Comics : Spider-Man: The Long Arms of Dr. Octopus

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

Here's a hardback kids book from 1995 that I just stumbled upon. Like a lot of books (and comics) from the eighties and nineties, it depends heavily on a "gimmick". In this case, the gimmick is a hard plastic single-piece molded Spider-Man figure attached to the spine of the book via a piece of black elastic.

The book itself is 9 1/4" x 9 1/4". Covers are glossy, very thick cardboard. Interior is full color glossy painted art on very thick high quality paper - almost cardboard pages really. Though there's only 12 of those pages.

In Detail...

Spider-Man: The Long Arms of Dr. Octopus
Aug 1995 : SM Title
Find ISBN 1570822263
Publisher:  Fun Works
Writer:  Marv Wolfman
Pencils:  Jerry Bingham
Painter:  John Calmette
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Review

Spider-Man doesn't actually appear in this story. Well, he does, but you need to put him there. The painted art doesn't show Spider-Man, you need to stretch out the webbing and place Spidey where you think he needs to go in the picture. Hey, that's quite a nice idea really - kind of interactive. Parent reads, kid moves the Spidey around on the page and gets in the way.

The first double spread has Doc Ock racing through the city chasing an armoured car. Maybe he spotted they have a flat tyre and he's just trying to warn them? Perhaps not. The art is quite nice - a cartoonish, but in a very stylistic shaded sort of way. Shapes are sort of blocky, but not outrageously. Colors are strong but not garish. The Doc Ock is the yellow + green armoured style which I think comes from the 90's TV show. Definitely matches the 90's action figures.

The tone of the language is fun, but flowing. "I knew it wasn't going to be a good day for your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man when I saw my old foe, Doctor Octopus, attack an armoured car with his mighty, mechanical arms. I had to web-sling through the city and stop him." Cue kid with Spidey figure.

That's the text for that double-page spread. Next is a construction worker knocked off his skyscraper. Spidey to the rescue with Ock throwing steel beams. Ouch!

Next spread, Ock steals a helicopter and figures his laser pistol out the window. Laser pistol? Well, I guess that's a 90's cartoon thing too. But hey, better move that Spidey figure and dodge the blasts!

Spidey webs up the copter, then chases after Ock through a double-page spread of a New York street with skyscrapers on both sides... then catches him down a side street. Maybe Spidey is gonna have a good day after all?

In General...

My initial reaction upon opening this book was "What, only 12 pages?" That's actually only ten pages of story, or only five double spreads. But the paper is so thick, and the art is very attractive. The story would be quick to just read, but if you're also stopping to wave the Spidey around in the scene, then that is going to slow you down a bit.

The scenes are well constructed. There's plenty of "background" where Spidey can play, but it's not as if they just put in a bunch of blank space - no, all the background is complete and sweetly colored... the New York space is clearly there, but without imposing on the actual main action of the plot. It's a fine balance, and one that is carried off particularly well.

In general, I'm a bit dubious about books which rely on a gimmick - but in this case, they really make it work. My kids are too old to read this one too, but I strongly suspect that the interaction of the Spidey would make the story a heck of a lot of fun, and turn it into a favorite for adults to read at bedtime, but also something that kids might play with by themselves, even if they couldn't read it.

The language is well written, and has a "natural voice". Many of the recent Spidey kids picture books (especially some of the movie tie-ins) are just no fun for an adult to read. The voices are often unnatural, the stories don't flow very well, and the tales generally fail to appeal to grown-ups. But this one is a nice quick, fun, read. There's lots of action to do in an exciting, dramatic voice, and each paragraph leads naturally into the "kid waves the Spidey figure bit".

Overall Rating...

The initial disappointment with the low page count was quickly overcome by the quality of art, writing and packaging. The "gimmick" really works well, and the writing ties in really well with the action figure. This is a high-quality production which has been well thought out. Four and a half fine webs.