Our first comic book review is below. I discuss
the book itself, as well as the general criteria
we’ll use to rate comics.

General Information

Title: The Essential Spider-Man Volume One
Author: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Illustrator(s): Steve Ditko, John Romita, etc.
Original Publication Date: Collection published
in 2001. Original material published from
1962-1965.
ISBN: 0-7851-0286-8
Cover Price: $14.95 US, $21.95 Can

About the Essential Line

In the past few years, Marvel has started
reprinting some of their
older stuff in 528 page black and white books,
organized by character
or team. They don’t always reprint the entire
comic. (For example,
the Essential Hulk volume one is labelled as
containing The
Incredible Hulk
#1-6 and Tales To
Astonish
#60-91. The
Tales To Astonish books had one Hulk
story, and one story on
either Namor or Giant Man. Only the Hulk stories
were reprinted.)
Still, if you want to read the early issues
surrounding a particular
character, these are a good way to find them.
I’ll list all the
Essential books I know of at the end of this
review. Please tell me
if I’ve missed any.

Premise

A typical teenage geek is bitten by an atypical
spider. He develops
unusual abilities, and is forced to decide how to
use them.
Eventually choosing the life of a superhero, he
is then confronted
with the challenge of trying to live a double
life with a secret
identity.

High Point

The imperfect hero. This is not some
larger-than-life human that
gained superpowers and decided to save the world.
He started out
using them for personal gain, and then the
circumstances of his life
convinced him there was a better way.

Low Point

Placing Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 at
the end of the book.
It was published in the same month as Amazing
Spider-Man
#16,
but this book printed it after #20. That wouldn’t
be so bad in
itself, but issue #18 includes flashbacks that
reveal how he won each
of the six battles in the Annual, so anyone who
reads the book from
the first page to the last would end up getting
spoiled.

The Categories

This is the first comic book review we’ve had,
so I’ll describe the
categories we’ll use before I rate it.

They are:
Originality
Artwork
Story
Characterization
Emotional Response
Flow – this deserves explanation. It’s basically
an assessment of how
well the dialogue and art are synchronized. Is
there enough time to
cover the dialogue that was written in the time
that elapses between
the given panels?
Overall

The Scores

In terms of originality, I’d have to say
that it suffers with
time. Every documentary I’ve seen says
Spider-Man was a very
different hero at the time because he was a
teenager with real life
troubles in his mundane identity. However, I
wasn’t around to be
reading comics at that time. I can only judge it
by how well it fits
with the comics I’ve read. (That, mostly, is a
set of ten year old
X-Men, Classic X-Men,
Uncanny X-Men,
X-Factor, and G.I. Joe. I
stopped collecting when
things got too expensive for a guy in Junior
High.) In that respect,
it’s pretty simplistic and derivative. Most of
the storylines are
concluded in a single issue. Since this is being
marketed at new
readers, I think it’s valid to judge it on that
basis, so it only gets
a 3 out of 6.

As for the artwork, it’s OK, but it’s
limited by the ability
to reproduce it at the time. When you’re reading
it in black and
white, the disappearance of the web lines in a
small image of
Spider-Man is pretty distracting, as the current
technology probably
wouldn’t require such omissions. The lack of
colour does hurt on
occasion, but not as often as I expected. I give
it 3 out of 6.

As for the story, it’s really a
collection of stories, most
of which aren’t terribly well connected. Still,
some of them are well
written for the space restrictions given in the
comic book format.
However, compared to the Hulk and
X-Men volumes I’ve
also picked up, they’re pretty poor, as both of
those sets include
longer stories. (The Hulk book contains 6 mostly
independent issues,
and then the first 32 portions of a serial that
continues in the
second Hulk volume. The X-Men books reprint
material from the
mid-to-late 1970s, when longer story arcs were
somewhat common.)
Again, I feel compelled to judge it by today’s
standards, and only
give it 3 out of 6.

The characterization is fairly
simplistic. Most of the
characters are very one dimensional, especially
the villains.
Spider-Man has some depth to him, especially when
comparing his
thoughts to his speech when he’s in combat.
Apart from him, the
characters are usually described in all necessary
detail in two panels
or less. However, for some of the villains that
only appear in half
an issue, that’s all that we really need. The
characterization is
never subtle. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response for me was
possibly higher than it
should have been. For most of the book, it was
fairly
hum-drum-no-suspense kind of stuff. Reading the
issues dealing with
Aunt May’s heart attack the day after one of my
professors died from a
heart attack in real life did generate a definite
emotional response.
I give it 5 out of 6.

The flow has some serious issues. It
seems that they decided
Spider-Man would be fast in battle, and very
sarcastic, constantly
taunting villains. That in itself is fine. Then
you have sections
which say Spider-Man defeated three thugs in
battle in exactly two
seconds that give him dialogue that takes me
eight seconds to read out
loud. I don’t know about you, but I’d speak
slower in combat because
I’d have less regular breathing patterns. I give
it 2 out of 6.

Overall, this was a dated but
entertaining read, especially
for those interested in the early days of
Spider-Man and his
villains. (These are the issues that introduce
the Chameleon, the
Vulture, Doctor Octopus, the first Green Goblin,
Mysterio, the Lizard,
the Scorpion, the Sandman, Flash Thompson, J.
Jonah Jameson, Electro,
and Kraven the Hunter.) Despite some of the
issues I had as a result
of the age of the contents, I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, The Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1
earned 25 out of 42.

A List of Essential Books

For the others out there interested in reading
some of the early
Marvel stuff, here’s a list of all the Essential
books I know of. (I
hope to eventually own and review them all. So
far, I’ve got four of
them, so keep watching for more reviews.) I’ll
omit the word
“Essential” from the titles.
Astonishing Ant-Man (one volume)
Avengers (three volumes)
Captain America (two volumes)
Conan (one volume)
Dr. Strange (one volume)
Fantastic Four (three volumes)
Howard The Duck (one volume)
Hulk (two volumes)
Iron Man (one volume)
Marvel Team-Up (one volume)
Silver Surfer (one volumes)
Spider-Man (five volumes)
Thor (one volume)
Uncanny X-Men (one volume, issues 1-24)
Wolverine (three volumes)
X-Men (four volumes, same comic title as the
Uncanny book, starting
around issue 94)
If anyone is aware of others, I’d love to know
about them.