Sunday, 19 September 2010

Review - The Astonishing Spider-Man #20 (Panini UK)

I like these Panini comics. For those not familiar with them, they are British reprints of US Marvel comics which usually reprint three comics per issue (although you occasionally get a 100-page issue with more comics in it) for a mere £2.95. I don’t see them everywhere, but WHSmith stock them, and I currently get my friendly local newsagent to order me Astonishing Spider-Man and Mighty World of Marvel and will probably ask him to start getting me Fantastic Four Adventures, too, once they start reprinting the Jonathan Hickman stuff. I should probably be embarrassed to walk into my local shop and ask for a Spider-Man comic at my age, but I am way past caring about such things.

Astonishing Spider-Man (which is fortnightly) tends to reprint two modern Spider-Man comics per issue and an older story. I could live without the older reprints because they are usually pretty rotten issues from the 1980s but they offer an affordable way to keep up with modern Marvel comics (if that is your sort of thing). This particular issue reprints Amazing Spider-Man issues 578 and 579, first published by Marvel about two years ago, and Amazing Spider-Man #304, from the late-1980s. In ASM 578 and 579 we get both parts of a two-part story, written by Mark Waid, in which the Shocker causes a subway tunnel to cave in and Spidey has to lead some trapped train passengers to safety as the tunnel slowly fills with water. The story, in many ways a tribute to that classic Ditko issue (#33) where Spidey has to free himself from under rubble after Doc Ock’s underwater hideout collapses, is perfectly okay. However, the fantastic artwork of Marcos Martin elevates it to another level. I don’t know much about Martin – I have a Batgirl Year One TPB drawn by him that I bought (cheap on eBay, of course) purely because of his art and I know he drew Doctor Strange The Oath (which I don’t own) and that’s it – but the few issues of Spider-Man that I have seen by him have been beautiful and well worth the cover price for the art alone. As far as I am concerned, Martin is one of the very best modern superhero artists (think Steve Ditko meets Darwyn Cooke meets Tim Sale) and I fully intend to track down more of his work. Unfortunately, Martin was only an occasional artist on Amazing Spider-man (these issues are from the Brand New Day period, when the creative teams rotated every two or three issues) but I believe there are quite a few more issues by him still to come.

The 1980s reprint here is one of the issues from Todd McFarlane’s first run on the title. I was working in a comic shop at the time these came out and remember thinking that the art looked okay back then but never bothered reading them (I was much cooler back then, you see, and if it wasn’t published by Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly, I didn’t want to know). I didn’t really miss much. The art is still a lot better than what came before it (some of the ‘80s reprints in earlier issues of Astonishing Spider-Man have been really badly drawn) but now looks quite dated and certainly isn’t anywhere near as good as the art in the modern reprints in this issue. I must admit that I lost interest in the story less than halfway through and skim-read the rest of it. If Panini would only drop these ‘80s reprints and reprint three modern comics per issue (like they do in Mighty World of Marvel) then this would be really good value for money. However, two reprints per issue that I actually want to read for £2.95 still makes this a worthwhile regular purchase.

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