Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Marvel Adventures: Spiderman vol. 6 – The Black Costume
by Fred Van Lente and Cory Hamscher
Collects Marvel Adventures Spider-man 21 – 24.
Why I Bought This: You can get most of the Marvel Adventures Digests for $4 off Amazon (including shipping) so I’m occasionally willing to sample them. This one has Venom in it and as I’m firmly in the Venom is the coolest villain ever created in comics’ history camp, so for that price it got my money. My thoughts on the new movie follow the comic review.
The Plot – Clearly released around the time of Spider-Man 3 it can be summed up as Spidey gets the black costume, uses it to battle the Sandman and the Goblins, learns the costume is evil and it transforms into Venom after he rejects it.
The chapter breakdowns are not much more involved but here we go:
Chapter 1 – Spidey is a teenager in this universe and he battles teenage versions of Rocket Racer, Stilt Man and Frog Man: who are portrayed as joke-level threats. The villains got their gear from the Tinker, and when Spidey tracks them to the Tinker’s lair he finds the black suit in liquid form (which apparently in this reality is not an alien but just something the Tinker invented). The suit bonds with Spidey and he defeats the four villains but the Tinker smirks knowingly in defeat.
Chapter 2 – Pete is assigned to take photos alongside Jonah on a stakeout of the Green Goblin. Hobgoblin has been raiding Norman’s hideouts and the two Goblins go to war. It takes Pete awhile to figure out how to get away from Jonah, but once he does Spidey intervenes and after Green beat Hob, Spidey takes Norman down and both Goblins are arrested.
Chapter 3 – Pete and Aunt May are doing back to school shopping at Wal-Mart when Sandman attacks for some reason. Pete changes to Spidey. They fight. Spidey wins.
Chapter 4 – Spidey is feeling tired since donning the black suit. He goes to the FF and Reed uncovers its true nature and separates them. The Suit escapes thanks to Torch’s bungling and it bonds with some crook Spidey stopped on page 1 of this (apparently Eddie Brock but without any of the more detailed motivations and psychosis of the core reality) and he instantly becomes Venom. He stalks Spidey outside his Aunt’s at night and then attacks him the next morning at Midtown High but Spidey tricks them into separating by feigning wanting the suit back in the science lab and then uses the power of random chemical vials to defeat the suit before taking out Brock in one punch. When Brock is arrested he’s lost his memory of Spidey’s identity without the suit.
Critical Thoughts: This is the bad kind of all ages story-telling. I don’t think these stories would have entertained when I was 8 let alone as an adult. Everything is so simplified and none of the fights are dramatic.
It’s hard to do Venom’s origin in a single issue/chapter. If the suit bonds with a new host and instantly becomes Venom it begs the question of why it didn’t bond like that with the Spidey. The answer of course is in the comics the suit had three or four years real time bonded to Brock after it left Spidey before he appeared as Venom so it had time to complete the bonding process. Whereas whenever they adapt this story to a new comic/cartoon/movie they time compress so it makes no sense. It’s understandable because getting to Venom is the main event, but it makes most adaptations far inferior to the original origin.
I also have to say I’m sick to death of current Marvel’s obsession with teen Spidey. No one cares about teen Spidey. Yes, Stan Lee created Spidey as a teen. Then he aged him in real time. So in less than three years and 20-something issues Spidey was out of high school. That’s 3 years out of 50, and 20 issues out of at least 2000 (counting all the spin-offs like Web, Spectacular, Marvel Team Up, etc) so basically 1-percent of the characters history is predicated on him being a teen and if not for reprint trades the Essential no one in their audience would have even read a book with a teen Spidey in it. And yet for some reason the past 10 years whenever Marvel wants to do a new Spidey project they make him a teenager (the last two cartoons, the new movie, this book,) Hell Spidey graduated college 30 years ago at this point; and yet he’s still popular. I don’t know why this regime thinks Spidey has to be young to be popular. If that was true Power Pack would be the best selling comic in the world. Kids like Spidey fine no matter how old he is: just like they enjoy adult Superman, Batman, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, etc. In fact I would argue teen Spidey is markedly inferior to adult Spidey from a story-telling perspective because internally to Spidey you lose most of the Daily Bugle staff (and certainly you lose Pete having any kind of meaning personal relationships with them), who are among the best supporting cast in all of comics; and externally, if dealing with a larger shared universe he’s no longer a true peer to Marvel’s other A-list heroes.
About the only thing I liked about this was the stakeout with Pete and Jonah preventing Pete from changing to Spidey. I thought that was handled well. I mean I suppose the art looks fine, but otherwise there’s just not much substance here.
Bonus Amazing Spider-man film review: So I saw the movie about a week or two after it was released, which shows how little enthusiasm I had for it to begin with. From the day it was announced this film felt like it had no reason to exist because they were remaking a movie that is less than 10-years-old and was done perfectly this first time. Plus as I mentioned above in this review I’m sick to death of teen Spidey. I also find Gwen to be the least interesting of Spidey’s love interests. And those initial previews last summer were awful, with Peter coming off as some cross between Twilight and a Columbine kid. It looked like the preview for the type of independent film I wouldn’t watch unless you paid me.
So why did it I even bother to see it with all the negative baggage? Well for one I love the Lizard. And two it is a Marvel super hero movie—so sooner or later I see them all, and it did get surprisingly strong reviews once it came out.
My thoughts: I liked it much more than I’d have thought going in, even if it is inferior to the Sam Rami films in every meaningful way. Taken on its own merits as a summer action film, the fight scenes and special effects are very good. And on that level I’d give it a B+. Stan Lee also has an awesome cameo in this, and I though the actress playing Gwen was surprisingly likeable in every scene she’s in. I also thought Dennis Leary was very good as Captain Stacy and his final scenes were surprisingly dramatic.
However as a comparison to the other films (well at least the first two) this still has no reason to exist. Andrew Garfield’s Peter cannot compare to Toby McGuire’s at all. The death of Uncle Ben is such a pale imitation in this film to the way Rami portrayed it. And while Gwen is cute in this, it does not have the epic romantic sweep of Pete and MJ in the first two films (and this from someone who isn’t a huge MJ fan in the comics). Basically everything this film does in the origin is not as good as what Rami did in the original. It’s a case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If you make changes, it comes across as odd because we all know Spider-man’s origin and the Rami film was so faithful to the comics; but if you don’t make changes you invite direct comparisons to something that was perfect the first time that you can’t ever compete with. I understand the lack of Harry given the need to differentiate from the first film but the lack of Jonah is unforgivable even if no other actor can touch JK Simmons performance. This again in a nutshell is why teen Spidey is always inferior to adult Spidey in a modern setting—you lose the Daily Bugle cast and Spidey isn’t fully Spidey without them. The only real improvement (and not to speak ill of the dead) is Martin Sheen is a better Uncle Ben in this film than the actor in the original.
Additionally everything with Peter’s parents is just as stupid and unnecessary as it looked in the previews. There’s a super hero out there obsessed with his dead parents but he had his own movie this summer. Pete’s parents are such a small part of Spidey continuity that every scene about them is something I don’t care about and nothing in the performances in this film changed my mind.
I also wasn’t thrilled with Curt Connors in this film. The Lizard as an effect: fabulous. Ditto his fight scenes with Spidey. But Connors—meh. Where is his family? Why is it implied that he is complicit in the death’s Pete’s family. That’s not Curt Connors. The tragedy of the Lizard and what makes him a compelling villain is that Connors is a fundamentally decent family man who made one mistake and has to pay for it (and worse his family has to pay for it) over and over again when he turns into this evil thing. Even more so Spidey knows that Curt is a decent family man (and in the Silver Age one of Spider-man’s only friends and allies) who is not responsible for his actions as the Lizard, which in turn makes it harder for him to fight the Lizard. So I felt like more should have been done there, and that Curt needed to be a lot less creepy in human form in order for the Lizard to be more effective.
So my overall take is that as a Spider-man film this is probably a C- given that we’ve see how the high the bar for a Spider-man film can be set. As a summer popcorn film I’m a lot more forgiving and would put in the B range.