Back in 1999, Peter Parker: Spider-Man was one of the most popular Spidey books with Paul Jenkins, Howard Mackie, Mark Buckingham, and Jon Romita Jr. writing some of the most realistic and downtrodden Peter stories ever. Opening with Mary Jane dead and Peter at a very low place, the new “Light in the Darkness” collection showcases Spider-Man trying to make the best of a bad situation. It’s classic down on his luck Peter, but in the darkness, he finds incredible strength.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham take readers inside the head of the man behind Spider-Man’s mask! It’s a volume bookended by poignant tales of Peter Parker and his beloved Uncle Ben. In between, Spidey tries to get his life back in order, one day at a time, following Mary Jane’s apparent death. What better way to raise his spirits than hanging out with his good pal, Johnny Storm? An old foe, Sandman, is also struggling to hold it all together, while a new menace spells disaster -Typeface! But when the Green Goblin returns, will Peter succumb to his twisted worldview? Or will Spidey get a new lease on life when the truth about Mary Jane is revealed? Plus, Robot Master! Fusion! Bounty! Maximum Security! And the NYPD!
Why does this matter?
This collection reads like the precursor to Nick Spencer’s current run. Peter does stand up, tends bar, and generally has a regular life. He even has a roommate situation not unlike what he’s going through these days. It’s well written Parker stories. There are also big villains that pop up like Green Goblin, Sandman, and new villains too like Fusion and a telepathic stalker.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
I had a blast reading these stories because it digs deep into Peter Parker’s psyche so well. In the opening issue Peter is chilling out at Uncle Ben’s grave telling him how sad he is and you feel for the character. He’s just lost MJ (he thinks she’s dead) and is a widower. Paul Jenkins, who writes the majority of the stories here, does a fabulous job capturing the fun and humor Ben imparted to Peter and how that humor gets Peter through his darkest times. As the collection progresses there are fantastic captions detailing Spider-Man’s thoughts and they’re zany and fun. A story about Bonobo the clown is a highlight. This is quintessential Peter Parker storytelling right down to the sad state of his side of the fridge and a crusty piece of cheese being all he’s got.
This collection also gets very dark. Green Goblin rears his head and there’s a magnum opus of pressure he puts on Peter. He kidnaps him, tortures him in his own way and it’s all to change Peter Parker in a way that’s striking and messed up. Chip Zdarsky’s Spider-Man: Life Story even tapped into the idea recently. John Romita Jr. draws one some of these issues in this arc and its stellar stuff.
Another highlight is the last story arc of this collection featuring Fusion, a character who has the power of persuasion. Somehow I missed this villain over the years, but his ability to trick the mind of anyone around him allows him to appear as if he has superpowers. In an incredible sequence, he tricks Spider-Man into thinking his neck is broken. Customary of the greatest Spidey moments, Peter must fight against all odds just as he did when he lifted rubble to save Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #33, co-written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. We’ve seen creators repeat this incredible feat of strength with Spider-Man a few times over, but to have him do something similar that’s all in his mind makes it all the more impressive.
Speaking of art, Mark Buckingham draws the majority of issues here and he does well to show the downtrodden Peter Parker. He’s not always sad — at one point he sings Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (and totally misses the fact his roommate sees his junk when his towel falls down), but for a darker overarching story, Buckingham captures these sad Peter moments well. There’s plenty of Spider-Man to enjoy in the collection too, of course, and there’s some stellar stuff here like the Robot Master mini-arc that features Robot Master’s head barely hanging on via tubes and technology. It’s a trippy scene.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
While most of this collection feels modern and well crafted, it does have its moments where it feels dated. Take for instance a scene where Peter attempts to connect with a fellow widower only to find out, according to his roommate Randy Robertson, that gay men wear wedding rings on their right hand and Peter had him all wrong. It can be awkward. Stuff like that happens infrequently, thankfully, but there’s the usual odd slang that pops in too.
Is it good?
An excellent collection that reads like it was the inspiration of the current iterations of Spider-Man we see today. It’s incredible at capturing the realness and emotion of Peter Parker in some of the darkest times of his life.