Review by Frank Plowright
With this volume Marvel give up the ghost as far as the original premise of The Best of Spider-Man collections is concerned and transform them from an annual round-up of the best Spider-Man stories into a hardback collection of J. Michael Staczynski’s Spider-Man stories. With the demise of Spider-Man’s Tangled Web in 2003 there was no competition.
The material here is also presented in the collections The Life and Death of Spiders, Unintended Conquences and Happy Birthday, and there’s a slow decline in quality as the stories progress, although the starting point is at such a peak that there is no poor material here.
Seen in one bulky collection, the variety Staczynski brings to his writing is apparent. Spider-Man starts by dealing with an other-dimensional entity wanting to eat him, has a battle with the immensely powerful Digger, a composite of eleven dead 1950s gangsters intent on revenge, has to protect Doctor Doom from attack at an airport, and on a more human level helps one of the students he teaches as Peter Parker locate her brother. Oh, and has to relive previous battles and view his possible future as part of scheme instituted by the pretty damn powerful mystical force that is Dormammu. Captain America and Doctor Strange guest star along the way.
While he maintains the action in inventive fashion, Staczynski’s finest moments are the character interaction. This volume sees Peter Parker reunited with his wife, May Parker coming to terms with her recent surprise, and Spider-Man able to chat briefly with the one person with whom he has some unfinished business. He also learns that far from being random, his origin ties into ancient African legends of a totemic Spider-God. These elements are all delivered in a witty manner, and the best of them come from nowhere.
The art team of John Romita Jr and Scott Hanna are spectacular, equally able to provide a stunning double page spread of other-dimensional monsters fighting superheroes in New York and an ordinary day in the classroom; tender moments between Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and Spider-Man reliving the battles of his past; an African myth and a patchwork gangster demolishing a casino. Such versatility is surprisingly rare.
The entire contents are also available within second bulky paperback collection of Straczynski and Romita Jr’s work on Spider-Man.