Well, itís here. Spider-Man: The Movie debuted with a whopping $114.8 million weekend take, breaking 3 records and solidifying the concept of a comic book film as mainstream entertainment. Iím also happy to say that the critical and popular response to the film has been just as positive as its box office total. Columbia/TriStar is so happy with the initial outcome that theyíve given the sequel a release date, set for May 7th, 2004. Now the question becomes whether or not Marvel Comics and the rest of the industry is capable of taking advantage of this renewed interest in the illustrated art form. Bookstores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble have stocked the shelves with trade paperbacks and hardcovers, while hobby stores have filled the racks with new monthly issues and special projects like mini-series and one-shots. Time will tell if the excitement over the film can carry over, but I sure hope it does.
Meanwhile, Iím going to do my part and try my very best to make things easy for any potentially new/returning comic fans that may want to check out what Spider-Man comics have to offer. Of course, the easiest way for any of you to do that is to walk into your local bookstore and look into their graphic novel/gaming section. Though the smaller stores like Waldenbooks and B. Daltonís have minimized their investments in comics, aside from the occasional rack, larger stores have actually expanded their shelf space over the last few years. In the case of Spider-Man, Marvel has reprinted several of their most popular collections (The Death of Gwen Stacy, The Wedding, Kravenís Last Hunt) and finally offered some of the most demanded as well (Visionaries: Todd McFarlane). Even the Essentials line, intended to reprint every issue starting with the first appearance, have been expanded by a volume. Most importantly, the latest and greatest issues Marvel has offered is now available to the average consumer for less than $20 a volume. These titles include J. Michael Straczynskiís (Babylon 5, Jeremiah) Amazing Spider-Man, Paul Jenkinsí (Inhumans, Sentry) Peter Parker: Spider-Man, and the anthology title Spider-Manís Tangled Web. To make things even more convenient, Iím going to provide for you all a breakdown of each collection, from the creative teams and basic storyline, to the issues reprinted and pricing. Here we go.
Anyone looking to start at the beginning of the Spider-Man legacy now has a variety of choices depending on their budgets. Marvelís affordable line of Essentials have been priced at $14.95 a piece, each edition collecting roughly two years worth of the original Amazing Spider-Man (about 24 issues), including his first appearance (Amazing Fantasy #15) and annual specials, all in trade paperback. Each book is presented in its original format, including covers, and in black & white. The paper is cheap, but at this price itís not worth complaining about at prices this cheap. There are currently five volumes, collecting the entire Stan Lee run (#1 - #110 plus misc. specials) ending immediately before writer Gerry Conway began. For the currently available issues, co-creator/writer Stan Lee is joined by original co-creator/artist Steve Ditko, as well as the famous John Romita Sr. and Gil Kane. Aside from the introduction of the title character, you will also see the first appearances/origins of villains such as the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Electro and the original Kraven the Hunter. The original and dramatic revelations surrounding the true identity of the Green Goblin (the same as in the current feature film) can be found here, as well as the controversial drug-related storyline (longtime Spidey fans may remember this). This is the perfect (not to mention most logical) way to begin to familiarize yourself with the character, even if you only start with one volume.
If youíre looking for something slightly more presentable, Marvel Comics also offers their Marvel Masterworks line of hardcover books. Each volume is priced at $49.95 and comes in full color on glossy paper. Unfortunately, due to some rash decisions over the past several years, Marvel has only just started reprinting Masterworks editions, leaving their Spider-Man collection with only one volume. It contains the first appearance (Amazing Fantasy #15) and the first 10 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, with all content by the original creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
If you balked at the price of the hardcover just mentioned, donít worry about it. Most collections are in trade paperback (softcover) and continue to grow each and every month. To offer more affordable Spider-Man material outside the original issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel turned to their first Spidey spin-off monthly series from the middle 1970ís. In the spirit of variety, both then and now, Marvel has offered a new Essential book collecting the first 20 issues of Marvel Team-Up. This ongoing series featured Spider-Man teaming up with the rest of the Marvel Universe in a multitude of adventures featuring anyone from the Fantastic Four to the members of the Avengers. The creative line-up includes writers Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Len Wein (creator of the all-new X-Men and Swamp Thing) and artists Ross Andru, Gil Kane and Jim Mooney. The issues are again, of course, presented in black & white.
Stay tuned for more entries and updates.
Thanks to Mile High Comics for the images used in this column. All characters and titles are copyrighted and trademarked by their respective companies and are used here for review purposes only.