Tag Archives: Venom

Maximum Carnage: A Symbiote Fan Reflects (pt. 1)

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Greetings, fans of the Unspoken! It’s your pal, the Symbifan, back at it again with an article on one of my most favorite Marvel story lines called (You guessed it!) Maximum Carnage! Now, ever since I was a young comic fan, the Marvel symbiotes have fascinated me (Can’t tell by my moniker, can you?!), and in the 90’s, there was definitely no shortage of symbiote-related stories to read. But, in my mind, one has always stood out. That’s right! The “big daddy” of all alien parasite tales. A story so epic, that it had to be told in 14 parts! Well then, without further ado, let us begin.
spider-man-unlimited-01-01The story begins as the serial killer, Cletus Kassidy AKA Carnage, is being transferred from the Vault to Ravencroft for psychiatric treatment. Now, these yahoos at Ravencroft actually believe that Cletus is just your average psychopath in need of some meds and maybe a little therapy. They also believe his supposed “living costume” was merely part of a fantasy he created for himself. Wrong! Cletus, merely biding his time, cuts his wrist with his cuffs, and blam-o….instant symbiote! Kassidy becomes Carnage once again and begins slaughtering everyone he can get his creepy tendrils on! Meanwhile, Spider-Man, in his civilian identity of Peter Parker, has no idea any of this is going on as he attends the funeral for his friend and sometime enemy, Harry Osborn. In fact, he doesn’t catch wind of any of it until he overhears a radio broadcast while picking up Chinese food. (Ah, saved by a craving for General Tao’s chicken!)

 

carnage-and-shriek-meetCarnage, on the other hand, has stopped disemboweling guards long enough to meet a new partner in crime in the fellow lunatic Shriek. Shriek talks Carnage into letting her in on the massacre he is soon to unleash upon New York. As they escape together, they swing throughout the city and seemingly locate the object of Carnage’s revenge….the Amazing Spider-Man!

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But upon closer examination, they find it to be none other than Spidey’s “evil double” Doppelganger! After a brief skirmish, Shriek decides she likes the little monster and they decide to form one heck of a dysfunctional family! Carnage leaves the two on a rooftop to await his return as he attends other matters. Later, Spider-Man, in search of Carnage, swings by and is immediately attacked by the evil duo. The fight goes back and forth until Spidey, finally unable to face the two alone, gets hit hard in the ribs, presumably shattering them. He falls from the rooftop and loses consciousness in an alleyway. The first part ends with Carnage revealed perched within J. Jonah Jameson’s window at the Daily Bugle. (Ready for a good old-fashioned kidnapping anyone?!)

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At least, that’s what I thought. Turns out Carnage just wanted  Jameson to tell his “pals,” Spider-Man and Venom, that he wanted to have a little….chat! Meanwhile, Spidey’s ribs are killing him! So of course it’s a perfect time for some street punks to try and make a name for themselves by murdering our favorite arachnid!

web-of-spider-man-101-01There’s only one problem with that little plan….three words: Cloak and Dagger! That’s right, the super-duo has entered the scene. And boy, are they not taking any prisoners. They easily dispatch the gang and use their powers to teleport Spidey to an abandoned church. While there, Shriek and Doppelganger decide it’s time to bring down the house (or church) around them! All five of them then square off, and the battle begins. For the most part, it seems as if the good guys might have this one in the bag until Carnage arrives! This definitely turns the odds in favor of Team Carnage. So much in fact, that Spidey’s ribs are reinjured and Dagger is seemingly killed!

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The big baddies then get into a squabble about who’s going to finish off Spider-Man until they decide upon a temporary retreat. But their exit does not go unnoticed. The Demogoblin watches from a nearby rooftop. (Hmmm. I wonder which side he’ll  choose? Stupid question!)  Anyway, this issue ends with our favorite symbiotic anti-hero, Venom, catching wind of the massacre on the news from his new city. (Methinks things just got more awesome!)

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The next part of our tale leads us to New York’s Laguardia Airport, where a very strange passenger has just completed a long flight from San Francisco and appears to be talking to himself. (Hey, who doesn’t now and then?) The truth of the matter is that he’s talking to his “other,” and by “other,” I of course mean his symbiotic other half! Together they are known as Venom! It turns out that the stranger is no other than Eddie Brock, and as he gets more agitated he suddenly “Venoms out” in the middle of the terminal! Wasting little time (no kidding, right?!), he swings off in search of Carnage!

amazing-spider-man-378-002anpymgold_kindlephoto-9667518Meanwhile, Spider-Man tries in vain to calm Cloak’s broken heart about the death of his partner at the hands of Shriek. But alas, nothing can sooth the poor guy, and he teleports away. While this is going on, Team Carnage is on a nearby rooftop, beating the crap out of each other to see just who is “top dog” in this outfit. Carnage of course wins and all is immediately good in the hood. (Warms your heart, doesn’t it? I mean, a family that slays together, stays together!)

amazing-spider-man-378-011anpymgold_kindlephoto-9749695While Carnage and his “family” resume their murder spree, Spidey returns home to bandage up. While there, he catches the news and deciding that he can’t just lie around, he heads back out. This, of course, is the perfect time for the poor guy to run into the deranged creature known only as Demogoblin! The two battle a bit until Spider-Man is dropped by a new weapon of Demo’s, a pumpkin bomb containing a type of “living darkness” that seems to make the hero lose all hope! It isn’t until the intervention of a passing priest that Spider-Man finds faith in himself in the nick of time. And by the nick of time, I mean right before an actual pumpkin bomb goes off right next to him and the priest! Demogoblin takes this moment to escape, and Spidey limps back home. At this time, Venom finds our favorite red psychopath in the park and attacks! The only problem? Carnage has back up!  Time passes and Spider-Man arrives home. He attempts to unwind with the wife when a tapping is heard on the apartment door. Mary Jane (In her bra and panties with a loose robe just barely thrown over her! I mean, have some class, lady!) answers the door and a very injured Venom drops in (literally)!

amazing-spider-man-378-023anpymgoldAs Venom is helped to the Web-Slinger’s couch, Mary Jane leaves in a huff (Women! Am I right, fellas?!) because she’s been on this kick about Peter putting his life on the line as Spider-Man. This leaves Spider-Man to do what any rational man in his situation would do…..seek advice from an old flame?! Wait a minute! What?!

11_kindlephoto-16288753Anyway, this “old flame” just happens to be Felicia Hardy AKA the Black Cat. As Spidey talks about his fears of teaming up with his one time nemesis, Venom, Felicia has some shocking advice to give: do it! But while this has been going on, the Demogoblin has at last found Carnage and Co. and attacks! But Carnage has a few tricks up his symbiotic sleeve. He talks old Gobby into joining them!

12Meanwhile, Black Cat takes this moment to have a chat with Venom about “playing nice” with Spider-Man and herself. Spidey backs her up, and Venom agrees. Team Spider-Man is starting to come together! Speaking of Team Spider-Man, Cloak locates Carnage and the other villains in their temporary lair! Seeking justice for Dagger, he lashes out. However, he soon finds himself to be no match for all four of them and begins to falter. Luckily, this is the moment Spider-Man, Venom, and Black Cat come to the rescue! (Yay!) The heroes start to get the upper hand in the fight until Carnage has the roof brought down around them! (They really don’t like roofs, do they?!)

21_kindlephoto-16346926Cloak teleports out but Venom and Black Cat are severely injured. As Carnage escapes, Spider-Man must make a hard decision. Does he help his allies, or does he peruse the villains before more lives are lost?

01-02The next issue reveals that Spider-Man has in fact made up his mind. He has decided to stay back and help out his teammates. The only problem is that they didn’t want to be saved! First Venom cusses him out and even attacks him, stating that his life meant nothing compared to that of the innocents that will now surely perish at the hands of his villainous offspring. No shocker there. Venom and Spidey never see eye to eye. The kicker is when Black Cat agrees! (Ya just can’t please some people!) Anyway, both leave our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man alone with his thoughts and head back out in pursuit of Carnage and his cohorts. We then look in upon Carnage and his group. It seems as if there’s more dissension in the ranks as Carnage and Demogoblin go at it about how to more effectively maim and kill the poor people of New York. Shriek, being a good “mother/wife” calms the situation and they all head back out on their merry way.

17_kindlephoto-4562316But, what’s this? Someone is actually following these psychos?! At this time, Peter Parker looks for advice in his Aunt May. She basically tells him not to compromise his ideals. That he has to be true to himself. (Sweet, huh?) But, at this time, Peter’s “father” is listening in and, after Peter leaves May, gives his own advice: fight fire with fire. Some people are beyond help and monsters exist inside of everyone. (Great advice coming from a robot! Remember these “suddenly back from the dead” parents were actually Live Model Decoys created by the Chameleon under orders from Harry Osborn?! Ahhh. Comics!)

Back to the action. As Spidey swings around, he decides to take his Aunt’s advice rather then his robo-daddy’s. But, just as he does, it is revealed that the good people of New York have formed violent mobs around the city! Spider-Man witnesses one of these mobs in action and of course tries to help out the victims. But, just like with Venom and Black Cat, most don’t want his help! They actually dog-pile on the Webhead and start wailing on him! It is then, perhaps thinking of his “father’s” words, that Spidey lashes back! He then proclaims, flames and destruction behind him, that he’s done being Mr. Nice Guy! Epic scene really, with tons of emotion. (And the Oscar goes to…..)

21_kindlephoto-4631113The next issue takes us to a scene of ultimate….well….carnage! The city lies devastated and corpses line the street! (Upbeat, huh?) But, as we look on as New York burns, the mysterious figure from earlier looks on as well.

web-of-spider-man-102-01He is called Carrion, and he is on the trail of death! As Charon floats away, we are taken to another scene nearby. We are witness to a woman in terror as a gang of lethal looters attempt to attack her. But a savior gets to them first! He is Morbius the Living Vampire. He’s on the hunt for the blood of an evil-doer, and he finds it here in abundance. After feasting upon their blood, Morbius finds himself being watched by what remains of Team Spider-Man. Venom makes an offer Morbius can’t refuse and….bam….instant new ally!

web-of-spider-man-102-0203Meanwhile, Spider-Man, now determined to treat these killers like the the lowly dogs they are, heads out on patrol. What’s Mary Jane doing while her husband throws himself in mortal danger again and again? Dancing at a nightclub called The Deep, of course! Karma has it, though, that Carnage and Co. randomly choose this particular club as a new killing field! Chaos erupts within the club as people are torn to pieces! The madness doesn’t last long, though, as Venom, Cloak, Black Cat, and Morbius intervene with a vengeance! Both groups instantly begin beating the holy hell out of each other as Mary Jane hides in horror! Spider-Man then joins the fray, with his new attitude accompanying him! Carnage is soon forced to call for a tactical retreat. Spider-Man looks to Venom and informs him that, for now on, they’re finishing this at any cost!

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The final installment of the first half of the Maximum Carnage storyline begins where the nightmare that is known as Carnage started…..St. Estes Home for Boys. Ol’ Webhead has decided for his team to regroup here and perhaps shed some insights into how to defeat the mass murdering monster. (Carnage fans will of course remember that this is the orphanage where Cletus Kasady AKA Carnage grew up. If not, shame on you!)

amazing-spider-man-379-001anpymgoldWhile there, the weaknesses of a symbiote are discussed: sonics and fire. The best place to get a sonic blaster is the Fantastic Four headquarters. (They have the most amazing toys! Reed does have a lot of time on his hands to create them, seeing as he spends little to no time with his wife! Did I just go there?! Slam! ) As for fire, how about the mutant known as Firestar?! Cloak teleports out to retrieve her as the others head out to the home of the FF. While this is going on,  Carnage and his band of miscreants are at last confronted by a team of elite police officers!

amazing-spider-man-379-009anpymgold_kindlephoto-33546829This is the moment that the mysterious Carrion chooses to show his allegiance in this war. He does this by touching the officers, causing them to decay almost instantly! Another recruit for Team Carnage! But, what’s this? At an undisclosed location, the cybernetic hero known as Deathlok is preparing to stop this insanity! Deathlok then strikes with maximum force, but the odds are not in his favor. He is soon defeated. Team Spider-Man is unaware of any of this as they break into the FF HQ. (This kind of occurs with ease! I mean, isn’t Reed Richards supposed to be a genius?! Makes the whole outfit look bad! Oh well. Moving on.)

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The sonic blaster is retrieved, and the heroes return to safety. It is there that Cloak arrives with Firestar!

amazing-spider-man-379-022anpymgold_kindlephoto-33600261 Yep, things seem to be looking up! (That is until the next scene, where Deathlok is shown near-crucified to a building engulfed in flames!) Well, that’s it, loyal fans of the Unspoken! Next month, I will return with the second (and last) installment of my look back on the Maximum Carnage epic! Until then, enjoy your Thanksgiving and remember: Nothing wakes you up better after a turkey feast then rereading an awesome 90’s comic! Ta!

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Venom: The Madness – Eddie Brock Joins the Outer Church

“To get the facts, you need strong fingers on metal keys, paper white with honesty – and then you have to cut hard and deep to make the truth bleed ink.”

Eddie Brock, alien symbiote host who really loves his typewriter, from 1997’s Venom Minus 1.

Venom, perennial Gimmick Era favorite, had a tie-in to that month’s Flashback event because he was the star of a series of mini-series going back to Lethal Protector (my personal favorite). He was the hero of his own story and the main character in whatever temporary title the Spider-Office decided deserved an embossed cover that month.

In celebration of Madness Month, let us turn our attention to 1993’s Venom: The Madness, wherein we see that Tall, Dark, and Toothy did not merely adopt the dark, but was born in it, molded by it, and (I am fairly certain) has yet to see the light.

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I would prefer reading Eddie Brock’s Twitter account to almost anything already announced for Convergence.

Eddie is an unreliable narrator. What else would you expect from a man who began his professional career as a journalist? He knows how to edit and what to present as fact. He is his own favorite storyteller. The quote above is from a scene that explains why he still used a typewriter. It tells you what it is he wants from the world. That purity, that honesty. For everything to be what it actually is and nothing else. This is a man who cannot help thinking violently, even about ink on a page. A man who does not want to become better because he believes it is the world that is at fault. What is there for an alien skinsuit not to love? Eddie was never going to be friends with Peter Parker. The Black Suit was merely the excuse. Together he and it are Venom, as in spider-venom (took me longer than I care to admit to piece that together).

Ann Nocenti scripted these three issues, though she was far from the only creator attempting to give Venom a voice in the early nineties. Between the complicated behind-the-scenes origin of the Black Suit itself and the overly complex way that Venom was so good at being a villain that he became a hero, this is a character who never had a stable life. Is it any wonder he would end up mad?

Even though Venom is a primarily toyetic property, I have a personal connection with him. My first comic was Amazing Spider-Man #346 by David Michelinie & Erik Larsen. My earliest memory of Spider-Man, who I have come to collect more than read (the only character I can say that about), is in the reflection of those otherwise blank, alien eyes. I thought of Venom as a hero for a new age. Spider-Man belonged to a previous era. A whiny throwback, similar to those guys at DC with the capes. Not Venom. Not Eddie! Then I read The Madness and watched him murder an elderly woman, who the author goes to lengths to show just how innocent she is.

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The teeth constantly grow, phasing in and out from higher-dimensional space, the person they belong to merely forming around them.

Venom’s component parts felt slighted by Spider-Man, the mask, and Parker, the man. Everything that went wrong was conveniently the fault of that man, and so it must have made sense to hightail it across the country where no superheroes could bother you. What he finds is “The World Below” San Francisco, relic of the great earthquake from nearly a century before and haven for the disenfranchised. I assume that this originally meant the homeless and those wanting to live off the grid, but the fact that community activists and other sensible people feel welcomed among the crumbling ruins of a turn of the last century metropolis has me imagining it more as Portland of 2015 than the Morlock tunnels.

Our hero is coming to terms with himself and has even managed to have a love interest, as he becomes embroiled in a stock plot of corporate espionage and environmentally unfriendly shenanigans. This results in him contracting what is essentially super mercury poising and hearing a new voice. Referred to as “The Creep,” it is responsible for that wonky, multiple head thing you probably imagine when thinking Venom: The Madness. Never choosing between a singular or plural identity, the Creep takes Eddie’s mind out for a spin and finds that not only is it already a bit crowded but that he/they may not be the drunkest one at this particular party.

Some eras are best represented by cave painting, fresco, or relief. We have Flair ’94.
Some eras are best represented by cave painting, fresco, or relief. We have Flair ’94 Collectible Trading Cards.

Venom has the added bonus of being thrust into the literal Realm of Madness, presented as both the type of dark dimension that Marvel is lousy with, as well as merely a construct within his own mind. Is he actually fighting Dusk (unfortunately not the one from Slingers), a manic, supernatural entity or just his own “inner demons” as rendered by Kelley Jones’ claustrophobic, barely discernible art? Neither the character nor the reader is ever sure, but the former does not seem to care. Other superpeople make excuses for the things done under the influence of a foreign entity; Venom embraces it and never acts in a way other than how he chooses. Is this the will of the Creep, the Black Suit, or just Eddie Brock finding another way to justify getting what he wants? Does he even know what that is anymore?

It is an interesting reversal of the classic Black Suit story, present in comics and other media. Parker, iconic nebbish from Queens, gets tired of the world pushing him around (which it does mostly because he lies to everyone he cares about and is unable to meet any of his many commitments) and attracts the attention of some predatory alien entity. His anger gets the best of him, and he says and does a few regrettable things (that hair in Spider-Man 3) before throwing the entity back into the abyss. The wounded extraterrestrial animal finds solace in soon-to-be-mulleted ace reporter, Eddie Brock, who comes to love it and offer it a home within himself. He is empowered by that freedom and never turns back, unlike Spider-Man, who never referred to himself as “we.”

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Inside the mind of Venom is a far more dangerous place than the cold, lonely world of several miles below early 90’s California.

Particularly surreal in the otherwise barren, underground cavern of the World Below are the trees. In the background of most panels are trees, leafless but seemingly alive, as evidenced by their size. Are they specially bred to live and thrive in a world without natural light and all but the deepest of underground wells? Is there a master botanist somewhere on the fringes of this society making sure everyone has air to breath? Someone is keeping this place running, though we are never shown who. The entire place has an odd mystery to it that promised to be far more interesting than whoever Venom was going to fight that issue. This could have been a new locale for the greater Marvel Universe. Maybe one of Confederates of the Curious retired here back in the day after helping with the earthquake.

Venom is at home in this Tim Burton-type of wonderland (lowercase “w”) with its beautiful old buildings, gnarly, unobstructed trees, and whimsical folk who, though homeless and destitute, are unfazed about asking a supervillain to help them out. These people have no hero, no champion. Why not Venom? They have already rejected the world they were born into; why not accept a similarly disenfranchised man to defend them, to be one of them? Taking the original, skewed narrative at face value, Eddie should welcome a release from Parker’s totalitarian impact in his life. Someone, somewhere, at some level of existence bought his sob story and gave him a genuine do-over. What does he do with it? This was 1993, what do you think he did with it?

He fought the Juggernaut.

There is no image of Cain Marko in this comic that anyone would be proud of so here is Jones' contribution to "The Multiversity."
There is no image of Cain Marko in this comic that anyone would be proud of so here is Jones’ contribution to “The Multiversity.”

You might remember the genre defining Roger Stern & John Romita, Jr. story where Spider-Man could not, under any circumstances, stop Juggy from doing whatever it was he wanted. The one that appears on all the Top Ten lists and, in two issues, tells the reader, new or old, all they need to know about Aunt May’s favorite nephew. Whatever it is that makes him unstoppable cannot hold up against having your name on the cover, and so Venom wipes the floor with him. This little X-Over may have been intended to cross-pollinate a few of the bigger books, and give Big Vee something to punch, but Nocenti still finds Juggernaut’s voice. This is him and here, among the mad, he apparently can be stopped.

Venom does not seem to mind the Creep, regardless of the fact that another character refers to it explicitly as a cancer, and in the end he just lets it go. If anyone we meet in this story is truly mad, there is no convincing Eddie it is him. Triumphant, the hero returns to his city, confident in the bedrock of his own mind despite all of the continually mounting evidence to the contrary.

Appearing as a shadow, interrupted only by the constantly shifting, endless row of teeth, Venom must be a comforting presence to the dwellers of this cavern home. The type of protector the disenfranchised expect because those that protect the World Above probably have little time for them. In this way, Venom has chosen to surround himself with those who have as unreliable a perspective as he does, those who assume and prescribe to their own views more than what actually occurs. Venom is at home with what someone not living underground would call madness. To Venom that is all there ever is.

"We accept [him]... one of us!"
“We accept [him]… one of us!”
Does the Black Suit feel the same way? Not to disparage the origins of the entity as already established, but I believe that it does not matter what happened to the Suit before it found its way into the Beyonder’s machine. For canon versus non-canon, I normally begin with this: what has survived through retelling? The Suit feeds on what a wearer feels. The stronger the impulses, the stronger the suit becomes. It learns, adapts, and is empathetic to its wearer. Venom does not trigger a Spider-Sense, is far more powerful that the Wallcrawler, and yet his only source of superpower is the Suit. What kind of state was it in when it met Eddie Brock in the first place?

The 80’s were a weird time. I do not remember much, but everything seems as if it was awful. Spider-Man wore the Black Suit (be it an alien symbiote or regular cloth costume) during some incredibly turbulent times in the character’s existence. I have always seen it as a mourning suit, the black shroud draped over a man who cannot help but lose people. It may have appeared too late to be a result of what happened with Gwen Stacy, but it still feels as if wearing it should tell the reader something other than that the artist cannot be bothered with Ditko’s Lines.

Spider-Man wore the Black Suit for Peter David’s first professional work, The Death of Jean DeWolff. This featured the Sin-Eater, a character whose reign of terror and subsequent capture were retconned into the origin of Eddie Brock. Less explicit to Venom is exactly what Peter Parker lost during that story. He was not yet married to Mary Jane. He watched as a good friend (who may have become something more), one of the few in law enforcement, is brutally murdered while the party responsible brings the whole episode to an even darker place. (The reveal is inconsequential if you have not read it, but if this would have been a spoiler then please go read it.)

If you have ever read "The Invisibles" you may recognize that as Barbelith.
If you have ever read “The Invisibles,” you may recognize Barbelith in the background.

Another notable episode is Jim Owsley’s Spider-Man vs. Wolverine. This a story filled with Cold War intrigue, piles of bodies, and the type of moral ambiguity that I do not know if Parker the character or Spider-Man the franchise was yet able to handle. Though the majority of that issue is spent in a knockoff version of the Red & Blues, it is the Black Suit that he wears at the beginning, and, if the climax is anything to go off of, what he returns to in the end.

These stories are the first instances of Parker’s identity being revealed to Daredevil and Wolverine respectively, setting the stage for the casual meet-ups of the 90s through today. Later on, when Spider-Man rids himself of the Suit, he could be attempting to free himself of all of this grief, anger, and misplaced trust. What if all of that pooled at the bottom of the proverbial basin, similar to blood, or, say, ink?

Eddie may be a sinkhole of desperation but Spidey could learn a thing or two about moving on.
Eddie may be a sinkhole of desperation, but Spidey could learn a thing or two about moving on.

The black ink that defines Venom. Those heavy shadows, those uncompromising depictions that have him ill-defined and almost part of the background. Venom is not only the arch-foe that Spider-Man needed in an era where Norman Osborn was dead and Doctor Octopus was not considered “bad ass” enough, but he is a literal reminder of what Spider-Man was put through. If the 80’s put the character into places where he had to confront the real world, then Venom is what happens when you want to tell those stories but need the conflict to be symbolic.

The Madness is not a story of personal growth. The time of the Black Suit had pain and readjustment that the Spider-Man franchise had to process. Venom is the result. Eddie’s madness is what happens when a fictional character tries to make sense of the real world. The moral ambiguities and unforgivable nonsense that people, not governed by seasoned creators, inflict on one another. Add to that the constant, market-driven demand to be the Next Big Thing, no matter what, and you have a concoction unlike any other. Forcing all of that into its own little box warps into the mess of drool, fangs, and heavy inks that I revered as a child.

The World You Have Always Known is Born-MC2 Part 1…SPIDER-GIRL!!!

 

 

 

Hey 90’s people!  Sorry we weren’t able to get this to you sooner, but I hope you have enjoyed the tremendous work the last few weeks, done by Angel Hayes and Emily Scott respectively, but much to your delight (and chagrin to some of you – after their work, how’s a guy supposed to compete?) I have returned to the era of Hypercolor, Friends, and Extreme!  Rest assured 90’s babies, I have missed you as much as you have missed me!

The 90’s meant tons to me, not just because of the enjoyable comics, but because that was the era of my youth.  I turned 11 in 1990, and I turned 21 in 2000.  The 90’s are the era when I discovered my music, my books, and myself.  This is also the time that I discovered girls, and no, this isn’t some joke where I say, among them Spider-Girl!  Although, that is indeed a joke I might make.  The point here is that, like many a young lad, attempting to attract the fancy of the opposite sex made me give up some of the interests I had previous clung to more tightly than that lady tried to hold on to Stallone’s hand in Cliffhanger.  Just like her, I was unable to hold on.

Too Soon?

I really thought this was a great movie when I was young. I watched in on VHS and yelled “Stallone is back!” to no one in particular because I was alone. What?

 

I made few new comic book purchases during the years of 10th-12th grade.  Like I said, I was discovering girls, but in addition to that, my local comic shop had fallen victim to the speculator bust/Marvel distributor fiasco (and I am sure we will cover this eventually right here, 90’s fans!). Our local supermarkets dropped comic books at this time too, so no matter how badly I wanted any of the adventures of the X-Men, Punisher, or CyberRad, I was S.O.L.  I was not one of those folks who abandons their love altogether, though.  I certainly still admitted to liking superheroes;  I just was not able to buy comics.  And even if comics had been there, I don’t know that I could have.  16-18 is such a confusing time for folks, and despite my affinity for fun articles about 90’s comics and great radio shows like Her Dork World, His Dork World (co-hosted by Emily Scott, who wrote the fantastic Death article from last week!) and Compton After Dark, I was no exception to that.  Like nearly all teens, I vacillated between being gung-ho about my interests and defending Chumbawumba vociferously to cowering if someone dared offer a disparaging comment toward WKRP in Cincinnati or anything else I loved.

Don't worry, after just a few more unentertaining and rambling lines about my experiences, I will answer the questions posed on this cover.
Don’t worry, after just a few more unentertaining and rambling lines about my past, I will answer the questions posed on this cover.

When I headed for college at Arkansas State University in 1998, I was fortunate enough that campus was about 3/4 of a mile from a comic book store.  I was also SO LUCKY to have very few friends, so I didn’t have to worry what people thought of me.  I’d learn to blend my interests and passions into a way to be likable, but my first year of college, I was too overwhelmed with school, life, and how relationships and viewpoints change for people during that age.  I found refuge in the comic book store, but since I hadn’t been able to read any comic books regularly since 1995, I was lost.  I was going to get Punisher because, well, Punisher.  I was entranced by Quesda’s art on Daredevil.  Having always been a fan of George Perez and Kurt Busiek, picking up Avengers was an easy choice, but when I heard from my friend Chris Grady that Marvel was going to continue the adventures of May Parker from the above-pictured Spider-Girl, I had to get them because they picked up at the point of Spider-Man where I had left off. Then I learned that not only were we going to see an alternate future for May Parker, Spider-Girl, but that we would also see Juggernaut’s son, as well as a future group of Avengers!

A-Next #2 - Page 1

Here's a look at a couple of covers from those series!
Here’s a look at a couple of covers from those series!  That sentence stated the obvious!

As I thought more about these comics, I knew that I had to do an entry on them.  I started reading and reading comics in preparation for an entry on the MC2 universe, when I realized that I had to do this one in installments, so welcome to part one of the MC2 Summer here at The Unspoken Decade!  We will start with Spider-Girl, but first, what’s all this MC2 stuff about anyhow?

Yep, not getting the comic book you subscribed to because of cancellation is definitely what anyone would call hitting the jackpot.
Yep, not getting the comic book you subscribed to because of cancellation is definitely not what anyone would call hitting the jackpot.

 

 

Now, I could waste a few more paragraphs attempting to describe that point, or, I could let a master like Tom DeFalco use one of these handy gatefold-fold out covers that Marvel used in the late 90’s to explain back story to new readers.  These were great!  Why companies did not continue to use them, I have no idea.

I wish comic book companies would bring these back.  They were a staple at Marvel in the late 90's, and they helped me catch up to what I missed 95-98 FAST!
I wish comic book companies would bring these back. They were a staple at Marvel in the late 90’s, and they helped me catch up to what I missed 95-98 FAST!

This issue of What If, which basically serves as a Spider-Girl #0, “introduces” us to the Parker Family.  Peter and Mary Jane are married, and they are enjoying watching their daughter play high school basketball at the highest level.  Personally, I can’t stand watching high school basketball.  I am a huge fan of the college game (ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!), and I even keep up with NBA on a casual level, but high school sports in general bore me, unless they are occurring in the fictional town of Dillion, TX on the critically-acclaimed Friday Night Lights.  Have you noticed how it is a law that one says “critically acclaimed” before saying “Friday Night Lights”?

I digress, but forgive me, as both Spider-Girl and the Dillion Panthers (for real, watch Friday Night Lights:  It’s f’n great!) are great pieces of entertainment to remind you of when you were young.  You are reminded when everything was somehow simultaneously carefree but also constantly heavy.  You remember when your whole life was ahead of you, but you could not possibly think past your 5th period world history class.  Spider-Girl brings that to us, and it uses her burgeoning powers as a great vehicle to also deliver the anxiety and feelings of never being able to fit in that saturate our every moment when we are teenagers.

And by burgeoning, I mean, OBVIOUSLY ALREADY APPARENT!

Spider-Girl #0 - Page 4
Spider-Girl or Teen Wolf?
Spider-Girl #0 - Page 6
I hate to sound like an asshole, but don’t be dense, folks. Your daughter just jumped five feet above the rim and then threw the ball through the basket with such force that it SHATTERED THE BACKBOARD. If your teenage daughter is performing feats that Shaq or Michael Jordan couldn’t do because THEY aren’t superhuman, she probably has powers.

This issue is very fun!  Marvel has always seemed to be looking for a follow-up to Spider-Man since that success.  I mentioned this in a previous article about Darkhawk here at The Unspoken Decade, but it goes back awhile.  There was Nova in the 70’s, Speedball in the late 80’s to early 90’s, The New Warriors (who featured both Speedball and Darkhawk as members) in the 90’s, Sleepwalker in the 90’s, and Cloak & Dagger in the 80’s just to name a few off the top of my head.  I am sure more characters fit into this archetype in the Marvel Universe, so feel free to put a couple in the comments section.

The teenage super-hero archetype they had been trying to achieve again with varying levels of success is perfected here.  I think that this succeeds for a variety of reasons, a primary one being an editorial feel like the old Marvel Bullpen of the 60’s.  The blurbs are fun and insistent that MC2 is amazing, you’re amazing for reading it, and we are amazing together.  That’s vaguely reminiscent of a Beatles song, which makes the concept even cooler to me.  The other reason is the connection to Spider-Man and his mythos.  I found myself going along with the story much more easily than someone else sharing these archetypes because it a generational tale.  May Parker is learning Power and Responsibility now, just as we saw Peter do.  There’s just something about the tale of progeny continuing in the wake of the heroism of their parents that always gets to me.  The idea gives me hope that maybe nothing ever really dies…maybe it is just transmogrifies, e.g. energy.  In fact, there’s even some hope that thanks to the lessons Peter learned, May can do it better.

Spider-Girl #0 - Page 27

The focus on family has always been at the center of the Spider-Man universe, even if most of Peter’s family are adopted.  Loyalty, sacrifice, and togetherness are themes we see again and again, and Spider-Girl is no different except that Peter’s role has changed.  Now he takes on the Aunt May role as he worries about his daughter.

The thing I loved most about going through these first few issues was the subtextual exposure of the inherent hypocrisy in parenting.  The personal stuff between them is blatant, but the subtext to me is that ALL PARENTS are hypocritical due to the nature of the position.  In order for parents to help their kids be better than them, they have to tell their kids not to do what they did.  Not just because and not just for kicks or what have you (although parents probably have to get their kicks where and when they can what with all the child-rearing and all), but because otherwise, the experience of the parents is meaningless without passing that wisdom and knowledge on.  But as a child, how can you take that seriously b/c NEARLY EVERYTHING YOUR PARENTS TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IS SOMETHING THEY DID THEMSELVES.  Thankfully, your Dad wasn’t Spider-Man.

Spider-Girl #5 - Page 3
That’s sort of a strange thing to say, Peter. Do most parents of teenagers just allow their kids to put their lives at risk?

Spider-Girl #4 - Page 23 Spider-Girl #4 - Page 24

Remember when you used to turn your parents' logic against them?  I bet it is even more awesome when your Dad is The Spectacular Spider-Man
Remember when you used to turn your parents’ logic against them? I bet it is even more awesome when your dad is The Spectacular Spider-Man!  Also, Mary Jane is a damn good mom.

 

Spider-Girl would go on to become the longest running Marvel title featuring a solo female character, and this title also had a dedicated fanbase.  When the rest of MC2 died, Spider-Girl lived, being saved from cancellation on a few different occasions by the fervent fan base.  I love that sort of passion, and the idea that willpower, desire, and an unwillingness to cave in against great odds is really what superhero comics are all about, right?

Tom DeFalco, & Pat Olliffe are a great team, and I think Olliffe is sooooooo underrated. Kurt Busiek gets the credit for The Untold Tales of Spider-Man, but the art really helped drive the early Spidey feel of the book; we’ll cover it later, though, because this is an article about Spider-Girl.

DeFalco does a great job bridging the Marvel Universe of old (do the cool kids call it “The 616”?  If so, would that disqualify them as cool?  Let me in on the etiquette here, folks.) with MC2.  In the first few issues, we see Kingpin, Darkdevil (who I cannot wait to find out more about), and in one of those moments that will speak to the woebegone tribe of fans that love 90’s comics in spite of the constant ridicule aimed at us by the comics fans who see themselves as our betters, we see the “good guy” Green Goblin!  Yes, there was a good guy Green Goblin, and yes, he was awesome.  Hush if you think otherwise! (Actually, leave a comment.)

I think the reason that he flamed out as The Green Goblin is because his true calling would have been to be Captain Oblivious.
I think the reason that he flamed out as The Green Goblin is because his true calling would have been to be Captain Oblivious.

Spider-Girl is the place to start with MC2, but it is not the place to end, nor is it my favorite.  The book does provide the center of the MC2 universe, not unlike Spidey is the center of the standard Marvel Universe, and reverberations from all actions and events in MC2 seem to either start or end up here.  From the sneak preview of J2 in this book to the appearance of the Fantastic Five (who will get their own entry in a few weeks), this is pulse of where MC2 happens.  You’ll see the rest of the MC2 Universe here at The Unspoken Decade over the next month or so, and next week, you get to see my favorite MC2 character…J2!  See you then folks!