Titan Books has just released the official prequel to the Spider-Man video game, which is set to arrive on September 7th. While the game will have you facing a variety of villains and swinging across the city, this novelization will get players up to speed on this iteration of Spider-Man and set the stage for the soon to follow the game.
From the publisher:
Wilson Fisk–the so-called Kingpin of Crime–has returned to New York, establishing himself publicly as an altruistic entrepreneur and philanthropist. Spider-Man knows better, but he can’t uncover Fisk’s scheme that, if executed, will make the crime lord “too big to fail.” When a new threat–a deadly doppelgänger with Spider-Man’s suit and abilities–wreaks havoc in the streets, can the real wall-crawler prove his innocence? With the clock ticking and lives on the line, can Spider-Man stop the brutal rampage of the Blood Spider? Will Spider-Man fall to his fears and foes, or will he rise and be greater?
The novel starts off with Spider-Man doing his “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” thing, breaking up an attempted robbery, while also relaying his well known backstory. It’s quickly established this isn’t another brand-new retelling of the Spider-Man legend, like Sony likes to trot out to the theater every three or four years. Instead, he mentions well-known super villains like the Rhino, Shocker, the Scorpion, the Lizard and Electro. He’s already established, which means he already has enemies.
Everything isn’t as simple as it may seem, though. The ramifications of stopping a low-level break-in lead to Spider-Man becoming a suspect in a number of crimes. There’s a chance encounter with police Lt. Yuri Watanabe (“..tough as nails, no nonsense..”) who is distrustful, but willing to work with Spider-Man, as the evidence doesn’t quite add up. She’s also after Wilson Fisk, aka “The Kingpin of Crime.” He’s back in town after leaving the country for a few years when his lawyers beat the case Spider-Man built against him. They both think Fisk is out for revenge against Spider-Man, but it turns out he’s not the only one.
Author David Liss has to cover a lot of ground that’s been on display numerous times when dealing with the Spider-Man universe. After the obligatory introductions, he does some interesting things with the various characters in Spidey’s life. Mary Jane and Peter’s relationship seems strained, but not because he risks his life fighting crime. Instead, the friction comes from his reluctance to let her put herself in harm’s way as she tries to investigate Fisk for the Daily Bugle. It flips the script and paints Peter as a little hypocritical, but the tension seems realistic as well as their fondness for each other.
Maya Lopez, who comic readers may remember as “Echo”, is a particularly interesting character. In this Spider-verse, Fisk has become her caretaker and she seeks vengeance against Spider-Man, as she believes him to be responsible for killing her father. This could have come off as a very flat character, all sneery and making vows of retribution, but Liss has sections of the book in her point of view that make her likable and relatable. This technique works for Kingpin as well, just not the likable part. His point of view shows the violence that hides below the surface of his calm veneer, as well as the value he places on the people around him and his own actions.
Unfortunately, Spider-Man’s acrobatics and gravity-defying fighting style is hard to translate to the page, like all written action, in general. There just isn’t the same investment in a dodging a fist or knife as you read a sentence as there is when you see it on a screen in real time. However, Liss does raise the stakes enough with the plot and clever character relationships so that the outcome ultimately feels worth investing in. It picked up steam as it went along and left the story in a good place for the game that will be coming shortly.
Is It Good?
Writer David Liss had a lot on his plate with this one. Not only was he working with a set of well-known characters, with a built-in fanbase and comic company Marvel to satisfy, but it all had to mesh with and set up game developer Insomniac’s take from the new game. There aren’t many people who are going to be buying a Spider-Man novel that doesn’t know Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider or what his powers are. Whether required by a higher power or the choice of the author, the retelling of these background bits does tend to slow the book down here and there. That being said, the author has some good insights, such as using the first person to humanize the villains or a scene where Spider-Man muses about how often the criminals he catches don’t face conviction because of the way he goes about catching them. He also shows some comedy chops with genuinely amusing dialogue and scenes. Far too often, comic writers have taken characters like Spidey or Deadpool and made them use dialogue that came off as cheesy or cringe-y instead of funny. If you’re anticipating the game or a huge Spider-Man fan, this is a solid effort that you won’t regret taking a look at.