Comics : Spider-Man: The Official Movie Adaptation

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This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

Spidey has reached the silver screen, and thanks to Sam Raimi, David Koepp, and the rest of the movie crew, he's done it in style! The movie has been adapted into a number of editions for comic book readers.

The Official Movie Adaptation and The Official Comic Adaptation have identical content, except the Comic Adaptation contains back-up features and bonus material, while the Movie Adaptation does not.

This review contains SPOILERS-stop reading right now if you don't want to know any details about the movie!

In Detail...

Spider-Man: The Official Movie Adaptation
Jun 2002 : SM Title
Editor:  Ralph Macchio
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Alan Davis
Inker:  Mark Farmer
Screenplay:  David Koepp
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 Reprinted In: Wal-Mart Giveaway: Spider-Man Movie Adaptation
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man 3 (The Movie) 2008 Official Annual (Story 2)
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man: The Movie (TPB)

The popular and critical success of the Spider-Man movie is generally attributed to the fact that it is extremely faithful to the comic book. Although some changes are made, they are made carefully and with an eye towards preserving Spider-Man's defining characteristic, his humanity, as much as possible. The successful comic book adaptation of the movie, therefore, must do the same and faithfully present the reader with as much of this humanity as is present in the movie. This adaptation seems to take another approach, and essentially fails as a result. Instead of trying to evoke the same feelings as the movie, it tries to cover all of the major plot points, focusing on the action scenes. As a result, a lot of the "heart" of the movie is gutted from the story, and we are left feeling like we've just watched the movie in fast-forward.

One example of how the humanity is left out of the adaptation occurs in its treatment of Peter's newfound powers. There is a funny scene in the movie that involves Peter's first attempts at web-shooting and web-swinging; it puts us right into Peter's shoes and lets us discover this awesome ability at the same time. The adaptation of this scene is covered in a single panel in which Peter seems to automatically know how to shoot and swing. Similarly, the later scene where he practices web-shooting in his room is boiled down in the adaptation to a single panel. The web-swinging experience he gains while pursuing the crook is completely left out. The first half of the movie, which details Spider-Man's origin, is condensed into about a third of the comic.

The relationship between Peter and Mary Jane is almost an afterthought in the adaptation, which is unfortunate. You know the "heart" that was taken out of the movie? This is the biggest chunk of it. Most of the scenes between Peter and M.J. that lay the groundwork for their getting together are deleted for the adaptation. As a result, M.J.'s sudden attraction to Peter at the end seems inexplicable. Why does she love him? Because he lent her his handkerchief? That's the closest thing they get to a moment alone together in the entire comic. The cemetery scene where M.J. confesses her love for Peter is the big emotional payoff of the movie, yet it seems almost ridiculous as it is presented here. Instead of showing why M.J. might be attracted to Peter, as the movie does, the comic has Aunt May simply asserting that she is: "A woman-can sense such things," she says.

Related to this, the adaptation fails to explain why Norman Osborn uses M.J. to get to Spider-Man. In the movie, Harry confides in his father and tells him Peter has loved M.J. ever since they were kids; in the adaptation, Norman seems to automatically know this. Maybe goblins can sense such things, too?

In General...

If you read the adaptation after seeing the movie, you might not pick up on details like those discussed above, and the adaptation might seem to do a better job of telling the story than it actually does. It passes muster as a companion piece to the movie, but doesn't really stand up on its own. The adaptation attempts to represent as many scenes from the movie as possible, but the nature of the comic book format--it's 48 pages, no ads--makes it impossible to include all of the important scenes and also to treat them well; this results in an extremely fast pace, the excision of several scenes of character development (e.g. the Peter/MJ ones), and the truncation of other scenes (e.g. the introduction to the Oscorp subplot), all to the detriment of the comic. There are a few panels that very closely approximate scenes from the movie (e.g. the Spidey/M.J. kiss), and some dialogue taken verbatim, but these cannot disguise that a lot of the movie seems to be missing.

A good adaptation would need to be a lot longer than the 48 pages we are given here, but insofar as that's an unrealistic expectation (who would buy a 96-page or three-issue adaptation?), this adaptation couldn't really do much better than it does. If it left in all the character development, for example, it would have had to leave out most of the action-there just isn't room enough for both. In this respect, the adaptation isn't so much a failure as it is out of its league. Adapting an excellent movie concisely into a comic book is very difficult work, and this single issue is too short to be a faithful adaptation.

In Canada, this issue costs 1/3 to 1/2 what the DVD will cost, so I'd recommend saving up for that, instead.

Overall Rating...

Bottom line: The adaptation will get the job done, but is no substitute for seeing the movie.