I loved the Flash Thompson Venom series . . . until I didn’t. Can Slott, Gage, and Ramos recapture the magic by pitting our favorite symbiotic soldier against the Superior Spider-Man? Find out by reading this review!
THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #22
WRITERS: Dan Slott & Christos Gage
PENCILS: Humberto Ramos
INKS: Victor Olazaba
COLOR: Edgar Delgado
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
- Betty investigates the Crime Master’s operation and Flash/Venom shows up for some expository dialogue about the Crime Master being Betty’s brother who knows Flash’s identity. Flash uses ostensively lethal means to infiltrate the gang.
- Otto-Peter holds Parker Industries’s grand opening, with Aunt May and Jay in attendance. Pete-pus and Anna Maria do whatever it is people do after embracing each other in a dark, private room and easing themselves toward the floor next to a tank of glowing jellyfish.
- Meanwhile, Captain Watanabe begins a private investigation of Carlie Cooper’s disappearance.
- Ock-Spidey gets wind of Venom’s presence and storms into the Crime Master’s lair with an army of minions and robots. It turns out that the so-called “Crime Master” is just some schmuck who bought the Crime Master’s identity from Roderick Kingsley. However, Spidey’s real target is Venom, and Otto apparently has no idea who Flash is. Spidey takes Venom down with sonic and fire-based weapons.
When I last saw the Flash Thompson Venom, I was dropping his solo title because several missteps dragged the book into near-unreadability. Transplanting the character from New York to Philadelphia removed the character from his most interesting relationships, such as those with Betty, with Peter, and with his family. Furthermore, the baffling change of focus from espionage action mixed with introspective character moments to demon-possessed symbiote absurdity robbed the book of its former weight. According to Kevin’s Spider-Satellite reviews on our podcast, the book improved toward the end of its run. I’ll take his word for it.
But whatever I missed, it must not have mattered much, because Venom’s big return to the core Spider-Man series finds him pretty much exactly where he was before things went south. Agent Venom’s back in New York, he’s interacting with Betty, we’re revisiting the Crime Master storyline, and nary a demon’s in sight. Thank you!
With Flash back in the fold where he belongs (at least until he launches into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy next year), it seems Slott and Gage’s angle is that Otto has no idea who he is because the two never previously interacted and Otto never accessed Peter’s memories of Flash while he had them. That premise carries the potential for amusing scenes if Peterpus ever meets Flash in a civilian social situation and has to pretend to remember him. I hope the writers manage to squeeze in something like that. So far, we only have a super-fight that follows the Superior Spider-Man pattern, that is, Otto comes prepared and trounces his opponent. In this context, Otto refusing to go soft on Flash because he can’t remember him is just a variation on every other instance of Otto denying his adversaries the mercy they expect from Spider-Man.
This issue’s other part concerns the opening of Parker Industries. Man, that subplot’s moving quickly. Peter lost his job at Horizon in #19. He announced his intention to start this company in #20. This is #22 and he already has a fully-equipped site established, a full staff, and at least Anna Maria’s first genetic engineering experiment is well underway with full-grown glowing fish swimming around. Have months passed between issues? If so, then has Carlie been missing for all that time? Why is Captain Watanabe, who knew that Carlie was conducting an unsanctioned investigation of a dangerous, super-powered criminal, just getting concerned now? Why haven’t the Goblins, who have read Carlie’s journal and should therefore know Otto’s secret, made a move? The probable answer is that the Superior Saga’s end game storyline just isn’t substantial enough for the build up to fluidly extend across dozens of issues, so Slott has progressed everything involving Carlie and her Goblin captors, or really any story element that would naturally lead to Otto’s being discovered, at the pace of a cube rolling down a hill, but in the meantime he’s rushing to take his Otto-living-Peter’s-life ideas as far as he can in whatever finite amount of time he has left before Peter must return. That makes for awkward pacing. Come to think of it, many of my criticisms of Superior Spider-Man tie into this single point, that Slott is constantly fighting against his story’s natural inclination toward resolving itself.
There’s also the art of Humberto Ramos, which is a separate problem.
But I will say this: I’ve never read a Spider-Man story about a villain taking over Peter’s body and starting a company in Peter’s name while his loved ones look on adoringly. Although body swaps are a familiar trope in science fiction, Superior Spider-Man is unique in how long it has been sustained, so it has the opportunity to cover aspects and consequences of its well-worn premise that previous iterations have not touched on.
For instance, while I have seen stories in which bad guys have used stolen bodies to get laid (the Buffy-Faith body swap is the example I can think of right now), I don’t think I’ve ever seen a romantic relationship in such a scenario unfold naturally over the long term quite like the relationship between “Peter” and Anna Maria. After months of development, that relationship reaches a new stage in this issue, as the art and dialogue strongly imply that the two began to have sex until they were interrupted by “Peter” being called to action as Spider-Man. Obviously, obtaining consent through deception makes Otto despicable. Earlier in this run, it seemed like practically every online discussion regarding Superior Spider-Man I came across was dominated by anxiety over whether Otto, impersonating Peter, would sleep with Mary Jane, and whether such an event would constitute rape. Curiously, I have not seen the same online fervor now that Otto has actually done this to someone. People in the comments section, can you help me figure out why that is?
My perspective is that Otto is a villain at heart and the series can portray him doing evil things as long as the series also portrays the consequences of those actions. There could be an interesting narrative in the concept that Otto delusionally believes he is achieving intimacy with someone he thinks he cares about, but is in actuality severely victimizing that person. If she finds out, one would expect her to feel disgusted, degraded, and even traumatized. It’s a story that a writer of profound Earthly wisdom and sensitivity could pull off without it coming across as an offensively shallow treatment of serious subject matter. In other words, I am somewhat concerned.
I keep referring to Slott as the writer of this story, even though I know Christos Gage probably did most of the legwork in putting this particular script together. That is because I assume Slott controls the major story beats in these collaborations, whereas Gage handles the particulars of dialogue and how the scenes fit together. Any difference in the tone or style of the book occasioned by Gage’s contributions are imperceptible. I enjoyed “Peter’s” dictator like opening speech for Parker Industries (“we will RULE THE WORLD of science”) and Betty calling Flash out on his expository dialogue in the opening scene.