Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), Art Thibert (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Peter waking up from a nightmare that shows us he is still deeply troubled by his time in the Venom body suit. We then see he pays a late night visit to the home of Mary Jane, as he needs to talk with someone about his recent troubles, and MJ is the only person he feels he can talk to. As the two share a somewhat strained conversation, we see that in spite of the awkward pauses & their general inability to clearly express what they are feeling, the manage two depart on better terms than one have expected them to, and one is left hopeful that they might just get back together. We then look in on Eddie Brock who is having far more difficulty gaining control over the Venom body suit, and we see before he manages to establish full control, a member of the building's cleaning staff looks to fall victim to the cannibalistic side of the Venom suit. We then join Peter the next day at school, as we see his spider-sense is triggered, and a look outside affords him a glimpse of the Venom suit. However, it's not until Peter makes his way outside that he learns the full truth of the matter, as Eddie reveals his identity to a stunned Peter. We also see that Eddie doesn't look to be in the most friendly of moods, as he threatens to kill Peter.
I will give Brian Michael Bendis full marks for building up a sense of anticipation, as while this issue is almost annoying in how slowly it builds toward its rather harrowing final page, there is a very real sense that this final page is so powerful because the reader was forced to wait for it. There's also some nice work done showing us that the suit isn't as easy to control as one might expect, as Eddie has to use his newfound hatred of Peter as motivation. This final page encounter also reveals that Peter's spider-sense does react to Venom, which in turn removes a decided advantage that the Marvel Universe Venom holds, but thanks to some stronger character work in the creation of the Ultimate Venom's back story, I have to say that I'm far more excited about this impending rivalry than I ever was about any of the bouts that to original Venom had with Spider-Man. The connection between these two characters is far stronger, as their father's were partners who came up with a medical breakthrough, that might've very well have gotten them killed after they refused to let their creation to be used for military applications. The reason for why Eddie would bear such a hatred of Peter is still a bit weak, but the foundation for this hatred looks far stronger than his Marvel counterpart.
The other big event that plays out in this issue is that Peter and Mary Jane have their first conversation since MJ decided she couldn't handle the pressure of being Spider-Man's girlfriend. Now given Brian Michael Bendis is the one handling this exchange you know it's going to be a well crafted exchange of dialogue, but what really surprised me about it was that this scene was so effective in spite of the how little the two actually say to each other. In fact it's the moments where they aren't saying anything to each other that proved to be the most effective moments in this conversation, as one can see the characters taking the time to consider the importance of what has just been said to them. I know it's difficult to really credit a comic book for the pacing of it's dialogue, but this is the closest I've ever seen a comic come to capturing the ebb & flow of a real conversation. This exchange isn't about delivering exposition, or manufacturing angst between these two, but rather it's a very real display of Brian Michael Bendis' ability to recognize what is going through these character's heads during this emotionally intense situation. I also like the idea that the final bit of the conversation still leaves things up in the air, as we don't really know if the burned bridges have been mended.
The opening pages of this issue left me a bit concerned, as the dream sequence looks to have been delivered using computers, and I can't say I'm a fan of this style, as it looks too smooth & pristine. However, when the art returns to the regular pencil & ink work the art really shines, as Mark Bagley and his 80 hours work weeks deliver some truly lovely looking work. The art does a great job of capturing the darker tone of this issue, as the downpours manage to cast an almost oppressive pall over the book, and they also make certain scenes far more effective. I mean that final shot of Peter walking through the rain after his conversation with MJ manages to do a very convincing job of keeping one from being too excited that they've had their little heart to heart conversation. The scene where Peter spots Venom lurking outside the school is also a great little sequence, as we can see MJ is the only other person in that room who recognizes the idea that there is danger in the air, and her look of concern is a nice harbinger of the encounter us readers are so eagerly anticipating. I also love the way the art handles the scenes with no dialogue, such as the late night visit that Peter makes to MJ's house, or the encounter that Peter has with Venom in the final pages.
I have to give Brian Michael Bendis full marks for making Venom into a genuinely engaging & truly frightening character, and while there is still some problems when it comes to establishing why Eddie would bear such hostility toward Peter, the revised back-story does provide a better foundation that can be built upon. I also have to say that I like the idea that the Venom suit looks to have a decidedly savage quality to it, as the scene where it looks to consume the poor cleaning lady who stumbles across it is handled quite nicely. Mark Bagley also deserves part of the credit here as while he hasn't made any major changes to the overall design, the Ultimate Venom certainly looks a great deal more frightening that his Marvel counterpart. The book also offers up a fairly solid exchange between Peter & Mary Jane, that continues to make their relationship one of the best realized pairings I've ever seen in a super-hero comic.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!