When I think of prequel/spin-off novels with video games tied in, I’m often left with a bitter taste in my mouth.
Being an avid reader myself, upon first hearing that some of my favorite video games were getting novel tie-ins- I was immediately intrigued. This was, of course, way back when the first Assassin’s Creed novels were announced. The final product, however, left me dissatisfied and with even less of a desire to play the games these books preceded. So you can imagine my caution when Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover was said to be released as a prequel novel to my most anticipated game release of 2018. History had burned me and I was terrified at the thought of another novel ruining my game experience before I had even press start.
Fortunately, what I actually experienced was the exact opposite. David Liss’ take on the wallcrawler was a short and sweet story that served as a telling of Peter’s journey leading up to Insomniac Games’ newest title. Delivering a sometimes annoying but mostly tasteful portrayal of Spidey’s humor, a surprisingly dark narrative surrounding a veteran web-slinger, and doing an excellent job of increasing my seemingly capped out hype for this game, Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover is by far one of the most interesting and satisfying game spin-offs I’ve ever read.
It’s no secret that Spider-Man is a character that has a quip or smart response in just about every situation, even noted in the comics talking to himself constantly. Liss captures this silly side of Peter throughout the majority of the novel, though some instances do feel slightly forced, with Spidey sometimes sounding a little too much like a child. I talked to one of my good friends after finishing the book and his first remark was something along the lines of “I almost stopped reading it when he used the word icky three times in a row”- icky, in this context, is used to describe snakes. Now, I don’t have too much of a problem with that because I too think snakes are “blegh”, but it was kind of strange to hear a guy who’s fought a seven-foot-tall lizard say that. Excluding that first remark towards the start of the novel, the remainder of the story had me tickled and chuckling pretty often and that took me back to my days reading some of my first Spider-Man comics.
The interesting part of this, though, was the fact that a lot of Spider-Man’s humor came out during his interactions with Mary Jane Watson- Peter’s longtime girlfriend in this iteration. This was oddly refreshing as it added a new depth to Peter’s character and emphasized the cathartic importance of his relationship with MJ. Spider-Man’s witty humor has always been one of my favorite parts of his personality, and seeing that portrayed so well gave me some serious nostalgia and left me eager to get more in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is usually a light-hearted hero, and his stories often don’t tread into dark waters, but Liss had no problem breaking the status quo.
Normally I would shy away from that kind of thing, but raising the stakes to enormous heights was something that I never knew I wanted to experience in a Spidey story (especially not after watching Peter die and sell his marriage to the comic equivalent of the Devil). The story starts out light enough, Spidey is preventing a snake robbery- icky- when he discovers that one of his long-time enemies, the Scorpion, is up to no good somewhere nearby. He heads off to investigate, only to find that the Scorpion story he heard from the thief was a ploy. He’s attacked by a person shrouded in black, discovering that they have abilities pretty much on par with his own. After the scuffle, things take a turn for the worst. Peter finds himself driving MJ away with his constant need to keep her out of danger, causing a rocky and unstable relationship. His lack of punctuality drives his bosses at the lab up the wall, his landlords threaten to evict him for being behind on his rent payments, and the Kingpin is slowly plotting a “hostile takeover” of the city right under his nose after getting out of prison, much to Spidey’s frustration and dismay. This story takes Peter to an all new low, and it isn’t afraid to deliver gut punches right to your feelings as the reader. It’s a dark telling of the classic hero’s journey, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
It’s obvious that David Liss worked very closely with Insomniac and Marvel Studios to fill in the gaps leading up to Marvel’s Spider-Man, in not only an exciting way but also one that didn’t spoil anything for people excited to experience the game completely blind. Liss’ Spider-Man matches up pretty well with Insomniac’s- his humor, though at times slightly childish in the novel, shine through even the darkest of situations, and the focus on mentorship and partnership go hand in hand between the novel and what we’ve seen and heard of the game. It’s been stated many times that the game will host a prevalent theme of partnership and mentorship- and the novel captures that very well. It’s a story about a long-time solo Spider-Man realizing that he just can’t do it alone, and that’s a very good thing. For those jonesing for some more Spidey in their lives, Hostile Takeover will go down a treat as either a precursor or chaser to the latest PS4 game.