(Marvel Comics, 2013)
Review by Kenneth Kimbrough
It can sometimes be difficult to gauge the quality of a story arc from its first issue. If I were to make a list of things I’m sad we didn’t see in the inaugural meeting between Flash Thompson in the Venom identity and his hero, Spider-Man, then those very things could happen in the next issue. There’s always a little wait-and-see when a story is still finding its feet. In fact, I feel fairly neutral about this latest issue of Superior Spider-Man. Although Venom is prominently featured on the cover, the majority of this issue is about Spider-Ock setting up Parker Industries. So anyone wanting to see what the first confrontation between this particular Spider-Man and this particular Venom will have to wait until the next issue for the meaty stuff. But for those of you unfamiliar with what exactly is going on with Venom these days, here’s a little background.
In 2011, during the beginning of Dan Slott’s takeover on the Amazing Spider-Man (known as the “Big Time” era), the Venom symbiote was stripped from its then-current host, Mac Gargan, and was detained by a covert government agency as a black-ops weapon. Seeking someone they could control, the agency selected longtime Spidey cast member Flash Thompson, who had recently lost both legs in Iraq. Thompson, who had idolized Spider-Man his entire life, took on the assignment gladly. Now aside from the fact that Venom and Spider-Man went two years without running into each other (except in a Carnage miniseries that other writers seem to have disregarded), one of the more interesting aspects of this direction was the idea that even though Flash thinks he’s playing the part of Spider-Man, he’s actually playing the darker half. He gets all the baggage that comes with the title—secret identities, lost time with loved ones, supervillains—but none of the recognition. Another prevalent theme in Remender’s run especially, was the symbiote as just another addiction, which is tragic considering Flash’s history with alcoholism. Needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating the imminent meeting between Flash and Peter. Then Peter died. …which brings us full circle. Remember those themes we just discussed? Well, it turns out, they’re very similar to the current direction on Spider-Man. A character, in this case Doctor Octopus, covets the role of Spider-Man. And on obtaining that role, he believes he has effectively replaced the webslinger. But to the readers, he seems more like a dark, twisted reflection. Sound familiar? What I’m getting at is that the dynamic of the characters has changed, but in a way that makes them very close to each other. They both resort to violence as a solution, and both consider themselves a version of Spider-Man. And that makes me worried about the overall direction of the story. But let’s get on to the issue itself. As I said before, I can’t go this entire review criticizing Slott and Gage for what they haven’t written.
In my review of the SSM Annual, I complained that the usual subplots were crowding out the main story. Well, I’m glad to say that the subplots are fairly minimal in this issue. We have an A-story, Ock establishing Parker industries, and a B-story, Venom investigating the new Crime Master, with both dovetailing into each other by the end of the issue. In the middle of those was a small bit with Captain Watanabe, but it wasn’t intrusive. On the other hand, my biggest complaint for this issue is that most of the dialogue was focused on exposition. I realize that there is a lot of history to take in in this issue, but I’m wondering if we’ve moved past the point of needing to check those narrative boxes, especially in an age where information is a click away. In the span of this issue, we’re caught up on way too many events—i.e., a brief yet comprehensive history of the Remender Venom run, the Hobgoblin’s supervillain rental business, Carlie and Watanabe’s investigation, the F.E.A.S.T. center, and Cardiac’s current whereabouts. It’s just all a bit much, and it tends to distract from the matters at hand. I’m a firm believer in characterization through action, and it seems like some of these ideas could have been either shown or just dropped from this issue.
Now because it’s too easy just to list the negatives on a book, let’s focus on the positives. Although I wasn’t a fan of the Venom portion of this book, I did rather enjoy most of the Parker Industries portion. I liked that Ock has most of his staff in lab coats and that he’s pretty much running a supervillain think tank. I also liked the progress with Maria Marconi as she has quickly become my favorite character from the Superior era. As for the art, Ramos is still Ramos. If you like his style, then there’s plenty here to like. If you don’t, I don’t know what to tell you. However, I did take issue (last one, I swear!) with some of the blur effects in the action. I’m not sure if this was Ramos or Edgar Delgado, but the blurring makes the action a little difficult to discern, and in a noticeable way. Otherwise, Delgado still does awesome on his colors. He really defines this era of Spider-Man for me.
As I said, it’s best not to take this review too seriously. It’s only the first issue of an arc, and there’s plenty of time for the story to establish itself. Slott and Gage are good writers, and they’ve delivered on numerous occasions. Hopefully, they’ll give me a lot more to say about the next issue.