In recent years, various friends have casually commented that they should "try comics out". Not with any great enthusiasm, but the kind of positive curiosity you might associate with indulging in an increasingly-socially acceptable bedroom fetish. Why not? - let's try something different, that kind of thinking. Normally they don't, but a handful of mates have dipped their toes, with a couple gaining a taste for certain characters at the very least. However, they have chosen to focus on stocking up on the trade paperbacks - collected editions of the monthly titles. This backs up my thinking that unless you get into the monthly purchasing cycle before your mid-teens, it ain't going to happen as you discover other things. Like being sociable, drinking and meeting women - all things that no comic book fan has ever done in their life cause God said they couldn't. No, really.
Still, there are the trades, and for a few years now, it's been possible to keep up with major characters' monthly adventures simply by getting the trade when it's released a bit later. Add to this a trade history that will showcase classic and signficant storylines and there's no reason not to have a healthy library devoted to one character. On that note, this post is dedicated to Marvel Comics' Spider-Man. A character who I've been a fan of for 25 years and have nearly all the issues from that period. I would gloat at how much it's worth, but I'd be lying as it's the '60s issues that would allow me a mortgage deposit. If ol' Spidey has always tickled your webbed fancy, but his back issue history scares you a bit, just pick up these ten trades for now and work from there:
1: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN OMNIBUS, VOL. 1
Collects Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) # 1-38, ASM Annuals #1-2 + other small stories from other titles.
Essential. This is where it all started. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original run from 1962-66 is all here with a few extras. The origin, Peter's high school shenanigans, first appearances of too many classic villains. Owning these stories in some format is a necessity to being a Spider-fan. This one handy hardcover (HC) volume is a few bob, though, but panic not. The same stories can be found in the first three volumes of the ASM corner of Marvel's "Masterworks" range, or if you're a tight arse, the first two volumes of the black-and-white "Essential" trade range of ASM.
2: SPIDER-MAN VISIONARIES: JOHN ROMITA SR.
Collects ASM # 39-42, 50,68-69, 108-109.
This '60s ASM collection showcases Romita Sr's interpretation of Spidey - one that would provide the template for Spidey artists for almost the next two decades. These college years are as essential as Parker's high school as his circle of friends solidified and love started to blossom. If you want more of the Lee/Romita run, it can be found in volumes 3-5 of the ASM "Essential" range.
3: SPIDER-MAN: DEATH OF THE STACYS
Collects ASM #88-92, 121-122
Two tragic stories in one edition, the events in here may have you wondering why some folk are so damned insistent that comics will always be throwaway kids' entertainment. They are also a lesson in why Doctor Octopus and Norman Osborn's Green Goblin will always hold a more significant place in Spider-man's rogues gallery than others.
4: SPIDER-MAN: WIZARD MASTERPIECE
Collects ASM #229-232, 248, Spectacular Spider-Man (SSM) #107-10
Industry mag Wizard knows its stuff. Enclosed within are four '80s stories widely regarded as Spidey's best. His scraps with Juggernaut, Mr Hyde and Cobra showcase Webs at his bantering best, while the poignant "Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" is in a league of his own. Spidey also dons his black costume to face off against the psycho serial killer Sin-Eater.
5: SPIDER-MAN: BIRTH OF VENOM
Collects ASM #252-59, 298-300, 316-17, Web of Spider-Man (WSM) #1
Spidey has bought back a nifty new costume from some other planet. Alas, it turns out to be a parasite. Whoops. A two-arc collection with Parker's possession followed by Eddie Brock's. Every hero needs his evil mirror-image villain - Spidey finally gained his.
6: SPIDER-MAN: KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT
Collects ASM #293-4, SSM #131-2, WSM #31-2
It wouldn't be unfair to regard this as Spidey's most macabre story ever. J M DeMatteis' stark journey into Kraven's damaged psyche wasn't common in 1987, but still stands very tall today, more so than similar examinations of villains in recent years. Dark and frequently disturbing, this is also not one for the claustrophobic
7: SPIDER-MAN LEGENDS: TODD MACFARLANE VOL 2
Collects #ASM 306-14
Todd MacFarlane may be a big shot in all areas of comics and toys now, but there was a time when he was just a young hotshot artist with a highly original take on the Wall-Crawler. This collection starts a few issues in to MacFarlane's ASM run when he was at his best and includes his take on baddies Mysterio, Lizard and Green Goblin during the company-wide "Inferno" crossover. You can get his sole-created and violent "Torment" trade but this has way more substance. Probably because David Michelinie is a better writer.
8: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN BY J MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI: ULTIMATE COLL. VOL. 1
Collects ASM Vol 2 #30-45.
"Babylon 5" creator Straczynski teamed with John Romita Jr in 2001 to start a classic run on ASM, which includes these first sixteen issues. Granted, it followed up a 90s' full of symbiotes, clones and a forgettable John Byrne rehash, but the new characters and ideas introduced here are incredibly logical and overdue for a literary character this old. You'll see what I mean. It also includes Marvel's moving tribute to 9/11.
9: CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Collects ASM # 532-38.
There have been a few significant events in Spidey's title in the last five years, but this deserves inclusion purely for the revelation within - an event that is almost anathema to such a major character. It also includes a brief look at the "Iron-Spider" costume provided by Tony Stark during his time in the Avengers.
It's also worth picking up the main Civil War trade while you're at it.
10: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOL. 1
Collects Ultimate Spider-Man #1-13
Marvel's Ultimate Universe is pretty much a new-millennium update of the classic Marvel Universe and was a good jumping-on point for new readers in 2000. The first year of issues here are regarded as being almost perfect. Great writing, great art and a brilliant first meeting with the Kingpin. You'll think of this wher you hear any "fat" jokes afterwards.
Just to be clear, there's plenty more out there, but these get my vote for the most essential. I appreciate there's sod-all from the '90s, but there isn't currently a great deal out there save for 1993's "Maximum Carnage" trade - damn good, but a bit flawed. However, the 2-year "Clone Saga" is being released in staged volumes from next year, which in retrospect, is overdue, I think.