This is number two in the pre-teen mini-novels series from the late 90's. The series is a product of Pocket Books and Marvel Comics, published by Byron Preiss. They're standard paper-back profile, but only around 130-140 pages long. There's one line-art full-page picture every couple of chapters, the print is medium size, and the vocabulary is fairly undemanding. They seem to be aiming at the 8-12 yr old market.
The first in the series, "Midnight Justice", featured Venom and the Human Torch. This second one is Written by Bill McCay, and this time Spidey teams up with Daredevil. The bad guys are Kingpin and Hobgoblin, and the plot is this: Some scientist guy at ESU has developed a formula which evolves people into perfect human beings.
This looks better from the start. Sure, Hobgoblin and Kingpin are characters nearly as over-exposed as Venom - but when we learn that Kingpin and Hobgoblin are both trying to cheat each other out of the formula, that sure does an interesting angle. It's sure a heck of a lot more material to work with than "Venom hates Spidey".
In fact, let's toss in the rest of the angles. Kingpin funded the research, seeking a cure for his beloved but very unwell wife, Vanessa. The scientist, Dr. Aron Esterhazy, happily took the Kingpin's money, without thinking of the ethical and practical difficulties that such a funding source would eventually present. When Esterhazy decides not to hand over his research to Kingpin, he accidentally ends up being affected by his own chemical cocktail, and the lab-coated scientist turns into a super-strong being.
While the Kingpin's goons and Hobgoblin all race to find Esterhazy and his formula, Spidey and Daredevil team up to try and save the poor guy. There's plenty of action, culminating in a five-way battle royal in a classic spot, near the top of Fisk Tower.
So how does it all rate? Well, actually pretty good, to be honest. Things kick off fine in the first chapter, as Esterhazy goes super-sized, and heads for the hills. Things get a bit dull for a bit just after that, with Spidey and DD beating up countless Kingpin cronies. But it soon picks up pace once more when Hobgoblin breaks onto the scene. All-in-all, the plot sure doesn't break any new ground, but it does a fairly tolerable job of rehashing some tried and true concepts.
But what about the writing? Well, that also is surprisingly bearable. Once more, it's dumbed down a little too far for my liking, and I have to wonder just what age group it's aimed at. But within that context, Bill manages to keep the text flowing smoothly enough, and also succeeds in throwing out some interesting questions to his reader which feel to me to be fairly well pitched.
The kind of questions I'm talking about are nicely packaged ethical questions. Things like - "Should we go messing about with human evolution", "What responsibility to scientists have to think about the end use of their research," and even "If Kingpin uses crime to raise money to heal his wife, does that mitigate his crimes at all?".
Maybe I'm reading too much into the book, maybe Bill was just telling a story. Or maybe he tried to pose those issues (not in as many words, of course). Maybe he tried, but missed the mark. I can't tell, I'm not a nine-year old Spidey fan any more. But I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt, and give him credit for actually making a real effort on this one. Hey, I'm not saying that this book really cuts it in the world of quality story-telling... I have pretty high expectations of children's literature. But when you put this side-by-side with "The Babysitter Club #712: Tina Get's A Kitten", maybe it doesn't come out too badly off.
Let's call it 3-and-a-half Webs, and move on to Number 3 in the series, "Global War", featuring Doctor Octopus and Captain America.