Read This!: The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1

The Essential Spider-Man, Vol. 1
By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Every story has a beginning, and this is Spider-Man’s.  Collecting the first twenty issues worth of Spider-Man stories from the sixties, this black and white phonebook of a collection is a vital part of comics lore.

Back before Peter Parker drove a motorcycle, dated a supermodel, or was portrayed on screen as Batman in red and blue tights, he was a dorky-yet-optimistic kid with glasses the size of saucers who lucked into some really cool super powers.  Lee’s sharp writing and Ditko’s dynamic artwork bring these early Spidey stories to life, spending just as much time on Parker’s civilian life as Spider-Man’s adventures.  You get a great feel for how this geeky kid really managed to turn himself into a hero.

All the groundwork for the Spider-Man mythos is layed out here: Spidey’s web-shooters, J. Jonah Jameson’s hatred of the “masked menace,” “With great power must also come great responsibility (the actual quote),” and Aunt May’s distrust of the costumed hero.  You’ll also see the introduction of just about every important Spider-Man villain, and considering Spidey has, quite possibly, the best rogues gallery in comics, that’s saying a lot.

There are some things in the book I don’t care for, but they were all tropes of the era.  You’ve got your thought balloons on every page and your villains who talk out loud about their plans when they’re all alone.  The dialogue is largely of the “Gee whiz!” variety, but it lends itself to the book’s feel.

Probably the best thing about reading these early Spidey stories is the almost complete lack of continuity.  Everything you need to know about our hero is spelled out in each story, making sure you’re caught up on the world.  Today, even I can’t keep up with all the continuity going on in Spider-Man.  Did you know Spidey’s parents were secret agents?  Or that he had a clone?  Or that he was granted cosmic powers on at least one occassion?  Hell, I don’t even know if any of that’s true!  I just heard about it.  You don’t get any of that in these early stories.  You just get… story, and it’s damn refreshing.

Recommendation: Must read.