With the Beyond Era just starting in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man and Spidey’s 60th anniversary on the horizon, it’s as good a time as any to dive into some of the classic books that defined the character. Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #86 – #104, the Death of Captain Stacy Epic Collection features some true classics that make this book a must read.
While the Death of Captain Stacy is the headliner, this collection also features the first appearance of Morbius, battles with Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin, trips to London and the Savage Land and the infamous arc where Peter accidentally gives himself four extra arms. It’s kind of incredible to see how vastly different the stories are from issue to issue. In ASM #86, Spidey is chased down by Black Widow (donning her iconic black costume for the first time), then in #87 Peter is so ill that he accidentally reveals his identity to all of his friends. In issues #88 and #89, Spider-Man goes head to head with Doc Ock.
While the Marvel Comics of today, and especially so on the Spider-Man line, are focused on legacy numbering, anniversary issues, events and years-long story arcs, it’s novel to read these comics from the ’70s that feel like any issue can be THE issue. Issues #86 through #89 don’t feel like they’re building tension for #90, the one in which the titular death occurs. It makes Captain Stacy’s death feel like something that could have happened at any point in time, in any given 20-page issue.
Although these comics are from the early 1970s and not everything will hold up to today’s standards, a surprising amount of things do hold up and were a shock to see in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. In the aftermath of Captain Stacy’s death (which looked to be at the hands of Spider-Man), a political rival, Sam Bullit, capitalizes on this headline to run a law and order campaign for District Attorney. Bullit’s campaign is successful initially as he leverages his hate for Spider-Man into an attractive stance that garners support from both J. Jonah Jameson and Gwen Stacy.
Bullit is the kind of sleazy political figure that would be at home in Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil run. To see him in Amazing Spider-Man, written by Stan Lee and drawn maniacally by Gil Kane, was a pleasant surprise. It’s been talked to death about how cries of cOmIcS sHoUldN’t Be PoLiTiCaL are subsequently met with the objective truth that comics have always been political, but reading those same political comics in the context of the overarching narrative is significantly more impactful than seeing the occasional screengrab or a Stan’s Soapbox.
And of course, X-Men and Captain America are often credited as the more political titles. But it appears that Stan Lee wanted to use the platform afforded to him by Spider-Man’s all-ages appeal to get his message out to readers. In ASM #99, Spidey does just that. After peacefully brokering a deal between a warden and rioting prisoners, Spider-Man swings by the set of a late night show to tell the good folks at home about the harsh conditions prisoners face every day. The issue as a whole paints a sympathetic look at people who are incarcerated and awaiting trial, and to have the hero concretely condemn those conditions feels bold. What Stan and Gil did in 1971 is something that Tom Taylor and John Timms’ Superman: Son of Kal-El is being praised for 50 years later.
This Epic Collection also includes a three-part Green Goblin story with a B-plot of Harry Osborn abusing prescription drugs. It’s yet another Spider-Man tale with a message, but one that can be read two-fold. There are parallels between Norman Osborn returning and slowly slipping back into becoming the Goblin and Harry’s descent into using drugs as a way to cope. The marriage of the A and B plots show a lucidity about addiction and mental health that feels particularly ahead of its time. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it was unexpected.
For a $39.99 MSRP, the extras in this collection are sparse. There are a few pages of uninked artwork and covers from the previous reprints of these issues. It’s likely not the M.O. of the Epic Collections line, but I would personally prefer some more historical and editorial context for these stories. By the end of my time reading the book, the lamination on the front cover began to peel. While the stories collected here are really outstanding, I can’t recommend picking this up at a $40 price tag. Not when you could read all of these issues (and much, much more!) on the Marvel Unlimited app.
Additionally, not every tale in the Epic Collection is a hit. The book ends on a bummer of a two-part adventure in the Savage Land. It’s goofy and not always tasteful. And while it may be intended as a palette cleanser after the more heavy politically driven stories, the story feels out of place.
However, with very few exceptions, the stories featured in The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: The Death of Captain Stacy are about as good as Spider-Man gets.
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