Spider-Man Super Thriller: Warrior’s Revenge. If the Amazon listing for the book’s publication date is correct (and really, I have no way of knowing if it’s true or not), today is the day in 1997 that I made my debut as a novelist—twenty years ago! Where did the time go?
Sure, not everyone has loved it. SpiderFan.org gave it a two-Spidey rating, but they did find some enjoyment in its pages:
“The story won’t win a Booker, but in general I have to say that the writing is actually pretty good. Barrett coins a nice phrase, and while he flirts with cliché, he doesn’t get down and dirty with it.”
A reviewer at Goodreads, on the other hand, outright hated it: “Neal Barrett, Jr. shows real craftsmanship except when it comes to quiet moments of conversation between friends. That dialogue is smarmy and has many forced references to what good friends these characters are.”
However, at Amazon U.S., one reader called it “the best book in the [Super Thrillers] series,” while another complained about it being a “children’s book” with a short page count (it’s 144 pages). The most encouraging response came from a reader at Amazon U.K.:
“Neal Barrett did an awesome job writing this book! I know the author has inspired me a great deal. I would someday like to follow in his footsteps and become an author along with a doctor!”
Of course, what none of these folks—and probably every other reader of the book—knew is that Neal Barrett Jr. didn’t write Warrior’s Revenge. I did.
It goes like this: In 1996, Byron Preiss, the publisher I worked for as an editor, had two major licenses with Marvel Comics: one to do novels and anthologies for an adult audience, that were co-published by Byron Preiss Multimedia Company and Berkley Books; and one to do books for middle-grade (ages 8–12) readers that were co-published by BPMC and Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books.
The latter series—for which I served as editor—was comprised of eight books, was called “Super Thrillers,” and starred Spidey in seven of them (including a pair of You Are Spider-Man Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style entries), plus one Iron Man adventure. The writers involved were science-fiction writer James D. Macdonald (using the pseudonym Martin Delrio), Star Trek and Stargate author Bill McCay, Dean Wesley Smith, pop-culture writer Richie Chevat, and Neal Barrett Jr. Cover art was provided by the team of Mike Zeck (pencils) and Phil Zimelman (airbushed painting), as well as by Ernie Colon. Ernie also provided interior spot illustrations for the series, as did Steve Geiger, John Nyberg, James Fry, Neil Vokes with Michael Avon Oeming, and Louis Small Jr. with Ralph Reese.
Neal Barrett Jr. was mainly known as a mystery writer and fantasist, but on the side he wrote movie novelizations, including the ones for Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd and Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire—a movie so awful the novelization was never published in the U.S. So when we approached him for the series he was very interested, and after the usual editorial back-and-forth over the plot for his first book, he turned in the manuscript for Spider-Man Super Thriller: Lizard’s Rage, in which Spidey fights not just his old enemy The Lizard, but Morbius the Living Vampire as well. I thought it was great, Marvel loved it, and the book went to press.
But when it came time for his next contribution, things didn’t work out so well.
I can’t remember the reasons for it, but Marvel outright rejected his manuscript for Warrior’s Revenge, in which Spidey teams up with the Incredible Hulk to fight the Super-Skrull, a shape-shifting bad guy from the Fantastic Four comics. They didn’t want the manuscript revised, they wanted it dropped completely and the process restarted from scratch with a new plot.
Neal, however, wasn’t interested in doing it—after all, Marvel had approved his plot before he ever started writing the book, so what was this give-us-a-new-plot business? And having already completed the first-draft manuscript, while he would have made revisions based on their feedback, writing a whole new book was out of the question, especially at the low author rates BPMC was paying. I didn’t argue with him—he was right on both counts.
I went in to Byron’s office and explained the situation. He sighed, paused, and then said:
“So, do you want to write it?”
See, Byron knew I was a writer. I was still publishing my Lorelei comic while I was working for him, and I’d previously co-written (with Ken Grobe) “The Ballad of Fancy Dan,” a short story for an Untold Tales of Spider-Man anthology that was part of the adult-books line. Now he was offering me the opportunity to step up to the next level—only because I was literally standing right in front of him, so he didn’t have to go searching for Neal’s replacement, but I didn’t take that personally.
Well, who was I to say no? A paying gig, writing my all-time-favorite comic character? My very first novel?
Of course I said yes. There was just one problem…
“We’ve already printed the covers for the entire run,” Byron told me, “with Neal’s name on them. So you’ll have to write it anonymously because we’re not going back to press to fix it. Sorry.”
And thus a legend was born—anonymously, of course.