J. Michael Straczynski gets Spider-Man. That was proved to me in the first arc of this run alone, when I read it for the first time a couple years ago, and it was proved again throughout this whole omnibus, when I read it back in the summer.
Spider-Man is one of my favourite, and one of the best, characters of all time, for reasons that have countless people have endlessly talked about over the years. But despite that, I've always felt like I've barely read any of his comics. His solo ones, that is, because of course if you read any Marvel, Spidey or not, chances are he's going to appear eventually, even if it's not for long.
So when the reprint for the first volume of this classic run came out, I absolutely had to have it. I've been reading comics for several years now, and have been buying and reading omnibus specifically for a lot of that, and yet this is only the first Spidey omnibus I have.
What a one to start with, though. There are some runs in the comics community that are so incredibly highly acclaimed and talked about, and considering how much this is praised I was so excited to check it out, and it did not disappoint.
I mentioned this briefly at the start of the review, but this run starts out swinging and I really mean that. It's a story that I've heard talked about out of context of the rest of the run itself, which is always an achievement for an individual story arc. It was the only arc here that I was reading for the second time, and considering the cliffhanger it leaves off on, it was great finally being able to see the resolution to that and where it goes.
Back in 2020, I said in my individual review of Coming Home that "this honestly has, in my opinion, everything you could ever want in a Spider-Man story" and I still believe that. It feels like JMS noted down all the integral elements that make up a perfect Spider-Man story, and together with the art by JRJR, they both managed to mix everything together into something beautiful.
In that sense, there's an interesting comparison here between how career wise, he's in one of the most interesting places he's ever been, and yet his personal life... could be better. As the latter is often the case with the character. It creates a fun dichotomy where it's simultaneously fresh and exciting, but also familiar and classic. Something that honestly carries throughout the whole run, but this first arc being the initial shining example of this, setting the stage for everything else to come. (In a sense, that is. It's a basically self-contained story, but it proposes interesting questions that the rest of the omnibus spends answering.)
It's fascinating to me how prevalent that idea is in the run, how it develops and what it leads to. The Spider-Man presented here is one where you can feel the toll the years have taken on him. There's a weight, and a maturity to everything here. You can feel the time that has passed between that spider bite all those years ago and the current day. Like I keep saying, JMS manages to so effectively build on that, play with it, and creatively contrast it against the story ideas and themes he has in mind.
This omnibus only collects the first half of the run, but the entirety of JRJR's time on the book, where by his last arc, everything comes full circle. Peter is challenged, in more ways than one. The amount of experience he has is what makes it so compelling when, along with him, a new character makes us wonder if it was as simple as was always thought. I've been dancing around delving too much into the stories themselves, to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but there's a very prominent fantastical slant this run takes. It contains some of the most more fantastical Spidey moments I've ever read, but at the same time some of the most emotional, human moments as well.
That's at the core of this run, and of why I think it has everything you want in Spidey stories. One moment he's out of his depth as a superhero, after so many years, and the next moment he's trying to navigate interpersonal scenarios with the people closest to him, that are just as challenging. I mean isn't that what Spider-Man is, at his heart? It's that balance I always absolutely adore in the comic books I'm reading. It always humanises the characters so much, makes me feel for them that much more, and gets me so invested in the story.
Coming Home is the Spider-Man story stripped down to it's purest elements, taken to the extreme. I keep expressing that sentiment in this review, but it's because I believe it that much. It's a cinematic blockbuster of a comic book story, by the end I was on the edge of my seat because of how intense it is. Spider-Man up against insurmountable odds, just having to push on, no matter what. The art by JRJR conveys all this perfectly, it's somewhat rough, and grounded, yet able to be so wild and portray just how dramatic and menacing a villain Morlun is. Showing the pain, the wear, both physically and mentally/emotionally on Peter.
All these themes are maybe shown best in the landmark, highly acclaimed #500. It encompasses so much of what the JMS/JRJR run is about, celebrating the past, comparing that to the present, and showing how far the character has come. It's nostalgic, but it does genuinely feels celebratory rather than cheap in any way. Again reflected so well in the artwork, being able to call back to that classic style, whilst also being such good modern artwork.
As I mentioned briefly before, I liked how JRJR's final story arc called back to the first arc. Without spoiling too much, I appreciated how it gave Ezekiel as a character another look, who after a major role in the first arc, only appears periodically after that. It was an interesting parallel to present. I enjoyed the comparisons between the two, and how it tied up the ideas and themes of the run as a whole.
Before I finish this review, I have to mention the 9/11 issue. I had of course heard of it, but had no idea what to expect. A very emotional read, where by the end I was tearing up. It's hard to know what to say about it, immediately after reading and now. I thought it was well done, but I'm not the right person or authority to say whether it was respectful or not.
Finally, it has to be said I hated Sins Past as much as so many people do. It was like suddenly getting an awful, disgusting and unnecessary taste in your mouth after eating a world-class meal. So of course, I had to take off half a star for that. Only half a star though, because of just how much I loved the rest of the run. So, so great. I'm excited and intrigued to read the rest, if and when they hopefully eventually reprint the second omnibus.
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