The first annual of Web of Spider-Man was published in 1985, and was written by Ann Nocenti and drawn by Tony Salmons. Nocenti had been an assistant editor and editor at Marvel Comics for years, while Salmons had mostly worked in alternative and underground comics.
The story begins with Spider-Man going into a jewelry store to foil a heist, which, as the first double splash page shows us, is being carried out by robots. Spider-Man notices that whoever built the robot did so out of odds and ends. And this is clear to the reader as well--- the art style is spindly and down-to-earth, and these robots are something we can imagine someone could have actually built in the 1980s, not the hordes of muscular robots we would usually find patrolling supervillain lairs in the comic books of the era. After fighting the robots to a draw, Spider-Man then goes to find their inventor. In the next few pages, we meet him: a disabled young teenager who is taunted by neighborhood bullies and who has a crush on a neighbor girl who doesn't know who he is. His robot building is not out of malice, although apparently his creative fancies get away with him, and thus the heist. By chance, Spider-Man in his civilian identity as Peter Parker meets the youth, Max, at a science fair. At the same time, an unscrupulous out-of-work actor manages to con Max into building a battle suit for him, a plot which is foiled by Spider-Man in a brief fight, leading to Max learning a valuable lesson, perhaps that with great power comes great responsibility.
It is not that surprising of a story. What is surprising is that this really isn't a super-hero story. Sure, we have Spider-Man, sure we have some robots, some scheming villain, and a battle. But what is really at stake is not the outcome of the battle, it is whether Max has the self-confidence to stand up for himself and pursue his dreams despite his disability. The art is also drawn in a style that is different from most super-hero comics. It is more realistic in some ways, because it focuses on real-life situations, but also is a bit surrealistic, with the poses, action and facial expressions seeming more stylized than in a typical super-hero comic. Given how important Spider-Man is for Marvel, I wondered how this came about: an annual is a big event, and yet it was given to someone not commonly associated with Spider-Man to write, and to someone not even part of the mainstream comics world to illustrate. It seems to me to be a risky move---but one I felt paid off. It also made me rethink my usual historiography of Marvel Comics. This was published when Jim Shooter was Editor-in-Chief, and Shooter was known for reeling in Marvel's wilder tendencies. And yet, here we have an experimental, personal story published when Shooter was supposedly giving out a more standardized product, in contrast to the regular destruction of the world that would take place during the Tom DeFalco years, in such storylines as Atlantis Attacks or The Evolutionary War. Perhaps I should re-examine my stereotypes.