This UK kids magazine is one of three 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. Finally, their Marvel Heroes (UK Magazine) hits the same mid-teen crowd but with a video game/movie angle.
But let's get back to Spider-Man & Friends. It 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, plus in 2009 they produced a hardback annual.
Published every four 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. It's similar to the formats used for the older kids' magazines, just pitched for a much younger target audience.
"Let's buy a cake!"
Today, Spider-Man, Story and Iron Man want to buy a cake for Spidey's Aunt May. Spidey loves his aunt... and Spidey's aunt loves cakes.
This raises a difficult subject. What is it that makes Spider-Man... Spider-Man? A radioactive spider-bite gave him his physical abilities, but the tragic death of his Uncle gave him his psyche and his motivation.
These "kiddie-safe" versions of the Marvel heroes are, presumably completely missing that second factor. Did this Spider-Man lose his parents? Was his father-figure gunned down, needlessly killed due to Spider-Man's inaction. Is this Spider-Man burdened down by a lifetime's worth of guilt and remorse?
I can only assume not. And so it's important to remember that the figure who appears in this magazine is only half-a-Spider-Man — a mere shadow of the real thing. That's a depressing thought, and one which if dwelt upon would greatly reduce the pleasure I find in reading these stories. I think I'll try to put it out of my mind.
The heroes are waiting at the shop, looking at different cakes, when Spidey's Spider-Sense goes wild. It's a FIRE!
The heroes remember their fire drill at school. The heroes encourage everybody to walk carefully out of the shop and line up outside. Then Spidey & Friends fight the fire. Remember that only Super Heroes and grown-ups should tackle fires!
The heroes put out the fire before the shop is engulfed. The next day they return to the shop, bringing a fire alarm, which Spidey sticks on the ceiling. The grateful baker produced a wonderful "Super Heroes" cake which he has made as a gift for the team.
Despite being a long way from the "real" versions of the Marvel characters, these downsized mini-heroes have a lot to offer. This is a great example of a story which (in a mere four pages) manages to entertain whilst also offering the foundation of a great safety lesson.
There's something delightful about these pint-sized good-guys who attend junior school, yet still have super powers to save the day. Four endearing webs.