Peter Parker teams up with Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy for the Spidey and His Amazing Friends franchise, which features the trio having adventures together as Spidey, Miles, and Ghost-Spider. Based on the Disney Junior TV show, this comic is aimed at young children and features silly humor and childlike, prank-pulling versions of villains Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Rhino. While it follows the show’s premise, this volume is made up of all-new stories.
This comic begins with an introduction to the heroes and villains, then a brief explanation of how to read comic panels. From there, it dives into a series of over a dozen short adventures, each ranging from two to eight pages long. These stories are fast-paced but gentle: no one gets hurt, including the villains, and there are often silly twists. Occasionally, we get cameos from other Marvel heroes, like Black Panther, the Hulk, and Ms. Marvel.
In some stories, the heroes face villain-free challenges like getting to a movie on time or making cookies for Aunt May. When villains do appear, they are up to mild or nonspecific mischief – Green Goblin tries to steal parade balloons, Rhino threatens to “smash the city” unless Spidey races him, Doc Ock tries to turn a park into a giant aquarium, and so on. These are often resolved with outcomes that leave even the villains satisfied: for instance, it turns out Green Goblin is playing pranks at the library because he is upset he can’t check out books, but he is happy to stop when the heroes help him get a library card.
Given the pace and length of these stories, there isn’t a lot of time for character development. It is clear, though, that the three heroes are friends, and they support and care about each other as well as others, like Aunt May and her cat Bootsie. Like good superheroes, they will drop what they are doing to help others.
The art is bright and dynamic. All of the heroes and villains except for Rhino and the Hulk are drawn child-sized and with childlike proportions, which is especially clear when they appear with an adult character like Aunt May. Backgrounds are colorful and detailed, but do not compete with the characters, in part because the characters tend to have thicker, bolder outlines than anything else in the panels. Most pages have three or four panels each, but the layout varies, adding visual interest.
A dozen words throughout the story have asterisks marking them as vocabulary words, which are defined at the end of the book. Many of these are terms specific to the Spider-Man universe, but the list also includes words like “trap” and “invisible.” The book specifies on its back cover that it is a “Level 1 title tailored for ages 5 to 7” and that its Lexile Level is 400L, all of which may be useful to potential readers and their parents and teachers.
Spider-Man has long been popular with children. Unlike a lot of superhero media, this comic offers action and humor but no scary danger or violence, making it a good fit for young fans.
Spidey and his Amazing Friends: Team Spidey Does It All! By Steve Behling Art by Giovanni Rigano, Antonello Dalena, Ellen Willcox Marvel, 2022 ISBN: 9781368076074
Publisher Age Rating: 5 to 7 Series ISBNs and Order Related media: TV to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9) Character Representation: Afro-Puerto-Rican, Assumed White,
Miles Morales is Brooklyn’s very own friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, a role he is adjusting to with tentative confidence. His web aim may be way off, and his snappy retorts may need a bit of work, but he can turn invisible! Can Peter Parker do that? NOPE. When a wave of earthquakes devastates Puerto Rico, the homeland of Miles’s mother, he knows he must do something to help. Conveniently enough, Kyle, the new girl at Brooklyn Visions Academy, is willing to help him out with his neighborhood’s block party fundraiser. Her father works for Serval Industries, whose CEO Mr. Snow will sponsor the fundraiser and bring donations directly to Puerto Rico on his personal jet. Everything seems great, until Kyle’s father sends her a confusing text message and then mysteriously disappears. It’s up to Miles, Kyle, and Miles’s roommate Ganke Lee to put the pieces together and figure out Snow’s true motivation.
Though this book features supernatural heroes and villains, the Puerto Rican earthquakes bring a connection to recent real world events. Readers will likely associate the Puerto Rican earthquakes in the story with the real-life hurricanes and earthquakes that have caused severe damage to the island in the last few years. Miles is half Puerto Rican, so the earthquakes directly affect his family. But by showing his mother’s damaged childhood home, this book forces readers to relate to the devastation on a personal level, making the book feel like a call to action.
Miles’s thoughts provide authentic teenage narration and are clearly distinguished from the traditional rounded white speech bubbles by appearing in white text on a red background. The dialogue and narration are funny and youthful; someone references “Pics or it didn’t happen,” and at one point Kyle says, “Please don’t make me go full Karen and call security.” In what is perhaps the most charming quote of the book, Ganke references the movie To Catch a Thief, which Miles had recommended to him, to which Miles replies, “Cary Grant’s dope, right?”
I read the uncorrect proof, which switches from full color to black-and-white rudimentary illustrations in the midst of the book; the cataloging-in-publication page states that the illustrations will appear in their final form in the published book. In the approximately 20 pages that include full color illustrations, the art is striking, with a mid-20th century graphic design-inspired aesthetic. Miles and his friends look like tweens or young teens. Fans of the Marvel Comics Universe will be happy to see the cameos from Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, with a reference to Avengers Academy. This book will most likely find its audience, but in case it needs a hand, give it to kids who enjoy realistic graphic novels with an undercurrent of tough topics, such as New Kid and Sunny Side Up.
Miles Morales: Shock Waves By Justin A. Reynolds Art by Pablo Leon Scholastic, 2021 ISBN: 9781338648041
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Series ISBNs and Order Related media:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Black, Guatemalan-American, Character Representation: Afro-Puerto-Rican, Black, Puerto Rican,
“Which is better—the sweet lie, or the bitter truth?”
Elysia Puente grapples with these options as she explores the New York City subway system during a Category 3 hurricane. She’s looking for her little brother, Angel, who called her in a moment of desperation. Even though they are both adult age, she sees herself as his protector and braves a series of supernatural challenges in search of her brother as well as the truth between them. Her complete story envelopes not only her and her brother, but an entire family history’s worth of deceit.
Submerged is a taut, imaginative look at family trauma through a series of lenses. Over the course of its four chapters, Elysia’s journey sees her gradually coming to terms with the impact her parents had on her and her brother. For example, at one point, Elysia runs past a couple of posters on the subway station wall: one saying ‘Don’t give up on yourself—Seek help,’ the other, ‘Judy’s Pies—Just like mom’s!’ This background detail foreshadows the spectre of Elysia’s mother, a real piece of work. She always pushed a rigid standard of living on Elysia’s life to the point of abuse, followed by forcefully apologizing to the point of a different but equally harmful abuse. She hugs Elysia too tight when she’s a child and forces her to switch schools so that she can’t see her girlfriend. She argues with teenage Elysia to not go to college. The mother’s reasons are always presented as for the father’s sake, but she is still enforcing that dominance on her daughter.
The story is straightforward enough on its own, with Elysia witnessing flashbacks to her childhood that gradually build an overarching narrative with a couple of concluding twists. However, readers who engage with the mythological name-dropping and symbolism will have plenty to digest. True to Greek myth, Phlegethon Station is all fire and smoke, just like its Greek underworld namesake, the river of fire. News reports about the hurricane above reference areas of New York City being submerged in “the river,” begging comparisons to the River Styx and the passage of the dead to the afterlife. Elysia even uses tokens to get in and out of the subway system, and the train conductor is blind like Charon, the ferryman of myth. Parallels to Odysseus’s and Orpheus’s classic journeys abound for readers to recognize.
Elysia is an entertaining character to follow. As she witnesses memories of dramatic arguments with her family, she makes self-aware comments such as, ‘If I live through this I’m never having kids, I swear to god’ and ‘My therapist is going to have a field day with this.’ She and her family are bilingual, and the parents consider Elysia’s consistent use of English a sign of disrespect. Elysia’s preference for girls is treated more severely, almost like a betrayal. Elysia uses the word ‘dyke’ to describe how she thinks others see her, and graffiti in the station uses that word as well, reflecting the pain she is revisiting.
A number of lettering effects are employed throughout the story. Dotted word balloons are used to show whispering. Gray lettering conveys an echo. Spiky balloons broadcast phone messages. Big, bold, yellow letters are used for sound effects. A variety of coloring and layout effects are also used. For example, in a scene of tracks changing direction, the page layout turns sideways, though it presents no additional difficulties in reading the content. As the storm worsens near the end of the book, the gutters themselves become watery blue lines of water running along the page. While the station is often bathed in shadows and populated with colorful ghosts, the train cars that display Elysia’s flashbacks each use different palettes, including black outlines switching to light browns.
The story also addresses gender roles from Elysia and Angel’s points of view. Angel fights Elysia over a dinosaur toy in childhood, saying it’s for boys, then apologizes. Elysia always bears the nickname La Princesa from her father, a term of affection but also control. Their father’s criminal empire places uniquely violent burdens on Angel’s shoulders. As a young man, Angel wants to prove himself to his father and freaks out the first time Angel impulsively uses a gun to kill someone—he says it was an accident. Later on, when he is assigned a hit, he refuses to pull the trigger and says about it, ‘It felt good, okay? I felt like a goddamn man, for once in my life.’ Later on, Elysia reflects, ‘If I don’t let go of the anger and resentment about the past, I’ll never leave it behind.’ Escape from the supernatural subway is an exercise in reflection, confession, and ultimately forgiveness.
Submerged is an excellent graphic novel that fits in a number of categories, such as queer, Spanish-language, horror, magical realism, and crime. The horror/violent content is fairly mild, with some tears of blood here and stabbing a giant caterpillar with a sword there. Other mature content, such as alcohol consumption, multiple four-letter words, and the aforementioned homophobic slur, place this squarely in older teen and adult territory.
Submerged By Vita Ayala Art by Lisa Sterle ISBN: 9781939424426 Vault, 2019
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Character Traits: Afro Latina Lesbian Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator