parker or Marvel Team-Up in order to keep up with what is going on in Peter Parker’s life. John Romita Jr. does most of the art in the collection, cementing his place on the list of definitive Spider-Man artists. Roger Stern scripts some brilliant stories. I really feel like it is this period when Spider-Man is finally viewed, and treated, as an adult.

Footnotes: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 was also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends TV cartoon series from 1981-1983. You’ll see this show advertised on the front of Amazing Spider-Man #223, as well as all of the other Marvel books that month. This show teamed up Spider-Man with college friends Iceman and Firestar. (Firestar was an original character created for the TV series to serve as an opposite to Iceman. She was later brought into the Marvel universe properly with her own mini-series and appearances in New Mutants.) This show debuted right as I was really getting into comics, so it holds a special memory in my heart. What I loved about this series was that they used so many Marvel characters, even those outside the Spider-Man universe of that era. This was the first time we saw X-Men in an animated series – yes, this is the infamous cartoon that gave Wolverine an Aussie accent. We also got Captain America, Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom, Shanna the She-Devil, the Black Knight and more. The second and third seasons only added three episodes each, so the first season was repeated a lot during this time period. It may pale in comparison in today’s world to so much of the animation that has come out since then, but it was still better than many of the other Saturday morning offerings during this time.

Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4

spectacular_spiderman_4First Published: August 2009

Contents: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #75 (February 1983) to #96 (November 1984); and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #4 (1984)

Key Creator Credits: Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, Jim Mooney, Fred Hembeck, and others

Key First Appearances: Answer

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

Story Continues In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 5

Overview: With the last volume, I criticized Marvel for ending that book in the middle of the Doctor Octopus-Owl gang war. As disappointing as it was to finish Volume 3 that way, it also means that this volume starts off right in the middle of the action. So let’s get into the stories!

In case you are unfamiliar with this title, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (PPTSS)  is part of the ongoing story-arc of Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe. Each of the various books from this era had a set of characters they would use, with Peter, MJ, and Black Cat being in the center of the Spider-Man Venn diagram.

As mentioned earlier, we start off in the middle of the gang war between the Owl and Doctor Octopus, both underrated villains in my humble opinion. While both are taken out, you know they will both be back again to cause trouble for Spider-Man.

I love that this book gets to feature multiple return appearances by Cloak & Dagger, the drug-triggered mutants who made their debut in the last volume. While Cloak and Dagger remain focused on ridding New York City of the drug traffic, their methods often put themselves at odds with our title hero. Another anti-hero crosses through this title is the Punisher, who is finally brought to trial for his many incidents. The Punisher is sentenced to prison, which led to his own mini-series, followed quickly by his ongoing series.

As with the Amazing Spider-Man book in this era, we see the Kingpin pulling a lot of strings in the background, with the Rose and the Answer being in the forefront. Kingpin still remains a thorn in the side of Spider-Man on many levels, in particular when the Kingpin aids the Black Cat in giving her powers to allow her to be equal to Spider-Man during their adventures. The Black Cat gets a “bad luck” aura about her, causing bad things to happen to people around her trying to threaten her.

The final issues in this collection feature the return of Spider-Man in his black costume following his adventures on Battleworld. The costume is slick and new and alive, although he won’t find out about the “alive” bit for a few months.

What makes this Essential?: I really like the direction that PPTSS took during this era. It finally feels like the book is now the equal to Amazing Spider-Man and not just a secondary book on the stands. The Marvel Bullpen more evenly coordinated storylines between the books, along with Marvel Team-Up, to create a near-seamless story arc for Peter Parker, yet each title could be read on its own. Creators Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom had a great run in this era that doesn’t get enough recognition. I think it worth the pick-up, if for no other reason than to revisit the Black Costume storyline post-Secret Wars, which the Essential Spider-Man and Essential Marvel Team-Up series never reached.

Footnotes: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #81, #82, and #83 were also reprinted in Essential Punisher Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus collection from 2008. While there are many interesting storylines in this volume, the highlight of this Essential was Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #86, featuring art by Fred Hembeck. This issue was part of the Assistant Editor’s Month – while the editors went to San Diego Comic Con, the assistant editors were left in charge for a month and hi-jinx ensued. We got the Avengers appearing on David Letterman; Aunt May and Franklin Richards teaming-up to stop Galactus; and Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Bernie Rosenthol becoming a new super-hero. With this issue of Peter Parker, the story remained true, but Hembeck was brought in to do the art in his very distinctive art-style. Hembeck has been a long-time fixture in the comic scene, offering a humorous look at Marvel and DC characters. In the 1970s, he contributed a comic strip to the Daily Planet pages at DC. In the 1980s, he was a regular contributor to the Marvel Age comic. In 2008, Image Comics put out this trade paperback collection of Hembeck’s fanzine and self-published work. It’s 900 over-sized pages, printed in black and white with the same paper quality of the Essentials, collecting most of Hembeck’s work to that date. With a MSRP of $24.99, it’s an incredible bargain. Give this book a read, and check out Hembeck’s eBay store to get an original sketch.