Comics : 5-Minute Spider-Man Stories
This review was first published on: Nov 2013.
This is an attractive book of short stories designed to be read to kids at bedtime. This Spider-Man book from is from 2013. The earlier 5-Minute Marvel Stories from 2012 was also in the same format, and featured Spidey in several stories. But this time around, the web-head is the undisputed star.
The book is 8" x 10.8", and nearly 1" deep. It features 12 stories in 188 full-color pages, all wrapped up in a luxury padded hardback cover. It sells for under US $10 on Amazon, which is ridiculously cheap when you judge purely by the physical quality of the product.
Unfortunately, despite the wonderful artwork, elegant typesetting and top-notch production quality, the stories are stinkers without exception. Here's my quick summary of the low-points.
1: "The Story of Spider-Man" re-tells Spidey's origin, including the death of Uncle Ben. Major failing - the pacing of the story is erratic - the key points are de-emphasized, and trivial details are inflated. The text fails to synchronise with the illustrations. Worst bit - when Uncle Ben is killed, "The police officers told Peter not to worry". Is this REALLY for bedtime reading? Yeah, the Uncle's dead. But the cops will gun down the bastard who did it. Now go to sleep little Zachary, you have kindergarten in the morning.
2: In "Beware the Vulture", Peter is in Central Park with Gwen. He knocks over his water bottle, spilling a bit of it. Then he uses that as an excuse to abandon Gwen, leave the park, climb a building and go fight the Vulture alongside Iron Man. He then returns, goodness knows how much later to find Gwen still happily waiting.
3: "The Sleepless Spider" finds Spidey suffering nightmares. He visits Doctor Strange and learns that he has a mind infection. The villainous Nightmare is living in the web-head seeking to overpower him and take over the world. Insert Nefarious laugh. Spidey plays a game of chess in his head and defeats Nightmare.
4: Jessica Drew visits New York just as Electro attacks the Federal Reserve in "It's Electric". Peter is at home in Queens watching a movie with Aunt May and Mary Jane. Electro's attack puts out the lights in the city. Jessica sneaks away abandons her friend to become Spider-Man, and Peter announces that he's going to the cellar to check the fuses, then becomes Spidey. Our hero then swings the length of Manhattan, joins forces with Spider-Woman to tackle Electro, and returns in time not to have his Aunt May worry.
5: This is a tweaked version of the original 2012 adaptation from The Amazing Spider-Man Origin Storybook Collection. Black Cat enlists some thugs and then breaks into a police station to steal... the plans for East River Prison. Well, if that's not a clue, I don't know what is! Black Cat manage to break into the prison and rescue an engineer named "Gadget" who makes... gadgets for criminals. So Spider-Man and the police go to Gadget's house where they find Gadget, Black Cat and her henchmen. The result is stupid to the point of insult. The much beloved original plot-line is utterly ruined.
6: In "Spider-Man at the Beach", we return to the standard "Spider-Man abandons his date" plot. This time it's Mary Jane at Coney Island. Peter ditches MJ saying "I need to throw out this ice cream cone". Because that's what you do with an ice cream cone on a hot day. Seriously? Is finding a trash can on Coney Island really such a difficult job that a man can only do by himself? The villains are Doc Ock and Sandman. I'm not sure what Ock was trying to do, but Sandman's plan is to steal money from the ticket booths. In perhaps the single most stupid victory in this book, Spider-Man webs up Sandman (leaving his head poking out), and that's all it takes. I'll leave it to you to figure out that's supposed to capture a guy who can turn to sand. In any case, Peter returns to his date and all is well.
7: "The Fantastic Five" is a truncated version of "The Incredible Journey". Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four shrink down to super-small size and enter Spidey's blood stream in order to defeat Doc Ock's nanobots which are threatening to take over our hero's free will. Then the five gang up to defeat Ock himself.
8: The next story, "The Great Race" pits Spidey against the Lizard. This tale is a featureless re-re-re-hash of the "Connors drinks serum, becomes Lizard, assembles some reptilian allies, but is force-fed the antidote by Spider-Man" saga of which we are all utterly sick. Strangely in this tale, Dr. Connors and his wife both seem to be aware that drinking his serum will turn him into the Lizard. His wife puts on a vaguely disapproving face, but otherwise doesn't make any major objection as Curt chugs down his medicine.
9: Nearing the end now. "The Spectacular Spider-Fan" is the "Villain is defeated when weak non-super-hero bravely distracts him at the critical moment" theme. This version pushes the concept to the limit when the non-super-hero hero is young boy David Dangle who is dressed up as Spider-Man for Halloween. Halloween? Yep, that means the "villain du soir" has to be Hobgoblin, who is flying around suburbia stealing bags of candy from small children. Oh, Hobby. How the mighty have fallen!
10: Mysterio attacks the Daily Bugle. The "twist" is that when his goldfish bowl mask is smashed, he is seemingly revealed to be Peter Parker (who was late for work). I'm sure the plot made sense when the writer concocted it, but in writing it's just a jumble of inexplicable identity shuffles. Jonah Jameson is there, blaming Spidey for everything. I'm not sure what Mysterio was attempting to do. Take over Manhattan, I presume. And anyhow, Peter is a freelancer high-school kid who sends in the occasional action shots from the streets. How can he be late to work? He's not some sort of 9-to-5 desk jockey.
11: Spider-Man gets jealous because Nova is catching all the crooks. But Spidey feels better after he rescues a cat.
12: The Avengers battle Korvac, and are losing. Spider-Man joins in, and suggests all the right moves to track down and defeat Korvac. Spidey jokes about becoming an Avenger, until he learns that they don't get paid. Really? I thought the full-time Avengers did get paid?
These stories are kind of like my jokes. Individually they're just irritating. Collectively, they're utterly insufferable.
I'm not sure what bugs me most about this book. There's so much to choose from! The plots are trite, confusing, ill-structured rip-offs of classic tales that either repeat the original with no originality (e.g. The Lizard) or else bastardise the original out of recognition (e.g. Black Cat).
The dialogue is clumsy, the fights are awful. The support cast exists purely to be abandoned by Peter Parker, except for Jonah whose only role is to blurt anti-Spider-Man sentiment like some drunken white supremacist accidentally stumbled into the scene of "Smurfs 3".
If you have a young son who is coming to the age where these stories might be of interest, then I cannot recommend this book to you at all. Doctor Seuss will serve you much better. Or Roald Dahl, Judith Kerr, Julia Donaldson, or any of a hundred wonderful voices who write with passion, elegance and insight.
5-Minute Spider-Man Stories has none of that. It's a corporate-driven product from a company whose goal is to maximise return on its intellectual capital in the pre-teen, before-sleep, parental-vocalized fiction segment.