Spider-man: The Icon review

Paul checks out a book that digs into the life, times and duvet covers of the Spider-man franchise

SPIDER-MAN THE ICONWritten by: Steve SaffelPublished by: Titan BooksPrice: £29.99Steve Saffel’s glossy celebration of the world’s most famous human arachnid is a thorough exploration of his rise from comic book hero to globe-spanning franchise. It threads all areas of his popularity together into a web of delight and exploration.

The text is lively and concise, attempting the complex task of establishing the mythology of Spider-man as a new kind of hero in the 60s, and indeed giving rise to mighty Marvel Age of Comics. It also shows each step he made into the widermarket of TV cartoons, toys, drink and food endorsements, books and of course, blockbuster movies.

The book, generously crammed with photographs, reproduces covers and artwork from significant eras of his comic-book life as well as including many collectables. Incredibly, Peter Parker has been with us over 40 years and he’s hardly aged in that time. Thanks to that radioactive bite, he’s fought off a whole menagerie of supervillains such as Doctor Octopus, Tarantula, the Lizard and the Jackal, as well as colourful madmen such as Sandman, Venon, and naturally his ultimate nemesis, the Green Goblin. He has tackled drug problems on campus, seen his girlfriend die and married a glamorous model, Mary Jane. He’s had outerspace adventures and more recently, he has had his identity exposed in public through the hero-dividing tragedies of the Civil War saga.

Saffel takes us through the significant events in each decade at an exhilerating pace, demonstrating Spidey’s growing popularity – internationally and culturally – as well as his many incarnations (including his makeover as a manga hero).

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He also explores some of the social and historical events which shaped the stories: racism, drug addiction, Vietnam, and even 9/11, all playing a part in his enduring appeal. He’s always been rooted in a reality we can identify with. Of course, he has also been subjected to a range of unbelievable situations including endless costume changes, and the ludicrously conceived clone saga which meddles around with his identity and readers’ patience. Equally, the merchandise has at times been enough to make our hero blush beneath his mask – no self-respecting hewro would want to be cut short in the bathroom with their own face grinning up from the toilet roll.

Much of Spidey’s appeal is being someone with very real problems: school bullying, friendships, first loves, family hardships. For someone who was orphaned at an early age. Peter has not just been adopted by his kindly Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but also many generations of adults and children across the world.

Spider-man is one of the most recognisable characters in the world, a brand as much as a hero, standing shoulder to shoulde alongside DC rivals Superman and Batman. And despite a life of highs and lows, he remains as popular as ever.

Whilst Spider-man: The Idol is not intended as a critical work, it is intended to plunge into the world of wonder that turns a cultural icon almost into a work of art. It achieves this goal admirably.


3 out of 5