Comic Books are mainstream these days, and so are super-heroes. Once upon a time, fans would buy their funny books in a brown paper bag and sneak them home to read in private. But in modern times, we live in shame no more.
As proof of that fact, the public at large are now so comfortable with super heroes, they would even buy a Little Book of Super Heroes and leave it lying around on their coffee tables. A book like this one.
This book is indeed little. It's 6.3" x 6.3", 128 full-color pages. Stitch-binding with a hard cover.
With 128 pages, the book necessarily must move light and fast to cover eight decades of super heroes and villains. It begins with the movies of Tarzan and a potted history of the genre. Then it covers off the 20 biggest heroes and the 10 biggest villains before spotlighting eight of the most important creative talents.
The book then dedicates a few precious pages to "Superheroes on Screen", "Quotes and Catchphrases", "Superhero Trivia" and "Superhero Collectables".
The cover of this book clearly denotes the dilemma it faces. TV Batman poses alongside comic-book Captain America and Spider-Man. Movies, TV, Comics, Marvel, DC and Independents. All of this, in 128 small pages? Clearly, the writers enjoy a challenge. The fact that they don't fail completely is a compliment to their efforts. But they don't succeed completely either.
To be fair, they do succeed in assembling a skeleton for the book, and covering each of their chosen topics. So to that extent, the book "works". If you were a non-comic aficionado visiting a friend's house with twenty minutes to kill, skimming through this book probably would give you an appreciation for the major milestones of the subject. Spider-Man naturally gets his fair share of mention, in his various different incarnations.
What I find disappointing is the lack of detail at critical moments. The illustration captions are a prime example. The cover of Human Torch #26 is presented, and the caption says "The Human Torch defeats a villain". How hard would it have been to point out that this was the original Human Torch, not the 60's reinvention? And why on earth not identify the specific villain by name?
I must give credit to this book for not failing entirely. It dances from comic to movie, from history to present-day, conscious that every inch of every page is precious. It tackles the unenviable task of choosing five illustrations to highlight fifty years of Spider-Man TV, Movies, Cartoons and Comics. That's not a job that I would care to undertake.
The book is, inevitably, superficial. But it could have been much, much worse. I expected a disaster, but found only a muddled, confused mismatch of genres and ages. They also get bonus points for thoroughly recognising Ditko and Kirby's contribution alongside Stan Lee.
Three-and-a-half webs. It ain't anywhere near as bad as it ought to be.
This book was originally published in 2009. My copy is a 2013 reprint which I purchased for NZ$12.99 in a boxed set with a Spider-Man Cartoon compilation DVD. That's pretty good value, I reckon.