‘Red-Headed Stranger’ collects Amazing Spider-Man issues 602 to 605. Marvel seem to be publishing quite a lot of trade paperbacks that only collect four comics these days, and this doesn’t seem like nearly enough comics to justify a trade-paperback collection to me, but I seem to be getting used to it, because I didn’t even notice that this was a pretty slender collection until after I finished it. I guess this is partly because #605 was an extra-large issue and partly because I enjoyed reading it enough that I didn’t really care.
In issues 602 to 604, written by Fred Van Lente and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Robert Atkins, Spider-Man faces the Chameleon, who, for the first time I remember, is genuinely scary. This Chameleon doesn’t just put on a rubber mask and pretend to be his victims, he makes a real effort to become them, before dissolving their bodies in acid. Then, once he has replaced his victims, he spends a bit of time living their lives. Here, the Chameleon captures and replaces Peter Parker, and while he somehow doesn’t discover that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, he does find out pretty much everything else about him and even sleeps with his roommate, Michele Gonzales. The way that Peter Parker survived getting dipped in acid was a bit corny but overall this was a good three-issue story arc and Van Lente seemed to have a good feel for Spidey.
ASM #605 is split into three chapters, the first two of which are also written by Fred Van Lente (with the third chapter written by Brian Reed). The first chapter is a perfectly decent story about Mary Jane Watson, which benefits from great art by Javier Pulido (very much like the work of the great Marcos Martin). The rest of the issue, about Peter Parker’s troubles with women, is okay too. I can just about handle the fact that Peter Parker, who was once married to super-model Mary Jane Watson, still has women troubles. What always does annoy me is Peter Parker’s money woes. I mean, if you can invent your own web fluid, have super-powers, are in the Avengers and a personal friend of the FF and you still ain’t making any money, then there is something seriously wrong with you.
‘Return of the Black Cat’ collects ASM issues 606 to 611 and a story from Web of Spider-Man #1. More comics collected but the book itself is a bit crap. Issues 606 and 607, written by Joe Kelly, in which Spidey teams up with the Black Cat against Diablo, are okay, but it’s mainly Mike McKone’s excellent artwork that makes them okay (for some reason, though, the last few pages of #607 are drawn by another – lesser – artist).
Most of the rest of the book features a story that ties into the universally reviled Clone Saga, which I have never read, so I had no idea who most of the characters in this story – Kaine, Raptor, etc. – were, but I’m pretty sure that, even if I did know who they all were, I would still think this storyline, mostly written by Marc Guggenheim, was rubbish. And the very dated looking artwork – unfortunately dated the 1990s – was pretty bad too. Eric Canete’s art in the final issue collected here, #611, in which Spidey fights Deadpool, is very nice / very stylish but the story, by Joe Kelly, was just annoying. (Note: I don’t like Deadpool, so I am biased). In summary, then: One of these books was pretty good and the other was pretty bad.
Cost: Red-Headed Stranger has a recommended retail price of £10.99 and Return of the Black Cat has a recommended retail price of £14.99. I got my copies on eBay and paid £5.47 (including postage) for RHS and £6.68 (including postage) for ROTBC. I only regret buying one of these books. Can you guess which one?