I picked this one up at a thrift store for a quarter for collage purposes. For reading purposes, that's also about what this book is worth. For their 40th anniversary, Marvel had some sort of survey asking people what the best issues "ever" were. This paperback collects the nine through six highest rated out of a hundred.
Number nine is the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, which was only a year old at the time. It's possibly the worst issue of anything that I've ever read. In this iteration, Peter Parker's science nerd vocabulary has been replaced with a "normal" teenage range of "cool" and "no way!" He has inane conversations with his family and friends, gets mildly bullied for pages at a time by the usual stereotypes, and eventually gets bitten by a spider that gives him powers. The artwork is as bland as the script (if there was one) giving us long sequences of nothing punctuated by random close-ups of character's eyes. This is the comic book equivalent of being stuck on a bus full of suburban high school kids on their way to the mall.
Eight is the first issue of the Uncanny X-Men from 1964. This is also bad, but in a different way. Instead of boring dialogue, Stan Lee typically doesn't know when to stop. His characters have to comment on every action being performed in every panel as well as think furiously about their inner turmoil. The Jack Kirby art on this is just passable. Obviously, this is just assembly-line fare designed for young boys who want to fantasize about fighting evil. Or in this case, Magneto, who doesn't really seem to have a well-thought out agenda outside of showing off his weird abilities: "BUT THEY'RE MAKING NO MOVE TO SURRENDER! PERHAPS THEY NEED ANOTHER DEMONSTRATION OF MY POWER!" Really, he just needs a good infomercial to take over the world.
The seventh entry is The Avengers #4, in which Captain America returns to the world of trademarked characters. Kirby's art is again pretty lackluster, but also again, there aren't any big ideas for him to illustrate here. The plot makes no sense, racing from page to page on the strength of ridiculous events, with Stan Lee having Captain America exclaim "I MUST HAVE BEEN FROZEN IN AN ICE FLOE, AND THEN FOUND BY SOME ESKIMOS WHO THOUGHT I WAS A SUPERNATURAL OBJECT!" Apparently, he's never experienced a hangover before. Oh. And Cap's creepy Bucky obsession starts here, too. As Iron Man says "I NOTICE IT TOOK A THREAT TO THE BOY TO BRING YOU INTO ACTION, FELLA!"
The last piece is the infamous Amazing Spider-Man #121, in which Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacey dies because being happy is "not what Spider-Man is about." It's beautifully illustrated by Gil Kane, who really knows how to get the most out of expressing paranoia as floating heads and bad memories. The story, by Gerry Conway, seems to revolve around the fact that Osborne's son Harry decided to take an acid trip. This is apparently such a morally offensive thing to do that his dad turns into the Green Goblin and kidnaps Gwen. So there, kids, see how drugs will harm your loved ones? Spider-Man fails to save her from falling off the Brooklyn Bridge. leading the way for hundreds of issues worth of angst and Mary Jane.