Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

08 April 2009

The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City

Collects: Original content

Released: November 2007 (Pocket Books)

Format: 256 pages / black and white / $13 / ISBN: 9781416531418

What is this?: A travel guide to Marvel’s fictional New York and the places in real New York that fictional Marvel characters have traveled

The culprits: Writer Peter Sanderson

And now for something slightly different.

The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City is not a comic book or trade paperback. It is, as the title implies, a guide to the New York City inhabited by Marvel’s villains and supervillains, written by Peter Sanderson.

Comics fans who have read Marvel’s and DC’s own reference materials will recognize the name. Sanderson, a long-time historian of Marvel and DC stories, uses his knowledge to take readers on a whirlwind tour of the Big Apple, although it mostly features Manhattan. Each real site, be it a building, street, or neighborhood, is described with information an out-of towner might not know; the descriptions are followed a few events highlighting the locale’s Marvel history. Fictional sites are placed within the context of the city before their history is explored.

Marvel Comics Guide to New York City coverSanderson has the unenviable task of mapping fictional structures to real-life buildings — such as Yancy Street with Delancy Street or Avengers Mansion with the Frick Museum — and trying to shoehorn the fictional places into New York real estate. Despite the carelessness of some of Marvel’s creators, Sanderson does this admirably, and as anyone who’s read his work might imagine, he’s meticulous about his references. But he also manages to avoid being pedantic. He lays out the conundrums before the reader with a shrug, as if to say, “What can you do?” As Marvel readers might guess, New York beyond Manhattan is given short shrift — Spider-Man was born in Queens; what else has happened outside Manhattan? — but the other four boroughs plus Long Island, Westchester, and upstate New York are mentioned.

Sanderson generally sticks to the comics, but there are several references to the Spider-Man movies. Sanderson mentions shooting locations as well as the places those locales were meant to stand in for. Sanderson walks a fine line here — the comics have a long history, and shoving them aside for the Johnny-come-lately movies could alienate comic fans, but given the movies’ larger overall audience, cutting the references to them would be dangerous. In the end, Sanderson manages to balance the two continuities well enough to satisfy both camps.

The book could have benefited from more pictures — or, failing that, color pictures. It isn’t bereft of illustrations, so that isn’t a total loss. But fictional locales are frequently unillustrated, even though they have to have been drawn in some Marvel comic; usually, an unhelpful cover image is substituted. More importantly, though, a map would have been extremely helpful, and the cartographic absence is a major mark against the book.

Despite my interest in Marvel history, this book failed to grab me. New York doesn’t interest me, and differentiating the places within the Big Apple enough for me to care is a challenge this book isn’t up to. A map is absolutely essential for keeping everything in context for people unfamiliar with New York, and the book misses that. Still, finding out about the fictional places and the real places that inspired Stan Lee and other Marvel creators does make for some interesting moments.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (2.5 of 5)

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