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Review: ‘Spider-Man Swings Through Europe’

Spider-Man Swings Through Europe
Writer: Calliope Glass
Artist: Andrew Kolb
Marvel; $12.99

This charming picture book for young readers adapts the new film Spider-Man: Far From Home but restricts itself to a single aspect of the plot: Spidey’s travel itinerary. In the movie, Spider-Man Peter Parker, his best friend (and confederate) Ned, his second-best friend (and love interest) MJ, and their classmates and teachers take a class trip to Europe. That trip is repeatedly interrupted by attacks from what appear to be elemental monsters, a mysterious caped figure named Mysterio, and spymaster Nick Fury, who tries to manipulate the trip in such a way as to force Spider-Man into helping him save the world.

Writer Calliope Glass and artist Andrew Kolb chuck most of that, though, focusing instead on the cities Spidey and friends visit and some of the attractions there, leaving readers with a rather educational tour of some prominent European cities, all rendered in a super-simplified, super-cute style.

After two pages of Peter Parker packing a suitcase and he and his friends at the airport, we get a two-page spread showing a map of the east coast of the United States and Europe, the Atlantic Ocean in between them, with a dotted red line showing our traveling hero’s path. Each new city is announced in a two-page spread, with the name of that city in big, bold letters, followed by a few scenes around town.

Despite appearing on the earliest pages as Peter, and telling readers, “I love traveling, but it can be tricky with a secret identity…I sure hope none of my friends spot me in my spider-suit!” Spidey does indeed spend the remainder of the book as Spider-Man. Luckily, no one really seems to notice. Perhaps they are too busy taking in the sights.

As in the movie, the kids visit Venice, Italy, then Prague in the Czech Republic, and finally London, England, before traveling back home to Queens. Special attention is paid to these locations as destinations that are plenty exciting all on their own, even when they are not being attacked by monsters or saved by masked heroes.

So in Venice, for example, Spidey acts a bit like a tour guide, telling readers that there “they have canals instead of streets…and boats instead of cars!” and telling them about St. Mark’s Square, The Rialto Bridge and gelato (“Gelato is like ice cream, but better”).

Kolb composes his images with lots of perfectly, simply rendered shapes, giving the real-life landmarks the look of postcards, although everything looks brighter, newer, and cleaner than in real life. His character work is even more extraordinary, as many of the characters—most of whom go unnamed within—are instantly recognizable through their clothes, actions and the simple attitudes suggested by their expressions as the characters in the movie. So we get to see the cartoony, storybook versions of actors like Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, and the others.

Ironically, the one character who doesn’t much resemble the version from the movie is Spider-Man himself. Kolb gives him a head so perfectly round that it looks like a compass might have been involved in the drawing of it, and his skinny torso and still skinnier limbs suggest a sucker that has sprouted arms and legs. Of course, Spidey doesn’t need to look all that much like actor Tom Holland and/or stuntmen in the movies to be identifiable as Spider-Man; after all, he’s the one in the red and blue suit with the webs on it and a big spider symbol on the chest.

One neat thing about the settings-only approach to the book is that it manages to adapt the movie while giving almost nothing at all away about it. I read it before and after seeing the movie. Before, it spoiled nothing save the three cities that the kids would visit. After, one can pick up on little clues in Kolb’s art that suggest other aspects of the movie quite subtly, things that now seem obvious.

For example, a new character is clearly present among the familiar ones, Flash’s obsession with his cell phone can be seen in almost every image, and a pair of romances are hinted at in the art, as one couple is shown holding hands in one scene and another comes close to doing so in another.

Also, and most hilariously, Kolb works Nick Fury into almost every page, generally hiding, the better to spy on Spidey. So, for example, Samuel Jackson’s Fury can be seen with a snorkel in the canal when the kids arrive in Venice, peeking over the edge of an opera box seat in Prague, or lurking on a New York rooftop back in Queens. They never seem to notice him, but background gags reveal that passersby and even a cat do. It’s not quite as challenging as figuring out where’s Waldo, but finding Fury is a fun challenge on each page, something my nephew sought to do when the book was read to him before the page could be turned and the story continued.

Kids’ books based on big-budget superhero movies like this are quite often disappointing affairs, given the gulf between the intended audience of the movies and that the books are attempting to reach. But by taking such a specific approach and featuring such highly stylized art work, Spidey Swings Through Europe is amazing, spectacular, and all the other adjectives that are so often applied to our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. 

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive review. I have never seen a single Marvel movie; I know that may be anathema to your readers. I like this book because it has bold, appealing, graphics, information about Europe which is accessible for kids, and is not patronizing in its tone. (“My favorite thing in Prague is the Astronomical Clock!”) The illustrations, even though they are rooted in animation art, also remind me of Miroslav Sasek’s wonderful This Is…” series about different parts of the world. That’s my perspective of someone viewing the book as an outsider to Marvel and superheroes. My grandson loves it.

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