Marvel’s Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover by David Liss is the story of Spider-Man trying to stop Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin, from initiating, well, a hostile takeover of the city. Along the way he has to contend with a spider-imposter, a deaf girl that thinks he killed her father, and the usual Peter Parker wheel of excuses when it comes to his friends and family. Here are my general thoughts about the book, the characters, and what it means for the game. SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK FOLLOW!
Why a Novel
My first thought when I heard that there was going to be a prequel novel to the Spider-Man game was: “Um, shouldn’t it be a prequel comic?” Seeing as how Spider-Man got his roots from the comics, it only seemed right. I found it odd that Marvel would decide to go with a novel instead of paying homage to where the character originated. After reading Marvel’s Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover, I now know why they had no choice but to use a novel format, and that has to do with the main antagonist: The Kingpin.
Let’s look at it this way: Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4 is going to be a AAA blockbuster videogame. There’s going to be action, high energy fight sequences, adrenaline pumping gameplay! So, in a prequel comic, you’d expect some of the same. But the thing is, you can’t tell that kind of story with a villain like Kingpin in comic format. I mean, you can, and you’d get something along the lines of Frank Millar’s Man Without Fear. Great story, good character drama into Daredevil’s psyche and the criminal underworld, run by none other than Kingpin. But if you’re doing a prequel comic to the game I described above, you’ve gotta have costumes and explosions. This story was more of a Law and Order episode guest starring Spider-Man, not so many costumes, not so many explosions.
This kind of story would be disappointing in a comic that’s supposed to be a precursor to the best Spider-Man game ever of all time. But as a novel, you have time to slow down, and focus on the politics of Fisk and Osborn, and delve into the backstories of characters that might not even be in the game. Since the game opens with Spider-Man taking down the Kingpin, this was the logical story to tell, and a novel was the best way to do it. Maybe a better comic would be how he busted all the villains that are currently in the Raft. Yeah, actually, I’d like that comic now.
Hostile Takeover did Peter justice. They nailed his personality, cracking jokes in combat, caring about people he hardly knew when they died, struggling with the balance between Peter Parker and Spider-Man. It’s tried and true, the web-slinger we all love. Which is why I think we didn’t spend a ton of time with him. We all know who Peter is, what he’s about. We all know he can’t make a date to save his life and has to constantly bail on the people he cares about when he hears sirens. But we didn’t need a story about Peter, because that’s all been covered, and will be more so in the game. We spent a surprising amount of time focusing on Mary Jane, and the villains.
I really feel like Liss fashioned his version of Kingpin on the one we see in Netflix’s Daredevil. There’s even a point in the book where it says he’d bash someone’s head in for even thinking about embarrassing him in front of Vanessa. Ring any bells? But yes, even the game developers referenced the Netflix show a lot, so it’s no surprise that this universe’s version of Fisk resembles him a bit. Except this time, he’s trying to keep a lid on his temper to line up with this new public image as a saint here to save New York. It actually lines up with the Daily Bugle newspaper articles posted on the PlayStation website (CLICK HERE), as do other things in the book, but I’ll get there later.
However, they do balance out that version of Fisk with the one from the comics, being unnaturally large, unbelievably strong, and faster than you’d expect a guy his size to move. Kingpin is a character that always seems to be in control, but this novel showed how when he has his hands in too many pies, things can start to unravel around him. His trust in Maya Lopez and reliance on Michael Bingham, the other two antagonists, added up to the inevitable downfall we’ll see when we boot up the game.
Blood Spider and Echo. A lot of you just said “Who?”. A lot of you just said “Psh, I know who they are” when in actuality you’ve maybe heard the names once in some random comic. I don’t blame you. When it came to villains, I guess all the good ones were reserved for the game, so Liss had to dig through a grab bag of obscure Marvel villains (a bag I’m sure Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix shows have done a great deal of digging through) and pull out these two. But it’s not who they are already that matters, it’s who you make them to be in your story.
Michael Bingham was mentally unstable, left to the streets as a teenager, and taken by Oscorp to be experimented on. He came out with spider powers, and the delusion that he was the real Spider-Man. Fisk hired him to smear Spidey’s good name, but Bingham ran out with it, racking up a body count and causing Fisk a lot of headaches, donning the moniker of Blood Spider. He gave Peter a run for his money.
Maya Lopez was orphaned when Spider-Man apparently killed her father, but was taken in by Wilson Fisk (who actually killed her father!). She was deaf, but learned to mimic people. She could make her voice sound as if she had perfect hearing, and she could take down men twice her size, often able to copy moves perfectly she’d only seen once. All in a focused goal of taking down one man: Spider-Man. Armed with her father’s spear, and a handprint over her eye, she became Echo, and set out to just that. But she was bound to the will of Fisk, the man to whom she believed she owed everything.
The way their stories unfolded over the course of the book was fascinating. Each character had clear motivations, and their relationships with Fisk really drove the urgency for Spider-Man to stop them. And while Maya eventually became sort of a hero, Bingham was a chaotic force that needed to be stopped at any cost. I liked how the novel allows us to get a fresh take on some pretty obscure villains, and create new, challenging threats for Spider-Man. It is a tad disappointing, however, given how much time we spent with them that neither character appears to be in the game. Their stories wrapped up here, Bingham headed to Ravencroft and Maya headed back home. But who knows? They might have a lasting impact on the game’s narrative.
We did spend a lot of time with Mary Jane. We know that the game starts with her not having seen Peter for 6 months, where the book leaves them, but here we see her get her job at the Bugle working for Robbie. The game developers stressed that MJ is more of a partner in crime-fighting than a damsel in this game, and I really got that sense in this book. MJ dug up information and leads getting close to Fisk and Maya that helped Peter do his thing. But it was her constant putting herself in danger that made Peter worry too much, and get protective to the point where MJ said he was smothering her, and that’s why they broke it off. But based on what I’ve read in this book, I have no doubt the ‘play as Mary Jane’ levels in the game will be interesting to say the least.
Then we move to Yuri Watanabe, the Slott era police captain who’s only a lieutenant in this book. We get her first interaction with Spider-Man here, and learn how their partnership develops to the point where he’s calling her for tips and help in the game. Though it was strained at times, Spider-Man’s relationship with Yuri was a huge step forward in taking down Fisk, and she’s a genuinely good cop.
Others were less referenced in the novel, such as Harry, Aunt May, Martin Li, and J. Jonah Jameson. For these guys, the book was more of an informational guide as to why the characters are where they are when the game picks up. Harry’s going to Europe to distance himself from Norman, though Peter’s said that he seemed more on edge. JJJ got his Just the Facts podcast, and Peter was introduced to Li through Aunt May. They weren’t crucial to the story, but I am grateful that we got some context to the roles they’ll be playing in the game.
You guys know I love my bullet points, so let me divvy up some secrets I’ve discovered that, using years of Spider-Man knowledge and context clues, I’m pretty sure will come to pass in the game. However, if you wish to remain spoiler free, even though I’m not 100% in any of these, skip this part.
Insomniac refused to state who Peter’s working for in his lab, and the book played coy as well, simply referring to his place of employment as ‘the lab’ and his boss as ‘the boss’ of ‘Peter’s mentor’. Well, I’m telling you, it’s Dr. Connors. Peter’s working on neural interfaces for making prosthetic limbs that react like real body parts, and the Lizard was name dropped twice. The book was careful to only mention villains that have been revealed (a Tombstone namedrop aside), so this makes me 99.99% certain that Peter is employed by Curt Connors.
Insomniac has also, for two years, refused to comment on the white spider. They’ve said it’s to make their version of Spidey immediately recognizable, which I get, and actually appreciate, but they said there’s also a story-based reason behind it. Bingham, aka Blood Spider, a man who was wearing his suit, blowing up restaurants, and straight up shooting people, has to be that reason. With the help of JJJ, half the city believed that Spider-Man had gone rogue. Also, in another issue of the Daily Bugle (CLICK HERE), it mentions spider-imposters trying to imitate the Wall-Crawler. Spider-Man probably wants to distance himself from the massacres of Blood Spider and protect citizens wearing his suit from super villains that might think they have a shot at the real deal. Hence, he gets the white spider. I’m 90.56% sure of that one.
Maya, Fisk, Bingham, and Spidey were all after a flash drive that had some dirt on Norman Osborn. Fisk nearly used it to complete his hostile takeover, but Maya destroyed it. I have no idea what’s on that flash drive, but Insomniac’s said nothing about Osborn except he’s up for re-election and he hired Silver Sable. Even the book was sparse on details, other than the fact that he created Blood Spider. Also, there was no indication that Norman had become the Green Goblin. I think it’s weird that in 8 years, Spider-Man’s never faced his greatest foe. In the Face Front Podcast covering the E3 footage (CLICK HERE), I suggested that the mystery villain at the end was Goblin. I’m 22.37% sure of that, but there is a lot we don’t know about Osborn, and the book makes it clear that he is capable of very, very dangerous things.
So in the end, this is a good read. It serves as both a great Spider-Man story on it’s own, and a prequel to the game we’ll finally get to play in a few days. I loved it, and I’d recommend it to anyone, whether you’re getting the game or not. If you’re a Spidey fan, don’t sleep on this. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover gets a 10/10 in my book!