Origin of the Species immediately precedes Dan Slott’s monumental run on Spider-Man, and because that turned out so well there’s a tendency to forget just how much fun Mark Waid’s title story is.

Waid starts with Doctor Octopus gathering Spider-Man’s villains, then switches to the perennial problem of Peter Parker being broke with the rent due. He’s so short of cash he can’t afford to waste web fluid swinging around town. Ultimately he doesn’t have a choice.

The sordid relationships of the Osborn family fall under the spotlight, with an ailing Doctor Octopus very keen to unlock the genetic potential of a new born child whose blood comes from two parents who’ve dosed themselves with the Green Goblin’s serums. Spider-Man is initially the hero of the minute, but the narrative that plays out in front of dozens of cameras is that he’s abducted a baby. Only he and his friends know the truth, and Doc Ock has the back-up plan of priming many of Spider-Man’s enemies, so the web-slinger is running a deadly gauntlet while attempting to keep a baby safe.

The same sort of plot could be played for laughs, but Waid manages to keep it fresh and exciting over five chapters through clever roles for the assorted villains, while we can all appreciate a baby in danger. He also switches Spider-Man’s moods effectively, the familiar wisecracking version absent for an entire thrilling chapter

Paul Azaceta’s art was divisive when first published, flat with rather vague looking people who ought to be familiar, yet it’s well drawn, and the longer the story runs, the better it becomes as Azaceta’s strengths come to the fore. He’s great at page design, fills every panel with detail giving a real sense of location rather than a sterile film set and his versions of some villains are notable, with his Lizard redesign standing out.

The back of the book is numerous short stories by assorted creators wrapping up some loose ends to their work over other graphic novels, plus a ten page origin for Doc Ock. The longest inclusion is Fred Van Lente closing the door on Vin Gonzales, once Peter Parker’s room mate, cementing a relationship with Carlie Cooper and dealing with Overdrive. Drawn by Max Fiurama, his stylised version of the supporting cast is far more controversial than Azaceta’s, and not greatly appealing. J.M. Ken Nimura is even more individual, but the loose approach is so far removed from the usual, it actually works. The most fun is provided by Bob Gale and Karl Kesel’s investigation of J. Jonah Jameson’s new city ordinance making it a crime to interfere with city property in any way.

Around a third of the content seems shoehorned in because it won’t fit into another graphic novel, and thirty opening pages recapping Spider-Man’s more recent life and supplying information sheets about various villains seems a specially pointless inclusion. The title story, though, is great. Consider that worth the purchase price and the rest as free bonus material.