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‘The Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection, Vol. 5’ (review)

Written by Stan Lee
Illustrated by Dan Barry, Floro Dery
Published by IDW Publishing /
The Library of American Comics 

 

My local morning newspaper ran The Amazing Spider-Man comic strip by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr. right from the beginning in the winter of 1977. Unfortunately, my parents took the evening paper. Luckily, I was able to convince them to start taking both papers a week earlier and I dutifully clipped each and every Spidey strip (except one I missed) and taped them into an album. I did that for five years. I would have kept going but our paper dropped the strip. I sold my album a few years ago but now, with this attractive Marvel/IDW series of collections, the Spider-Man strip is back!

It began as a kind of alternate earth version of the traditional Spider-Man stories, with beautiful Romita art on relatively short Stan Lee continuities spotlighting villains such as Doctor Doom and the Kingpin.

By the time of this latest volume, which covers 1985-1986, a lot of changes had occurred. For all intents and purposes, in fact, it had become a fairly traditional soap opera strip that just happened to have a superhero in it.

This particular collection finishes up a rather repetitive storyline from the previous year that features ol’ Webhead trapped in a third world country with a couple of other westerners, one of whom may or may not be a rogue DARE agent.

From there, though, we get the celebrated storyline about child abuse that garnered Lee and his strip quite a bit of publicity at the time as Peter Parker reveals he, too, was molested as a boy. It’s sensitively written and drawn out enough to emphasize the importance of the issue. Yes, the identity of the molester is telegraphed but what can you do when you have only three panels a day to work with and six on Sundays?

There’s some nonsense about a female robot, an overenthusiastic New York City cop, Spidey accused of being a drug pusher, and Peter’s long courtship of Mary Jane, during which he reveals his superhero identity to her.

Along with MJ, there are the other regulars, of course—J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Betty Brant (long gone in the comics, but still at The Daily Bugle here), and poor old lovable Aunt May (long before the movies made her a hottie).

In its later years, the Spider-Man strip was ridiculed—often rightly so—for its snail’s pace. That had yet to set in here. One amusing scene, though, drives home the fact that the dailies and Sundays were not created sequentially. When Peter is talking to a costume shop owner about a Spider-Man costume from Thursday through Saturday, the man is middle-aged, conservatively dressed, and clean-shaven. Comes the Sunday strip, the same man is now skinny with lots of hair, a walrus mustache, and a very busy shirt.

One can detect the hands of many artists here, thus the “and Friends” part of the credits. The main two, though, are Floro Dery and Dan Barry. Neither man is really known for working for Marvel but both do a good job. Barry, a veteran of adventure strips (and of the need for ghosts to stay on schedule) brings a unique look to our hero. Like many artists through the years, Barry never quite gets the mask right but his strips are a joy to look at for the most part.

Dery’s name popped up on the Sunday strips early on and he stayed with them for about a decade. A Filipino artist, according to the Internet he was a math professor who happened to prefer drawing. He’s credited with the major Transformers designs, too. His style is vastly different to most of the daily art and yet seems a perfect fit for the Sundays, making the color strips look very traditional. I like the way he has Peter just casually walk on or sit on walls or ceilings.

Overall, not the strip’s best period but certainly one of its most interesting, important and transitional. The strip died with Stan in 2018 (even though Roy Thomas had been ghostwriting it rather openly for years) but it left a four-decade legacy as a unique footnote to the Marvel Universe. Thanks to IDW, we can all catch up on this alternate MCU Spider-Man.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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