Written by Diane Duane
The Plot: Spider-Man attracts the monster with a radioactive isotope he snatched from the ESU lab, but is unable to capture him. After talking to MJ, Spider-Man investigates the area near Penn Station, where several homeless have suffered radiation sickness. Later, Venom finds the monster in the city's subway tunnels but is also unable to defeat him. Spider-Man manages to locate Hobgoblin's underground lab, but once again, Venom's interference allows Hobgoblin to escape. Spider-Man decides to find the monster again and use its innate attraction to radiation to locate Hobgoblin's bomb. When he does find Hobgoblin, he discovers Venom's already tracked him and begun the battle. Spider-Man knocks out Hobgoblin, as the ravenous monster eats the plutonium out of the bomb. It explodes, leaving behind tiny black aliens. Venom escapes in the confusion, and Spider-Man returns to the surface to hand off Hobgoblin and the aliens to SHIELD.
The Subplots: MJ is offered the role of a social worker at her second audition. When the Hobgoblin appears on television bragging about his bomb, the show's producers ask her to fly out of New York with them immediately. Concerned for Peter, she refuses, which costs her the job.
I Love the ‘90s: MJ watches an annoying purple dinosaur in the producers' waiting room television. For some reason, he's never referred to by name. Venom also runs into a group of teenage punks harassing homeless people in the subway tunnels. Two of them are heavily implied to be Beavis and Butt-Head.
Review: After barely appearing for much of the book, Venom makes his presence felt in the novel's final chapters. Duane has a decent handle on Venom, especially when the narrative switches to his first person point of view and tries to justify his relationship with the symbiote. I don't think he needs this much attention, though, especially when he shows up yet again to disrupt a Spider-Man/Hobgoblin fight and unintentionally allow the villain to escape. That's a minor complaint, though. If I have any real issues with this story, it's with the not-Venom monster who somehow manages to go the entire novel without anything approaching an origin or any kind of justification for its uncanny resemblance to Venom. The story continues to go out of its way to point out how improbable the existence of this bipedal, super-strong black creature with tentacles is, but offers no explanation outside of "Alien! Maybe!" by the novel's end.
What Duane does get right are the characters, though, and that goes a long way in a Spider-Man story. Peter and MJ feel like a real married couple, as Duane is able to balance their everyday money and domestic problems with their honest affection for one another. The numerous homeless characters, police officers, ESU students, Daily Bugle employees, etc. are also fleshed out, even if they only appear for a page or two. Duane can occasionally go off on tangents, but almost always the diversions serve to make a character more human or to create a convincing environment for the story to take place in. This is a plausible, three-dimensional world for Spider-Man to inhabit, which is why the casual dismissal of the story's monster feels so awkward. Still, it’s not enough to turn me off from the book. The Venom Factor is very enjoyable, and absolutely worth tracking down.