About the Author:
A leading creative talent at Marvel Comics, Stanley Lieber helped to create some of the most iconic superheroes of all time including the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man. He made cameo appearances is dozens of movies and TV shows before dying in 2018.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
2.5 out of 5
Just Imagine Stan Lee With Kevin Maguire Creating The Flash
(Art by Kevin Maguire and Karl Story)
Part of a series in which Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee reimagines the origins of famous DC Comics characters. Here Mary Maxwell is injected with the DNA of a hummingbird by her scientist father and becomes The Flash. She then has to take on the villainous operatives of STEALTH.
It is very weird that the first Stan Lee-penned book I've ever read is actually one published by rival compay DC (I've read individual comics by him, but never a graphic novel). As you can expect, the book is filled with Stan Lee-isms including The Flash's somewhat silly origin (super-speed from hummingbird DNA), the moral mentor who meets an untimely Uncle Ben-esque end and, of course, the fact that the main character's name is alliterative.
Aside from the curiosity of the idea of having Lee recreate DC characters, there's actually not much to be said in this book's favour. The story is fairy shallow and obvious and very much in the style of 1960s comic book stories. Seeing Lee write in the idiom of his golden period doesn't so much kick off feelings of nostaglia as it does remind you of just how far comic book storytelling has come on since then.
2 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: Night Of The Prowler
(Art by John Romita Snr., John Buscema, Jim Mooney and Mickey Demeo)
Book 6. Broke and struggling to maintain his relationship with Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker throws himself into his life as Spider-Man, hoping to earn some cash with action photos of fight against the likes of the Chameleon, Electro, Kingpin and the new antagonist known as the Prowler.
This book returns to a more episodic sort of storytelling than the last couple of volumes of these reprints, with mixed results. Whilst the overall enjoyment has gone up after the somewhat tedious story of a MacGuffin being sought by the criminal underworld in 'To Crush the Kingpin', there are some dud storylines here too, not least with some of the new supervillains.
Spider-Man has one of the best rogues galleries in comics and here we get to see him fight iconic enemies like Electro or the Chameleon, as well as having the first appearance of the Prowler, who would later go on to be an ally of Spider-Man. However, this book also sees the introduction of two rubbish new villains that spoil things greatly. There's the Schemer, who has an appropriately outlandish supervillain outfit but goes on to be a boring and generic antagonist with a 'twist' origin that I saw coming a mile off. Far worse, however, is the Kangaroo. Yes, that's right; the Kangaroo. I'm not Australian but I felt offended on their behalf by this Aussie supervillain who gained superhuman hopping powers by living with kangaroos in the outback. What's his motivation for being a villain? Well, he's angry at the world for making fun of him for living with kangaroos and then pretending to be one. Which is fair, because I would definitely make fun of him if I encountered him.
So; some ups, some downs, carried overall just by how engaging a superhero Spider-Man himself is.
3 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death Of Captain Stacy
(Art by John Romita Snr., Jim Mooney and Gill Kane)
The seventh book of the series. Doctor Octopus returns and Spider-Man's battle to defeat the supervillain leads to the death of Captain Stacy. He then finds himself hounded as a murderer and hated by his beloved Gwen.
This is another mixed bag of ups and downs, with the highpoint being the central conflict with Doc Ock (one of my favourite Spidey villains) and the tragedy it leads to. Conversely the low points include Lee's habit of forcing his heroes to fight other heroes just for the sake of it. Whilst there is a modicum of justification for the fisticuffs involving the Prowler and Iceman, the opening of the book has Spider-Man fighting Black Widow purely to showcase her new costume and advertise her getting her own comic strip elsewhere (also, for some reason she can climb walls now too).
One thing I did particularly like here is the fact that Lee continues the civil rights themes he began in previous volumes. I particularly loved the scene were J. Jonah Jameson, who is a totally unlikeable and unreasonable character in every other respect, shows his contempt for a politician pushing a racist agenda. J.J. might be a prick, but he's not a bigot.
3 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: The End Of The Green Goblin
(Art by John Romita and Mickey Demeo)
This book begins with the Green Goblin putting a plan into action which leads him to discover Spider-Man's secret identity. We then see the Wall Crawler fight other villains such as the Rhino, the Lizard and Shocker, whilst simultaneously trying to maintain a normal life as Peter Parker.
I'm always wary of going back to very old Marvel books, particularly ones written by Lee, because I've found numerous times that their storytelling is too cheesy and unsubtle to be satisfying. This book, however, reminded me that there's a reason why Spider-Man was Marvel's flagship creation in the 60s and why Lee's run on it is considered so iconic.
On a very basic level, this is just Spider-Man having a series of punch-ups with various villains but there's definitely more to it than that. Spider-Man has one of the best and most iconic rogues gallery of villains in superhero comics (with probably only Batman in contention) and here we get to see several of them in action, each with a unique backstory and mission, meaning that they each feel distinct and interesting. It's worth noting too that these are the very first appearances of Shocker and the Rhino, the latter of whom has always been a favourite of mine.
Aside from the hero versus villain action there's another element to these stories which made Spider-Man stand out from the crowd; his struggles with his dual identity. It's always been one of the characters most interesting story beats that the more successful and active he is as Spider-Man, the more of a loser he becomes in his life as Peter Parker. Here we see him desperately trying to foil the supervillains, whilst trying in his normal life to keep an ailing Aunt May safe, cope with being broke and try to unravel his feelings towards both Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson. Similar to the villains who debut in this book, this is also Peter's first encounter with MJ and she's every bit as vibrant and charismatic as you'd hope (I've always been a big fan of Peter and MJ as a couple - damn you 'One More Day'!).
A collection of classic Spidey stories which truly showcase why this was the character's golden age and how much pure entertainment could be provided by Stan Lee at his best.
4 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Madness Of Mysterio
(Art by John Romita Snr., Don Heck, Mickey Demeo, Larry Lieber and Steve Ditko)
The fourth book in this series of classic Spider-Man stories. Spider-Man works to clear his name with police whilst Peter Parker tries to repair his broken romance with Gwen Stacy. Complicating matters are battles with villains such as the Vulture, Mysterio, Red Skull and the sorcerer Xandu.
This book gets off to a rocky start by opening with one of Stan Lee's worst writing tropes; having heroes fight each other for no good reason. Here it's Spidey and the Inhuman Medusa who get into a scrap just for the sake of it before peaceably going their separate ways. Of all of Marvel's characters, Spider-Man has the best rogues gallery, so having him fight another hero is just pointless and feels like nothing more than awkward cross-brand promotion (which, of course, is exactly what it was).
After that this book is largely just okay. I had been enjoying the teenage drama of Peter's private life but that's largely absent here and his spat with Gwen is cleared up with remarkable ease (I still feel bad for MJ too). The fights against iconic villains the Vulture and Mysterio are solid but the detour to Algeria to fight Red Skull feels very out of keeping with the rest of the book. I know it's because that story was from an annual but it still doesn't fit.
There's another out of keeping story right at the end, again from an annual, but it's made a bit more enjoyable by not only featuring Doctor Strange (a long-time favourite of mine) but by also being illustrated by Spidey co-creator Steve Ditko. In fact, seeing Ditko's work side-by-side with Larry Lieber's much more workmanlike art shows just how great Ditko was (as an artist that is; his Objectivist philosophy left a lot to be desired on the other hand).
3 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Wings Of The Vulture
(Art by John Romita, Larry Lieber and Mickey Demeo)
Volume two of this series of classic Spider-Man reprints. Here Peter Parker faces villains such as Kraven the Hunter, the Vulture, the Wizard, Mysterio and the Kingpin, as well as coming to the fateful decision to end his crimefighting career and be Spider-Man no more.
I continue to enjoy the tone and style of these classic Spider-Man tales from Lee's iconic 60s run, with the balance of web-swinging action and secret identity drama being just right. In fact, weirdly, I've begun to enjoy the drama of Peter Parker's social life, including being torn between MJ and Gwen Stacy, a little more than the punching and wise-cracking of the more action-focused elements.
There's also some pretty historically major Spider-Man moments on offer here including his first face-to-face confrontation with the Kingpin and the now-iconic Spider-Man No More storyline which sees him chucking his costume in the trash.
What makes this book slightly less enjoyable than the previous volume ('The End of the Green Goblin') is that it includes the Spider-Man Annual #4 right in the middle. The story on offer there, with Spidey teaming up with the Human Torch to take Hollywood by storm, is far goofier and less convincingly-written than Lee's other work here. Having read and really disliked the one-off special 'Lo This Monster!' too, I get the impression that longer-format self-contained stories just weren't really Lee's forte and he was at his best with serialised adventures.
3 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: To Crush The Kingpin
(Art byJohn Romita Snr., John Buscema and Jim Mooney)
Book 5. Spider-Man finds himself caught up in the criminal underworld's attempts to seize a mysterious ancient stone tablet, leading him into conflict with the Kingpin, the Shocker, the Lizard and the crimelord Silvermane.
The biggest problem with this book is that, despite featuring the Shocker and the Lizard, it largely focuses on Spider-Man battling the much more mundane villains of organised crime. What this means is that this book is actually a bit boring a lot of the time, lacking even the personal drama of Peter's private life which very much takes a backseat here. On top of being a bit tedious, another problem relating to the villains of this story is that it repeatedly refers to them as 'the Maggia'. Was Marvel afraid of infringing the Mafia's copyright or something? It's weird and jarring every time. The final villain-based problem is Lee's attempt to introduce a new face to Spidey's brilliant rogues gallery in the form of Man-Mountain Marko. Everything about the character is as terrible as that name and its no wonder that the villain didn't catch on.
Added to all of these problems is the fact that Lee once again engages in the annoying trope of having Spider-Man fight another hero for no good reason. In fact, to be entirely accurate, he does it twice again. Here both Quicksilver and the Human Torch pop up to battle Spidey for a bit for no reason at all.
There is one significant redeeming feature to the book as a whole and it's in the form of a surprising subplot. Throughout the book Robbie Robertson of the Daily Bugle and his son face the struggles of being black men in 1960s America. They have frank and insightful discussions about whether Robbie's success within the establishment is kowtowing to white supremacy or whether Randy's more militant student protests are a better way of influencing racial emancipation. I was very impressed by how sensitively Lee, a white guy, handles this subject. It was a brave subject to tackle in a superhero comic amid the civil rights movement and remains depressingly relevant today.
3 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man: To Kill A Spider-Man
(Art by John Romita, Mickey Demeo and Don Heck)
Book 3. Here Spider-Man suffers memory loss and is tricked into working alongside Doctor Octopus and fighting the hero Ka-Zar. Recovering his memory, he fights a new version of the Spider Slayer and happens upon a plot by the Kingpin which increases tensions in his private life.
I had been rather enjoying this series of classic Spider-Man reprints for the most part but sadly this book is a noticeable dip in quality. It does two things that I hate to read in comics and does them at such length that the book overall never recovers. The first is having Spider-Man lose his memory. Amnesia storylines are almost always tedious if we, the reader, are aware of the truth. There's no drama for us to have Peter Parker say "Who am I?" because we know the answer and know that eventually he'll remember too, rendering the whole plotline pointless. This book then mixes in another thing I can't stand, and which Marvel did all too often in the 60s, which is to have two heroes fight each other for no good reason. Here it's Spidey fighting Ka-Zar (he's like Tarzan but with a sabretooth tiger, if you didn't know) and not only is there no good reason for Ka-Zar to turn up at all, but he and Spider-Man brush aside their misunderstanding so that there's not even any consequences to their fight. It is literally inconsequential.
On top of all that, on a personal note, I've always been an MJ fan, so seeing Peter, and by extension the writer, treating her like crap just so they can focus on Gwen Stacy really annoyed me.
2 out of 5
The Incredible Hulk: World's End
(Art by Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, John Severin and Dan Adkins)
From the tropical Savage Land to the depths of space, the troubled Hulk confronts foes including the likes of Sandman, the Mandarin and the Leader.
Now, I totally get that Stan Lee was a very busy man in the late 60s, with countless comic books on the go at any given time, but the stories on offer here I found inexcusably lazy in their plots and scripts. If ever there was an example of a writer 'phoning it in', this would be my go-to example. On the most basic level the stories in this book amount to little more than 'someone tries to subdue the Hulk, the Hulk gets angry, the subduer fails, Hulk smashes'. Now, I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from a character known primarily for smashing, but to see this exact same plot structure repeated over and over back-to-back was pretty tedious.
I also found myself getting disproportionately annoyed at Lee's total lack of scientific authenticity. Now, I get that in a world where extreme radiation dosage leads to superpowers instead of vomiting, hair-loss and death, there's not going to be total scientific accuracy, but having something as simple as air pressure totally misrepresented seems lazy. The specific scenes I'm referring to involve Bruce Banner being caught on a spaceship where the air is being evacuated and, as the air gets thin, he's overcome by the crushing pressure. The crushing pressure of a vacuum. The one thing vacuums are known not to have in order to be vacuums. This particular annoyance was further aggravated for me by having the Hulk able to operate (and talk!) freely in the vacuum of space but having him later rendered unconscious by gas because 'even the Hulk needs to breath'.
This book would've been bad enough with just the shallow repetitive plots but Lee's total lack of attention to detail and internal consistency meant that I absolutely hated it.
1 out of 5
The Spectacular Spider-Man: "Lo This Monster!"
(Art by John Romita, Larry Lieber, Jim Mooney and Bill Everett)
The first of Marvel's full-length, magazine format books from the 1960s. Here Spider-Man finds himself fighting a huge, super-strong monster of a man who seems to have a grudge against upcoming politician Richard Raleigh. However, whilst everyone else seems enamoured of Raleigh, the Wall Crawler soon begins to suspect there is more going on than meets the eye.
Once again, reading this book in the 21st Century serves to remind the reader of just how far comics have come as a medium since the 1960s. Back then all they had to do was deliver a few wisecracks, a few BOFF! POW! action scenes and tie things up neatly at the end. Unfortunately, I, like many other readers, I would assume, look for more from comic books these days than that. So, to go back to a book from that bygone and legendary age of comic book storytelling is always going to be pretty disappointing. The simple truth is that there is no subtlety or complexity to this book and, rather than the images speaking for themselves, every character has to exposit exactly what is going on at any given moment. It's just not that good.
As much as I love Stan Lee (RIP) as a creative visionary and as the king of cameos, his comic book scripting is, in hindsight, both safe and obvious. Also his love of alliteration is at its worst here without a single page passing that doesn't feature some dialogue along the lines of "... Richard Raleigh, the crusading candidate!". It becomes very irritating, very fast.
If there is one thing that it's worth reading this book for, it's to see just how much of a bitch Mary Jane is towards Gwen Stacy. Jealous much?
2 out of 5
X-Men: The Unlikely Saga Of Xavier, Magneto And Stan
(Art by Jack Kirby, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, Ron Lim, Mostafa Moussa, Ben Oliver, Ron Frenz, Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson, Sean Chen, Sandu Florea, John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna, Pasqual Ferry, Leinil Francis Yu and Howard Chaykin)
A special collection created for the DVD release of X-Men: The Last Stand, this book features three stories selected by Stan Lee from his original run as writer of the X-Men, as well as a new story written just for this book.
Although Lee was a great creative talent, his writing for the X-Men was never his best work and that's evident in the first three stories here. We have the first-ever appearance of the X-Men, followed by the first appearance of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and then the X-Men's first encounter with the Avengers. The latter was particularly annoying for me because it featured Lee's trope of forcing heroes to fight each other for spurious and unjustified reasons.
The fourth story, newly written by Lee, features him being approached by Xavier and Magneto who take him on a whistle-stop tour of X-Men history in order to convince him to write them a peaceful vacation. It's very silly and, aside from having some cool artwork by various artists, is totally pointless.
The best thing about this book is that each chapter gets a brief introduction by Lee where we get some interesting insights. One of these has Lee admitting to the stupidity of Magneto's team calling themselves Evil Mutants, something which has always bugged me and which I'm glad to see the writer address.
2 out of 5
Collaborations & Anthologies:
Banshee: The Wail Of The Banshee!/The Phalanx Covenant - Generation Next (here)
Black Panther: The Black Panther/See Wakanda And Die (here)
Black Widow: The Crimson Dynamo Strikes/Beware The Black Widow/Homecoming (here)
Essential Spider-Man Vol. 2 (here)
Essential Spider-Man Vol. 3 (here)
Essential Spider-Man Vol. 4 (here)
Essential Spider-Man Vol. 5 (here)
Essential Spider-Man Vol. 6 (here)
Hawkeye: Hawkeye, The Marksman/The Old Order Changeth/Hawkeye (here)
Hercules: When Titans Clash!/Gods Of Brooklyn (here)
Iron Man: Iron Man Is Born/The Five Nightmares (here)
Mister Fantastic: The Fantastic Four!/Sentient (here)
Nick Fury: Seven Against The Nazis/Nick Fury: Agent Of Nothing (here)
Spider-Man: Spider-Man/The Sinister Six/Happy Birthday (here)
Spider-Man's Greatest Villains (here)
The Amazing Spider-Man: In The Grip Of The Goblin (here)
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death Of Gwen Stacy (here)
The Avengers: The Coming Of The Avengers/Ultron Unlimited (here)
The Silver Surfer: Origin Of The Silver Surfer/The Herald Ordeal (here)
The X-Men: Children Of The Atom/X-Men (here)
Thor: The Power Of Thor/Avengers Disassembled: Thor (here)
Wonder Man: The Coming Of The Wonder Man/When Avengers Clash/Avengers Two - Wonder Man & Beast (here)