The Battle Unfolds is a simply-plotted children's book with a gimmick: each of the five double page spreads folds out into a different, larger scene. (The title is a pun "Unfolds?" Get it?) The first spread opens left and right to reveal a panoramic view; the second opens partially to the left to present a different picture then opens further left to centerfold size; the third opens up and the fourth opens down into half-poster size; the fifth returns to the panoramic style of spread #1. But what happens in all these spreads?
Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Thing are hanging around Avengers Mansion when a security alarm lets them know that the army base at Cape Citadel is under attack. Arriving at the base, they find Dr. Octopus, Sabertooth and Sandman breaking in.
The bad guys are there to steal the power gem, "the government's new top-secret energy source." The heroes defeat Ock and Sabertooth but Sandman slips into the vault and makes off with the power gem.
The Thing has already called for back-up, however, and the rest of the Fantastic Four arrive. Just before the Invisible Woman traps Sandy in an invisible force bubble, the Green Goblin swoops down and snatches the power gem. Then an earthquake seems to hit as the Mole Man and one of his monsters arrive on the scene.
Turns out Gobby and the rest are all working for Moley who wants the gem to provide "unlimited energy to my underworld kingdom." Gobby passes the gem to him but the heroes intervene. Mr. Fantastic captures the Goblin as Spidey uses his webbing to yank the gem out of the Mole Man's hands. The Mole Man escapes but Spidey has a hunch they "haven't seen the last" of him. "He'll be back," the web-slinger declares. But not in this story.
Granted, not much of a plot. Also, anyone interested in the continuity of these characters will realize that Doc Ock, Sabertooth, Sandman and especially the Green Goblin are not likely to join together under the command of the Mole Man and commit a theft that would only benefit the Mole Man's underworld kingdom.
But, come on! This is a children's book! It only makes sense to combine some of the cooler villains together for a romp like this. I'm more concerned with the way the heroes snatch the gem back from the Mole Man when all he wants to do is provide power to his kingdom. Nowhere does it say that the power gem was difficult to make. Why not give one to the Mole Man and make another for us? With unlimited power for his kingdom, he may not ever bother us again.
But, then again, this is a "Marvel Heroes" book, not an episode of "Blue's Clues." Conflict is bound to be emphasized over cooperation. None of which has anything to do with the reason to pick up this book: the lush, large illustrations. I'm not familiar with Ron Adrian and Roberto Campus' previous work but I'm impressed with it here.
My favorite moments include Doc Ock breaking through the wall with his tentacles on spread #1 with the same Ock figure used in the panorama as he holds Spider-Man and attacks the force field protecting the power gem; the gloved hand reaching down to the power gem from off the page in spread #3 revealed in the unfolding to be a nicely malevolent Green Goblin; the Mole Man's expression of triumph as he holds the gem in spread #4; and the monster in the background of spread #5 revealed as holding a livid Mole Man in his hand when the page is unfolded.
The Sandman's facial expressions are a little excessive but that's about my only complaint. There is vibrancy to the artwork, a feeling of rushing headlong through the adventure; the character anatomy is precise, the colors are vivid. A fine package all the way around. Of course, any kid reading this book may end up preferring conflict to cooperation. Just a friendly warning.
Four webs on the artwork alone. With a half-decent story, it could have been five.