Comics : Spider-Man 2: Friends and Foes

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This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

Among the bundle of small-format "kids story books" created for the movie tie-in, there are three books which have taken a slightly more off-beat approach. Those three are Spider-Man 2: The Joke Book, Spider-Man 2: The Daily Bugle Stories, and this book here - "Spider-Man 2: Friends and Foes".

Specifically, this book isn't so much a story, as a series of illustrated profiles of movie characters. Basically a "who's who" of movie characters, written for kids.

Note: There are probably U.K. and U.S. versions of this book, probably with separate ISBNs. We'll catch up with that info all in good time. But for now, let's just open up and have a look inside.

In Detail...

Spider-Man 2: Friends and Foes
Jun 2004 : SM Title
Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers
Writer:  Michael Teitelbaum
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These books are the same size as most of the other HarperCollins movie tie-ins, namely 5" x 7.5". This one is square binding, with 64 pages. Glossy cover, and high-quality paper stock. High resolution print process and good color.

The text is very "friendly" in size and style. There's about 20 lines per page, eight or so words per line. There's full or half-page photos every three or four pages. The content is decidedly cheery in style. e.g. here's the intro for a section called "Around Town" in Peter's entry: "While Spider-Man (as you will later learn) flew around town by swinging on his webbing, Peter was resigned to travel on the ground."

Many of the other kids books in this series offered a heavily cut-back version of the movie - e.g. skipping John Jameson, landlord Mr. Ditkovich and other characters entirely. In this book we get a slightly cut-back version - but still trimmed enough to be rather disruptive if you've seen the movie. For example, discussing Aunt May: "She lives on a fixed income, and sometimes has trouble paying her mortgage. <snip>...She knows that it will all work out in the end."

Actually, nope, it didn't work out in the end. She lost the house. And what about this one, talking about Betty's kindness. "Once, when a homeless man came into the office with a great sotry, Jameson offered him only a hundred dollars and a bar of soap! In one of Betty's typical moments of kindness, she gave the homeless man a lot more money, money she hoped would get the man back on his feet."

Now, anybody who thinks that giving homeless people cash grants will fix their problems is nine times out of ten gonna be most disappointed. Plus, whose money did Betty give? Her own? Money she stole from the Bugle? Basically, all the sad bits of the story seem to have been snipped out, as "too upsetting". It's understandable, perhaps, but not necessarily forgivable. Spider-Man 2 was in many ways a very moving film, and cutting out the emotive bits doesn't really result in a good translation to book.

But worse than a misunderstanding of the root causes of homelessness, see that in fact the reference to Spidey dumping his costume has been removed! For goodness' sake! Maybe I misunderstood something, but to me, the entire damned film was about Peter deciding to be Spider-Man No More! That's the guts of it all - the heart - the drive - the very purpose of the film! How somebody could have cut that out of any book "based on" the movie is totally beyond my understanding.

Putting the fact that they've made a real hash of the film's central theme, the text is generally readable for your average 6-9 year old - although there are a few nasty words in there - e.g. "academia", "neophyte", which seemed to have slipped through the editing process.

In General...

Apart from the major differences I highlighted, there are also a number of other differences from the film, but maybe the final movie different from the screenplay given to the book writers. In fact, I strongly suspect that is the case. If so, it's a real shame... because folks who end up buying the book after seeing the film are going to be confused.

In fact, folks who buy these books after seeing the movie are, I suspect, going to be sadly disappointed. I sure know I was! As a substitute for seeing the film, say for younger kids whose parents want to wait a little longer, then maybe there's a place for these books. But generally speaking, I'm really starting to wonder what the real point is. Given the gulf between the film and the text, it's really hard to see that there's much value left in books such as this one.

Overall Rating...

Nice idea, but key gaps in the final content pretty much ruin this book for any critical reader. While that was possible excusable in the simpler adaptations, it's pretty fatal to this "reference" book. Two webs.