I guess that I can now officially declare myself a Spider-Man "Anti-Fan." I was recently introduced to the concept of a Spider-Man Anti-Fan at a comic book shop. You see, the Spider-Man Anti-Fans are the people out there who are reading the Spider books out of a sense of hope that they are going to get better. We are the readers who have a sense of loyalty to the character because of his history, but are fully aware of the poor quality of most of what comes out today in the Spider titles. We are the people who are hoping that just around that corner is the Peter Parker we once knew, who will lead us to the promised land of stories that follow in the tradition of Lee, Ditko and Romita.
Because there seems to be a large number of people who have fond memories of the old Hobgoblin stories and can go on for hours about the inadequacies of the current titles, I think that Marvel needs to take notice. In my opinion, the Anti-Fans are the real connoisseurs of Marvel Comics. We are the people that Marvel should be courting. However, I have this nagging feeling that maybe we are just like a bunch old men sitting around saying things like, "In my day, sonny, comics were great, not like this here new junk you kids read!" Maybe the comics haven't changed. Maybe we have changed, and we are just looking at the old Spider-Man stories through rose colored glasses.
I started the experiment in a hole, because this book had been trashed right here in "Pop-Culture-Corn" as an overpriced comic with a preposterous story and bad artwork. Was I going to come to the same conclusion? Was I really looking at old Spidey comics through rose colored glasses? Was it no longer possible to write neo-classic Spidey stories in the comics industry of today?
My conclusion hails a resounding victory for the Anti-Fans. "Spider-Man/Kingpin: To the Death" is an excellent five-star comic book that should be purchased by anyone who likes Spider-Man. The dialogue is witty and sharp. Stan uses a very relaxed scripting style that breaks down the barrier between the reader and the writer. For example, when switching from a scene with Daredevil to Peter and Mary Jane at home, Stan writes, "We've subjected you to enough tension for a while. So let's visit a more tranquil scene..." Always the showman, Stan is telling the reader: "Hey, you know it's a comic book, I know it's a comic book. So let's make this fictional story as entertaining as possible." Rather than writing as an objective, omnipresent narrator, Stan is guiding us personally through the life of Peter Parker. This is the personal touch that made Stan a legend and made reading his stories so enjoyable.
Now I will admit that the plot by Tom DeFalco is not perfect, but it does emphasize the essential nature of Spider-Man as the loner super-hero who is alienated from his fellow human beings. The plot may not be an A+ (however, compare it to the average plot in the Spider books today) but John Romita's pencils are nothing less than astounding. If anyone has any doubts whether John still has it, they should check out the full-page artwork of all of Spidey's major villains he gives us in this story. With Romita's pencils, the reader also has a real sense of being in a super-hero and villain type of New York City. Empty warehouses (always an important part of Spider-Man's city) are plentiful. Dan Green's inks also give the book a very grayish look that reminds one of a city infested with crime. The artwork makes you feel as if you are reading a classic Spidey story which emphasizes solid looking characters and action one can follow rather than ugly people in ridiculously dramatic poses.
Bravo to Stan Lee and John Romita! This comic proves that you can go home again. It was a great experience for this reader, but at the same time is bad news for Marvel. Bad news because it proves that Marvel is capable of producing top quality Spider-Man books like it used to. If the Spider books today were to resemble "Spider-Man/Kingpin: To the Death," then Spidey would be the number one comic character again, and I would happily have nothing to complain about.
P.S. If we had any doubts about how Stan feels about today's comics, those doubts are dispelled when Stan writes above a panel in which Peter and Mary Jane are talking, "Sudden Thought: Someone oughta give us a No-Prize! Here's an entire super-hero yarn with the females fully dressed!"
Editor's Note: This review was originally posted on Pop-Culture Corn, and is reproduced here with permission.