Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #332

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This story is part of an Arc: "Venom's Back"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Absolutely Amazing

This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

Eddie Brock was a journalist until Spider-Man exposed his biggest story to be a lie, resulting in a wrongful arrest in a murder case. Disgraced, Brock was fired and became fixated on the Wall-Crawler. When Spider-Man discovered his new costume was actually an alien parasite, his attempts to be free of it resulted in its' bonding to Brock and the creation of Venom; a being of pure rage and hate that will not rest until the death of Spider-Man at His hands.

In Detail...

"Sunday In The Park With Venom!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #332
May 1990 : SMURF 332.500 : SM Title
Arc: Part 1 of "Venom's Back"
Editor:  Jim Salicrup
Writer:  David Michelinie
Pencils:  Erik Larsen
Inker:  Mike Machlan
Cover Art:  Erik Larsen
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 Reprinted In: Complete Spider-Man (UK) #3
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man: Venom Returns (TPB)
Articles: Aunt May Parker, Caesar, Jonathan, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Nathan Lubensky, Styx, Venom

Emerging from the shadows of the Manhattan sewers, Venom (having escaped from a government prison in the previous issue) plans his next move against Spider- man. The symbiote augments the strength of it's' host, and using some self- installed gym equipment, Brock starts working out in preparation for the upcoming battle.

Above, Spider-man is taking part it a publicity photo shoot, when suddenly he is attacked by Styx, whose touch causes instant death. Spider-Man webs up his hands, but Styx's partner, Stone, rescues him on a hover-craft before Spidey can put the villain down for the count. Unable to shake Spider- Man off their trail, Styx leaps onto a rooftop garden and manages to free one of his hands. The two brawl, with Styx killing most of the plants (much to the dismay of the gardener), before Spider-Man manages to knock him from the roof with a flower-pot. Stone swoops in and saves the falling Styx, leaving Spider- Man to deal with the wrath of the furious gardener.

Spidey swings home to an empty apartment and finds a note from MJ asking him to meet her for dinner. The pair eat old hotdogs and drink flat soda whilst talking about the ambush at the publicity shoot. It appears that Jonathan Caesar (a ruthless multimillionaire obsessed with Mary Jane) has again enlisted the help of Styx and Stone to seek revenge on Spider-Man for rescuing MJ from his clutches Amazing Spider-Man #109.

Aunt May is watching Secret Hospital with a sleeping Nathan, whom she fears his heart condition is worsening. The programme is interrupted to announce the recent escape for Eddie Brock. May recognises his face as one of Peters' friends and goes to ring him, worrying that Peter may not realise that Brock is a mass murderer. However, as she reaches for the phone there's a knock at the door - it's Eddie.

In Bedford Towers, moments earlier, Jonny Caesar is also watching Secret Hospital when an enraged Mary Jane storms in. she reminds him that she ran away from him: Spider-Man just happened to be there at the right time, and so there was no need to send flunkies after him. Caesar agrees that though that may be, the Web-Spinner still interfered and so an example must be made of him. MJ begins to argue back when she notices the script Caesar is holding is for next week's Secret Hospital. She asks how he got hold of such securely guarded item, he replies that if he wants something badly enough than he has the power to seize it. Panicked MJ demands that she and Spider-Man be left alone and departs. Styx and Stone enter the room and Caesar threatens to gouge out the pairs eyes if the hurt her, following a callous comment from Styx. Stone states that it will be harder to find Spider-Man next time as there earlier attempt was at a well publicised event, so Caesar tells him to listen in on police reports instead. Styx kills Caesar's bird, seeming to take great pleasure in the act, and is told that its going to come out of his salary.

At exactly the same moment, Peter is also watching Secret Hospital and dwelling on how he's dating its' main star, when the programme is interrupted by the news of Venoms escape. The phone rings - its May informing him that she sent Brock to look for him in the park and is about to call the police. Peter says he'll ring them, fearing that if Brock arrives to find armed policemen waiting for him then he may take his anger out on Aunt May. Peter decides the best option is to give Venom what he wants...

Arriving at the park, Spider-man is instantly attacked by Brock disguised as a policeman on horse-back. Discarding the disguise, Venom webs Spidey's foot and throws him to the ground whilst talking to him like a disobedient dog. The officer who Venom hijacked the horse from calls in for back-up and Spidey attempts to lead Venom away from the crowds. Pausing on a rock, Spider-Man's spider-sense doesn't trigger as Venom sneaks up from behind and smothers his face using the symbiote. Blindly webbing his surroundings, he manages to throw a tree into Venom and escape. Enraged, Venom hurls a cop car, which Spider-Man easily dodges. The car strikes a carriage travelling across a bridge, pinning the passengers. Spidey attempts to help but is webbed to a tree. Just as Venom is about to eat his head, Spider-Man notices the baby of the Hansom Carriage passengers has fallen into the river. Venom retrieves the child, stating to the hesitantly grateful parents that innocence must be protected and that he himself was once innocent...

Spying approaching police cars and not wanting his victory over Spider-Man to be tarnished by the interference of others, Venom makes his escape. Spidey goes to follow but his spider-sense warns him that the gas tank of the car Venom threw is about to explode, and so he saves the trapped family instead.

Sometime later in the sewers, Stone reports to Mr Caesar that as Spider-Man can always tell when he is being followed, they have opted to follow his enemy instead and wait for him to lead them to their quarry. Stone promises that once they find Venom, if he doesn't kill Spider-Man they will.

In General...

Like most of the first parts of early Venom stories, Venoms actual presence is scarce in this issue - the writing style tailored instead to setting up the oncoming fight and re-establishing back stories. This is Venoms third appearance and is a good reminder as to why he is such a well loved character. Before all the "I'll eat your brains," and symbiote saga stuff, Venom was an obsessive, rage-fuelled maniac who would stop at nothing to achieve his ends. His twisted sense of morals and excessive use of violence made him as iconic as many of Spidey's classic foes, and yet now we see a new side to the character - protector of the innocent, which plays out great on such a morally twisted monster and gives him greater depth, as well as displaying his true insanity.

The story itself isn't bad, and I'll assume that those familiar with the Jonny Caesar arch (as I am not) will get more out of it. From this issue I am curious to read more about this character, whose ruthless pursuit of MJ comes off as a serious threat - more so than that of the other protagonist's declaration to kill Spidey as we know that can't happen.

Styx and Stone are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, Styx seems a really interesting character: skeletal thin and dressed as an undertaker, with an interestingly eerie power to kill people in one touch (the scene in which he kills Caesar's bird for fun is quite creepy). I also like that despite being muscular; Stone is the brains of the pair. However, they just don't seem a real threat (probably the reason why they haven't been seen in over a decade).

Erik Larson does an excellent job illustrating, particularly the detail he puts into Venom and Styx.

Overall Rating...

I expect more from the following issue, but some good ideas and well rendered characters make this a 3 webber - with an extra 1 for the amazing artwork. (If I can read some of the earlier Caesar issues I may even up it to 5 if the story still works after that)