Ultimate Spider-Man #38

 Posted: 2004
 Staff: John Edathil (E-Mail)


The past five issues have revolved around the Venom Project, a protoplasmic black liquid and the attempt of Peter's father and his research partner Eddie Brock, Sr. to cure cancer.

Peter found out about it when he rekindled his childhood friendship with Eddie, Jr., who is working on an existing sample. Eddie told Peter that their fathers' employers tried to take the suit away from them when it was discovered that the liquid had military applications.

Determined not to let the suit fall into the hands of the milliary- industrial complex, Peter stole a sample for himself to finish his father's work. But the liquid made contact with his skin and encased him in a black costume. At first, Peter was overjoyed at the increase of his Spider-Powers. It all went awry, however, when the suit nearly drove him to kill a burglar.

A draining battle with the suit for control left Peter drained, yet determined to destroy his father's work. He tried to sneak into the lab again, but was caught by Eddie. Peter tried to explain everything- including his costumed career as Spider-Man-to Eddie, who was feeling angry and betrayed. Eddie reluctantly let Peter take the sample of the black liquid. Peter goes off to destroy it, while Eddie unlocks the other sample of the liquid he kept hidden from Peter. Seeking revenge, he dipped his fingers into his "inheritance."

The next day, Peter found the combination of the suit and Eddie waiting for him outside his school. Peter walked out into the pouring rain to confront this monstrous amalgam of his father's dream and his own walking nightmare.

Story 'Father's Pride'

The issue opens with a videotape of Peter's father, Richard, speaking. It turns out Peter isn't the only one caught up in his father's legacy, after all. Richard's path was set in motion by his own father's death due to cancer.

Richard admits that even before his employers got involved, that he and Brock, Sr. had failed. His narration is juxtaposed with the hulking mass of flesh, teeth and tendrils that was once Eddie Brock standing across from Peter in the pouring rain. The battle begins with Venom's tendrils launching at Peter. Peter defends himself while appealing to the Eddie Brock inside to fight the influence of the suit. The vicious struggle outside is momentarily broken by a panel of Peter's Geometry teacher insisting that, while his opinion is biased, that there's nothing more exciting than basic geometry.

Peter resolves to take the fight off school grounds, to protect innocents and also to protect his identity. Peter, still holding back to keep from hurting his friend underneath the suit, keeps trying to encourage Eddie to fight the suit. He wonders how a normal person like Eddie can fight the suit when Peter barely escaped its grasp. After a hard shot from the creature, Peter decides to take the fight right back to it...by leading it away from the school.

While Venom pursues him on the rooftops of New York, Peter wonders how much of Venom's hatred is Eddie and how much of it is the suit. Venom finally catches us, and the two go toe-to-toe. It manages to force Peter off the rooftop. A power cable breaks during the fall and the two are zapped before landing on the roof of a moving car. The car crashes into a building, momentarily disabling the creature.

Cursing himself for putting innocents in danger, the hooded Peter moves in to check on Eddie, whose face is exposed. Just when all looks well, the suit takes control again, replacing Eddie's young face with that horrific mess of teeth and the trademark ten foot tongue.

The creature catches Peter by surprise and engulfs him in itself. While struggling to break free, it torments Peter. Peter is about to be wholly swallowed when the old Parker resolve comes through and Peter breaks free. Peter manages to beat it back with a tire when the cops arrive on the scene.

The creature turns around, and the horrified cops pump it full of bullets as Peter leaps onto a wall for safety. The creature backs towards the exposed power cable. When Venom and the cable make contact, his death scene is narrated by Richard Parker, with advice to his son that you'll never understand why some people are the way they are. As Venom is reduced to a smoldering pile of the black goo, Richard advises Peter further: "Don't let other people blame you for what they do to themselves." Peter escapes from police gunfire.

"I find myself surrounded by people who will do or say anything just for the appearance that they are better than they are." Richard's video imparts to Peter. But the video ends on a bright note, as Richard admits he has no idea how the world works and that it's not all bad since he gets to come home to his son and see him grow up. Peter is curled up, head in his arms and on his knees, listening to his father say: "...I get to watch you become the man I know you will grow up to be... and I can't wait to see how you turned out."

General Comments

This issue makes it official: the Ultimate Venom storyline is my favorite arc of this book so far. This collision of Peter's past, present, and future in the wake of science gone wrong (a popular theme in this book thus far). The advice is, of course, timely, in the wake of Peter's confrontation with this unique enemy. Richard's speech, while downtrodden with the negative events of his life, is equally balanced with fatherly advice and an undercurrent of hope, especially in the end. The reader isn't beat down with the moral, nor is his intelligence insulted. Richard implies but never says that Brock, Sr., is the man he's talking about. And it's never outright said that Richard Parker is the good man in the face of all this corruption.

I'm pleased with what ends up as Venom. Although this mass of flesh lacks the imposing comic-book-villain look of his classic, core-titles counterpart, he's a fitting end product of all the building up of Eddie Brock. I'm happy that there's no sad-sack origin story, maybe detailing years of abuse from his grandfather (Carl Brock) and how he's had to fight for everything he has in his life. That door is left open by the qualification from Richard that you can look at a man for 50 years and not understand him. Also, these questions of character are eerily timely to real world events.

The battle plus the fatherly narration makes for a conclusion that is neither a typical slugfest nor a talking-heads story. That, and the always-solid art of Mark Bagley, add up to a lot of webs. How many? Indulge me for a paragraph and I'll tell you.

Although they're not specific to this issue, I have a few notes I feel I have to make about this arc. The supporting characters, while rather sparing in their appearances, lived up to their monikers. They SUPPORTED Peter and Eddie, the two main figures in this drama of fathers and sons. Gwen was the litmus test for Eddie's soul, and with her disapproval came Eddie's fall from grace. The interaction with Mary in the last issue reminded us that Peter's personal life is just as broken up as his superhero life. Though, it is nice to know they still feel strongly towards one another. And, while I didn't get as much Aunt May as I wanted, her introductory role opened the window for this whole sequence of events.

Overall Rating

What really made this issue for me was the wisdom of Peter's father, a glimpse of the kind of man Peter will become. It wasn't the best fight sequence I've ever read, but it's confused and tragic conclusion marks the end to a phenomenal arc. Alas, perfection is hard to achieve, but when you're working with Venom, as in "We'll suck the marrow from your tiniest bones." Venom, 4.5 is amazingly high.

 Posted: 2004
 Staff: John Edathil (E-Mail)