September: 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko) was always my favorite Marvel comic book from childhood. First published in 1963 (after Spidey’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy, 1962) "Amazing" has literally been with me my whole life. So, Spider-Man, no doubt, carries an emotional attachment, and every now and then, I have to check back in on America’s favorite web-slinger and see how he’s doing.

The basic story, in part borrowed from Batman; in part borrowed from Superman, (many theories out there, I know, this one’s mine) truly brought together a fresh, modern, take on the superhero, and a teenaged super at that. Previous to Peter Parker, most young heroes (if not all) were consigned to sidekick status, and Stan Lee was never a big fan of the young companions, hence dramatically removing Bucky from the Captain America series.

However, Spider-Man, and his cast of amazing friends, evolved over the decades, as all long-standing series are want to do, in order to keep up with changing times. Yet, change can be good; change can be bad. Most importantly, you can never take your eye off of the core iconic aspects that make your character special. I mean, this is what really gets longtime readers or fans from earlier years riled – when you take away the key elements that made you fall in love in the first place.

For instance, during the Bill Clinton years … Superman had a liberal mullet haircut as opposed to looking like a conservative squared-away, clean cut, American. That one change bothered me so much I could not read any of the Superman titles for a decade or more. Of course, at that time, there was also the gimmicky “Death of Superman” thing going on, and well, that was irritating, too. Yes, it did well, but it sold for shock value, and that’s always a temporary fix to the greater problem of screwing with an icon.

Anyway, relax, I’m not going to tell you that Spider-Man is now a hippy occupying Wall Street – rather than saving the citizens of New York from death, doom, or gloom. Despite the fact that over the years artists have tried and trifled with new costume designs, and I hear Spider-Man’s ethnicity is even different in at least one continuity … Spider-Man is still Spider-Man, and he has some pretty good movies out there to prove he’s still a relevant and cool character.

Although, some odd (new things) I did notice include: Spider-Man and Mary Jane broke up? Spider-Man at some point joined the Avengers? Spider-Man in one story sounded like he spoke Yiddish, but that could have been artistic license, and his pals in the Fantastic Four sport beige or white clothes? And ol’ Aunt May is apparently dating some new guy that kind of sounds like a jerk? Oh well …

The real question: is the modern Amazing Spider-Man any good – the comic all of us longtime readers grew up with – still cutting edge and interesting, but most importantly, fun to read?

Here we are, 50 years in the making, and once again, I felt nostalgic for my old friend, Spider-Man. I had never been ignoring him; I actually still read the great reprint volumes available, but it has in fact been a longtime since I’ve seen or heard about a modern Spider-Man comic book that I felt compelled to get lost with.

So, while I was out securing some of those “New 52” DC comics (and even a few Archies), after a few giant beers, I thought, what the hell, no matter what – I’m going to buy the latest Amazing Spider-Man if it’s available. I lucked into two issues: Nos. 691 and 692.

The high numbering was a relief as it implied the old continuity still lived in some regard and, if all went well, I’d be jumping back into familiar territory. No. 691 was the wrap up story of what looked like a retread (sort of synchronizing/capitalizing off the most recent Spider-Man film) featuring the Lizard and other people turning into lizard people.

Well, the script felt okay. I have not read Dan Slott’s work before, but coming in on the end of this story arch didn’t inspire excitement, or any sort of message in a bottle to me that Spider-Man was indeed back in action, and the art … by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Mario Del Pennino … not great. I really don’t like how they draw the Lizard, but maybe that’s in part the fault of the film portrayal.

Okay, the second issue is really why I’m writing this review. No. 692 just happened to be “A Fifty Year Celebration” by mostly modern names … Here I wanted some Spidey nostalgia and lucked into the 50th anniversary issue: kismet.

The first page of the anniversary issue is pretty cool as it features art by John Romita, Jr. as they quickly recap the origin of the Amazing Spider-Man. So far, so good.

Page two: “Alpha, Part 1: Point of Origin.” Okay, suddenly, here I am back in New York and apparently just in time to meet the latest member of the Spider-Family: Alpha?

Alpha, created by writer Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos is Spider-Man’s new … sidekick.

Yeah, remember above when I said Stan Lee didn’t like …

I’m all for new characters and Alpha seems like he can, maybe, develop into something interesting, but my main complaint would be … this is his story, and really not so much Spider-Man’s. I know the Spidey team wanted to make a splash for the 50th by introducing this new character and a never-done-before concept for Spider-Man’s life in terms of having a sidekick, but this story reads like an issue of something called Alpha, not Amazing Spider-Man. I think Andy Maguire (Alpha) would have been better served in his own comic book, but … whatever.

The script, again, was okay, but the art style they’re using appears to echo a manga sensibility, yet not quite; it’s as if it’s supposed to look like some kind of American-Japanese hybrid art school stuff. I felt the same way about Kick-Ass. I don’t quite get it, and if there’s anyone out there that can explain it to me, I would be grateful for the education. My only guess is the powers that be at Marvel think this modern look is something kids will like.

However, I should mention, I do like the cover. Good job, Ramos!

The next story in this collection, “Spider-Man For a Night,” is a nice little treat by Dean Haspiel, starts off sort of silly but really pays off. Good job, Dean.

Whereas the art was definitely a step up with Haspiel, we roll into another very strange interpretation of Spider-Man with Joshua Hale Fialkov and Nuno Plati’s “Just Right” for the final installment. Spidey looks very anorexic in this story, but most likely a nod to Steve Ditko. Nevertheless, a fun story, and Plati does get a shot of the Spidey-Mobile in there, so I gotta respect him for that.

So … in the final analysis … is Spider-Man still in good hands? Well, final analysis is a cliché and there surely will never be a finale for Spider-Man, but can I recommend this book? Well, to be honest, I have mixed feelings, but guess what?

I’m going to pick up the next issue (even though it’s a dollar more than most DC and Archie comics …)

Thank you to all the super creative people that have kept Spidey swingin’ all these 50 years! You are appreciated.

Bradley Mason Hamlin
September 27, 2012

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“The Amazing Spider-Man 50 Year Celebration" review by Bradley Mason Hamlin.
Edited by Lucy Hell. © 2012 by Mystery Island Publications. Published: 09.28.12.
All rights reserved.

Image of Spider-Man comic books used here for promotional purposes.