Amazing Spider-Man (1963–1998): The Massive Re-Read, Part Thirteen — The End
And here we finally are — the very last stretch of Amazing Spider-Man’s first volume.
To really get a sense of these two years though, it would’ve been ideal if I had re-read everything that had been put out — especially the entirety of JM DeMatteis and Luke Ross’ Spectacular Spider-Man. However, what I already have certainly captures the general spectrum of quality from the books from this time.
We’ll start with Amazing Spider-Man by Tom DeFalco, together with original regular artist Steve Skorce and fill-in-turned-regular-artist Joe Bennett, which was… all right, I guess.
DeFalco’s story ideas were actually mostly interesting, but their execution fell flat almost all of the time. His characterisations of Peter and Mary Jane felt pretty weak, and when you take into account that he had once penned Mary Jane’s definitive backstory, it makes his execution all the more disappointing.
Worst of all is his reliance on events from Spectacular Spider-Man. Aside from being part of the “Spider-Hunt” and “Identity Crisis” crossovers, Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo’s Sensational Spider-Man managed to touch on story points from its sister book without ever letting those points drive the main narrative.
DeFalco and crew, on the other hand, leaned heavily into Norman Osborn becoming a partner at The Daily Bugle and the ensuing bounty on Spider-Man — both of which were established in Spectacular, not Amazing — which made the flagship title feel more like a B-book instead. And just like the last time that happened during the Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Denny O’Neil years, this felt to me like one of the lesser points in Amazing’s history.
Skroce’s art was energetic, but still unpolished. His work definitely grew tighter towards the end of his run, especially with issue four-twenty-five, but it wasn’t till his time on Gambit, I think, did he really come into his own.
Joe Bennett was fine, I suppose. He had a knack for facial expressions, but his work generally always felt rushed.
To be fair, there’s nothing outstandingly horrible about DeFalco, Skroce and Bennett’s issues. At any other point in those first thirty-five years of Spider-Man’s history, their stint might’ve been, at worst, just another run that got lost in the shuffle. But because it’s the last run we get before the end of volume one (and, granted, I’m approaching this with the benefit of hindsight), it feels like kind of a shame.
Sensational Spider-Man, however, is a different story.
Dezago and ‘Ringo’s run isn’t anything flashy. You’re not going to get big events or villains that make waves the way someone like Venom did earlier in the decade.
What you get instead are fun and brilliantly crafted stories. It was clear that the pair was having a blast with every issue that they worked on together — and that joy was infectious.
The Savage Land arc and the Dr. Strange/Technomancers story were good ol’ fashioned adventures. The new Prowler mini-mystery really showed what a stand-up friend Spidey is, while I genuinely felt young Peter Parker’s terror in that monster-filled “Flashback” issue. And there’s that whole lovingly goofy fiasco with the Looter and his meteor.
But it wasn’t just all the fun that drew me into the stories. I loved that Dezago and ‘Ringo touched on Peter still dealing with the loss of Ben and baby May — and did so subtly, but beautifully.
Dezago’s scripts were light, playful and heartfelt, but the real hero of this pairing was definitely ‘Ringo, whose art and storytelling were so full of life and a love of the medium. He may have only worked on a handful of issues, but he remains one of my definitive Spider-Man artists.
So strong was the sense of camaraderie from the pair that even fill-in artists like ‘Ringo’s regular inker Richard Case, Todd Nauck, and Jason Armstrong felt welcome guests, instead of missteps.
In fact, the only times there ever felt like there were dips in quality were when the title was dragged into the painfully mediocre “Spider-Hunt” crossover, and the forgettable Arcade story in issues twenty-nine and thirty. And even those were followed up respectively by the fun Hornet two-parter and ‘Ringo’s wonderfully down-to-earth Spidey swan song in issue thirty-one.
It’s also worth mentioning the Hobgoblin Lives mini-series, Roger Stern’s return to the villain he co-created. The three-part mystery was pretty enjoyable, even if I felt that the final reveal of Roderick Kingsley was somewhat anti-climatic. Having Ron Frenz on art — another prominent Spidey creator from the eighties– certainly helped bridge the fourteen years since Stern last worked on Hobgoblin.
I wasn’t as much of a fan, however, of “Goblin’s at the Gate”, the story in Spectacular that brought Kingsley face to face with Norman Osborn. It’s not that this arc itself was poorly executed. Luke Ross’ art was more than decent, and with Stern co-plotting, it was at the very least a solid story.
My problem, however, is that Norman’s return as an omnipresent malevolence in Peter’s life felt a lot more tiresome than I remember. Granted, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get a chance to re-read most of DeMatteis and Ross’ Spectacular run — and maybe Norman as this looming devil figure was handled better there — but the whole Kingpin/Daredevil relationship that they tried to build between Norman and Peter just fell flat in what little I’d seen of it in the other books.
Which is the perfect segue to John Byrne and Howard Mackie’s “The Gathering of Five” and “The Final Chapter”.
The best way I can sum up my feelings for these stories is that, when I first read them, I hated them so much that I stopped reading Spider-Man comics, and superhero comics on a whole, for the first time in my life.
Even re-reading it now, I still cringe at the return of Aunt May, especially when I think back to the heartbreaking send-off that DeMatteis and Mark Bagley gave her in Amazing Spider-Man #400. But throw in how all of this ties back to Norman’s new status quo and there was just no way I was going to enjoy re-reading these stories, even twenty years later.
The saddest part, however, is that I’m starting to realise that a lot of the sentimentality I had for this era was either from the Dezago/’Ringo run or leftover goodwill from Ben Reilly’s time in the webs. “The Final Chapter” wasn’t a sudden affront. It was more of the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But I don’t want to end my massive re-read on such a downer. So, let’s switch gears a little.
I realised a couple of posts into this big ol’ experiment of mine that I maybe should’ve started things off with a kinda mission statement — why am I doing this, what I hope to accomplish, that sorta thing.
But a lot of that evolved over the process, so I’m actually glad I saved my mission statement for the end.
The initial reason I started this was simply because I thought to myself, “How cool would it be to have definitively read every issue of Amazing Spider-Man?” Not just read them out of order here and there, but to have read them all the way through from Amazing Fantasy #15 to the very latest issue.
After a while, that reason evolved into one of greater practicality. I had a ton of Spider-Man trade paperbacks, but very little space for them. This re-read would allow me to narrow down my collection to the ones that I genuinely wanted to keep.
Even the length of my re-read evolved over time. At some point, I decided that the end of that first volume in 1998 would be where I stopped. There were two reasons for this.
1. It was simply a clean break. No relaunches, no reversions to original numbering. Start to end, a continuous re-read.
2. If I’m being truly honest, 1998’s when I stopped caring about Spider-Man.
If I was to get super introspective and maybe a bit psychoanalytical (in the most armchair way possible), I guess you could say that this was the end of my childhood in a sense. I’d turned sixteen, which meant that I was looking at further establishing my identity through the things I consumed. Spider-Man wasn’t enough anymore. Superheroes weren’t enough anymore. And, not liking the direction Byrne and Mackie were taking the character, it seemed like the perfect time to move on.
My tastes grew, and I began exploring comics from the likes of Vertigo, and other similar publishers and imprints. The momentum from this period led me to become the huge fan of — and practitioner in — the medium of comics that I am today.
I would come back to Spidey eventually, and sure, there are stories after the relaunch that I enjoyed. But I just didn’t care for the character with the same fiery passion that I used to. That sense of childlike wonder through which I had spent roughly the first decade and a half my life looking at Spidey was gone.
And that’s okay. I needed that emotional clean break, even though it didn’t exactly seem like it at the time. Spidey did what he had to do for me, and while I’ll still check in every once in a while, I’m a better comic reader, and maybe even a better person, for moving beyond just the web of Spider-Man.
So… now what? I’m going to do different and less daunting re-reads for other characters. No other fictional character has been as important to me as Spider-Man, so it seems fitting that he’s the only one that deserves such a massive re-read.
Which leaves me with two things left to do now. First, letting you know that I’ve reduced my collection of trade paperbacks to just one shelf. I had multiple shelves worth that spanned across more than three decades of Spider-Man comics before this, okay? I’d say I did a pretty good job of narrowing things down.
And finally, I would like extend my eternal gratitude to Stan Lee and the late Steve Ditko — for creating a character that has truly and profoundly changed my life. I honestly can say that I wouldn’t be the man I am without Spider-Man, and going on this journey of mine over these last few years has reminded me of that.
(Originally published on 18 October 2018.)