Hello, Spongey here.
Happy April Fools, everyone! Yep, it’s time for that day again where reviewers every trick you out of an actual video/post or at least try to create something fun and unique that only this can day can bring.
For this year I got something that is…something else. I had one idea for this year that fell through but I came up with this as a backup so here we are. Last year, I started a month of reviews of Goosebumps ripoffs with a review for a christian ripoff. Yeah, that still astounds me. I ended that with Shivers, by M.D. Spenser.
I mentioned the only other thing he is credited to and for this year…we are diving deeper. Oh yeah. We’re diving into Humanomophs, which is clearly “inspired” by Animorphs, another big Scholastic franchise. Sadly, Spenser did not complete the trilogy with “The Child Caretakers’ society” or something like that.
Scholastic really wanted Animorphs to have everything Goosebumps did so I guess Paradise Press wanted to include having a ripoff series. Hell, Animorphs had its own Gooflumps with Vegemorphs. Not making that up.
While Shivers took off, this one did not as it lasted only 6 entries, all of which came out in 2000. I assume it didn’t take off due to coming out like right around the time the actual Animorphs was wrapping up, while Shivers struck at the right time.
An interesting thing with this series is that unlike Animorphs, it’s an anthology like Shivers/Goosebumps following a different kid who has a different weird reason for getting the power to morph into another human.
Shivers has proven to very interesting with the content it gets away with it, but the stories often fall flat. Does this series follow suit? Well, I have access to all of them and after skimming through them I decided to fully read the one we’re reviewing today. And…well there’s a reason I picked it, it’s interesting and you’ll see in which way.
One more thing though: They’ve started doing Animorphs graphic novels and the artist of them Chris Grine, I kid you not, tweeted a bit ago that he found out about these and ordered them on eBay and was waiting for them to arrive. I am so cur4ious if they ever came and what he makes ov it lol.
(And as I look it up to ask him, I discover he appeared at one of the Animorphs podcasts to discuss the first two, awesome: https://www.mindsatyeerk.com/episodes/bearhead )
Oh and for those who don’t pay attention to my Twitter/Goodreads, I have started reading the actual Animorphs but there isn’t room for direct comparisons here so i guess that won’t come in super handy. But anyway…
This, is Air Morph One: Ready for Takeoff!
The artist here is Nicholas Forder and boy you can see the Animorphs influence here. Otherwise, it’s fine. Not the highest quality art but it fits the story okay enough (it fudges the details as we’ll see though) and it looks decent. Nothing great but fine.
We begin with our protagonist Melvin looking at his poster of Mount Rushmore as he gets ready to go on a school field trip. See, he has a dream of becoming president so he’s got a fascination with presidents of the past. Usually I’d promise not to make political jokes but in this case I can only promise to not get annoying with too many.
I mean, he says he hates science so of course I have to say there’s now no guessing which party he’d be part of it. Okay, now they won’t be so bad.
Anyway,. Melvin takes a bit to introduce himself properly but he eventually does and says he can’t tell us his last name. But he can tell us where he lives so whoops. To be fair, he tells us there’s a bunch of Melvins in the small town of Atkinson, Nebraska but still. (Also, this took directly from the actual Animorphs after all) He goes on for a while about his town until he bemoans that he has to wait til age 35 to run for president.
“I think that takes away from the democratic rights of voters….They’re allowed to vote for total idiots, aren’t they?”
Melvin’s class is on a science field trip to a new state of the art milk factory. Melvin is with his friend Freddy, who is really into science so it’s a opposites attract situation. Melvin is an extrovert, Freddy is an introvert. Melvin is white, Freddy is Native-American. Whoa, already better at being diverse than Shivers was. Although if you read at least my reviews for Ghosts of Camp Massacre and Pool Ghoul, you’ll recall Spenser seems to be into Native American history and stuff so this is now not as surprising.
They enter the place and see that it is pretty sterile and has fairly heavy security, which the kids find a bit odd given what this is. Surly this won’t mean anything bad at all. We get some detailed descprtions of the place which gives more big words than I expected. Eventually something happens when Melvin looks outside and at the fields. He notices that one of the cows is dead. Then a bird shows up to drink out of the river…and quickly dies from it.
Geez, even Spenser loves killing off animals.
At home, Melvin talks this out with Freddy who thinks something needs to be done about this. After all, in a town this small a river that kills animals isn’t great. They need to get a sample of this water and have it analyzed. Man, he’s already smarter than most characters in these kind of things.
So at midnight, they sneak out to the factor. This involves interrupting Melvin from a dream where he is president and is in talks with….the president of Russia. …Okay, moving on. Since they know it will be hard to get in the usual way, they start digging their way under the fence as the dirt happens to be weak enough. That’s convenient.
After what feels like a year, they collect a sample from the poison lake and leave. I complain about this taking a bit, bit’s not nearly as annoying as when Shivers takes forever to get to the point. It’s just not quite as clumsy about it. Then we get a weird bit where we cut to them visiting someone to help figure out what the poison is but then it turns out that was a slight flash forward to later and then it goes back a bit to Melvin arriving at home, super tired.
Okay, you’re supposed to do those “showing us a later scene earlier on” things at the very start, not just randomly in the middle. It gets right to this scene soon after so this is weird and clumsy.
But anyway, they visit a chemistry professor named Dr. Cumberton at a local college to help them out. They are surprised to see the good doctor is a woman with a man secretary. Way to break down the norms I guess? Melvin tells her everything but doesn’t correct her when she assumes Melvin came out up with the plan as politicians/presidents do it all the time.’
Still not great Melvin. Oh and if you’re thinking this is a weirdly cynical view for a kids book, oh just you wait. Side note, I like that the adult takes the kids seriously for once in these. She does think something could be up and will try her best to test this and see what is going on, being proud of the kids for discovering this and trying to get to the bottom of it.
She does so this take a while, because the plot isn’t moving slowly enough. We cut to two weeks later, and to make it quick I’ll jump to them visiting Cumberton when they finally get an update. As it turns out, it’s Anthrax. Dun dun dun.
Melvin actually already knows what it is, since he knows some countries have developed it to threaten other countries. They talk about it and theorize that this factory could be making anthrax and the milk thing is a cover up. Gotta say, for all the security they had, it was way too easy for a 12 year old to be able to figure this all out.
They realize that the river (Elkhorn to be exact) runs into some others which run into The Mississippi, which provides the wat6er supply for the whole middle of the country. So uh…anthrax being in there is bad, to say the least. These are higher stakes then I’m used to in books I review on here.
Naturally we’ve gotta get to the authorities, starting with the mayor. Surprisingly, he allows a meeting with a kid. However, the factory pays a lot in taxes so if it were shut down the mayor would have to raise taxes and he’d be voted out of office so even if he believed Melvin (which of course he doesn’t) he cares more about his bottom line than anything else. Oh and he thinks scientists are all nutty.
Do you think Spenser is trying to say something about politicians here? I totally can’t tell.
He tries the governor next and after a few more people, he tries the president himself. But he can’t get up to him so now it’s all up to Melvin on his own to stop this. He’s pretty angry that no one higher up could help but another problem arises after he gets home. Big rain starts and the river is rising. An announce from somewhere tells citizens to go riverside and help fill sandbags and build dikes.
And that’s how I learned what that is, who says these kind of books aren’t educational? Also, feel free to laugh about how dike sounds a lot like…yeah. After helping out for a bit, Freddy pulls Melvin away to talk. He asks if Melvin wants to help and why, and he says he only cares about helping people and all that good stuff.
Okay, so Freddy has told Melvin before that he believes people have the power to become whoever they want be but it isn’t easy as their intentions have to be totally pure and yada yada. They hold hands, and Freddy speaks the words of his people. Melvin feels a lot of feelings and long story short, he morphs into the president.
Oh hey, we actually human morphing and only on page 82. So yeah, that’s how morphing works in this one. I’m not even go on too long about how out there this is even for a story like this. I can confirm that these weird magic powers are likely why Freddy is Native American to begin with which is…eh.
But anyway, it gets weirder. It’s more like Freaky Friday as now Melvin is where the president currently is, along with having his body is. So where’s the president’s soul being held, Mevin’s body back at home? No idea. Oh and of course it’s a fictional president because having a kid turning into Bill Clinton on the cover would have been too amazing.
After he gets over the shock, he has a cabinet meeting. I love how the book says the room is full of “elderly white men”. Freddy appears in the form of someone else so he’s still in the plot. Melvin asks each department to say what their top priority is for the year and he notices none of them really talking about helping the people as most focus on wanting money and all that.
Again, I can’t tell at all what this book is trying to say. Also, we learn in a bit that this army guy who speaks is named General Burden. Subtly, thy name is Spenser.
Freddy cuts to the case and tells the others about the anthrax but Burden is against this as he has to stay true to his name. Melvin pulls him aside, along with his chief of staff, Mattingly. That’s the last name of the guy who did the Animorphs covers. Coincidence? Most likely.
It’s here where we get the bombshell that this whole anthrax thing was approved by the president himself, dun dun dun. See, the U.S. Army decided they needed to make a biological weapon since all their enemies do it. Melvin points out that it’s weird to basically do the same thing their hated enemies do.
I can’t even do the joke anymore, the point of this book is now very obvious and…very interesting for something like this, Having the government be unresponsive is one thing but here they basically caused the problem because they care more about defeating their enemies than the well being of the people. I’ll have more to say on this at the end but boy is it weird to have a book with this cover/title be like this.
Anyway, the milk factor is named Nacirema and here we find out the president called it that because it’s American backwards. Yes.
“That sounds like the kind of code a kid would come up with”
Pointing it doesn’t it make it any better.
So on the orders of Melvin, the factory will be closed but there’s resistance from different factions of the government. There’s also the matter of the anthrax has was already made, and that flooding problem back home is still a thing. Melvin asks to see the science advisor and it turns out to be Dr. Cumberton.
She joined Freddy in the morphing party, she just didn’t show up for reasons. She lays out a plan but it could take time, which is exactly what they don’t have. They hop in the presidential limo so they can get the air force base and hop on air force one to get to Atkinson. Oh hey the title will finally make sense.
But before that happens, they are stopped by gunfire. Damn, that escalated! Eventually the bullets stop and they are able to escape. At least we finally got some action. They get to Air Force One and soon after Melvin deduces that Burden was behind that assassination attempt. Not a big leap so sure. But damn, attempted assassination, having fun kids?
They get there and see that the people are trying to build a levee, a wall to keep the water out of town as best as they could. President Melvin uses government force to help build a big one and get this over faster. I could make a joke about how the president is building a wall…and I guess I just did, whoops.
That basically wraps up the action. Yeah, no real climax per say, or a proper confrontation with Burden. Melvin fires him but we don’t see his response, we just move on. Boo. After some work, things get better and they can start on shutting down the factory. President Clutter/Melvin is asked about all this by reporters and he owns up to the anthrax being “his” idea and says he realized it was wrong.
“We cannot create peace by building weapons of war. We cannot save lives by designing things that kill. And we cannot keep democracy alive if government lies to the voters, the people who run the country”
That moment when a kids book is making more sense than a lot of real life politicians. I will say that everyone in town working together to solve the obvious problem is the most unrealistic thing in this book where literal magic is used.
With that, the president is beloved but Melvin and the others just care about morphing back to normal. So now that Clutter has his body back, I assume, will he wonder why people are saying he stopped the anthrax and order them to reverse this new order? The logic of the morphing is just weird.
The book ends with Melvin taking down his poster of Mount Rushmore, as his dream of being president is done. As he tells us, he wants to help people through other means, such as being a doctor to help with disease and the only thing more relevant than that is how he says he wants to give free medical care to those who can’t afford it. Seriously.
But to do that, he has to start paying more attention in science, haw haw.
Well, that was not what I bet most people expected. From what I can gleam, the rest of the series doesn’t go this “deep” and is just a lot of nonsense as far as plotting goes. This still is to an extent but it has a real purpose to it that elevates it.
On its own, it has notable flaws. The story is rather silly and doesn’t always make sense, especially how the morphing works. It dipping into the Magical Native trope isn’t great either. There’s filler and it rushes the climax, robbing us of a defeat for the villain despite him trying to actually kill our protagonist.
On the flip side, the writing isn’t too bad compared to what I expected and the story flow isn’t too bad compared to some of the Shivers. It least has things happening most of the time and the flow of events make a certain sense. Apparently with this series alone that is not a guarantee.
But oh man, that theming. This is a book that teaches the 12 year olds out there that the government sometimes doesn’t really care about the well being of the people and is more about their own bottom line and defeating their enemies. That’s pretty daring to say to kids but frankly it’s pretty on point.
It’s the kind of thing that’s more relevant than it was in 2000. It’s very on the nose about it but as silly as it all is, it’s not far from the truth. I like how Melvin goes through an arc, as shown nicely through it starting with him bringing up his Rushmore poster and ending with him taking it down. His off moments only come from doing what he thinks the president would do and realizing that there’s better ways to help people.
I can nitpick all I want but the message is one that works and delivers a bit of reality to kids, even if it’s coated in a very unrealistic story. Gotta credit to Spenser, he has his moments where he cares about sending a message, even in some cases it’s not always in the best package.
I picked this purely so we can talk about that theming because yep, it’s something. It’s weird to think this was even Pre-Bush, just barely. Honestly after this, I wanna hear Spenser’s political opinions these days.
Anyway, on its own it is fairly flawed but has a weird charm along with some positives. But add in the theme and it become something really interesting that in some ways is more important now than it was way back then. The rating is hard to pick but I went with my gut purely based on the themes.
A bit high given the flaws but I gotta credit where its due, and the flaws aren’t too bad as to derail it. I bet you wanna know what the other entries are like. Alright, like’s pick up the entry right before this, flip to a random page and pick a random excerpt.
“I had morphed into Hitler”
…Okay, we’re done here. April Fools!
(Yes, this is the real reason I allowed myself to take a break from reading an Animorphs this week, I did the next best thing!)