TONY'S ONLINE TIPS From COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1485 (05/18/02)
"Hood hair," Spider-Man said, helplessly. It was like watching himself in a slow-motion car wreck; he couldn't stop the process once started, and he had to see it through. "You know, when you take off your hood, and static makes all your hair stand straight up on end...I find that incredibly annoying, don't you? How do you handle it?"
-from Adam-Troy Castro's REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX
I'm thinking and reviewing outside the comics box this week, albeit with a focus on Spider-Man and the upcoming Spider-Man movie starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. For starters, let's take a look at a trilogy of Spider-Man prose novels.
Adam-Troy Castro's SPIDER-MAN: REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX (BP Books; $24.95 hardcover) is the middle book in the trilogy and the only one I've read to date. That I didn't need to read the first book is one of the lesser reasons I enjoyed it. That I enjoyed it as much as I did is the major reason why I'll be reading the other two books. In what will surely be a summer of Spider-Man, Castro holds his own and then some.
REVENGE, which should be available in a mass market paperback even as you read this column, starts off with the last day in the life of Peter Parker's parents and gets more horrific from there.
Set during the time when the wall-crawler's Aunt May was presumed dead--oh, those wacky continuities of the previous century--the book offers the shocking revelation that Parker might have an older sister, an assault on New York City by Parker's deadliest foes, and the machinations of a man who, despite his lack of super-powers, is the most dangerous villain of them all. Set the SPOILER WARNINGS on stun; we're going in.
The Gentleman, whom we first meet as a business associate of the Red Skull, has reunited five members of the Sinister Six (the Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, and the Vulture) as part of some larger plan. He calls himself "an investor in chaos" and he is as ruthless and vengeful as any enemy Spider-Man has ever faced. He exposed Spider-Man's parents as U.S. government agents, arranged their murder, and besmirched their reputations by making it seem as if they'd betrayed their country.
That would be a good day's work for most villains, but killing enemies isn't enough for the Gentleman; he must also visit misery on their children. More on that following this government profile of the man
"...may have conducted most of his activities anonymously, but he never seemed the type to gently fade away. SHIELD, Interpol, the Mossad, the Surete, Scotland Yard, and the FBI all have files on him, thick with the hundreds of dirty deals we've managed to connect with him over the years. Assassination, terrorism, theft, industrial espionage, subversion, sabotage--he's always been willing to help finance it, and sometimes arrange it, so he can make blood money on the outcome."
In accordance with the Gentleman's latest plan, he has brought together the Sinister Six--breaking some of them out of prison and paying each of them millions of dollars--and unleashed them on New York City in a "Day of Terror" which has them threatening the lives of thousands of people at the scenes of Spider-Man's most tragic failures. Imagine our hero's horror at having to battle Electro on the George Washington bridge as a holographic tape of Gwen Stacy's death plays over and over again in the background. It doesn't get more personal than that...and yet it does.
The final member of the regrouped Sinister Six is the silent Pity. Physically and psychologically abused from infancy to follow every command of the Gentleman without hesitation but with the full knowledge of the awful enormity of her actions, she is deadly and powerful. And she may be Peter Parker's sister.
That's the end of the SPOILER WARNINGS. You are free to move around your home or office, although we take no responsibility if you run into any furniture or walls while you're reading the rest of this column.
Castro's book works for me in all the right places. His prose versions of Spidey and other Marvel characters ring true. Indeed, the novel allows for personality-defining scenes that wouldn't play as well in the comics, such as Captain America's amusement over a nervous Spidey rambling on about "hood hair." It's a humorous bit that gives us a look inside Peter's head. Near the end of REVENGE, a chat between Spidey and SAFE's post-traumatic stress counselor offers a wonderful insight into our wall-crawling hero's tumultuous relationship with J. Jonah Jameson.
(SAFE stands for Strategic Action for Emergency. Think of it as a domestic version of SHIELD. It was created for these Marvel novels during the tenure of former editor Keith R.A. DeCandido, who saw the need for these books to have their own logical timeline and recurring characters, and who did a fine job coordinating them from book to book.)
Castro delivers a novel that has the excitement and the heart of the best Marvel comic books without simply being a comic without pictures. The more I read, the more I wanted to read, which could be considered downright dastardly on Castro's part considering that the major situations won't be resolved until the third book of the trilogy. I wonder if anyone has ever seen Castro and the Gentleman in the same place at the same time. Hmm...
SPIDER-MAN: GATHERING OF THE SINISTER SIX ($6.99 paperback) is a prologue to the above. Castro describes it as "mostly Spidey vs. Mysterio during one of Mysterio's own personal campaigns, with the Chameleon (working for the Gentleman) recruiting the various other members of the Six in the meantime. The main attraction of that book, as far as I'm concerned, is the genuinely heroic roles played by Mary Jane, Flash Thompson, and the super-hero trucker named Razorback, all of whom are pivotal toward defeating Bubble-Head."
As one of maybe three Razorback fans in the world, I'm definitely looking forward to reading that one.
SPIDER-MAN: SECRET OF THE SINISTER SIX ($24.95 hardcover) has just been released. I'll read that one before I read GATHERING on account of I can't wait to see how the adventure ends. That speaks directly to Castro's considerable story-spinning skills and those skills are why I recommend REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX to Spider-fans of all ages.
Two other Spider-Man books have crossed my path recently. THE STORY OF SPIDER-MAN (Dorling Kindersley Readers; $12.95 hardcover, $3.95 paperback) came to me by way of daughter Kelly's Scholastic Books order at school. Author Michael Teitelbaum offers a concise history of May Parker's favorite nephew in 48 profusely-illustrated pages. Originally published in 2001, the book isn't an up-to-date account of Spidey's adventures, but it does offer a modest overview of his origin, powers, and villains which will acquaint the younger reader with the character.
The book's illustrations are taken from the comics themselves with panels by Steve Ditko, John Romita, and a dozen other artists. You could get a pretty decent game of "Mystery Comic Contest" out of the book. In addition to the comics trivia, Teitelbaum includes science sidebars on subjects like radioactivity, spiders, and the octopus.
THE STORY OF SPIDER-MAN is not a must-have book. But I think avid fans will find it an interesting addition to their collection of Spidey-stuff. Check it out.
I also have SPIDER-MAN ($6.99 paperback), the novelization of the movie by CBG's own Peter David. I haven't read it yet because I want to see the movie first, but that won't stop me from starting a rumor that Bill Jemas is writing the novelization of the It! The Living Colossus movie. If Bill's book sells better than Peter's, Sony will drop its plans for Spider-Man sequels and concentrate on It! films. I see Russell Crowe as the Colossus.
There's more. On a recent trip to my local Marc's, a discount grocery store, I scored boxes of the limited edition SPIDER-MAN POP TARTS and SPIDER-MAN TOASTED OAT CEREAL for $1.97 each. Kellogg's makes the products, which are, respectively, 38% and 41% sugar. My spider-sense started tingling when I opened the boxes.
When I tried the cereal ("Spider-berry Fruit Flavored!"), it reminded me of Cap'n Crunch. However, I have it on good authority that it's Berry Berry Kix with the cereal formed into red and green web-wheels. I've managed to down a couple bowls of the stuff, but it's not something I recommend.
As for the Pop Tarts, I ate two in the name of science. They are "frosted spider-berry" flavor, which I guess is a euphemism for sugar-coated cardboard. They are equally hideous cold or toasted, but, if you toast them, there's always the chance you'll burn your taste buds and spare yourself having to taste them.
Kellogg's is offering a variety of Spider-Man merchandise to tie in with its products and the movies. You can order them at the company's website
We're at the tail end of this week's column, so where better to mention the Spider-Man boxer shorts available at http://WebUndies.com?
The 100% cotton boxers come in two styles: "Spider-Man All Over" (with drawings of Spidey in various poses) and "Spider-Man's Spider Web" (with a large spider on the front and rear). Both styles are machine washable and have button flies. The former has a covered elastic waistband; the latter an exposed elastic waistband.
The shorts are $19.95, but you can get them from WebUndies for $11.95 plus shipping. They're available in Medium (32-34), Large (36-38), and X-Large (40-42). I'm thinking of buying a pair, but that could just be my medication kicking in.
I'm also pondering the prospect of a CBG "Celebrities Wearing Cartoon Underwear" Special, which I think is a darn good sign that I should end this column and check my dosage. Although, truth be told, the side effects are half the fun.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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