Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VINTAGE - Spider-Man: Birth of Venom

Ah... Spider-Man, Spider-Man. He does whatever a spider can. But there was a time, many many years ago, that he got a really cool black costume. This costume let him do a little bit more than just your average friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. For example, it could mimic any type of clothing with nothing more than a thought. And it could also create its own webbing. The only real downside was that Peter Parker tended to be a little bit exhausted while he was wearing it, but he didn't even put it together that it might be his fancy new threads that were causing that. I mean, why would a goopy black costume from outer space make you tired?

Well, that costume was alive. It was a symbiote, an organism that thrives by bonding to another. And in the weird alien costume's defense, the only really negative thing it was doing to ol' Spidey was highjacking his body in the middle of the night and fighting more crime. A lot of personal issues prevent Spider-Man from getting his costume checked out early on, mostly his fractured relationship with Aunt May. Peter thought it would be a good idea to drop out of graduate school, so May thought it would be a good idea to stop talking to him. Oh, Aunt May. You go, girl! Anyway, Spidey is all butthurt about it. He's also getting frisky with the Black Cat, but he has the sneaking suspicion that she is lying to him about something. She is; she has weirdo bad luck powers she got from the Kingpin, but doesn't want to tell him about it. Also, he spends more of the story actually thinking about her than spending physical time with her. That, to me, made me not care as much about their relationship. There's also a really bizarre moment when they're in his apartment and she "can't even look" at his face without his mask on. That's kinky. I mean... does he leave the mask on?

Spider-Man fights some pretty lame villains in the lead up, including a feral dude named Puma and Vulture rip-off villains calling themselves 'the Vulturions.' I don't know if the Vulturions ever came back, but seeing as how Spidey could barely maneuver himself around while he was having an internal struggle with his costume, it's pretty sad that he manages to beat four of these dudes when his heart is not even in it. It's easy to see why Puma and the Vulturions aren't adapted into most 'alien costume' updates in media adaptations. They suck. Well, the Puma half-sucked. I liked the panels with his face changing. That was groovy. He had a lot of logic problems. Like, "as long as I fulfill my tribal obligations I can TOTALLY be an assassin!" Nope, buddy. I don't think that really works. Anyway, Peter manages to get him and his freaky ass costume over a bell tower, where sonic vibrations nearly kill them both. The costume gets off him, then also saves him from a bell-inspired brain bleed. It's weird that the costume saves him and later tries to kill him, but I guess bonding with a new host gives it perspective on how it was ultimately betrayed. Or, I'm trying to solve Marvel Comic plot points without getting paid for it. Either way.

I totally left out how Spider-Man took a trip to Fantastic Four headquarters and discovered the costume was alive after Reed Richards tested it. He uses this cool looking 'sonic blaster' to get it off Spider-Man. Then, Johnny Storm gives him an original Fantastic Four costume. But since they have no masks, he pokes eye holes out of a brown paper grocery bag and gives him that to use. Heh. Then he put a 'Kick Me' sign on his back. Double 'heh.' I don't think the Human Torch gets as much credit nowadays for being an ass, but he totally should. I guess Chris Evans playing him in the movies (and being the best part of those movies, let's face it) is vindication enough. But it's a nice little moment. For some reason, in the alter McFarlene stories, Spider-Man keeps going to talk to The Thing. Why? Wouldn't you rather have Mr. Fantastic, the SMART one, being the guy who gives you advice on your evil alien costume? This is probably because McFarlene wanted to draw The Thing more than the other characters. He draws him with this weird dinosaur ridge on his head. It's cool-looking, but I don't think Thing is supposed to look like that. Also, it just makes no sense that he's the one Peter is talking to.

So we all know the story, right? Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist, is thinking about killing himself. He goes to a church to pray (he is Catholic, after all) and instead of being bathed in heavenly light, he is bathed in alien goop that Spidey used to wash in his sink. It's the alien costume! And it finds a friend in Eddie, who blames Spider-Man for his current, crappy life. Really, if you read the story Eddie lays it all down. At no point is it really Spider-Man's fault. It's hard to say that it's Eddie's fault, though. It's actually just kind of, life sucks dude. It wasn't his fault he got played by some chronic confessor, then reported a false story. Spider-Man caught the real killer, so it's his fault? That's kind of faulty logic, Eddie. The costume should have more of a beef because Peter actually tried to kill it. The story also makes a point to mention that the symbiote had no emotions before trying to bond to Parker; that Parker ended up giving the creature a measure of emotional intelligence it didn't have previously. Which also means he's sort of responsible for it hating him for the simple fact that it learned hate from him. That is kind of awesome in how unfortunate it is.

Whether you love him or hate him, Venom is a character that in the early '90s you couldn't really escape. It's funny how there are a lot of limited things you can do with the character; his single-minded quest to destroy Spider-Man as well as knowing that he and Peter Parker were one and the same noticeably excluded him from the mid-nineties cartoon following his first appearance. He does show up eventually, but I think by then he was so redeemable he wasn't even a villain anymore. I like how in initial stories, he isn't really portrayed as a bad guy; in fact, a back up story in this collection has him saving people in a truck stop (the story is amusingly titled, The Truck Stop from Hell!). Venom would go on to sort of be an anti-hero of sorts, but it is sad no writer has really captured the complexities of how great this character could really be.

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