Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Brooks on Books: Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strips Volume 2, 1979-1981

Talk about a pleasant surprise at the liberry! It was a thrill to even see "Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strips" on the shelf, and reading it was even more pleasurable than I expected. The comic strip is better than I remembered, and IDW does a tremendous job of packaging it.

Stan Lee writes and John Romita Sr. draws these Spidey adventures, though towards the end of the volume, Lee's brother Larry Lieber assumes art duties. An excellent preface by IDW/Library of American Comics editor Bruce Canwell explains that Romita left the strip due to frustrations with of the limitations of the format, especially the small panels. Lieber does a creditable job in the small sample here, but Romita's stuff is incredible. The main characters look great, and you wouldn't sense Romita's disappointment with a limited canvas from looking at his work. You have to enjoy little touches he provides such as seemingly throwing a gorgeous woman into the panel whenever possible. If Peter is riding the subway, you can be sure some babe will be sitting nearby...just because.

Stan Lee deserves equal credit for making this such an entertaining book. His dialogue is filled with the repartee and punchlines you'd expect and only occasionally feels awkward (In one scene, Aunt May thinks to herself after an exchange with a deceptively chirpy Mary Jane, "Despite her banter..." May casually thinking the word "banter" seems a bit much in that context).  Best of all, though, Lee's plotting excels. Devouring entire storylines in a single setting thanks to this collected format may give a skewed impression, but the pacing of the strip is outstanding. The stories themselves are compelling, with a mixture of familiar villains and interesting situations.

In this run, Spidey tangles with a vengeful Kingpin, opposes a charismatic cult leader, and faces off with the Prowler. He also considers marriage (not to Mary Jane) and experiences a webful of angst over revealing his secret identity to his girlfriend. he has money troubles, Aunt May troubles, and, yep, relationship troubles, just like you would expect your favorite wall crawler to endure.

I think my favorite storyline is the one in which Kraven makes public accusations that Spider-Man is a space alien and challenges him to appear on television to prove otherwise.  On the flip side, at one point Lee has Peter give up being Spidey--didn't that happen like every year? The real head scratcher is the last storyline in this collection, which has Peter resorting to crime to raise money. Lee tries to justify that one, but it does not ring true in any way, shape, or form and is the one real misstep in this volume.

One of the joys of the strip is the frequency of celebrity cameos--usually not named, but identifiable thanks to Romita's fine renderings. Sometimes you only see a notable for a panel or maybe a strip or two, as with Richard Nixon's appearance. However, the likes of Mike Wallace and Tom Snyder have key roles in the storylines.

Sometimes the references crack me up, like when Peter calls his girlfriend Carole and suggests they listen to the new Bee Gees album he just acquired. Mary Jane Watson, who is all sass in this volume, is assisting Kraven in his showbiz act and tells him she wants to get home in time to watch "Laverne and Shirley."

IDW reproduces the strips in glorious black and white and color (the Sundays), and rather than pick arbitrary dates, it bases the assortment included on storylines so we're not jumping in the middle or left hanging. Volume 2 takes us from January 1979 into 1981.

I haven't had more fun reading Spider-Man nor comic strips in general in a long time. Here's hoping IDW continues this series, and here's hoping cheapo Rick can get copies of the books from the library. I know I'm anxious to check out Volume 1 and Volume 3 now.

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