As a collector of "Spider-Man Books (and comics)", it's surprising just how often I have to stop and ask myself "Is this a book... do I collect it or not?"
After a moment's thought, this one definitely qualifies. But technically it's a computer program with a book interface. It's a VTech "SmartBook"™. There's plenty of different twists on the formula, but they're basically the same concept. You buy a dedicated piece of hardware with a built-in sound chip, a little CPU, and a pen sensor. Then you buy special books and cartridges that plug into the system and turn it into an "interactive program".
These kinds of things were popular a few years back, before the days when every kid got a 10-inch tablet computer for their second birthday. Nowadays you download the equivalent app for $1.99 on your iPad or Android, so the "dedicated hardware" concept is pretty much dead now.
The book itself is 6.5" x 9", spiral bound. There are 24 pages of activities, which cover a wide range. There are "play the alphabet' pages, "read the story" pages, "walk through the maze" pages, "learn new words" pages, "play music" pages, "find the hidden things" pages, "match the items" pages and plenty of other games. On every page, tapping your pen on different things will make different sounds. In many cases, the order you tap is important.
There's a story threaded through the whole thing. It's the day of the big School Show, and Hulk is missing. Storm, Spidey, Cap, Wolverine, Spider-Girl and Thor have to go find him. It's not much of a plot, but it does the job.
Now I have to confess... I don't actually own a VTech system. I just own the book. So I can't say if the audio sounds and the pen interaction are actually any good or not.
All I can do is judge the book and the apparent list of activities. And based on that I do have to say... they look pretty good. Sure, the "Spider-Man & Friends" franchise is pretty silly. But this "Where is Hulk?" SmartBook™ does makes the most of the characters, and the result is a seemingly great mix of things to do.
Every page has a different way of using the interaction, and the bright colours and fun artwork is very supportive. The result is a book which is attractive, varied and interesting throughout.
These books and the associated hardware were never cheap. Their target market was busy, wealthy parents with too much money and not enough time to spend with their children.
But that's not really a particularly harsh criticism. These products didn't create those parents or that market. TV, video games, DVD's and now tablets have always been standing-by to entertain kids when rich mothers and fathers weren't available. Before that it was Nannies and Nursemaids. And comics.
This book is now the relic of a not-so-distant age. It was perhaps even the last such Spider-Man product of its type, and it shows that maturity with a professionalism and attention to detail which is praise-worthy.
Four and a half webs.