Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Amazing Spiderman: The Return of Anti-Venom
by Dan Slott and three different artists.
Collects Amazing Spider-man 663 – 665 and Free Comic Book Day 2011: Spider-man.
Why I Bought This: Anti-Venom for those who don’t know is actually the true Venom Eddie Brock and if that character appears in a story it will almost certainly get my money. Also it deals with a mystery involving the Ghost of Jean DeWolff, which it means it has a connections to one of the greatest Spider-man stories ever published.
The Plot: Eddie Brock, now back in his Lethal Protector vigilante role, is after Mr. Negative—a superpowered crime boss, who in his civilian identity runs a soup kitchen that employs Aunt May thus catching Spidey in the middle. In addition a new hard-edged crimefighter called the Wraith, who may or may not be the long dead Jean DeWolff, is also gunning for Mr. Negative. As always spoilers to follow:
Chapter 1 – Spider-man is under attack by Spider Woman (Jessica Drew), who is being mind-controlled by Mandrill. Spidey is mostly on the defensive until he breaks the mind-control with perfume (Mandrill’s powers are scent-based) and the heroes quickly take the villain down. The new Madame Web (Julia Carpenter, the Secret Wars era Spider Woman) convinces Shang Chi to teach Spider-man kung fu because her psychic powers are warning of the upcoming Spider Island crossover in which everyone will have spider powers, so she thinks Spidey will need a new edge.
Chapter 2 – Anti-Venom has learned Mr. Negative’s secret identity and is attacking his generic thugs during a drug deal when the new Wraith arrives scaring the villains even more than Brock. Brock sees her unmask as Jean DeWolff and is shocked as she teleports away. (For those who don’t know it was Brock’s articles on the death of Jean DeWolff that got him fired as a journalist and ultimately led to his madness/suicide attempt/becoming Venom.) Meanwhile Peter has been published in a scientific journal and shares a moment of pride with Aunt May. Aunt May bumps into Martin Li (Mr. Negative’s alter ego) and had apparently seen him commit a murder in a prior issue before being mind-wiped and the encounter causes her to flashback/seizure. Meanwhile Pete’s girlfriend Carlie Cooper in her role as forensics cop is investigating the incident that opened this chapter and hears from witnesses about Jean DeWolff; and in a rare moment of insight for a supporting comic book character instantly suspects Mysterio (based on some prior story she was involved in with him) rather than the undead. Finally to the main event where Venom attacks Li just as Spidey was about to head to the hospital. They battle and Venom wins.
Chapter 3 – Spidey awakes webbed to a wall by Brock. Brock tells the Spidey the truth about Li but Spidey doesn’t believe him causing Venom to leave to go find proof. Meanwhile Wraith questions suspects for leads on Li, while Carlie has managed to track her through spy binoculars seeing she has infrared body heat (and thus is not a ghost). Brock uses his camouflage power to listen in on Li, and then retrieves Spidey. Carlie does some detective work at the station discovering various impounded supervillain tech has disappeared. Venom leaves Spidey webbed to a wall as he goes into action against Mr. Negative but Venom is stabbed by a magic sword. Wraith arrives and frees Spidey and they join the battle. Wraith’s tech uncovers the truth about Li and she’s able to broadcast his confession across the city, although he escapes in the aftermath. Spidey admits to Brock he was wrong. Later Carlie confronts female cop Captain Wantanabe, revealing she knows Wantanabe is the Wraith. Wantanabe admits it (and gives her origin), and Carlie agrees not to tell anyone if Wantanabe agrees to leave town. Later still Carlie tells Pete what happened with Wantanabe, but Pete lies to her about being Spider-man saying instead he just designs Spidey’s tech.
Chapter 4 – We’re told Pete and Betty Brant have a long-standing movie night once a month. Pete’s been missing it lately due to commitments of being both an Avengers and FF member. So Betty goes to some art film in the bad part of town alone and gets mugged and put in critical condition. We see various reactions from the supporting cast, while Spidey goes hardcore on the underworld looking for the mugger. Just as Spidey is about to catch him, Aunt May calls and guilts Peter into going to the hospital immediately. Then when Betty wakes up, Pete gets to go in first (instead of her boyfriend Flash Thompson) and they immediately watch a movie together because it’s Friday night. The next day Spidey captures the mugger.
Chapter 5 –a short back-up type story where Spidey tries to reconnect with his hero of the common man role (since again he’s been busy with world-class threats as an Avenger lately) only for all of his efforts to be unappreciated/misunderstood by those the tries to help.
Chapter 6 – Another short back-up wherein Aunt May and new husband Jonah Sr. inform Pete, Carlie and Jonah that they are moving to Boston.
Critical Thoughts: Unfortunately I have to say there’s more bad than good here. I’ll talk about the main story first and then touch on the back-up/extra chapters one of which I had major problems with.
My primary criticism of the main story is it feels too short for what could have been a stronger concept. I’ll admit that what Slott does here, he does well. While Lethal Protector Venom has always been inferior to arch-foe Cape Fear style stalker Venom, Slott writes that version of the character consistent with the way Eddie was portrayed in his 90s series so I don’t have any major complaints. Wraith comes across as a compelling new character, particularly during the mystery phase. Carlie’s police investigation is a very capable portrayal of a supporting character. The two fight scenes are both action-packed and well choreographed. The stuff Slott delivers in this story is done well; but I wanted more. Of the six chapters in this trade, only two focus on the main story. And ultimately that’s my main criticism.
It’s funny because I hate Bendis’ slow drag every scene out, overly talky style of writing. For the most part I admire Slott’s work because he is one of the few writers at Marvel who knows how to write a good fight scene and juggle several subplots. Look how dense the chapter summaries of those two Venom chapters are for proof. But I think in this case, the “Death of Jean DeWolff” is such a major milestone in Spider-man lore that if you are going to revisit it you can take your time with it. We see DeWolff’s face within three pages of Wraith’s first appearance. That easily could have been a chapter-ending cliffhanger. Eddie sees her face, and he’s shocked for a panel or two and then he never mentions it again. Considering how DeWolff’s death impacted his entire life—it indirectly cost him everything; there should be pages of angst with Brock, who even as the Lethal Protector is still not mentally stable, being far over the edge as a result. Hell Pete never even sees Wraith as Jean DeWolff, which could have been another major dramatic moment considering Spidey’s history with Jean. While I don’t mind Carlie being immediately on the right track—she is a forensic scientist meaning her job is to follow the evidence and she knows there is a Jean DeWolff mask impounded and what cops were there when Mysterio was arrested; when Wraith frees Spidey he immediately dismisses her supernatural claims saying he’s met real Spirits of Vengeance and can tell the difference. To me that just feels like a cop out in order to rush the story to its conclusion. We didn’t use Spidey’s vast experience to instantly solve the recent Jackpot and Menace mysteries in two issues, and I don’t think either of those had as much potential as a possible Ghost of Jean DeWolff taking on the alias of her also deceased super-villain brother to fight crime. Ultimately, I think even with the rushed ending the Wraith character could have some good future story potential, but I also think they blew through what could have been a year of good stories in two issues because there’s a lot interesting concepts to play with there.
As for the other stories, I have to wonder why the first one isn’t in the Spider Island trade instead of this one since that seems to be where it belongs. On its own merits I suppose Spider-man vs. Spider Woman has that gosh gee who would win 8-year-old argument going for it (and since this is the Free Comic Book Day reprint issue, I can see why Marvel would want to write that type of story for that day.) In a larger sense I find the Julia Carpenter Spider Woman a thousand times more interesting than the Jessica Drew version, so I find it sad to see her consigned to the useless Madame Web role while Jessica is overexposed but that’s more of a general Marvel criticism than a Spider-man one.
I hated every single thing about the Betty Brant mugging story with the exception of Jonah’s portrayal in it (which is two pages out of 20+). It’s so terrible I can’t believe Slott actually wrote it because it’s wrong on a fundamental character level (and I usually I think Slott gets Spidey and his supporting cast pretty well).
Not to be a Neanderthal but to start with I don’t buy the opening concept that Spidey and Betty have had this monthly movie night since the dawn of time like the story implies. Regardless of whether Spidey was married to Mary Jane in the new timeline I doubt MJ would put up with that, I know Felicia would not have put up with it, I doubt Flash would have put up with it and I guarantee you Ned Leeds would have not have put up with it considering Peter slept with Betty shortly after she and Ned were married!
But let’s not do the overly fanboy history thing that Marvel doesn’t like. Let’s judge the story on its own merits. When Aunt May guilts Pete into coming to the hospital, she brings up that when Uncle Ben died Pete ran off into the night and asks how he could abandon her and she’s apparently been harboring that all this time. WTF is that? First of all Aunt May is not the type of character who harbors resentment for 13 years, period. Secondly, Pete was 15-years-old when Ben died. If a 15-year-old boy can’t deal with his father figure’s death and runs off to cry about it alone instead of in a room full of cops and well-meaning neighbors that’s perfectly understandable, and as the adult in that situation Aunt May has to understand that.
Even worse is the idea that after Aunt May uses Uncle Ben’s death to guilt Peter, thus putting that incident fresh in his mind, that he would then leave the mugger on the street when he’s within his sights. It’s one thing if Pete hasn’t found him yet, but he can see him when Aunt May calls. This isn’t Doc Ock or the Hobgoblin. It’s a mugger. You say Aunt May I’m on my way, you shoot a web and subdue him ending the fight in 2 seconds, and then you drop him off at the police station on the way to the hospital. Under no circumstances does Spider-man leave a dangerous armed criminal on the streets to possibly hurt someone else for even a single night. That is very essence of his origin story. And it’s made even worse by the fact that in this same trade Pete stops to go fight Venom, who is arguably his most dangerous foe, while Aunt May, who means a heck of a lot more to him than Betty, is in the hospital; but he then can’t take the two seconds to arrest a common mugger because Betty is in the hospital? What the bloody Hell is that?
Furthermore, when Betty wakes up her boyfriend Flash is okay with Pete seeing her first because and I quote, “it’s movie night”? Seriously? This story is so bad it makes me wonder if Slott is a member of the human race. Does he understand basic human interactions? Because on Earth there is no way that happens. (I’d also add there is also no way a hospital allows any visitor, let alone a non-relative, to spend two hours in the room of recently awoken coma victim for any reason, let alone to watch a movie—which btw apparently means that while Pete can’t take the time to stop a violent mugger before going to the hospital there is still time to stop at a Blockbuster Video.
Anyway I’m starting to beat a dead horse here, but this is by far the worst story I’ve ever seen Slott write and it just fails on multiple core levels.
End of rant, and with that out of my system I’ll just say the other back-ups aren’t good either although nowhere near as bad as the Betty story.
Grade: While the Betty story is a clear and decisive F, it’s not the main story, nor was it the selling point of the issue. It’s just a one-off story, albeit it a very bad one. The main story as I said does a lot of things well, but I feel it had the potential for more so I’ll still give those two issues a slightly positive grade of C+. As a whole I’m give the trade a D+, the main event advertised is only two issues long, which makes it hardly worth the price of a trade even discounted off Amazon. It doesn’t help that the other four chapters range from forgettable at best to truly terrible at worst.