Characters like the Prowler, Mysterio, and others who have little or no real superpowers, have always been my favorite kind of Marvel character. They rely on pluck (or foolhardiness) and ingenuity, and because they don't have godlike powers, have to think their way through situations to win, which makes for much more interesting plots and storylines than ones in which the reader sees splash pages of gods blasting each other, with as much interest to readers as characters in a videogame.
For those not familiar with this character, the Prowler is very similar to a young Batman but without the cash; he is intelligent and inventive, but doesn't have the billions Batman does to create superweapons, which makes him even more interesting; how could he ever compete (or survive) in a world with the likes of the Hulk, Thor, or Doctor Doom?
He started out at a villain (see review of origin elsewhere on this site), but was convinced to change by Spiderman. In this series, his origin is more or less rewritten as he is asked by Spiderman (in a cameo appearance) as to why he decided to become the Prowler, and it takes him a while to answer this question for himself; his original criminal intentions seem to have been forgotten in this version.
By now the Vulture is suspicious that someone at the plant is the Prowler (he's not an evil genius for nothing), but before he is able to track him down Prowler busts in and there is a very short battle between him and Prowler where the Vulture literally flies rings around him, laughing at his ineffectualness. The Prowler's weapons are indeed ineffective against the Vulture, but our resourceful Hobie has souped up his jet boots and grabs the Vulture in a surprise burst of speed, and holds onto him as they both plummet back into the Vulture's office. Vulture almost kills Hobie, but Hobie manages to slow him with his sleep gas.
Nightcreeper, that persistent cuss, staggers back in again, (still in costume, though they had removed it at the hospital) looking for more weapons, and tries to attack the drugged Vulture who is still on his feet. Vulture, who is disoriented from the gas, leaves to clear his head. However, he can't return later as he planned; Hobie has recorded their entire conversation and hands the tape and the Vulture's identity over to the police; he wasn't able to physically beat him, but he defeated his plans to take over the company and rob it of its technology.
By the end of the story, Hobie feels like a failure as a hero but is reminded by his brother that he accomplished his aim of saving his company and getting rid of the Vulture. Nightcreeper is in hospital/jail (this time I hope they remembered to handcuff him to the bed as they do other hospitalized killers), and his wife reluctantly accepts that her husband is a suicidal vigilante at night. The best part is, Spiderman didn't have to deal with the bogus Vulture this time.
The Good Points: The story is true to the spirit of the character of the Prowler. He wants to do good, to make a difference, and is resourceful within his limited means. The device of having his older brother as his mentor/trainer is a good idea, though it is not convincing that he would be so supportive of his little brother going out at night alone to fight armed bands of thugs with machine-guns (but then, he is a green belt...) The artwork ranges from very good to downright sketchy at times. The best artwork is reserved for the fight scenes, while the characters out of costume get the least definition.
The writers have obviously researched the characters carefully to create the background conflict (when is the last time you've seen that from the Marvel mill?) There are some flashes of brilliance in the elements involved; Hobie is given a chance to work at the same company that kicked Toomes out years before; to Hobie, the company is a godsend, allowing him a future, an education and a way to continually improve his Prowler powers. Toomes simply wishes to wreck the company for personal revenge, creating a believable and natural conflict between the two characters. Even the ludicrous element of a youthened Vulture is used to its best advantage; who is going to believe a 30-something corporate raider is the 80 year-old Toomes? The writers managed to take something worse than lemons and make lemonade. The only thing missing is better dialogue and characterization.
To its credit, the writers didn't get carried away with trying to soup up the Prowler's "powers", except for the karate thing. The essence of the character is that he makes the most of what he has (climbing gloves, darts, jet boots, gliding, etc.) to try to accomplish his goals. They stayed inside his limitations, which made the character appealing.
Also, there are some very clever plot points which won't come across to the reader unless they are very familiar with the Vulture's history; the company Hobie works for is the very same one the Vulture did before he was forced out many years ago; he plans to take it over and ruin it for revenge and profit. Unfortunately, this isn't explained in enough detail for the average reader and went by me the first time I read it.
The Bad Points: The plot sounds better reading it than seeing it handled in comicbook form. The dialogue is stilted and doesn't add personality to any of the characters. Hobie is so sincere he makes Peter Parker look like Newt Gingrich; his wife is a long-suffering saint with a monotonal voice and almost no personality. She seems so helpless (although an accomplished career woman) that she seems like a passive victim.
The sketchiness of the artwork seems to point up the sketchiness of the characters. In the old Spiderman books, the look and sound of Peter, Harry and the others was as defined as the costumed characters, and therefore as interesting; it provided counter-point to the costumed scenes that punched up the drama that was occurring. Here, the lack of dialogue and personality of the characters detracts from the story. There is nothing wrong with any of the relationships or background points, it's the way they are portrayed that is lacking.
Another major problem is Hobie's look; in his first appearance in Spiderman he was even younger than Peter; in his mid to late teens. He was very similar to Peter in his angst and desires, which made him an interesting and sympathetic character. He had only his brains to rely on, with no superpowers to protect him. Here, he is supposed to be young but looks like he is in his 30's; a bit old to be dressing up like Batman at night. He is also drawn so vaguely he has no definition or character. They should have made him look like he is in his late teens or early twenties, as well as his young wife.
Some of the plot points are so silly that it hurts the comic-book, (which is already based on a silly idea), and makes it feel as if it is written at a seven year-old's level. Nightcreeper is "partially paralyzed" in a fall, yet makes it out of the hospital (the police know he has killed people), somehow gets hold of his costume, gets over to his old company, and staggers in unseen in time to confront the Prowler and the Vulture. Mindy, Hobie's wife, hasn't a clue as to her husband's nocturnal activities, despite the fact they share a small apartment together. The dialogue of the dopeheads is so ludicrous it is painful yet funny, and not in a good way; it makes the entire story look amateurish.
Perhaps the silliest part involves the Vulture's purchase of enough stock in the company to take it over! If he had enough money to do that, wouldn't he just have retired by now? With that kind of dough he could pay the Tinkerer to soup up his costume a dozen times over and save himself the trouble.
And of course, the "coincidences" that occur to further plot points get too numerous and detract from the story. The series and dialogue really doesn't get cooking until the last issue, where the Vulture feels superior to the Prowler because the Vulture can actually fly and the Prowler can only glide. It's a shame it isn't better, as the story has a lot of heart and you can see the effort the writers have made to include interesting character elements in the story.
Despite all of this, the series is pretty decent. It is understandable why it didn't get picked up as a regular series however; the character's background is just not made compelling enough, the supporting characters are not developed enough; it would have been interesting to see what Frank Miller would have done with the story. However, perhaps it is just as well he didn't; the Prowler as presented in this series has too many similarities to the Batman: Year One series.
It is worth reading the series if you want to get a glimpse at what the old spirit of Marvel used to feel like. It's a shame it didn't get picked up as a regular title; in the right hands, the Prowler could be an interesting continuing character, a poor man's Batman trying to survive in a world of Gods and superheroes of massive power. But it takes an unusual writer to write for a character like this convincingly, which is why we have the stories (and the never-ending clones, in more ways than one) we do from Marvel.
Five webs for effort, two for execution, which makes three and a half over all.