Posted by Don MacPherson on February 25th, 2011
Amazing Spider-Man #654.1
Writer: Dan Slott
Pencils: Humberto Ramos
Inks: Carlos Cuevas
Colors: Edgar Delgado
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artist: Paolo Siqueira
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US
While I think the numbering scheme is unnecessary and possibly irritating to some collectors, Marvel’s new “Point One” initiative is a wise move on the publisher’s part. Offering new comics readers and existing ones an accessible introduction to an ongoing series — especially one with the kind of history that this one has — is a solid marketing move. There’s just one problem: Marvel needs to stick with its own plan. Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 isn’t an introduction to what’s going on in Peter Parker’s world. Instead, this is an introduction to the new, upcoming Venom, featuring longtime Amazing Spidey supporting character Flash Thompson. Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos offer up a fun comic, but Venom‘s not even their book. Editorially, this comic book was quite puzzling, which interfered with my appreciation of the craft that unfolded on its pages.
U.S. veteran Flash Thompson served his country well and bravely, even losing his legs in an effort in the line of duty. Today, Uncle Sam has called on him to serve once again, this time to wield a powerful weapon: the Venom symbiote. His first tasks send him to Madripoor on an espionage mission aimed at tracking down the leadership of a terrorist organization and to Uzbekistan, into the heart of enemy territory to rescue a wealthy financier. Thompson’s a good soldier, but even he can’t completely control the bestial nature of the symbiote.
Ramos’ style is a suitable one for a story featuring Venom. Through the more monstrous side of the character is usually hidden in this story, when it does emerge, Ramos’ exaggerated approach works well with it. I also like the slight redesign of the Venom look for a black-ops soldier premise, though I don’t know if it’s attributable to Ramos or Venom artist Tony Moore. The action flows clearly in concert with the script, and there aren’t any visuals that seem off or distracting, but then again, Ramos’ approach to some supporting characters, such as the kidnap victim later in the book, is so cartoonish that key figures in the story look silly, detracting from the darker edge of the plot. I also found the cover art to be somewhat confusing. It includes a previous design and incarnation of Venom and features Spidey in costume, even though he makes no appearance in this story (even if Peter Parker does).
I like the core concept of Venom being repurposed as a military weapon, and I also appreciate the notion of a crippled soldier recapturing his vitality and sense of purpose through such an unusual and risky circumstance. Of course, the notion of a disabled former soldier dealing with what is essentially a sentient, alien prosthetic is being explored more effectively and interestingly in Boom! Studios’ Soldier Zero. Asking the audience to accept a bombastic personalilty such as Flash as a spy is asking a bit too much of the readership. One needn’t even be aware of his history; his personality, lacking in personality, shines through here.
I can buy into the idea of Flash Thompson joining the military and being deployed overseas and being injured while heroically rushing to a comrade’s rescue. But Flash is portrayed as much more than a soldier here; he’s depicted as a super-soldier, and I’m not referring to the Venom powers. He comes off as super-savvy, the perfect tactician, and it just doesn’t seem like him. The creators haven’t really established him at this level, and it doesn’t jibe with the high-school jock attitude he’s giving off throughout the issue. Furthermore, I was surprised there’s not a darker quality — more melancholy of angrier — to Flash, given his circumstances. Writer Dan Slott doesn’t really sell Flash’s motives for getting involved with the Venom project all that well.
I’m sure this comic book sold well under the Amazing Spider-Man banner, but it really should’ve been titled Venom #0, not Spidey #654.1. And while this introduces the core premise of the upcoming Venom series, it really doesn’t tell me what that book will really be like since that title’s creators aren’t involved with this introduction. So the comic doesn’t give the reader an idea of what to expect from Amazing Spider-Man, nor does it really give one an idea of what to expect from Venom. From a creative perspective, the comic is capable but little more. And from a publishing perspective, it’s a definite misstep. 5/10
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