I don’t often do rereviews. If I read a book, that’s my verdict and I move on. In theory this would be one of those times. I read the three books in this set twice, once as a kid and once in 2017 for the overview of Spider-Man’s prose novels. That should have been enough. I definitely should have had the verdict I needed.
But this one sat funny to me. I never felt like I was fair to these books. After all I’d read them out of order the first time and I rushed through the revisit. I didn’t do these books the justice they deserved. And that wasn’t fair. So I took advantage of the Titan Books reprint of the trilogy to give the books one last shot. I needed a copy of The Lizard Sanction and Titan’s reprint program deserves a study.
First off, I have to applaud Titan for reprinting the Marvel prose line. They’ve reprinted Mutant Empire, X-Men/Avengers: Gamma Quest, this set, and recently three Wolverine books with an omnibus including Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours coming. The books are very basic reprints with the stunning covers missing and illustrations cut to save money. These are bargain books through and through. But hey, thre books are in print again. This is a nice addition to my shelf.
The plot is, well these really aren’t one story. Each book has a separate plot. The Venom Factor concerns Venom getting framed for murders set against a larger threat. The Lizard Sanction pits Spider-Man against the Lizard with Venom there as well. Venom is also in The Octopus Agenda, with Doc Ock trying to execute a normal villain plot. These aren’t plot dense books and I was right there.
But I was wrong that they’re bad books. I complained about the bloat and it’s true there’s a lot of air here. That paperback is a lot of small type and it’s dense. But all that air actually gives us something rather nice: atmosphere. These books are dense with really strong atmosphere in three specific ways. So since they are really three individual books, let’s examine them one by one.
The Venom Factor is the strongest of the three with a really classic plot and tone. This is an old fashioned story with two good threats in the form of the Venom impostor and the Hobgoblin. It’s really an 80s book in prose form. It’s well paced with a nice New York energy, inevitable as Duane is a born and bred New Yorker who loves the city. I really think this alone justifies the reprint.
But I don’t feel much less love for The Lizard Sanction. New York is exchanged for Florida and the atmosphere is equally fresh. There’s a sticky discomfort to Duane’s Florida. Setting the Lizard loose here is a great idea. He fits this world and the book crackles with swamp monster fun. Given how ghastly the audiobook is, Duane could sue for how much it wrecks her work turning a fun pulp read into a power records nightmare.
I’m honestly still kinda meh on The Octopus Agenda. It’s a contractual obligation book clearly. I feel like this was there to complete the idea of this as Boulevard’s version of the Thrawn trilogy. It ain’t that. But even so, it has a good enough story and I suspect Duane stuck with it to get the first major identity theft story in a Marvel novel. It captures being young and poor well.
I still won’t call these any kinds of great reads. They’re not anything too fresh and Venom is shoehorned in after the first book. But they’re the kind of fun pulp we needed this year. I dug them.