Saturday, November 10, 2012
BAB Book Review: Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, Volume 1
Doug: Hi, friends. You may recall about a month ago I mentioned that earlier in the fall I purchased (at a great deal, natch) the tome you see pictured above. And since I found an hour or so to sit down with it back on the 26th of October I figured I'd pen a write-up of not only the highs and lows of the book itself, but also go ahead and review the first story inside.
From the outside this is a great looking book! The dust jacket is sharp -- love that Romita pose on Spidey swinging right at us. The back of the jacket has a large panel (one of the rotating title panels that ran at the top of the Sundays) in black and white and a short amount of text. The faux leather cover is black with silver lettering and is pretty nice. So in your hands this really looks swell; did I mention that it's oversized? It's larger than a Marvel Masterworks edition, standing about 11 inches tall and almost 7 1/2 inches wide. And therein lies my main reservation about the book. The strips are printed sideways (the pages are even numbered that way as well), so you actually have to rotate the book 90 degrees to read it. But the strips are only 6 3/4 inches wide! Keeping in mind that this is the 11" side of the book, we're giving up about 2" of usable space in the margins! As far as the handling of the book, I got used to it pretty quickly; I'll admit it was easier reading once I rested the book on a pillow on my lap. There are three strips on a page, so six on the spread.
If you're looking for extras, "Easter Eggs", etc. then you're going to be disappointed. There is no introduction and only short (separate) interviews with Lee and Romita at the back of the book. On the final page is a color print of the oft-reprinted self-portrait of John Romita at his drawing board. But that's where the color stops -- the Sundays? They're here, as they were integral to the storylines; but all are reprinted in black and white which is very disappointing. At an msrp of $39.99, certainly Marvel could have printed 1/7 of the pages in color. Apparently, nope. The reproductions are for the most part OK, but not stellar. Often the linework is light, which causes me to wonder what the source for photography was? I'm guessing it wasn't always the original art, simply because there is variation in the quality of the various dailies.
Who is Spidey mixing it up with between these covers? Well, below you can see my thoughts on his first fracas -- with Victor von Doom. That's followed by Doc Ock, a new character called the Rattler, the Kingpin, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and Dr. Doom again. In between, there are 2-3 stories that feature non-super-powered nemeses. It's a blast seeing Jazzy Johnny on Spidey again, and the '70's hairdo on Peter is awesome! The newspaper strips would have debuted around the same time Amazing Spider-Man #166 was on the spinner racks, I'm guessing -- give or take a month.
So how about it? Should you pick this up? If you were like me, I tried to get in the habit of riding my bike to the Convenient about a mile away to pick up a Chicago Tribune each day. But you know how that went, huh? I'm glad I have this and at some point will probably pick up the second volume if I can get it cheap. But there's no way I'd pay cover price for it. I just don't feel like, as a consumer, Marvel "took care of me".
Stan Lee's plot to the first story arc (running approximately 7 weeks and four days if my math is correct) is pretty simple, yet serving its purpose in getting the readership up to speed on the Spider-Man mythos. We have to assume that many people would have been introduced to the character, and by extension the Marvel Universe (although to my quickly-perusing eye, there are no other MU heroes in these yarns) for the first time in the pages of their favorite newspaper. In the first arc Stan and Johnny use J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, and Betty Brant from the Daily Bugle and we see scenes in Forest Park with Aunt May, Anna Watson, and Mary Jane Watson. Other Spidey cast members appear in subsequent stories. Peter's general down-on-his-luck persona, his dating relationship with MJ, and of course his adversarial head-butting with JJJ are all established in this first story. Interestingly, however, Doom's origin is partially told, but not Spider-Man's. That being said, in one of the rotating title panels of the Sunday strips there is a synopsis of Peter's beginnings with the radioactive spider.
So here's the gist of it: JJJ and his paper have paid the way for Dr. Doom to address the United Nations at a world conference on terrorism. Yep -- invite a totalitarian dictator and renowned terrorist himself to discuss how to bring that phenomenon to a close. Of course Spidey's out to stop Doom, but in the process falls on the wrong side of the law (again). This provides Stan an opportunity to not only show Spidey as an outsider in his own town, but it gives Aunt May something to worry about while watching the news bulletin -- because you know, Peter's downtown, too. We also get to see Pete's scientific knowledge on display, and it's his skill and perseverance at stopping Doom that ends up saving the day. It was interesting how Stan adapted to the daily format of storytelling, as just by the nature of the medium the first panel was often used to summarize the previous day's entry; at other times 2/3 of the strip may have served this purpose! The highlight for me were the caricatures Romita drew of world leaders of the day, all in attendance at Doom's UN address: Israel's Golda Meir, the PLO's Yasser Arafat, Canada's Pierre Trudeau, Uganda's Idi Amin, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Now that's a party with a roomful like that! In the end, Doom gives his address, demands that everyone follow his lead, Spidey takes him on and tricks him into defeating himself, and the sun comes up tomorrow. But what are those strange tentacles about to knock on a door on the last panel?