Thursday, December 18, 2014

SPIDER-MAN: THE OCTOPUS AGENDA - November 1996 (Part Four)

Chapters 7 & 8
Written by Diane Duane

The Plot:  Doris Smyth calls Peter to discuss the mobster’s cell phone.  She tells him that it’s been wanted by several agencies for months and gives him a list of the numbers it’s dialed.  Meanwhile, Venom investigates an import/export firm named Bothwell and learns that it has a connection not only to CCRC, but also to Dr. Octopus.  That night, Venom enters the Parkers’ home.  Convinced that MJ isn’t mob connected, Venom passes information to Spider-Man and asks him to contact the authorities.  Later, Spider-Man meets with the AEC and is discreetly given two radiation sensors.  At home, he studies the numbers called on the mobster’s phone and suddenly realizes that Hobgoblin’s underground hideout could’ve been provided by Dr. Octopus.  He leaves a message for Venom and heads for the sewers.

The Subplots:  MJ meets Doris Smyth and drops off her personal phone that’s been cloned.  She then travels to her second recording session, playing the role of supervillain Glaive.  

Miscellaneous Note: It seems the real-life United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) no longer exists. (Actually, it was abolished in the 1970s!)

Web of Continuity:  The Hobgoblin’s underground hideout previously appeared in the first novel in the trilogy, The Venom Factor.  Peter assumes that Hobgoblin’s past as a mercenary means he could’ve been working for Doc Ock all along. Also, Venom's investigation into CCRC leads him to believe Doc Ock might actually be its owner.

I Love the ‘90s:  
  • Peter wonders if it’s possible for the location of a cell phone to be tracked.  Doris Smyth tells him its theoretically possible, assuming the phone has a certain microchip and you know its nearest cell tower.
  • Doris gives an incredulous Peter a detailed explanation on how the NSA can spy on the public using cell phones.  She speculates that the spying will decrease in future years, when cell phone systems move from analog to digital, and the public grows more aware of the government’s activities.  Sure…

Review:  Chapter Seven mainly consists of Peter receiving a lecture on the mechanics of cell phones and how the government can easily spy on them.  Chapter Eight is mostly dedicated to Spider-Man learning about neutron bombs from an AEC agent.  A comic couldn’t get away with two lengthy info dumps in a row, but in a novel, this is more forgivable.  As usual, Duane’s research does a lot to enhance the story and draw the reader into the reality of the world, and the subject matter (government spying and terrorist plots to sneak small nukes into major cities) is of course prescient.  While this section of the novel is light on action and heavy on pure technical information, Duane manages to add some character to the scenes.  Doris, the eighty-year-old computer expert, is a fan of MJ’s old soap opera and is excited to meet her.  Venom is allowed to do more than threaten to eat someone’s brain, when he's given an opportunity to show off his skills as an investigative reporter.  And MJ draws upon an unexpected source to face her fear of Venom -- Glaive, the poorly-written supervillain she’s now playing in a cartoon.  That last bit is perhaps too silly, but it does allow MJ to have a response to Venom that doesn’t repeat what we’ve seen before, while also not pushing her too far into the “warrior woman” cliché.  She’s still terrified of Venom, but has a better handle on how to deal with the fear.  The novel’s almost finished, and while the title villain has been noticeably absent for much of the story, I am curious to see how this plays out.  And, honestly, a potential Venom/Dr. Octopus fight sounds like it could be entertaining.

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