Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 12: Venom Returns

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #9-10 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Since his introduction in the now classic Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom has been one of Spider-Man's most acclaimed foes. Unfortunately, as is inevitable with all popular characters, he suffered from horrendous overexposure during the 1990's, as Marvel took the ill advised path of trying to turn him into an anti-hero, with predictably limp results. As the above cover suggests, the reboot signaled a return to Venom's days as an antogonist, a welcome move amid a reboot that had largely struggled to build much in the way of momentum.

Part one opens with the symbiote (currently separated from Eddie Brock) attaching itself to a homeless man in an attempt to find ex-host Peter Parker. There is a nice reference to Joey Z and its generally a well done, very creepy scene that builds up tension for the issue ahead. We then look in on Peter, who briefly discusses the threatening phone calls that Mary-Jane has been receiving with Aunt May before heading out, convinced that  a recently escaped Eddie Brock is behind them. A fairly logical way of thinking, and a decent way of working Brock into the story. Peter (as Spider-Man) recounts Venom's backstory before calling in on private investigator Arthur Stacy, who is having something of a tete a tete with children Paul and Jill. Jill has been forced into centre stage since the reboot and is a slightly weak character but Arthur and Paul are both stronger and its nice to see them show up, even if Paul's appearance is very brief. Peter returns home, with the symbiote hot on his heels and is briefly accosted by it in a very creepy scene. After he fights it off it resolves to rejoin with Eddie, and leaves. Peter is distracted by the doorbell, and would you believe it's Jill Stacy, who has shown up to tell Peter that his wife is coming home. At this point Jill is appearing in every issue and it is coming across as more and more forced each time. She reveals that Arthur has some information for Spider-Man, so Peter makes his awkward excuses and leaves. After Arthur gives him a line on Eddie's whereabouts Peter tracks him to his scummy looking apartment. Eddie seems in a bad way, and seems ignorant as to the threatening phone calls that MJ has been receiving, even claiming that he can't remember Peter's secret identity. A weak, and so far unexplained move that actually takes away a lot of the tension between the characters. Inexplicable writing from Mackie.

Predictably enough, the symbiote appears and attempts to bond with Eddie, much to Spider-Man's horror. Eddie seems terrified of it and jumps out of his window into a nearby river, with the creature in hot pursuit. Spider-Man follows, but loses them in the river and after waiting for 'hours', gives up and leaves. Just a page later though, a fearsome looking Venom emerges, with Eddie seemingly having shaken off his antipathy towards the symbiote. A cool cliffhanger, and one well rendered by Romita, but hardly surprising.

The next, and final part begins with Venom paying a visit to his 'son' Carnage, aka Cletus Kasady who is currently incarcerated at 'The Manhattan Correctional Facility'. Venom infiltrates the facility by posing as a janitor, before murdering Carnage's guards, breaking into his cell and...eating his symbiote. Very strange. Mackie doesn't explain how Carnage escaped from the cocoon that the Silver Surfer imprisoned him in before the reboot either. Still, it's a fairly effective scene and does a good job of establishing Venom has a pretty serious threat.

Meanwhile at Peter's apartment he, Jill and Aunt May are putting up decorations ahead of MJ's return home.  While putting up a banner Peter falls, is caught by Jill and they share a brief moment on the floor, much to Aunt May's chagrin. I have no idea where Mackie is going with this subplot. The idea of Peter being attracted to a relative of Gwens is interesting enough, but the execution of it has been layed on far too thickly for my liking. Peter sets up a lavish looking candlelit dinner, but sees Venom swinging about and leaves to chase after him. Venom kidnaps Jonah Jameson and takes him to the scene of his 'birth' - the church where the symbiote first bonded with him. Spider-Man swings onto the scene and the pair fight for a few pages, with Spider-Man struggling against a seemingly turbocharged Venom. Even an attempt to use the symbiote's weakness to loud noise falls flat, as Venom reveals that he removed the clappers from the bells in anticipation for their showdown.Venom trashes Spider-Man, but is forced to leave as the Carnage symbiote begins to... rebel against him. It's odd, and Mackie never fully explains how the process of absorbing it works. Jameson finds himself alone with an unconscious Spider-Man, and is left to decide whether to unmask him or not. The final page sees Mary-Jane arriving home to an empty house, and soon enough a threatening phone call, as her mysterious stalker reveals that her husband will be 'the first to go'...

This was a reasonably solid two parter. Venom's return to the Spider-titles is a welcome one, although I do think that his character was irreversibly damaged by his stint as a more heroic figure. Nonetheless, he is back to his off the wall best here and is a threatening presence throughout. Romita Jr's rendition of him is excellent, but his work looks a little rough around the edges here. As Scott Hanna was inking both Spider-titles at the time its not unreasonable to assume that he may have been feeling rather stretched. The plot seems a little contrived in places, but is paced well and has a good atmosphere throughout, which harks back to Venom's superb first few appearances. Venom forgetting Spider-Man's secret identity does lose a lot of the dynamic between the two characters though, and I thought that the symbiote pining for Peter was forgotten about slightly abruptly after part one.

The subplots are a mixed bag. The tension between Peter and MJ seems as out of place as ever, and Jill Stacy's flirtations with him are getting more and more irritating with each passing issue. Aunt May has been an utterly pointless addition to the supporting cast, and her makeover from earlier in the reboot seems to have abruptly been forgotten about. She isn't quite as annoying, or grating as she was, but her resurrection still stands out as a pointless decision. MJ's stalker on the other hand, is a solidly executed subplot that seems to be moving along well. I do wish that she had played a bigger part in recent stories though. If her and Peter are married I prefer having them bouncing off each other, rather than their relationship being a source of tension.

There are better Venom stories than this, but there are also far worse ones and for the most part Mackie does a solid job of reintroducing him as a Villain. Some of the finer details of the story do not quite work, but on an exclusively shallow level it is very decent, entertaining stuff.



  1. Off the top of my head, didn't Brock lose his knowledge of Spidey's secret identity during the terrible "The Venom Agenda" oneshot by Larry Hama and Tom Lyle? I can't remember if the character was used between that and his post-reboot appearance.

  2. I haven't read the series in question but I remember hearing that Brock separated from the symbiote during it, but not that he lost his knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity. I don't have the issue to hand but I believe that in the letters page of PP:SM #9 it was claimed that it was actually a plot point that would be elaborated on later, which why I assumed that it hadn't been dealt with elsewhere. Predictably, I don't think they ever got around to it - at least not to my knowledge.