Comics : The Amazing Spider-Man: The Big Top Mystery
This is a "Big Looker Storybook". Not a format I've heard of before, and maybe in fact just something that Marvel made up. They're about 8" square, and they run to 36 pages, all in full color.
It's branded part of the "Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars Series", but this is just a load of baloney. Much like everything and everything in 2002 was branded "Spider-Man Movie", back in 1984 the Secret Wars were hot. But don't be fooled, this story has nothing at all to do with Secret Wars.
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Big Top Mystery
Year 1984 : SM Title
Find at Amazon.Com
The story is targeted around the 6-8 sort of age, I would say. The font is mid-sized, around five lines per inch. The story is written in full sentences, but clearly the vocabulary and phrasing is eased right back to a gentle level.
A child would need to be a fairly confident reader, since each page has about 6 to 10 lines of text. But still at least three-quarters of the overall book is art, so that kids won't get too intimidated.
The story itself is fairly simple. Peter Parker and his Aunt May are at the circus (not an un-common Spidey scenario). The circus in this case happens to be run by a certain "Brad Steel", who is a friend of Aunt May. Now in fact this might actually make since, since Peter's Uncle Ben used to work as a Barker at Coney Island. But I'm sure that whoever wrote this story didn't have that in mind.
Anyhow, Peter and May have hardly taken their seats before Pete's Spidey-Sense is tingling. He excuses himself to go get popcorn and soda, and quickly dons his red-and-blues. He returns to the big top in time to save the parade, when one of the elephants goes wild. But it was no accident! The elephant was shot with a dart... clearly, a saboteur is loose in the ring!
The plot thickens when Brad confides in Spidey later on. His grandson, Bobby, is one of the young stars of the show. But Brad wants Bobby to have the chance to go to college. The show is losing money, so Brad is looking to sell the show.
The next day, Spidey hangs around to keep a watchful eye on the show. He easily saves the day once more when the animals go wild from an ultra-sonic whistle. But when somebody kills the lights, and then cuts the rope on Bobby's trapeze, Spidey only just manges to rescue Bobby from a big splat experience.
But using his Spider-Signal, the wall-crawler spots the villain. It's one of the clowns! The comical killer quickly confesses. He didn't want Brad to sell the circus, so he tried to knobble the show. See... he had the best of reasons to perform cold-blooded murder! But "I know now that I did wrong", said the crazy criminal, as the police drag him away.
But we get a happy ending. The publicity that Spidey brought is enough for the show to be booked out for the next five years! Brad is saved, and Bobby can go to college. Poor chap.
David Kraft wrote the story. Is it lame? Well, technically yes. But look at the market it's targetting. For kids of that age, I think it's pretty well aimed. And for us adults, I guess we can always look at the pictures... because honestly, they're great!
Yeah, the artwork in this book is really top-rate. Marie Severin has an art credit, and I'm guessing she did the pencils. She's a fairly regular name on Spidey book artwork from this sort of period, and she's normally pretty reliable.
But the one name I don't recognise is Earl Norem. And I'm guessing that he did the coloring - which is to say, most of the work. The book looks to be painted in water-color, I think. Maybe acrylics? Dunno, I'm not an expert. But clearly this Earl guy is! Between Mr. Norem and Ms. Severin we're treated to a delight which would make your average Spidey comic book of the time bow its head with shame.
Remember how in the 80's we saw the attention to detail in the comics drop, as the number of titles lifted. Many comics of the time completely dropped any pretense of drawing background inkwork, and basically became line drawings filled with flat colors. Go pull out your early issues of "Web of Spider-Man" if you don't remember what I'm talking about.
But not here. This little throw-away kids book, this piece of co-merchandising collateral, presumably created by freelance artists, demonstrates that no matter how hard you try and milk a quick buck out of a hot piece of property, sometimes the commitment of an artistic team will shine through regardless.
A surprisingly pleasurable read. A tip O' the hat to the artistic team, and a well-earned four webs.
The cover artist has been identified as Harold Shull (the man behind the card art on the 1970's Micronaut toys). See his gallery here. -Mike Fichera