Friday, November 16, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Six - December 1994

An Evening in the Bronx with Venom
Written by John Gregory Betancourt and Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Plot: Spider-Man encounters Josias, a homeless man from San Francisco who claims that Venom has turned against the underground community that took him in. Although dubious of his story, Spider-Man agrees to help the police protect Josias from Venom. When Venom does appear, the police and Spider-Man attack him while Josias escapes. Spider-Man follows Venom after Josias, and eventually learns from Venom that Josias is the murderer; Venom wants to bring him back to San Francisco to face their community’s Council. Soon after Spider-Man agrees to help Venom, Josias thoughtlessly runs into traffic and is killed by an oncoming car.

Web of Continuity: The underground community that lives beneath San Francisco was introduced in the first Venom miniseries. A few of the police officers in this story will go on to appear in the novel Spider-Man: Venom’s Wrath.

Review: Playing off Venom’s past as a homicidal maniac, this story teases the idea that perhaps Venom hasn’t reformed after all, even while Spider-Man remains skeptical of the homeless man’s claims. Considering that Marvel was serious about keeping Venom as a Punisher-style anti-hero during these days, it’s not a surprise that he isn’t the true villain in this piece, but the story does get a decent amount of material just by toying with the idea. The story’s helped a lot by the writers’ ability to flesh out some of the police characters, such as Frank Esteban, a captain who doesn’t carry the NYPD’s standard bias against Spider-Man, and Vance Hawkins, a sergeant who apparently has a genius IQ and enough integrity to avoid card games with his fellow officers because he knows he can’t resist card counting. I’m not so sure about the bleak ending, or the wild coincidence that allows Spider-Man to run into Josias just as he enters New York, but this is an enjoyable read and one of the better Venom stories from the anti-hero days.

Five Minutes
Written by Peter David

The Plot: On Peter and MJ’s anniversary, she asks him to stay in bed for five more minutes as sirens pass their apartment. He reluctantly complies, but when Spider-Man finally reaches the crime scene, he’s told by an officer that he could’ve rescued a suicide if he’d arrived five minutes earlier. After an argument, Peter avoids MJ at the Daily Bugle. He grudgingly takes her call there and is informed that their neighbor is threatening to kill his wife. Spider-Man stops him and returns home. MJ makes him realize how hard it was to make the call, knowing that any time he goes into action he could die. They forgive one another and spend the rest of their anniversary together.

I Love the ‘90s: I imagine if this story were published today, Peter wouldn’t be relying on the Daily Bugle’s phone to get a message from his wife. Also, the Parkers’ homicidal neighbor is named Ron Swanson (!), which probably isn’t a name Peter David would choose for a non-joke character today.

Review: “Cop wife” MJ stories usually bore me to death, but this is probably the best take on the concept I’ve read. It’s unrealistic to think that MJ is just fine with Peter risking his life as Spider-Man, but making her weepy and emotional about it makes for stale drama. Giving MJ her own life, and the ability to shut out the anxieties and keep up her gregarious persona worked much better in the comics than turning her into a nag ever did. If you are going to focus on MJ’s anxieties, this is the way to go. David is able to give MJ a defensible point of view, while also allowing her to acknowledge the guilt she feels for potentially preventing Peter from saving a life. David’s also introduced another angle I’ve never thought of before -- how would MJ feel if she called Peter in to help a situation and he ended up getting killed?

Contrasting Peter and MJ’s happiness at the opening of the story with the constant fighting of their neighbors adds a layer of dramatic irony to the story, as Peter promises MJ they’ll never reach that point. A few minutes later, they’re having one of the worst fights of their marriage. None of this feels forced, and the story ends by reaffirming their love for one another, so it’s not motivated by any antipathy towards the marriage itself. It’s a character study that exists because it’s a story worth telling, as opposed to all of the marriage stories that existed simply to dismiss the concept.


Matt said...

The big question is, if the character actually has an appearace in the story as opposed to just being mentioned, were you imagining that "Ron Swanson" looked and sounded like Nick Offerman?

G. Kendall said...

Nah, they don't match up physically. But it would be funny to hear someone read his dialogue in Offerman's voice.

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