Released in 1996, this book is the first of a team-up trilogy joining Spider-Man with the Hulk, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. This first one sees the web-slinger and the jade giant join with S.A.F.E. (Think, S.H.I.E.L.D. on a tight budget) to face Doctor Doom, Hydra, A.I.M., along with a swag of fake (but still pretty powerful) Hulks.
Standard paperback format, running to 275 pages, this is a full-length novel featuring Marvel characters. Co-writer Danny Fingeroth is a long-time Spidey Editor at Marvel, and he has a reputation for being strong on continuity. Hence it's not surprising that this novel fits tightly with Marvel continuity of the year. Flash (who is a major character, being transformed into a Hulk) has just broken up with Felica, the Hulk is the version with Banner's brains, and other little bits and pieces are mentioned just to ensure that regular Spidey comic fans know exactly how the book fits into the bigger picture. Not-so-regular fans will be somewhat baffled.
I guess I'm pretty ambivalent about whether this kind of tight coupling to the comics is a good thing or a bad thing. A book that ignores continuity is annoying - like those 70's Spider-Man novels that tried to invent a new girlfriend for Peter. Then again, I find that reading this novel years after the fact was a little disturbing, having to try and reconcile with "classic" Spidey, vs. "modern Spidey", vs. "specific 1996 continuity Spidey". Maybe there is no nice answer.
Anyhow, here's the plot summary. Some mad scientist named Burton Hildebrandt, helped Doom try and create a Hulk several years ago. Surviving his early failures, Hildebrandt joins Hydra and uses their resources (including those of A.I.M. - Advanced Idea Mechanics) to re-produce the experiment. Among the innocent civilians tricked into taking part as guinea pigs (greeny-pigs) is Flash Thompson. Hildebrandt also kidnaps Betty Banner (Hulk's wife) in order to get Hulk to come and be the master for his Hulk photocopy plan.
Mayhem ensues, naturally. Goverment agency S.A.F.E. (umm... Save All Foreign Elephants, I forget what it stands for), anyhow, they enlist Spider-Man and Black Cat to help stop Hydra/Hildebrandt's plans. Hulk joins them too, after the obligatory "Spidey fights Hulk" scene. There's two or three other major characters written-in to help add "depth" - there's the Nick Fury equivalent at S.A.F.E., plus a couple of senior henchmen (and henchwomen) on the Hydra/A.I.M. side who naturally have goals of their own to pursue.
The co-writers (Danny Fingeroth and Eric Fein, with Eric also having impeccable Spider-Man comic writing and editing credits) do a pretty good job of making the story move along. There's plenty of folks killed along the way, far more than in a comic story - but I guess books are for "adults". The writing is "adult level", I guess, by modern mass media literary standards. None of the writing was particularly moving or breathtaking, or even challenging - just basic everyday commercial writing.
Spidey and the Hulk have met each other so often that I really feel sorry for any writer given the task of wringing something new out of that storyline. While I enjoyed working my way from one cover to the other, I did have to battle a certain feeling of inevitability. The story contained displayed nothing that was new. Worse still, it's quite clear that while the book exists within the continuity, it is not permitted to do anything to affect that continuity, removing any sense of drama.
To follow that thread further, "character development" has always been central to Marvel's philosophy. However, most Marvel Novels are constrained by the continuity that surrounds them, and are not permitted to actually develop the characters. This leave the writer with little choice but to try and fill the missing gap by bringing in lots of secondary characters and building a complex plot. That's what happened here in Doom's Day Book One, and it gives a book that is perfectly readable, but is disturbingly lacking in any "depth" or "heart".
I have a couple of other gripes. Firstly, Betty Banner is hugely overlooked in this book. Given that she is kidnapped and spends most of the novel captured by the villains, I think that a few pages here and there from her point of view could have helped move things along, while also giving this key character more than a token "damsel in distress" role.
Secondly, the "computer jargon" in the book is a pile of baloney. Central to the climax of the book is that assumption that the operating system from a computer built years ago by Doom to control "the Gamma Sieve" can be copied (in a couple of minutes) onto a CD, transfered to a different computer built years later by some other people, booted in seconds, and used to control another "Gamma Sieve". This is flawed in so many ways that I don't know where to begin critiquing it.
The problem is that Fingeroth and/or Fein decided to try and use "modern-day" mundane computer terms. They talk about "CD drives" and "RAM dumps". This is fine, until we are asked to believe that this mundane technology can do extraordinary things. For anybody who understands the "real" technology, this asks for a great stretch of the imagination. Even more jarring is the fact that this book is now ten years old, and the "mundane technology" is now "out-dated mundane technology".
I think that when writing a super-hero book or comic, it is a fundamental mistake to attempt to try and describe the "futuristic" technology or computing systems using current computing terms. These terms will always date far too quickly. Using a CD is already dated, surely a modern system would use a writable DVD, for example. Secondly, those who understand the computers will be painfully aware of the reality gap.
Instead, a better approach surely is to just talk about a "holo-crystal media device", rather than a CD. Make it clear that these machines are high-tech beyond our modern terminology and understanding. Then when we are asked to believe that system A and system B are compatible, we can simply accept this as a feature of such extraordinary computers.
Despite my grumblings, it is important to clarify that this is a perfectly readable book. The epilogue introduces Baron von Strucker, the head of Hydra, and sets up for the second in the trilogy, the Iron Man story. Given that the title of the trilogy is "Doom's Day", I'm not sure how Doom carries over, but I'm sure all will be revealed.
I'll work my way through the other two books, it's a task that falls somewhere between "joy" and "chore".
I'm sure that there are many worse ways to spend a weekend than working your way through this series. Let's give it a slightly above average three and a half webs.