HarperFestival published eight kids storybooks in late 2008/early 2009. The books were grouped in three different format. The most verbose of the stories were three mini-novels, each with 64 cheap newsprint pages of text, roughly 200 words per page. Each of the nine or ten chapters featured a full page black and white line drawing illustration.
Our story begins with two threads followed in alternating chapters. In the first, a generic teen version of Spider-Man attempts to juggle school exams, friends, his part-time photography job, and another part-time job in a coffee shop. Today he is late for his coffee shop shift, and made even later as he stops to break up an armed robbery in a nearby store.
Simultaneously, the second thread follows Carnage as he heads to New Jersey to recruit Venom in his latest plan. Ostensibly he seeks Venom's help in simply defeating Spider-Man. In reality, he has a darker, more sinister goal. Well, as dark as a "G" rated kids tale is gonna get.
Back to Peter, who is having a tough day at the coffee shop, especially since the big "Celebrate New York" parade is happening today. Poor hard-luck Peter, his job is so tough. All together now. Awwwwww...
Back and forth for another couple of chapters, and some time around the middle of the book, Venom and Carnage track Peter/Spider-Man to the coffee shop. The shop is wrecked, and Peter becomes Spider-Man to engage in a brief scrap. Then for no good reason, Venom and Carnage leave. Why? It's never really explained. Spider-Man wonders about it. But given that the whole point of battling Spider-Man was apparently to take him out of action so he couldn't interfere with the main plan... well, I can't figure it out. Maybe it makes sense to a ten year old.
Spider-Man follows Carnage and Venom into Times Square and the heart of the festival (leaving Peter to be fired for his unexplained absence). More silly fighting ensues as Venom disguises himself as a hot-dog vendor, then the fight lurches into a hotal swimming pool, with Venom and Carnage inexplicably unable to defeat Spider-Man who by all rights is severely outclassed.
But now it's time for the big plan to be revealed. Spider-Man discovers a caravan full of weapons. Seemingly this is Carnage's master plan. His goal is to have people pick up the weapons and go on a murderous rampage, causing... CARNAGE!
Spider-Man hides himself in a playground, using the kids as cover, since he knows that Venom will insist on not putting the "innocents" under thread. Hmm, using kids as a defensive strategy. That's what terrorists do, isn't it? But then he comes out of the playground, rendering the entirely dubious interlude rather pointless as well.
Finally, Spider-Man points out the weapons to Venom, who as we all know, is a bit of a "good guy" in disguise. Venom realizes that Carnage was lying to him (surprise!) and decides he isn't happy with things. Instead, he just quietly heads off into the sunset having added nothing to the story except prolonging the duration by twenty pages or so.
Spider-Man is left to use the festival microphone/amplifier to cause a giant sonic feedback and thusly defeat Carnage. Now he has lost his job, he can go out to the ball game with Harry. The End.
Writing a sixty-four page "novelette" for the pre-teen market is probably a pretty daunting task. I have no idea how I myself would tread that fine line between dumbed-down and over-their-heads. From a pure "level of text complexity" point of view, I think that writer Kate Egan does pretty well when all is considered.
I do appreciate that she doesn't spend too much time actually introducing her characters. She simply assumes that her readers are familiar with the basics of who Spider-Man, Venom and Carnage are. Instead, she gets on with moving her chosen characters around on the miniature chess-board she has selected for her story.
Where things unfortunately start to unravel is in the motivations of the main villains. Carnage's evil plot is so completely stupid that it lacks any sense of menace. Venom is pulled in to the affair like Carnage's older but slightly-retarded and generally well-meaning brother. Again, Venom's part lacks any sense of menace, and eventually is shown to be completely devoid of purpose.
Meanwhile, Peter's "hard luck story" is overburdened to the point of embarrassment, while the fight scenes are just plain silly. The final result is generally pointless, inane, and slightly laughable. It's not a winning combination.
Sure, I can see what Ms. Egan is trying to achieve here... a kids story simply written but with a hint of edge appropriate to a society where your average kid has already seen several hundred murders on TV by the time they hit ten years old.
Unfortunately, the basics are not well performed. A 64 page story requires a plot with a semblance of commonsense, and characters with just a hint of depth in their motivations. This tale lacks both. Two webs.
This story contains a brief reference to Black Cat, all designed to whet your appetite for volume 2 in the series, Spider-Man: The Secret Life of Black Cat.