Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Quick Comics Reviews!

Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 1 (whew!)
When it comes to bang for your buck, I can't pass up the hefty Marvel "Essential" volumes, phone-book sized black and white reprints of classic comics. Why, for the $17 this 600-page book costs, I could get a mere 4-5 padded, "decompressed" current comics! Instead, in this sucker I get the first 31 (!!) issues of "PPTSS" (as we nerds called it), Spider-Man's swinging second ongoing title from the days when he didn't have 42 ongoing comics and miniseries a month. Back in the late '70s when PPTSS started, a second Spider-Man title was a revolutionary idea. This book, from the title, focused a little more on the "Man" side of "Spider-Man," with a hefty focus on Peter Parker's college life.

I was in fanboy heaven reading this volume, several issues of which I'd missed the first time around. Are they perfect comics? No, but they're good solid fun, from the days when Petey was a single struggling college student living in a ratty apartment, not married to supermodels and in the Avengers. Creatively, PPTSS was often in the shadow of the better-written "Amazing Spider-Man" parent title, but this book's still a lot of fun.

OK, it's dated '70s funk in a lot of ways -- take the Hypno-Hustler, a one-shot disco-themed villain who was named the worst Spider-Man villain of all time. There's also my personal favorite, the steroid-pumped stereotypical Southern redneck "Razorback," a man who loves CB radios and wears a giant pig costume with an electified mane. You can't make this stuff up. The "Razorback" saga, a four-parter oddity that features Spidey tangling with cultists and perhaps the strangest Spider-Man villain of all in the cosmic-powered Warlock foe "Man-Beast," might be the book's storytelling nadir. But then again, how you can not dig lines like "This is just like I heard back in Hog Country!" Where's the Ultimate Razorback miniseries, darn it?

But there's also pretty good stuff in here, camp value aside. The White Tiger, an old "Kung Fu" hero, becomes a member of the supporting cast, and one of the first Hispanic superheroes of note. The book's highlight, though, is the sprawling storyline from PPTSS #25-31, featuring Spider-Man being accidentally blinded and guest-starring Daredevil, a story which led right into the first appearance of Carrion, an evil clone who was actually pretty scary before "evil clones" led to some of the worst Spider-Man stories ever in the 1990s. This hefty book also includes guest-apperances by The Champions, Moon Knight and The Inhumans. Any fan of 1970s superheroics or Spidey will dig it, and if you don't, I just can't help you, true believer. Bring on Volume 2, when PPTSS started to get really good!

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