by Glenn Matchett
Spider-Man, Spider-Man he can do whatever a spider can. I’m not sure when was the first time I heard that tune but it probably wasn’t long after I was introduced to the character I’ve been a fan of the majority of my life. My life as an Irish Fanboy has led me to many characters and interest but none has been as prominent or enduring at Spider-Man. I would be lying if I said if I recall when my association with arguably Marvel’s most popular character began but my first major exposure to the character was during the run on the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon.
I’ll say this right off the bat that I don’t think this cartoon ages well at all. In fact looking back on it I would almost call it a very poor adaption but back in the day of ignorant youth I was addicted to it. I was introduced to many of Spider-Man’s fantastic rogues gallery, other Marvel heroes and his supporting cast through this cartoon. Despite it not aging well if it wasn’t for this cartoon I likely wouldn’t be reading Spider-Man comics now. Back then I really enjoyed watching the various adventures of Peter Parker and how his fights with various villains would often come into conflict with his personal life. He almost seemed to be struggling to juggle both his hero and personal life and it was really interesting to watch. Years later I would learn the cartoon took a lot of liberties, left out some pretty damn important characters and turned some of Spider-Man’s best villains into two dimensional ‘muwhahahaha’ villains. Like I said though at the time I thought it was great and it led me into reading some of my first comics which were the comics that basically retold episodes from the cartoon in a different cartoon. I’d seen some of these episodes literally dozens of times so seeing them in another format didn’t bother me too much. Eventually the comic would start telling what I assumed was its own stories. One of these stories was actually a reprint from a ‘real’ Spider-Man comic but I didn’t know about it.
So with blissful ignorance I read Sensational Spider-Man issues 21-23 which featured the title character teaming up with fellow Marvel hero Doctor Strange to battle against a trans-dimensional foe in the form of Beul the Goblin King. Those with a keen Spidey knowledge will know the really fun and vastly underrated Spider-Man team of Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo did this arc so they were the first creators I was exposed to when dealing with the ‘main’ Spider-Man comics but at the time I didn’t know that. It’s quite ironic looking back at it now as the late great Mike Wieringo would go on to become one of my favorite artists and yeah at the time I remember loving the art in these issues but back then I didn’t pay much attention as to who was producing these Spider-Man comics, they simply were there and that was good enough for me. Of course fans of Spider-Man will know these issues dealt heavily with introducing the supporting cast that featured in Ben Reilly’s run as Spider-Man which an ignorant fan knew nothing of at the time. The cartoon hadn’t dealt with Ben yet (when they did it was only briefly) so the part those issues dealt with that stuff featured a totally different artist cramming in a sub plot involving the Vulture seeking out the ‘higher dimension’ that was also calling Spider-Man. I remember when I read this story thinking that this art not only wasn’t as good as the rest of the story but the sub plot didn’t really fit. It wasn’t until years later when I would read the proper full reprint of the story the stuff they had cut out so someone like me who was unaware of Spider-Man’s larger world wouldn’t be confused. It’s a really fun story like the majority of this creative teams run and worth tracking down if you’ve never read it, especially if you are a sucker for Spider-Man/Doctor Strange team ups which I am (I suspect these issues had something to do with that).
I can’t remember why I stopped reading these comics, I want to say they ceased publication but honestly I don’t remember. I do remember sticking with the cartoon and it led me on a whim to picking up an issue of ‘Astonishing Spider-Man’ which is a UK anthology collecting the American comics only for a bit cheaper because they are a few years behind. To put it into perspective Astonishing is now currently just getting to One Moment In Time so yeah I was way behind and didn’t even realizing it. This issue which I still own was numbered 12 and pretty much grabbed my attention because it featured not one but TWO Spider-Men on the cover and for some reason one was dressed like he’d just robbed a charity shop. I was intrigued and picked it up and man was I CONFUSED. I seriously had no idea what was going on as I’d just inadvertently plunged head first into what would be known as ‘The Clone Saga’ so yeah I dived into the deep end. There was two Spider-Man, Peter was married, one was a clone, there was a weird dude called Kaine, a new villain called the Jackal and a cliffhanger involving some blonde chick named Gwen Stacy. What the heck? None of these people are in the cartoon and Pete is single isn’t he? This is all WRONG! These were just some of my thoughts at the time but despite all this I kind of liked it. It was a lot darker than the comics I was used to and even featured this guy called Kaine killing someone named the Grim hunter who to me seemed very similar to the cartoon villain Kraven who at the time I only knew as a normal nice guy who went nuts when he drank some random potion. I was intrigued and also got my first exposure (again blissfully ignorant of this at the time) to two of my future favorite Spider-Man creators in J.M Dematteis and Mark Bagley.
I wanted more but at the time I lived in the middle of nowhere and the closest shop of any kind was nearly an hour’s drive away. My mother owned a newsagent and kept meaning to get the comic into her shop but she kept forgetting an eventually so did I. It wasn’t until I was in the South of Ireland a few years later in a local newsagent that I would pick up my next issue of Astonishing (issue 36 this time). For those that don’t know Astonishing actually was pretty good value and would collect 3 issues per month under one cheap price. At this time the various Spider-Man titles would regular feature crossovers from title to title by the various creative teams and Astonishing reprinted them all in order. I opened this issue however and again ran face first into a wall of confusion. Now the guy that had been the clone in the last issue (Ben) was Spider-Man in a new costume, was blonde and it turned out he was the original and the Peter I knew had been the clone but had chosen to keep the name because he had a baby and stuff coming along. Once again I was lost but this issue did feature a villain I knew of in Mysterio (albeit he looked very different with no bubble dome head in a look I’ve seen called ‘smoke head’) and I was a sucker for this villain. Apart from his bizarre last appearance in the cartoon (featuring his tragic love with a cyborg actress….yeah) I had enjoyed his appearances on television and greatly enjoyed the comic that also featured my first exposure to more legendary Spider-Man creators like Tom DeFalco and John Romita Jr. Again although I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the larger sense I was intrigue and wanted more but once again could not find anywhere close by once I was home to give me the continuation I sought. That Summer I went again to Florida and while there sought out more Spider-Man comics which I did find in most bizarrely a stall outside a shopping mall. From that stall I bought three collections ‘Hobgoblin Lives’, ‘Best Of Spider-Man’ and Essential Spider-Man 3.
I picked up the Hobgoblin comic because on the cartoon had not revealed yet who he was despite several appearances from him and this collection promised to reveal who was under the mask. The story remains a solid favorite of mine and despite not being aware of who the Hobgoblin’s alter ego was until I read this issue I enjoyed it immensely. I know it was recently reprinted in hardcover format along with its equally excellent sequel ‘Goblins At The Gate’ and is well worth a read. In this issue it also featured at the back a very handy guide to all the Hobgoblin’s appearances and the characters history. The issues again featured Peter in the title role with no mention of Ben but references were made to him and MJ losing their baby but no more information was given beyond that. I enjoyed all three collections immensely and the ‘Best Of’ really did feature some great stories and was my first ever reading of the very first Spider-Man story in ‘Amazing Fantasy 15’. All this really helped me become a bigger Spider-Man fan but it was Essential Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 that really sealed the deal. This collection basically covers the Lee/Romita Sr. run at its peak and I absolutely devoured it in a couple of days. The stories were exciting, the cast was great (I knew who Gwen Stacy was yay) and the art work was dynamic and brilliant. I was now determined more than ever to find a comic book shop.
I did a few weeks later and was exposed to ‘proper’ American comics on a regular basis for the first time ever. The shop was great and I got many of the issues mentioned at the back of the Hobgoblin collection here allowing me to read and vastly enjoy the Stern/Jomita Jr run on Amazing which some fans (including me) would rate among one of the titles best periods ever. It turned out the guy running the shop explained to me how the UK reprints were a little bit behind but I was in luck because he had the up to date stuff. He also said I was in luck because it was a perfect time to jump in fully to Spider-Man because Amazing and the secondary title ‘Peter Parker: Spider-Man had just relaunched with new number ones.
I thought I was indeed very lucky, little did I know what I was in for.
Next: Why Is Spider-Man sleeping on the streets?!