Comics : Spider-Man Special Edition: Trial Of Venom

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1998.

Background...

You say you don't need a Lookback at any Venom stories because you know them all by heart? You say you're familiar with the first one when he webs Spidey up in the bell tower, the second one where Spidey agrees to take back the symbiote, the one guest-starring Styx and Stone, the one on the island, the one introducing Carnage and all the mediocre others to follow? Then what about "The Trial of Venom" from Spider-Man Special Edition #1? This issue was originally offered only to those who made a five dollar donation to UNICEF (and almost immediately offered for ten dollars by some mercenary comic dealers right after that) and takes place sometime just prior to the Venom: Lethal Protector mini-series. Oh, you know this one, too? Well, here it is anyway.

In Detail...

Spider-Man Special Edition: Trial Of Venom
Dec 1992 : SM Title
Editor:  Glenn Herdling
Writer:  Peter David
Pencils:  Jim Craig
Inker:  Dan Day, David Day
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Brent Nagle of the Justice Department is visiting the prison for super-criminals known as the Vault. It is shortly after the breakout attempt as depicted in Avengers-Deathtrap: The Vault (later reprinted as Venom-Deathtrap: The Vault) and Ms. Brewster, acting project head, assures the visitor that they've tightened security and "instituted a new series of psychological testing for all personnel". Nagle tells her that Justice wants more than security. "Are you people making any attempt at rehabilitation or do you just keep them here to rot?" Brewster informs him that a "rewards system" has been instituted. Holographic equipment has been added to each cell. If a prisoner cooperates, they are rewarded with a pleasant enviroment. To demonstrate, Brewster shows Nagle the cell occupied by Moonstone. The holographic images in her cell are of a warm beach. Moonstone, in a bikini, basks in the sun as the water splashes up over her. It has been a successful policy except, Ms. Brewster admits, "our guardsmen now tend to linger by her cell". This self-congratulation is interrupted by a nearby scream. It has come, Brewster realizes, from Venom's cell.

Brewster and Nagle rush to the scene, accompanied by two armored guardsmen. Inside the cell, Venom's alter-ego, Eddie Brock, is cringing in a corner. He is shaking, sweating, and whimpering, "It's... it's dead, it... it killed itself!" In another part of the cell, the Venom symbiote lies in a pile. It appears to be melting. Foam is dribbling out of the still recognizable mouth.

On Brewster's authority, the force field on cellblock 666 (yeah, really!) is dropped so the guards can enter. They are all expecting a trick. They know that the Venom costume is alive and is a shapeshifter. That "it could be disguised as his shorts and this here is.. discarded matter or something". Nevertheless, they take Eddie Brock from his cell and examine the remains of the creature. One guardsman declares, "As near as I can tell now, the Venom creature's dead".

I'm sure nobody has to be told this but here's a quick rundown anyway. Venom is a synthesis of Eddie Brock and an alien creature. The creature was discovered by Spider-Man when he fought on the planet of the Secret Wars. He thought it was just a nifty black costume that poured over him like a mold and would respond to his thoughts. After he brought it to Earth, however, he discovered that it was a living creature and that it was malevolent. He finally managed to defeat it with sound (using the clanging of a church bell) in Web of Spider-Man #1 (April 1985) and he left it for dead. Unbeknownst to the webster, though, Eddie Brock, broken and bitter, was contemplating suicide in the church below. He had been a reporter who had broken the story of the true identity of the killer known as Sin-Eater. Unfortunately, Eddie's exclusive was wrong. When Spider-Man discovered the real killer, Eddie was discredited and fired. He blamed the wall-crawler and became the perfect partner for the alien symbiote which now hated Spidey as well. From the creature, Eddie learned Spider-Man's true identity. He also gained a tremendous amount of lethal and frightening abilities to become one of the wall-crawler's most dangerous foes.

Back in a very rainy New York City, Spidey is romping around with Daredevil and he can't believe his ears. The Man Without Fear has just told him that Matt Murdock is going out to the Vault to defend Venom in a new trial. (Spidey and DD know each other's real identities.) The wall-crawler complains that Venom already had a trial and was found guilty but Daredevil replies that the appeals court ordered a new trial on the grounds of "ineffective assistance of counsel" in the last one. Also, he notes, "As Matt Murdock, I'm available for Pro Bono work... and I was asked to serve because of my previous experience with super-powered offenders such as the Gladiator". And, finally, "I wanted to take the case. He's not Venom anymore. He's Eddie Brock. And even if he were still Venom, he's entitled to full representation under the law!"

The conversation continues as the duo easily mops up on some muggers. Daredevil tells Spidey he wants him to come along as a material witness. "You'll be a hostile witness", he says, "but you're the closest thing to an expert on Venom that we have". When Spidey balks, Matt tells him that he could subpoena him but, "you have a civic responsibility. It's the right thing to do." "You hadda bring up 'responsibility', didn't you?", Spidey replies.

Spider-Man and Matt Murdock are greeted by Brent Nagle at the entrance to the Vault. He introduces them to Ms. Brewster and then takes them to Eddie Brock's cell. He mentions that Eddie's cell is "being monitored at all times" but Matt objects. "I'll want your monitors turned off when I speak to my client", he says and he gets what he wants.

In the cell, Eddie tells Matt that the symbiote "got depressed, trapped, frustrated" and was "still lovesick for Spider-Man... it just stopped living, committed suicide". Matt uses his hypersenses to monitor Eddie's heart and comes to the same conclusion as a polygraph test administered earlier... Eddie is telling the truth. He tells his client, "I'm going to enter a plea of not guilty due to insanity... an insanity that's no longer a threat. I think we have a good chance."

The trial begins and Spider-Man is sworn in as a witness. The judge doublechecks with the prosecution and defense that they are convinced that the man in the costume is indeed Spidey "rather than, say, Tom Cruise in a costume". ("I look just like Tom Cruise", says the webhead.) "He crawled a wall while lifting an armored vehicle, your honor", says Matt, "We're convinced."

Spidey takes the stand and Matt begins the questioning by asking about his first encounter with Venom. When Spidey calls his opponent "Brock", Matt asks how the webster knew who Venom was, since he was masked. Spidey explains that he saw him unmasked and recognized him from his picture in his Daily Globe column. "I said something like, 'You're Eddie Brock'... He said, 'I used to be Eddie Brock'". Could he have meant, Matt asks, "that he didn't consider himself to be Eddie Brock. That 'Eddie Brock' was totally sublimated to the desires of the alien?" An uncertain Spidey tries to counter but Matt follows up with another question. "Before he 'became' Venom, did Eddie Brock ever attack you in any way?" "No", Spidey replies but Brock hated him and may have done him harm even without the costume. Matt squashes that point by demonstrating that hating someone is not the same as trying to kill them. "You weren't there!", Spidey says, "The murderous hatred came from Brock, not the costume." But Matt also gets Spidey to say that Eddie was contemplating suicide before merging with the symbiote which would certainly not make him a threat to Spider-Man. "So right after he killed himself, he was going to come gunning for you? Is that what you're saying?", Matt asks. At this point, ignoring the warning of his counselor, Eddie himself gets up to say something. The web-slinger is afraid that Brock will blurt out his secret identity but instead Eddie says, "I just want to know... Spider-Man... Can you ever forgive me for the things I did?" A thoroughly confused webhead can only reply, "Huh?"

The closing arguments to the jury take place. The prosecutor argues that Eddie must assume responsibility for his crimes. "You cannot absolve Eddie Brock of his crimes just because his costume is gone, any more than you can absolve a drunk driver by taking away his license." Matt argues that it was the symbiote who was homicidal, not Eddie. "Don't punish one for the sins of the other."

Back in his cell awaiting the verdict, Eddie tells Spider-Man that he is not returning to New York if freed. He'll make a clear start elsewhere. "Don't have to worry about running into me.", he says, "And mum's the word about.... you know." Matt arrives to tell Eddie that the jury is in. As Brock gets taken to the courtroom, Spidey stops Ms. Brewster. He has a plan, "a possible back-up", using "something that occurred to me when you took me on a tour of this place", just in case it is necessary.

In the courtroom, the foreman of the jury rises and pronounces Eddie Brock "Not guilty, by reason of insanity". Soon after, a happy Eddie, his arm around Matt Murdock's shoulder, heads for the exit to the Vault. He is a free man. But Spidey is still not convinced and decides to try one last trick to draw Venom out. He webs Eddie's feet to the floor, pokes him strongly in the chest and says, "You're a loser, Brock. Pathetic, jealous, and envious." Eddie cannot contain his anger. He takes a punch at Spidey, knocking him to the ground. "No one normal could tag me like that!", Spidey says. The alien must still be alive.

The game is up for Eddie so he releases the symbiote by vomiting it! He has been keeping the creature inside his body where it was "controlling pulse respiration... everything I needed to beat the lie detectors" as well as Matt Murdock's hypersenses. (This is also why all the examinations failed to detect the symbiote anywhere on Eddie's skin.) And, of course, the apparently deceased costume in the cell was nothing more than "a large, dead pile of its own matter" that the symbiote created, "just as it does with the webbing". Furious, Eddie becomes Venom. "I wanted to put some serious mileage between this place and me", he tells Spidey, but he has only gotten as far as the forest just outside the facilities. He swats Spidey up against a tree, telling him "You're too clever to live, Spider-Man, so tell you what, now we'll have our own trial." and to emphasize this, he converts his costume to a black judge's robe (still manifesting the shark-toothed, long-tongued, slavering head on top).

Venom sends out black tendrils to encircle Spider-Man's neck. A green-armored guardsman tries to sneak up behind the villain with a sonic-blaster but Venom sends tendrils underground that rise up and ensnare him, destroying the weapon in the process. The tendrils around the wall-crawler's neck take on the form of a noose. Venom lifts him by the rope-end, ready to pronounce a sentence of death.

But he never gets through his "guilty" verdict for his own neck is soon having troubles of its own. A billy club cable has wrapped around it. Matt Murdock has changed to Daredevil and joined the fight. Spider-Man takes advantage of the situation, kicking Venom in the chops, releasing himself from the noose. But Venom, too, has quickly saved himself from strangulation. He tugs on the cable, drawing Daredevil to him. When DD works to evade the killer, he wrenches his shoulder, putting himself at immediate risk.

"I blame you for my creation as much as Spider-Man", an approaching Venom tells the swashbuckler. (Daredevil was also involved in the Sin-Eater mystery.) But Spider-Man jumps Brock from behind. Together, the two of them go rolling down a steep hill. Venom lands a strong blow to the webster as they tumble, which separates the two. This allows Spidey to get a head start at the base of the hill. He flees into a nearby cave. Venom follows. "Running away?", Eddie asks disdainfully, "That is so very much your style. Hit and run. Duck for cover." But the light of the spider-signal shines out in the cave, leading Venom to the wall-crawler.

The cave opens up to a large cavity with stalactites and stalagmites. Venom spots Spidey perched on one of the formations and he leaps to the attack. He wraps some of his tendrils around Spidey's left leg, then closes in for the kill. But Spidey has a leap of his own. He jumps over the diving Brock, shoving him as he passes by. Venom gets a faceful of dirt... which turns out to not be dirt at all. For as Venom turns to try to attack Spider-Man again, he is repelled by force field lines that magically appear. Spidey yells, "Okay, Ms. Brewster. You can shut it off." and Eddie makes an unsettling discovery. He is back in his cell in the Vault. Spidey explains, "While your sanity hearing was being held Ms. Brewster, at my suggestion, rigged up a large section of the Vault to look like a cave, using those new holo-imagers." Venom's only response is (and I quote), "AAAARRHH".

Back in New York, Spidey and Daredevil get together on the rooftops. Matt tells Peter that he is back from the Vault because "Venom demanded another lawyer. I told him I would handle the civil suit he wanted to file against you for hitting him and screwing up his plan". But Matt also wants to emphasize that he believes what he said in the trial. Brock "really might not be responsible for his actions. In which case, he's suffering for crimes over which he has no control. It's something of a tragedy really." "You mean I'm supposed to feel empathy for Venom now?", says Spidey, "Whatever happened to the days when everything was nice, simple, good guys and bad guys. Black and white?" "It was never that way, Peter", says Matt, "Not really. You'd realize that... if you saw the world through my eyes."