In Down These Mean Streets, written by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Spider-Man has to fight a new designer drug named Triple X, which is spreading in New York City and not only makes its users high, but gives them superpowers for a short time. But there’s a high price to pay, because many users don’t survive it. In a slightly uneasy cooperation with the NYPD Spider-Man has to find out who is behind the creation, while trying to rein in all those drug-induced paranormal activities and get the drug off the street at the same time. On top of that, Peter Parker has to worry about some of his students and one of his wife’s colleagues involved in all this.
It’s a very good novel, which has a very down-to-earth story, very fitting for one of the most down-to-earth superheroes. Spider-Man never was a typical superhero in my opinion, and Keith R.A. DeCandido makes a very good use of that, when he let him fight a rather mundane threat like a new drug. Of course there is a superpower connection with the drug to make Spider-Man’s challenge bigger, but in the end that isn’t the important part of the novel.
The mark of a good comic-book story is, in my opinion, when the story is still good and thought-provoking even when you take away the typical superhero/comic elements, and that is certainly true for this story. If DeCandido had written the same story as a “normal” mystery/crime novel with normal people, it would have worked just as well. The Spider-Man stuff is just an added bonus.
My Spider-Man knowledge mostly comes from watching the various cartoon series when I was young, and the odd comic here and there (but I don’t think it was more than a dozen or so), but I think DeCandido was able to portray Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider-Man in a way very true to the character(s). Even if you haven’t been exposed to Spider-Man in quite a while like me, you immediately feel at home. You instantly care about Peter Parker, and it’s like you’re revisiting an old friend.
Besides the main plot, the reader gets a very good look on Peter Parker’s life as a teacher, husband and man. Whereas I often have a feeling with superheroes that there’s little behind the superpowers, Peter Parker is a decent, interesting man, who just happened to be bitten by a radio-active/genetically manipulated spider (to be honest I’m not sure which is the widely accepted version at the moment) and the author was able to make Peter Parker as important as his Spider-Man persona.
The characterisation is always one of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s strengths, but he was especially good in this area here. Not only Peter Parker/Spider-Man is portrayed very well, but every character has enough depth to make them more than just bystanders. That’s especially true for the “costume”-hating cops, it would have been easy for the author to just make them the usual one-dimensional superhero-hating characters, but there reasoning actually makes a certain sense, and actually makes you see their point to some degree. But really every character has a something making the reader interested in them, be it Hector Diaz, Javier’s mother or really almost every character having more than a cameo.
All in all, Down These Mean Streets is a very strong book, which I enjoyed a lot more than the Spider-Man movies of the last few years. It’s truly a shame that Pocket Books has lost the license for Marvel-related novels, since I would have loved to see more Spider-Man books by Keith R.A. DeCandido.
Down These Mean Streets (by Keith R.A. DeCandido) was released by Pocket Star in September 2005.