While comics being turned into movies and TV shows are nothing new I wonder how many people realize that even prose has seen superheroes cross over from the panel to the text? Here at The Clutter Reports I’ve already reviewed The Death & Life Of Superman by comic writer and novelist Roger Stern. I have very few prose stories based on the DC and Marvel heroes but most of them are DC, mainly Superman and Batman. (I also reviewed a “Which Way” gamebook starring Superman.) I only have one Marvel novel, a co-authorship between a comic writer and a novelist.

In the 1990s Marvel published a series of novels starring their superheroes through Byron Press, one written by another crossmedia writer, Peter David, focused on a character he knew very well, the Incredible Hulk. David Michellie is mostly known for his run on Iron Man in the comics but did spend some time on The Amazing Spider-Man so he does know the character. (I do not know if there was a novel about Iron Man but if there is I hope he worked on it.) Aiding him was novelist Dean Wesley Smith. Together they penned a story about Carnage, an offshoot of Venom. Venom has a long backstory even before Marvel tried to fill out the symbiote race. Symbiotes are goo-like beings that bond with hosts, forming a sort of costume and granting the host special abilities while symbiote feeds on his I think adrenaline and sometimes uses the host to feed on other lifeforms. Carnage is a spawn of that symbiote that found a willing host in mass murderer Cletus Kasaday, forming a bond so perfect Carnage speaks in “I/me/my” rather than “we/our”. He is one of if not the most dangerous foe in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, making him a good choice for this novel.

If you want a more detailed review of the novel I did a chapter by chapter review of the book for my other website. There will be spoilers as that’s meant to be a read-along series of reviews. Here are the highlights.

Dr. Eric Catrall was searching for a cure for madness, but accidentally created the opposite. (It’s superheroes, folks. This kind of thing happens.) Worried his bosses and certain government factions might use this for evil purposes he steals the last vial and heads for New York. Those same bosses are planning an experiment that will kill the Carnage symbiote but leave Kasaday alive, or so they hope. His plans were to use the radiation from that experiment to neutralize the vial but it instead allows the chaos-addicted murderer to escape. Now it’s up to Spider-Man to re-capture his most deadly foe while worried about his Aunt May about to lose the home she raised him in. Maybe his wife, Mary Jane, can help with one of these problems?

Yes, the novel came out in 1995, before a later Marvel editor-in-chief used questionable shenanigans to undo a marriage he didn’t like, a rant better suited for the other site. Point is Peter and Mary Jane are still married and it seems like the subplot was meant to give her something to do in the story, while it highlights one of the big problems with Aunt May at this point. I’ve seen Spider-Man writers complain that they don’t know what to do with MJ but Aunt May has redone the same subplots to death. She’s either near death, doting over Peter while being creeped out by Spider-Man, having trouble paying the bills, or she’s finding romance. I would be surprised to see any variant left to her without rebooting the character into something different. Aunt May in the comics passed away, transferring Peter’s theme of “power versus responsibility” to his wife and this shows why that would work better, especially as MJ could also be a big help to Peter as Spider-Man. It also shows why she and Peter are such a good couple. Otherwise the subplot adds nothing to the overall story. That time could have been more devoted to J. Jonah Jameson doing a publicity stunt charity event for the homeless, since that actually features into the stories of Carnage and the vial of crazy juice.

It’s in the main story that the book shines. The writers sometimes flashback a bit between chapters to show a scene from another character’s point of view, but only when it benefits the narrative and not to show off they can use the technique. Too many writers are busy showing off without thinking if it benefits the story. Michellinie and Smith are better than that and show it. We also get to see a fight from Spider-Man’s perspective in a way that even thought balloons and narrative captions can’t properly display, showing the strengths of the prose over the comic, though seeing some of the fights would be better in comic form over prose, so it’s a gain/loss scenario. We get to see how Spidey thinks as he uses his various abilities and focuses on rescues and fights as needed. There’s also a rather graphic depiction of one of Carnage’s murder sprees but only as graphic as the story needs. It’s not gratuitous though it certainly isn’t pleasant. The writers know when to use certain writing tricks to benefit the story and it shows.

I should also talk about the artwork. Each chapter is introduced with a one-panel image that most (but not always) depicts what’s coming in that chapter. James W. Fry is credited on the back cover but the post-story credits also mention inker Keith Aiken and with one exception the art is well done. If you read the chapter by chapter review you’ll see which one didn’t work for me.

Decision: Stays

This was a really good novel and one I’d like to read again. It’s also the only prose story I have featuring one of the Marvel heroes but I would like to check out a few more if I ever see any. The book is worth getting if you enjoy Spider-Man and his adventures but while a passing knowledge of Peter Parker’s life at this point of the comics is helpful the book will tell you what you need to know to follow along with the important details so there’s no barrier if you only know Spider-Man from the MCU, Sam Rami, or Marc Webb movies or the cartoons. It’s a good story and worth checking out.