Waiting for the Trade: Spider-man vs. Venom

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller 

Spider-man: The Vengeance of Venom

by David Micheline & Peter David; art by Erik Larsen, Mark Bagley (and others)

collects Amazing Spider-man 332-333, 346-347, 361-363, and 374-375 and Spider-Man: The Trial of Venom and excerpts from Amazing Spider-man 373, 388, Annual 25-26, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-man Annual 12 and Web of Spider-man Annual 8.

 Why I Bought This: Venom is my favorite Spider-man villain and this is a collection of stories from the character’s golden era including my favorite single-issue of Spider-man (issue 347) when he and Venom battle on the island. While I already owned the Spider-man Venom Returns trade that also collects issues 332-347, this one is a larger volume and I found it on Amazon for $5 (including shipping). At that price I wanted the additional stories, plus I love this cover which recreates the cover of issue 347.

 

The Plot: Venom hates Spider-man a lot, knows Peter’s secret identity, doesn’t trigger his spider sense and will stop at nothing to kill him. Then just when it can’t get any worse than Venom for Spidey, Carnage shows up. Overall the trade starts with the third Venom-Spider-man story and proceeds chronologically until the conclusion of their initial animosity.

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade 

by Bill Miller 

Spider-man the Next Chapter vol. 3

Written by John Byrne and Howard Mackie with Gregory Wright and A.A. Ward

Pencils by John Byrne, Lee Weeks, Graham Nolan, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson &  Erik Larsen with Andy Kuhn.

collects Amazing Spider-man (vol 2) 13-19, Peter Parker: Spiderman 13-19 and Spider  Woman (vol. 3) #9

 Why I Bought This: It includes some Eddie Brock-Venom stories I’d never read before, which will always get my money eventually. In this case Venom is stalking the Sinister Six.

 

The Plot: This isn’t a plot so much as a collection of sequential issues from an era that is generally not well-regarded when Marvel first began arbitrarily canceling titles just to launch new #1s. To the extent that there is a single story here it is Peter dealing with Mary Jane’s presumed death in a plane crash.

 (spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man vs. Venom !

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

 

Spider-man: Venom
Returns

by David Micheline
& Erik Larsen

collects material from
Amazing Spider-man 330-333, 345-347 and Annual 25

 
Why I Bought This: When
I first got into buying trades five years ago this was among the first few
books I picked up (the first one incidentally was Spider-man: Birth of Venom) as I love the classic early Venom
stories and this one in particular includes my all time single favorite issue
of Spider-man when he and Venom battle on the island. With me now reviewing
Venom’s monthly series, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this.
The Plot: Venom
hates Spider-man a lot, knows Peter’s secret identity, doesn’t trigger his
spider sense and will stop at nothing to kill him.

 
Chapter 0 – Guards at the Vault discover Eddie Brock is dead
after hanging himself, with the symbiote nowhere to be found. They attempt an
autopsy and the symbiote oozes out of the incision and kills everyone in the
room. Eddie reveals the symbiote mimicked his skin thus hiding his vital signs.
From there he takes the doctor’s security card and the symbiote morphs into a
lab coat and Venom makes his escape.

Chapter 1 – Venom is the sewers of New York eating spiders. They
pseudo-separate so Eddie Brock can work out and explain the stronger his human
form gets, the more the symbiote can amplify his strength when they combine.
Meanwhile Spidey is fighting Styx (rot touch)
and Stone (typical 90s big guns, not the same character from the Daredevil
review last week) in the park for a few pages until the villains escape on a
hovercraft. Spidey and MJ go on a date, while Aunt May sees Eddie Brock has
escaped on the news. May goes to call Peter but Eddie is at the front door.
Meanwhile Styx and Stone are working for
Jonathan Caesar, a rich creep who became obsessed with Mary Jane when she was
on a soap opera in this era. May calls Peter to let him know Eddie is looking
for him and she sent Eddie to Central Park and
called the cops. Pete knows the cops have no chance and heads over there to
face him. Spidey arrives and finds a cop on the scene, but the cop is again
Venom as the symbiote had again changed its appearance. Spidey is desperately
on the defensive and Venom corners him and webs him up for the kill when a baby
falls into the lake due to collateral damage from their fight. Venom
surprisingly chooses to save the baby. The real police arrive and Venom decides
to depart as he wants his revenge on Spidey in private and away from innocents.

Chapter 2 – Pete is at May’s worrying about Venom, and sure enough
Venom arrives there again. This time he morphs into a utility repair man so May
is unaware of who he really is, and gets Peter to agree to face him in an
abandoned sewer lest May be endangered. Pete considers leaving town with MJ but
then bumps into Flash, who gives Pete an inadvertent pep talk that convinces Spidey
to fight it out. As Spidey heads into the sewers he is spotted by Styx and Stone. In the sewer Venom gives what seems to be
a standard super villain monologue, but in fact is sending symbiote tendrils through
the floor to grab Spidey while they talk. Spidey dodges and counterstrikes
prompting Venom to fly into a rage and threaten brain eating for the first time
in an absolutely iconic panel. Just then Styx
and Stone arrive and attack both Spidey and Venom. Stone’s guns are pretty
useless against Venom. Just as Venom is about to eat Stone, Styx
rot touches him and kills the symbiote. Spidey subdues the remaining villains
as police take the now human and bereft Eddie away.

Chapter 2.5 – We meet up with Eddie a few months later, now
imprisoned on Ryker’s Island instead of the
Vault since he is no longer a super-villain. He’s still a physical fitness nut,
and has a cellmate in multi-time serial killer Cletus Kassidy. Kassidy plans to
literally knife Eddie in the back when the symbiote returns through the bars
and Venom is reborn. They escape with ease, although the symbiote leaves
something behind (but that’s a tale for a different trade).

Chapter 3 – Eddie returns to the Globe (where he worked as a
reporter before he was Venom) and after killing the one dude he finds there,
uses the computers to conduct some research. Pete meanwhile learns about
Venom’s return and immediately puts MJ on a flight to parts unknown to keep her
safe. That night Pete is eating at a diner and sure enough Eddie finds him
again. They step into an alley (both still looking like civilians) where a
mugger tries to rob them. Eddie reacts violently and Pete uses the opportunity
to run away. Pete spends the night at a seedy hotel. In the morning he checks
his phone messages and has a message asking him to consult on cryogenic science
experiment (as well as threatening messages from Eddie). Pete thinks he may be
able to cryogenically freeze Venom and heads over there, although after keeping
a low profile he now webs across town so that Venom again ambushes him. We get
a pretty fantastic fight scene with both characters battling above the city on
their web-lines for five pages. Spidey creates enough separation to get to the
cryogenics lab but when he asks an orderly to point him to the control room,
the orderly ends up being Venom is disguise. Spidey winds up in the cryogenic
chamber and Venom puts the deep freeze on him.

 
Chapter 4 – Spider-man wakes up on the beach. Venom reveals
he has transported them to a deserted island so they can have their final
battle uninterrupted. The entire issue is just an insanely awesome fight scene
as the symbiote pulls off a series of creepy cool tricks: Spidey tries to
blind him with webbing and his face explodes, Spidey tries to get a drink of
water and Venom is lurking at the bottom of the lake since he doesn’t need to
breathe, Pete tries to run into the jungle and Venom goes all Predator and
turns translucent as he stalks him from the trees. Pete meanwhile is in full on
Dangerous Game mode as Venom hunts him across the island, and begins setting
snare traps and looking for ways to use the terrain. The battle/hunt goes a
full day and into the night, with Pete eventually finding an abandoned gas mine
filled with human remains. He tricks Venom into igniting the gas, and when the
symbiote retreats from the fire Pete dresses one of the dead bodies in his
costume so that once the flames die down Venom thinks he has killed Spider-man.
Pete manages to swim to a passing boat and escape; while Venom, thinking his
revenge is complete, decides to stay on the island.

Chapter 0.5 – A back-up story from one of the annuals that
shows Eddie hitchhiking his way across the country after his escape from the
Vault in chapter 0. (The Vault is in Colorado,
Spidey is in NY). Anyway he’s at a truck stop when three guys with guns attempt
a robbery. Venom reveals himself and kills them criminals in order to protect
the family that gave him a ride when he was hitchhiking as Marvel editorial
starts transitioning Venom into the Lethal Protector.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
still completely holds up as one of the absolute very best Spider-man stories
ever told. You want to understand how Venom became phenomenally popular then read
this trade. In every issue he keeps upping the stakes both in how relentlessly he
stalks Peter and how he comes up with new and cooler things to do with his
costume. That escape from the Vault is some classic flat out horror movie style
goodness, and every issue thereafter the symbiote has at least one new trick.

Plus in this trade we see Venom evolve a little from his
first two appearances so that Eddie Brock is just as important as the symbiote.
In Venom’s first appearance when his identity is revealed we were told two things
about Eddie Brock: he’s a devout Catholic and he used to be a reporter. In this
story we see both those factors come into play. He may be a dangerous
psychopathic serial killer but his Catholicism won’t let him sacrifice a baby
to get his revenge. And once he decides he wants to get Spidey alone for their
final battle, he uses his reporter background to research both a trap to get
Spidey where he wants him and to find a suitable location for that battle;
hence the cryogenics lab and the island.

The true key to understanding why so many people found these
early Venom stories to be mind-blowing is how novel they were for their time period.
When these stories were written Norman Osborn had been dead for two decades,
(and trade collections were a lot less common) so for entire generations of
Spidey fans these stories were the first they’d ever read that were this high
stakes and personal. When Electro or Scorpion break out of jail they don’t go
looking for Spider-man, they try to rob a bank or kidnap Jonah or whatever the
plot of the month is and Spider-man finds them and foils their plans. And even
in the rare story where his other villains primarily want revenge on Spidey,
they don’t know his secret. They have to go to Times
Square and call Spidey out by blowing sh*t up on TV. But Venom, he
doesn’t want to rob a bank or become a crime boss or rule the world or any
other motivation that we’ve seen in literally 1,000 other Spidey stories. Venom
just wants to kill Spider-man and eat his brains when he’s done; and that’s
just a whole different level of hardcore. And worst of all he knows who Spidey
is and he has no qualms of stopping by Aunt May or Mary Jane’s house to get to
him if he needs to, which is why in my view Venom is far and away the greatest
Spider-man villain of all (and possibly the best villain in all of comics
period). And yes, he also looks pretty damn cool too.

 

Grade A+. That
island story is still the greatest issue of Spider-man I’ve ever read.
 

Waiting for the Trade – Daredevil

Waiting for the Trade

 

By Bill Miller

 

Daredevil: Fall from
Grace
By D.G. Chichester and
Scott McDaniel

Collects Daredevil
319-325

Why I Bought This: Way
back in the day this was the first Venom story I didn’t buy. I’m a total
100-percent member of the cult of Venom that thinks he is just the coolest damn
villain to ever show up in a comic book. But at some point in the 90s it became
obvious his appearances in non-Spider-man titles were just gratuitous and
unnecessary sales ploys that furthered no story function. And yet my curiosity
about this story always lingered because it was heavily hyped at the time with
DD getting a new costume and new direction. So flash-forward a couple of
decades and I grabbed this off MyComicShop.com hoping for the better elements
of 90’s nostalgia.
The Plot – In the
early 1960s the CIA lost both a telepathic agent and a mystery virus that can
restructure DNA near Hell’s Kitchen. The Hand becomes aware of this and decides
they want both; and then, for reasons that are never adequately explained,
about half the Marvel Universe becomes aware of the virus shortly thereafter as
well leading to a plethora street-level and horror-themed characters seeking
the virus too. Daredevil decides he has to prevent anyone from obtaining it and
dons a new black costume to show he’s serious.

 

Chapter 0 – We see telepathic CIA agent Eddie Passim learn
his superiors want to terminate him after he concludes his current assignment,
so he disappears into the subway tunnels one night after throwing the virus
randomly out the train window. In the present DD fights a crazy homeless person
and we learn an epidemic of sudden violent insanity is spreading among the
homeless. Meanwhile a random voodoo priest with a bad Cajun accent has captured
the DarkDevil doppelganger from the Infinity
War
crossover. He manages to magically transfer his mind into the monster
and renames himself Hellspawn. Next we meet another crazy person who thinks he
is both the President of the United
States and married to Elektra; when he is
in-fact mostly dead and being kept in a suspended animation virtual reality
world by SHIELD. Meanwhile at the Daily Bugle Jameson casually shuts down
production because of some nebulous business man, causing Phil Urich to be
annoyed because he has a hot story he can no longer publish. Meanwhile random
foreign government types hire Silver Sable to find Eddie Passim. Back on the
street DD discovers Eddie is behind the insanity epidemic–basically he’s been
living as a homeless man all this time, recently went crazy and is now
broadcasting insanity to other homeless people when he comes in contact with
them. Meanwhile Urich asks some chick to hack into the Bugle computer files so
he can self-publish his story. The Hand purchases a government dossier on Eddie
and the virus. Meanwhile out in the Himalayas
a random Hand agent is killed by a sai. Finally, two random SHIELD agents
guarding the suspended animation dude (John Garrett) decide to blather about
his back-story: he was a SHIELD agent who they made a cyborg; he then teamed
with Elektra to try and assassinate a presidential candidate who had ties to
the Hand. They fell in love and succeeded in their mission but afterwards
SHIELD found him in his mostly-dead state with Elektra nowhere to be seen. As
they finish their exposition we see Hand ninjas are listening in.

Chapter 1 – DD is fighting a mercenary named Crippler that
works for Silver Sable. Crippler blows up a building but somehow the only
effect is it rips DD’s costume. DD then puts him down with his billy club.
Meanwhile the Hand prays to a demon and get female member Erynys to kill
herself with a sai. Other Hand agents free Garrett (VR dude). In the Himalayas we met the Chaste, who are the good version of
the Hand and they send Stone and a mysterious person wielding a sai out into
the world to thwart the Hand’s plans. DD and Silver Sable fight to a stalemate
until DD tells her the dude who hired you is up to no good, and even though he
admits he has no proof Sable is like ‘well then I guess I should go home but if
you’re lying I’ll be back.’ We will not see her in this story again. Meanwhile
the hacker from last issue gets into Urich’s computer files and stumbles upon
his unpublished story from “Born Again” that exposes DD’s secret identity. DD
finds crazy Eddie (the telepathic homeless dude) and gets mind-blasted for his
troubles. When he recovers Hellspawn is behind him.

Chapter 2 – Hellspawn is immune to DD’s radar sense, so he
follows him home and learns his secret identity. DD builds a new black costume
that includes body armor. Meanwhile in San Francisco Venom kills some drug
dealers which somehow leads to him learning about the virus in Hells Kitchen
and deciding he wants to use it to remove his weaknesses to fire and sonics. DD
finds crazy Eddie again and subdues him but then Hellspawn attacks. It’s not a
bad fight and DD has to use some interesting tactics to find his foe before
setting him on fire and causing him to retreat. Meanwhile Nick Fury hires
Deathlock to find his missing VR dude. We see the Hand has VR dude and is
torturing him for information.

Chapter 3 – A flashback shows how Nick Fury discovered and
shut down the general’s project that made the MacGuffin virus in the 1960s. In
the present Crazy Eddie tells DD how the virus works, including that it could
cure his blindness while Deathlock listens in and realizes it could cure his
undead cyborg condition as well. Meanwhile the Hand is using VR Dude’s memories
of Elektra to reconstruct her killer instinct and skills into Erynys so that they
can have a loyal version of Elektra leading their assassins. Meanwhile Ben
Urich discovers his apartment has been broken into and some of his paper files
stolen. Meanwhile Venom arrives in NYC. Meanwhile Matt and Foggy have tensions
(this has been an ongoing subplot the past few chapters and it always jump-cuts
in-between fight scenes and in a way that seems to make no sense in terms of
this story’s own timeline; case in point after the latest round of tension we
jump cut to nightfall where DD & Deathlock team up to fight the Hand in a
scene that looks like it should be taking place during all the “meanwhiles”—also
apparently the American general in charge of the project in the 60s that used
Eddie is now a Hand ninja; although if that’s true why did they need to
purchase a dossier to learn about the virus and/or torture people for
information. The general is about to kill DD when Elektra kills him with a sai
in the back and then disappears making DD wonder if she was really there (she’s
supposed to still be dead at this point, and with the crazy telepath
influencing everyone’s perceptions it’s hard for DD to know what’s real or
not). DD doesn’t have time to ponder it long because now Deathlock decides he
wants to kill DD too.

Chapter 4 – A flashback shows how the general joined the
Hand. In the present DD and Deathlock have inexplicably solved their
differences from the cliffhanger off-panel and are back to fighting the Hand.
They capture the general–who is somehow still alive pretty much nullifying
everything that happened last chapter–and learn about the plan to create
Erynys as this general is apparently the worst soldier in history: the way the
scene plays out is DD is like ‘tell me about crazy Eddie and the virus’ and
general’s like ‘hey here’s some other secret plan we have that has nothing to
do with your original question that I’m going to spill the beans on now.’  Venom then shows up and wants to kidnap the
general leading to Venom fighting DD and Deathlock. While it seems Venom is on
the defensive, he eventually is able to web the general and escape with him.
Meanwhile hacker chick takes Urich’s story on DD’s secret identity and gets it
published in a tabloid. Back with Venom who is trying to get information from
the general when the heroes arrive and initiate round 2. They fight to a
stalemate at which point DD is able to talk Venom down by convincing him that
overcoming his weaknesses to fire and sonic on his own make him more of a hero
than Spider-man, and then Venom’s like ‘yea, you’re right’ and catches the next
flight home. No sooner does he leave then DD and Deathlock are confronted by
the woman who may be Elektra (we only see their reactions to her). Back at
wherever The Hand is and they have successfully fused Elektra’s essence into
Erynys.

Chapter 5 – We get flashbacks of both Elektra’s life as an
assassin, and DD attempting to resurrect her with magic years ago only to fail
and let a white ninja take her body; however she revives with the white ninja
after DD has left. In the present, DD is being confronted by a male ninja named
Stone who has rock hard skin and uses the sai as a weapon (this who they saw
last issue and confused with Elektra because apparently Deathlock is also blind
now). Also for no reason at all Morbius has shown up and created a three way
fight, which soon becomes a four way when some random dude with a bow and arrow
shows up too. (Also Deathlock has completely vanished with no explanation).
Stone stabs Morbuis, he and DD drive off bow and arrow dude, then DD convinces Stone
to team up with him to save Morbius. Then we jump-cut (flashback???) to
Deathlock telling DD he needs to leave the story now because he doesn’t trust
himself not to use the virus if they recover it. Meanwhile DD helps Morbius
break into a hospital blood bank so he can heal himself; at which point Morbius
inexplicably puts on a lab coat and runs an analysis on the virus somehow (even
though they haven’t recovered it) and discovers it can cure his vampirism. DD’s
like ‘it would be selfish to let you use it to cure yourself,’ so Morbius is
all ‘go away, it’s not like I know where it is anyway’ but DD’s lie detector
sense tells him that’s not true. Meanwhile the news story exposing Matt’s
secret hits and we see Foggy and Urich react. DD then goes home and rearranges
his furniture so it looks like a blind person lives there. Then we jump cut to
DD and Stone following Morbius as he looks for the virus on his own. VR dude
shows up–now rebuilt as yet another gun-wielding cyborg–and attacks DD and
Stone. Erynys joins in the fight as well and she has Elektra’s memories of DD.
She is able to fatally stab Stone somehow despite his stone-hard skin

deflecting machine gun bullets just two pages ago. The villains have DD
cornered when the real Elektra shows up albeit bald and dressed in white
(looking a lot like Moondragon actually).

Chapter 6 – Before DD can react both he and Elektra are
attacked by Hellspawn. A steam pipe then explodes and everyone goes their
separate ways in search of the virus except DD and Elektra but she refuses to
explain how she’s alive or what she’s been up to. She says she is only here to
stop Erynys from using her evil-side for evil. Meanwhile hacker chick somehow
gets the police to let her and a bunch of TV cameramen break into Matt’s apartment
only to see it looks like a blind person’s home thus discrediting her story.
Urich then has her arrested for computer fraud. Erynys and Garrett reunite with
a cadre of Hand ninjas and gather under the subways. Morbius finds some other
homeless dude he knows that also knows crazy Eddie and through him pieces
together where in the subways Eddie lives/left the virus. DD and Elektra then
appear and knock Morbius out. Matt is then able to make Elektra feel emotion and
they hug. We then jump-cut to Matt and Karen Page talking about Elektra and
Matt chooses Karen. Meanwhile Hellspawn finds the Hand and lurks in the
shadows. Meanwhile DD and Elektra find the virus. They are instantly attacked
by the Hand and Hellspawn. DD and Elektra don’t want anyone to get the virus,
but for no adequate reason he doesn’t think dumping it down the drain would
solve that problem. Instead he decides it’s better for Hellspawn to use it to
change from a magic creature into a human than for the Hand to use it for
whatever nefarious purpose they have. 
Hellspawn drinks it only for Erynys to stab and kill Hellspawn. Elektra
then battles Erynys and of course the original wins but instead of killing
Erynys herself she makes DD do it with her sai which then makes her evil-side
literally jump out of Erynys’ body as an angry red spirit and flow back into
Elektra. The Hand retreats. Elektra cries for her lost innocence, while DD
realizes ‘duh, 10 seconds ago when I was thinking I had to keep the virus away
from the villains I could have drunk it and cured my blindness. Oh well, too
late now.’ Hellspawn transforms into an exact duplicate of Matt and then dies
from the sai wound. In the epilogue Elektra is cast out by the Chaste monks. DD
uses the Hellspawn-Matt corpse to fake his own death, and Urich eulogizes him
in print. Matt then meets with Night Mother and they confirm the hinted
connection from Born Again of her being his biological mother and she gives him
a new civilian identity of Jack.
Critical Thoughts: This
book sucked a lot. Seriously it may be the worst comic I’ve ever read that
doesn’t involve heroes making arbitrary deals with the Devil. I would say it’s
everything people today make fun of about the 90s, and while it is, that’s
unfair to the 90s because even by those standards this is a horrible failure of
a story.

The story has no internal logic at all. Characters just
wander in and out of this thing for the most arbitrary of reasons. New arrivals
always know where everyone else is and any information learned by one character
then becomes instantaneous knowledge of every other character in the story.
Then we have the repeated jump cuts to Matt’s civilian life that seem to be
taking place in a parallel universe. How else can that scene with Matt and
Karen Page be explained? He and Elektra defeat Morbius and finally learn the
location of the virus after seven interminable issues of random battles, and
then Matt is like hang on I have to go home and assure my girlfriend I love her
and not you even though she has no idea you’re alive and we’re solving crimes
together at which point Elektra then apparently waits outside for him so they
can go back to hunting in the sewers? Ditto the cut to Foggy in-between the
Deathlock scenes.

Also let’s talk about the virus, which is what sets the “story”
here in motion. Nothing about DD’s motivations regarding this virus make any
sense. I can see why he doesn’t want the Hand or Venom to get it, but what
possible reason does he have to be against letting a noble prize winning
scientist cure himself of vampirism? Yea, Morbius is being a grim & gritty
90’s antihero at this point and not killing innocents; but he is still eating
criminals and as a criminal defense attorney in his civilian identity Matt believes
every man deserves his day in court, so why would Matt prefer a status quo that
involves criminals being killed before they are arrested? Ditto Deathlock being
I have to leave so I’m tempted to use the virus. I don’t know this Deathlock’s
origin specifically (I think he’s the third character to use the name) but
generally all of the Deathlocks are soldiers who die in action and are then reborn
as undead cyborgs due to a secret military experiment and had no say in what
they were turned into. Why the hell shouldn’t he use the virus to reclaim his
life?  Then we have Hellspawn, whose
character arc could not make less sense. In chapter 0 he’s already frickin’
Human! He chooses to cast a spell and put his mind into the Doppelganger
creature a few days ago, and now he wants to use the virus to become human? And
not become human to return his own body because maybe he didn’t like being a
demon once he tried it, which I could buy; or making himself a perfect human
body that’s immune to disease and aging, which should be possible since
everyone in this goes on and on about how the virus lets your remake your DNA
into whatever you wish. No, he wants to become a BLIND attorney. ?????

Let me also say all the non-characters are so terrible, they
are painful to read about. Heck it took me a couple of chapters to figure out
Crazy Eddie and VR Dude weren’t the same person the first time I read this
since both talk the same way, look exactly the same, and do the same type of
conspiracy crap in the 60s flashbacks. Actually there isn’t a single reason
they couldn’t be the same character and save time since by the time the Hand
turns VR Dude into a cyborg, Crazy Eddie has already disappeared from the story
in-between chapters three and four without any explanation and is never seen or
heard from again., And here’s a little thing, why is crazy homeless dude’s name
Eddie in a story that involves Venom. You’re creating a new character, who
isn’t even really a characters as much as a plot device, and you have to give
him the same name as one the eight real characters you’re using? Your
convoluted mess of a story isn’t confusing enough? Unless of course they were
making this up as they went along and didn’t know Venom was going to show up in
chapter 2 when they created Crazy Eddie in chapter 0; which the way this reads
would explain a lot actually.

Also what the hell is going on with Erynys? Here’s an
example of an idea that could be pretty good: The Hand gets their own version
of Elektra for future stories who could then become a recurring villain for DD
and Elektra; DD particularly could have a lot of angst whenever he faces this remorseless
shade of his former lover. Instead they kill her off willy nilly. It is not
like they kill her to resurrect true Elektra, which would be an understandable
end-goal– no, true Elektra is already alive and living on a mountain when the
story starts. So basically they kill her for no reason other than to make this
story even more pointless than it already is. Also NOTHING about Erynys’s
origin makes sense if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. Let’s start
with how they recreate her. VR Dude has a copy of all of Elektra’s
memories/dark side in his head because they dated when she was an assassin. This
is why I was confusing him with the telepathic homeless dude in the early
chapters, because if he’s not telepathic how the hell does that work? Also they
dated for a few months, and then he spent 20 plus years in a VR fantasy world
where they were married; so shouldn’t any memories of Elektra they extract from
him be intermingled with (and likely subsumed by) his fantasy version of her? Also
the Hand specifically says they want his memories of her because they are from the
time before she met up with DD and turned on them, so this is a recreation of
Elektra during her ruthless assassin years (which again I would be fine with if
this was in a service of creating a new recurring character). But then when
Erynys meets DD she goes into a rage because she can feel/remember Elektra’s
emotions for him. Except you just said two chapters ago these are memories from
BEFORE Elektra dated DD. (And yes, I know Elektra dated Matt off-camera in
college but Elektra didn’t learn Matt was DD until the stories shortly before
her death). This also brings up another gaping plot hole: if for whatever
inexplicable reason Erynys knows DD’s secret through Elektra’s memories why
hasn’t she immediately told the rest of the Hand? Finally rounding out the
trifecta of WTF with this character we have her death scene. Which, 1) DD has
refused to kill both Kingpin and Bullseye who have repeatedly done unimaginable
horrible personal things to him, but this chick he just casually kills; and 2)
why in the blue hell do implanted memories from a third party rise up like a
ghost and flow back into Elektra when this chick dies?  Is it so hard to have Elektra just have
natural human emotions and regret for her past? 
This is just such a frankly bizarre roundabout way to get from point A
to B.

Finally I feel compelled to also say the Daily Bugle stuff
is terrible beyond words if you are a Spider-man reader. Read any issue of
Spiderman ever and tell me why Jonah would shut down the Bugle over a shipping
dispute? Jonah may be a blowhard when it comes to Spidey, but when it comes to
the press he consistently treats it like a sacred trust. He’s stood up to
threats to his life and livelihood from mobsters, corrupt politicians,
terrorists and the various Goblins over the years and never once backed down
from printing a story. But here he casually shuts the paper down just so we can
have a subplot with Ben Urich that then never once has any bearing on either
Matt’s personal life or the plot of this story. A subplot that ends with Urich
turning in hacker chick to the FBI, which completely glosses over the fact that
Urich hired her to break into the Bugle computer files in the first place!

Anyway I could probably rant for another page or two picking
this thing apart but this story is terrible and not worthy of another minute of
my time.

 
Grade F

Waiting for the Trade – Spiderman (& Venom)

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.

Waiting for the Trade – Spiderman (double film & comic review)

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Marvel Adventures: Spiderman vol. 6 – The Black Costume
by Fred Van Lente and Cory Hamscher
Collects Marvel Adventures Spider-man 21 – 24.
Why I Bought This: You can get most of the Marvel Adventures Digests for $4 off Amazon (including shipping) so I’m occasionally willing to sample them. This one has Venom in it and as I’m firmly in the Venom is the coolest villain ever created in comics’ history camp, so for that price it got my money. My thoughts on the new movie follow the comic review.

The Plot – Clearly released around the time of Spider-Man 3 it can be summed up as Spidey gets the black costume, uses it to battle the Sandman and the Goblins, learns the costume is evil and it transforms into Venom after he rejects it.
The chapter breakdowns are not much more involved but here we go:
Chapter 1 – Spidey is a teenager in this universe and he battles teenage versions of Rocket Racer, Stilt Man and Frog Man: who are portrayed as joke-level threats. The villains got their gear from the Tinker, and when Spidey tracks them to the Tinker’s lair he finds the black suit in liquid form (which apparently in this reality is not an alien but just something the Tinker invented). The suit bonds with Spidey and he defeats the four villains but the Tinker smirks knowingly in defeat.
Chapter 2 – Pete is assigned to take photos alongside Jonah on a stakeout of the Green Goblin. Hobgoblin has been raiding Norman’s hideouts and the two Goblins go to war. It takes Pete awhile to figure out how to get away from Jonah, but once he does Spidey intervenes and after Green beat Hob, Spidey takes Norman down and both Goblins are arrested.
Chapter 3 – Pete and Aunt May are doing back to school shopping at Wal-Mart when Sandman attacks for some reason. Pete changes to Spidey. They fight. Spidey wins.
Chapter 4 – Spidey is feeling tired since donning the black suit. He goes to the FF and Reed uncovers its true nature and separates them. The Suit escapes thanks to Torch’s bungling and it bonds with some crook Spidey stopped on page 1 of this (apparently Eddie Brock but without any of the more detailed motivations and psychosis of the core reality) and he instantly becomes Venom. He stalks Spidey outside his Aunt’s at night and then attacks him the next morning at Midtown High but Spidey tricks them into separating by feigning wanting the suit back in the science lab and then uses the power of random chemical vials to defeat the suit before taking out Brock in one punch. When Brock is arrested he’s lost his memory of Spidey’s identity without the suit.
Critical Thoughts: This is the bad kind of all ages story-telling. I don’t think these stories would have entertained when I was 8 let alone as an adult. Everything is so simplified and none of the fights are dramatic.
It’s hard to do Venom’s origin in a single issue/chapter. If the suit bonds with a new host and instantly becomes Venom it begs the question of why it didn’t bond like that with the Spidey. The answer of course is in the comics the suit had three or four years real time bonded to Brock after it left Spidey before he appeared as Venom so it had time to complete the bonding process. Whereas whenever they adapt this story to a new comic/cartoon/movie they time compress so it makes no sense. It’s understandable because getting to Venom is the main event, but it makes most adaptations far inferior to the original origin.
I also have to say I’m sick to death of current Marvel’s obsession with teen Spidey. No one cares about teen Spidey. Yes, Stan Lee created Spidey as a teen. Then he aged him in real time. So in less than three years and 20-something issues Spidey was out of high school. That’s 3 years out of 50, and 20 issues out of at least 2000 (counting all the spin-offs like Web, Spectacular, Marvel Team Up, etc) so basically 1-percent of the characters history is predicated on him being a teen and if not for reprint trades the Essential no one in their audience would have even read a book with a teen Spidey in it. And yet for some reason the past 10 years whenever Marvel wants to do a new Spidey project they make him a teenager (the last two cartoons, the new movie, this book,) Hell Spidey graduated college 30 years ago at this point; and yet he’s still popular. I don’t know why this regime thinks Spidey has to be young to be popular. If that was true Power Pack would be the best selling comic in the world. Kids like Spidey fine no matter how old he is: just like they enjoy adult Superman, Batman, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, etc. In fact I would argue teen Spidey is markedly inferior to adult Spidey from a story-telling perspective because internally to Spidey you lose most of the Daily Bugle staff (and certainly you lose Pete having any kind of meaning personal relationships with them), who are among the best supporting cast in all of comics; and externally, if dealing with a larger shared universe he’s no longer a true peer to Marvel’s other A-list heroes.
About the only thing I liked about this was the stakeout with Pete and Jonah preventing Pete from changing to Spidey. I thought that was handled well. I mean I suppose the art looks fine, but otherwise there’s just not much substance here.
Grade: D
Bonus Amazing Spider-man film review: So I saw the movie about a week or two after it was released, which shows how little enthusiasm I had for it to begin with. From the day it was announced this film felt like it had no reason to exist because they were remaking a movie that is less than 10-years-old and was done perfectly this first time. Plus as I mentioned above in this review I’m sick to death of teen Spidey. I also find Gwen to be the least interesting of Spidey’s love interests. And those initial previews last summer were awful, with Peter coming off as some cross between Twilight and a Columbine kid. It looked like the preview for the type of independent film I wouldn’t watch unless you paid me.
So why did it I even bother to see it with all the negative baggage? Well for one I love the Lizard. And two it is a Marvel super hero movie—so sooner or later I see them all, and it did get surprisingly strong reviews once it came out.
My thoughts: I liked it much more than I’d have thought going in, even if it is inferior to the Sam Rami films in every meaningful way. Taken on its own merits as a summer action film, the fight scenes and special effects are very good. And on that level I’d give it a B+. Stan Lee also has an awesome cameo in this, and I though the actress playing Gwen was surprisingly likeable in every scene she’s in. I also thought Dennis Leary was very good as Captain Stacy and his final scenes were surprisingly dramatic.
However as a comparison to the other films (well at least the first two) this still has no reason to exist. Andrew Garfield’s Peter cannot compare to Toby McGuire’s at all. The death of Uncle Ben is such a pale imitation in this film to the way Rami portrayed it. And while Gwen is cute in this, it does not have the epic romantic sweep of Pete and MJ in the first two films (and this from someone who isn’t a huge MJ fan in the comics). Basically everything this film does in the origin is not as good as what Rami did in the original. It’s a case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If you make changes, it comes across as odd because we all know Spider-man’s origin and the Rami film was so faithful to the comics; but if you don’t make changes you invite direct comparisons to something that was perfect the first time that you can’t ever compete with. I understand the lack of Harry given the need to differentiate from the first film but the lack of Jonah is unforgivable even if no other actor can touch JK Simmons performance. This again in a nutshell is why teen Spidey is always inferior to adult Spidey in a modern setting—you lose the Daily Bugle cast and Spidey isn’t fully Spidey without them. The only real improvement (and not to speak ill of the dead) is Martin Sheen is a better Uncle Ben in this film than the actor in the original.
Additionally everything with Peter’s parents is just as stupid and unnecessary as it looked in the previews. There’s a super hero out there obsessed with his dead parents but he had his own movie this summer. Pete’s parents are such a small part of Spidey continuity that every scene about them is something I don’t care about and nothing in the performances in this film changed my mind.
I also wasn’t thrilled with Curt Connors in this film. The Lizard as an effect: fabulous. Ditto his fight scenes with Spidey. But Connors—meh. Where is his family? Why is it implied that he is complicit in the death’s Pete’s family. That’s not Curt Connors. The tragedy of the Lizard and what makes him a compelling villain is that Connors is a fundamentally decent family man who made one mistake and has to pay for it (and worse his family has to pay for it) over and over again when he turns into this evil thing. Even more so Spidey knows that Curt is a decent family man (and in the Silver Age one of Spider-man’s only friends and allies) who is not responsible for his actions as the Lizard, which in turn makes it harder for him to fight the Lizard. So I felt like more should have been done there, and that Curt needed to be a lot less creepy in human form in order for the Lizard to be more effective.
So my overall take is that as a Spider-man film this is probably a C- given that we’ve see how the high the bar for a Spider-man film can be set. As a summer popcorn film I’m a lot more forgiving and would put in the B range.

Waiting for the Trade Venom vs Avengers

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Venom – Deathtrap: The Vault
by Danny Fingeroth and Ron Lim
Why I bought this: In the lead-up to the Avengers movie I decided to buy a few of their trades. I’m also a major Venom fan, and this is from the era I grew up on so it seemed like a perfect pick-up especially since you can grab it off Amazon for under $5.
The Plot – Back in the late 80s Marvel (in the pages of Avengers) created a super-villain prison called the Vault, designed to neutralize the inmates powers and built under the mountains of Colorado to make it harder for them to escape. Of course this led to a decade’s worth of mass jail-break stories the most famous being Acts of Vengeance. This story was an original graphic novel that was part of the jailbreak at the Vault genre.
It starts with Cap and Henry Pym testifying at the Controller’s trial, which is being held at the Vault given his power levels (technological induced mass mind-control and super strength bequeathed to him by Thanos). After the trial ends we meet the warden and learn his parents died in the crossfire of a super-being battle; thus he dislikes the heroes and is obsessed with preventing the villains from ever escaping so much so that he’s added a nuclear bomb to the prison’s failsafe that he can detonate in the event of escape.
Meanwhile low-grade telepath Mentallo is letting scientists test his powers when there’s a power surge. This leads to a power increase, which he keeps to himself and thus later he is able to overcome his cell’s power dampers to telepathically contact Venom and the two of them stage an escape. Venom assaults the guards and in process frees Speed Demon and Moonstone and the next thing you know all the villains are out of their cells.
Cap and Pym hear the alarm and turn around and take out Orka, Bullet and Griffin as they make their way outside the Vault. The Warden manages to seal the rest of the inmates inside and ponders detonating his bomb. The government dispatches Freedom Force (the second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Mystique, who at this time was working for the government in exchange for a pardon) to the scene, while Cap calls in the remaining Avengers (Iron Man, Wasp, Vision, Wonder Man, Hawkeye and She-Hulk).
This sets our dynamic for the rest of the book: The Avengers want to contain the inmates, Freedom Force is assigned to help but given their own criminal background have friends on the inside so their loyalties are torn, the villains want to escape and the warden wants to kill them all. Well I should add Venom is leading the escape, but Thunderball (of the Wrecking Crew) feels he could do a better job so we have some dissension among the villains as well, although to start most are backing Venom since he opened the cell doors.
This is the SPOILER paragraph so you may want to skip to the next section if you intend to read this. Once the set-up in the prior paragraph is in place the book proceeds along the lines you’d probably expect, although it does so in an engaging way. We get lots of fights as the Avengers split into smaller squads and run into various villains in the halls. The various tensions (Freedom Force’s loyalty, Venom and Thunderball, etc) come to ahead. The heroes learn about the bomb (which of course is activated and counting down on a timer). After it’s deactivated (by Iron Man, Pym and Thunderball) we get a big final battle, which ends when Iron Man gets a hold of the Controller’s discs and uses them to stop all the villains except Venom. The warden loses it and decides to sabotage the reactor and kill everyone anyway, but Venom kills him first. The Avengers then stop Venom and Iron Man and Radioactive Man team-up to drain the excess radiation from the reactor.
Critical Thoughts – I liked it. This is a good solid Avengers story with lots of action. Plus it’s drawn by Ron Lim, who draws a heck of a cool looking Venom. And really as Lim proved in the various Infinity crossovers he knows how to draw large groups of characters and battle scenes as well as anyone in comics.
I also want praise Fingeroth’s writing, in that’s he’s working with a very large cast here and yet he manages to give many of the villains a distinctive voice with the occasional nods to their history with some of the other heroes and villains around. An example I liked a lot is Rhino and Armadillo trying to stop the other inmates because they want to serve out their time and get treatment from the government to cure them of their powers, which in both cases mutated them physically.
Since he is given top billing, I think it should be noted this is also a much more homicidal Venom than the character later became. This is actually early in the character’s history (probably his first ever non-Spider-man appearance) when the character still had a full on psychopathic Cape Fear vibe going, instead of the Lethal Protector of the innocent he would later become. I kind of prefer my Venom to be more on the dangerous/deranged side as that was the character’s original appeal, but I can see how someone who is more familiar with the character’s late 90s interpretation would find this take jarring.
Grade: B. This is a perfectly acceptable comic book. It’s not looking to change the world, just tell a one-shot self-contained story. It does just that in a way that is both well-written and looks terrific.