The Gauntlet is a title applied to unite what would otherwise be a relatively standard run of Spider-Man continuity, in this case from 2009-2011, as a succession of his oldest enemies show up, or variations of them. The connecting thread is that they’ve had their powers boosted, although in most cases you’d really not know that. Considering what Electro, for instance, has done in the past, you have to take the word of the narrative caption that he’s now even more dangerous. The premise turns out to be tissue-thin, especially when there is no conclusion to the connecting subplot the creators occasionally remember to return to for one or two panels. Thankfully, this pair of Complete Collections puts that right by including the subsequent Grim Hunt in Complete Collection Vol. 2.

Over this first volume Spider-Man buts up against Electro, Sandman, the Rhino, Mysterio, Silvermane and the Vulture, most preceded by a short story in which Fred Van Lente and accompanying artists look back at a facet of the villain’s origin. These are all imaginative, each of them offering something new to mull over regarding the featured villain.

Assorted creators work on the longer segments. For longer discussion of the content check the reviews of the trades Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, but although quality is variable, most creators are above average. Van Lente’s imaginatively reworks Sandman with artists Marcos Martin (sample left) and Javier Pulido matching that imagination, and also notable is the return of Mysterio and Silvermane by Dan Slott, with Martin and Pulido again supplying the art. Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara’s Rhino segment is far shorter, at just two chapters, and contrasts the remainder by being more melancholy and seeming to lead to an inevitable tragedy. Fiumara’s rendering of the sheer power the Rhino has is astonishing. Given Mark Waid wrote it, it’s surprising that the Electro story doesn’t hit the spot, but there’s a well thought out ending to a long-running Spider-Man subplot.

Beyond Van Lente’s contributions there’s not a lot of connection between the main story and the assorted shorter back-ups, but most are fine. Two stories didn’t make the original Gauntlet collections, also being unconnected, but saw print in a Spider-Man annual around the same time. They consider the past, Karl Kesel and Paulo Siquera providing the first time Spider-Man met Captain America, while Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe reprise their continuity implants looking back at Spider-Man’s earliest days (see Untold Tales of Spider-Man). Kesel’s story takes a wild swerve, but it’s a smart piece of writing tying into Avengers continuity, while Busiek and Olliffe show Spider-Man meeting Stan Lee and getting his own comic. Both are fun as intended, both are well drawn, and both raise smiles.

Don’t get carried away with the supposed linking theme and there’s enough solid Spider-Man entertainment here to make the collection worth your while. Perhaps not, though, at the exorbitant prices being asked for the physical version, which seems to have slipped out of print very rapidly.