First of all, I absolutely love the fact that the Penguin Classics range now includes classic comics. The Amazing Spider-Man is one of three Marvel comics to receive a collected volume in a Penguin Classic – I hope that there will be many more of these in future, and not just for Marvel comics. Comics are a form of literature and I am glad that Penguin are acknowledging them as just as important as classic novels and poetry.
As for the comics themselves – I was really impressed by them. I’ve read classic comics before and usually I enjoy them for the fact that they have such strange and unusual storylines, or for the vintage art styles in them. I’ve never really been very emotionally invested in them, but that wasn’t the case for The Amazing Spider-Man at all.
Peter Parker is a really great character, and I enjoyed reading about his struggles to balance his life as a regular teenager with his life as a superhero. He faces money problems, family issues, and stresses with school/work – it made me feel invested in him in a way that I never really had with another superhero and it helped him seem much more human. I never really felt that way with Batman, for example, who is much further removed from real people.
Before reading this, I, like a lot of people probably do, already had a fair understanding of the story of Spider-Man. I’d seen some of the films and just generally been exposed to the character through his huge presence in popular culture. Because of this, it felt really cool to see the origins of lots of the characters. Obviously, there’s Spider-Man himself, but this also included the first appearances of The Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, The Sandman, and countless other iconic Spider-Man villains. While they were often a little bit two-dimensional, I still really enjoyed their stories.
What wasn’t two-dimensional though were Peter Parker’s own struggles. You might expect that an older comic like this would have the main character “win” every time, but that’s not the case for Spider-Man. There’s a story that sees him torn between serious personal commitments and the responsibilities of being a hero – he makes a decision that he thinks his best, which actually ends up being the worst of both worlds, with another hero having to come in and save the day, and people getting mad at him in his personal life. I didn’t expect stories with anywhere near that level of nuance, but I loved it.
This collection also gives a glimpse of the very early days of the Marvel universe. Even at this stage, they were working to create a shared world populated with the characters of various different comics. You’ll see The Human Torch and The Incredible Hulk popping up among other characters (in ways where you don’t really need to know much about that) and that delighted me. I love shared universes.
I hadn’t read many Marvel comics before this, and if you’ve never read anything of them, I recommend this as a fantastic starting point. Reading this left me eager to read more, and it was filled with historic information to give additional context and make sense of anything that might have seemed confusing. The only downside was that as a collection of comics which told an ongoing story, there is no end point that they could have cut it off at, so the story just stops at the end of this volume – a shame, but an unavoidable problem. I loved what I read and I’ll definitely be trying more Spider-Man comics.