Behind The Mask (Vol. 1)

Background

This book is the first in a set of four "Marvel Spider-Man: Comic Storybooks". The four books are " #1 Behind The Mask", "#2 The Vulture", "#3 Doctor Octopus", and "#4 Sandman".

These books were first published by Parragon Book Service, Ltd. in the UK in 2014. Some were subsequently re-released for the Asia/Australia/New Zealand market in 2015 with new ISBNs but otherwise identical except for copyright and publisher logo.

The binding for all versions is a thick, plastic-covered card which is not quite paperback and not quite hardback. The cover is 5.1" x 7.7". Binding is square-bound approximately one quarter-inch thick.

The nominal page count is 80, however after removing front matter, blank pages, the character intros which are repeated across each book, and the chapter splash pages, there's really only 52 pages of actual original art and text material in each book.

Joe Caramagna made his reputation as a comic-book letterer. In 2013 he started working as an "adapter" of existing stories, and he has been entrusted with this rewrite of the original Spider-Man classics.

Story Details

This first story attempts to relate Spider-Man's origin in prose, with supporting comic-style panel illustrations. Let's break it down by chapter.

CHAPTER 1: New York City school kid Peter is happy because his class is going on a science field trip. Uncle Ben is introduced as a wheezing, aged guardian. Peter makes a big deal of pointing out that Uncle Peter is not his real dad. When Peter is bullied by Flash (who breaks Peter's glasses), Uncle Ben intervenes, leading Peter to yell "I HATE YOU!" to Uncle Ben.

CHAPTER 2: Peter and his class attend the demonstration where spiders, bacteria, and fungi are mutated. An accident causes the experiment to go crazy and everybody runs out except Peter who is bitten by the Spidey, and throws up. Flash and his gang then attack Peter, who runs out into an alley, over a chain link fence, and climbs up a wall. Peter comes home, is mean to his Aunt and Uncle, and decides to use his new powers to become big, brave SPIDER-MAN!

CHAPTER 3: Spider-Man fights a wrestling match, but the promoter refuses to pay him because Spidey won't put his name on a contract. Spider-Man yells and assaults the promoter until he gets his money. Then Flash turns up and asks Spidey for an autograph, but Spider-Man assaults him too. The building caretaker (with a scar over one eye) turns out to be a burglar and he steals the rest of the takings. Spider-Man lets him get away as a deliberate punishment to the promoter.

CHAPTER 4: Spider-Man heads out "for the long walk home from the arena" (he just got his big payout, and he's not even taking the subway?). Well, you guessed it. The police are at the Parker home. Uncle Ben was killed by a burglar. It seems that Uncle Ben thought that Peter was still in his room, so he attacked the burglar trying to defend Peter. Usual story... burglar holed up in a warehouse, Spider-Man hands out a beating.

EPILOGUE: Immediately after the funeral, Peter abandons his Aunt and goes out chasing police cars as... Spider-Man!

General Comments

Oh, I hate this story so much.

It's not just the clumsy, overly descriptive and patronizing writing style — it's the countless arrogant and destructive attempts to "improve and enhance" the original story that end up turning Peter Parker into a hateful little shit, while simultaneous removing all traces of subtlety and humanity from the original plot.

The original Peter Parker was a loving but bookish and introspective child with caring guardians. This version is a moody little turd-bag of a teenager, while May and Ben appear pathetically inadequate carers.

Flash in the original story was merely arrogant in his popularity, "but this new and improved" version is a premeditated, vindictive thug.

And as for Spider-Man? The original tale has Spider-Man's sin being simply self-interest, paying a heavy price for choosing a moment of inaction. But this apparently edgy rewrite for a new generation has Spider-Man deliberately physically hurting both the promoter and Flash, and then deliberately choosing to stand aside because he knows it will cause more suffering to the promoter.

By the time I was done reading, I didn't like any of the characters in this story.

Gratuitous Name-Dropping Cameos: Mister Ditko (Peter's teacher), Doctor Lee (scientist).

Overall Rating

This books takes the original plot, makes it worse, and then transcribes it really, really badly. It is no longer a good morality tale, and the characters are unattractive shadows of the originals. The writing has no flow, and it lurches from moment to moment between puerile and self-indulgent, to stilted and forced.

Every modification from the original — the dysfunctional relationship between Peter and his guardians, Flash's terrifying physical persecution of Peter, the accident at the demonstration, the caretaker's obvious facial scar, Spider-Man's active brutality and cruelty rather than simple self-interest — all of these only serve to undermine the effectiveness of Stan's simple morality tale.

This book certainly seems as though it was written by a child. But it is not a book that I would give to any child to read. Rock-bottom rating from me.

Footnote

In the original story, the most difficult point to swallow (putting aside the fanciful science of radio-active spider-powers) is that the burglar having stolen the takings from the wrestling match in Manhattan would then dash over to rob the home of a broke elderly couple in Queens.

Of course I'm not the only one to have trouble accepting that, and the events of Amazing Spider-Man #200 attempted to add a back-story to make that more believable.

But this "Behind The Mask" retelling made this problem worse by having the burglar also be the caretaker at the wrestling arena. Note that the caretaker carried a gun, so this looks like a planned theft. Furthermore the theft was hugely successful, getting away with literally a large sack full of cash. So what the hell was this caretaker/burglar (with the long scar over his eye) doing robbing poor people in a home invasion in Queens an hour or two later, instead of lying low with his conspicuous appearance and multiple witnesses?!

And why did Peter need to walk home, giving the burglar time to get to Queens ahead of him? Spider-Man did eventually get his payout. So why the heck wouldn't he take the subway? It's a puzzle!

But the biggest puzzle of all is, how on earth was this story allowed to see print?