It’s a double-sized “anniversary” issue for the final chapter of “Darkest Hours,” meaning this can only be a double-sized review. And there’s certainly a lot going on in this comic. We’ve got a Otto Octavious, as Spider-Man, wearing the Venom symbiote, fighting the Avengers; a brand-new look for Carlie Cooper that doesn’t include her wearing glasses; the Green Goblin once again interfering with the original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley’s, franchise racket; Mary Jane in police custody; and Flash Thompson on the verge of death. Oh, and some other “inferior” person shows up to save the day, but I’m sure he’s of no importance whatsoever. Although, he does look awfully familiar, doesn’t he?
“Darkest Hours, part 4”
WRITERS: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
COLORS: Delgado, Fabela, and Gandini
LETTERER: Chris Eliopoulos
VARIANT COVER: J.G. Jones
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
EDITOR: Stephen Wacker
THE STORY: The Avengers arrive to prevent SpOck, now the so-called “Superior Venom,” from killing the three of Roderick Kingley’s D-list super-villain knock-offs from last issue. Thus, a massive brawl ensues, with SpOck-Venom calling Spider-Island for reinforcements and Captain America getting a hold of Iron Man, telling him to find Flash Thompson. When their battle is televised live, public opinion turns against “Spider-Man” once more, as they take to the streets armed with aerosol spray paint cans to spray down the spider-bots. Meanwhile, having been given a Goblin-formula induced make-over last issue, Carlie Cooper joins the Green Goblin’s inner circle as “Monster,” but still refuses to give up Spidey’s real name. So to prove if she’s really committed to her new “family,” the Green Goblin sends Monster out with her “sister” Menace to beat up some more of Roderick Kingsley’s D-list super-villain knock-offs. Kingsley becomes aware that the Green Goblin has been stealing his franchise earnings, and thus the “War of the Goblins” has begun.
Iron Man finds Flash Thompson, who is now moments away from dying without the symbiote, at Parker Industries. Wearing the Iron Man armor as a temporary life-support system, and due to still having traces of the symbiote in his system, Flash is able to avoid detection from SpOck-Venom’s spider-sense and gets the drop on him. However, the Venom symbiote, angry over having been being pacified with experimental drug treatments, refuses to go back to Flash. SpOck finally sees that the symbiote has been controlling him all along, and tries to force it to leave via his “superior willpower” but fails. But the symbiote is able to leave SpOck and go back to Flash thanks to…THE RETURN OF PETER PARKER’S JEDI FORCE GHOST! SpOck, unaware Ghost Peter is still alive and believing he repelled the symbiote himself, claims that the reason he’s been “acting strange” for so many months was because he was “infected” with a “microscopic symbiote fragment” from when he (or rather Peter) “first encounted” Agent Venom back in Venom #4. Mary Jane, having been bailed out of jail by Aunt May and Jay Jameson, buys this latest round of bullcrap and, because she can now “feel” some semblance of Peter within SpOck again, forgives him. But Iron Man isn’t so gullible, and after learning about the “thorough examination” the Avengers conducted on SpOck in Superior Spider-Man #8, he’s able to prove that SpOck erased the test results to hide his tracks. Thus the Avengers, finally realizing SpOck has played them all for suckers, vow to bring him in…again.
MY THOUGHTS:So let’s get the big reveal of this issue out-of-the-way first, shall we? No, I don’t mean Flash becoming Agent Venom again so he can join The Guardians of the Galaxy, something Marvel decided to spoil well in-advance. Instead, I’m referring to the other news which was also spoiled in advance that accompanied Marvel’s announcement that The Superior Spider-Man will end with issue #31, and that an “All-New Marvel NOW!” version of The Amazing Spider-Man would begin with a all-new issue #1 (And “coincidentally” right before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 premieres in theaters. Hmm, a more cynical person might think Marvel planned it this way, or something.)
Yes, Peter Parker is back! Actually, his “ghost” is back, who, according to Otto, may only be a self-aware “memory fragment.” And yes, some of you more observant readers no doubt noticed how Ghost Peter already came back in Superior Spider-Man #19, thanks to SpOck inadvertently freeing him from the rubble of his subconscious while accessing those memories of Peter he already accessed. Nevertheless, in a scene deliberately evoking Superior Spider-Man #1, Ghost Peter’s timely intervention in stopping and removing the Venom symbiote from SpOck is not only the best moment of the issue, it’s the turning point for the entire series.
Yet even without Ghost Peter’s return, Dan Slott and Christos Gage show in this issue, and all throughout “Darkest Hours,” that Otto Octavious’ carefully woven web of deception is about to unravel, and no where was this more clear that Otto’s latest attempt to spin his way out of trouble. Just as some readers predicted, SpOck tried to put the blame squarely on the Venom symbiote; and, much to our annoyance, it looked as if though he was going to get away with it yet again. So it was nice to see that this time around, SpOck’s latest ruse proved even too far-fetched for the Avengers, especially once Iron Man told them, in so many words, because he “designed most of [their] equipment” and thus “[knows] it better than anyone,” they should have told him about their supposedly full-proof “triple-checked” test results a lot sooner.
Unfortunately, this also highlights what has been the biggest flaw behind the entire premise of Superior Spider-Man: that in order for SpOck to keep up his charade, almost every character had to have their IQ points and common sense reduced. Or, if they were still capable of putting two-and-two together, they were conveniently indisposed elsewhere for the sake of the narrative. It’s both hilarious and sad that what finally appears to tip-off the Avengers is not SpOck’s multiple homicides, his brutal assaulting and torturing of villains, his recruiting his own private vigilante army, his turning New York City into his own “Big Brother” style police state, or uncharacteristically behaving like an egotistical jerk—it’s learning he tampered with and erased their computers, which they’re apparently too incompetent to use without Tony Stark’s help. (Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, ladies and gentlemen!) And when the Avengers go after SpOck next issue, you just know he’ll find some way to take them down with relative ease, justifying this by accusing them of not allowing him to protect New York. Which, of course, will unintentionally make things even easier for the Green Goblin’s army during “Goblin Nation.”
Also, what little common sense Mary Jane displayed last issue appears to have evaporated. To be fair, Slott is acknowledging that Peter and MJ are soul mates; but to say this also translates into MJ being able to subconsciously “feel” the presence of Ghost Peter with what can only be her woman’s intuition? And that this is why MJ—who out of all the supporting characters should know better—still doesn’t think that “Peter” might be an imposter in spite her acknowledging he’s been acting so out of character? If Slott is attempting to show the depth of love MJ has for Peter, he instead conveys the notion that MJ is being willfully obtuse due to blind faith. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if Slott has it so that MJ is far more right about SpOck than she realizes by revealing SpOck has been the real Peter Parker all along, and that what Doc Ock really did in Amazing Spider-Man #698 was download a copy of his mind like malware into Peter, brainwashing him into making him believe he’s Otto. Which would also mean SpOck has had it backwards—he’s the “memory fragment,” not Ghost Peter. Plus, even if MJ does buy SpOck’s symbiote claim, she knows that she and “Peter” are now on Captain Watanabee’s hit list, and that Carlie Cooper is still missing.
Speaking of which, is it wrong of me to say that Carlie’s transformation into another Goblin-themed super-villain is the best thing that has ever happened to her as a character? Of course, like the Green Goblin, I don’t believe she’s gone completely over to the dark side. Her coyly refusing to give up Peter’s identity and merely crippling Steeplejack instead of killing him like Phil Urich ends up doing hints that she’s only pretending to get on the Goblins’ good side before turning against them when the time is right. Even so, its clear we’re now meant to see her as another tragic figure for Peter to have to feel guilt-ridden about upon his return, because I cannot imagine Carlie staying on as regular member of the supporting cast after Superior Spider-Man is over. And forgive me if I’m not exactly shedding a tear over the idea of her potentially becoming the newest inmate at Ravencoft.
Which leads me to the Green Goblin himself and his claim that he’s still Norman Osborn—all while refusing to take off his mask. If the supposedly “CSI super sleuth” Carlie Cooper doesn’t believe the Green Goblin is Norman, then we’re obviously meant to conclude that there’s something suspicious going on here. Meaning either Slott is pulling a massive double bluff and the Green Goblin is actually telling the truth…or Slott has just revealed that whoever this Green Goblin is, he’s definitely not Norman. In fact, I’m going to go as far to say that when Green Goblin finally does unmask, he will look just like…Peter Parker.
Whether this means Norman has altered himself in some way to look like Peter, or if this means the Green Goblin is somehow the real Peter, I don’t know. What I do know is that Slott wouldn’t have gone through all this trouble prolonging the mystery behind the Goblin’s return ad nauseam if he wasn’t setting up some sort of “shocking” reveal about what the Goblin looks like under the mask. Also, I believe any other possible contenders for the Goblin’s true identity such as Harry Osborn, Bart Hamilton, Gabriel Stacy, Vin Gonzales, etc. would be a complete let down at this point. The only thing which seems worthy enough to me is if the Green Goblin is now somehow “Peter Parker,” just like Doctor Octopus has now become “Peter Parker.”
As for the battle between the Superior Venom and the Avengers, I understand why some readers believe that SpOck shouldn’t have been able to manhandle them as he did, particularly Thor. Let’s not forget, however, that Spidey’s powers are quite formidable, and that unlike Peter, Otto is not one to pull his punches. Couple this with the Venom symbiote making its host even more aggressive and amplifying their strength at least ten-fold AND that the Avengers were deliberately holding back, then it isn’t hard to imagine that a symbiote-possessed Spider-Man with the mind of Doc Ock would be very hard for the Avengers to subdue. Which makes the Superior Venom calling Spider-Island for back-up utterly meaningless. Same for Captain America’s calling all available Avengers for help, since not only do no other Avengers save Iron Man and Flash arrive, but the Avengers who are already there are able to quickly take care off SpOck’s spiderlings no problem. So the only reason those moments even exist is to just set-up the plot-point for Tony Stark to find Flash and bring him to the battle.
In addition, while Humberto Ramos’ hyperactive and exaggerated penciling makes the action exciting and energetic, it also makes it far too chaotic and even more confusing. One panel in particular I literally stared at for ten whole minutes trying to figure out what it was trying to convey, the lone dialogue balloon which supposedly explained what was happening being no help whatsoever. It was only then I realized that SpOck-Venom wasn’t meant to appear as though he was just standing in a menacing looking pose and that Thor had really bad aim, but that SpOck-Venom was supposed to be dodging one of Thor’s lightning bolts so that it would hit Wolverine and Black Widow instead. Now there are times where Ramos’ style is perfect, such as Carlie’s first appearance in her Goblinized form, or when SpOck is struggling to free himself from the symbiote until Ghost Peter comes to his aid; if only he didn’t feel the need to overcrowded his panels with characters twisted into positions that defy human anatomy, making scene after scene into such a convoluted, incomprehensible mess.
Yet despite its flaws, this is still a fun and enjoyable issue, especially for those who have followed this series just to see when the other shoe was going to drop. In spite of being twice the usual length and densely packed, Slott and Gage move the story and its many subplots in a well-clipped, even pace. With only six issues left in the series, and questions like “Who is the Green Goblin really?”, “Will SpOck’s secret be exposed?,” and “How in the world is Peter going to get his body back?” yet to be answered, the expectations for “Goblin Nation” are now exceedingly high. Here’s hoping that Slott can manage to bring The Superior Spider-Man to a satisfactory conclusion.
- So contrary to what Flash said in Superior Spider-Man #22, he did meet Spidey as Agent Venom before. That’s okay, Flash. I forgot all about Venom #4, too. And it looks like everyone wants to forget Carnage USA. Only how does SpOck remember what happened in that issue considering how he erased all of Peter Parker’s memories back in Superior Spider-Man #9?
- If Ghost Peter was keeping a low profile as he said ever since Superior Spider-Man #19, does that mean he also just sat back and watched Otto beat up the Black Cat, have sex Ana Maria, manipulate Flash into giving up the symbiote, randomly attack people committing misdemeanors, verbally abuse Aunt May, threaten Mary Jane’s life, and declare war on the Avengers? Yeah, way to take your sweet time before finally doing something, Pete!
- If SpOck as Venom is able to dodge Blaze’s flamethrower and Thor’s lightning bolts because of his enhanced agility and spider-sense, how come that same enhanced agility and spider-sense can’t make him dodge Spider-Woman’s bio blasts? And speaking of Spider-Woman…
- Nice to see Iron Man remind her of Secret Invasion when she berated him for having no concept of privacy. You know, the same Secret Invasion in which she was held captive by the Skrulls for several months while their Queen impersonated her? Not to mention how Jessica Drew was a double-agent for HYDRA and triple-agent for SHIELD? Methinks Tony Stark let her off easy.