Friday, October 17, 2014

SPIDER-MAN: THE VENOM AGENDA #1 - January 1998


Bad Day at the Bugle
Credits:  Larry Hama (writer), Tom Lyle (penciler), Robert Jones (inks), Steve Oliff (colors), Janice Chiang (letters)

The Plot:  Venom receives orders from the federal Overreach Committee to silence Jonah Jameson after his public criticism of Operation: Zero Tolerance.  Venom ambushes Jameson at the Daily Bugle, just as Peter Parker arrives for a photo assignment.  While Jameson’s distracted, Peter changes into Spider-Man and faces Venom.  Spider-Man saves Jameson after he’s thrown out of a window and takes him to a nearby construction site.  MJ comes across the disturbance and follows Spider-Man to the site, along with federal agent Darryl Smith, who now realizes that Venom misinterpreted his orders.  Venom buries Spider-Man under a pile of debris and turns his attention back to Jameson.  When MJ enters, Venom decides he’ll kill Spider-Man’s wife as well.  Spider-Man finds the inner strength to free himself and, with the help of a nearby supply of dynamite, defeats Venom.  Later, Venom tells Smith that he knew something important about Spider-Man, but has now forgotten it.

The Subplots:  Peter has a cold throughout the story.  For unknown reasons, Jameson has called him to his office at the end of the Bugle’s workday.

Web of Continuity:  This story takes place during Venom’s stint as a secret agent, which was the character’s status quo during the final days of his regular series of miniseries.

I Love the ‘90s:  Peter remarks that he feels like Evander Holyfield’s right ear.  On the same page, he wishes that he could be a movie superhero and face villains like Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer.  

"Huh?" Moment:  Seriously, why does Jonah want to meet Peter late in the day as the Bugle closes?  There’s no obvious story reason (except to give Peter an empty office to change into costume in), yet the dialogue mentions several times how odd this is.

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page one-shot, in the standard format with ads.  The cover price is $2.99.

Review:  We’ve now reached the end of the Venom era, as his ongoing non-series is cancelled and Marvel moves towards making him 100% villain again.  Venom never quite worked as an anti-hero protagonist, true, but the idea of Venom having his own moral code is one of the unique elements that I liked about him in his early appearances.  This was likely developed as a rationalization for why he didn’t just kill every member of the supporting cast after he learned Spider-Man’s secret ID, but I think David Michelinie did understand how to play Venom as a hero in his own mind, protecting the innocent from a “fraud” like Spider-Man.  Venom is so thoroughly nasty this issue he doesn’t quite feel like anti-hero Venom or Classic Venom, but perhaps this is a natural outgrowth of the stories Hama was already telling in the numerous Venom miniseries.

This one-shot seems unusually low-key considering it’s the long-awaited rematch between Spider-Man (not the Scarlet Spider) and Venom.  I don’t recall any promotion for it, and none of the titles at the time referenced this one-shot even though it was edited by line editor Ralph Macchio, whereas Venom was one of Tom Brevoort’s books at the time.  Spider-Man vs. Venom fights used to be an actual event, but I wonder now if Marvel’s relentless overexposure of Venom killed much of the interest in seeing another rematch.  Plus, it’s late 1997 at this point, so no one’s really nostalgic yet for those early Spider-Man/Venom fights, either.  It’s several years before Marvel gets around to even reprinting the full McFarlane Amazing Spider-Man run.

The opening pages don’t seem to rise to the level of the early Spider-Man/Venom confrontations, since Hama appears to be under the impression that Spider-Man and Venom are evenly matched, which is not how the early stories played out.  Ideally, Spider-Man should be terrified of facing Venom.  The second half of the story gives Venom a better showing, thankfully, and Hama is fairly successful in raising the stakes and making this seem like a hard-fought victory for Spider-Man by the end.  As a straightforward action comic, it’s pretty entertaining and some of the jokes are funny, although Venom’s convenient amnesia is a bit ridiculous.  I can understand why Marvel felt uncomfortable with Venom knowing Spider-Man’s secret identity, but surely there’s a better way to deal with the issue.  Also, did this quickie amnesia solution even last?  I seem to recall Venom targeting Peter Parker once again during his next appearances.

Finally, I have to address the story’s homage to the original “Final Chapter” in Amazing Spider-Man.  Spider-Man remarks that he has an “overwhelming sense of déjà-vu!” after he’s buried under a pile of debris, a cute reference to the classic scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33.  This scene has been homaged and parodied so many times over the years, there’s even an internal Marvel memo asking people to stop referencing it.  So, I have to ask…who was the first creator to recreate this scene?  I wasn’t even aware of this classic bit until Spider-Man Saga ran a few panels from it in 1992, and I didn’t see any tributes to it until the late ‘90s.  As far as I can tell, Hama might actually be the first writer to do the homage.  In 1998, after this era of Spider-Man closed out with a crossover entitled “The Final Chapter”, it seemed like every few months someone was riffing on this moment, even outside of the Spider-Man books.  I can understand why people like the scene, but the way creators just grew obsessed with this bit from a decades-old comic, seemingly out of nowhere, has always perplexed me.

3 comments:

Peter said...

Tom DeFalco definitely already referenced it during the Clone Saga, Spectacular Spider-Man #229, conclusion of The Greatest Responsibility. ("The end of an era" and I guess the beginning of one that lasted 11 issues. Funny that SpOck got a lot more issues but it also lasted basically a year :)

Matt said...

Boy, you're sure right about the lack of promotion for this thing. I had no idea it existed until reading this post today.

I liked Venom's early appearances, and I enjoyed his first mini-series, LETHAL PROTECTOR, since it was written by David Michelinie. But I lost interest in Venom's solo stuff about halfway through the third mini, and never read another until the one where he fought Ben Reilly as Spider-Man -- then I dropped them again, and I think the next time I read a comic with Venom was during the Byrne/Mackie relaunch. I had no idea he worked for the government near the end of this run!

snowkatt said...

no idea who was the first to make a reference to it ( though it was mentioned in asm 54 )

butone of the reasons its parodied and homaged so often is because its an immediate overview of who spiderman is hiw powers hsi abilities his decency as a human being his perserverence hsi never say die attitude and his relationship for his aunt

he would go through hell and back for her and all that in just a few pages

that is what it is there for because each issue is somebodies first