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Marvel Press Movie Tie-Ins | Review

Each new Marvel Studios movie drags many new publications in its wake, from new comic book series commissioned to star the featured characters, to new collections of classic comics that inspired the films to various new prose and picture books aimed at various age groups, some much younger than the films themselves are.

Two such examples from Marvel Press illustrate the tension between the films themselves and the audience for some of these publications. September’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was rated PG-13 and December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home likely will be as well, but both of them have children’s picture books tied to them, books meant for readers too young to see the films.

How do the creators resolve that tension? In different ways, but neither Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep? nor Spider-Man: No Way Home: Spider-Man’s Strange Day! are necessarily dependent on knowledge of the films, and they have their own appealing aspects readers can grab on to.

Who Guards My Sleep cover from Marvel PressShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep?
Writer: Marie Chow
Artists: Sija Hong
Marvel Press; $12.99

Marie Chow and Sija Hong’s Who Guards My Sleep? features a young, beautiful mother gathering her children Shang-Chi and Xialing, telling them it’s time for a bed time story  about “the guardians of Ta Lo.”

The mother’s words appear as narration, on a narrow band alongside the left of each two-page spread, which is dominated by one of Hong’s images. Within the images, the kids speak in comic book-like dialogue bubbles; like most children’s picture books then, the line between illustrated prose and comics grows a bit blurry, though this is technically the latter rather than the former.

“Ta Lo?” the boy Shang-Chi responds. “We haven’t heard stories about your home village in a long time.”

The mother has a little box of origami creatures with her, and picks them up one at a time, introducing them by their Chinese and English names (and in Chinese characters), and, before the readers’ eyes, they transform from the simple folded paper shapes into big, colorful, lushly rendered mythological creatures: Guardian lions, a nine-tailed fox, the phoenix and so on. As each is introduced, its various traits and attributes are detailed on the following spread.

One need not know anything at all about the film, the majority of which occurs when the children are adults and their mother has died, pitting them in conflict against their father, in order to follow the book…although one sequence will likely prove puzzling, when the mother introduces Morris, who “is a bit more difficult to describe than the other guardians.”

In the film, Morris is a strange little creature that resembles nothing so much as a quadrupedal roast turkey with two sets of bird wings, and he sticks out among the other sleep guardians, in that he isn’t based on a creature of Asian mythology the way all the others are.

Were the Morris sequence removed, and the proper names different, there would be no real indication that the book is based on a film at all. Even as is, the main thing linking the story to the film is the film’s logo on the cover; otherwise, it can be read and enjoyed by readers of all ages and levels of familiarity with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, thanks to the gorgeous artwork, likely will be.

Spider-Man's Very Strange Day cover from Marvel PressSpider-Man: No Way Home: Spider-Man’s Very Strange Day!
Writer: Calliope Glass
Artist: Andrew Kolb
Marvel Press; $12.99

Much different is Spider-Man’s Very Strange Day!, which, like Calliope Glass and Andrew Kolb’s 2019 Spider-Man Swings Through Europe, is based on the premise of the upcoming Spider-Man film without really following, and therefore not spoiling, the plot.

In the film, Spider-Man’s secret identity has been revealed to the world, and he seeks the help of magician Doctor Strange to cast a spell that will magically make everyone forget his dual identity.

Here Spidey, who is always Spider-Man and never Peter Parker, is stuck inside his apartment, afraid to leave and face the waiting media. Cooped up for a week, the sad Spidey is huddled under a blanket and eating pints of ice cream.

His friends Ned and MJ try to cheer him up, ultimately deciding to visit the Sanctum Sanctorum,  the magical home of Doctor Strange. Rather than asking Strange to cast a spell to make everyone forget Spidey’s identity, however, the kids simply take a tour of the strange place, filled with M.C. Escher-like staircases, weird weather, strange artifacts, false beards, and magical cups that are never empty.

“See, being Spider-Man isn’t so bad,” Glass’s narration concludes, “And even if you must face new troubles, you can always return to…Queens! You’re right where you’re meant to be. Ah, home sweet spidey-home.”

The visual style, as well as the story, should be familiar to readers from the earlier Spider-Man Swings Through Europe. Kolb has a very simplified, cartoony and two-dimensional style, greatly different from the more realistic style of  Who Guards My Sleep?. It’s particularly great fun to see Kolb’s cartoon versions of the various actors who appear in the film series.

A sense of silliness pervades the somewhat meandering story, and silliness can go a long way towards justifying just about anything.

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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.

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