Sunday, January 18, 2009

Super-Powered Prose: Spider-Man The Venom Factor

Yes, I did say my first series of reviews was coming soon, just not yet. Hopefully I will have it up by sometime around the next MHP update.

Instead today we are going to look at a classic of licensed super-powered fiction. For much of the 1990’s Marvel produced several dozen novels in conjunction with Byron Preiss Multimedia. The first of these was Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane.

I own the first printing of the paperback edition of the book from November 1995. I remember waiting impatiently for the hardcover to go paperback so I could read it back then. I remembered it as a good read, but what I remembered more about it was the way it handled the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane.

A lot of controversy surrounds the (un)marriage of Peter and MJ these days, and a lot of the reasons I remember hearing for One More Day revolved around the challenges of writing a married character. I thought it was a load of crap when I heard it the first time. After all, some of the greatest dramatic works of our time focus on married couples. So how can we buy that marriage takes “the drama” out of Spider-Man’s life? Isn’t it really bad writing takes the drama out of Spider-Man’s life?

Diane Duane comes at The Venom Factor with a seemingly simple plan: write a compelling Spider-Man narrative that doesn’t shy away from using Mary Jane. So we get a simple formula: sections revolving around Peter/Spidey and sections revolving about Mary Jane. While Mary Jane desperately looks for acting work to help the Parkers make end’s meet, Peter uncovers a plot by Hobgoblin to blackmail the city for a billion dollars using a nuclear weapon. He also runs in to a massive black-skinned, murderous creature that is quickly mistaken for Eddie “Venom” Brock. This of course brings Eddie to town from his usual haunts in San Francisco to find out who or what is framing him for murder.

Spider-Man ends up in the middle of a massive mess of super-villains and sewer creatures, all while trying to stop the possible nuclear destruction of New York.

All in all we get some dramatic tension, lots of financial tension in the Parker household, and a compelling beginning of a three book series by Ms. Duane. Illustrations by Ron Lim open every chapter but despite his talent seem flat and uninspired. They don’t detract from the novel though, and the book definitely receives a Recommended from me.

You should be prepared to see more of these classic Boulevard/Byron Preiss Marvel novels covered in the next few months. I have been working my way through plenty of them in the last couple months and only plan to write more reviews of some excellent (and not so excellent) old novels.

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