This is one of series of Giant Coloring Books produced in the 1970's and 80's. At a whopping 17" x 22" these books pretty much dwarf everything else in my collection.
This book from 1978 was one of the few in the format published by "Nova Company". The earlier books in this style were created by "Parkes Run", and the later examples were from Marvel themselves.
This "Nova" product follows the standard format — a single story in black and white newsprint pages with line art. However, this "Color-and-Learn" books is stylistically rather different from the others in this series, as it attempts to mix education with entertainment. It is also longer than most, the book being 40 pages in total.
Our tale begins with Peter Parker, Daily Bugle Photographer, investigating a series of crimes at the local zoo. A number of highly endangered animals have been kidnapped! The police are investigating, and a ransom note has just been received. For one million dollars, the thief will return the missing beasts.
Judging by the events that unfold, Peter has been promoted to Journalist, as he takes notes as well as photographs. As Peter investigates the empty enclosures, the writers take this opportunity to guide us through the various oh-so-endangered species that have been stolen. We are presented with with pictures and brief summaries in this "Learn" part of the book, as it plods along for eight or ten pages.
So we are piously lectured on how rare these animals are, and how important it is to treat them well. But despite the admonishments, all these animals appear to have be kept in small locked cages rather than in generous natural, open enclosures at this zoo! Admittedly, this is the 70's and zoos have come a long way since then. But it's still a nasty piece of hypocrisy!
Did we mention that the locks for the stolen animals' cages have not been forced or tampered with? Oh no! What an extraordinary mystery! The police are baffled! Only Detective Spider-Man can save the day as he investigates and discovers that each cage has a large unlocked grating in the floor which leads to wide open sewers. Those silly blind policemen!
Spider-Man enters the subterranean access-way and follows the animal sounds until he discovers the creatures behind a heavy metal door. The door is closed (so how did the sounds escape to travel down the tunnels) but not locked (isn't that lucky). Spider-Man also finds the evil kidnapper — his old foe "The Ferrett".
Who? Never heard of the guy. Never will again either, I'm quite sure. The Ferrett doesn't appear to have any special powers, other than the ability to dress up in skin-tight lycra with a silly symbol on his chest. Spider-Man bundles up The Ferrett between pages (there's not even really any fight scene). Peter finally returns to the Daily Bugle to discover that he forgot to take any pictures of the animals or the villain. Oh, poor sad Peter Parker.
I've always said that the artwork carries these books, not the story. So I'm prepared to forgive a little silliness and diversion in the plot. But this one really does push my patience. It's inconsistent, pious, and hard to accept. But worse than that, it's flat out dull. Boring. Inane. Lifeless.
Yes, the in-your-face black and white line drawings are all present and ready for a willing wielder of crayons or coloured pencils. But the text adds nothing. In fact, it subtracts a great deal.
These oversized colouring books are a format with fantastic potential. But the plot in "Endangered Species" just gives nothing for the artwork to work from. Spider-Man doesn't actually do anything that an overweight policeman with half a brain couldn't have done. The entire book is simply one giant middle finger to New York's detectives.