THE PLOT: Good ol’Flasharoo manages to escape SpOck’s clutches and seeks for a place to lay low. Anna Maria calls Peterpus to berate him for leaving her half-cocked but eagerly agrees to cook for his aunt and step-uncle next day. Meanwhile, Captain Watanabe visits MJ and confronts her about Carlie’s disappearance. By the end of their conversation, Yuri has pretty much ascertained that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
LONG STORY SHORT: Mayor Jameson seeks help from Alchemax to build new Spider Slayers. At Peterpus’ apartment, Flash crashes the place seeking shelter under the pretenses of being in town on business. SpOck genuinely can’t recall via Peter’s memories his relationship with Flash, and plots to destroy him. At the brunch, Aunt May brazenly confronts Anna Maria about condition and how it may affect potential offspring. Flash is yanking his collar throughout and tries to get on up out of there, but Peterpus demands that he stay and go under the knife in an attempt to regain legs. After that guilt trip, Peterpus and Dr. Wirtham (Cardiac) hook Flash up to some science, and Peterpus changes to SpOck and manages to extract the symbiote from Flash’s body. The symbiote goes straight for SpOck, bonding with him and announcing himself as “The SUPERIOR Venom”.
MY THOUGHTS: I’m a bit annoyed at myself for getting hyped for this arc. That’s due solely to first seeing the cover to issue#22 back at San Diego in July. Why did I think that just because it looked as though SpOck was getting his butt handed to him by Venom that that’s what would happen?
I guess it’s because of my generation. Back in the 90s, Venom was THE Spider-Man villain. Every time he appeared you knew it was on, and generally that proved to be the case. The very mention of his name still sends chills of excitement through fans, and even to this day the name Venom has a certain sense of energy and anticipation to it.
Does this story fail to live up to that sense of energy and anticipation? Well that’s obvious, mainly because the plot is driven by Venom being Flash Thompson, not Eddie Brock, being hounded by a maniacal Spider-Man who’s Otto Octavius, not Peter Parker. But as Chris articulated in his piece, the actual breakdown of each scene reveals that a lot of them don’t work. Almost half of this issue is devoted to Ock and Anna Maria’s brunch with May and Jonah Sr, and while there’s a lot of potential in those scenes they aren’t terribly interesting. More focus should’ve been given to the SpOck/Agent Venom tension, and everything else was like the last issue in how it was just information trading.
I’m trying to re-evaluate how much comic book writing consists of basic info-dumping, how much is basic character beats, and where the balance is between the two. I’m not sure I can say with total accuracy how these scenes could be done better, but for now I am really not feeling this story. It reads like a checklist of things that need to happen to move the story along, but not every scene is necessary, and the information that’s being delivered isn’t all that interesting in the long run. Okay, Aunt May can walk again, but since she appears with the person responsible for that later in the issue, was the scene in which she came out of surgery wholly necessary? Does it matter if it doesn’t? If it doesn’t matter, why do I care?
As God is my witness, I don’t want to hold Dan Slott to a different standard than I hold other creators. The man is a solid writer, and quibbling about every little thing does no one any good. But the biggest thing I take away from this issue is that while it’s expertly delivered in getting across information (as not every writer can do that as deftly as Slott can), most of it just isn’t very interesting. I’ve heard Michael Bailey describe past issues of Slott’s in that way, and I think that’s a common attribute one can take away from his Spider-Man style. Slott knows how to pace the story out well. He knows how to transition from one scene to another in a way that doesn’t feel jarring. He knows how to balance multiple sub-plots so to give the reader several things to get invested in. For this issue we get the SpOck/Venom battle, the Anna Maria romance, the Aunt May subplot, the Jameson subplot converging with Alchemax, the Watanabe investigation converging with Mary Jane’s subplot, the Goblin/Carlie subplot, the Hobgoblin subplot, the Parker Industries subplot and the tangent about Miguel O’Hara still in our time spying on his grandfather. That’s around ten-ish stories moving along in a single issue. That’s terrific on the face of it, but is any of it interesting?
Some are more inherently interesting than others. The Watanabe/MJ scene picks up where the Carlie subplot left off in how the characters most able to do something about SpOck’s reign of terror do nothing, but at the bare minimum they’re getting closer to bringing Ock down. The Miguel O’Hara story in of itself is fun because we’ve got Spider-Man 2099 knocking around in our time. Is he doing much? No, but it’s fun to have him right? As long as whatever he’s doing leads to something soon, he’s not outlived our interest.
Despite the number of stories being juggled, a few of them should at least be engaging enough to outweigh the others in terms of interest. A big deal was made out of the fact that Spider-Man’s never gone up against Agent Venom before, and apparently that was so that Ock would be chasing Flash around like Tom chases Jerry. Otherwise I can’t see how this is at all a big deal. Agent Venom is a good guy. Flawed, but a good guy. We’ve seen Ock interact with people whom he eventually learned had good intentions like Cardiac, and after learning that Flash and Peter have a long standing relationship, it does lead to Ock resolving not to kill him…by the end of the issue. The way it plays out is a bit random and confusing, as up to that point Doc Ock was hellbent on murdering Flash simply because he was Venom. Again it’s that type of characterization of Ock that I don’t like reading. It’s amusing at first to see Spider-Man try to murder Flash Thompson, but soon after that logic needs to set in. I’m glad he chose not to kill him at the end, but we never see him decide to do so. Essentially, the Ock/Flash tension amounts to more of what we’ve seen before from the Cardiac storyline, ending with a random fusion of Ock and the Symbiote transforming into the Superior Venom. Ugh.
The one scene I did like was the pointed questioning between May and Anna Maria. Chris is right in that it’s unbelievably inappropriate for Aunt May to talk to Anna Maria that way, but I found it a believable and interesting scene. For one thing, Aunt May’s rarely been given moments where she’s been shown to be the most subtle of characters. Unless she’s being written by JMS, J.M. DeMatties or anyone else with the initials ” J.M.”, May was usually written as someone who lacked a certain sense of tact. Not that she’s always going on about little people in the Stan Lee run or anything, but here she comes off as someone who really doesn’t know how to cope with people outside of normality in her line of vision. The last issue had her saying “Oh isn’t it lovely that Peter hired a little person in order to add diversity!” and Jay had to suggest that perhaps the girl was scientifically inclined to earn the job herself. This story isn’t suggesting that May is prejudiced or hateful against people with dwarfism, but I can definitely see how she would be initially uncomfortable with someone like Anna Maria who she’s unfamiliar with. Plus, she’s dating Peter and God knows Aunt May takes that as seriously as anything. Bottom line, May comes off looking as bad as she ever has in a Spider-Man comic, but that’s a good thing. Not every supporting character needs to be a paragon of social adroitness, and the fact that this is a very real occurrence gives the scene added verisimilitude.
In terms of positives, that was it. The next scene has one of the all time worst transitions from Peter to Spider-Man I’ve ever seen, where Peterpus tells Cardiac he’ll get someone he knows can help, leaves the room, and comes from the same direction as Spider-Man. As for the symbiote grafting onto SpOck and becoming Superior Venom, that was such an abrupt ending that it compounded how dumb it was. As awesome as the PlayStation 1 Spider-Man game is and forever shall be, that was at least an accident. When Ock bonded with the Carnage symbiote, he turned into a monster and…wait, why am I using the PS1 game to fact-check the comics? Forget I said anything, I just thought Superior Venom was stupid.
This story has some potential, and Slott’s three-parters have a history of sticking the landing in its finale, but I’m not seeing how this story can be saved. As much as I like Venom and the symbiotes, I think it can be agreed upon by everyone that in this current age they’ve not been handled well. I suppose we’ll just wait this story out and mark time until Goblin Nation.