Current Reviews


Ultimate Spider-Man #38

Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), Art Thibert (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens with a videotape of Peter's father playing, where we see the man is telling Peter about how he had discovered a flaw in his great scientific discovery, and that the cure for cancer that he had co-developed with Eddie Brock's father was not the modern medical miracle they had hoped it would be. We then jump back to the end of last issue where we see the flaw with the body suit is that it appears to feed upon the darker emotions of its user, and Peter is quick to discover that the suit is enhancing Eddie's hatred of him. What follows is a furious cross-town battle, where Peter makes a desperate attempt to reach out to Eddie, who he believes is trapped within the suit, but we see Peter's attempts don't stop Venom from making every effort to kill him. As Peter strives to shield his secret identity from curious onlookers, we see the battle sends the two combatants crashing through some power lines, and since they are fighting in the middle of a raging downpour, we see these live power lines prove to be quite dangerous, as they skip & jump around the battlefield. In the end though it is Venom who ends up on the receiving end of a massive electrical jolt, and this blast of electricity appears to have completely vaporized Venom, as there's nothing left but a pile of smoking goo.

The battle between Venom & Spider-Man takes up a fairly decent chunk of this issue, and it's a pretty intense affair that gives one a pretty good look at what the suit is capable of. Now I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the suit's seeming weakness when it comes to electricity, as it seems like a rather easy method of ending the fight, especially when the battle takes place in an urban environment where this debilitating attack is so readily accessible. However, the suit has been advertised as adaptive, so much like it was designed to alter its makeup to attack a specific type of cancer, one imagines it would also be able to fashion itself an immunity to electricity. Now this is keeping in mind the idea that Brian Michael Bendis actually plans on using the character again, as going into the story he had made it clear he was not a big fan of Venom, and since it was a severe case of overexposure that killed fan interest in Venom in the mid-90s, I imagine it'll be a while before we learn if & how Eddie and the suit survived their encounter with the live wires. This issue did a pretty solid job of making Venom into a threat, and it also nicely played up the idea that Peter spent most of the battle trying to get through to Eddie, which made his seeming death at the end of the battle all the more disheartening.

The framing narrative device that Brian Michael Bendis uses in this issue affords the reader some nice insight into a character who has never really been explored in the regular Marvel Universe, as we see Peter stumbles across a videotape that his father had made shortly before his death. One does have to love the sheer idealism that one can see being quashed by the intruding reality of the situation, as this has always been a lynch-pin character trait of Peter Parker, so it's nice to see this element is also evident in the father that he never knew. I mean all the best Spider-Man stories have been the ones where he's been pitted against impossible odds, and when things are at their worst I love the fact that Spider-Man is a character who is allowed to possess decidedly unheroic traits like fear & self-doubt. Now yes I've wander off on a tangent here, but the speech that Peter's father makes in this issue is nicely reflective of this character trait, as we are seeing this man's reaction to the idea that the cure he's devoted his scientific career to has a major flaw, and much like his son we see the man is able to find solace in the idea that he still has a family for whom he cares deeply, and this keeps him from wallowing in self pity. Yes it's a little melodramatic, but I can't deny its effectiveness.

I think it's safe to say that Mark Bagley is far and away the hardest working artist today, as while there are some notable contenders such as John Romita, Jr. & Scott Kollins, the simple fact of the matter is that Ultimate Spider-Man is the only title that has shifted to the 18 issues a year format that hasn't required a second artist to step in. Now the idea of his working 80 hours a week was a little hard to believe, but based on the quality of the finished product, and the sheer volume of work that he produces I can't help but buy into the idea that Mark Bagley is spending 11-plus hours a day at the drawing table. This issue we see he's given material that plays to his strength as an artist, as he's always been able to deliver some of the most energetic action sequences in comics, and this issue battle between Spider-Man & Venom is a wonderful display of this talent. The action jumps across the page with a sense of energy that perfectly conveys the idea that this is a duel between agility, and brute force. The art also manages to inject a real sense of tension into the fight, as there's a great moment where Peter is pulled inside the suit & the entire book goes black, which is then followed up by an impressive visual where Peter literally explodes out of the suit.

Final Word:
Some pretty decent action to what I'm guessing is the final chapter of the Venom arc, as it would appear that Venom is no longer a threat. Now truth be told the lack of a body does leave me rather doubtful that Venom is no more, as if nothing else Peter's earlier encounter with the power lines when he was encased in the suit would seem to suggest that Eddie's smoking corpse should still be on the scene. Still I'm getting too hung up on how this issue ended, and I'm not spending nearly enough time praising the book for its delivery of a fairly intense battle that gave readers a pretty good look at the Ultimate Venom in action. He certainly looks like he can hold his own in a fight, and while the electricity weakness is a bit worrisome, the art does a pretty solid job of making the blast of energy look like something Venom wouldn't be able to shrug off. The framing device using the video tape from Peter's father was also a nice touch.

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