Alongside the Lifetheft epic collection this week comes another ’90s Spider-Man series reprint. This one collects Amazing Fantasy #16-18 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man #1-14, which return to the classic ’60s era. The basic concept here is to go back to the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories and tell the “lost issues” that happened in between what we already know. It’s a cool idea that allows readers to revisit such a beloved era of Spider-Man and provide something new and fresh along the way.
Right off the bat, this collection hits the ground running. Before jumping into the Untold Tales series, it collects the short lived reprisal of Amazing Fantasy. These three issues seek to answer the question, “What happened to Peter between Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1?” It’s a unique view to take on Peter as almost everyone knows the basic beats of his origin, but never before have we seen the immediate ramifications in his life. Across these issues, Busiek solidifies his voice for Peter and expresses the inner turmoil of a young boy struggling with guilt and newfound responsibility.
The painted artwork by Paul Lee here works wonders. He balances breathtaking visuals with the more intimate character moments. His style is not hyper detailed or realistic, instead opting for a more exaggerated and animated approach. It melds terrifically with the story and only draws you further into the experience.
Now onto the main series. The Untold Tales here are self-contained issues that weave throughout the early Amazing Spider-Man stories. They are innovative in how it takes the previously established content and expands on it without feeling like it’s retreading for retreading’s sake. New minor villains are introduced, Peter’s classmates get more development, and it all reads in an extremely compelling manner.
One of the best aspects of this series is how Busiek draws us into Peter’s character. Peter’s narration serves as the primary voice in each issue, immediately getting us into his head and allowing us to empathize with him. It’s important here that Busiek does not forget that Peter is just a kid. He’s immature, he’s rash, and half the time he doesn’t know what he’s doing. All of this comes together across the issues and gets the reader more and more involved in Peter’s life and personal struggles.
It comes across as extremely human and that’s what I think makes these stories so compelling. We see Peter’s growing pains at school, whether it’s having to deal with bullies he knows he could just put through the wall or the ridicule of his peers. We’ve all be there in one way or another. Take even the financial struggles that await Peter back at home, and how he feels the need to scrape together what he can to help his recently-widowed aunt. These are real tangible experiences we as the reader can invest in and identify with our hero.
This in turn fully engages the reader with the high-flying superheroics contained in each issue. No matter which issue you read, you are guaranteed some of the best Spidey action ever put on comics pages here. Artists Pat Oliffe and Al Vey perform the bulk of art duties here, with some other artists stepping in throughout to assist, and each issue looks incredible. Somehow they are able to take the ’60s character designs and aesthetic and not make it feel too dated visually. The action scenes are kinetic with some exceptionally popping colors, and the more dramatic scenes are visually engrossing and paced well. You really could not ask for a better art team to bring this series to life.
The only real negative with this collection is with the print quality. Some of the page reproductions are not as high quality as the rest. Ink bleed and muted colors are an unfortunate occurrence throughout the entire paperback. This could just be contained in my specific copy, but it happened enough that it became distracting at some points.
The best way to enjoy this series requires one to have this trade in one hand and the original Amazing Spider-Man issues in the other. There’s even a clearly outlined diagram included in the back matter here that lays out when each issue intersects the original series. One can easily read this collection standalone, but when paired with the original series you get a much more rich experience.
I personally began reading the collection standalone to get a feel for it, but halfway through began alternating with the original series. I came away from it blown away at the cohesiveness across the titles. You can bounce back and forth between both books and not miss a beat. It really gives you a much better appreciation of the level of care put into the Untold Tales that they can be put right next to the source material and keep pace. I wholeheartedly recommend reading both series at once for the best possible appreciation of both books.
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Vol. 1 is a top tier collection. Everything here is firing on all cylinders, from the artwork to the stories. It recaptures the magic of the early Spidey comics and makes for a truly amazing experience from beginning to end.
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