So, you saw Spider-Man: Far from Home. You liked Spider-Man: Far from Home. You really liked Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, a bad guy so bad he’s good (with intriguing “powers” to boot). You wanted to see more of Spidey and maybe even that master of illusion.
Then Spider-Man’s parents, Sony and Disney, broke up and now you’re not sure where a new Mysterio fan should turn to.
Lucky for you, Marvel has released a suspiciously well-timed trade collection of what they assure you are all of Spider-Man and Mysterio’s biggest and best fights from the likes of Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Peter David, Steve Ditko, Todd Nauck, and many, many others. It’s both good, and bad — just like that fish-bowl donning dude.
First off, and worth mentioning because this happens less often than I would like, this collection truly does collect the best Mysterio stories, and gives you a good insight into the character and the unique approach that defines him. Amongst them is To Squash A Spider by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. Featuring some of the most iconic Spidey versus Mysterio imagery of all time, Lee and Romita’s story sees Spider-Man lost in a hall of mirrors and smoke, haunted by Mysterio’s taunts and illusions as much as he is by the toll of his own high-flying heroic lifestyle — imagery and storytelling that no doubt informed a sizable chunk of Far from Home’s thematic work. Also, a favorite is Howard Mackie and Alex Saviuk’s Sleight of Mind, a kooky and campy creature feature that really brings home how scary Peter Parker’s life is as Mysterio brings a massive venomized Galactus, Demo- Hob- and Green- Goblin to life to taunt him and more. These stories work because they rely on the sheer ruthlessness and tenacity of Mysterio and his illusions in a way that undermines Spider-Man’s life, his work, and his want to do good despite great personal cost. They’re also mostly free of the confusing personality issues, drama, and occult hijinks of Mysterio’s later stories. Which is to say, that those are here as well.
What Doesn’t Work
Unfortunately, and worsened by the erratic nature and organization of the stories in this collection (it seems that an editor said “get me Mysterio!” and a dutiful intern stapled together what they found), the worst of Mysterio is also here. Dead, brought back to life, part demon, part ghost, multiple different people and more, Mysterio’s life is, to put it mildly, confusing. Take the Peter David and Todd Nauck’s story, which features some of the better visuals in the collection, but mind-numbingly dense storytelling dropped into an introductory trade with little to no warning. Why are there two fishbowl men? Why is one missing a sizable chunk of his head? One is evil but one is even more evil? These are questions new readers will have and will be found on the nearest Marvel Wiki, but not here in the trade both due to how poorly organized this collection is, and how confused and back-and-forth the character’s storyline has gotten over the past decade. Once you’ve lost the narrative weight and focus of Spider-Man going up against a campy caricature of everything weird about comics, you’ve lost the plot. There’s simply too much of that here, unfortunately.
Where It Ends Up
Ultimately, this is a fun but confounding collection. Equal parts campy, scary, and heart-wrenching it is also confusing, frustrating, and entirely bereft of crucial context. Fans of Mysterio might revel in the inclusions here, and there’s some stories certainly worth celebrating. But new fans, hot off the heels of a movie which very obviously inspired this collection, will be confused and disappointed by what they find. Can we really say something succeeds if it fails at its core premise? No, but damn is Venom Galactus kinda cool anyway.