My Life as an Irish Fanboy: Part 12

by Glenn Matchett

SPIDER-MAN – part 2

One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Spider-man is how adaptable the character can be.  You put the web slinging hero in any genre and it works be it horror or comedy or romance or adventure or many more.  The character is a rare example of something that can work in many different scenarios.  Many other heroes to me personally only fit in one or maybe two categories and removed from that and placed in a different scenario just seems…off.  I doubt I could imagine Batman in a light hearted comedy like Spider-man/Human Torch or light hearted heroes like Deadpool working in the same way in emotionally driven stories like the one featured in Amazing Spider-man 400.  Because of this Spider-man is a rare breed and why I think he’s survived so many years and is so popular.  There is literally everything someone can enjoy about the hero and it makes it very easy to be a fan.

Reasons like that is why it’s hard to talk about the renumbering of both Amazing and Peter Parker: Spider-man.  Take any period of Spider-man and it has its detractors be it the clone saga or the JMS years or One More Day or Brand New Day.  These are periods I’ve heard called (sometimes more than once) the ‘worst’ Spider-man stories ever.  To those people I ask them if they were around when Peter was sleeping on the streets following the apparent death of his (then) wife Mary Jane.  Most of them say no and then I say they don’t know how bad things could be.  Indeed following the relaunch of the Spider-man line in the late 90’s Marvel was trying to figure out how to separate Peter and Mary Jane.  At first it was Peter keeping his antics as Spider-man a secret from his wife following his supposed retirement but then it led to her eventual death as a result of a plane crash.  Mary Jane was dead and now Spider-man could move onto bigger and better things right?  Well not exactly even prior the MJ’s death both titles featured a lot of team ups with Spider-man.  I myself love to see Marvel heroes interact with each other but when the titles relaunched we had Spider-woman (all of them plus a new one), The FF, Iceman, Thor, Marrow, Blade, and Iron Man all within the first year of the new titles.  It may not sound like a lot but it often seemed like in that time Spider-man was a guest star in his own title.  There were also odd creative decisions as making Sandman a villain again, the never ending Senator Ward story, the also never ending ‘stalker’ sub-plot and the less than wise decision to bring ‘Chapter One’ continuity with Amazing Spider-man (vol. 2) issues 9 and 10 which as far as I’m aware are the only issues of Spider-man ever that Marvel pretends didn’t happen.

Speaking of Chapter One it was an odd title featuring a retelling of classic Spider-man tales in a more modern setting.  Sound familiar?  Yes a few years before the Ultimate Universe took everyone by surprise comic legend John Byrne wrote and drew this 13 issue series (counting a special ‘0’ issue) which retold stories from the Lee/Ditko years.  I haven’t read the legendary Lee/Ditko run at that stage (I hadn’t realised there were two Essential Volumes prior to the one I bought in America, oops) so I went into this series with fresh eyes.  It was interesting for me to see the beginnings of many of Spider-man’s foes as well as some background on the main character himself.  At the time though I thought it was missing something but couldn’t pinpoint what.  When I read the Lee/Ditko stories and saw what these issues had been based on it dawned on me.  Instead of doing something different or innovative or daring Chapter One had played it safe and merely had a few references to computers or something to make it more ‘modern’.  Ultimately the series is a great example of fixing something that isn’t broken as Lee/Ditko had it right the first time, no imitations necessary.  That said some of the ideas in Chapter One were interesting such as Spider-man and one of his main enemies Doctor Octopus sharing an origin.  At the time this was said to be sacrilege but to me it kind of made sense that rather than two separate highly improbable incidents these characters instead came from the same one.  It was somewhat ironic that the idea would be reused a few years later in Ultimate Spider-Man instead it also included Norman Osbron and was much better received.  Still that was a few years away and I was stuck in a dark period of Spider-man history and I wondered why I was bothering.

I was still reading the UK reprints as I had hoped it would catch up to the modern continuity but I was much more enjoying the stories shortly following Ben Reilly’s death rather than the up to date stuff.  I contemplated stopping more than once but the decision was made for me when the local shop closed just a few months following the death of Mary Jane.  I was disappointed because despite the so-so nature of the overall story I wanted to know what happened but still had my UK reprints which I greatly enjoyed.  A few years later in the main city I discovered another comic shop and having learned my lesson with being up to date I instead dug through the back issues looking for gaps in my collection.  Although I had began using the internet at this stage it was very minimally and I had yet to discover sites that could fill me in on any gaps in my Spidey knowledge.  Yes back in the day before the internet I actually had to go look for the information I wanted to know, heaven forbid.  These days comic companies seem to be very concerned about fans not knowing what is going on and catering continually to new fans and renumbering or rebooting so new fans don’t feel intimidated.  Now personally I came in to Spider-man at arguably the most confusing time in the characters history (there were two of them!) and I kind of shrugged and back tracked.  I wasn’t intimidated I just dived in the deep end and sought out what I wanted to know.  This was many years before everything was being so readily available in collected format so the concept of new fans being intimidated by prior continuity has always puzzled me.  It’s all there in easy to read formats and if people want to know more they will simply buy more of the product.  In any case I was in this comic shop and got talking to the owner who pointed out new issues of Marvel comics.

At the time Marvel was in the middle of their ‘nuff said’ month which featured comics without dialogue.  By this time the owner told me that both Amazing and Peter Parker had gotten creative overhauls (which he claimed were ‘awesome) and that a new title had just started.  He wanted me a new Spider-man book which he told me was another retelling of the heroes origin in the modern day.  I was reluctant and looked at this odd title named ‘Ultimate Spider-man’ and asked who wrote it.  I was a little more aware of who was who now and I discovered that comics merely didn’t magically appear, they were written and drawn by many different people.  I now knew names like Stan Lee (I’d gotten those Essentials, they were awesome), Ditko, Romita Sr. and Jr., Stern, Defalco, Dezago, Wieringo, Dematteis and many more.  I’d hoped to hear a familiar name but saw this guy shrug and say ‘I don’t know some new guy, Brian Bunders or something.’  Seriously there was a time before people knew who Brian Bendis was and it’s kind of odd to think about now.  I shrugged and paid money for the book little knowing it would lead me into the next stage of my life as an Irish fanboy (more on that in a few weeks).

I read the issue when I got home and was puzzled.  Why didn’t Spider-man appear in costume?  Why was Uncle Ben still alive?  What was going on?  I was now aware of two or three parters and assumed because the book was launching that’s what they were doing.  I returned to this shop for more back issues and for more Ultimate and didn’t find Spider-man or Uncle Ben’s death in the next issue or the issue after that.  Instead I found a very different, very well written and drawn comic that really grabbed me.  Issues passed and after issue 6 and finally the lead up to the Spider-man/Green Goblin fight (talk about taking a chance, this version of the Goblin was VERY different) and this comic shop started to tell me there were problems with orders.  Weeks would go by and the same ‘new issues’ would be featured in the stands and eventually the shop vanished only leaving behind a notice that it had closed.  Like with the main Spider-man title (which was now about to catch up to where I’d left off) I was left with a cliff-hanger.  It took me a few years to get issue 7 from eBay and a few years before I saw Ultimate Spider-man again.

I sat and watched my UK reprints retell the post relaunch stories once more and then a new face appeared in the titles.  Taking over the secondary title was writer named Paul Jenkin’s who brought not only humour back to Spider-man but damn good stories too.  Soon after that was a brilliant story involving Norman Osborn trying to tempt Peter into becoming his heir and the return of Mary Jane.  I saw the stalker story finally wrap up and it wasn’t exactly a great resolution but it was over and it was time to move along.  Move along it did with the arrival of new (well to me) Amazing writer JMS.  The quality shot up one issue by a huge margin and I read the story collected as ‘Coming Home’ and knew I had a modern classic in my hands.  I did notice that it seemed this new writer was also not telling a whole story in just one or two issues but instead spacing them out to six parts or sometimes more.  Again I found it strange at first but got used to it pretty quick and assumed it was doing it because Ultimate had done so well doing the story like that (I wasn’t aware how close to the truth I likely was).

Soon I found the UK reprints also did Ultimate Spider-man and I started reading it with the beginning of a new arc involving the return of Norman Osborn to the title.  The Ultimate book had moved along quite steadily with the inclusion of Gwen Stacy to the supporting cast and a brilliant and very cerebral story involving Peter and Norman.  I’ve read many great Spider-man/Green Goblin talks in the past and here Ultimate was telling one that held up against the best of them.  I wanted more and soon I discovered yet another comic shop in the city that seemed to belong to a chain and therefore surely had less risk of going out of business.  I discovered that Jenkins had written more issues of Spider-man than my UK reprint magazine had collected and there was a new Spider-man title as well that looked really interesting (Marvel Knights).  I was stuck with a choice, do I stick with my UK reprints or dive in to the up to date stuff?  The internet was now easily accessible and I knew I could easily catch up (there’s that term again!) using the easy to purchase and relatively cheap collections that could bring me up to date.  I knew it would be cheaper for me to continue reading the UK editions but I wanted more than that and so I dived in headfirst.


Next: Diving In

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