Marvel has, over the years, partnered up with various corporations and pro- social groups to produce quite a few "specialty" comics. These comics utilize the various Marvel characters (mostly, Spidey, the X-Men, and Avengers) promoting specific causes or products. One company that has co-sponsored a number of comics with Marvel has been Target.
To date, Target has sponsored at least six comics with Marvel - one with Target/St. Jude's Hospital: America's Super Heroes, one with Child Abuse Prevention NCPCA - Spider-Man on Bullying Prevention, and a total of four (including this comic) supporting literacy.
As in the previous three Target Reading to the Rescue adventures our three littlest heroes, Russ, Sharon, and Austin are actually the main characters in this comic. This time out, each of them are possessed by a fragment of the mystical Uni-force, and become, for a short period of time, a version of Captain Universe. As in previous adventures, they are aided and abetted, by Spider-Man and other heroes (the Fantastic Four this time around).
Russ, Sharon, and Austin are all entering a contest through their school to create their own comicbook character. Each of them has chosen to create a character that plays into their own strength and/or interests. Russ Chiang who uses his intelligence and knowledge of physics, logic and math rather than mere strength to fight supervillains, Sharon Donavan, a pacifist at heart, created a character that abhors violence and chooses to inspire peace, harmony, and brotherhood in her quest for truth and justice, while Austin Burns (the more physical of the group) has his character revel in his own strength.
Meanwhile, over in the Negative Zone, the nefarious Annihilus is chasing down the Uni-force, which has somehow wound up into this dark and unforgiving place. Just as Annihilus closes in on the Uni-force and seems to snare the animated orb, only to have the sentient life force split into thirds and then simply disappears from the Neg-Zone.
Tapping into it's own unique source of energy, the Uni-Power shifts it's being into "regular" space and empowers the three children, endowing them each with the powers and abilities of the superhero each of them created. Somehow (and you can almost forgive DeZago for this unexplained (and unprecedented) anomaly) Annihilus is somehow able to track the Uni-power through whatever wormhole the Uni-Power was able to tap into, and cross over into regular space after it.
First up, Austin gets empowered by the Uni-Force, altering him into his character, named "Frantic," who is immediately tagged by Annihilus, as the cosmically-empowered villain blasts through Austin's bedroom window and blasts Frantic through the other side of the building, right into the web-slinging arms of our favorite arachnid, who just happens to be swinging past. As Frantic quickly introduces himself to the webbed wonder, Spidey's buzzing Spider-Sense causes him to shove Frantic out of the way of one of Annihilus' cosmic blasts. Only the errant blast strikes a nearby water tower, and weakens one of the tank's struts.
Overly confident of his own abilities, Frantic flies over to the tower and grabs the leg that was struck. Spidey shouts out a warning that strength alone won't stop the tower from falling Frantic needs to properly exert correct leverage to stop the tower from falling. Only it comes too late, and Frantic inadvertently snaps the Tower's leg, and the tower tips over.
Nearby, in Russ' room, he also has been struck by the Uni-Force, and been transformed into his hero, Professor Zenith. As the erstwhile Professor flys off into the night-time sky, he spots the exchange of power blasts by Annihilus, and realizes that he is attacking both Spider-Man and his Uni- Powered friend, and determines to head over to help. Meanwhile, in Reed Richards lab in the Baxter building at Four Freedom Plaza, Mr. Fantastic and Johnny Storm realize that Annihilus has somehow escaped the Neg-Zone, and is on a rampage in mid-town Manhattan.
Arriving on the scene of the battle, Prof. Zenith manages to utilize his own cosmic powers to prevent the water tower from toppling onto the street below. As he rights the tower, Austin/Frantic recognizes the cosmically powered Professor as his friend Rob. Distracted by this observation, Frantic is almost flash-fried by Annihilus who hasn't forgotten that a fight is still raging. Thankfully, the battle-seasoned Spidey still has his head in the game, and snags Frantic with his webbing and yanks him to relative safety.
Tapping into his superior powers of observation and analysis Prof. Zenith ponders the situation in an attempt to best determine how to deal with the problem at hand. Needless to say, he too is nearly burnt by Annihilus is now merely blasting at any and all heroes who are arriving on the scene. The cosmically brainy Prof. Himself is rescued by another brainy superhero as the FF arrives on the scene. Mr. Fantastic extends his arm and yanks Zenith out of the way as his wife, Invisible Woman, projects a force field protecting him from yet another of Annihilus' power blasts.
Nearby, Sharon, the third member of the Reading to the Rescue heroes is transformed by the Uni-Force into her own heroine, aptly named Serenity. As she acclimates to her newfound powers, she observes another raging battle between the incredible Hulk, and his gamma-empowered cousin, She-Hulk. The twin jade giants are slugging it out as Jen Walters attempts to calm or capture her cousin Bruce Banner; only it isn't going so well for her. The Hulk slams one of his massive fists into his gamma twin and propels her into the air. Lucky for She-Hulk, she is caught by the hovering Serenity. When appraised of the situation by Jen, Serenity flies down to Hulk's side and gently touches his forehead, immediately bestowing inner peace on him, and calming him down enough for Banner's personality to take control over the raging behemoth.
It is at this moment that the battle between Spidey, the FF, the other two Uni- Heroes, and Annihilus spills over into where Serenity and the cousins are standing. As the trio observes the mini conflagration, Jen suggests that Serenity subdue Annihilus in the same fashion that she quieted down the Hulk. She agrees, but indicates that she somehow needs to get close enough to Annihilus to calm him down.
Jen shouts out to The Thing to distract Annihilus so that Serenity can work her powers. Ben then coordinates a three-pronged attack with Spidey and The Human Torch, both of whom step up their assault on the extra-terrestrial villain. As one would expect, this works, and She-Hulk does her own version of the X-Men's "fastball Special" and tosses Serenity towards Annihilus. Surprised by the change-up pitch, Annihilus is caught unawares as Serenity flies over him and touches his forehead, rendering him unconscious.
With Annihilus now out of it, Mr. Fantastic uses a portable Dimensional Diverter to shift Annihilus back into the Negative Zone. With the danger over, the Uni-Force powers down, returning the three kids back to their normal selves, as it recombines and unifies its own self back into a single entity, and flies off, as is its wont. With the kids reverting to their normal selves, the FF transport them back to their homes, as both Russ and Sharon decide to re-write their comics so as to incorporate what they learned when possessed by the Uni-Force while Austin feels that his comic was just perfect as originally written.
As were the comics that preceded it, this book is not only fun and entertaining but educational as well. Proving once again that comics are a perfectly crafted medium to float the message of literacy for a young audience. Personally, I am a huge fan of companies tapping Marvel for the use of their heroes to float these types of pro-social messages, and I honestly believe that by presenting these types of issues in this type of format makes them more accessible to their intended audience.
Plus, for collectors like us, these specialty books provide not only a very cool collectible, but the hunt to acquire them makes the owning of them even sweeter.
There is a two-page crossword puzzle in the center of the comic, as well as a pair of coupons for any Marvel comic purchased at Target, plus a couple of Target-related ads in the comic. Also, the comicbook creation contest mentioned in the story, is a real contest that kids can enter with information about how to enter (as well as who is eligible to enter) on the inside front cover as well on the last page of the comic. Additional info on the create a comicbook contest can be found by loging onto Target's Web-Site after May 1, 2006.