Why is Spider-Man saying "Of course I can LICK a wall! I'm a Super-Hero SPOON who has the power of a FLEA!" Because he is playing Spider-Man Mad Libs... or so goes the blurb on the back of the book.
This review covers both the Spider-Man and Spider-Woman "Mad Libs" books from 1981. The complete set also included Incredible Hulk and Captain America.
Each is a top-hinged pad of pages around 5.5" x 8.5", with 24 sheets of paper printed on the front side only. The front cover is glossy soft card, the back is thick grey card to provide a suitable backing board for writing. Many of the internal pages contain black and white illustrations.
If (like myself) you never came across this phenomenon in your childhood, let me clarify that "Mad Libs" is a structured party game for the younger generation. You buy a book of short tales, with gaps marked "Noun", "Adjective", "Type of Animal", etc.
A "reader" looks at the page, and after explaining to victims of the modern education system exactly what a "plu-perfect adverbial clause" is, prompts the assembled "players" for words to fit the gap, but without showing them the context. Then, read the story back, with the supplied words. The silly sequences and novel non sequiturs will theoretically produce a laugh.
Advertised as "A do-it-yourself laugh book", and "World's greatest kid's party game", I guess it could well produce a chuckle among the right crowd in the right circumstances. In fact, I suspect that after a whole bottle of Coca Cola, my six year-old would be ready to laugh at these until bubbles came out of her nose. On the other hand, I don't think it'll go down too well at my weekly French Poetry-Reading Society.
Actually, the whole thing isn't as bad as it sounds. Mad Libs is a classic concept, and these books have a great deal of charm. The books actually contain two separate end-to-end stories, with accompanying black and white illustrations throughout. The stories are appropriately silly (e.g. Spider-Man has to take his costume to the laundrette because he smells and Mary Jane won't go on a date with him).
But while the stories are silly, they don't feel "throw-away" at all. The writers clearly put some effort into their work. The concept may be low-brow, but the implementation is solid.
Four Webs. These books represent the convergence of two iconic cultural concepts, and that makes them great collectibles, despite their silliness.
I suspect that the younger generation today is going to get more of a kick out of a four-way rumble on a PlayStation 2, while those a little older might prefer this little dictionary game, suitable for four or more players of an adequate stage of literacy:
The game is played in a series of rounds. Take it in turns to be the Referee for the round. The referee looks up an obscure word in the dictionary, and tells the other player the word, but not the meaning.
Players then write down a possible dictionary definition for the word, trying to make it sound as realistic as possible, even if they don't know the true meaning. They write down their definitions (and their names), and hand them to the Referee.
The Referee writes down the actual definition, and mixes it up with all of the fake definitions. S/He then reads all the definitions in turn, and the players make their guess as to which one they believe to be the real meaning. The Referee doesn't make a guess.
The Referee then reveals the real meaning, and awards points as follows, or some pre-agreed variation thereof:
Then somebody else becomes the Referee, and play continues until somebody scores 20 points, or some pre-agreed total.