Every Wednesday we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.
Uncanny X-Men just reached its 500th issue, becoming only the 4th Marvel comic to reach such a lofty height, joining Thor, Avengers, Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man. Spidey, of course, with its tri-monthly schedule will actually be reaching #600 before long, so let’s take the opportunity to take a look back at the 500th issue. I know I did an issue of Amazing only a few weeks ago, but Fantastic Four #500, Avengers #500 and Thor #500 don’t stand alone as well as this!
Amazing #500 is the third and final part of “Happy Birthday” – a Straczynski arc which acknowledges the web-crawlers 500th straight issue, give or take a reboot or two. The issue opens with Spidey finding himself catapulted outside time, simultaneously experiencing the birth, and as-yet-unseen death of Spider-Man, but unable to bring himself to prevent either. Dr. Strange then gives him a mystical push back in the direction of the “present,” but to get there Spidey must move along his own timeline – and that means a fantastic montage of him fighting all his classic villains and experiencing some of his most tragic moments over again (Aunt May’s original “death” is oddly skipped.)
It all culminates with Spidey reaching the present and saving the city, before he returns home for a birthday party – at the party, he opens his present from Dr. Strange to find himself given 5 more minutes with Uncle Ben in a sequence drawn by John Romita Sr.
Despite being the final part of an arc, the issue does does read alright as a self-contained story. It’s very easy to pick up the plot from what’s going on, and in any case, the bulk of it is mostly devoted to taking a little victory lap through the Spider-Man universe. It gives readers a lot of leeway, and gives Romita the excuse to draw some of Spidey’s most fondly-remembered villains.
Romita’s design for the Future Spider-Man’s costume is full of particularly nice touches, giving a good sense that the character inside the costume has actually aged – the future costume is bulkier, looking a lot warmer and more padded, and appears to go on in a much more practical way. The idea was later followed up in a future issue of Straczynski’s run.
While today’s trade-centric industry has de-emphasised special anniversary issues, Amazing Spider-Man #500 is one time when those fans coming in just for the one story will not find themselves disappointed. Having both Romitas drawing Spider-Man is worth the cover price by itself.