Tagline: “He’s no superhero. He’s a supervillain!”
Synopsis*: Bradley “Skipper” Matthews is obsessed with comics. They’re the single most important part of his life, more important than math homework, orthodontist appointments, or looking at his best friend Wilson Clark’s stamp collection. Skipper aims to keep all his comics in mint condition, unless they belong to his favorite series, The Masked Mutant, which chronicles the tyranny of a molecule-shifting supervillain. Whenever a new issue of The Masked Mutant comes in the mail, Skipper reads it cover to cover, so the eponymous supervillain is on his mind at all times–including when he’s riding the city bus and passes a building that looks exactly like The Mutant’s headquarters. Skipper convinces his new fellow bus-riding friend, Libby Zacks, to investigate the building. They do so, it looks a bit like a typical comic distribution HQ, and that’s when things start to get really strange, as the events occurring in The Masked Mutant begin mimicking Skipper’s daily life. His likeness is in the comics now, and according to the comics, only he can save League of Good Guys member The Galloping Gazelle from certain death at the hands of The Mutant. Skipper returns to the building and does indeed save The Galloping Gazelle, who cuts and runs, leaving Skipper alone with The Mutant. Libby appears and destroys The Mutant with a Molecule-Melter, then reveals that The Mutant (twist number one!) is actually The Magnificent Molecule Man, The Mutant’s part-time stand-in. So who is The Mutant? Why, Libby, of course! (That’s two twists.) Libby, er, The Mutant informs Skipper that he’s part of the comic now and no longer a real boy (twist three, kind of). Skipper improvises, saying he’s Elastic Boy (twist four?) and the only way he can be destroyed is with sulphuric acid. The Mutant transforms into sulphuric acid and attacks, Skipper dodges the attack, and, having tricked The Mutant into turning into a liquid–which the Mutant can’t do (twist five, I guess)!–Skipper has effectively destroyed the greatest supervillain in history. Then Skipper goes home, cuts his hand, and bleeds ink rather than blood. Six twists, all of them awesome, and we’re done here.
Creepiness factor: This is another title that relies on suspense and, to a greater extent, action to build its story. The scares aren’t there, and that’s OK.
Signature Stine moment: Every signature Stine moment (or SSM, colloquially) somehow works beautifully in Attack of the Mutant, from an entire paragraph of hypothetical questions to a number of similes comparing Skipper’s current situation to the powers of different comic book heroes. As per usual, my favorite SSM is a bit of blatant foreshadowing, so blatant that I’m not sure it can even be called foreshadowing anymore. It’s only 16 pages into the book, and as you’ll soon see, it’s absolute gold.
“I turned and ran full speed to the bus stop.
The driver was a nice guy. He saw me running and waited for me. Breathing hard, I thanked him and climbed on to the bus.
I probably wouldn’t have thanked him if I had known where this bus was going to take me. But I didn’t know that it was carrying me to the most frightening adventure of my life.”
Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. There are attacks, and they are, in fact, carried out by The Mutant.
Moral of the story: If you happen to see the headquarters of your favorite fictional character, do yourself a favor and don’t visit them, unless you want to become part of that character’s story. In that case, by all means, make yourself at home.
Overall rating: 9/10. As a kid, I didn’t love this book, most likely because all those thinly veiled critiques of Archie Comics stung. (Fun fact: my mother collected Archie Comics as a child, and thus my brothers and I did the same. I still have a special place in my heart for them.) Now, as a comic book-reading pseudo-adult, I think it’s one of the cleverer, most original titles in the series up to this point. Goosebumps books, at their best, entertain with a combination of humor, creativity, suspense, and killer twist endings. Attack of the Mutant does all of that, and its narrator’s name is Skipper. You can’t mess with that kind of quality.
* – These have basically been full synopses from the get-go, so I figured a name change was in order.