Books I Read: Marvel Prose Novels

Marvel's started a new line of prose novels adapted from some of their recent, but classic, storylines. First up are "Civil War" and "Astonishing X-Men", with "New Avengers" coming in early 2013. These are attractive hardcovers, a little wider than standard and on bright white paper. (They'll be issued as paperbacks later too.) Since these are based on comics you've probably already read, there are spoilers below.

"Civil War" by Stuart Moore: Former Vertigo editor Moore is the editor of this line, so he's up to bat first. The advantage of a novel is that it lets us into characters' heads in a way that's hard to do in comics. Moore does this well, focusing on Captain America & Iron Man of course, and also Spider-Man and Invisible Woman. However, I don't think he does a great job articulating Cap's position before Tony gets all fascistic and Bill Foster dies. To be fair, that's also a weakness in the original work, but in the early stages of the novel it's not really clear why Steve is fighting beyond "this is the way things have always been and I don't want it to change." Once the first battle with the resistance ends badly, and Spider-Man starts to learn more about Tony's plans, the two sides are better delineated and Moore conveys everyone's emotional struggles very well. Spidey continuity obsessives will be interested to know that this is the post-Mephisto version of the story: Peter Parker is not, and has never been married as far as this book is concerned.

"Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" by Peter David: David has the advantage here, even though the plot doesn't have as much going on as "Civil War" because he's got Joss Whedon's great dialogue to use. He also makes the smart decision to tell some chapters from Kitty Pryde's point-of-view. That gives him a chance to delve into some X-Men history, and since he's got several Jewish (presumably non-mutant) daughters of varying ages he's got Kitty's "voice" down perfectly. There's also room for him to go into what the kids at the school are thinking more than Whedon did, which I appreciated. I don't think the Breakworld stuff -- what there is of it; the novel doesn't leave Earth -- really works without John Cassaday's visuals, though.

I'm a big fan of novels based on comic characters: I have a collection of them going back to the 1970's. And these are good books, probably among the better written in that collection. But I'm disappointed that Marvel chose to do adaptations instead of original novels. There's a long history of adaptations, and I think DC was still doing them as recently as "52", but that dates from a time when "respectable" grown-ups wouldn't pick up a comic book. In 2012-2013, it's hard to imagine anyone who's interested enough to read "Civil War" who wouldn't just pick up the graphic novel. (Or a fan of the "Avengers" movie who wouldn't want to read what Joss Whedon wrote instead of something once removed from it.) Still, these are well done (and I appreciate the effort that went into them), and if you do know somebody who likes this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they'll like.


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