Chapters 5 & 6
Written by Diane Duane
The Plot: Sgt. Drew arranges for Spider-Man’s “friend” Peter Parker to meet with Doris Smyth, a hi-tech security consultant. Peter gives Doris one of the cells he confiscated from the mob earlier to investigate. Elsewhere, Venom’s research into CCRC leads him to the shell company, Rothschilds Bank & Securities. Venom invades the offices and tortures one employee until he reveals the bank’s connection to the Russian mob. A mystery man named Niner escapes during Venom's attack. Venom takes five cell phones from the office and discovers one of their numbers belongs to MJ. Shortly after Spider-Man swings away from Doris’ apartment, he’s ambushed by Venom. Their fight ends when both are attacked by Russian mobsters. Venom spots Niner and leaves. Later, Niner meets with Dr. Octopus to discuss their money laundering scheme.
The Subplots: MJ arrives at Sundog Productions and meets producer Jymn Magon. She auditions for voiceover work and is offered an interim role on a new superhero cartoon. MJ later returns home to discover Peter recovering from his fight with Venom.
I Love the ‘90s: The phones Spider-Man took from the mob apparently don’t have caller ID, since he doesn’t know how to trace Galya Irnotsji’s number.
Review: I was wondering how Diane Duane was going to bring MJ into the main plot this time. In the first novel, MJ gives up an acting job in order to be near Peter during the Hobgoblin’s nuclear scheme, and in the previous novel, MJ’s ongoing storyline was apparently going to tie in with the villainous plot at Cape Canaveral, although this turned out to be a red herring. This time, MJ’s the victim of (what I’m assuming used to be) a common crime. It’s a crime that also has ties to the Russian mob, the omnipresent CCRC, and Dr. Octopus. On top of that, Venom calls one of the mobster’s phones and gets MJ’s voicemail, so he’s jumped to the irrational conclusion that Spidey and his wife are mobbed up now.
I’m undecided on where on the Scale of Coincidence Acceptability this falls. It’s not as egregious as the Shocker robbing a bank just as Aunt May enters, I will say. MJ isn’t the only victim of phone cloning, she’s one of thousands of people who have had their numbers hijacked, so that does help to prevent this from becoming a truly massive coincidence. Still, having MJ’s number be one of the five Venom discovers is a little too convenient. At any rate, Duane continues to write MJ incredibly well. MJ’s acting career is destined to stay on the B-list at best, so exploring the possibility of voice acting makes sense. It’s a way for her to keep acting as a career while also not gaining any real level of fame, which is where the writers always wanted to keep her. Having MJ work on a cheesy, ultra-PC superhero cartoon also adds some humor to the novel, and if you’ve ever watched the I Know that Voice documentary, then it should be obvious Duane’s done some research into how voice acting works.
The main plot finally brings us the novel’s first Spider-Man/Venom confrontation. Duane handles the action well (there’s also a nice suspenseful scene featuring Spider-Man’s escape from a gunman that has him pinned behind a row of cars), and I’ll give her credit for remembering that Venom far outclasses Spider-Man. There is a sense of Spider-Man being in actual danger, and he isn’t able to escape the fight without a bruised, possibly broken, rib. And if you’re sick of Spider-Man/Venom fights, at least Spider-Man voices that frustration.