Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder
J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle, has denounced Spider-Man from the beginning, convincing New Yorkers to see him as a criminal and a menace. But when a robot attack on Manhattan injures Peter Parker’s students and Jameson blames Spider-Man, their feud takes on a new, personal dimension.
As the embittered webslinger faces further robot attacks, each deadlier than the last, his spider-sense warns that Jameson himself is behind them, possibly colluding with Electro, Alistaire Smythe, or another of Spider-Man’s mortal foes. Convinced that his worst critic has become a mortal enemy, Spider-Man declares war on Jameson — a war the publisher is eager to wage. But in their relentless pursuit of victory, they both risk losing everything that matters to them — and may both fall victim to the cataclysmic secret behind the robots.
- “Author Christopher L. Bennett… has found that elusive balance… accurately capturing both the flippant and the pensive aspects of everyone’s favorite web-headed wall-crawler, as well as pinning down the personalities of Spidey’s supporting cast members…. Bennett demonstrates that he has a strong grasp on Spidey canon, delivering a compelling action tale that’s also an engrossing character study.” — R. J. Carter, The TradesAudiobook edition declared one of the Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater Audiobooks of 2013 by AudioFile Magazine
It took a false start or two, but I finally got the go-ahead to write my Spidey novel (see the X-Men discussion). The tricky thing was, in the “write what you know” department, it’s easier for me to write about aliens and starships than street crime in Manhattan. Whatever I did, I knew it would need a science fiction component beyond Spidey’s powers. And one of the main SF threats Spidey has faced over the years has been robots. Still, I was determined to make this more than just a run-of-the-mill adventure, to add my own dimension to it. I realized I could do so by doing what my brand of hard SF does best: not just presenting exotic concepts like superpowers, but exploring their workings and their ramifications. One question in particular came to intrigue me: what is the spider-sense and how does it work? How exactly does one sense danger? Is it psychic or something more grounded in nature? How does the ability connect to spiders? What does the “tingling” actually feel like? And how can I do something new and different with this ability in a novel?
On the character side, one thing I really wanted to explore was the character of J. Jonah Jameson, who’d played a regrettably small role in the Spidey comics of the preceding years. In superhero series, my favorite characters are often the nonpowered supporting cast members. I love stories where the people who aren’t the superheroes get to take the lead for a change. Jonah is a particularly rich and fun supporting character. Stan Lee’s Jonah was somewhat broad, but always entertaining; later writers toned him down some but gave him more complexity. My goal in writing this novel was to take those different, even conflicting portrayals and merge them into a unified theory of J. Jonah Jameson: to get into his head, analyze what made him tick, and explain exactly why it is that he has such a fanatical hatred for Spider-Man. Not just because I thought it would make a good novel, but because it’s a question I’ve long wondered about myself, and I was determined to take this opportunity to solve the mystery. I’m rather pleased with the answer I arrived at, and with the opportunity to explore such a complex character.
Like the previous two Spidey novels from Pocket Star, Down These Mean Streets by Keith R.A. DeCandido and The Darkest Hours by Jim Butcher, this novel is set during the time frame of J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the Amazing Spider-Man comic and owes much to its concepts and characterizations (including Peter’s new career as a teacher and the state of his relationships with Mary Jane and Aunt May). But I’ve also borrowed heavily from the work of Paul Jenkins in Peter Parker, Spider-Man and its successor series The Spectacular Spider-Man contemporaneous with (and preceding) Straczynski’s run on Amazing. This was partly for the sake of thoroughness, but also because I enjoyed Jenkins’s work on the titles.
Ahh, thoroughness. I felt (and some online critics agreed) that my research for my X-Men novel was not as thorough as it could have been. Fortunately, in this case, I became aware of a DVD-ROM collecting the entire run of Amazing Spider-Man, and I read the whole series in preparation for this book, as well as tracking down every other Spidey collection I could get my hands on. The SpiderFan.org website was invaluable for filling in the events of the stories I couldn’t read. As a result, this book has a lot more Easter-egg continuity references than my X-Men novel did. I hope that comics fans will be satisfied by the references and novices will not be confused by them. (My favorite era of the Spidey comics? Lee-Romita.)
I want to thank John Van Fleet for doing such a great cover painting. This is my favorite of all my novel covers to date — it’s just so striking. It actually inspired me to take the book in a somewhat darker direction than I otherwise would have. (But I keep wondering — are those Sentinel eyes peering over Spidey’s right shoulder? Maybe a straggler from my X-Men novel?)
UPDATE 2013: I’m very pleased that GraphicAudio, publishers of the fully dramatized audiobook edition of my original novel Only Superhuman, chose to adapt Drowned in Thunder as well. Pocket Star’s Marvel novels didn’t sell as well as they could have, but I’m very proud of this book, so I’m glad to see it getting a new lease on life. I met with the GraphicAudio people a few weeks before the audiobook was released, and I think they’ve done a really good job with it. If it performs well enough, maybe Marvel will choose to re-release the novel. Failing that, there are plenty of used copies available.
Annotations page (spoiler-heavy!): Updated Sept. 2013 with audiobook notes