Sunday, 19 June 2011

Retro Review: The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4

The Web and the Flame by Lee / Lieber

Amazing Spider-Man Annual's have played host to a number of significant stories over the years, among them being the debut of the Sinister Six and the first mention of Peter Parker's parents. While this story cannot claim to be as much of a milestone as either of those classics, it is certainly a lot of fun, and while not quite a must read for any fans of Silver Age comic books, a more than worthy purchase.

All the way through, this story bears Stan Lee's unmistakable stamp. From his trademark fourth wall breaking captions, to his jazzy (if amusingly dated) dialogue. In places it can read as very cheesy, but if you are willing to accept that as a product of its time period then it shouldn't bother you too much. Indeed, for the most part Lee's writing has aged very well, carrying with it an undeniable charm and energy that is a great fit for the character. While the core plot is a little silly, the story is carried by the dynamic between Spidey and the Human Torch. It's easy to forget that once upon a time the two had a real rivalry, and this annual is a stark reminder of the edge that their relationship used to have. The two bounce off each other pleasingly, with Stan penning some fantastic quips that do not come across as nearly as dated as a lot of his dialogue does. Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber is on art duties and does an able job. He is not quite John Romita Sr but his clear, smooth style is a more than capable substitute. The rest of the art team are on good form as well - Mike Esposito's inks are characteristically tight and the colors jump off the page (I couldn't find a credit for them anywhere so apologies to the talented creator who provided them).

The Wizard and Mysterio seem logical choices of villains, and serve their roles well, within ever being given much characterization. In truth, both are largely sidelined for the duration of the story and could have been replaced by any number of other villains with minimum fuss. Nevertheless, their combined mechanical expertise makes for an interesting variety of threats to be thrown at the two heroes. Just don't expect multi-layered characterization or well thought out schemes.

Of course this story is very much a product of its time, and carries with it a number of the flaws commonly associated with Silver Age comic books. The plot is nothing special, or indeed original and is held together by a number of contrivances and inconsistencies. In places it is very predictable and lacking in any tension or real atmosphere. In short - this story is not one to be taken too seriously. However, as long as you take it for what it is, The Web and the Flame is sure to be a comic book that you read with a big smile on your face.


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