In 2007/08, Reader's Digest picked up the rights to publish "Marvel Heroes" books, and have created a series of innovative books, each with a special gimmick.
Mind you, when I say "innovative", I refer mostly to the technology and physical construction of the product. The stories themselves are rather less impressive.
The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man are all at the Baxter Building. Iron Man gives all the other heroes "Secret Light Wands". Apparently, they work "like X-Rays" to reveal all sorts of hidden clues and otherwise invisible objects. I thought X-Rays made visible things invisible, not the other way around. But let's not start quibbling right at the start, there'll be plenty of time for that later.
Oh yeah, and Iron Man also gives Spider-Man some invisible webbing. Because... because he can.
Then an urgent message appears on the video monitor. There's been a break-in at the Natural History museum. Pieces of an "ancient Peruvian warrior statue" have been stolen. According to legend, when the pieces are assembled and combined with a gem, it comes to life and is"virtually unstoppable". It will obey the commands of whoever assembled it.
Let's just take a moment there. The Museum had this warrior. The legend says it can be used to create an unstoppable golem. The Museum believes this "legend" sufficiently to place an urgent call to seven major-league super-heroes the instant that it is stolen. Yet they never worried about having it floating around before-hand? They never thought about giving one of the pieces to the heroes to look after?
The heroes go to the museum. Doctor Doom is responsible, and has left lots of invisible clues lying around. Also he has left his army of Doombots, some of which are invisible. Why is everything suddenly invisible? Well, so that you can use your special pen to reveal the clues and the robots of course! I know, it doesn't make any sense. It's just a complete and utter coincidence which exists for no reason other than to make the gimmick work.
Now, for some inexplicable reason, the trail leads to an ancient pyramid in Peru. Why did Doctor Doom take the warrior statue back to Peru? I have no idea. According to the legend, all he needs to do is insert the gem. So why not take the gem to the statue? Oh, right. It's a change of scene so the illustrator can draw something different, and we can pad out a few more pages in the story.
The chase continues in Peru. There's a secret (invisible doorway). Then the heroes are trapped in an invisible cage. Then an invisible trapdoor in the floor, leading to more invisible Doombots. The heroes defeat the robots, and ultimately face the giant warrior statue.
Spider-Man saves the day by using his (invisible, naturally) webbing to pull the gem out of the statue, thus deactivating it. Doom's plan is foiled. The statue is returned to the museum, where it will be safe... until somebody else comes along and does the same thing.
They say that "When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Equally, when you're holding an Ultraviolet Light Pen, everything in the storybook is invisible and only shows under UV light.
There's a number of annoying things about this book. Firstly is the ridiculous proliferation of invisible objects. Still, at least that's understandable in the context of the UV light pen gimmick. Then there's the complete lack of characterization
More disappointing is the fact that the plot is basically identical to Marvel Heroes: Race Against Time, one of the other Reader's Digest books in this series. In that story (by the same writer), the Marvel Heroes fight a giant robot which is activated by placing a green gem of "Element X" in its chest. Spider-Man deactivates the robot by yanking the gem out with his webbing.
Seriously, Mr. Harper. If you are asked to write two stories for Reader's Digest, surely the least you can do is write TWO stories, not the same story twice?
Tough call. Great production quality, great gimmick, but a totally lame-ass story.
On reflection, I don't think I can give less than three webs to any book that includes a UV light pen.