Norman Osborn has come to New York with the Thunderbolts in tow. Their mission: to take down Spider-Man. Meanwhile, the sub plot of the mayoral race continues to simmer in the background, and Eddie Brock seems to have finally taken control of his life thanks to the beneficent Martin Li. Our last issue ended with Peter Parker presented to his old enemy. Osborn wants information on how to find Spider-Man, and he's willing to do anything to get it.
Norman Osborn. His very name sends chills down your spine. Peter is dropped at the feet of his greatest enemy, who demands to know where he can find Spider- Man. Peter is suddenly puzzled. Why is Osborn asking him that? Then it dawns on him:
Ah right. He doesn't remember anymore. He has no idea I'm Spidey. Nobody does. Everything we did is still up and running. I'm safe.
Odd thing to say isn't it? We'll get back to that in a minute. At the apartment, Osborn is his intimidating best, and the Thunderbolts trash the place looking for some evidence that links Peter to Spider-Man. The scene emphasises the absolute power that has fallen into Norman's hands since he because director of the Thunderbolts.
The Thunderbolts leave before Vin Gonzales turns up, leaving Peter to explain the mess to his room mate. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock arrives back at the FEAST shelter, fresh from the meeting with his doctor in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #568 (Story 2). Eddie has been cured of cancer and he is eager to share his good fortune with Mr Li and Aunt May.
Li takes Eddie into his backroom - a luxurious lounge and study that is in direct contrast the shelter on the other side of the wall. Eddie knows that more than the cancer has been excised from his system. The symbiote has gone as well. Why has he been singled out for such good fortune, after all the evils he has done in his life?
Li tells Eddie not to question his miracles. He points to the game currently in play on the table. No one has access to this room except him, and yet some how the black pieces on the board move as if someone is playing against him. I think we readers might have an idea who that is.
Meanwhile, at a Crowne rally across town, Dexter Bennett makes a public apology for all the bad things that the Daily Bugle ever said about Norman Osborn, including such ludicrous libel as naming him as the Green Goblin. Randall Crowne presents Norman Osborn with a "Man of the Year" award, and then Obsorn gives a speech, which is little more than a transparent endorsement of Crowne's political campaign. The Thunderbolts look on decidedly bored. Ben Urich and Peter are in the crowd, but Urich's serious questions are ignored in favour of sound bites.
Cut to the Coffee Bean, and Norman Osborn is paying a visit to his son. Nothing that Harry says or does impresses his father. Norman makes his contempt for his son's life, achievements and company abundantly clear. He says that he has never been so ashamed to call Harry his son. Lily tries to console Harry after his father's departure, but Harry turns on her. There is a red and ominous glint in his eyes.
It is now much later in the day. The Radioactive Man, Songbird and Venom are patrolling the city looking for Spider-Man. Osborn also wants to know the exact location of Peter Parker, but his men have lost sight of him. This is because Peter Parker is stuck to the wall outside dressed in a Spider-Man suit. He's here to have things out with Norman.
Spidey sneaks in past security, disables the guards, silences the restrained Bullseye and turns off the power. Under the cover of darkness he quickly despatches the guards surrounding Norman until it is just him and the Goblin. Peter tries to intimidate Norman, but it doesn't work. More guards burst in and as Spidey turns to deal with them, Osborn contacts the Thunderbolts.
But Venom isn't coming. He is standing on a roof looking down on the FEAST shelter. He can sense Eddie Brock inside, and he has a score to settle. Realising that Aunt May is also at that shelter, Spidey calls the fight short, escapes from the Osborn mansion and starts webbing his way across the city. He is convinced that he will arrive too late to save Aunt May from harm.
Venom bursts into the shelter, sending everyone scurrying for cover. Venom grabs Brock, but the symbiote begins to leave Gargan and attach itself to Eddie - much to Gargan's horror. Suddenly, Eddie's body starts to foam as if he is having a violent reaction to the touch of the symbiote. The foam burns Venom who roars in pain. It also has a profound effect on Eddie.
Brock throws off Venom, empowered by righteous anger and something else. He has been transformed into a hulking negative image of Venom. Eddie Brock is Anti- Venom! Who saw that coming?
Anti-Venom? I mean, Anti-Venom? Really? Someone actually thought this was a good idea? It's a joke, surely? These inverted versions of heroes and villains are seldom as exciting or as clever as their creators seem to think they are; they just smack of a lack of ideas. John Romita, Jr. does his best on the visuals, but he doesn't really have much to work with. Anti-Venom: he's Venom but white and black, instead of black and white! How cool is that?
Well, not very cool at all as it turns out. Right at this moment, Eddie Brock is far more interesting as Eddie Brock, there's no need to turn him into another deranged whack-job. We're finally in a place where Eddie is gaining some much needed depth to his character: he's not a revenge-fuelled nutcase or a 'lethal protector' anymore, he's starting to sound like a real human being. This new found degree of credibility is shredded by the debut of his new alter- ego.
Frankly, anyone who declares: "You're a Poison! A Disease! And I'm the cure!" without his tongue firmly in his cheek has already descended into he realm of caricature. He might as well be strutting across the set of a 1950s John Wayne movie. I expect better than this.
I am hoping that Slott has a better explanation for this nonsense waiting in the wings. The existence of Mr Negative as the inversion of Martin Li, and the existence of Anti-Venom as the inversion of Venom surely cannot be a coincidence. We could still have a satisfying narrative twist out of this, but Slott has a lot of work to do to bring me around to Anti-Venom.
Let's move on.
This issue is littered with cryptic references to the changes that have happened since One More Day. In addition to the quote from the text above, there are two others of interest to us. Ben Urich says "What does Osborn think, that he can wave a magic wand and everyone will forget who he really is?" (Peter's reaction to this is telling). And Spidey himself says to Norman: "Wrong, Goblin. Times have changed. And this time you have no idea who I am. And I know everything about you."
What are we supposed to make of this? That Peter remembers his life before OMD? Or is he remembering a different version of history where Norman knew his identity and then forgot it? (But if this is the case, who is the "we" Peter refers to?) Is it just the writers having a bit of fun at the expense of the readers? Or is it all three?
Enough, already. Stephen Whacker has maintained, in multiple interviews, that all the secrets of Brand New Day will be revealed. Well, I think it's about time they stopped teasing and got on with revealing. The tone of the remarks in this issue are on the verge of mocking those readers uncomfortable with the new status quo. Please, no more foreshadowing, let's get to some meat.
This issue also sees the first on panel meeting between Norman and Harry Osborn for decades. But despite the time that has elapsed the scene still comes across as old and forced. Maybe it's the recent memory of the Spider-Man movies coming through, but I just feel as though there's nothing of any worth going on here. This is just a tired recycling of old stories and events. The swift change in Harry's demeanour, the red eyes... oh, please don't let become the Green Goblin again! They'll never tell the story as well as it was told the first time, and it would be nice if every scene of every issue didn't stink of déjà vu.
By this stage you may be getting the impression that this issue didn't work for me on a number of levels. But there is some good stuff here! The scene where Gargan destroys the photo of Peter, Gwen, Harry and MJ springs to mind. There is also a nice nod to continuity, with the mention of Ben Urich's book that outed Norman Osborn as the Goblin. See the excellent Spider-Man: Legacy of Evil one-shot for the full story.
However, on the whole the bad outweighs the good. Next issue promises to be a fight-fest between Venom, Anti-Venom, Spider-Man and the Thunderbolts which I am sure will be competently written and well drawn. But please, give us a little more to the over all plot than smoke and mirrors.
Anti-Venom... merciful heavens... Just when you thought the barrel didn't have a bottom left. It's not quite bad enough to eclipse Penance as Worst Concept for a Character Ever (tm), but it's a close second. Then there's the tired scene between the Osborns, the continual teasing of revelations... Thank goodness for John Romita, Jr. or this wouldn't even get two webs.