Comics : Children's Press: Spider-Man - The Secret Story

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

This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

This 1981 hardcover book doesn't seem to turn up very often. My copy is actually a battered copy sold off at one time by the Oswego Public Library, Kansas. Judging by the checkout dates in the back, it was pretty popular in the two years of service it performed.

The back cover announces a series of four "Secret Story" books, respectively featuring Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Captain America. It declares: "All there is to know about your favourite Comic-Book Heroes will be revealed to you in these remarkable books." It says "Now! Amaze your friends! Stun them with your vast knowledge of little-known facts!"

Well, that's a pretty bold claim to make, let's open the covers and see how they back it up.

In Detail...

Children's Press: Spider-Man - The Secret Story
Year 1981 : SM Title
Find ISBN 0516024140
Publisher:  Children's Press
Writer:  Roger Stern
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Inside, this 7.5" x 10.25" book contains 64 pages, which are a mixture of newly written text by Roger Stern, and reproduced previously released material from various Spidey comics. The first page mentions that Spidey appears in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, but was popular enough to get his own book. It points out two key differentiators from previous comic book characters - firstly that he was the first teenage super-hero, and secondly that he seemed to lose as often as he won.

We then see a series of pages collected from the back of various Amazing Spider-Man Annuals (#4, and others). These oft-reproduced panels show Spidey's powers and equipment. They explain how his Spidey sense works, and even talks about how it is illustrated. While it's not original, having all been culled from previous printings, it is handy to see them all collected in one place, and it would make good reading for a young Spidey fan.

We then get another page of text giving a brief intro to Amazing Fantasy #15, before launching into a complete reprint of the first story from that issue. We are directed to note the one and only panel where Spidey's eyes show through his mask. Do you know the one I mean? Nope? Hey, wow, I really can amaze people with my extensive knowledge of little-known facts!

After that, we hit the bulk of the text. We get seven pages of text discussing the key characters in the supporting cast - starting with Flash and JJJ. We get a discussion of Petey's love life, covering Liz Allen (now attached to Harry), Betty Brant, Gwen, and Mary Jane. None of the text contains any surprises for devoted Spidey fans, but it certainly provides a passable introduction for new Spidey fans wanting a quick catch-up.

But enough of that original text, it's time for some more reprints. We are treated to a small gallery of pin-ups from the back of more ASM Annuals, all featuring big-name villains of the time. Then, in order to illustrated "Spider-Man in the 70's", we get a reprint of the Chameleon story from ASM #80.

Following that, there's a page looking forward into the 80's, with Peter as a graduate student, and all the cast of E.S.U. There's a quick "test-yourself" list of questions you should now be able to answer, a round-up of the active comics titles as at 1981 (including Spidey Super Stories!) Then there's a trite and formulaic bio for Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita. The End.

In General...

On the plus side, this story provides a decent intro to Spider-Man, and reprints in handy form the origin story plus some nifty diagrams illustrating his powers and equipment. On the minus side, there's little new for serious Spidey fans, and there's way too much reprinting and not enough original material.

On the plus side, the information is light and easy to digest. On the minus side, there's an unsatisfying lack of substance to the whole book.

On the plus side, this is neat little collectable piece. But on the minus side, the hype for the book is completely ludicrous, and it's hard to take it seriously at all.

Overall Rating...

Gack! That's too hard to add up all those plusses and minuses! Let's just assume it all balances out, and settle for a completely average 3 webs.