SPIDER-MAN THE ICON
by Steve Saffel
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Spider-Man made his debut in Amazing Fantasy issue 15, but in his study of the character, Spider-Man the Icon, Steve Saffel begins his exploration of the webhead by looking at that issues antecedents, not just for the Spider-Man character, but for his support cast of characters and villains. These opening pages set the tone for the entire book in the trivia and completeness the book presents to the Spider-Man fan.
Spider-Man the Icon is a coffee table book, with large dimensions and bulk. Filled with photographs of Spider-Man memorabilia and reproductions of origin comics, the original material is heavily supplemented by text which presents the history not only of the character, but also of the intellectual property behind it. In fact, there is so much text in support of the pictures that the font is a little too small for easy reading, on both the text itself and the photo captions, which is a pity because what the text says is quite interesting.
At the heart of Spider-Man's popularity is, of course, the comic books, and Saffel does not ignore them, discussing story arcs with plenty of illustrations, many of which will make the reader want to track down issues of Spider-Man. These illustrations also clearly demonstrate the evolution of comic book art from the Spider-Man of the early 1960s (p.22) and twenty years later (p.133). Naturally, Saffel also discusses the changes in artists and writers who have worked on Spider-Man over the decades.
For anyone who has had an acquaintance with Spider-Man at any point over the last 45 years, Spider-Man the Icon will open windows of nostalgia. I wasn't particularly a Spider-Man fan, but the discussions of the original animated series (pp.48-50), images of the Mego action figures (p.87) or their Marx predecessors (p.35) made me reminisce about my childhood.. Spider-Man Slurpee cups (p.101) or even ads (pp.46 & 115) are reminders of a time long past. Of course, which images and discussions will resonate will differ from reader to reader, but the shear scope of Spider-Man related memorabilia is impressive.
Saffel clearly has a love and devotion to Peter Parker and his alter-ego and that comes through not only in the text, but in the wide variety of items which are depicted. A reader who mostly knows Spider-Man through the Sam Raimi films (which are covered in a twelve page spread from 273-285) will be amazed, not just at the forty years of history predating the films (including an earlier television series starring Nicholas Hammond, pp106-108), but at the wide variety of concepts that have been attached to Spider-Man over the years.
Although Spider-Man the Icon is a beautiful and complete book, its price precludes the casual fan from picking it up, although it would make a fantastic gift for any Spider-Man fan. Saffel's knowledge of the topic is fully displayed, as is the affection that he feels for the web slinger. Spider-Man the Icon is an excellent introduction to the 45 year history of the character in all his incarnations, from comic book to toy to movie to cultural icon.
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