Spider-Man the Icon

By Avi Weinryb
November 21, 2007 - 12:05

Spider-Man the Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon


There are a lot of well assembled ‘coffee table’ superhero books on the shelves these days, all vying for your wallet’s contents. Some suffer from an over-reliance on extra-enlarged comic panels from Golden Age masterpieces. Others are loaded up with encyclopedic piles of dry, unnecessary information that only a devout comic aficionado/scholar would care about. The newest hardback offering, Spider-Man the Icon, brings a revitalizing balance to the genre. It is an informative compendium of details, and provides well contextualized comic excerpts and rare images. It is a solid book for both fans and Spider-novices.


The Spider-Man character is a long enduring pop culture figure. Having transcended the comic book medium, and entered the mass public’s consciousness, the web-slinging hero is known the world over through an association with various media platforms and products.


Beginning with the oft-told story of the creation of the Spider-Man character, author Steve Saffel offers a refreshingly new perspective by chronicling the often forgotten precursors to the character, as well as those of his fellow Marvel heroes. Well placed images accompany the text, providing a clear demonstration of the interplay between artists Steve Ditko and Jacky Kirby, leading into the John Romita period of disco partying (Mary Jane, go-go dancer!) and later, Vietnam War era realities.


Beyond the actual comics, the entire pop culture aspect of Spider-Man is explored. The 1960s television show is described as a key boost in the character’s popularity. Soon everyone was talking about the hero in red and blue tights and his girl troubles. As audiences read and watched his adventures, tons of kids re-enacted them with the ridiculous amount of toys produced by various manufacturers. Saffel’s book offers excellent photo reproductions along with informative captions. Items such as the ‘Spider-Man Scooter’ are a sight to behold. Who would have thought that Spidey rode a pink Vespa when fighting crime?


As the Spider-Man phenomenon spread, international editions began to crop up. The book does a decent job exploring some of the cultural variants and alternate publications. While a more extensive exploration would have been appreciated, the book’s brevity is an unfortunate necessity. The complete unabridged Spider-Man history would fill many volumes. Saffel’s book seeks to provide a well rounded collection of pertinent information in a shiny package. He succeeds admirably.


What makes this particular Spider-Man book unique is its attention to more modern developments in the character’s lore. Rather than just retread information about the character’s origin, the author also provides a well fleshed out study of more current developments. These include the infamous black costume, the Ultimate Spider-Man series, and the drastic changes that emerged from the recent Civil War storyline. All of the current wrinkles to the Spider-Man mythos are contextualized amongst the advances of the past.


In collecting everything in one place, Spider-Man the Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon can bill itself as a must-own book for fans of Marvel’s top superhero. The well written passages do not skimp on details. The illustrations and photos are carefully selected and extremely entertaining. As a holiday gift for a loved one, or even yourself, the book is an excellent choice. As the famous Spider-Man comic quote goes: “Face it Tiger… You just hit the jackpot!”


Last Updated: January 24, 2022 - 11:00

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