This is one of Marvels Specialty books that are produced for an end-client, rather than for distribution to the comicbook-buying public at large. While sometimes these comics are used to promote product lines, quite often (as in this case, they are utilized to promote pro-social causes. This particular comic was produced in cooperation with the New York City Sanitation Dept. in order to promote recycling. The print version of this comic was distributed in NYC public schools. This particular comic (there are two in this series) is targeted for Second and Third graders.
Each comic contains two stories and 6 pages of games and activities.
When a group of ordinary New York City kids turned their elementary school, known for its wasteful ways and totally messed up manners into a model champion of reducing, reusing, and recycling (RRR) they are turned into the ultra-cool, awe-inspiring warriors of waste, in other words, the Trashmasters. However, after a brief three months, the West Side Elementary (formerly referred to as Waste Side Elementary) won a Golden Apple Award for becoming the best RRR cool in the city, there have been some changes, and not for the better.
Shirley and her class are on their return trip back to the school form the NYC Botanical Gardens, remarking on how beautiful the gardens were. As they pass an empty lot full of debris and trash, their teacher, Ms. Sparks, warns them never to play in such places as they could be dangerous. One of Shirley's classmate's, Samantha, remarks that she lives near the lot and has always hated the way it looks. The next day, in Rusty's workshop with the rest of the Trashmasters she and Shirl tell Rusty about the lot and how much they would like to turn it into a garden, or a playground, or both. Henry wonders aloud who owns the lot and Fran chimes in that perhaps they could look up the owner on the Internet. Rusty acknowledges that it is a good idea and the kids arrange a meeting, a week later with the owner, a Mr. Bigg.
The kids pitch their idea to Mr. Bigg who shoots it down by asking them why should he do that when he simply can't make any money off a park. He is, after all, a tycoon developer and owns things like casinos, shopping malls and the like. He then goes further to scoff at the idea of playgrounds with all that fancy (and expensive) equipment. Why, after all, when he was a kid, all he had to play with was an old tire slung from a tree (no doubt at a park he had to walk 20 miles to in the snow, up hill in both directions, which he couldn't go to until after he got up at 5:00 in the morning to slap the hogs and milk the pigs, or some such silliness).
The kids insist that kids need parks in which to play, whereupon Mr. Biggs counters with what people really need is more parking. Which (of course) gives him the idea to turn the lot into a parking lot so that he can charge for parking. Discouraged the kids return to Rusty's workshop where they hatch a plan to thwart Mr. Big and get their park as well. The feel that if they hold a bake sale, walk dogs and pool their allowance they could buy the lot and turn it into a park. That is until Fran points out that even if they could do all of that it would still take them some 24,000 years to accomplish it.
Still Rusty won't throw in the towel (unless it is to recycle it) and piles everyone (including Ms. Sparks) into his magical transporter which moves the kids through the city flying over places like the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, and the site of the '64 Worlds Fair. Interestingly enough, however, their first stop is at an old tire dump where they envision all sorts of playground equipment utilizing the old tires.
Next up, they fly over a local ballpark (Shea Stadium, perhaps?) to a lot full of old wood and stuff that the kids re-imagine as a castle surrounded and a boat. Next up they stop at the NYC Department of Sanitation's Compost site. Finally they fly by a material recovery facility and spot Aluminum Al, who tell s them all about recycled goods that the plant produces.
Back at the workshop the kids determine that they can re-use all of the old materials and transform the lot into a beautiful park. Setting themselves to work they work up a plan for transforming the lot and present it to Mr. Biggs on the site. While his obviously impressed, he isn't swayed and is going with his first choice of transforming the lot into parking so that he can make money. At risk of losing out to the corporate big wig, Sam makes one last desperate plea to the little kid in Mr. Biggs, reminding him of how much fun it was to play in the park.
This works as Mr. Biggs is transformed into his younger self as he remembers how much fun he had as a kid. Whereupon he recants his plans, and declares the he'll make the lot into a park for kids (upon doing so he returns to his adult self). He shakes Sam's hand and she reminds him about the tax breaks he'll get for doing this. Finally we see the lot transformed and Mr. Bigg happily swing away on a swing set declaring himself to be a Trashmaster as well.
The relatively low score for this otherwise pleasant book is that because in spite of what we've come to expect about this book Spider-man really isn't in it. It isn't until the final page (back cover) that we finally get a glimpse of our webbed hero. Spider-Man is perched on the wall outside the school with the Trashmasters looking on through the windows. Here Spidey delivers the message of the comic that you don't have to be a superhero to be a Trashmaster but that every Trashmaster is a hero. There is also a text box about how NYC teachers can order their free resource kit from the Sanitation Dept.
Still, the comic is cute, and delivers a very helpful (and easy to read and understand) message about recycling. I believe that the message will reach its intended audience and that by presenting it in the form of a comicbook will make more accessible to them. Certainly the appearance of Spider-Man in the comic (even though it is just on the back page) will certainly help make it accessible to kids.
Currently this comic is all over the net (due, primarily to auctions on ebay and other sites), but it is being touted as a Spider-man specialty comic. Nothing could be further from the truth. As stated, Spidey only appears twice in the book (once in a daydream,amnd once on the back cover, and neither time is he an actual character).
If you are a Spidey completist (Hi Pete!) then yeah, go out and snag a copy, just dont pay a load of dough for it, especially when you can simply read the entire comic (in Marvel-style dot.comic, pop-up form by going to www.nyc.gov and reading it for yourself. This link gets you to the main menu from which you can read either story.
This issue also includes cameos of Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four inside the book, as well as a second appearance of Spider-Man in the comic on the back page promoting recycling.
There are six pages of puzzles and games in the comic that do not appear in the on-line version.