This book is the second in a set of four "Marvel Spider-Man: Comic Storybooks" written by comic-book letterer turned "Trust me, this my work with fonts and layout has given me all the skills I need to rewrite and greatly improve Lee & Ditko's original draft" revisionist, Joe Caramagna.
These books were first published by Parragon Book Service, Ltd. in the UK in 2014, and were later re-released for other markets with no significant changes.
The binding for all versions is a thick, plastic-covered card which is not quite paperback and not quite hardback. The cover is 5.1" x 7.7". Binding is square-bound approximately one quarter-inch thick.
The nominal page count is 80, however after removing front matter, blank pages, the character intros which are repeated across each book, and the chapter splash pages, there's really only 52 pages of actual original art and text material in each book.
Those of you who are familiar with the diaries of Lemony Snicket, published as "A Series of Unfortunate Events" will be aware that each episode begins with a dire warning of the unpleasantness and misery to be found within. I feel a compunction to issue a similar advisement.
The first book in this series, Behind the Mask (Vol. 1) combined all the charm and vitality of an industrial work-site accident involving a jackhammer and three nuns, with the intellectual wit of a spastic orangutan's Twitter feed. I am not expecting anything better from this sequel, yet I feel condemned to review it nonetheless. Such is my curse.
CHAPTER ONE: Three females in street mime costumes have robbed a bank for "bags of money" and are fleeing the scene in a car as the police approach. Rather than let somebody who is trained do the job, Spider-Man uses his webs (the origins of which were never explained) to cause an accident, dragging the car across two lanes of traffic to smash through the glass front of an Italian restaurant. Countless lives were put in danger, and property damage caused quite likely in excess of the amount stolen.
When the police arrive, the most notable fact we are to take from the event is that Spidey unwittingly wore through the pants of his tights while being dragged across the pavement, and his torn posterior is all over the evening news. I believe we are supposed to laugh at this point. But J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle, is not laughing. He wants photos of something other than Spidey's butt, a noble sentiment which I applaud.
CHAPTER TWO: At the Marshall Corporation, elderly scientist (and bird-lover) Adrian Toomes is the company's most capable, longest-serving employee, with an exemplary track record of training and supporting the younger, less reliable and less trustworthy staff.
That's why it makes no sense when the company owner barges into Toomes' office and fires him. "But what about the Vulture suite I developed?" sobs Toomes. "You mean that silent, one man armored bullet-proof flying suit that operates on renewable power, with unparalleled maneuverability and control, remarkable flight time, extraordinary lifting power, and that would revolutionize transport and the military?" asks Mr. Marshall the company owner? "Complete waste of time. Now get out of here and take that useless thing with you!"
Meanwhile, Aunt May and Peter are going to be evicted! Oh, maybe they're not... Look! Aunt May has found one of Ben's old bank books, yay! They can pay the rent! Or can they?!?! [Ominous Music]
CHAPTER THREE: Aunt May is at the bank with her deceased husband's checkbook. But the bank won't let her have the money unless the has a notarized statement from her spouse. Oh, the injustice! How cruel banks are! Aunt may demands to see a manager, but that plot thread is never resolved. Does the evil bank steal her money in their wicked Catch 22?
We never find out. Instead, The Vulture robs the bank, and Spidey stops him... still with his rear-end hanging out of his Spider-Man suit.
CHAPTER FOUR: Spider-Man defeats the Vulture. Then Peter uses Uncle Ben's old camera to take photos of himself as Spider-Man and sells them to the Daily Bugle to pay the rent money.
Gratuitous Name-Dropping Cameos: Willie Lumpkin (mailman) suggest to Aunt May that she gives Ben's camera to Peter.
Hahaha! Look at Spider-Man's underpants! And look! Mime artists robbing a bank!
Toilet humor and mime artists aren't the worst thing about this story. It really reaches its lowest levels of intellectual bankruptcy with the revisionism pertaining to Adrian Toomes' back-story. In the original, Toomes was ripped-off by his partner's financial skulduggery. But in this version, Toomes is merely an underling, who is clearly the most useful, generous, reliable, and capable inventor in the company. Yet he is gratuitously and deliberately fired along with his awesome invention.
Then we have that stupid pointless discussion about Uncle Ben's bank account. On the settling of a non-contested estate, a wife automatically gets access over all her husband's assets. The whole "evil bank and their heartless staff trying to rip off a poor widow" is just a cheap-shot reach for a discredited cliche. The only purpose it served was to get Peter into the bank at the same time as the Vulture's robbery attempt.
Why am I so annoyed at a £4 children's book? Let me tell you.
I consider that children's books are absolutely vital for healthy child development. I have raised four children, and I read aloud to them every night that I can. I buy them books and encourage reading (rather than YouTube or digital media) at every opportunity, because I've seen for myself how pre-teen reading leads reliably to general academic success, increased attention span, and thoughtfulness.
A good early-reader book is a wonderful, wonderful thing – it can delight both the reader and (if applicable) the readee.
Sadly, "The Vulture" is not one of the good ones. I give it one web and a strong recommendation that you find something better.
So how does Peter explain to Aunt May where he got that money from? Does he explain that he persuaded Spider-Man to pose for a photo shoot? And what happened to all that money he got from wrestling?