Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reading Log - Essential Spider-Man Volume 4

I never intended, and still don't intend, to write Reading Log entries for most of the comics that I read. However, I'll be making exceptions here and there for trade paperback collections and graphic novels, especially if I have something to say about them. Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 is one of those. It's officially, "Essential Spider-Man Volume 4" but I'm making the distinction because there have been Essential volumes for other Spider-titles since this line started, and there may be others in the future.

My copy of Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 turns out to be the "second edition", according to the indicia (that's the tiny print at the front with publisher info, for those of you who aren't publishing geeks). It collects issues 66 though 89 plus Annual # 5, all from the late sixties.

I normally wouldn't care about it being a "second edition". I'm a reader, not a collector, and couldn't care less about things like first printings and limited editions. Books that enter my house generally won't be leaving until an estate sale that's hopefully far in the future, so I don't care what they're "worth". However, it turns out that my copies of Volumes 1 to 3 of this series, that I kept from back in the days when I ran a comic shop, are first editions (and first printings). Volume 3, first edition, collected Amazing Spider-Man issues 44 to 68 with no annuals. Volume 2, first edition, included annuals 2 and 3.

See the problem? Volume 4, second edition, doesn't pick up where Volume 3, first edition, left off. The new trade dress - translation from industry jargon: "how the outside of the book looks" - doesn't bother me. At least they didn't print the title upside down on the spine (i.e., reading from bottom to top when the book is placed on a shelf) the way they did on Volume 1, first edition.

I also don't mind the overlap. Three issues (66, 67, and 68) appear in both books. However, the change of contents from first to second edition results in my missing Annual 4, which must have appeared in the second edition of Volume 3. If Marvel thinks I'm going to repurchase the new edition of Volume 3 to get that issue, all I can say is "go fish." That's what torrented scans are for. I'll continue to pick up Essential volumes, but I won't be buying any doubles for one or two "new" stories.

This book is also noteworthy for its poor manufacturing. I don't expect leatherbound archival quality for the $17 (U.S.) / $27.25 (Canadian) cover price, which I didn't pay anyway thanks to the miracle of online discounts, but the pages of this thing came unglued from the spine before I finished reading it. The re-gluing I gave it seems to have held, though, so no harm done.

On to the actual content. By the era represented in this volume, Spidey's storytelling engine was pretty well established. I don't think these issues introduce any new characters or concepts that have "mattered" in the long run. Contrast this with the first two Spidey volumes, where it seems like almost every issue introduced a character, gadget, or plot point that still features in Spider-Man comics, cartoons, merchandise, and movies to this day, over forty years later.

However, the work here is definitely solid. Many of these stories are far less remembered now than those groundbreaking early issues, so in their own way they may seem fresher to the reader. Every Spider-Man fan remembers the Lizard's origin, but how many remember the time that the Human Torch showed up to help Spider-Man stop him, and Spidey had to keep trying to stop the Torch from simply frying the Lizard to a shriveled crisp?

That storyline, incidentally, started in Amazing Spider-Man # 76, which holds a special place for me because for many years it was the oldest issue of ASM that I owned. I started reading ASM when I was a very young child, and kept most of the issues I ever got, although they were much-loved and therefore pretty battered by the time adolescence rolled around. I began reading around issue 180. Those first issues I ever got were included in Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume 8, which I snapped up the first time I saw it. Nothing else sells comics like nostalgia, unfortunately for the comics industry.

For the next fifteen years or so, I grabbed every Amazing Spider-Man back issue I could find (and afford). This was before the Internet, and I didn't often patronize mail-order dealers, so I was limited to what I could find in comic shops and used bookstores (remember when they all carried comics? For that matter, remember when there were used bookstores in pretty much every town?). I eventually had an unbroken run from issues 167 to around 325, with a good handful of earlier issues, but never owned an issue earlier than # 76. My run of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, was complete from issue 1 to issue 152, and I was only a few issues away from a complete set of the 150-issue run of Marvel Team-Up, almost all of which featured Spider-Man.

I wandered off from comics altogether around 1990, and only read a few issues from then to when I opened a comic shop a few years later. But that's another story that may or may not get told here someday.

All for now. Here's a picture of my Ork army. This is the start of a picture series, albeit maybe a very short one. I had intended to write an entry explaining these pictures when I posted the first of them, but decided otherwise, mainly because I'm low on pictures. Maybe that'll be my next post. Probably not.

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