Goosebumps #25: Attack of the Mutant
Attack of the Mutant was a lot of fun. It was more of an adventure story than a horror story, but I was perfectly fine with that. I like it when a book succeeds at being the book it’s trying to be. Skipper was an annoying character but was highly believable. I knew that kid in school and so did you. I look forward to him growing up and finding out that his comic collections are likely worth the same amount as his collections of Pogs and Beanie Babies. My biggest beef had to do with the villainous motives of the Masked Mutant. On one hand, I appreciated the silliness of it all and just enjoyed the ride. On the other hand, there were a few too many sloppy and contradictory moments to simply let things slide. This is a common trend I’m finding in these books, and it’s a shame because some of them are just a few minor tweaks away from being great. I suppose that’s one of the downfalls of a massively popular series that churns out so many books in a single year. Flaws and all, I still think this was one of the better and more creative books in the series.
ERMAHGERD #25: Attack of the Mutant.
Photo by Daniel Stalter with assistance by Dierre Taylor.
Observations & Spoilers
Skipper collects comic books. He bags and boards them because they’re going to be worth a lot of money someday. The only comic he religiously reads is The Masked Mutant. It’s about a supervillain who can shapeshift into anything. I found Skipper obnoxious, but he honestly worked for the story. He and his best friend Wilson have nothing in common except for the fact that they’re total nerds who collect things. Wilson collects stamps. This socially inept coupling was more relatable than I am comfortable admitting. It gave me some middle school flashbacks. Not all geeks are meant to be friends. But hey, at least those comics should be worth more than our pogs and beanie babies ended up being, right?
Skipper misses his bus stop one day and ends up meeting Libby. She also reads comics, but not cool ones like The Masked Mutant. She reads High School Harry and Beanhead, which Skipper passionately hates. I personally just loved the simultaneous homage and parody of various comic book titles going on here. High School Harry and Beanhead sounded like the store-brand cereal version of Archie and Jughead. In The Masked Mutant comics, we have The League of Good Guys instead of the Justice League. Skipper’s geek fights with Libby were one of my favorite parts of the book.
It was this same geek fight that leads to Skipper discovering the Masked Mutant’s secret headquarters! Apparently, the giant and the ridiculous-looking building has secretly been in Skipper’s hometown the whole time. He doesn’t investigate it right away, and when he goes back the building is gone. But then his comic reveals that there’s an invisibility curtain around it. So he returns with Libby and sure enough, the building is still there. They go inside. Skipper gets zapped with a weird laser, but nothing seems to happen. Then the elevator takes them down instead of up and they get separated in the creepy basement. That’s when Skipper finds the oddest thing: a comic printing press and drawings of himself. Libby finds him soon after and they leave. Of course, she doesn’t believe him when he tells her what he found.
She dismisses Skipper’s discovery, because why wouldn’t she. No one ever believes the main character in Goosebumps books. When he gets home, the latest issue of The Masked Mutant is waiting for him–and he’s in it! It shows him going into the building just he did, but it doesn’t show Libby. It also reveals that the Galloping Gazelle, famed leader of the League of Good Guys, is being held prisoner inside. Skipper returns to the building and finds the Galloping Gazelle tied up just like the comic book said. He frees the hero, and together with the two head off to face the Masked Mutant.
Skipper’s moment of being starstruck is short-lived, though. The Galloping Gazelle is kind of a dick. He gives Skipper shit for not being fast as a fucking superhero with super speed. They finally make it to the Masked Mutant’s corner office, where the villain has decided to disguise himself as a desk chair. Because why not? And so the showdown begins. The Galloping Gazelle uses his super-speed to surround the Masked Mutant with a giant tornado, but the plan quickly fails when the Masked Mutant trips him. In my favorite twist of the book, the Galloping Gazelle decides to flee and leave Skipper to fend for himself. I really appreciate R.L. Stine’s commitment to making the lead superhero a piece of shit.
The Masked Mutant is about to drop Skipper from the top of the very high ceiling when Libby comes in. She shapeshifts and reveals that she is the actual Masked Mutant. The other guy was just a body double (who could also apparently shapeshift). Libby/The Masked Mutant then goes and does the “villain explains things” plot device that we ever get tired of. They explain to Skipper that the comic book needed new characters, and so they made Skipper into one, but now she wants to kill him. The slopiness of this whole exchange almost ruins the entire book. So the Masked Mutant is in charge of making his own comics, which he prints in the basement of his secret lair, and when he runs out of characters he decides to bring in a pretty damn regular middle school geek? Also, he has a body double that has all of his same powers? This sounds like an excuse to use one of my favorite memes.
I could go on at length here. This was such a weird way to tie it all together. And the fact that the Masked Mutant was secretly Libby the whole time opens up a whole can of uneaten worms. The Masked Mutant, the world’s greatest supervillain, is living a double life as a middle school girl who has a whole house, family, and everything that comes with it. I have no reason to believe that Libby was created exclusively for Skipper’s benefit. There’s some serious unexplored gender dysphoria happening here and that’s the book that I want to read. I stopped being interested in Skipper’s demise as soon as I made this revelation. Can I get more of this, please?
So, back to Skipper and his dilemma. He ends up duping the Masked Mutant into believing that he is Elastic Boy. This means the only way that he can be killed is with sulfuric acid. Skipper successfully dupes the Masked Mutant into taking on a liquid form. See, if you read the comics like Skipper, you would know that the Mutant can’t shapeshift into a liquid form. And apparently, in his haste to murder, the Masked Mutant forgot this all-important fact about himself and dies. This demise was funny, but it didn’t feel earned. Skipper needed more to convince him, or the mutant needed to be less gullible. I don’t know the exact fix, but I wanted something more creative for that climactic moment.
The book ends with Skipper accidentally cutting himself and realizing his blood is now ink! Not my favorite twist ending from Stine, and one that the TV episode actually improved upon. Even with its sloppy third act, this was still a really fun book. I enjoyed it in spite of these flaws. I still want my book about the shapeshifting supervillain and his alter-ego, Libby. Maybe one day, but for now I’ll have to settle for gluing yellow fabric to blue spandex in my basement.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Attack of the Mutant is ranked 50th of 62, placing it in the bottom tier of the series.
This was fun, straightforward, and leaned into the campiness of superhero comics. It wasn’t afraid to get weird. It had a similar adventure feel as One Day at Horrorland. You can tell RL Stine enjoyed writing this.
Between the Masked Mutant’s body double, the ham-fisted way Libby was revealed to be the villain, and how easy the mutant was to dupe at the end… I still enjoyed the book in spite of these, but they held it back from being great.
I didn’t particularly like Skipper, but I believed him. I knew that kid, and so did you. Libby was a fun contrast to him, I just wish she was in the final act more. It would have made her betrayal all the better. I also appreciated The Galloping Gazelle and his utter uselessness.
Scare Factor: 1/2
This book was fun, but not particularly scary. Skipper might have been scared at points, but I was mostly wrapped up in the mystery and adventure of it. I don’t think the lack of scares was a bad thing or detracted from the book, but I can’t exactly give it a 2/2.
The concept of something fictional coming to life isn’t itself new, but the way that Stine did this with superheroes and the campiness felt fresh and fun.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• They made mom a dim-witted housewife who fears confrontation and is absorbed in romance novels when she’s not cooking dinner. They made dad a total dick.
• They got rid of Skipper’s sister Mitzi completely, and the story worked fine without her.
• Wilson collects rocks instead of rubber stamps. Just as boring, but way cheaper for the budget I guess.
• This was a pretty true adaptation, only really deviating from particular details.
• The green screen use in this was pretty hilarious.
• The superhero scenes had some great Batman 67 vibes, and I loved every bit of it. I had no idea this was actually Adam West playing the Galloping Gazelle until later.
• LOL at The Galloping Gazelle bragging that The League of Superheroes has a soda fountain in their lair.
• I liked the ending of this better, with him actually becoming Elastic Boy.
• Overall this was probably one of the best episodes of the show I’ve seen so far. That’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but a win is a win.
• I was thinking about why the show doesn’t hold up as well as the books do, and it’s mainly because even the best episodes had clearly had shoestring budgets. It makes me wish they shortened their episode orders and made higher quality adaptions of only the best books. But alas, TV in the 90s was a very different spectacle than it is today.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #26: My Hairiest Adventure
Coming in May 2021.
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #10: Ski Weekend