Review by Win Wiacek
In the mid 1980s as part of a huge attention-getting exercise Spider-Man exchanged his heavily copyrighted and thoroughly trademarked costume whilst on another planet during the first Secret Wars. It was replaced with a magnificently stylish black and white number, which over the course of a year revealed the true horrifying nature of the extraterrestrial ensemble.
This compendium from 1988 opens with an introduction and design sketches before catapulting us into action in ‘Homecoming!’ by Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Spectators in Central Park see a mysterious black garbed stranger explode out of an alien artefact, only the first of many costumed characters to escape the Beyonder’s world.
Spider-Man begins to explore his new uniform. It’s a thought controlled, self-activating, metamorphic ball with chameleon capabilities and able to construct webbing out of its own mass. The smart-cloth is astonishing, but weary Peter Parker has family to see and a city to reacquaint himself with. The hero promises himself he’ll further research the incredible material at a later date.
The wonderful Rick Leonardi illustrates DeFalco’s powerful crime thriller ‘By Myself Betrayed!’ wherein a prominent football player, sucked into gambling and match-fixing, drags the web-spinner into conflict with new gang-lord the Rose. As his new uniform increasingly, obsessively amazes Peter with its rather disturbing autonomy (it comes to him unbidden and regularly envelops him while he sleeps), the hero uncomprehendingly alienates his beloved Aunt May when he drops out of college.
‘With Great Power…’ has the wall-crawler battling terrorist mercenary Jack O’Lantern for possession of the hi-tech battle-van when he should have been reconciling with May, whilst ‘Even a Ghost Can Fear the Night!’ introduces charismatic septuagenarian cat-burglar Black Fox.
‘Introducing… Puma!’ finds an increasingly weary and listless Spider-Man attacked by a Native American super-mercenary hired by the Rose. The Arachnid’s gang-busting crusade in partnership with reformed thief/new girlfriend Black Cat is making life too hot and unprofitable for the ambitious mobster. That calamitous clash carries over into ‘Beware the Claws of Puma!’, furiously escalating until criminal overlord the Kingpin steps in, forcing the Rose to ally himself with the murderous Hobgoblin. The story ends with an exhausted Parker confronted with a stunning revelation from his old lover Mary Jane Watson.
The shock prompts Peter into seeking out ‘The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man’s New Costume!’ Plagued by nightmares, perpetually tired and debilitated the Web-spinner visits the Fantastic Four. There he learns his suit is alive and a parasite slowly attaching itself to him body and soul.
This collection concludes with the poignant ‘All My Pasts Remembered!’ as Mary Jane finally tells Peter her tragic life story after which the free, reinvigorated and re-dedicated hero determined to put a stop to Hobgoblin for good. But that’s a tale for another tome.
This run of tales marvellously rejuvenated the Amazing Arachnid and kicked off a period of gripping and imaginative stories, culminating with the creation of arch hero/villain Venom. It proved popular enough to be reissued in 1991, and these tales can also be found in the sturdy compendium Spider-Man: Birth of Venom and subsequently in The Complete Alien Costume Saga Book 1.
Whichever book you buy, if you’re a fan of superhero comics these are tales you just don’t want to miss.