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Venom Returns is a graphic novel collecting this story-arc from David Michelinie that once more focuses around the Alien Symbiote known as Venom and his obsession with our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger....
For those not up to speed with the official Spiderman canon, Venom begun life waaay back in the Secret Wars storyline that saw a group of Earths Heroes and Villains being transported to an artificially created planetoid by a being known as The Beyonder essentially just to slug it out. At the end of the story-line, Spidermans costume was in tatters but was informed by his fellow allies that there was a machine just around the corner of their base that could reconstitute clothing. But Spidey being Spidey, he soon got lost and instead ended up with this nifty black costume that responed to his thoughts and could be retracted at will.
Back on Earth, the costume began to alter Spidermans behaviour and personality and, discovering it was actually an Alien Symbiote, he soon enlisted the help of The Fantastic Four to remove it. But, having thought it was gone for good, Spiderman soon discovered that instead it had just changed Hosts and now resided on the body of Eddie Brock, a reporter that Peter Parker had formerly embarassed and who now held a grudge! Fused with Brocks body and affected by his rage and instability, the costume became Venom, a kind of Anti-Spiderman, and began a systematic reign of revenge.....
In this paticular story, two assassins known as Styx and Stone have been given the task of eliminating Spiderman and intend to use Venom to track down their target. But things all go a bit pear-shaped as they often seem to do and what we get instead is another massive slug-fest between the two opposing forces that are Spiderman and Venom, only complicated further by the presence of the two assassins who want their own pound of flesh!
This is an okay graphic novel with some great set-pieces but it does at times feel like we have seen it all before and is obviously aimed at long-term Spiderman fans as there are lots of references to previous Venom/ Spiderman stories and a bit of previous knowledge is a definite advantage. The art-work is simply sublime and it is only a shame that the plot isn't a bit stronger to better compliment this. Still, if you love seeing Venom and Spiderman verbally and physically sparring all across New York and at times seemingly having a competition as to who can get out the best one-liner, then this will probably be right up your alley!
Coming as it did long before the whole Venom character became a bit over-exposed, eventually having his own collection of spin-off mini-series and later developing his own offspring in the guise of Carnage resulting in a bit of a Symbiote overload, this novel is a lot of mindless fun that, despite adding little to the greater Spiderman story, is still highly enjoyable. Coming at a time when still seeing Venom turn up was still exciting for Spiderman fans, this is a book that is good value for money but only if you are a really, really big fan and not just an occasional reader who may not get as much out of this.
Personally I still love this paticular story, it is just a shame that they couldn't have expanded it to include some more original angles making it a bit less like every other Spiderman/Venom showdown already out there!
Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can. Apart from break down his food in floods of digestive enzymes without chewing it I hope. That would put you off your Pot Noodle. The greatest of all Marvel characters, Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and first appeared in 1962. He might have radioactive blood and the proportionate abilities of an arachnid but Spider-Man is a strangely human hero who has as many problems out of costume as he does swinging through New York tangling with super villains. Spider-Man is the Marvel character you can identify with the most, the one you could be. Captain America is more or less Captain America all the time. Wolverine IS Wolverine all the time. But Peter Parker is an ordinary person with ordinary problems and emotions. He was just bitten by a radioactive spider. "Spider-Man: Venom Returns" collects together a David Michelinie story arc that first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #332, #333, #344, #347 and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #25. There is very big trouble indeed for our wall crawling hero here when Venom - his deadliest and most persistent foe - breaks out of the Vault (special prison for super powered criminals) and heads for the heart of New York to kill Spider-Man. Venom is Eddie Brock, a journalist who had his career destroyed when Peter Parker exposed his biggest story to be a fabrication. Brock swore vengeance on Parker and went bonkers. As if that wasn't enough he also merged with an extraterrestrial lifeform known as the "Venom Symbiote" and turned into a dark grotesque version of Spider-Man. The Symbiote needs a host to live but grants that host incredible powers. So Venom can do everything Spider-Man can but he's bigger, stronger, and completely insane.
The Symbiote is a vicious liquid that clings to the host like a second skin so Venom looks like he has a black costume. He also has large jagged fangs and tends to drool a lot. You wouldn't want him around for tea. Venom was specifically created to be the stuff of Spider-Man's nightmares. Spider-Man is a sunlit hero, colourful, flippant, funny. You can't turn him into Batman (although some have tried) but you can give him a dangerous and intimidating foe that makes us fear for his safety. The most frightening thing about Venom is that he doesn't trigger Spider-Man's "Spider Sense" (the sense that warns him of imminent danger) and he also knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. Venom is in New York to murder Spider-Man but he isn't the only one. The crazed billionaire Jonathan Ceasar is so obsessed with Peter Parker's wife Mary Jane that he tried to kidnap her until Peter intervened as Spider-Man. Ceasar blames the web spinning do gooder for separating him from Mary Jane and has hired contract killers "Styx and Stone" to terminate Spider-Man. Stone is a small, bulky man with a blond crewcut (looks a bit like Daniel Craig!) who has high tech cannons strapped to each shoulder. These weapons can fire just about anything. Laser blasts, blinding strobe effects, sonic blasts. Styx is the scary one though. He looks like a crazed Ian Duncan Smith and destroys anything he touches. He was once part of a medical trial and injected with a cancer compound as part of an experiment to see if the body could develop an immunity through controlled exposure. Anyway, he became like a living cancer and whatever he touches is evaporated and rotted.
He likes doing this a lot and there is a running joke where he keeps destroying flowers in a posh garden as Spider-Man desperately tries to avoid being touched by him. "My babies! How will I grow them again?" demands the owner. "Manure?" suggests Spider-Man. This is darker than your average Spider-Man comic but it still has a lot of humour. There is a nice series of panels where Peter and Mary Jane appear to having a romantic dinner in Paris but we pan back to see they are just in a studio Mary Jane is working in eating Hot Dogs next to a giant matte painting of the Eiffel Tower. The basic premise here is that Venom is trying to get Spider-Man to a remote location where they can settle their differences without outside intervention. Brock has a twisted sense of honour and although he wants to eat Spider-Man's brain he assures Parker that he will not harm his family and simply wants him. "Sir, you offend me. She is so... gentle," replies Brock when Parker warns him to stay away from his Aunt May. Venom and Spider-Man battle it out in a few more public locations before the big showdown though and matters are complicated by Styx and Stone. Styx and Stone start tracking Venom because they know he will lead them to Spider-Man. I like the way they call each other "Mr Styx" and "Mr Stone" although I think they pilfered that from Wint and Kidd in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.
There is quite a good series of panels in Central Park where Venom's Symbiote disguises him as a policeman on horseback before his costume comes alive and begins to unravel itself around him. Spider-Man can't beat Venom in a straight fight so he has to be more creative and vicious than usual. It's enjoyable in a way to see the moments of levity restrained and Spider-Man literally fighting for his life. The art by Erik Larsen is very comic book and effective. I believe he added some embellishments to Venom himself, like a huge loping tongue that emerges from those razor sharp and sharp talon like fingertips. He makes Venom scary - just as he should be. Larsen's backdrops are often excellent too. A scene in a boxing gym where the walls are adorned with posters. I love a panel early in an issue here Venom is in an underground sewer and there are dozens of boxes and abandoned jerry cans all around him in puddles of water. If I had a criticism of Spider-Man: Venom Returns though it is that perhaps the final battle seems rather truncated and anti-climactic and there is a bit too much exposition where we are constantly reminded who Venom is (and told which comic he did this or that, an old trick of trying to encourage you to go and buy those back issues). Maybe the story could have been more of a personal duel between Venom and Spider-Man too at times. I like Styx and Stone and I enjoyed having them in the story but some readers might find them less interesting than I did.
Spider-Man: Venom Returns is a fun comic with fun art by Larsen but it doesn't feel like the most essential Venom story ever and almost as if they are treading water somewhat with the character. There were great Venom stories in the past and there would be greater ones in the future. As this is a story arc that collects a handful of Amazing Spider-Man issues it is also not terribly long. You shouldn't expect an Alan Moore length opus if you buy this. Spider-Man fans should enjoy it quite a bit though if they get hold of a copy although there are better Spider-Man/Venom stories out there. At the time of writing you can buy Spider-Man: Venom Returns used for under a fiver.