This is the first part of “The Vibranium Vendetta”, the serial that ran through all of Spider-Man’s annuals in 1991.
|Spider-Man: Venom Returns (TPB)
The place is Empire State University’s Midtown Campus (the college where Peter Parker is currently spending time as a grad student) and the time is midnight. Some hoods are loading crates and duffel bags into an unmarked van. Suddenly, the Spider-Signal appears… which is quickly followed by Spider-Man himself! Our hero jumps off a wall and wades into the crooks with fists flying. Needless to say, he makes short work out of them. While the would-be-thieves are webbed up he looks into one of the bags and sees a melted metal desk chair. Before he knows it, some security guards and a guy in a blue business suit arrive on the scene. Spidey professes his innocence, but the man in the suit (we find out later that is his name is Arthur Dearborn) advises our hero that the “hoods” were actually hired hands and were just removing some debris from a top-secret Roxxon experiment that is being conducted on campus. Spidey mumbles an apology and quickly swings away to avoid further embarrassment.
Meanwhile, the Ghost (an old Iron Man villain, I believe) is meeting with the Kingpin. The Kingpin wants the Ghost to steal Roxxon’s research data as well as destroy their ability to recreate it. Why? Because like greedy businessmen throughout the ages he wants the profits of someone else’s research all for himself. The Ghost, for his part, says he has history with Roxxon and will gladly destroy their property. Then he phases through the floor and disappears.
The next day, Peter Parker is hanging out at ESU and talking with some botany grad students, Chip and Evan. They inform him that they are working on a project to accelerate plant growth so farmers can grow two harvests each season and end world hunger. Except Roxxon is getting all the limelight while their program funding is close to being pulled. Pete sympathizes, but ditches because he has an appointment to keep.
Roxxon is holding a press conference on campus and Peter is there as the Daily Bugle staff photographer. We also see T’Challa (king of the small African nation of Wakanda, also known as the Black Panther) is there and even making small talk with MJ. T’Challa states he is here to see if the rumors of Roxxon creating artificial vibranium are true. If they are, the entire economy of Wakanda is at risk of collapsing. To round out the gang, Iron Man (secretly Tony Stark, master inventor and CEO of Stark International) flies in as well. He chats with Arthur Dearborn, the Roxxon project director. It’s clear these two have history. It’s also clear Arthur is a company man, saying Roxxon has made mistakes in the past but it still has a lot to offer the world. Iron Man is not quite convinced.
With all our players in place it is time for the big announcement. Jonas Hale (you can tell he is a smarmy executive slimeball because he wears frosted aviator glasses and has a porn mustache) introduces Nuform, a cheap, synthetic vibranium that only Roxxon knows how to produce. (Everyone knows about vibranium, right? It’s a very rare metal that absorbs sound vibrations.) He says once Roxxon has amassed a suitable stockpile of the stuff the company will release it onto the open market. Before he can finish his announcement, however, he is summoned to the lab due to an accident. A scientist’s wristwatch has melted into his wrist. Jonas reiterates that no metal is allowed in the lab and it is revealed that Nuform is naturally unstable and has to be treated with microwaves or it become Antartic vibranium, which is a metal that causes other metals to melt (uh, Marvel elements are weird, folks). Dearborn checks in on the lab as well, and is assured by Jonas that everything is okay. After Dearborn leave, Jonas reveals that the microwave treatment only delays the inevitable decay into Antartic vibranium but he is willing to hide that fact and risk melting entire cities, because in the meantime “profits will be phenomenal”. Yeah, and so will the quadrillion dollar clean-up afterwards! Interestingly, no time frame is given as to how long it takes for the stabilization process to break down.
Meanwhile, our third villain of this story finally makes the scene! Ultron (version 13, for those keeping track of these types of things) is being transported to the Vault, the prison for superhuman criminals, after his latest defeat (see Avengers West Coast #68 for details). Of course, I don’t think any Marvel reader has ever seen an uneventful trip to the Vault in their life, so of course Ultron chooses this moment for his break out. And he just happens to see a newspaper article about the announcement of the new synthetic vibranium. He decides he must incorporate it into his armor to make himself even stronger before he faces the Avengers again. (And, as an aside, this paper must be from the future because the announcement we saw was just this morning.)
Well, it seems that our hero got a whiff of something suspicious, because he has decided to return to Roxxon’s on-campus lab after hours and see if he can find anything incriminating. He meets the Black Panther there, who had the same idea. They forego the usual misunderstanding fistfight and team up to scout around. They hang outside a second story window (Spidey on his web and Black Panther on a tree limb) but Spidey explains they can’t just break inside without a good reason (actually wising up since his earlier encounter with Roxxon). Just then, the Ghost appears inside the facility. He smacks one lab technician and shoots another one (presumably with just a stun gun since our heroes didn’t lift a finger to save him). Then he starts planting bombs on the computer consoles and they both figure that’s a pretty good excuse to butt in.
Spider-Man shoots a cone of webbing over the Ghost, but the villain just turns insubstantial and the webbing falls to the floor. Then the Ghost shoots at Spidey with several bursts of his ray gun. Spidey dodges them all, of course. Then the Black Panther gives the Ghost a kick to the chest and sends him smashing into a computer console. Fed up with being a punching bag, the Ghost turns invisible. Panther and Spidey take this opportunity to grab the bombs and cover them in a web ball before they explode. The Ghost, instead of doing the smart thing and escaping, decides to attack Spider-Man. Of course, our hero’s Spider-Sense alerts him to the plan. Spider-Man lashes out blindly and knocks the Ghost away, even though he was invisible. Our heroes decide to even the odds by using the old douse the lights schtick. Spidey and Panther zero in on their invisible prey using panther and spider sense.
Elsewhere, Arthur Dearborn is prowling the hallways late at night and hears the fight. He enters the lab and turns the lights back on just as our heroes are getting ready to pounce on the Ghost. The Ghost quickly spots them and shoots Black Panther with his non-lethal ray gun while Spidey dodges a blast directed at him. Then the Ghost phases his hand into some machinery and makes it go haywire. Dearborn sees Black Panther in the path of a ray projector that is shooting randomly and knocks the hero away and takes the brunt of the blast himself. Spider-Man thinks Dearborn is dead and goes to grab the Ghost but a ray shoots between them. Instead of dying, Dearborn has been transformed into Sunturion - a golden, armored guy who just happens to want to kill everyone!
This is a good set up with some interesting guest stars. Plus some cool villains. Overall, a good start.
These are the stories I grew up reading, so I love them warts and all.