During this time, in loose conjunction with its efforts to get its properties onto television in Live Action and Animation, Marvel was making a concerted effort in the bookstore market as well. The success of the ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS series had proven that there was sufficient interest among book-buyers to make such activities potentially profitable. And so, Marvel struck a deal with Pockey Books to produce not only a line of paperback-sized comic book reprints but all-new novels based on the Marvel heroes as well.
I’m pretty sure that I got this book at one of the two bookstores in the Smith Haven mall, though it’s possible that it was another bookstore entirely–there were plenty of them in 1978, and my family tended to stop into them whenever we were in the area. Beyond that, I know that I read the book and liked it well enough, but I recalled only the scantest of details before rereading it a few months ago.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in MAYHEM IN MANHATTAN was co-written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, the outgoing Marvel editor and his successor, respectively. Len and Marv were also friends since childhood, and they broke into the business at about the same time. The novel is a quick read–it’s not all that thick at all–and one gets the sense that Wein and Wolfman were grappling a little bit with just how to treat the subject matter plausibly, especially without the aid of images. It’s tough to describe Spider-Man’s actions in prose and have them seem anything less than absurd, really. Consequently, this version of Spider-Man feels very stripped down in terms of his power level, more akin to the Spider-Man who would soon be seen on television. He certainly couldn’t life a city bus, two guards with guns were enough to give him a seriously hard time.
The secret villain of the story is Doctor Octopus, and Wein and Wolfman pillage bits from the Doctor’s most notable adventures battling the wall-crawler in the comics for some of their set-pieces. So as you’d expect, at once point Spider-Man gets trapped underneath the wreckage of one of Ock’s exploded hideouts and needs to dig down deep and summon all his moxie to lift it off his back, in a straight-out evocation of Steve Ditko’s masterwork sequence. There’s nothing wrong with that per se–Marvel owned the underlying story concepts. But it does mean that the book is somewhat less exciting for anybody who was very familiar with the web-slinger’s exploits.
Still, it was an entertaining piece of throwaway pulp writing, and the first of a short-lived string of close to a dozen prose releases. I’d only wind up buying one or two at the time, but over the years I’ve had occasion to sample most of them. They’re definitely a time capsule for this era of Marvel and popular culture.