Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Frank Cho (p&i), Laura Martin (c)
I’m really yo-yo-ing on this title at the moment. One minute Mark Millar is all over the place, trying in vain to keep on top of too many plotlines and rehashing tired Spider-Man clichés in an attempt to give his story “classic” status – the next he’s bringing together multiple plot strands in unexpected and original way, putting a fresh new spin on old, tired Spider-Man villains, and expanding Spidey’s world with an injection of freshness and imagination that has been sorely lacking for a long while. It’s more of the latter than the former that we’re treated to this issue, as the culmination of the second mini-arc clears the decks for a finale which promises to reveal more about the mystery bad guy, the conspiracy involving Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery, and the true fate of poor old Aunt May…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, we get to see a Venom smackdown with a twist as Eddie Brock apparently gives up the ghost for good, letting us see what would happen if the symbiote got his claws into a less morally stable character... It’s a thrilling fight staged with originality – a difficult enough feat in comics - and creating a genuine, palpable tension for the reader. One particularly violent splashpage, despite being unbelievable in story terms, had me studying the art for a good few minutes before turning the page to see how Millar extricated Peter from such a seemingly inescapable fate. It might seem like cheap shock tactics, but it’s a Venom v Spidey issue – what’s not to like? Admittedly, fans of the characters’ long history may find some of the scenes here a bit repetitive (although I missed the part of the Venom saga which explained his invisibility somewhere along the line – has Millar been playing too many computer games?) there’s enough to admire here in Frank Cho’s art alone. He pulls off complicatedly-staged action sequences (Spidey’s jump through a flying van being a particular favourite) with aplomb, and even threatens to out-Dodson the Dodsons with his slick, exaggerated and chunky imitation of their style.
As the issue draws to a close, Millar dispenses with many of the niggling subplots that have dogged the series and concentrates on introducing the head bad guy a little more fully. Be warned, I’m going to go into mild spoiler territory here: Whilst the new villain poses a lot of questions, setting up the mystery of this title’s final arc of three and providing a chilling coda to the issue, the simple fact is that another Spider-powered character just doesn’t have the impact that it might have done a few years ago. Whether this character is connected with recent JMS invention Ezekiel, Fiona Avery’s young Spider-Girl, any one of the Spider-Women or (shudder) Spidey’s clones remains to be seen – but I’m hoping it’s an original Millar creation. Either way, it seems to put paid to theories that Harry Osborn might be making a return, or that Norman is the mastermind of the entire scheme. I just hope that Millar can finally follow up on the promise of his epic vision and deliver an emotional punch to match the empty theatrics of the series so far. Ultimately, all that’s been accomplished so far is to drop a few hints, run through the usual suspects of villainy and set up the final four issues. But at least there’s the potential for some good to come out of a series which is still too uneven to judge as a whole. Millar has it all to do now.
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