Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover Review

So, a prequel to a video game sounds good, but they do have a tendency to feel a bit uneven.
Sometimes the switch in format in cases like this makes it feel like a shift in the voice of the author or narrator when it needs to feel like a continuous story.
I have played the game and I love it, it is truly great.
The delivery of the story feels like a pure injection of the Spider-Man we all know and love just with a slight twist.
But how does this book feel?
Does it set up the game well?

This is your ***Official Spoiler Warning***, gang.
Now let’s dive in.

Kingpin has come back to New York and is rehabbing his public image after fleeing to Europe post-trial and nearly getting thrown in prison, which Spider-Man helped bring about.
Fisk is back, creating jobs by building lower income housing all throughout the city.
Spider-Man doesn’t really believe the sudden change in attitude, but once an imposter Spider-Man shows up wrecking havoc and turning the public against the true (red &) blue Spidey, his plate starts getting fuller than he can handle.

I hadn’t heard of David Liss before this book, but having gone on this nearly 400 page journey with him at the wheel I kind of hope he gets the chance to write Spidey and his world again cause he fuckin’ nailed it!
The set up for the game is pretty damn good and his writing style is crisp and easy to read.
The humor and personality of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is as true to form as you can get.
He delivers information economically, giving you a sense of the history of this specific universe and it’s Spider-Man.

We see Spidey meet Yuri Watanabe, a cop that has as much of a hard-on for Fisk as Pete does, for the 1st time.
Pete & MJ say farewell to Harry Osborn, who heads to Europe to find himself.
Mayor Norman Osborn makes his impact felt, putting on a bit of a show in a coffee shop.
J. Jonah Jameson takes his first steps into audio broadcasting.
MJ gets her job at the Daily Bugle and starts chasing the tail of Fisk.
All of these threads continue into the novel, the only one that feels weird in both is MJ’s because it feels a little too close to Lois Lane.
And given that she looks A LOT like Smallville’s version, played by Erica Durance, it makes it all the more weird.
BUT, even I have to admit, that’s a bit nitpicky since it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Liss clearly establishes that she had an interest for years, studied it in school, but never really pursued it until now.

One of the other things that slightly bugged me about this book were the rather vague time jumps.
A few weeks here, a couple months there, it somehow manages to make a 398 page novel feel a little thin.
Those fast and loose jumps make me wonder though if Liss has specific guidelines he had to follow.
As if they wanted the story to build over time to the game, but they didn’t want to flesh out the story of this particular world too much just so continuity didn’t fuck them in any sequels or follow up stories, such as the current Spider-geddon storyline.

The web he wove with the 3 main villains definitely feels like a perfect set-up for a sequel game or the upcoming DLC, the description of a certain Kingpin related character (that I won’t spoil) is just too visual and her thread, which is left dangling, is just too damn ripe with potential to not come back around at some point.

The bottomline is that this may not be the Spider-Man you know and love every single detail of, but that’s okay because, MJ/Lois aside, there are no changes so drastic that it feels inauthentic or like something other.
I finished this and I wanted to know as much as I possibly can about this version, so I’m going to go grab my controller and go swinging around.
The whole time I’m sure I’ll be hoping Liss gets to write about this verse again soon so I can soak up even more of this great new world.

Special Thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

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Fitz’s Toy Chest: #1 – C-3PO

Before we get started on this new semi-regulary blog feature, I want to take a minute to thank everyone that helped name this blog by voting in the poll we ran a few weeks ago.

Obviously Fitz’s Toy Chest won out over the other (much catchier title Figure Fan with Fitz, man). That name really grew on me and honestly I came THIS close to overturning the vote result to go with that one.

Ultimately we let the vote stand and went with the title that I came up with. Fitz’s Toy Chest may sound generic and cliche, but there is actually a specific reason I wanted to use it.

When I was a kid, long before we had major superstores like Toys R Us (#RIP) the big toy store in our area was called…wait for it…Toy Chest.

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This store was amazeballs and it was my paradise from about age 5 up until about age 12. I can remember the front corner of the building had giant letter blocks going up it, and a kinda like Home Depot has grills and lawn mowers out front this place had swingsets and playhouses lined up along the front along with the obligatory 70s/80s shitty steel swimming pool/animal troughs.

(Side note: This was the exact place that in 1983-ish I would see the Endor Garrison and Speeder Bike swingset. It existed. Look it up.)

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Sometime in the early 80s, the almost equally awesome Children’s Palace opened a location just down the street. This competition from a larger chain store with multiple locations would eventually drive Toy Chest out of business.

And Jesus wept.

The rest of my childhood toy buying days were spent begrudgingly going to Children’s Palace or the taint of toy stores, Kay-Bee. And while Children’s Palace was a mostly acceptable replacement for Toy Chest and I still have many fond memories of going there, nothing can touch the joy that was shopping at Toy Chest.

A good portion of my toy collection came from that store, as well as some big fish that got away (I’m looking at you Superion).

So the name of this feature is a direct homage to that hallowed hall…

And…

Now that I’ve wasted time explaining all that, let’s open Fitz’s Toy Chest and see what’s inside…

C-3PO
Company: Kenner
Acquisition Year: 1978
Acquired via: Purchase, Gacen Drugs
Years In Possession: 40

In 1977 a movie was released that changed movies forever and made such a profound impression on my 3-4 year old brain that I’m still in love with it and everything that has been spawned from it 4 decades later.

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The same monumental change that Star Wars brought to movies, it also brought to movie MERCHANDISING. And out of all the thousands and thousands of different kinds of Star Wars merchandise created and sold over the years, NOTHING could ever compare to the original line of action figures put out by Kenner. These toys were heavy and in a lot of ways crude representations of the beloved characters seen on screen but somehow felt as real to me as any flesh and blood actor.

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They were clunky but full of heart and joy. Kenner produced 100 or so different figures in a surprisingly short 8 year span from 1978 to 1985, never seeming to lose their uncanny ability to create the perfect assortment of characters and vehicles from all 3 films (compare this to the modern Hasbro line that started out as a Kenner reboot in ’95 and is still pumping out uninspired poorly sculpted toys 20 years and 8 movies later).

Of course much of my reverence for these toys comes from the fact that they were so much a part of me for all those formative years. I may very well have felt the same about the new line if I had been born in the early 90s. But I doubt it. There is just something about these figures, from the packaging to the solid heft of them in your hand that make them seem more like pieces of art than just a toy.

In 1978, not long after I had seen the movie for the first time, I got my first action figure. It was one of the original 12 released famously months and months after the initial hurricane of Star Wars mania. And as the title of this post has already spoiled, it was C-3PO.

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I can still remember being in the aisle of one of our two neighborhood drug stores (oddly the other one never got into the toy game) with my mom, watching her rifle through the figures on the peg. I’m not sure I knew what they were or had any interest in them, I’d never really seen toys like that before. “Action Figures”, especially in the 3.75″ scale were unheard of before Star Wars. But my mom was convinced I would love them. She would say “Oh look at this one! Oh how about THIS one!” and lower them down to my level so I could see each one. There’s even one particular statement she made that is forever burned into my brain to this day, but I’ll save that for the next volume of this blog…

Eventually, for no reason in particular, I chose C-3PO. He wasn’t my favorite character in the movie but for some reason I was drawn like a magnet to his gleaming gold finish.

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I still remember taking him home, my own miniature treasure, the first of what would become an army of tiny plastic friends which would see me through childhood, well into adolescence and remain as much a part of me as my own organic appendages into middle age.

That afternoon I laid on the couch, and with no other figures to interact with 3PO, I created a cave out of a pillow and imagined him hanging out in there by himself waiting for his master to show up.

Which he would eventually.

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Thanks for reading guys, I’ll be back to share another piece of my collection and more boring stories that no one but me cares about!

Burn Notice: The Reformed Review

Burn Notice is a show I loved, and in many episodes of the Pod I have gone on the record and said the novels I had read up to this point, along with the Monk and Psych novels, were among the best media tie-in novels I’ve read.
But, this is a new novel and there is always a chance it may not live up to the standard set by the others.
Time to find out!

As always, this is your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

Michael: [VO] My name is Michael Westen.
I used to be a spy.
Until…
Voice on phone: We got a burn notice on you.
You’re blacklisted.
Michael: [VO] When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history.
You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in.
Michael: Where am I?
Fiona: Miami.
Michael: [VO] You do whatever work comes your way.
You rely on anyone who’s still talking to you.
A trigger-happy ex-girlfriend…
Fiona: Shall we shoot them?
Michael: [VO] An old friend who used to inform on you to the FBI…
Sam Axe: You know spies, bunch of bitchy little girls.
Michael: [VO] Family too…
Sam: [phone rings] Hey, is that your Mom again?
Michael: [VO] …if you’re desperate.
Madeline: Someone needs your help, Michael!
Michael: [VO] Bottom line: As long as you’re burned, you’re not going anywhere.

For those unfamiliar, that’s how every episode of Burn Notice opened.
And every single time I picked this book up to read a few more chapters, that rolled through my head.
Tod Goldberg has such a great grasp of this world that it’s stunning to find out he wasn’t in the writers room on the series.
In all honesty, the worst thing I can say about this book is that it feels a lot like Star Wars: Dark Disciple, in that it feels like an arc of the show that they didn’t film.
It really is like 3 episodes in 1 book.
I can see Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless, Jeffery Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and all of the rest of the cast acting out every single expression, muscle twitch, and flare of anger.
I can visualize the graphics explaining who is the client, bad guy, and asset.
It’s fantastic!

The story goes like this: a former street gang leader that Mikey knows from his youth and time as a spy found God in prison, turned priest, and is in the midst of trying to atone.
But now the collar’s new public image is being threatened with blackmail by a former fellow gang member.
After a chance meeting spurred by Madeline, Mike’s Mom, Mike takes him on as a client and gets dragged into this seedy underbelly.

This novel really crystalized one thing for me, something that would occasionally swim around in my brain from time to time as I watched the show.
That fact is that these characters are so strong and so well defined, far beyond most shows that fall into the same sort of villain of the week formula that this show did.
Mike is the strong leader who is capable on his own but isn’t afraid to rely on his friends and family.
Fiona is an incredible presence that I would dare say is one of the best female characters of all time, without falling into stereotypical female archetypes.
She’s occasionally soft and sweet, occasionally The Punisher in a dress.
And then we come to Sam, the wise crackin’ best buddy who is more than just comic relief.
He can actually handle himself and rescue the hero if he is forced to.
It all comes through so well, it’s perfection on the page.

Mike makes his plan to take down the baddie, who has cops on the payroll. After some clever twists to complicate things and challenge the crew, they unseat the villain, protect a mother and her child, save the priest and his youth workers he’s trying to pull out of the life.
And all is well, for now.

If you are a fan of this show, there is absolutely no reason you won’t love these books.
They legitimately feel like missing TV Movies from the middle of the first three seasons or something.
I don’t know exactly how Goldberg does it, but the dude does it well.
It’s a damn shame he only did 5 of these novels because in the absence of the show, that I deeply loved and terribly miss, these are a magnificent way to extend the experience.
I highly encourage you to check this and all of the others out.
Meanwhile, I’ll just sit here hoping he’ll get an idea some day and they let him do more.

Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

Be sure to come back tomorrow, gang, for the launch of Fitz’s new Bi-Weekly Figure Feature!

Spider-Man: Goblin’s Revenge Review

Our story picks up the morning after Carnage In New York (read my review of that novel here) as Spidey heads to meet up with Reed Richards and deliver the serum from that novel, which is a fun idea…in theory…
As we know, sometimes creative changes can lead to an uneven feeling in the story and tone.

Does this feel like a good continuation?
Let’s find out!

As per usual, consider this your 22 year late ***SPOILER ALERT***!!!
And a quick thank you to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help with these reviews.

So, Spider-Man meets up with Mr. Fantasic and swings back home for some much needed rest.
As Spidey makes his way home, a new maniac on a Goblin Glider lobs a pumpkin bomb at the leader of the FF and snatches the serum away, setting up our conflict.
Quickly, Spider-Man’s world is turned upside down and we jump 2 weeks ahead in time.
As the webslinger tries to figure out who this new Goblin is and what his plans are, a mission to break Carnage out of a high security prison sets that monster free.

One of the best things about this novel is the focus.
It easily could have been a retread of the previous story, going for a personal story that cheapened the one from last time.
But instead, Dean Wesley Smith weaves in a surprising personal thread near the end (more on that in a bit) that is so different and works better because of it.
The main focus though is Pete stressing hardcore about the serum getting loose in the world, facing a lack of sleep due to a reoccurring nightmare that gives him flashbacks to one of his most traumatic failures.

The action is handled in the way you would expect from an author of DWS’s stature.
The guilt and stress the webhead feels about the serum getting out, though described through 3rd person narration, comes across as well as if you were reading Parker’s diary.
Dean Wesley Smith is a writer I know of, but don’t know his work well.
Having said that, I have really liked the few books of his I’ve read (2 Spider-Man novels and a Smallville novel for sure, I’m pretty sure there are a couple more).
The scene of Carnage at the airport, murdering hostages in a ploy to get Spider-Man to face him is gruesome.
As is the scene of the Glider rider chucking a dose of the serum into a group of mercs that have been pursuing our Sensational hero, they destroy one another quickly and bloodily.

MJ, seeing the weight of pressure and responsibility that Pete is putting on himself, tries to boost her husband’s mood by bringing together their old circle of friends, Flash and Liz…which unwittingly helps this new Goblin get something over on Spidey and brings MJ closer than she probably ever wanted to be to the climactic action.
The Goblin and Carnage bickering helps Pete take down the symbiotic monster and leads to a Goblin chase and reveal.

Given the described inexperience of this Goblin, if you know the Spidey Rogues Gallery it’s pretty easy to figure out who he is.
So there is some level of predictably, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
And in all honesty, that’s probably the key to all good Spider-Man stories, fun.
I know this story sounds depressing as all hell, but trust me it does have enough fun to meet that criteria.

The 1 thing that stuck out as odd to me would be at the beginning, Reed apologies to Pete for the FF not being around to help with Carnage last time and says he hopes to be there next time.
When Carnage pops up again, the FF is dealing with another crisis somewhere and are unable to help Spidey.
It 100% makes sense that the Fantastic Four would constantly be rushing off to deal with other problems, but it felt really fuckin’ weird to draw attention to that only to let it happen again.
It’s a minor nitpick, but I feel it’s valid to wonder about.

That aside, it does feel like a good continuation of the last book.
It’s shorter, but that makes for a tighter story with more focus on our hero and his problem.
I desperately hope I can find more of these books, because thus far they are all so true to character and an utter joy to devour.
Find them if you can, gang!