Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #568 (Story 2)

Background

When last we saw Eddie Brock, he was in a bad way. After being diagnosed with cancer, Eddie sold the Venom symbiote at auction in Marvel Knights Spider- Man #7, and then tried to commit suicide. He failed and found himself admitted to hospital to live out his last days; the same hospital where Aunt May was dying from a gunshot wound. Although bereft of the symbiote, Venom continued to exist in Eddie's subconscious, urging him to greater barbarity. In Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #39 he was a whisker away from killing May, before Eddie reasserted his control. But Venom is still there in Eddie's mind: watching, waiting, whispering. What happens when the dying Brock is well enough to leave hospital, and walk among us?

Story 'Fifth Stage'

  Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #568 (Story 2)
Summary: Eddie Brock cured of cancer.
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Adi Granov

Eddie Brock has been trying to save himself. He signed up for some experimental clinical trials of an anti-cancer drug, but at the last hurdle he's been turned down as an applicant. By Oscorp no less. It seems that he didn't fit the profile they were looking for. Eddie fantasises about turning into Venom and strangling the woman who brought him this bad news, but he decides against it. He heads back to his job at Martin Li's FEAST centre.

Working at FEAST, being around good people like Martin Li and May Parker is all that keeps Eddie going these days. After all the chemotherapy he's been through, Eddie can't even bear to look at himself in the mirror. He appreciates the opportunity to help other people. But the power and the violence of Venom is still lurking in his mind, even if it isn't lurking in his blood.

When a ungracious homeless man called Mike insults the shelter and throws his free meal back in Eddie's face, Brock snaps. Venom comes over him and he beats the man to a pulp. Martin Li pulls Eddie off the man. The look of disappointment in his and May's face is too much to bear. Eddie flees the shelter.

A little later, Eddie is waiting to see his doctor. Venom is everywhere now: reflected in the water cooler, staring back at him from a fellow patient's make-up compact. But its presence does not bode ill. The doctor has good news: Eddie's cancer is completely gone. This is not remission, he has a new chance at life. For the first time Eddie can look at himself in the mirror again; and he is happy.

The only question now is what plans Eddie has for his new life; and what plans Venom has for Eddie.

General Comments

Over the years I have come to regard any comic featuring Eddie Brock or Venom with extreme suspicion. When he was first introduced Venom was dynamic; he was original: there had never been a Spider-Man villain quite like him. But after a couple of years his lustre began to wear off. There were too many appearances, too many terrible mini-series, and with the arrival of Carnage and his motley crew, Venom was no longer unique.

So basically, I expect any story that deals with Eddie Brock and Venom to be two-dimensional rubbish that I'd only allow within a mile of my long-boxes because I'm an indiscriminate Marvel-phile, without the willpower or the common sense to give up my habit. Imagine, therefore, how completely blown away I am whenever I stumble across a Venom story that is actually worth reading.

At this point in Marvel history the Scorpion, Mac Gargan, has the Venom symbiote. He's had it for a few years too, and some excellent mileage was made of that character over in Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts run. In light of that, one would think that Eddie Brock is simply a washed up has-been. You could be forgiven for thinking that he'd play no role at all in the wider tapestry of Spider-Man's life until some unimaginative hack reunites him with the Venom costume years down the road.

Well, Mark Waid has done something I didn't think possible: make Eddie Brock a compelling character in his own right. The genius of this approach to the character is that builds on everything that has gone before, and moves the character on. Eddie's near death has given him a different perspective on life. He's finally growing and changing. The character is no longer stuck in the same rut he's been in since 1987. His desire to help people and his faith is totally believable.

Best of all is that the "Venom" he continues to carry around with him is not an alien form another world, but born of the complexities of the human mind. Eddie will always carry Venom around with him in his psyche: Venom is the demon constantly whispering in Eddie's ear. Every good deed is all the more heroic for Eddie because everyone, readers included, is waiting for him to fail. Great stuff.

Adi Granov's art also demands special mention. The backgrounds are minimalist, and the colours have a slightly washed out look that fits the tone of the piece perfectly. Granov truly excels are depicting people, and his Venom is tremendous: a fantastically Gieger-esque monstrosity! I'm not sure if we'll ever see him as the regular pencillier on Amazing - art of this quality takes a lot of time to produce, I'm sure.

Overall Rating

A surprisingly excellent short tale, that made me care about Eddie Brock. I've been reading Spider-Man comics for 21 years and I've never cared about Eddie Brock before. Bravo. Four webs.

Footnote

The title of this story refers to the fact there are five recognised stages of most cancers, with the fifth stage being the final (and terminal) step in the disease's inevitable victory. But not in the Marvel Universe of course. We cure cancer all the time here. Funny, how no-own could save Aunt May from a simple gunshot wound except Mephisto. I'm going to have to let that go...