Thursday, June 27, 2013

If anyone can afford a ghost writer, it'd be Tony Stark

For most of their existence, Superheroes were largely confined to the pages of comic books and newspaper strips. But there were also cartoons, radio shows, movie serials and eventually feature films & television.

And there have been prose novels. The first of these would have been George Lowther’s 1942 novel The Adventures of Superman, which was also the first Superman story credited to a writer other than Jerry Siegel.

But prose novels based on comic book superheroes remained a very rare thing. The dam began to break, though, in 1978, when Elliot Maggin wrote The Last Son of Krypton, a novel I’ve written about before.

That same year, Marvel Comics started to get into the act as well with the “Marvel Novel Series.” Beginning that year, there were 11 novels (well, 10 novels and one short story anthology) published that featured Marvel characters such as Spider Man, Captain America, Hulk, Dr. Strange and the Avengers. Most of these were pretty good and several were excellent.

One of my favorites from this series is the Iron Man novel And Call My Killer… Modok! (1979), by William Rotsler.  Rotsler was a talented artist and a fun writer. He turned out a several tie-in novels for Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, wrote some Tom Swift novels and several movie novelizations. This includes the novelization of the Ray Harryhausen film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. I didn’t know about this last credit until I did a little research for this post, but being the guy who gets to novelize a Ray Harryhausen film automatically makes you awesome.

But for now, we’re talking about Iron Man. The plot is a great one—involving attempts by A.I.M, the organization of evil scientists, to steal the Iron Man armor. The armored Avenger manages to foil a couple of attempts at this, then sets a trap for the bad guys. This plan sort of works, but it results in Tony Stark being held prisoner at a remote A.I.M. facility while being forced to build a suit of armor for them.

The main villain is, of course, MODOK. If you aren't familiar with him, he’s basically a giant head with an atrophied body and vast mental powers who rides around in a high-tech weaponized hover chair. Which is, of course, nearly as awesome as getting to novelize a Ray Harryhausem film.

The plot is very well-constructed and Rotsler does a great job with the action scenes. The most notable fight scenes are at the finale, with Tony forced to fight first an evil Iron Man and then MODOK himself.

Tony’s best friend and chauffeur Happy Hogan gets a sequence in which he holds off a horde of A.I.M agents with a submachine gun, which is nearly as awesome as either having a weaponized hover chair or novelizing a Ray Harryhausen film. Nick Fury, nerdy SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell and the SHIELD helicarrier all get some action as well. And Call My Killer… MODOK! is an exuberant read from start to finish.

By the 1990s, superhero novels were no longer rare. For a time both Marvel and DC were churning out quite a few novels featuring their characters. Eventually, the stream of novels seemed to have slowed down, though there are still movie novelizations and the occasional original novel. I have hopes that it will occur to someone at the Big Two to re-release their novels electronically. I would love to add the cream of the Marvel Novel Series to my Kindle.


  1. I liked Superman: Last Son of Krypton a lot, but for the most part I haven't read too many of these books. they always make me want to see the action, which was the allure of the comic books.
    now that I'm older I'd probably enjoy these a lot, since I'm sure they have a sense of fun that is sorely lacking in modern comics these days.

  2. The Marvel Novel Series were indeed stuffed full of fun.

  3. Did you read that Challengers Of The Unknown book by Ron Goulart? It came out about the same time as those Marvel novels and was pretty good.

  4. You know, I never did read that one. But now that you've reminded me of it, I feel obligated to do so.

  5. Leave us also not forget the BLACKHAWK novel, which was very good.

    1. Gee whiz, I didn't know there was a Blackhawk novel. Now I need to find it and read it. TO THE INTENET!


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