Review: Amazing Spider-Man #596-598

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Or – “How Venom Got His Groove Back…”

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Y’know what’s interesting?  Venom’s “new costume,” which has only appeared in the Amazing Spider-Man title, makes it’s reappearance in this issue, but only on the cover.  It didn’t get used in Thunderbolts, I don’t believe it’s in use in Dark Reign, and it’s not actually seen in the interiors.  Isn’t it odd that they’d roll out a new uniform for a high-profile villain like Venom and then NOT USE IT? 

Previously, on Amazing Spider-Man:  Harry Osborn has walked a long and difficult road, going from high school tormentor, to college roommate, ASM1.jpgto best friend, to hated enemy, to husband and father, to dead, to being played by the guy from Freaks and Geeks, and now back, apparently, to college roommate.  His run-ins with drugs and his moments of Green Goblin psychosis are mostly behind him, but he’s still having issues dealing with his estranged father, Norman.  When Daddy showed up with a high-paying job offer last issue, Harry told him no freakin’ way, only to change his mind as soon as his girlfriend Lily (also known as the monster called Menace) informed him she was pregnant.  To protect his family, Harry is forced to turn to the devil he knows, accepting a position with Norman’s HAMMER division.  But the mind of Osborn is a curious place, and Norman has greater plans for his son than just a government desk job…

Amazing Spider-Man #596 picks up roughly where 595 left off, with a public press conference announcing Harry Osborn’s introduction to the increasingly corrupt Osborn regime.  Peter Parker is sure that Norm is blackmailing his pal, but Harry insists that he has to do this, that there’s no other option.  “Gonna say that when you start using again, too?” asks Parker…  Damn, that’s cold.  Harry naturally flips out, telling Pete that his family is none of Parker’s business, leaving Pete to swing through the skies frustrated.  Spider-Man ends up conferring with Aunt May and soon-to-be Uncle Jay (Jonah Jameson, Sr) and gets some meaningful advice.  Jameson explains to Pete the real story of why he was never around for JJJ, and leaves him with the final thought: “Always do what your gut tells you is right.”  In an attempt to infiltrate Norman’s compound, Pete finds that his friend Norah has already DONE it, and resents Peter’s warnings that she’s going to get herself killed. Peter comes up with a plan of his own, catching Mac Gargan on one of his “outings” (code for killing and eating hookers, natch) and takes him down with help from the Invisible Woman, then infiltrates the Dark Avengers with a Venom mask that Reed Richards made for him.  He makes it to Avengers tower just in time to see the rollout of Norman’s new project:  American Son!

 Amazing Spider-Man #597 kicks off with the reveal of Harry’s new red-white-and-blue battle armor, all the better to make him Daddy’s shadow, and Peter is horrified to find out that there’s also a CHEMICAL portion of the plan, one that will make Harry into a super-soldier, but also force him to take drugs into his system for the first time in years.  Harry finds that Norman has also brought Lily to live at Avengers Tower, holding her captive to save his grandson, and Harry vows to get her out, as well as curing her uncontrollable transformations into the monster.  Spider-Venom tries to figure out what he’s going to do with his new information when he’s suddenly ambushed by Daken, son of Wolverine, whose sense of smell is almost as good as his daddy’s.  L’il Wolviekins takes the brunt of Spidey’s rage, and when they’re discovered, Spider-Man claims that DAKEN is the interloper, only to have Harry Osborn blow his cover.  Harry still hates Spider-Man, not knowing that he’s also his best friend, and Norman takes things into his own hands.  The head of HAMMER pulls a gun and SHOOTS SPIDER-MAN in the face!  That’s a cliffhanger, folks…

Fortunately, Amazing Spider-Man #598 isn’t renamed Norman and his Amazing Band of Looney Tunes, but it does begin with a blood-covered Norman trying to give Harry some friendly advice, but young Mr. Osborn still doesn’t trust Daddy.  A quick flashback confirms that Reed Richards created the mask not only to simulate Venom’s distinctive mouth but to protect Spidery from harm, such as, say, small-arms fire.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped Bullseye from torturing Spider-Man for a day or so to find out how to get the mask off.  Spidey tells him that the voice-activation code phrase is “Bowl Psi Isad Oosh.”  (Say it out loud fast, you’ll get it.)  Harry finally discovers his father’s plans for him, and can’t believe Norman wants him to take ANY drugs, even ones that would make him a soopahero, then sneaks off to find Lily.  He has created an antigen for the Menace serum, and tries to give it to her, only to have Lily flip out and punch him.  At the same time, Norman reveals that his plan is to sacrifice Harry as a martyr to gain public acclaim and finalize his power as head of all things superhuman.  “He’s your son,” says Spidey, disbelieving.  “Your ONLY son!”   Norman smiles serenely.  “Is he?”  In the park, Menace transforms, and tells Harry the truth: she isn’t carrying his baby.  She’s carrying his baby brother.  Both Spider-Man and Harry escape near-death and end up in Avengers Tower, as Norman somehow overpowers and prepares to kill Spider-Man.  Before he can act though, Harry suits up as  American Son and attacks, snarling, “You got your superhero!”

Paulo Siquiera and Marco Chechetto do a really good job on art here, evoking the detail of Phil Jiminez’ art while keeping the deceptive simplicity of Barry Kitson’s work, so this fits right into the current visual idiom of the Spider-verse.  There are a couple of really brilliant moments throughout, with Spider-Man’s invisible force fielded beatdown of his old foe and the revelation of Lily’s infidelity (and how many young girls HAS Norman impregnated now?  Seven?  Eight?) really hitting the mark for me.  I enjoyed these issues (parts 2 through 4 of a five-part series) a lot, and I think that as much as Brand New Day has caused controversy, it’s also generated some of the best Spider-Man work in several years.  Having rotating arcs rather than multiple titles is a brilliant sales ploy, especially since Amazing Spider-Man (the title) has always sold better than others for some reason.  The overall effect of these issues is to remind me of what I already like about Spider-Man as a character and not a property or franchise.  Peter Parker doesn’t have to be the ultimate loser, he just has to maintain as realistic a story as possible within the framework of his little portion of Queens.  Spider-Man stories aren’t about him being a loser, Spider-Man stories are about a young man trying to balance an overloaded schedule of heroing, schooling, family and love and always missing one of the spinning plates, something that this arc has done VERY well.  Add in some good art, a truly frightening antagonist, some spy-guy intrigue and well-handled fighty-fighty, and you got yourself a winner.  Amazing Spider-Man #596, #597, and #598 earn a combined 4 out of 5 stars, the total package.

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