Edge of Spider-verse continues the spotlighting of various alternate universe Spider-men and women. This issue was penned by horror writer Clay McLeod Chapman.
When we first meet Patton Parnell, he's burning up ants outside with a magnifying glass. "Test subject #32 seems to be experiencing intense physical agony" he states aloud to no one in particular. His Uncle Ted yells at him to "get his ass back in here!", that he's going to be late for school.
In Patton's bedroom, he's commencing a little "surveillance experiment", that is, spying on next-door neighbor and classmate Sara Jane with binoculars while she's changing. But Uncle Ted yells from downstairs for him to get to school. It's a school field trip day, to Alcorp industries.
Incredibly, Sara Jane takes a seat next to Patton on the bus, mentioning that Alcorp "experiments on animals, chemical burns, vivasection, DNA tampering. Really sick stuff". Patton thinks to himself that she's never "established verbal contact before". As they arrive, Gene the jock tells Patton to get lost, that Sara Jane is his lab partner. During the tour, Sara Jane pulls Patton away to one of Alcorp's secret labs. She tells him they have to release the animals that the company tests products on. Reaching into a tank containing an irradiated female arachnid, Patton is of course bit. They are both caught when an alarm starts going off, and sent home.
When Patton wakes up at home later, he notices webbing between his fingers. His Uncle Ted comes in to give him a whipping with a belt, which Sara Jane can hear next door.
Later, Patton crawls to the refrigerator, but thinks he can't keep any food down. He smells a live mouse, and takes it out of a trap on the floor and eats it.
Next, a neighborhood cat he's captured tries to escape, which he halts with a web fired from his wrist. He thinks the more he eats the stronger he gets.
That night, when Uncle Ted gets home, he finds all kinds of webbed up forms stuck to the walls. Patton's various captures. Patton himself is clinging upside down to the kitchen ceiling when he looks up. Patton pounces on his uncle, sharp teeth bared.
The next day, at Patton's high school (Octavius High), he goes to feast on a bird he has stashed in his locker. He's accosted by Gene, and after some back and forth, agree to meet in the locker room at lunch for a fight.
After school, Patton comes across a kid putting up flyers for his lost dog. Patton tells the kid it's his lucky day, that the dog is at his house and to come with him.
Night: Sara Jane comes over to ask Patton if he's seen Gene anywhere, that they were last seen talking at school and Gene hasn't been seen since. They talk some more, and Patton goes in to kiss Sara Jane, but ends up biting her neck instead. Sara Jane strikes him across the face, and his skin tears, to reveal a hideous face underneath with multiple eyes. He sprouts extra arms and webs up the exit so she can't leave. She stumbles into his bedroom to find all the web sacks of food, as well as his Uncle Ted tied to the bed, alive. Patton reveals he's a carrier, and tons of little spiders erupt out of his Uncle's body.
It's at that point that Morlun arrives in the doorway, telling Patton "What a fresh totem you are!" He rips off one of Patton's arms when he fights back and consumes his life energy as Sara Jane runs out of the house.
The next day, Sara Jane is getting ready in the bathroom, examining the bite mark on her neck. She keeps repeating it was just a dream, when tiny spiders emerge out of the bite and cover her face.
When Spider-verse was announced, this is the type of story I was kind of hoping to see. Everything is similar to the normal Peter Parker's world, but just askew and warped enough to be different. This Patton Parnell (perhaps a jest on Stan Lee misremembering Peter's last name as "Palmer" in ASM #1?) is coldly detached and clinical; he sees life and situations around him as test subjects and experiments.
This issue takes the all-too familiar Spider-man origin, that of an outcast teenager that gets powers at a science exhibit (this case a class field trip), and takes it to its macabre conclusion--the protagonist becomes a monster instead, literally and figuratively. Of course, he doesn't have the love and guidance of an Uncle Ben or an Aunt May, but an Uncle Ted instead, who dishes out abuse and corporeal punishment. It's also very telling when Patton himself states via caption "The spider has given a gift. I could use it for the good of mankind, be a superhero. But who wants to be a superhero anymore? Being good is so--boring!". Would Peter himself have become a character like this in a different era? These are story tropes that are starting to be explored more frequently with Spider-man, but is still done in an interesting manner here.
I saw some people posting online that the horror doesn't go far enough, in terms of art and what was depicted, but I for one am glad it didn't go further. The art is crisp, and there's just the right amount of Cronenberg-esque body horror on display here. Patton's worst acts are mostly suggested off panel, and like some of the best horror, are left to the reader's imagination.
In all honesty, I don't care a lot about keeping up with Spider-verse, another mega-arc which seems to take more focus off of Peter Parker / Spider-man himself. But this issue is an interesting diversion, and perhaps even more unique due to the dark character of Patton. I was almost disappointed when Morlun came in to take him apart, as there seemed like more story to be told here. Though Patton seems pretty dead after his Morlun encounter, so I'm not sure how the first page blurb "every issue will introduce you to an amazingly different and fascinating Spider-character who will play a role in spider-verse!" will ring true. Perhaps Patton comes back somehow in Spider-Verse as a villain.