If you think that the first time Spider-Man met Superman was Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, 1976 then you're ten years too late and quite a few sizes too big. Try the smallest Spider-Man book of all time instead.
In the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins printed in Amazing Spider-Man #41, October 1966, Stan reminds us of a few "Marvel products on sale everywhere" among them the "Mini-Books now on sale in gumball machines". All you had to do was go down to your local drug store or grocery store and find that one gumball machine that never sold gumballs and cost you a nickel instead of a penny. You still put the money into the slot above the handle and you still turned the handle until the product fell through the slot. But see how the slot is bigger than the ones for gum? That's so those clear plastic eggs can fall through. And inside the egg is your prize. All you have to do is twist the egg and it parts in the middle. Now how can a Marvel-approved book fit into one of those eggs? Well, it has to be about 5/8 of an inch wide and 7/8 of an inch tall. Which makes it just a little bit difficult to read.
There were six different stories in the series with each story sold with covers of six different colors. The six stories star the Amazing Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Sgt. Nick Fury, and Millie the Model. The six colors are orange, red, blue, green, lime, and yellow. So, let's say you want the Spidey book. You put your money into the slot, turn the handle and an egg falls down the chute containing a book starring... Millie the Model. Try again... Nick Fury. That's the problem with buying things from a gumball machine. You never get a choice. But if you had enough nickels and time on your hands, you could probably eventually get the Spider-Man book. Things get more complicated if you want all six colors or all six books or, God forbid, all six books in all six colors. And they were easy to lose once you bought them too. But at least back then your fingers were small enough to read the things fairly easily. I'm having a hell of a time now.
For the record, my copy of the Spider-Man Mini-Book is orange. The one pictured in this review belongs to our esteemed Editor and is, as you can see, blue. So, technically, the book pictured is not the book being reviewed. However, my good friend Peter Kroon assures me that, no matter what color you have, the insides are all the same. So consider this review good for the blue, the orange, and all the other colors of the Spidey book.
There's no room for anything fancy with these books. The Spidey book is simply called "The Amazing Spider-Man" and that takes up the whole cover with the "Spider-Man" part written across the top of the spider-signal symbol. On the back cover is the copyright..."Marvel Mini-Books by © C.N.P. 1966 Chicago 60641, Made in U.S.A." It would be nice to know who C.N.P. was but there's simply no room for an explanation.
Let's open it up and let's be careful. My copy is already in about four pieces since it's just held together with a little bit of spirit gum or dab of glue or something. For the most part, the left page is text (and it's usually not more than about a dozen words) and the left has a somewhat uncomplicated illustration. On the inside front cover, we get this plug: "Watch for new books. Save 'em! Swap 'em! Collect them all!" And then our story begins. Above a drawing of a spider that looks like a Rorschach blob, we're told, "Spiders are usually rather unpopular!" "Bet not one of your friends is a spider..." says the next page. Below a drawing of a wide-eyed girl, her pigtails, sticking straight up in the air, screaming at a spider hanging from a web, we're told (in parentheses), "Most spiders aren't nice." Next page: "But Peter Parker is" showing a head shot of Pete, "and he's a...", opposite page, "Spider- Man!" written below that famous Ditko drawing of Spidey crouching that was on the t-shirts sold at the time. Next page: "He was bitten... by a very special spider". (The opposite page shows a nasty-looking spider with big mean eyes and teeth chomping down on, apparently, a part of Pete's flesh.) Next page: "That had passed through a radioactive field!" (The opposite page shows a blobby silhouette of a spider amidst six squiggly lines.) Next page: "Instead of getting mighty sick..." (With an illustration of Pete grimacing and holding his shoulder, which has pain lines radiating off of it like he just had a vaccination.) Next page: "Peter gained special powers." (There's enough space under these four words to include another blob of a spider. The opposite page shows a silhouette of a human figure... Peter presumably... with wobbly lines emanating from him.) Next page: "A spider has amazing strength for its size." (The illustration showing that spider blob lifting a pebble many times its size.) Next page: "So Peter has this amazing strength." (The opposite page shows Spidey hoisting a bank safe on his back.) Next page: "Spiders spin webs which they use to climb on and to trap enemies..." (Showing our silhouetted spider perched in a web.) Next page: "Peter made a gadget he wears on his wrist that shoots a web-like material." (With a drawing of Spidey's hand held up as if telling someone to halt, with a little spray of webbing coming out of his wrist.) Next page: "And like the spider Peter has a radar-like sense that warns him of danger." (Hold on. Who says spiders have a "radar-like sense"? I think we just skimmed over this like it's common knowledge. Oh, and the picture shows a knife-wielding hand poised behind Spidey's back with his spider-sense tingle lines coming off of his body.) Next page: "Spiders can crawl up the steepest inclines..." (With a truly uninspired drawing of a blob with legs next to a vertical line representing the edge of a wall.) Next page: "And so can Peter! He can climb and explore anywhere!" (Followed by a drawing of Spidey perched on a wall that looks like it may actually be a Ditko drawing: it looks a little familiar but I don't think I'm going to bother to track it down.) Next page: "With all these new talents, naturally it would be fun to become a..." (With the opposite page showing Spidey running and, below him, the words... "super-hero!") Next page: "Using his webbing strung between buildings he can almost fly!" (Opposite a drawing of Spidey where you can't tell what the heck he's doing.) Next page: "He also uses it to wrap up the bad guys!" (With a picture of a bad guy struggling while covered in webbing.) Next page: "Once he was checking on some known crooks..." (The illustration showing Spidey perched on a wall, hanging upside down and looking into a window.) Next page: "They were counting the loot from a robbery!" (A drawing on the same page of a pearl necklace, diamond ring, bracelet and some other vague- looking "loot".) Opposite page: "Spider-Man subdued them..." (With a same-page drawing of Spidey bopping someone so hard that only his legs can be seen as he falls out of the panel. "Pow!" says the sound effect.) Next page: "Wrapped the jewels in some webbing and off he went..." (Same page drawing of vague loot in a sack made of webbing.) Opposite page: "But the bundle got caught on a flagpole!" (With a drawing of the top of a flagpole with the web sack wrapped around it. Pay attention now because this is as close to a story as you're going to get.) Next page... a double page spread! "Along came this fellow in a cape... another super-hero... and he saw the loot!" (The drawing shows Spidey looking up at the web sack on the flagpole while "this fellow in a cape" or Superman to you and me flies above it.) Next page: "He swooped down and grabbed the bundle and didn't even say hi!" (With an opposite page drawing of Supes flying off with the web sack... the lousy thief.) Next page shows Spidey holding his head and saying, "You see, there's an awful lot of competition among super-heros."
That's it for any storyline. The mini-book finishes up with a couple of lame jokes. A rather vaguely drawn fellow in a bow tie asks Spidey, "Hey, what's this story about your being born in 1843?" to which Spidey replies, "Yep". Next page: Spidey's head and hand only, with his finger up in the air as he gives us the punchline, "Then a few years later, my parents moved to 1845, next door." Opposite page: Same vague guy asking Spidey, "Say, why did that old lady hit you when you helped her across the street?" Next page: Spidey with his hands in the air, saying, "Well, my mistake. She really didn't want to cross!"
Had enough? Me too. But just in case you're loving every minute of it, the opposite page asks you to, "Tell your friends about these Marvel Mini-Books! Collect, trade, save them!" Well, what are you waiting for? Go tell your friends!
Oh, and by the way, the most recent Spidey-Supey pairing as of this writing just took place in the Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip of April 30, 2006. Spidey is web-swinging over Los Angeles where he has been visiting. The first panel caption reads, "Spider-Man finds the tall buildings he needs for web- swinging in downtown L.A." "This is the life!" says Spidey. "Zipping around through the sky like this. It's the one thing I can do that nobody else can. Well, okay, maybe Daredevil", he says and we get a shot of DD taken from Spidey's thoughts. "And the Hulk, he does it without a web line" and we get an image of the Hulk leaping. "Then there are one or two X-Men" and Spidey imagines the Angel and Storm flying. "And Superman", Spidey thinks in the last panel as we get drawing of Supey in half-silhouette flying in front of a white cloud emitting nine bursts of golden rays. "Nah!" Spidey decides, "He's just a comic book character."
So how in the world do you judge something like this? The writing is aimed at a six-year old. There's no story to speak of; just a rushed, stripped down recap of Spidey's origin followed by Superman snatching a bag of stolen loot and finishing with two of the sorriest jokes I've ever seen. The artwork, with the exception of a couple of Ditko swipes and what may be some Marie Severin Spidey art (according to Mark Evanier, Marie contributed a few illustrations to these mini-books), is vague and blobby and uninspired. The book itself is so small that adult fingers are simply not equipped to properly open it. And if you do manage to open it up, it just comes apart on you, anyway. On the other hand, who cares what the writing and art are like? It's one of the coolest little collectibles around. I mean, Marvel super-heroes out of gumball machines! How can you possible resist that? Even if you turn the dial and get Millie the Model! It's worth it! And, check it out! The book is so small that adults won't be able to open it! Kids only! How cool is that? Give me some room! I'm going for all six books in all six colors!
I have a new rule. If part of me says the book is worthless and part of me says it's priceless, I'm going right down the middle. Call it three webs.
Aw, what the hell. An extra half web for Superman stealing the swag. That crooked fink. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go glue my Mini-Book back together.
Next: Still no MJ in sight. From Superman this time to the Avengers and the Hulk next time. Be here!