There’s something of a trend in mainstream comic books–launch a series that spotlights unknown stories from fan-favorite characters’ lives. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight did it with the Caped Crusader and X-Men Unlimited did it with Marvel’s merry mutants. Marvel Comics has done it a few times with Peter Parker’s wall-crawling alter ego. In 1999 and 2000, for instance, Spider-fans were treated to 18 issues of Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man–an outlet for creative teams looking to tell whatever Spidey stories they’d like.
If you missed it the first time, you’re in luck, as Marvel has released the entire series (with two extra short stories) in Spider-Man Webspinners: The Complete Collection.
It’s a hefty tome, and at $39.99, quite an expensive one too! Marvel was smart to release this collection while Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters, as some of the comics it collects feature the likes of Liz Allen, Flash Thompson and the Vulture.
What attracted me to this trade paperback was that I not only remembered Webspinners, but owned several of the original comics (including #1). I remember liking some arcs more than others and eventually dropped the series. Fittingly, all these years later, I found myself gravitating toward the same stories I liked back then and being bored by the ones that I blocked from my memory.
But, let’s not worry about what that says about my personal growth since 1999 and instead dig into whether this collection is worth your hard-earned $40!
Well, let me tell you right off the bat, this is a must-buy for die-hard Spider-Man fans and merely worth investigating for casual Spidey readers. Despite the fact that we’re about to enter the “Legacy” era of Marvel Comics, in which continuity is celebrated, not all of the stories contained in this book are new-reader friendly.
Let’s take the series’ second arc, featuring the Silver Surfer and Psycho Man, for example. We’re told that this three-parter, written by Eric Stephenson and illustrated by Keith Giffen and Andy Smith, takes place after the events of Silver Surfer #18 (volume 1). This comic book was released in 1970–do you remember it? Not having read that issue of Silver Surfer, I wasn’t too engaged with what honestly is your average Psycho Man story (spoiler alert: he controls characters’ emotions).
Then, there’s the series’ final arc, featuring Silver Sable and the Sinister Syndicate, which we’re told takes place between Amazing Spider-Man #288 and #289. Again, should I know those issues off the top of my head? It just seems like an odd way to frame a story, but probably appeals to Spidey fanatics who know exactly what happened in those issues.
Still, there are some gems in this collection. The first arc flashes back to Spider-Man’s early days and explores the motivations within Mysterio’s dome. This three-parter, by writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Michael Zulli, shows that, with a little less responsibility, nerdy Peter Parker could have ended up just as demented as nerdy Quentin Beck. It is a bit odd that Peter narrates the entire story–really not sure how he knew every aspect of the story, especially the parts he wasn’t there for. Unless he’s actually Spider-God.
My favorite story, though, has to be the three-part “The Bridge,” which focuses on Peter’s final days of high school. It doesn’t hurt that this tale featuring the Sandman and too many prom dates was written by Joe Kelly. It’s a nice exploration of Liz’s character, as she desires change while preparing for the next chapter of her life, as well as Flash’s, who only wants to please his abusive father. And don’t forget Peter, who wants to forget all about that great power, great responsibility stuff and just enjoy his life.
On the other end of the spectrum, the worst part of this collection has to be the two-parter that runs through issues 13 and 14 that, I guess, was meant to tie into the terrible, terrible Spider-Man Unlimited cartoon on air around the same time this series was on the stands. While chasing Carnage through a portal, Spidey’s costume magically changes into his outfit from the cartoon.
“The costume! Where did it come from*?” Spider-Man says. And that asterisk redirects you to a box that says “For the answers to all these questions…see Spider-Man Unlimited #1.” Well, since that issue isn’t collected in this book, I will never know the truth. And you know what? I can live with that.
Beyond the 18 issues, by such talent as Paul Jenkins, Tom DeFalco, J.G. Jones and John Romita Sr., this collection also contains two black and white short stories from Shadows & Light #2 and #3. There are a few variant covers and page layouts, but ultimately, it’s light on extras. That’s fine, though, considering you’re getting an entire series.
So in conclusion, I would recommend Webspinners to serious Spider-fans or Marvel fans like myself, who were growing up when this series was first released and are in the mood for a little nostalgia. An added bonus: All those painfully dated Spidey jokes.
Yes, Spider-Man screams “You killed Kenny!” $40 well spent right there!
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