Book Review: The Philosophy of Spider-Man

"The Philosophy of Spider-Man"

Review by Tyler Harris

My love for comic books began at a young age. When I was 5 or 6 – roughly around the time Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man hit theatres (yes, the release of Spider-Man movies is how I mark time) – my dad gifted me a small pile of his old Amazing Spider-Man comics. These stories introduced me to a number of key concepts in the Spider-Man mythos, including Peter Parker and his struggle with a double-identity, The Sinister Six, and Ben Reilly (yes, I started reading around the time of The Clone Saga). I swear I read that same pile of issues so many times that some of the covers deteriorated in my hands.

In the 17 or so years since then, I’ve gone on to read and collect thousands of Spider-Man and Spider-related comics; I don’t claim to be an expert on the character, but at the same time, I don’t claim to be anything less. I was the exact right age to fall in love with Spider-Man as a kid, and growing up with his core values deeply ingrained into my mind has ultimately changed my world in innumerable ways. So, when I was given this book to review – The Philosophy of Spider-Man – I jumped at the chance.

The Philosophy of Spider-Man

Published by Titan Books (yes, you read that right), The Philosophy of Spider-Man appears to be targeted towards younger readers, but this volume is something that every comics fan can enjoy – brand new, or well-seasoned (like a steak). Summarised beautifully by Marvel themselves, this book is “a lavish collection of everything that makes Spidey tick,” and, despite knowing that I was perhaps not the intended target audience for this book, that still made me very excited to dive in, which – at the end of the day – is what it’s all about.

This book is split into 11 chapters, each looking at a different aspect of Spider-Man’s life; from the basics, through to memorable fights and team-ups, and even to more obscure chapters about architecture and the media.

Despite having quite an extensive knowledge of this character, I'm not going to give you an experienced reader’s review; instead, I'm going to focus on one major question: is this book a good overview of the character for the average (or new) comic book fan?

The Basics

The way this book is formatted is very interesting, and while I know this isn’t a unique style of presenting information, I’ve never personally read anything like this before. What we have on each page, in essence, is either some art (cropped cleanly from a cover or panels of interiors), some text describing what we see written from Peter’s perspective, and occasionally some pages just containing either quotes or iconic comic (icomic?) covers (think Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, etc.).

The first two chapters (“I am Spider-Man” and “With Great Power…”) explore what Peter does in his spare time and overviews some of his basic powers. Interestingly – and to the book’s credit – they're using images from every era of Spider-Man (here, and throughout the entire book): Ditko, Romita (Sr. and Jr.), and a shocking amount of Ryan Ottley's work. I say shocking because I expected a book introducing people to Spider-Man to contain more classic artwork, but it does make a whole lot of sense that they would feature one of the most recent artists more prominently, to help get new readers on board with the current run. Plus, Ottley’s artwork is stunning, and you cannot convince me otherwise.

The History

One of my favourite chapters by far is Chapter 3 (“Spider (Fashion) Sense!”), but this is also the chapter in which I have my first (and honestly only) gripe with the book. This section looks at a number of Spidey’s different costumes over the years. We have some beautiful splash pages featuring interior art of Spider-Man as Captain Universe from Amazing Spider-Man #329 (pencilled by Erik Larsen), the introduction of The Bombastic Bag-Man from Amazing Spider-Man #258 (pencilled by Ron Frenz), and one of my all-time favourite covers: Marvel Team-Up #141 (drawn by Arthur Adams and Mike Mignola) – the issue that ties for first appearance of the black suit (with Amazing Spider-Man #252).

This chapter is amazing fun, but as I mentioned above, my one minor issue (if you’ll pardon the pun) is that all of the information that I just gave you – issue numbers, artist names, first appearances – came from my own personal knowledge, as there are no credits for any of the artwork included. Chapter 8 of the book features “Ten Crazy Spider-Fights” and showcases some incredibly dynamic and exciting artwork of Spider-Man facing off against iconic villains; but how would someone reading this book know what issue each of those fights come from if they wanted to check them out? It’s such a shame that the issues are never mentioned at all, and honestly a slightly confusing oversight. 

While I do understand that – from a design perspective – this book would become incredibly cluttered if every single image (and there are well over a hundred – I counted) had a small attribution, I think that a solution to this would be to have an image index at the back of the book to give all of these amazing artists some credit. Plus, as I mentioned, it would allow readers – new or old – to find these comics more easily and engage on a deeper level with Spider-Man’s history. A very small gripe, and honestly the only one I have, but it’s one worth mentioning.

A Whole Lot of Fun

Chapter 4 – “Family Matters” – focuses in on the people closest to Peter, including his Aunt May, and… oh, that’s it. This section has some amazingly memorable pieces of art in it, including one of my all-time favourite panels (which I might exaggerating on a little, but every time I see it, it makes me laugh so much) from Amazing Spider-Man #157 drawn by the legendary Ross Andru. You can see exactly what panel I’m talking about below. 

And the added dialogue on the page from Peter too makes it even more hilarious. There's also another excellent inclusion from Amazing Spider-Man #114 (art by John Romita Sr.) when Aunt May knocked out Spider-Man and thought she had killed him. If I keep going like this, I’m actually going to include every single panel from every single page of this book, as it's so much fun. I feel like a child who has just discovered the names of every animal being taken to a zoo for the first time – this book is just a whole lot of fun!

Death and Dating

The next two chapters discuss Spidey’s relationships with everyone else in his life. Namely, J. Jonah Jameson, Mary-Jane Watson, Black Cat, and Gwen Stacy. Honestly (J. J. aside) I always forget that Peter has had so many different romantic relationships with people and seeing them all laid out here in a “greatest hits” format was very much an “oh yeah, I remember that!” situation for me. I can still personally never decide who I like best – sometimes it’s M. J., sometimes Gwen, and more often than not it’s Felicia (please go and read all of her early appearances if you haven’t – they’re a blast), but no matter who he's seeing at the time, that good old Parker Luck will always come around to ruin it!

Finishing up, we have a chapter next about all of Spider-Man’s villains, and the opening page of this makes an excellent point about – despite him being themed as a Spider – why do all of his villains “read like a who’s who at the petting zoo?” It’s a valid point, and I’m so glad that this book – much like Spider-Man himself – isn’t afraid to get meta on us! There is then a section on team-ups, the Spider-Verse, and finally all about his involvement in pop culture (inside the Marvel Universe). I could do more in-depth looks at those chapters, but it’s more of the same (in the best way possible) and I feel as though I would be just be repeating myself.

Conclusion

When I started this review, the question I had in mind was a simple one: is this book a good overview of the character for the average (or new) comic book fan? As if you didn’t know what I am about to say, the answer is overwhelmingly YES! Even as a life-long reader, there were still some panels in here that I had to really think about, so even I walked away with something new from this book!

Looking over this “best-of-highlight-reel” of Spider-Man’s adventures over the past almost 60 years took me back to discovering the character – and comic books – as a kid, and for that reason alone this book is a huge success.

As I wrap up, I would also like to give a huge shout out to two of the major players who made this book possible: Jake Devine, the editor, and Andrew Leung, the senior designer. The pages contained within The Philosophy of Spider-Man look amazing (and spectacular, and adjective less, and web of, and – no, hang on) and seeing all of this classic art presented in what is clearly a labour of love was nothing short of sensational.

The inclusion of the ongoing dialogue from Peter makes the reader feel as though they’re right there in his world, and considering that is one of the biggest reasons readers have been connecting with the character of Spider-Man over almost 60 years, I would say they smashed it out of the park. Thank you to everyone who helped make this book possible – it was a genuine pleasure to read.

Simply put, there's nothing to be found on these pages except pure joy. My hope is that everyone who reads this book – young, old, new fan, or life-long one – will smile and remember the things they love about this iconic character, or find new reasons to read these comics.

Images and Review Copy Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and Titan Books

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