Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting: "Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours" by Jim Butcher

Encapsulate the plot of this book in one sentence?

Kinfolk of Morlun - Spider-Man's deceased vampiric foe - have arrived in New York City to avenge their dead brother and have Spidey in their sights.

When and where did you get this book?

I saw a mass-market paperback edition in a comic shop and checked the public library to see if they had a copy, because of the author involved. They did. So I borrowed it from the library.

What year or edition?

2006 Trade Paperback. First edition. Larger size, easy-to-read print. Perfect.

Did you finish it?

I almost bailed out when I realized Butcher had written a direct sequel to a story arc from a time in Spider-Man continuity - when J. Michael Straczyinski was writing Amazing Spider-Man - that I'm not a fan of. Thankfully,  Butcher has his own voice and provides all the backstory you need in entertaining ways, so the book is accessible.

What's your verdict?
Butcher gets Spider-Man - the characterization, the consistency of the street-level feel to his adventures and interactions with other characters,  which is surprisingly tricky, because a lot of comic book writers and artists often complained about the Spider-Man of this era: his marriage to Mary Jane Watson was considered a drawback,  but Butcher handles it far better than the comics did at that time. I would suggest Marvel have Butcher write Spider-Man comics sometime soon. He's that good. And that's what made me want to finish reading the book - it reminded me of why I used to follow Spider-Man's adventures closely. This was my Spider-Man: smart, resourceful,  clever, witty, cool and wise beyond his years.

What surprises did it hold - if any?

The book is narrated in the first-person by Spider-Man, which is interesting - it more closely captured the feel of the comics. Superhero prose novels are often narrated in third-person.  Also, the number of guest-stars in what feels like a simple adventure (it's Rio Bravo with Spider-Man, really): Black Cat, the Rhino, Doctor Strange - all in major supporting roles, but depicted casually, as being a normal part of Spider-Man's world, which they are, depending on whoever's writing for him.

Which scenes will stay with you? Which characters will stay with you?

Butcher's take on Felicia Hardy (The Black Cat) and The Rhino will stay in my head as fully-realized characters for the first time. Spidey's on-and-off relationship with Felicia was always the one that set off the most sparks (at one point, her character was considered as having more depth than DC Comics' Catwoman, who was more one-dimensional, until the latter character was fleshed out more and then Felicia's characterization became increasingly one-dimensional). And the Rhino, Doctor Strange and Wong - Strange's major domo - seem definitive here. Also, Mary Jane Watson Parker, wife of Spider-Man,  is given a fairer shake than the comics at that time (Marvel Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada had compromised  that character and Spider-Man badly with his edicts to end their marriage). However, in retrospect,  none of Peter Partner's romances ever seemed like a true meeting of the minds...maybe he should try a romance with Spider-Woman, or would that be too obvious?

One other surprise: the adventure never feels overblown or out-of-scale for Spider-Man.  Butcher is well aware that Morlun is a vampire in all but name only, and the only weakness of the book lies in the fact that Mortia and the Ancients seem like cardboard villains from Blade or Underworld, but that fault lies with the source material he's playing off.

What genre would you say it is?

Urban Fantasy-Adventure, though that seems to make it bigger, doesn't it?

Have you read anything else by this author?

Jim Butcher is best known for The Dresden Files series of novels, which I haven't read; they're usually twice as long and I'll have to check it out sometime to see if there's an installment that appeals to me.

Is it available today?

It might not be in print, but it's not hard to find.

Give me a good quote.

Sure - check out the scans below. As a bonus, I found a photo of cosplayer Soni Aralynn dressed as The Black Cat in a Spider-Man costume, a scene that does occur in the book! Did she know? Had she read it? I don't know, but it's a cool coincidence!


  1. i love the fact you're using my review questions! and this novel sounds too tempting. Which is a pain because i'm not meant to be buying any more books until i've read everything in the house...

    1. Thank you so much for the reply, Paul! This has been a lot of fun! I'm making good progress - I'm starting the third book I had promised to read and review this month...and I might pick three more for April, since I too have books, books, books. :)