Ah, a Venom arc. Conveniently timed right after Eddie Brock reunited with the symbiote and has a 150th issue (kinda). Also right when Marvel launched a Venom-centric anthology mini. Also offered in this issue is a free digital copy of the first issue of the most recent Venom trade. If I was a cynic, I would tell you that there might be some kind of push going on, but instead I’ll just say I hope you guys like Venom! Also worth noting is that artist Ryan Stegman is co-writing this arc, sharing “storyteller” credits with regular writer Gerry Conway.
Stegman’s shared storyteller duties do not detract from his art. Characters still pop off the pages, and his rendition of the symbiote costume is an improvement on the standard Spinneret costume. The emblem’s placement was a little strange for me at first – there are not too many costume out there where the emblem is on the abdomen, but I think it’s a nice way to change up the costume without altering too much. The Kraven-esque fur spaulders on the cover are also a nice touch. I really hope they appear in some later interiors.
The issue opens up in the middle of a brawl with Mysterio, setting up the main conflict of the issue: Mary Jane begins to have doubts in regards to her superheroics. She confides with her friends/coworkers that she feels like she is both a burden to Peter, and ultimately will drive a wedge between them because she is, quite literally, always taking from him – as Spinneret of course, a final detail she keeps to herself.
Cue a rather on-the-nose interview with Liz Allan playing in the background, where Allan just happens to hit every point MJ mentioned previously. It’s one of those things that happen in fiction that sounds like it rings true to life, but happens more because of self-centric cognitive bias than we would like to admit. It’s not the most nuanced way to get the plot going, but there does need to be a little shoe-horning to get the story to a place where Venom could feasibly appear.
The first volume of Renew Your Vows opens with Spider-Man missing the big Avengers show down with Regent to defend his family against an attack with Venom. Subsequent issues (not to mention, a history of Spider-Man) tell us that Mary Jane is familiar with Venom, the symbiote, and what it does to a person – after all, it was her that got Peter to change back into his red and blues, citing trauma from her time kidnapped by Venom. Sure, it’s a pedantic point, but it did strike me as strange that she would be so willing and compliant after putting on the suit and seeing the Venom insignia morph onto her body.
All of that is to say that the circumstances leading up to MJ getting the symbiote do not feel terribly organic, but that’s balanced out by clear motivations. Coming into this issue solely from Volume 2 of Renew Your Vows, there would be no fault in how this particular development unfolded. Ultimately, the way Mary Jane gets the symbiote I think doesn’t really have much weight on the story that’s being told here. Sure, the first half of this issue is all about how MJ gets the symbiote, but it seems to me that past that, the story is going to be more about the motivations behind that desire: MJ’s fragile sense of worth as Spinneret coupled with her strong desire to provide for her family. It’s a compelling motivation that has been consistent with her characterization thus, so I can ignore some continuity hiccups along the way.
Readers familiar with the original “Homecoming” arc of Amazing Spider-Man proper will recognize the night strolls the symbiote takes its host on, as well as the vivid nightmares. The nightmare in this issue is rather on the nose and while it serves its function on both implying a passage of time and also showing that Mary Jane is asleep, I can’t help but think it is a waste of narrative space. We have the next sequence that shows that the Venom symbiote is dangerous, and any sort of hesitation or inner monologue from MJ could have established Peter’s history with the suit. I guess it acts as foreshadowing, showing that the symbiote will put the Parker-Watson family in danger, but I feel like that’s already an obvious turn of events.
A non-obvious turn is that, unlike Peter who was left physically exhausted by his nightly jaunts with the symbiote, MJ seems energized. Her behavior here seems reminiscent of a person on their first high. It wouldn’t be the first time a symbiote has been likened to a drug addiction, but that would be an unexpected and interesting place to take the squeaky-clean Spider-Family. Aside from the promise of familial conflict down the road and another few panels dedicated to advancing the Normie Osborn story, there isn’t much in this issue that obviously leads into the next – we’ll have to wait until next month to see exactly how the wrench gets thrown into the cogs.