Comics : Marvel Super Heroes Computer Fun Book One

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

This review was first published on: Jun 2012.

Background...

Kids today are so lucky, they know so much more about technology than their parents or grand-parents, right?

Five year old children come home every night and watch movies on the iPad they got for their last birthday. At the age of six, they're posting status updates on FaceBook. And we, the older generation, just struggle to keep up, learning the jargon as best we can. Right?

Or not.

Type "Google is making us" into the Google search bar and see what the top auto-completion is. I'll save you the bother, it's "Google is making us Stupid". Try the same for "smart phones are making us", and you'll find that the number one suggestion is "Stupid", followed closely by "Dumb" at number two.

You see, the more we get this stuff handed to us on a plate, the less we have to actually understand.

Nowadays, if you want to play a computer game, all you have to do is type in "free games" into your web browser and you'll be amused until your eyeballs dry up and wither back into your skull. During the following hours of vegetative entertainment, you will learn... pretty close to nothing, actually.

Back in 1984, things were just a little bit different. If you were lucky enough to have access to a micro-computer, playing a game first involved writing the software. More specifically, buying a book such as this one, and typing in the computer code by hand. Yes. I kid you not. This was considered normal.

Actually, my personal experience was even more challenging. We couldn't afford a computer in our family, but back around 1981 or so I managed to get access to a TRS-80 micro-computer that was in the psychology department at the university where my mother worked. I had no access to any books of computer games, but I had seen a couple of games running on a Sinclair ZX80.

Bored after school, and desperate to play computer games, I had no choice but to teach myself BASIC by reading the TRS-80 computer manual - and then to write my own programs from scratch to play "Snakes", and "Doctor Who" based on my memory of how they worked.

Somehow, despite my reduced access to sophisticated computer systems, I believe I managed to learn more from a few days of that process than your average kid will learn from three years of FarmVille or YouTube.

In Detail...

Marvel Super Heroes Computer Fun Book One
Sep 1984 : SM Guest
Summary: BASIC Computer Programs (Spider-Man Appears)
Publisher:  Donald I. Fine, Inc., Parachute Press, Inc.
Writer:  Richard Guaraldo, Susan M. Zakar
Advisor:  Dwight Jon Zimmerman
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Marvel Super Heroes Computer Fun Book Two
Year 1984 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 0917657063
Summary: BASIC Computer Programs (Spider-Man Appears)
Publisher:  Donald I. Fine, Inc., Parachute Press, Inc.
Writer:  Richard Guaraldo, Susan M. Zakar
Advisor:  Dwight Jon Zimmerman
Staff Only
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Review

There are two books in this series. Both are 8.5" x 11" square bound soft card cover with 96 black and white pages.

There are 20 programs in Book One, and 21 different programs in the Second Book. They range from about 20 to 40 lines of code. As well as the code, there's plenty of illustrations of which several feature our favorite web-slinger. The Fantastic Four get most of the credit in the first volume, with Spidey getting just a couple of programs to himself. In the second book, Spidey (and his villains) provide the theme for several programs.

The programs work on many different micro-computers: IBM PC, PC Jr, Commodore 64, VIC 20, Radio Shack III, Radio Shack Color, Apple II, II+, IIe and IIc. All of these systems run slightly different versions of BASIC, so some of the more complex programs require minor adjustments for different systems.

As for the programs themselves, well there's an impressive variety:

  • Programs that play real-time games (e.g. catch the bombs).
  • Programs that provide a puzzle to be solved.
  • Programs that simply show a moving graphic on the screen.
  • Programs that encode and decode secret messages.
  • Programs that create random stories.
  • ...and more.

There's a "debugging" section at the back, with hints and info for each program. Even more importantly, many of the programs have specific questions for you to investigate in order to learn more about how the program works. Some of the programs even have a deliberate "bug" for you to discover and fix before it will work. Of course, there are clues and answers should you get stuck.

In General...

To attempt to judge these games by today's standards would of course be meaningless. But back in 1984, this was cutting edge stuff. These games would have absolutely provided a fun range of desirable and enjoyable activities.

More importantly, by typing in these games and reading the text on the pages, you will learn about how computers work. Honestly, you will have no choice. If you possess the basic mental capacity to understand logic, and sufficient curiosity to not give up in the first ten seconds, then enlightenment and mental development are inevitable.

This is a matter of significant interest to me. As well as being a computer science graduate myself, I have also been an employer of computer science graduates for the last fifteen years. In a typical year, I would generally view around a hundred CVs for computer programmer's - many of them recent graduates. It's depressing how many of those graduates lack the spark of joyous hands-on programming that books like this represent.

Overall Rating...

This book appeals to me on so many different levels. There's Spider-Man in a collectable book, with computer games that resonate to offer an aching sense of a very special time in the history of technology.

100 REM RATING
110 WEBS=0
120 WEBS=WEBS+1
130 IF WEBS<5 THEN 120
140 PRINT "RATING: ";WEBS;" PERFECT WEBS."

Footnote...

Also, all I got for breakfast was a handful of gravel. And I had to walk to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. I fought and died in two world wars for kids today. And do I get any gratitude?