Given the opportunity to write Spider-Man under the Marvel Knights imprint where the heroes “populate and guard the dark corners of the Marvel Universe”, Mark Millar opts for an extended saga exploring the relationship between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn. Or Spider-Man and the Green Goblin when in costume. The dozen chapters were previously available over three paperbacks titled Down Among the Dead Men, Venomous, and The Last Stand, but The Ultimate Collection supplies the entire saga.

Spider-Man has faced many uncanny, bizarre and inexplicable menaces, but none more determined and dangerous than Osborn, father of Peter’s best friend Harry and a brilliant, utterly insane scientist who sought power as the malignly Machiavellian Green Goblin. Early on the elder Osborn had uncovered the web-spinner’s true identity and subsequently tormented his adversary with the fact. Even after he murdered Peter’s fiancée Gwen Stacy and apparently died in the bitter retaliation, Osborn kept the precious secret to himself, extracting every iota of psychological pressure he could from the morally-handcuffed hero.

However, that’s changed. An explosive opening has the wall-crawler at last succeeding in exposing the maniac and sending Osborn to prison. Two phone calls follow. The second is a mysterious voice revealing it knows his secret and tells Peter he’ll never see Aunt May again. Osborn has shared the secret.

Largely drawn by the pencil and ink team of Terry and Rachel Dodson, with Frank Cho filling in, shock follows shock. Millar incorporates a fair proportion of Spider-Man’s villains, eventually unleashing a Sinister Twelve, features the Avengers, Fantastic Four and Daredevil, and sets up an unbelievably tense climax where it seems whatever decision Spider-Man makes will be the wrong choice.

Stylish, powerful, suspenseful and utterly absorbing, this is a truly epic adventure of everybody’s favourite bug-based hero, beautifully illustrated and so smartly written that any new or long-lost reader can extract the maximum enjoyment with the minimum confusion. If you’d prefer a pocket edition, try the Marvel UK version.