I should like this more than I do. It and Volume 2 were recommended by trusted sources, and J Michael Straczynski (JMS from here out) gets a lot of positive word of mouth, but for not always completing what he starts. I liked Babylon 5, too. Plus, I've liked John Romita Jr's art since I was a kid. All in all, this should be some of the best stuff I've read in a while, especially because I've been away from Spider-man for a long time.
I don't recall when I purchased these, but it was not recently. I re-read them after Hurricane Irene knocked out our power for a couple days.
Volume 1 is the better of the two. Peter is still doing his bit of selling photos but he's also working as a teacher at a down and out public school. This provides an opportunity for a little moralizing when a kid comes in and shoots up the place. There are the burn out teachers who just mark time and do nothing to help. Peter can't use his powers outright and has to surruptitiously take the kid down. And the shooter, of course, is just a kid who has been bullied too far.
JMS also has plenty of the snappy patter for Peter and a funny reference to Babylon 5 at one point.
The bulk of the story is about Ezekiel and Morlun. Ezekiel is an old guy, corporate titan, with powers like Peter's, except he got his through some ritual in a jungle somewhere. He's also not "pure", presumably because his powers didn't come directly from a spider the way Peter's powers did. Peter's source of power being "pure" is a problem for him because Morlun is an ancient guy who has survived for centuries feeding on the energies of pure totemic representations. He's just burning out the last of a German superhero who is associated with an eagle and needs a new source. Peter's an easy target because the source of his power is in his name. He's also easy to manipulate because he usually comes to help people under attack in NYC.
Ezekiel wants Peter to join him and get out of the Spider-man identity before Morlun arrives to consume him. Ezekiel also wants to stay off Morlun's radar so his attention isn't drawn to him. Peter refuses, not wanting to abdicate his "great responsibility".
Morlun does as expected in a punishing battle (for Peter) that lasts more than two issues. In the midst of the fight Peter, battered severely, gets away from Morlun for a while and calls Aunt May. He has a poignant conversation with her where he essentially says good-bye because he doesn't expect to survive.
The battle is a very good celebration of Peter's tenacity, but it's not his physical tenacity that is the turning point. Although he first declines to help, Ezekiel does arrive to take some shots at Morlun, and give Morlun a bloody nose, but Ezekiel is apparently killed. The bloody nose results in some blood samples for Peter, who figures out that radiation will weaken, and possibly kill, Morlun. Peter shoots himself up with some radioactive material. When Morlun attacks, the radiation cripples him. He's crippled further every time Peter punches him.
Of course, Peter can't bring himself to kill Morlun. And Morlun doesn't understand why Peter would kill him. Morlun is just seeking to eat and doesn't bear any ill will toward Peter. Morlun ends up a pile of dust when his enslaved assistant shoots him. Peter goes home for some solid sleep.
Although it's an enjoyable story arc, I find Morlun's mewling when he's being beaten by Peter out of character. He's been around for centuries and considers these totems he's consumed as food. Surely he recognizes he's a predator seeking sustenance. He says as much. With those centuries of knowledge, he must have seen many other predators mauled and broken by prey that turned on the predator. Lions attacking wildebeast don't always come out unscathed.
More than any flaws with the story, I think I may have outgrown Spider-man. When I started reading him at 10 he was relatable, albeit older than me. Now, with a 19 year marriage and 2 kids it's hard for me to relate to a guy who's still stuck in his twenties and complaining about his marginal living. What seemed like justified dissatisfaction when I was younger just seems like whining now. I still like the fighting style and the smart mouth when he's fighting. It's just his personal life that leaves me cold. As we all know, a superhero needs a personal life to be an interesting read, lest he turn into a Green Lantern. Unless Peter progresses in his life, I think I'm done with the character. Considering what happened years later in One More Day, progress is highly unlikely.