12 years ago, Max Landis wasn’t a Hollywood screenwriter yet. He was just another guy writing fan-fiction about C-list Spidey villain The Shocker. Yeah, the guy who wears a quilted unitard.

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The Shocker is a Spider-Man villain who’s been a joke for years. Decades, even. He’s so much of a never-was that other lame bad guys made fun of him in the excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man series. But before Herman Schultz’ last turn in the spotlight, a 19-year-old Max Landis took a stab at making the laughing-stock lawbreaker into a sympathetic three-dimensional character.

The Shocker: Legit is a novel-length work that sees the Marvel Comics bad guy trying to become a hero. And it’s far better than it has any right to be. Here’s a chunk from the first chapter:

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My name is Herman Schultz, and I am not going to jail today.

I’ve been arrested 37 times. I’ve been convicted 34 times. I’ve escaped from prison 37 times. I’ve fought over 15 different superheroes, most notable among them, Spider-Man, who has handed me my own ass 26 times. It isn’t fair, of course. He’s got superpowers, and I’m just … I’m just a guy. It’s not like I’m even a very tough guy, but I still can’t seem to get arrested by the normal police. No simple cuffs and the back of a wagon for me. I always get to have my jaw broken and get hung upside down in webs from a street light.

I am the Shocker, and recently numbers have become very important to me; I just turned 35. I’ve held, in my entire life, two legitimate jobs, and they were both at separate Burger Kings. This was before I started safe-cracking. This was before I invented the gauntlets.

I have had ribs broken twelve times. My left arm has been broken twice, and my right arm has been broken once. I broke both legs and permanently damaged my left knee after getting kicked off a building by Daredevil. I have the honor of being able to tell other villains that Captain America himself nailed me in the chest with a straight right that cracked my sternum in half. I couldn’t breathe right for the better part of two years.

Today is an important day for me. Today I’m not going to jail.

This bit from the third chapter looks back on the character’s origin story and friendship with The Rhino from a rueful first-person point of view:

I’m one of the few people who knew Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich before he was the monster, the atrocity called “Rhino.” Sure, Aleksei thinks it made him special. The only reason people know who he is, is because of one stupid, stupid decision back in the Eighties.

Aleksei was a small-time thug, a goon, a henchman at best. I was a safecracker, and the Kingpin, our main employer back then, used to put us out on jobs together. I’d started inventing already; it was a constant, addictive thing. When I wasn’t out on a job, I was in the workshop, tinkering with my picks, trying to make them better, quieter, quicker … and Aleksei was right there with me.

Then one day, everything changed. These two Russians, old-school KGB Mafioso creeps, show up in the Kingpin’s office, asking to “borrow” his biggest guy. Of course, Aleksei, their countryman, signs right up.

He vanishes for a while, and in that time I manage to get myself locked up. While I’m in, there comes my one true inspiration, the one thing that’s made me different from everyone else.

The suit. The gauntlets. My children. My only real family.

And I built them right there in the workshop at Southgate Correctional; the idiots watched me, the stupid fucks, as I built tools powerful enough to blow any safe. Coincidentally, they’re also quite useful when it comes to smashing through the walls of Southgate Correctional.

And that’s always been the beauty of my technology, in my eyes: it’s so goddamned versatile. My suit dispenses both vibration and impact, and, to a degree, friction. It can’t get dirty, it can’t get wet, and you need a hell of a powerful impact to tear the damn thing.

And the gauntlets … oh me oh my, the gauntlets. They throw vibrations so hard they can shake apart almost any conventional wall, and knock down any conventional person. At a midlevel setting, they’ll shake you so hard the next day your teeth will still be chattering. Maybe some broken bones, maybe a little nerve damage, and definitely a sour mood, but nobody dies.

I found out about The Shocker: Legit from a reader (thanks, Adam!) who spotted it on Reddit. (That thread comes after Landis’ own submission to the FanFiction subreddit last year.) I’m only a few chapters into Legit but am appreciating how seriously Landis takes his approach to the lesser lights of the Marvel Universe evildoer ecosystem. The next time Shocker shows up in a comic book, I won’t laugh at him. Ok, well, not right away, anyway.