Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Into the spin-offs

I’m waiting for the next Essential Spider-Man volumes. They may be some time. So in the meantime, following the reaction to my look at the Spider-Woman and Punisher volumes, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the similar or related series that have also been collected in the Essentials. Some were launched to seemingly capture a similar field to Spider-Man. Others initially built themselves around characters from his series, sometimes borrowing guest cast members, sometimes spinning off minor characters.

The largest collection by far is Essential Daredevil, which has so far notched up five volumes, and, in addition, several later issues have also popped up in some of the other Essential volumes (such as Essential Punisher volume 1). On top of all this ol' Hornhead's book is also the most frequent one to appear in the guest appearances posts. Daredevil was created in part as a reaction to the success of Spider-Man (as shown most obviously on the first issue’s cover) and over the years he has become one of the wallcrawler’s closest allies but not without some tension as their relationship developed, particularly due to different outlooks. The two series have shared villains, supporting cast members, creators and more, so it feels natural to take a look at Daredevil’s adventures to see how they compare.

Another character who has frequently overlapped with Spider-Man over the years is the Human Torch, who once had his own solo series in the pages of Strange Tales which lasted for nearly three years and included Spider-Man’s first significant guest appearance. In later years he would go on to be Daredevil’s sole rival as Spider-Man’s best friend amongst other superheroes. (Early in the planning stages for Marvel Team-Up the series was going to feature a regular teaming of the two, similar to the early Super-Villain Team-Up issues focusing on Doctor Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, rather than a rotating guest-star book. A permanent teaming of Spidey and the Torch would have made for quite an interesting series...) Both because of this and because he was Marvel’s other teenage solo hero of the early Silver Age, it’s interesting to see how differently he was handled and why he wasn’t as successful as his rival turned friend.

Moving into the 1970s we find another take on the concept of a teenager who unexpectedly gains superpowers, this time a supposedly ordinary one, which came with The Man Called Nova. Intentionally homaging Spider-Man, the first issue even proclaimed this with the wording “In the Marvelous tradition of SPIDER-MAN!” right at the top of the cover. Rather less intentionally the series’s initial set-up was also homaging DC’s Green Lantern (the Silver Age version). The book lasted nearly three years, although it went bimonthly after the first year and a half, and en route it actually included a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man midway through the series (which is also included in Essential Spider-Man volume 8). This time it’s interesting to see just how far the homages ran and whether that was a factor in the series’s ultimate failure.

A second 1970s series of interest that lasted only a couple of years was one that initially entrenched itself in Spider-Man’s world (as shown most dramatically by the characters on the cover of the first issue) even though the wallcrawler himself didn’t appear in costume. Ms. Marvel was a spin-off from Captain Marvel and represented an attempt by the company to simultaneously ride the era’s wave of feminism, secure a trademark with the company name in it (according to this comment by later Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter), and try to have a lasting series with a female superhero. But instead the series crashed within a couple of years, clocking up few issues than her (near) contemporaries Spider-Woman, She-Hulk and the Dazzler. The overlap in characters with Spider-Man strongly encourages a look.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting my opinions on the various Essential volumes as before (although the postings will be a little slower), with a particular focus on comparisons with Spider-Man and how many elements overlap. So stick around!

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