Big, beautiful, and nearly (but not quite) perfect book of the dawn of Spider-Man
The initial volume in Taschen’s Marvel Comics Library, Spider-Man. Vol. 1: 1962–1964, brings the first stories of Marvel’s web-slinging superhero to a sumptuous, large, high-quality format. The book is massive. The pages measure 11 by 15.6 inches. Its 698 pages make the tome 2.6 inches thick. It weighs in at 10.62 pounds.
The book covers the first twenty-one Spider-Man comics by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee: Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man issues 1 through 19, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.
In addition to the contents of the comics, the book has a forward by David Mandel and an introductory essay, “A New Kind of Hero,” by Ralph Macchio. The latter includes reproductions of original art pages from several of the stories, along with images of related art and early influences on Marvel’s arachnid superhero. Among the additional gems included in the book is a high-quality reproduction of the original art from the eleven-page initial Spider-Man story in Amazing Fantasy #15.
The book’s most striking feature is the quality of the reproductions, which are stunning. The covers of the comics are printed on glossy, coated stock, which contrast with the conventional finish of the interior pages, giving each issue the look and feel of the original comics — albeit in a larger size and on better quality paper. Even the cardboard box in which the book arrives is emblazoned with images of Spider-Man.
The comics are reproduced from extremely high resolution scans of near pristine originals. The problems of poor registration and other constraints of the original printing process that often plague the original comics are absent from Taschen’s crisp images. There is no re-coloring or other modern modifications often found in contemporary comics reprints. The Taschen pages are accurate copies of the originals. Historically significant errors of the original remain, such as the panel in The Amazing Spider-Man #3 in which Doctor Ock refers to Spider-Man as “Super-Man.”
The comics are not complete facsimile editions, however. While they include the complete Spider-Man stories along with related content such as letters pages and some of the original ads, some minor material from the original comics is missing.
The most notable divergence from the original comics is Amazing Fantasy #15, which includes the full 11-page Spider-Man story and the “Important Announcement from the Editor!” Fan Page, but excludes the other three (non-Spider-Man) Ditko-illustrated stories and all but three of the issue’s original ten ad pages. In the subsequent comics the omitted content is minor — consisting solely of advertisements — but is nonetheless unfortunate. Since some of the ads are included, the Taschen book gives a skewed impression of the advertising in the original comics.
To look in detail at a typical issue from the middle of the run: The Amazing Spider-Man #9 in the Taschen book includes the full 22-page story, “The Man Called Electro,” along with the two pages of letters (from the “Spider’s Web”) and the original ad on the inside front cover (for the Niresk All-Transistor Wrist Radio). Many other ad pages, however, are excluded: the Magic Art Reproducer and Windhooker kite following page 6, the Treasure Chest of Fun following page 11, the Hypno-Coin and Coin Catalog Book following page 14, the Hit Records and Grit Publishing ads following page 19, the Shop by Mail ad before page 20, The Magic for Fun and Money and the Mike Marvel System ads after the letters pages, the National Radio Institute ad on the inside back cover and the hypnotic powers ad from Palmer-Jone Publishers on the back cover.
The Taschen issue of ASM #9 shows the house ad for Fantastic Four #23, which originally appeared sandwiched between the ads following page 19, on the inside back cover and a completely different period ad from Commercial Trades Institute on the outside back cover.
For a volume that would otherwise stand as the definitive reference edition of these seminal comics, these omissions, while minor, are regrettable.
This shortfall notwithstanding, this is a magnificent book. The large, high-quality reproduction brings to the fore subtle details in Ditko’s artwork — characters’ expressions, the stances of background characters, the architecture of the cityscape. Taschen’s Spider-Man. Vol. 1 allows you to see these groundbreaking pages with fresh eyes.