Audio : The Amazing Spider-Man: House Call (Story Reader)

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: Mar 2012.

Background...

Publications International produce quite a lot of books, but not many of them feature Spider-Man.

Rather, they offer a wide range of stories within very specific formats. They specialize in electronic audio books, and in high-value niche children's books like their "Look & Find" range. This book falls into the former category. It's a "Story Reader" book.

"Story Reader" books are 7" x 8" spiral bound books which is sold with a matching electronic memory cartridge (about 2" x 3" x 0.25"). They are specifically constructed to fit together into "Story Reader" players. The entire book fits snugly into the plastic player case, and the cartridge snaps into a dedicated slot. A speaker in the player reads the recorded story. A small magnet glued to each page tells the player where you are up to, so it knows which page to read. That's very cool!

Now, I don't actually own a player, so I can't comment on the quality of the narration. But let's have a look at the story and the artwork anyhow.

In Detail...

The Amazing Spider-Man: House Call (Story Reader)
Year 2006 : SM Title
Find ISBN 1412761972
Summary: Cartridge fits "Story Reader" machine (reads aloud as you turn pages)
Publisher:  Publications International Ltd.
Writer:  Matt Kelly
Illustrator:  Jon Haward
Narrator:  Jamie Vann
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 Contained In: Spider-Man Story Reader Library

Peter Parker isn't paying much attention to his friend Mary Jane, because he has been up late at night as Spider-Man, catching crooks.

To prove it, Spider-Man spends the next four pages catching thugs, before the city lights are suddenly all switched off. Climbing a building, by the light of the moon, our web-headed hero spots Doctor Octopus racing across the rooftops.

Doc Ock heads for the waterfront. Oh no! Mary Jane was going to the waterfront tonight! What is the chance that Doctor Octopus will kidnap her?!!?

About 100%, obviously.

The evil Doctor Octopus has kidnapped four random people from the street, to take back to his laboratory. Using all of the power that he has stolen from the city, he will activate his mind control machine and turn the four captives into villains. If it works, Ock plans to make an army of villains.

I would like to point out that Ock actually uses the word "villains". He specifically wants to create villains. Not soldiers, or subjects. Nope, Otto Octavius would like to live in a city full of villains. Because... well. Just because.

Suddenly, Spidey arrives and frees the hostages. Then he fights with Doctor Octopus. Ock pushes Spider-Man into his evil machine. Yes, the book uses the word "evil" to describe the machine. It does not use the word "evil" to describe Doctor Octopus.

I'm not sure why all the powers is needed, since clearly this "evil" mind control machine is built out of clockwork. It must be, because it comprises a series of six-foot diameter cogs which spin round and round in an evil fashion. Spidey dodges Ock's tentacles, until eventually the tentacles are caught in the machine, trapping Doctor Octopus.

The next day, Mary Jane feels fine. Peter buys her an apple, because "an apple a day keeps the doctor away".

In General...

There is a perennial argument at stake here. Can a machine of itself truly be evil? Surely "evil" is a matter of intent, and a machine has no intent. A machine can be harmful, but many would claim that only a human act can be considered evil.

For example, consider this book-reading technology I have just described. By itself, it is a machine which can benefit humanity, or harm it. It is only an act, such as the writing and distribution of a very, very badly written story that could be considered evil.

And please be assured, this is indeed a very, very badly written story. The plot is ill-conceived both in structure and in detail, while the dialog and narrative are stilted and forced. The art is capable enough, in a kindergarten sort of fashion, but nothing could redeem the flaws in the text.

Overall Rating...

I often struggle to rate these books that contain wonderful gimmicks or technology tricks. Quite often (as in this case) the fun mechanical parts of the book are interesting and appealing. Also, quite often (as again in this case) the story and dialog are very disappointing indeed.

This leaves me torn between a high rating for the format and implementation, with a very low rating for the tale it has to tell. So what do I do in such cases? Frequently, I will split the difference, and give a middle-of-the-road rating.

But not in this case. The story is so bad as to be utterly unforgivable. No hidden magnets, loudspeakers or custom format memory cartridge can redeem this train-wreck.

I give it one web.

Footnote...

Note: I'm not attempting to support the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument here. Or to be more accurate, the "giant mind control machines don't control minds, mad scientists control minds" argument.

I'm definitely in favour of "giant mind control machine control". Yes, although they do require a mad scientist to activate them, I believe that a city free of giant mind control machines is a safer city.

And even if a constitutional amendment does support the right of organised militia of mad scientists to own mind control machines, I think we have to recognise that the world in which that amendment was scripted was a very different one from the modern environment in which we now live.