Written by Diane Duane
The Plot: Venom investigates CCRC, the company involved with the Hobgoblin’s recent scheme in New York, and learns it’s providing material to Kennedy Space Center. He travels to Florida and stops an illegal exchange of radioactive material. He then interrogates a vice president of the German-owned bank, Regners Wilhelm. Meanwhile, Peter visits the Connors, and learns from William that Curt has been using the family’s ATM card in various locations near the Everglades. Soon, Spider-Man locates the Lizard, but their encounter is interrupted by Venom. When the police arrive, Venom and the Lizard escape. Later, Peter and Vreni Byrne separately investigate the connection between CCRC and Regners Wilhelm. At the home of Jurgen Gottschalk, an ex- Regners Wilhelm employee who’s on house arrest for money laundering, Venom appears. He forces Jurgen to reveal the bank has been laundering money for an outfit that is taking radioactive waste from Europe, converting it into plutonium, and then sending it back overseas.
The Subplots: MJ has a modeling job for a "high tech" campaign that could send her to Kennedy Space Center. She’s annoyed by Maurice, the flaky photographer. Meanwhile, Peter learns from an ESU classmate that the mysterious smoke is an experimental substance called “hydrogel.” He discovers that it can’t be harmed by a sledgehammer or blue flame. Elsewhere, a man named Fischer monitors Curt Connors’ activities.
I Love the ‘90s: MJ buys Peter a cell phone to stay in touch while they’re in different parts of Florida. She says it’s a "new netwide" cell phone that would also work in New York. Peter worries about the cost. The phone’s number is written on a sticker attached to its top. Peter writes the number down in his address book.
Review: Hmm…do you think this novel has enough plot threads? The evil corporation from the first novel is back, a German-owned bank is laundering money, there’s a scheme involving radioactive waste, something fishy is going on at NASA, a mysterious group of men are somehow controlling the Lizard by remote control, Spider-Man’s discovered some kind of corporal smoke that’s invulnerable, MJ is on a photo shoot that seems inevitably to be heading towards Kennedy Space Center, plus Venom has also decided to get involved. I don’t doubt Duane’s ability to draw all of these threads together, but the abundance of plot threads causes the novel to morph into scene after scene of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Vreni, and Venom all investigating this complicated conspiracy involving money laundering and illegal smuggling. It’s honestly not the most interesting subject in the world, and the stakes just don’t feel as high as they felt in the previous novel.
The basic mysteries involving what the smoke substance is and why the seemingly mindless Lizard would steal it are fine, but these are the most interesting questions and they receive the least amount of attention. The Venom Factor had a certain tension that ran throughout the book, culminating in the Hobgoblin’s threat to unleash a dirty bomb in Manhattan. This novel spends over a hundred pages having characters slowly discover corporate espionage and a possible cover-up at NASA. I realize that rogue nukes (or at least the potential to create nuclear material) play a part in this story as well, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the story that’s either crazy or competent enough to actually be a threat with them.
So, while the main story drags, the novel relies on Duane’s characterization skills to maintain the reader’s interest. Peter and MJ are still written as a fun couple, and there’s a cute bit about Peter forgetting to turn off his cell phone, because MJ won’t stop calling him, while hiding from the police in the Everglades. Martha Connors is fleshed out for perhaps the first time, as Duane does a great job dramatizing just how lonely her life is. Venom even has his moments, doing a better job investigating the conspiracy than either Peter or Vreni. Partially because he’s willing to terrorize people into giving him the information he wants, but also because he’s not that bad of a reporter. I also like that his motivation to go to Florida is partially to investigate CCRC, partially to stop the Lizard (and “correct” one of Spider-Man’s mistakes), and partially to look for another excuse to fight Spider-Man. I do have to question, however, Venom’s unusual passion for companies obeying environmental regulations to the letter of the law, which is how one of his interrogation scenes plays out. Suddenly casting him as an ardent environmentalist just seems like a strange choice.