Comics : Ultimate Spider-Man #1: Great Power
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club
This review was first published on: Aug 2014.
This series adapts the Disney Cartoon Ultimate Spider-Man TV (2012) into a kids picture book format. There are six books in the series so far, covering the first six episodes of the TV show.
Each book is 8" x 8", square-bound, 24 full color pages. The illustrations are screenshots taken directly from the cartoon. The text has been adapted and simplified, sadly to the detriment of the experience.
Have a look at the scans and you can see for yourself how this format works. A typical double page spread features a still frame (or two) captured from the Cartoon show. Another half page features an explanation of what is happening during this scene. The other half page features Spider-Man speaking "to camera" with a related comment directly to the reader.
Clearly the intent is to somehow reproduce the look and feel of a cartoon episode, but without using a cartoon format. But why? Why not let cartoons be cartoons, and books be books? These are two complete different media formats. A good story in one format in no way guarantees a good story in the other format, as this series of books absolutely provides beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The Ultimate Spider-Man TV (2012) Disney cartoon is a competently-assembled series for its target market. While the show is hardly cerebral, it is fast-paced and fun. The dialogue and voice acting are competent, and the show is visually interesting. The little "to-camera" digs and asides are deftly embedded into the flow.
By contrast, these books are awful. The snappy dialogue is gone, replaced by a stilted "Then X did this, making Y realise Z and feel ABC" sort of blow-by-blow explanation. The fundamental rule of writing is "show me don't tell me". Read this book if you need to know why.
Worse, the attractive, dynamic and bright cartoon sequences lose all their impact in this shonky reproduction. The color balance is terrible, giving a dirty, murky look to most scenes. Other pictures are grainy and clunky. I guess that part isn't surprising – TV graphics are probably not sufficiently high quality to reproduce in printed format. But there's no excuse for not even having bothered to try and balance the colours.
As for the "break the fourth wall" comments? Well in the Cartoon, each is carefully placed into context, and there's quite a bit of variety in the presentation. But in the book, there's one comment every... single... page... and they all use the same format. The result becomes irritating within a few pages, and will be infuriating by the end of the book. If you get that far.
Would you rather go watch a fun action movie? Or would you rather your friend went to the movie and then came back and described what happened? That's the difference between the source material, and these sad, laborious re-tellings.
There's no creative or artistic reason for any of these books to exist. If your kid likes the cartoons, then buy them a copy of the DVD boxed set. If you want them to read books, then buy them a decent book. But this scruffy half-assed format combines the worst of both worlds.
Rock-bottom rating. Half-a-web.
Most of the later books started coming out with a couple of pages of stickers stapled into the book. I'm not sure what that's about – it doesn't really address the fundamental flaw in the entire concept.