Comics : Spider-Man Super Thriller #5: Warrior's Revenge

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2003.

Background...

This is number five and last in the series of Byron Preiss Super Thrillers from the late 90's. It's written by Neal Barrett Jr., the author of the preceding entry in the run - namely "Lizard's Rage". It stays pretty much inside the formula for the whole concept.

The major noticable difference between this and preceeding efforts is that while this paperback runs to the same 140 pages as the others, it is printed in a noticably smaller font size, hence giving a longer tale. Let's see if those extra words are used wisely.

In Detail...

Spider-Man Super Thriller #5: Warrior's Revenge
Jul 1997 : SM Title
Find ISBN 0671008005
Editor:  Steve Roman
Writer:  Neal Barrett, Jr.
Illustrator:  James Fry
Cover Art:  Mike Zeck, Phil Zimelman
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Review

The plot of the book is definitely no more sophisticated than those that came before. The Super-Skrull is on the loose, looking to kill super-sci-fi writer Berkley Whitmore. The Super-Skrull is a little out of favour with the Skrull Empress, and is being forced to do this in assassin mode, which runs very much contrary to his behaviour.

Instead of just sneaking up on Whitmore in his apartment, Skrully decides to knock off the writer just before an awards ceremony. Problem is, Peter Parker is accompanying Joy Mercado as a Photog/Writer duo to cover the store. Worse, seems Whitmore and Dr. Bruce Banner (aka Hulk) are good friends from way back, and Banner is attending the ceremony... somewhat from the shadows, apparently, since Banner is stuck in permanent Hulk mode, but with the mind of Banner - perhaps with a little more attitude than normal.

The other players in this mess are Betty Banner, Bruce's new wife. Also, Major Nefertiti (aka Nice-Titty) Jones. She's from SAFE, the Strategic... oh I forget. But they have a Heli-Carrier just like SHIELD, and do similar stuff. But maybe Marvel had temporary forgotton to renew the copyright on SHIELD, and so they used these guys instead. No biggie.

Skrully tries to whack Berkley Whitmore, but is foiled by the unexpected presence of the Hulk. Hulk chases Whitmore, who shape-changes to and old man. Spidey turns up, gets the wrong idea (D'uh!) and spoils things. Spidey and Hulk go back to the hotel, meet Whitmore, Betty, Jones, and all of Jones' various troops.

Super-Skrull retires to his flea-bag hotel. The good guys manage to snag a non-super-Skrull, one of the Skrulls set to watch Super-Skrull. They find out where Skrull is staying, and go fight at his hotel. Betty and Whitmore stupidly decide to join the fight, but the heroes valiantly beat the Skrull. During which final fight, Whitmore is revealed as a Skrull himself, but a dissident enemy of the Empire, hiding on Earth, writing books which are however reaching off-worldly rebels and fomenting dissent.

Whitmore being a Skrull is the only real twist in the story. Even that is pretty lame, since I figured that out around chapter three. Barrett tries to add some depth by drawing parallels between Whitmore's past as a Skrull prison commandant, and Nazi Germany's similar atrocities. However, this is just too much of a stretch, and fails to work.

Other than that, the story is rather... annoying really. Banner consistently complains about wanting to be back with his wife. Spider-Man keeps up a steady stream of snide jokes and lame comments - I'm surprised Banner didn't whack the web-slinger himself. Both Banner and Spidey project a ton of unhelpful attitude. Jones has a ton of attitude too, and Berkley tries to be the king of attitude - mostly by being rude about people's dress-sense. However, since Berkley is a beanpole sci-fi writer wearing a 1970's style frilly shirt-front, he certainly doesn't hold the fashion high ground.

The Hulk is also wearing a Tux. Somehow, he managed to get into the awards with out alerting the authorities who are searching for him. We are asked to believe that he did this by wearing his hat pulled over his eyes, or something. This is, I must say, a stretch. The Hulk is 7' tall, and over 1,000 lbs. I'm sorry, but I don't care how good your tailor is, but when you're that big, you're gonna stick out in a crowd.

This is one of the various commonsense, physics and continuity glitches that disrupt this book as much as they did the previous one. Barrett just asks us to believe too much, without the benefit of skillful art to convince us to suspend credulity. The comics medium naturally lends itself to exaggeration of fact, extreme characters, and frequent physically improbable events taking place. Books do not, and what works in a comic can be a flop in prose. This tale is a case in point.

In General...

The story won't win a Booker, but in general I have to say that the writing is actually pretty good. Barrett coins a nice phrase, and while he flirts with cliche, he doesn't get down and dirty with it.

Furthermore, he goes to some reasonable effort to place the book in continuity. He does some solid re-caps of the three or four seminal Lizard storylines, and also fits Eileen into Morbius' origin very carefully. He mentions that she wasn't on the boat which Morbius set sail on with his associate and his fiance.

But this is wasted by some daft common-sense goofs which stick out rather. There's basic stuff, like the Lizard smashing a steel door which "splinters and explodes". I can't possible conceive of a plate door splintering, or exploding, no matter how hard it is struck. It might breach, split, deform, and maybe some fragments might tear off. But splinter?

There's a few other glaring examples. The Lizard's skin is repeatedly and near-exclusively described as "leathery". But then a .38 slug bounces off it. Now, I defy you to find any "leathery" substance which will deflect a police special. A "scaly" skin might do so. But leathery?

More? OK, it's well known that Morbius has hollow bones, which is how he manages to glide on air currents. But somehow he manages to glide while carrying Spidey. Another one... daylight causes Morbius' clothes to start to smoulder... but Morbius isn't a real vampire, and why would his clothes start to burn anyhow? Still more? the text describes the lizard-men feeding off a cow carcass on a chain, but the illustration shows it on the floor. OK, enough, you get the point. Little stupid stuff throughout the book. It doesn't ruin the story really, but it sure does get a bit annoying.

The big question nagging at me however is "who took unconscious Spider-Man from the lab back to his apartment?" It wasn't Morbius, because he doesn't know who Peter is, and anyhow it was during daytime and he was gone. It sure wasn't Lizard or Dr. McKay. So, that's all the characters in book! Seemingly, some unidentified character who knew where Peter lived, rescued him from the wreckage and took him home, without stopping for coffee with MJ? Bizarre! It must just be a SNAFU which somehow got through the editing. Presumably a chapter was cut for length, and the explanation was just lost. Very strange.

Overall Rating...

Dissapointing in many aspects, and pleasing in almost none. The extra length allowed by the smaller font is wasted with pointless padding. The plot is transparant, and the characters two-dimensional. The detailed descriptions and explanations are unconvincing, the moral is dubious and poorly presented. Two webs. This book is not good.