Graphics Imaging Technology has released a few
collections of comics in digital form. This set came
on 11 CD-ROMs, while subsequent collections have come
out on single DVD-ROMs.

General Information

Title: 40 Years of the Amazing Spider-Man

Author: Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, J. M.
DeMattius, David
Michelinie, Peter David, David Mackie, John Byrne, J.
Michael
Straczynski, Fiona Avery, and probably a few I’ve
forgotten.

Illustrator(s): Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., John
Romita Jr., Ross
Andru, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Mark Bagley, John
Byrne, and
probably a few more I’ve forgotten.

Original Publication Date: Ranges from 1963 to 2003.
The collection
is an 11 CD-ROM set that includes Amazing
Fantasy
#15 and
Amazing Spider-Man #1-500 inclusive. These
are scanned in
PDF format, so you’ve got the actual issues, complete
with letters
columns, ads, and everything else but the variant
covers.

ISBN: 1-59150-584-4

Cover Price: About $50 US

There are a number of retailers selling it through
Amazon.com, but the
best price seems to be through Amazon.ca,
which can ship most products to the US. $38.63
Canadian plus shipping
isn’t a bad price.

Past comic reviews can be found here.

Premise

A teenage science geek is bitten by a radioactive
spider. He gains
superhuman abilities, and has a few hundred
adventures.

High Point

First of all, I have to that it’s pretty damn cool to
get this many
comics at this price. Sure, it’s not as portable as a
paper copy,
since you need a computer to read it, but 500 full
color comics for
the price of two Essential volumes is an awesome deal

As far as the content itself is concerned, I’d have to
say that the
Roger Stern/John Romita Jr. run was my favourite of
the lot.
Spider-Man’s life still had troubles, but he also had
a heck of a lot
off fun. The best individual issues were the Peter
David fill-ins
(266, 267, and 278) and the J. Michael Straczynski
“World Trade
Centre” issue (which was issue 477, if memory serves.)

Low Point

The worst part of this collection is that it
only contains
the Amazing Spider-Man issues. In the late
1980s and early
1990s, there were years at a time where every
storyline was a
cross-over with the other Spider-Man titles, and this
only had
pieces. In one issue, Spider-Man is a blonde named
Ben Reilly, and in
the next, he’s Peter Parker again, as if the whole
clone saga had
never happened. I read over a year’s worth of issues
before finding
even a hint of how things got changed back. There was
a 14 issue
storyline known as “Maximum Carnage” before that; we
get chapters 3,
7, and 11 only. This collection is still a great
value for the
dollar, but once Carnage is on the scene, things are
pretty much in a
state of perpetual crossover. Don’t be afraid to skip
ahead 100
issues or so to get to the JMS run, which starts with
issue 471 in
2001, just to get back to complete storylines. (Note
that there was a
reboot in 1999, setting things back to issue #1, so
the number on the
cover of issue 471 is actually #30. This is where
some of the “dual
numbering” comes from.) I mean, really, there comes a
point where you
have to give up the pretense of selling four different
titles and just
start publishing one Spider-Man title on a weekly
basis with rotating
creative teams.

We don’t have the annuals here, either, but there
aren’t that many
that really feel like they’re missing.

General Comments

There were a lot of different creative hands involved
here. I won’t
say much about the first 140 or so issues, since those
were covered in
more detail in the reviews of the Essential volumes.
I will try to
say a few words about the other creative teams and
extended runs,
though.

As I’ve mentioned above, the Stern/J.R. Jr. run
(224-250 or so) is my
personal favourite. Great, clean on-model art, fun
stories, and a
clear, fun Spidey personality just brought the whole
thing together.
There’s also enough supporting cast to remind us that
Peter Parker is
trying to have a life of his own.

Another prominent run was the Michelinie/McFarlane
run. McFarlane’s
work managed to bring a lot of people back to the
title, and really
pushed the sales up so high that McFarlane got his own
Spider-Man
title as writer and artist. To be honest, I wasn’t
particularly
impressed with his work. I suppose it depends on
which elements of
the art you most look at. McFarlane did great webs,
and he did a
fantastic job of posing Spider-Man, but I was never
happy with the way
he drew the faces of Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson,
or others. In
fact, I think that Mary Jane was the only human who
maintained a
consistent, “realistic” look in the comics. (I put
“realistic” in
quotation marks because she suddenly went from
“gorgeous girl next
door” to “gorgeous super-model” without the plastic
surgery that such
an extreme change would require. J.R. Sr.’s look for
her was the best
one, and the one she later reverted to, where she was
gorgeous, but
all natural.)

McFarlane was quickly followed by Erik Larsen as
penciller, still with
Michelinie as scripter. Here, we got art I was
happier with, and more
natural stories. McFarlane’s run was also one in
which Spider-Man
started down the path from the Friendly Neighbourhood
hero to the
A-list, “save the Universe” style hero. It took time
after McFarlane
left to cut back on these stories. Spider-Man is not
a cosmic hero,
and even when he suddenly became one it didn’t fit.
He’s the everyday
hero stopping muggers on the way to work, and pounding
the geeks and
freaks of science on his way home. This is what works
for him, and
this is what he’s come back to. Yes, issue 500 was
about him working
with everyone to save the world, but he wasn’t the one
who did the
saving. They listened to him out of trust, but his
most active role
was just keeping the Mindless Ones from overrunning
New York alongside
Thing, Thor, Iron Man, Cyclops, Invisible Woman and
Human Torch while
Dr. Strange did all the heavy lifting.

This also includes the first 30 issues of the JMS/JR
Jr. run. (Enough
initials for you?) This is bringing things into a
more personal
state, and is probably my favourite non-Ultimate
treatment of Aunt
May. Under JMS, Peter is becoming more comfortable in
and more
accepted by his peers, even if the world at large
still listens to
Jonah. His day job as a teacher also shows us that
Peter is a great
guy out of costume as well.

The Scores

Originality is probably the hardest category
to evaluate in a
set like this. The birth of Spider-Man as the teenage
hero with real
life problems set him apart from the other characters
of the time.
Yet, we’ve also got 40 years worth of material after
this. There’s
some repetition to be had, particularly in Mackie’s
run (with stories
like the second “did Jonah lift the mask?” story). We
meet a few
people who just won’t stay dead. We see several
people come back with
upgrades that make them “more powerful and more
dangerous than ever!”
Some runs felt like we’d seen it all before, while
others felt fresh
every issue that came. Overall, I give the package a
4 out of 6.

The artwork varied considerably. Heck, J.R.
Jr.’s had two
long runs on the title, and the first looks nothing
like the second.
Still, in 501 comics, there were (maybe) ten issues
worth that had art
bad enough to bother me. Still, the overall art was
quite good. This
has been Marvel’s flagship title for years, and they
kept the creative
teams good. I give it 5 out of 6.

The stories range from goofy to great. The
biggest detriment
is a 100 issue stretch that is packed with the partial
stories you get
from the cross-overs. I give it 4 out of 6.



The characterization is pretty consistent,
given the large
number of hands in the pot. The strangest moments
come when the
villains suddenly reform for several years, only to
suddenly revert to
their old ways. The lead characters are consistently
handled, though
some writers tended to forget that Spider-Man should
be funny. I give
it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is pretty good.
Setting aside the
warm, fuzzy feeling a collector gets when he realizes
that he can now
have every issue of a title that ran this long (thanks
to this and
some generous Christmas gifts, I now have 524 of the
527 Amazing
Spider-Man
issues to date), there’s the actual
fun of the stories
themselves. It’s also interesting to see the
evolution of the
character and the Marvel company as this goes. As I
said, this has
been the flagship for a while, and a top seller longer
than that.
Marvel has tried hard to keep this at a high standard
of quality. The
period when Marvel was teetering on the edge of
bankruptcy can be
spotted right in the quality of the work on these
pages. We can also
see the renewed energy when the corporate end
straightened itself out.
It’s all here, if you read between the lines. The
stories are
entertaining, and the history of Marvel bullpen morale
is mapped out
within them. I give it 5 out of 6.

The flow is another category that takes a
beating during the
cross-over period. I shouldn’t feel compelled to go
online and
research the missing story portions every other issue
while I’m reading
the package as sold. This is only a series issue for
100 of 500
issues, but that’s still a huge chunk. I give it 2
out of 6.

Overall, it’s still a fun package at a great
price. I’d
recommend it to anyone who has been tempted by an
Essential volume. I
give it 5 out of 6.

In total, 40 Years of the Amazing Spider-Man
receives 29 out
of 42 in its CD-ROM incarnation. (There’s a DVD-ROM
version on the
way, which is probably just adding the annuals, but it
might have more
as well.)

Additional Notes and Comments

The makers of this product currently offer 40
Years of X-Men

and 44
Years of
the Fantastic Four
as well. The former is
probably plagued with
the cross-over issue as well, since it only includes
the issues of
Uncanny X-Men (includes its annuals and Giant
Sized issues),
and none of the other X-titles. The Fantastic Four
collection
shouldn’t have this problem to the same degree, since
it didn’t have
the same proliferation of extra titles that the other
two have. The
X-Men volume is the most recent, and it includes an ad
for a number of
“40 Years of…” collections due in 2006, namely the
Avengers, Captain
America, Daredevil, and the Incredible Hulk. I’ll
probably get them
all at these prices. The Spider-Man DVD-ROM set
solicited in Previews
several months ago is a few months late and not listed
in the ads,
making me wonder if they’ve decided to add more than
the annuals to
the DVD-ROM set and that’s causing the delay. There’s
also a rumour (and listing on Tales of
Wonder
) for a 50 Years of Mad Magazine
collection. Adobe Acrobat 6.0 is included on the
disks, and is the only PDF reader I’ve tried that
removes the “MARVEL” watermark on the pages. The
watermark is subtle, intended for the printed versions
only, so I read these with KPDF for the KDE desktop as
it seems to scroll, scale and preview images faster.

In any event, though I have two more collections like
this, I won’t be
reviewing them right away. I’ve done very few comic
reviews in the
past few months because of the time required to read
this set. In
fact, I’m behind in reviewing every title I collect.
My plan is to
catch up on those reviews before I start the next “40
Years of…”
review. Overdue reviews include those for Secret
War
, the
entire Ultimate universe, Green Lantern:
Rebirth
and
the subsequent ongoing series, Exiles,
Uncanny
X-Men
, Fantastic Four, JLA (in
trade paperback
form), Amazing Spider-Man (in TPB volumes
6-10, which I’ll
probably leave for a while, having my fill of
Spider-Man for a while),
Megatokyo, Get Fuzzy,
Daredevil,
Supreme Power, The Pulse,
Astonishing
X-Men
, New Avengers, Serenity,
Superman/Batman, Runaways (vol. 1),
Sentinel, Emma Frost, and a few
Essential
and Showcase Presents titles. If you have
any preferences
about which I should review first, speak up.