Book Review: DK's 'Spider-Man Chronicle' And 'Inside The World of Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero'

At some point you're going to have to confront the question, "Who was Kaine?" And you're not going to have an answer to that question (at least one that doesn't involve shaking your head and mumbling something about clones and the 90's).

Want to help a new Spider-Man fan get immersed in the world of the wall crawler? DK Publishing has two handsome new hardcovers out--"Spider-Man Chronicle: A Year-By-Year Visual History" and "Spider-man: Inside The World of Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero"--that both take a look at the history, battles, and characters in Spidey's 50 years of publication history.

DK has helpfully broken its guides into two types: a hefty 354-page beast with a year-by-year breakdown of Spider-Man's adventures ("Chronicle") and a slimmer, 200-page volume which provides a juicy overview of the character's history, relationship, enemies, and major events in the book ("Inside the World..."). The question is really which audience are you getting this for?

The former, by authors Mattheww K. Manning and Alan Coswill, skews a bit older, a bird's eye view of the Spider-Man comics, appearances, and major events for every years since the character's inception. This is the more historical look the character's history, and the ways that the comics intersected with the business of publishing--for instance, Coswill and Manning give Steve Ditko his due (albeit briefly) with a blurb set against a two-page spread of Spider-Man making his iconic lift from "ASM" #33.

The structure of the book has each year receive about four to six pages of text, covers, panels, and splashes spotlighting key moments from those twelve months. Vignette pieces interspersed throughout look at pivotal creators and moments in the character's history across his comics and strips. So that no space on the page is left unused, at the bottom of each yearly page there's a small strip highlighting news and events from that year of "Spider-Man" publication.

The balance of the page count favors latter-day Spider-Man history, with the 00's nearly 70's pages, while the 60's and 70's combined offer around 80. In fairness, the character is a lot more ubiquitous now than he was then, but it was nice to get some of the little tidbits such of the '73 entry explaining how Lee's presumed return to the book for issue #116 of "ASM" was actually an old script with help from then regular writer Gerry Conway.

"Inside the World..." is more a source book for "Spider-Man" fans, a look through the decades at the "life" of Spider-Man. A slimmer volume, "Inside the World..." offers less commentary on the people behind the character and the making of the books and more on the character himself (although we do get nuggets like the 2000's relaunch under JMS). Matthew K. Manning has the written voice of a very engaged tour guide, pointing the presumably young reader through some of the landmarks in our hero's Manhattan.

Manning's solo book is like a massive expansion of the old "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" minus the power rankings (how I miss those): he details known group affiliations, first appearances, and blurbs about the characters' origins and history with Spider-Man. The decade-by-decade introduction of his supporting cast and enemies take advantage of years of art to include with each entry (although we could have done better than the "Spider-Man 2"-era Doc Ock that graces the main splash for his entry.

Both books are fine resources to hand off to a Spider-Man fan, with "Chronicle" serving as the heftier celebration of 50 years of history and "Inside the World..." working as more of an introduction. Both, however, are quality books.

"Spider-Man Chronicle: A Year-By-Year Visual History" and " Spider-Man: Inside The World of Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero" are both available now from DK Publishing.

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