Being a fan of classic literature, I must confess that "Reader's Digest" has always been a dirty concept in my house. They made their name by producing abridged, snack-sized chunks of reading material which are the literary equivalent of fast food. As potato chips began making bellies soft and flabby in the middle of the last decade, so Reader's Digest did the same thing for brains.
And yet it's easy to overlook the other contributions that Reader's Digest have made. Over that same period they also produced a wide range of non-fiction reference books. And in recent years, they have picked up the Marvel Heroes franchise and created a notable range of interesting and interactive books. Here's another one.
Built for Battle is a "Storybook with 3-D Models". It is 8" x 11" and contains 16 regular pages - a front flyleaf, twelve pages of story, and three pages of instructions for assembling the models. It also contains cardboard components for building three cut-out figures.
The story is written by stalwart Michael Teitelbaum, and it goes something like this.
Thor and Captain America are watching on their crime-monitor computer when they are alerted to a theft taking place at the "Robinson Research Lab". Cap presumably keeps an eye on all of the scientific research that goes on in America, as he knows that the Lab is investigating a non-valuable but highly powerful giant radioactive gem.
Cap and Thor race to the research facility, where they discover Wolverine, Spider-Man and Iron Man trying to steal the gem. Thor and Cap are taken by surprise, and the three "heroes" escape with the gem. Cap and Thor recover quickly enough from the unexpected attack to follow the turncoat trio back to... the Puppet Master's Hideout.
Now, I'm not sure how come Thor and Cap recognized the Puppet Master's hideout. I mean, if you knew that building was his hideout, why didn't they just go and arrest him? But it doesn't matter, it's not that kind of story.
The Puppet Master uses the radioactive gem to activate a massive puppet, many times the human size. Captain America and Thor are outgunned, until Cap manages to destroy the small dolls that the Puppet Master was using to control Iron Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man. That makes the odds fairer, five heroes versus one giant radioactive creation.
In fact, the final victory is a bit trivial. Spider-Man simply uses his webbing to pull the radioactive gem out of the giant, deactivating him. Victory to the good guys. Next time, maybe the Puppet Master will put a latch on the chest cavity that holds the vital power source of his creation.
The story is really rather contrived, and is disappointingly similar to the other books in the Marvel Heroes Books (Reader's Digest) series. A scientific gizmo is stolen by a big-name Super-Villain. A star-studded collection of Heroes goes to fight and recover the doodad. The entire scenario is described in turgid prose, with shallow, barely-recognizable characterizations of over-tired Marvel properties.
But hey, so what? These books are all about the gimmick! And this issue's gimmick is a set of three cardboard "3-D Hero Models". The models are Iron Man, Wolverine, and Spider-Man, and each consists of a dozen pieces of thick card which slots together to make a figure with a base.
The cards are contained in a sleeve at the front of the book. Unfortunately I don't want to break the seal on my copy, so I can't judge the final result. But just based on the concept and the overall production quality, I'm prepared to let the "cool factor" of the models overshadow the tired and hackneyed nature of the actual story.