The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. #1 of the Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books Marvel Novel series. Released March 1, 1978.
The writers are well-known to Bronze Age comic book fans. Both had a history of writing and editing the Wall-Crawler by this time.
Len Wein is also known as co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.
No mention as to who does the interior art (shots of Spidey at the beginning of each chapter). The internet says the cover is by Bob Larkin.
The book is 176 pages long, although the story begins at page 11.
Before that we have a three-page introduction by Stan Lee. Here he is in the full hipster-huckster mode that endeared some fans and irritated others. In Spider-Man’s case there is not much he can do to overhype THIS co-creation. I wish Stan would sit down before he leaves us and give us a straight memoir. Imagine the stories and comics history he can recount without all the PT Barnum-isms. Until then … he’s that favorite uncle who visits on Christmas Eve loaded with presents and then bolts when he hears a police siren.
Allen Huddleston was the accountant for a small-time gangster. He worked his way to the top of the organization. His company merged with a legitimate oil company and his career and fortune soared. Then one day, a man made him an offer he had to refuse.
Because of his refusal, this individual – showing signs of superhuman powers, threw Huddleston from his 50-story apartment. The identity of this new boss is easy to deduct to we older readers/Spidey fans (from the villain’s first appearance on page 14).
Spidey finds Huddleston’s body and is (typically) blamed for the murder.
Meanwhile, there is a meeting of the presidents of the 8 largest oil companies in the US. This same bad guy, hidden by a screen, told the eight that they must buy oil from him during the next year. Their oil has been irradiated and rendered useless. By the time the oil can be cleaned up, the year will have passed. This individual – known through the novel as the Master Planner until his real identity is revealed – is set to make millions.
While Spidey investigates the death of Huddleston he finds a taped telephone conversation with Huddleston and the Master Planner. Spider-Man finds that the murder is connected to a manipulation of the eight US oil companies. This leads to some of the Master Planner’s moles in the other oil companies. The Master Planner sets a trap for Spider-Man. There, the Master Planner reveals his real identity.
As the novel progresses, we meet regulars Mary Jane Parker, Glory Grant, Joe Robertson and good old J Jonah Jameson. At first Triple-J is pleasant to others and happy that Spider-Man is accused of murder. As the facts become clearer, he is back to his usual two-dimensional self – brusque, short-tempered and kvetching. But then the authors do something unusual – they give JJJ a personality. He and Robbie investigate the mystery of the eight US oil company executives meeting in secret. We are reminded that he was once one of the best investigative reporters in the country and are shown why. At the end he confesses to Robertson why he REALLY dislikes Spidey – what about the REAL heroes who work to better mankind every day. “Who do you think is under that mask?” Robbie says. “A man, just like you.”
In the story’s midst we read a two-page origin recap. Quick and simple. Modern movie-makers could learn a lot from this.
Gratmen: the novel mentions the Ditko Lighting Corporation – an honorara to Spider-Man’s co-creator Steve Ditko.
A very fun read. The mystery of whodunnit isn’t that mysterious and the investigation by both Spider-Man and the Jameson-Robertson team is not that complicated. But this isn’t James Joyce. It’s a novel of a superhero aimed at young adults. That isn’t to say it is written simplistically or Wein and Wolfman write down to their audience. But clues are given out easily and freely. The tape Spidey finds tells him who his next contacts are and those contacts leads him into a trap he barely escapes.
His detective work finding the Master Planner’s ultimate hide-out was done well. Spider-Man does some real investigation to find it, but it only takes a page or two.
Likewise, Robertson finds his lead by bribing an underworld contact. Their investigation eventually merges with Spider-Man’s in the final confrontation.
A fun murder mystery cloaked in a superhero mask. A good pulpy beginning to the Marvel Novel series!
Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry
Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.
I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.