This UK kids magazine is one of two regular Spidey magazine offerings from Panini. Spider-Man & Friends targets the 4-10 year old market, while sister publication Spectacular Spider-Man (UK Magazine) aims at the pre-teen and teen crowd.
Spider-Man & Friends features a distinctively drawn semi-Manga style kiddie Spider-Man, his cousin Spider-Girl, plus early school versions of Hulk, Wolverine, Beast, Storm and Captain America along with guest appearances from many other big name Marvel heroes and villains. Toy tie-ins are also available.
Published every four or five weeks, this UK magazine features a toy taped to the front of each issue. Inside you'll find a four page Spidey & Friends story with three panels per page, captions of 8-20 words per panel. Then there's some nice simple kids puzzles, some coloring, a couple of competitions, and a page or two of Spidey merchandise. Essentially, it's the same format as the older kids magazine, just reworked for a much younger target audience.
"It is the winter holidays, and the superheroes have invited their friends to a party in the tree house."
Thus begins another Spider-Man & Friends epic four-page pre-school adventure! With their massive feet and hands and their quasi-manga faces, our super-friends launch once more into a story to excite all but the most cynical and jaded of Spidey-fans. Doc Ock, Hulk, Spider-Man and Spider-Girl are here, and that's a quorum. Let's roll!
But before we start... why is Spider-Man still Spider-MAN even though he's still at school - while Spider-GIRL has to be a girl, and not a woman? Is the male pubescence intrinsically more acceptable at a subconscious level?
Speaking of "acceptability", note also the "winter holidays" not the "Christmas holidays". Can't risk offending any non-Christians by making any careless references to Christmas on December the 25th. Though, actually, it seems to me it's the non-pagans that are the ones we need to be worried about not offending at this time of year.
I mean, let's just take a moment to stop and check out the history of the whole messy business. December 25th + Presents + Santa + Reindeer + Snow + Presents + Trees + Carols = A great big Christian festival with its origins firmly rooted in Jesus's Birthday. Right? (Insert grating game show buzzer noise here). WRONG!
Actually, most of what we call "Christmas" has bugger all to do with Christianity as far as I can see. For starters, there's the date. The emperor Constantine (5th century AD) picked the date to coincide with the old Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti - "the birthday of the unconquered sun". That's the Winter Solstice, which of course is tied to ancient pagan festivals also. It was also the birthday of the Roman god Jupiter.
So this Jesus guy really doesn't figure in the whole December 25th affair. Most historians agree that any references to Mary's blue-eyed boy place him several years before 1 AD, and equally agree that there's no real evidence to tie him to the 25th of anything. Whether or not Jesus was the son of God is a separate discussion. I'm just pointing out that the intertwining between any real Christian reference and the December 25th rituals are few and far between.
So, what about the real star of the Christmas show... Santa! The original Saint Nicholas was based on a bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor from around 300AD. A cult sprang up around him, charitable acts were attributed to him, and the Germans and Dutch adopted the custom of giving anonymous gifts to children on his special day - which is the 6th of December. Not exactly the 25th, but close enough for him to jump the gap.
Many years later in 1809 Writer Washington Irving made "Santa" a fat pipe-smoker. Clement Clarke Moore is credited with the 1823 poem which gave him the reindeer (minus Rudolph at that stage). He was depicted in various different colors until Coca Cola made him permanently red-suited to tie in with an advertising campaign in 1931. And that is why we now spend all our money on things people don't really need at the end of the year.
Hmm... I seem to have meandered somewhat from the main thread of the storyline.
So, Spider-Man and Hulk go find the BIGGEST tree they can find. The Christmas Tree thing comes out of a 722AD story featuring St. Boniface, just for the record. Hulk is super-strong and carries the tree all the way home. Well, it can't be THAT huge, since it fits just fine inside a kids tree house.
Spidey decorates the tree with webbing. That surely has to be the lamest cheapskate use of webbing that I have EVER seen. For starters, it only lasts an hour. And it looks like fat strands of grey snot. Doc Ock has baked cakes with Spider-Girl. Ock did wash his hands first. All six of them! Spider-Girl ices them. The cakes, that is - not Ock's hands.
Spider-Man has invited all his friends to the party. See, Spider-GIRL cooks in the kitchen. Spider-MAN has all the friends, the misogynist son of a bitch. I'm surprised Spider-Girl hasn't started turning up with mysterious bruises and wearing dark glasses. And they let kids read this stuff?!
Among the friends I spot Storm, Wolverine, Cyclops, Rhino. Cyclops loves cakes! They all join in to sing Christmas carols. Carols originated in the thirteenth century as secular communal songs, where they were sung all year around, often to celebrate events with pagan overtones such as harvest time. The Church eventually assimilated them, as it tended to do back then with pretty much any ritual or ceremony it could get its grubby hands on.
Actually, the Hulk doesn't join in the carols - he's too busy eating all the cakes! But he does find time to wish us "HAPPY CHRISTMAS!"
Now there's a sentiment I can agree with, regardless of whatever origins or overtones you care to imply from it.
The rest of the issue features a story quiz, a page of advertising for Spider-Man toys, a dot-to-dot, a counting exercise (count the cakes BEFORE Hulk eats them), two-page coloring, more coloring, a cut-out-and-glue, trace the letters, a maze, a cut-out-figures and arrange to make-a-scene, a spot-the-differences (not easy... Wolverine's head was made larger, sneaky!) Then there's a competition page, two pages of fan photos, and a back cover poster of Thor!
Well, I've seen far worse stories in this magazine. This is a perfectly harmless piece of fluff. There's no moral other than whatever you take in with you. In the spirit of holiday charity, let's call it an even three webs.