Down These Mean Streets

Author: Keith R.A. DeCandido
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99
ISBN 1 4165 1128 8
Available 05 September 2005

Every city has an underbelly, where poverty and crime continue their death dance. On these mean streets of Manhattan, far from the glamour of costumed superhero contests, Peter Parker patrols as Spider-Man, trying to hold back the tide of street crime. Peter and Mary Jane, having finally married, must each in their own way confront the new scourge sweeping the streets. Triple-X, a new ecstasy variant laced with Gamma radiation, promises to give the user the perfect high - at the same time offering the chance of super human abilities. But who is producing and supplying this new deadly promise of paradise? Can Spider-Man stop them in time before more people die...?

Spider-Man: Down These Mean Streets is a new book by Keith R A. DeCandido who is both a prodigious and excellent writer of genre short stories and novels. Like the Fantastic Four: War Zone (also released recently) this novel follows the timeline of the comics rather than the movies. This is less of a problem than with War Zone as the ultimate villain will be familiar to both comic and movie fans. Added to this, DeCandido has avoided plastering the narrative with too many cross references to the comics, thereby allowing a greater audience access to the story without feeling that they are missing large chunks of fan-boy history.

If the Fantastic Four was about family then Spider-Man was always about the reality of a young kid gaining super powers and the problems that this would engender. Spider-Man had an edge that a lot of the other comics didn't. He wasn't accepted just because he wore tights; often while trying to do the right thing he would incur the suspicion and downright hostility of the law enforcement establishment.

These Mean Streets is set much later than the films. Peter is now a teacher and Spider-Man has a certain amount of hesitant trust with a section of the police force. Together Peter and the Police try to stop the spread of Triple-X. Meanwhile Mary Jane must confront the effects of the drug on her mostly middle class friends.

Overall the book reads more like a detective novel; yes there are fights against the gamma enhanced junkies to satisfy the action aficionados, but overall it's a much more satisfying read. DeCandido takes the time to explore the various relationships, from Peters driven personality, a product of his uncles death and his guilt for not preventing it to Mary Jane's feelings of living with a man with a mask

Does Spider-Man win? Of course he does but DeCandido shows that the journey is often more interesting than the destination.

Charles Packer

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