Thursday, August 7, 2003

Spectacular Spider-Man #2 - A Review

Written by: Paul Jenkins
Penciled by: Humberto Ramos
Inked by: Wayne Faucher
Colored by: Studio F
Lettered by: Randy Gentle
Editor: John Miesegaes
Publisher: Marvel Comics

When I first heard that Jenkins and Ramos were getting a whole Spider-Man title to themselves, I was thrilled, having loved their “Return of the Goblin” storyline back in “Peter Parker”. Jenkins, to my mind, has always been the most underrated of all the people to write Spider-Man in recent years. True, he may not have done many revolutionary change stories like Straczynski. He may not be redefining the character while retelling classic stories like Bendis. No, Jenkins’ writing is more subdued most of the time, focusing more on character and relationships than big explosive fights or major shocking revelations. Not that he can’t handle a big fight scene or a shocking revelation, as this issue proves.

Last issue ended with the revelation that the symbiote known as Venom has freed itself from Eddie Brock (or perhaps the other way around) and is now functioning independently. Peter escapes from it. Meanwhile, a police detective named Neil Garrett continues his investigation into a string of assaults where the victims are drained not of blood, but of adrenaline. He also finds a common linkage between the victims which, coupled with the knowledge of what was being taken from the victims bodies, points to Venom. There’s also a continuation of the plot brought over from Jenkin’s run on Peter Parker, involving Flash Thompson’s injuries and Aunt May and Liz Osborn dealing with his release from the hospital.

The amazing thing is that for a book called Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter really doesn’t do much in this issue aside from the fight at the beginning. Okay, he does fight some muggers in the middle of the book and we get a really nice explanation of how his spider-sense operates, but most of the plot action is done by newcomer Detective Garrett and the emotional plot centers around May and Liz and Flash. All of that though, takes a back seat to the real treat of this book.

I’ve made it no secret that I’ve never liked Venom as a character. A promising concept in the first few issues, it was milked to death and then the corpse was paraded around for 15 years in a series of mini-series devoted to the idea that “With Great Power, Comes A Whole Lot of Bloody, Funny Fight Scenes!” Little explanation, also, has ever been given to the symbiote’s function other than that it eventually consumes its host.

The theory that I think Jenkins is putting forth here, and it is new as far as I know, is that the symbiote feeds on adrenaline and that by inspiring the anger of Peter (remember how he started to lose it in the black costume) and then Eddie, it was able to feed and grow stronger. Aside from adding a whole new horrific attitude to what has become a tired bad guy (and explaining the long standing “I want to eat your brain, spleen etc” lines), this view also gives us a whole new sympathetic view of Eddie Brock. As Jenkins reminded us last issue, Eddie was a religious, if flawed man, who was praying for guidance when the symbiote found him. His reaction to the monster here keeps with that portrayal and ignored the bloated muscle-head obsessed with revenge for vaguely defined reasons that was Eddie Brock through most of his life in the comics.
And both characters are all the richer for this portrayal.

Ramos artwork is hit and miss. I don’t think he’s “love it or hate it”, but I do hate certain aspects of his work while I love others. For example, I noticed that all of the hardened fighter characters who know something bad is going on have small black eyes (Peter, Detective Garrett) whereas all the innocents have big anime eyes (Liz, Aunt May, Flash, etc.) It’s a nice bit of distinction, even if it does have the effect of rendering half the cast REALLY wired or in Aunt May’s case, like her body is shrinking around her eyeballs. Still, Ramos has a great “slimy” take on Venom and I’d argue that between his Venom redesign and his Green Goblin from “Return of the Goblin”, he does the best villains of any artist working on Spidey today.

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