My three-year-old son Jack has started to display a genetically inevitable passion for superheroes. Because I'd like for him to know these characters come from books, not just movies and TV shows, I was thrilled to discover a well-stocked section of Juvenile Graphic Novels at our local library.
It's great that there are comic books that are geared to kids, but since I am going to be the one reading these things aloud - often many times - the mere fact that a book has Spidey in it isn't good enough for me to give it a thumbs up. For all kid entertainment, I really prefer for Jack to watch something that is appealing to kids, but also enjoyable to adults. On one end of the spectrum is Barney - a hero to little kids everywhere, repellant to parents. And on the other end, the gold standard, is The Muppet Show, something that people of all ages can enjoy.
Our first book was Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. Is it Barney or the Muppets?
Jack and I read Marvel Adventures Spider-Man in a digest that compiled issues 5-8. It's written by Sean McKeever (full disclosure: a friend of mine), with pencils by Patrick Scherberger. We got it at the library, but you can pick it up for $6.99, which is not a bad deal at all for four issues of a comic in a durable, portable form.
The four stories were all self-contained, each with a different villain or two. Spidey meets Electro, Sandman, Kraven and the Vulture, and finally the Scorpion. Each story begins with a splash page, featuring Spidey in the midst of an action scene, then takes the reader back to how he got into that position. I found that method of storytelling to be effective for a young reader, as it got him more immediately excited than, say, Peter chatting with Aunt May over breakfast.
I really appreciated just how age-appropriate the stories were. Violence was limited to fist-fighting and webbing. The bad guys were not all that bad. Kraven wanted to steal a tribal mask from a museum to return it to the tribe, while Sandman stole a painting not to sell it and get rich, but just because he loved the art and found it calming. There are many instances of Spidey facing a minor moral dilemna (save Sandman or the painting?) and deciding to do the right thing. And at the end, he always beat the bad guys and turned them in to the police.
Patrick Scherberger does an excellent job of breaking down the action scenes into their simplest elements. There are plenty of cool shots of Spider-Man shooting his webs, and enough detail to hold the interest of an adult, but he also succeeds in making it clear exactly what is happening. He also does an outstanding job of giving Spider-Man some facial expressions, even with the mask.
Sean McKeever's writing actually reminds me a lot of Stan Lee's. He has Peter Parker narrate the actions, with lots of "What have I gotten myself into" moments that, again, make it clear exactly what's happening and what everyone's motives are. Spider-Man is full of the jokes and banter that make him so appealing to kids. What makes reading this story better than picking up, say, a Masterworks of Stan Lee's writing is that the dialogue and humor read as a lot more natural than some of the forced jokes that Stan would write. Spidey made jokes that made Jack laugh out loud and didn't make me cringe, which is not an easy feat.
McKeever and Scherberger's Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is an all-ages book that truly is appealing for all ages. My son thought Spider-Man was funny, loved the action scenes, was excited about the villains, didn't find any of it scary or confusing, and geeked out in a big way when Spidey made some Star Wars jokes. I enjoyed the humor, the clear and appealing art, and the chance to read an old-school Spider-Man that didn't feel dated. In the Barney-Muppets Scale, this book was Muppets.
Grade: A, Astonishing, Truly Bad Genious