Comics : Superhero Confidential Volume 1

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

This review was first published on: 19 Nov 2016.

Background...

This is soft-cover book, 6" x 9". It is a relatively slim volume for the hefty $19.95 price tag, containing only 158 pages on low-grade paper stock. Internal illustrations are black and white only.

In Detail...

"Articles about Super-Hero Movies (Includes Spider-Man: From Cannon to Cameron)"
Superhero Confidential Volume 1
Nov 2014 : SM Article
Find ISBN 9781593937706
Summary: Spider-Man Article
Publisher:  BearManor Media
Writer:  Edward Gross
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Review

I purchased this book with no idea what it was about, except that Spider-Man was on the cover. The title and cover give almost no indication as to what lies inside. I would normally blame the editor for this oversight... except there's no editor credited for this book!

But I can clarify for you now, this book contains five chapters about Super-Hero movies:

  1. Spider-Man: From Cannon to Cameron
  2. The World of Hellboy
  3. Film Without Fear: The Making of Daredevil
  4. Batman Begins... Again
  5. Welcome to Sin City

The Spider-Man chapter is 40 pages in length, and it provides an excellent summary of the incompetence and failure surrounding Spider-Man's complete absence from the big-screen in the 80's and 90's.

As you may know (especially if you've read the thorough Stan Lee biography, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book) in the 1980's Stan got bored with writing comics and headed off to Hollywood to trade his comic book success into silver screen fame and fortune.

But Stan was inexperienced, star-struck, and desperate to make any deal whatsoever. Marvel Comics management back East in New York was bumbling, short-sighted, and riven by internal problems (see Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. And that's how in 1985, Marvel Comics came to sell the Spider-Man movie rights to "Cannon Films" for a pathetic $225,000 plus a share of the gross revenue.

Cannon made low-budget films, some of which (like the "Death Wish" series, and "Missing In Action") became cult classics despite their ham-fisted corniness. Others were awful failures, rightly ignored by all decent people.

Well, Cannon over-extended themselves, and failed to translate those movie rights into a Spider-Man movie. In hindsight, that's probably all for the best – Cannon did manage to make a Punisher film in 1989, and a Captain America movie in 1990. Both of them are famously terrible. But they managed to tie-up the Spider-Man movie rights for 15 years or more. Even when James Cameron (fresh from his successes on Terminator, T2 and Aliens) wanted to make a Spidey film, he wasn't able to break the stalemate. So we never did get to see Cameron director Schwarzenegger as Sandman (not a joke, that's really who he wanted to cast).

Of course, those rights were finally acquired by Sony. In hindsight, Marvel is kicking themselves, as they subsequently decided to go into the film business on their own and now are desperate to regain control of their Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. But at the time, selling the Spidey rights to Sony was a safe and practical decision, and Sony's Spider-Man movies from 2002, 2004 and 2007 were profitable and generally well-received (obviously Spider-Man 2 was more critically acclaimed, Spider-Man 3 less-so).

Furthermore, without Sony's Spider-Man and Fox's X-Men movies blazing a trail, it's quite possible that Marvel's independent Marvel Films ventures would never have happened.

In General...

The forty pages of "Spider-Man: From Cannon to Cameron" are well-written, and provide a sound explanation, a clear time-line, and some interesting details. The information regarding the different script treatments and directors that came and went during that time is valuable and well-collated. I already knew many parts of the story. But this is the first time I've seen the whole tragic saga put down in a single, cohesive whole. For that, I'm grateful to Edward Gross.

None of the other chapters feature Spider-Man at all. But I skimmed them regardless, hoping to find equally enlightening academic treatments.

Sadly, I was disappointed. Most of the other chapters are built around transcribed interviews with directors and/or lead actors. They're all very well, but they're pretty much the kind of filler stuff you'll find in any movie magazine you might pick up off the rack in an airport bookstore.

"I always had an interest in [this character] and loved their comic books, when I had the chance to do this, I leapt at it."

"I'm so pleased with the independence that [the studio] has given me, allowing me to bring my vision to the big screen."

"You'll notice that in the scenes featuring [this character, or this part of the plot] we used [color lighting, or other visual motif] because it emphasises/contrasts [this other feature]."

"Actor [name] was always my first choice for [this character], s/he was born to play this part."

All very nice. But mostly it's just feel-good stuff, or the kind of thing you'll notice if you watch the movie attentively. None of the follow-up chapters really match the Spidey segment in terms of compiling and collating hard-to-find information into an interesting and engaging historical story.

Generally speaking, Gross does a pretty good job in his writing, although I did notice some small inconsistencies. He mentions the 1970's Spider-Man TV show twice. The first time he's relatively positive about it, while the second time he utterly pans it. It was a confusing note in an otherwise well-constructive narrative.

Overall Rating...

Disclaimer: Edward Gross is a thieving son-of-a-bitch. In 2002, he stole material without permission from the Spider-Fan website, and published it verbatim in his book Spider-Man Confidential.

But I'm not going to let that affect my review of "Superhero Confidential". No, really I'm not.

Superhero Confidential Volume 1 contains a very useful chapter plotting the history of the 1980's/1990's Spider-Man film that never was. Against that, we need to balance the pandering fan-boy irrelevance of the other four chapters, which are little more than generic puff-pieces for the associated movies.

There's also the ridiculous $20 price tag attached to this thin and unappealing book. All the internal illustrations are black and white – which is laughable when you consider that six full pages are given over to reproducing all 26 of the classic Frank Miller covers of Daredevil. As well as seeming like irrelevant filler in a discussion of the Daredevil Movie, the covers look pathetic in grey scale.

In fact, the production quality feels shoddy overall, as if the book was produced by one of those small print-run, self-published "vanity press" outfits. And perhaps it was.

With all that in account, it's Two Webs.

Footnote...

The trailer at the end of the book promises "coming soon... Volume 2" (to feature Spider-Man 2, as well as the Captain America, Thor, X-Men 2, Green Lantern, and Watchmen movies).

But there's no sign yet of Volume 2, and I'm somewhat feeling that the world has moved on. Pragmatically speaking, I can't really imagine that we'll see a long-running series of "Superhero Confidential" books.