Comic fans tend to be quite passionate, and Spider-Man fans are by no means an exception. Compared to literary characters, comics have quite a special type of history. Their corporate rather than individual ownership, their extended publishing schedule...these combine to give a patchwork serial quality.
Good writers with small egos will often try and smooth over the transitions, but regardless, the matter of who wrote what, who created which character, who was responsible for which key event in a character's history is a key part of what makes comic collecting so very special.
The odd newspaper article, fan magazine interview, or even industry rumour handed down over the years can help satisfy that urge to know about the ins and outs of the complex creative process. But what really hits the spot is a nice fat book filled with interviews with all the big names from Spidey's past. Gee... wonder where we might find one of those?
The book is "written" by Tom DeFalco, in that he did the interviews. Tom himself is a key figure in Spidey's past, and the guy is fully qualified to take on the daunting task of performing all these interviews. Basically, the sixteen names in this book (seventeen if you count Tom DeFalco) pick out all the highlights of Spidey's past.
Of course, some guys just don't make it in. Dan Jurgens, who did that run on Sensational, isn't in there. Ross Andru is missing. But really, if I had to decide who to take out of the list in order to make room, I really wouldn't know. Really, you couldn't take out any of the guys that are already in there. All you could really do is just keep making the book bigger. Maybe in volume two, eh?
The really glaring omission is of course Steve Ditko. But Steve don't talk to anybody these days. I guess he's fed up with people wanting to talk about how he and Stan split up over Amazing, and the Green Goblin thing. Stan talks a little bit about that, in fact some of his discussions on the topic give some insight. For example, Stan says (and I paraphrase) "Yes, I'm happy to give Steve co-credit for creating Spider-Man - but really, I think I created Spider-Man." So, he doesn't really give Ditko full credit. John Romita also throws some independent light on the nature of the breakup.
Not all of the recent talent is there. Paul Jenkins is, but JMS was just too busy, sadly. JR JR isn't in there, but Tom points us at another book that has an interview that covers most of the ground with JR JR, so I guess that's enough for now.
The interviews are nearly universally friendly, open and honest. Tom DeFalco has a good style, and has credibility enough to get these guys to open up. There's lots of stuff about how key teams interacted with each other. Lots of stuff like "when I worked with writer X, we would talk on the phone, and I'd take notes, but writer Y would give me detailed plots in advance, paced page by page." That gives you lots of feel for how much input different creators contributed to each stage.
Out of all the interviews, Stan Lee's is the only one which really doesn't add much new. I guess Stan has told his tale so many times that there's really not much left to tell. Stan also has a famously bad memory. I'm not even totally convinced that the "interview" as such proceeded as written. Perhaps it's a bit of cut-and-paste from past interviews, combined with some recent stuff. I don't know, maybe Tom will tell us if we ask him nicely.
There's also some good behind-the-scenes stuff... inside stories and jokes. Not a lot, nothing really embarassing, but plenty of bits to make you chuckle. It's not like you're going to get a complete history of Marvel here, but there are a lot of pieces of the jigsaw here that you won't find elsewhere. For example, did you know where the design for the Prowler's costume came from? Nope, not JR JR, he just invented the character... Go read the book if you want to know!
This book works very, very well on two levels. Firstly, if you're new to Spider-Man, or if you're just new to Spider-Man's real-world history, then there's a great wealth of info in here. You'll be well and truly up to speed by the time you've finished. But if you already know the basics, then I think there's still a fair bit in here. If nothing else, if you want to call yourself a Spider-Man expert, you should read this book at least once, and keep it handy on the shelf. As a reference on Spider-Man comic creators, it's unmatched.
This is a splendid book. Readable and informative, it's an essential guide for any serious Spidey fan. I'm surprised it didn't get more publicity, really. At seventeen bucks list price (less on Amazon), it's a real bargain!