Monday, August 31, 2009

Marvel Unbound - The Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man

I just finished reading The Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man. I picked this hardcover up from the local comic shop’s half-off bin. It’s one of those collections I’d never heard of before seeing it, but couldn’t resist the attraction. This 200+ page volume collects three Spidey stories penciled, two penciled and co-plotted, and one scripted by Miller. Plus, there is a gorgeous gallery of the 22 Spidey-related covers Miller produced over the years.

It’s great to have all of Miller’s limited work on the Webhead in one place, compiled chronologically. The book opens with a two-part Bill Mantlo-scripted Spectacular Spider-Man story spread across issues #27 and #28 from February and March 1979 (both of which were collected together under the cover of Spider-Man and Daredevil Special Edition in 1984). It’s a grim little tale that picks up mid-action, with Spidey getting some assistance from Daredevil in dealing with the blindness caused by the Masked Marauder in a previous issue. It’s a dark tale in both storytelling and composition that works well with what we’re given. Issue #28 wraps up with a cliffhanger because, although Spidey has regained his sight, he’s being stalked by Carrion, who knows Spider-Man’s secret identity and holds Peter Parker by the throat, choking the life from him.

Next up is the 1980 Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14, scripted and co-plotted by Denny O’Neil and penciled and co-plotted by Miller. This is a fun Doctor Doom and Dormammu up against Spidey and Doctor Strange story that includes Spider-Man’s alter-ego Peter Parker heading down to the Bowery for some midnight punk at CBGBs. Doctor Strange, resident deus ex machina of the Marvel U., can be such a prick. It’s great how he sends his astral self out to look for assistance – looking everywhere and when he can’t find anyone else, he settles for asking Spidey for help. And then at the end of the story, after Spidey has given everything to save Doc Strange and the day, Doctor Strange up and leaves, refusing to tell Spidey exactly what they just fought and what they just saved mankind from! Classic.

Following that is the other Miller penciled and co-plotted offering of the collection: Marvel Team-Up #100. Co-created by Miller and Chris Claremont, this December 1980 issue marks the debut of future New Mutant Karma as Spidey and the Fantastic F
our team up to straighten things out. There is a hilariously scripted cameo by Professor Xavier as we see him on the phone with Reed Richards while directing Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine through a Danger Room exercise. All in all, though, it was a really solid character introduction for Karma – one I’d not read previously.

The 1981 Marvel Team-Up Annual #4 written by Miller is a great example of what made annuals so awesome back in the day! Marvel seemed to take an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to annuals of the ‘80s, giving the books an event feel to them, like this was something special, and this one is no exception. Here, Spidey teams up with not one, not two, not three, but four heroes! The always awesome Daredevil tag-teams with Spidey to tackle the Purple Man and the Kingpin with a little help from Heroes for Hire’s Power Man and Iron Fist, and Moon Knight’s also along for the ride. Miller also lets us know that even though Peter Parker might be a nerd, he’s a hip nerd who listens to pub rock godfather Elvis Costello by way of working “Oliver’s Army” into the story.

Last in line is the 1981 Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15. Scripted by Denny O’Neil, this gorgeous epic battle between the Punisher and Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus and J. Jonah Jameson is penciled by Miller and finished by Klaus Janson. Miller’s work here is incredible, nuanced. Nearly every rendering of the Punisher is simply stunning, including an early close-up that was positively menacing. The story is framed by a continual need to change the front page plate of the Daily Bugle, resulting in six very cool images of the Bugle’s changing headlines acting almost as chapter stops.

What are missing from this collection are the covers from all the collected issues. I get why they aren’t found here: This is only work by Frank Miller. So we do get every Spider-Man related cover Miller did work on, including two Amazing Spider-Man Annuals and three single issue covers. We also get a Marvel Team-Up Annual cover and five individual issue covers by Miller. Miller drew 10 covers for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man that are found here, along with the front and back cover of the Spider-Man and Daredevil Special Edition mentioned earlier. Good stuff.

My favorite of the covers is, hands down, Marvel Team-Up #95 from July 1980 that marks the debut of everyone’s favorite battle stave-wielding heroine, Mockingbird! This gorgeous cover with Mockingbird vaulting over a downed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent while kicking Spidey off balance is beautiful and colored perfectly. The yellow titles, green backgrounds, blue-favored center and purple/black foreground flow amazingly well with the art.

If you’re a fan of Spidey or Frank Miller and can find
The Complete Frank Miller Spider-Man, I highly recommend it. There have been two printings of the book, a 1994 leather-bound version with a three-quarters dust jacket, and a 2002 second printing with a full length dust jacket and markings on the spine that line the book up nicely with the other oversized Marvel hardcovers on your shelf. But, ultimately, you should be picking this up for what’s contained under the wrapper.

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