When issued in 1996 Spider-Man’s Greatest Team-Ups seemed just another hastily assembled collection released by a company whose marketing policy then seemed to be to throw as much as possible against the wall. It’s a curious selection featuring some great art and stories that mostly lag behind. Younger Spider-Man fans are likely to consider too much of the collection dated.

The pages from the first Spider-Man Annual are numbered, and have always been numbered, yet it’s still a surprise to realise Spider-Man’s first meeting with Doctor Strange only occupies twenty pages. Steve Ditko plots and illustrates, and the centrepiece of Spider-Man finding himself in the strangeness experienced daily by Strange (sample art) remains a magnificent moment.

Not presenting the stories in chronological order is a strange choice, so next up is the introduction of Karma, who possesses Spider-Man and tests him out against the Fantastic Four. It’s one of two stories drawn by Frank Miller, neither of which he writes, which wasn’t so strange in the early 1980s. Chris Claremont’s plot is interesting in featuring Vietnamese characters, and the art still resonates.

That any given pair of superheroes will fight each other over a misunderstanding when first meeting has become too much of a cliché over the years, and while Spider-Man meeting Daredevil might have been an early example, it still suffers. Stan Lee then repeats the trick, but John Romita’s art goes a long way to redeeming matters.

With the big faces and small bodies with an excess of lines, Erik Larsen’s art is in some ways more dated than Ditko’s from thirty years previously. He poses an interesting problem about whether Spider-Man can have children, but then swamps it in page after page of mindless fighting. It doesn’t read well.

Denny O’Neil writes the second Miller-illustrated story, and the remove of distance reveals great layouts and some shaky figures. O’Neil’s supplies some nice moments, including the theme of newspapers sustained all the way through, and the idea of representing Doctor Octopus by his arms only for much of the story. However, it’s good, not great.

Rounding things up is Spider-Man being considered for Avengers membership, probably included for the maximum amount of guest stars, not any idea of quality. Lee goes through the motions and Romita provides layouts for Don Heck, but there’s only one moment that hits the spot, when Spider-Man comes to the realisation that the Hulk is to be pitied.

Ultimately the better stories can all be found surrounded by better material in other collections.