Marvel Masterworks: Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 4

Writer / Artist
Marvel Masterworks: Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 4
Alternative editions:
Marvel Masterworks Spectacular Spider-Man Vol 4 review
Alternative editions:
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Marvel - 978-1-3029-2943-5
  • Volume No.: 4
  • Release date: 2021
  • UPC: 9781302929435
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Superhero

Bill Mantlo’s two spells writing Spectacular Spider-Man were separated by a year of Roger Stern fairly well learning on the job early in his career, although as Mantlo’s first spell as seen in Volume 3 didn’t match his second, there was actually an upswing in quality.

Go through this selection in isolation, though, and it doesn’t seem that way, even if Stern’s progress as a writer is apparent. His later work on Spider-Man is characterised by the deft balance achieved between time allocated to Peter Parker and his supporting cast, and action as Spider-Man. In the first half of this collection it’s the action prioritised, with the little time for the supporting cast.

Also diminishing the appreciation is so much of the artwork being so average, and even in cases where a better artist is involved it looks very old fashioned by today’s standards. There’s no denying Marie Severin’s quality and the storytelling is impeccable, but the layouts and viewpoints don’t sparkle. There is no artistic continuity, and Severin contributes more than most (sample page), also credited as co-plotter on a couple of occasions. So is Steve Leialoha, just once teamed with Marv Wolfman on a fill-in Stern’s introduction explains was snatched from the inventory drawer enabling him to complete the story using his favourite Spider-Man villain.

It’s not at all obvious, but the opening story and a couple shortly after tie into the mystery Stern would later weave around the Hobgoblin, but they’re average, and despite her using poison gas, the trouble Spider-Man has with Belladonna is unconvincing. Better are tussles with the Cobra and the Smuggler once Stern has become more settled, with Spider-Man having to hump the Smuggler across the city to hand him to police being a novel idea. A tussle with aliens in Aunt May’s old folks home has its moments, and also here is Stern’s continuation of White Tiger’s story (prominent in Volume 3).

Giving an indication of where things are headed with Volume 5, Mantlo provides a fill-in toward the end, and Stern’s final few stories are listless. He enjoys introducing stock Marvel villains Spider-Man hasn’t previously fought, but neither Gideon Mace nor Nitro hit the spot.

It also needs noted that Stern’s writing style is very much of his era, meaning the dialogue balloons are filled to bursting and plenty of thought balloons occur. Coupled with the inconsistent art and the spell settling in, there’s not a great deal to recommend here. You’d be better off investigating Volume 22 or Volume 23 of Marvel Masterworks: Amazing Spider-Man, where Stern has John Romita Jr on art and produces better stories.

All bar the final three stories are also available in paperback as Spider-Man Visionaries: Roger Stern, although that’s also missing Stern’s chatty introduction from this book, as is Spider-Man by Roger Stern Omnibus, collecting all Stern’s Spider-Man material. The stories are also available in black and white as Essential Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2.