If you’re after an informative but light-enough-for-younger-readers tie-in guide to a pop culture character, then DK (Dorling Kindersley) has probably got you sorted. They’ve been publishing versions of their Spider-Man guide since 2001 – back when it was known as Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide – and it got an extensive overhaul, along with this new title, in 2012. But for 2017, to tie in with Spider-Man: Homecoming, it’s had another revision to bring the Spidey story bang up to date.
As with pretty much all books of this type, it’s a light, breezy read – not really something to be sat down with and digested all in one go (it’s too cumbersome for that) but enjoyable to dip in and out of. It strikes a balance between telling the “on-page” story of the character, and the behind-the-scenes tales – indeed, while it doesn’t exactly stray into warts-and-all territory, there’s a pleasingly high amount of discussion of the creators and thinking behind a lot of the stories. Given that it’s targeted at a younger audience, it’s nice to see them being given an education in the real world behind the comics.
The first forty-or-so pages are devoted to whistle-stop summaries of various areas of Spidey’s life – from his costume to his enemies to his romances. Made up largely of pages filled with small boxouts, it’s the most throwaway section of the book – good at giving you a basic grounding in the character, but not really telling you much if you’ve already got a fair bit of Spidey knowledge. You could be forgiven for getting that far into the book and thinking you were reading a magazine supplement.
But then come eight pages that essentially list a full timeline of Spider-Man’s major story beats from 1962 to the present day. It’s a text-heavy section (just a load of white – wisely undated – bullet points on a black background) but it’s as exhaustive a history of Spidey as you’ll ever hope to find. And thankfully, it heralds a remainder of the book that goes much more in-depth on individual sections – with more expansive sections given over to characters and stories that were briefly mentioned in the introductory section.
It’s arranged chronologically, and grouped by decade – so notable characters are given profiles within the decade they first appeared, and there’s also space given to spotlighting classic individual issues (the likes of Amazing #33 and #400, and Spectacular #200) in addition to the major story arcs and beats that are the book’s bread-and-butter.
Despite the text coming from two different authors – Tom DeFalco’s original Ultimate Guide pieces mixed with newer material from Matthew K. Manning – the tone is consistent throughout. Breezy and upbeat, it’s not afraid to make reference to certain stories being controversial (hello Clone Saga), even if for obvious reasons it can never really be outright critical of the content itself. It’s always informative, and with the credentials of DeFalco in particular, you can’t fault it for factual accuracy.
Visually, it’s very nicely laid out – there’s no wasted space, and pages are edge-to-edge colour with lashings of classic Spidey art rendered large. Maybe the only niggle on this score, however, are the spreads that require you to rotate the book by ninety degrees in order to read them – they feel unnecessary, and perhaps something of a concession to the younger audience the book is aimed at (as if they can’t hold their attention for 200+ normally-orientated pages?)
It’s safe to say that this isn’t the most intellectually rigorous or analytical of books; it is, simply, a well-presented and comprehensive run through the history of Spider-Man. If you already have extensive (or even above average) knowledge of the character you’re unlikely to find it the most enlightening read – but if you’re keen to fill in your Spidey knowledge, then even if you’re older than the early-teen audience it’s obviously targeted at, it can probably teach you a thing or two.
Heck, if there was a book like this for every major comics character, Joe wouldn’t even need me and James any more…
Spider-Man: Inside the World of Your Friendly Neighbourhood Hero is available now, published by DK.