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.
The three mini-novels are this one, along with Spider-Man: Evil Comes in Pairs and Spider-Man: The Secret Life of Black Cat. Although all three were written by different writers, they all contain interlinked references to form a nice little loose trilogy.
Well, this story sure doesn't mess around. In Chapter One, Peter goes to visit his science project supervisor Dr. Curt Conners. Connors isn't in his lab, but there's a big hole in the wall and a mess all over. Peter quickly figures out that the Lizard is back. Then the room fills with reptiles, which Peter webs up. At that moment, Jonah calls and tells Peter to get the Daily Bugle. Peter obeys, leaving just moments before the Lizard returns and frees his creatures.
That's not bad going for half a dozen pages of large print text! Points to author Mark McVeigh for efficiency, but minus a few points for having Peter able to understand the lab notes that Connors wrote in Latin. No, seriously. Curt wrote "Partim Lacerta", and Peter reads that correctly as "Part Lizard". What on earth was that about. Nowhere has there every been any hint that Peter learned any Latin at high school. Most schools don't offer it, and those that do offer it as an extremely rare specialist subject. I know, because I studied Latin for a year... and even I didn't get the word "Lizard" into my vocabulary! I'm guessing that Harry Potter made Latin cool, and now every kid story has to use some if they want to be taken seriously.
But let's be generous and forgive that pointless absurdity, if only to allow us to move on. Peter heads to the Bugle, and Jonah tells him that the Lizard is on the loose. Peter knew that. Jonah then sends Peter to the high school that Billy Connors (son of Dr. Curt) attends. The Lizard was seen there. Peter duly arrives at the school, saves the teachers and children the reptiles (while all the cops were standing around outside doing not much at all). But he's too late, the Lizard has taken Billy! Oh noes!
So, it's yet another scene change as we head back to the Lab. This book is turning into a road trip story. Despite Lizard having left first, Spider-Man arrives first, and is there long enough to mix up a convenient batch of antidote (reproducing a well-known formula, no doubt). Right on cue, the Lizard gets back, and Spider-Man hides to secretly watch as the Lizard attempts to persuade Billy to drink the "become a Lizard" formula. Spidey finds the right moment to grab Billy. Spider-Man and Lizard fight, Spidey loses, Billy drinks the Lizard formula and becomes part lizard. How part Lizard? Well... pointy teeth, extended snout, skin a bit green and scaly, and dead keen to join his dad to go off and trash some buildings. Excellent, dudes!
So Lizard and Billy depart leaving the defeated Spider-Man to clean up the mess. Now we're getting somewhere!
Next morning, it's back to the Bugle, where once again Peter is there only a few minutes before a "breaking story" arrives. It seems that Peter only goes to the Bugle because he can't be bothered buying his own police scanner radio. Anyhow, the breaking story is Lizard and "Lil' Lizard" having a fun father and son destructo-fest at the candy story. Spidey turns up, battles the twin terrors, and fails to defeat them. Once more. The Lizards go to the Queensboro bridge and repeat the formula. The whole thing is like some scene out of "Rampage"... the classic videogame... remember that? You could play as monsters destroying cities, as long as you had enough change. Clearly, Curt has a pocket full of quarters.
Leaving the bridge, Peter heads back home to make some more webbing fluid, and also quickly invents up a launcher to shoot the antidote at the Lizard and Billy. Next time they fight, this thing is over, surely. Surely? I hope so. I'm getting a bit tired of being dragged from location to location for yet another fight scene where the Lizard and Billy escape.
But no, we're treated to one more fight and flight as Peter's Spider-Sense leads him to a fairground where the Lizard is playing with the controls of the fairground rides, sending the machine out of control. Can Spidey rescue the innocent children? Yeah, turns out he can. Damn, I lost five bucks betting against the web-head. When will I learn. But Lizard and Billy escape. Again. Again! What is that, like five times? At the Lab, at the school, back at the lab, at the candy store, at the bridge, at the fairground. Six times they fight and six times the lizard escaped? Is it unfair to suggest that the dramatic tension of that particular narrative device is somewhat diminished at this point?
Fortunately, the next scene is the last. In the New York underground, the Lizard Family is messing up the control board and distorting the train tracks. Their plan... total mayhem and destruction on a grand scale! It's a good thing then that Billy accidentally dropped a subway map and Spider-Man finds them just in time to stop a head-on crash. The webhead also manages to save Billy (who got his foot stuck under a track) from being squashed into Lizard-Jam.
Finally, Spider-Man tweaks the switch that shuts down the entire subway system (they have a switch that does that? neat!). Then he shoots the antidote dart at Lizard Senior. He becomes Curt, and is suddenly attacked by his still-part-Lizard son. But not for long, as Billy is next for the de-greening process, and all is well.
The underlying concept is part-silly, part-genius. Villain turns his son part-villain and they head out to wreck the city. I'm sure that's been done before, but I can't think where just off the top of my head.
Sadly this story is too dumb for adults. But maybe... just maybe... it might hit the spot for your average ten year old boy who likes his tales to be nothing but end-to-end fight scenes. Fight scenes with a spot of Latin.
It's dumb and I didn't like it. On the other hand, I've read much, much worse.
Ideally, a good writer can create a children's story that appeals to both kids and adults. This one fails on that level, but it probably succeeds sufficiently for its target audience that I guess I need to give it three webs and slap an "adequate" sticker on the back of the book.