DK Publishing pretty much holds the top spot for pop-culture tie-in guides and compendiums. From Star Wars, Star Trek, DC and Marvel Comics, Lego, Trucks, Animals, and... well... just about everything.
Specifically as pertains the world of Spidey, DK have previously published both the Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide (originally in 2001, updated in 2007) and Marvel Encyclopedia (DK) (originally in 2006, quickly updated in 2009).
So how does this new book fit in to that range?
Well, simply speaking, this is just the 2012 update of Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide.
Mind you, there's a definite visual stylistic contrast between the two. The original Ultimate Guide featured white pages, with clear margins. Text was always in black font, with inset coloured art images
The new " Inside the World of Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero" version of things features edge-to-edge bleeds with a varied graphic design palette, ranging from heavy inked dark pages with white lettering, through to mixed black/color/white backgrounds with corresponding contrasting font colors. The final result is a teen-targeted look-and-feel which is rather busy (almost to the point of being a distraction). Both books feature lots of small standalone text blocks on the page, making them highly non-linear to read.
In terms of actual coverage, "Inside the World" features much of the same content type to the "Ultimate Guide". As in the original, there are summaries of key story-lines, such as "The Death of Jean DeWolff", "The Clone Saga", "Cosmic Adventures", extended of course to include the more recent arcs like "The Other", "The Grim Hunt", "One More Day", and "Brand New Day".
There's also a couple of new features, including a "Spider-Man Career Timeline", and half a dozen detailed story breakdowns for selected key issues in Spider-Man's history, such as Amazing Spider-Man #1, Spectacular Spider-Man #200, etc.
The character profiles which formed perhaps 70% of the original book have been trimmed back to perhaps 50-60% to make room. Mind you, this version adds 16 pages to its predecessor's page count, which meant that the character profile cutbacks aren't as severe as they might otherwise have been.
Despite the new content, there's no denying this book's ancestry. The credits tell the story:
For example, I just randomly opened the book and read the first two sentences of the Kraven entry. They are unchanged between the 2007 revision of the Ultimate Guide, and this book here.
But whatever confusion the new title may cause, these DK books are still an excellent way to get up to speed with Spidey's back history. For a keen fan who has only just hopped onto the Spider-Man comics bandwagon, I can't think of any better book to get you into the loop. Sure, one day you'll want to go read all the original stories in full. But until them, this will give you a perfect introduction to everything you need to know to maximise your enjoyment of the current Spidey comics.
Fully updated, well-balanced content, and incredibly good value for a hardback. Even if you already own one of the early DK "Spider-Man: Ultimate Guide" books, you may want to consider an upgrade.
I'm happy to hand over an excellent rating of 4.5 webs. Highly recommended.
I do have one major gripe about the book, but I've tried not to let it affect my otherwise highly positive opinion. It relates to the introduction by Stan Lee.
It's a long-standing tradition to ask Stan to write an introduction for a book about Spider-Man. It's a respectful tip-of-the-hat to an industry great.
Sure, he's written so many now that there's really nothing new for him to say. But even so, I tend to flick my eyes over them - partly out of affection, and partly just for the one in a thousand chance that perhaps he has something to say about Spidey's origin that I didn't already know.
As expected, there was nothing new to see this time, just the usual reminiscences of how Stan single-handedly created Marvel Comics.
Yeah. Single-handedly. In his 800-odd words, Stan doesn't manage to find space to reference Ditko, Kirby, or any of the other artists without whose talents the name of Stan Lee would never even have existed.
Back in the 70's, it was possible to excuse this kind of thinking. Stan Lee's job back then was nothing but the shameless promotion of Marvel Comics, and the simplified message of "Stan is Marvel" worked for the business. What is good for Stan (went the thinking) is good for Marvel, and is good for comics.
We've moved on since then. The injustice of that mentality has been long-since exposed. Every serious comic fan understands the vital contribution made by the extraordinary talents of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the rest of the Marvel artist crowd. Stan does himself no favours at all through his churlish denial. Inclusion of such a one-sided foreword to this book is ill-advised, and even somewhat offensive.