Symbiote Spider-Man #1
Mysterio has seen better days! This issue cold opens with him getting thrashed by a very angry Spider-Man...
We flash back to how he wound up in this state, and see him plotting a by-the-numbers bank heist with an old college buddy.
The college buddy takes a hard pass but Mysterio goes ahead with the plot anyway. He gasses the bank into unconsciousness (except for the front desk clerk, in a sly wink to Batman '89), but when an unaccounted-for security guard shows up unexpectedly, things go horribly wrong...
Racked with guilt, Mysterio slinks away without any of the money. And for all his mist, no security cameras were able to see exactly who the would-be robber was.
Some time later, we catch up with Spider-Man, who is still adjusting to life with his newly-minted "alien material" suit. Blissfully unaware of the suit's true nature as a symbiote, after a hard night of fighting the Human Fly he shows it off to his girlfriend the Black Cat.
Felicia wants to prove that she likes Peter for himself and not just as Spider-Man, so sets out to spend the day with him plainclothes. Peter, ever the fun-loving date, decides to take her to see Uncle Ben's tombstone since it's the anniversary of his death.
But lo and behold, Peter looks across the cemetery and is shocked to see Mysterio visiting a gravesite as well! After reading the name on the tombstone after his incognito foe leaves, Peter puts two a two together and realizes that this was the woman who died in the bank - and that Mysterio was the one responsible for her death! Fighting mad, Spidey dons his sleek new black threads and tracks Mysterio down, bringing the story full circle back to where it began!
Symbiote Spider-Man is a comic that occupies a very odd little space. At least superficially, it’s intended to be a nostalgia trip (or cash grab, for the more cynically-inclined) for those who remember its titular lead’s time in the ’80s when his running around in a black-and-white costume was such a big deal, but functionally, not only does Spider-Man feel like a guest star in what’s supposed to be his own story, but the symbiote itself doesn’t play any sort of a role in the proceedings whatsoever.
That’s right: in a fairly blatant exercise in false advertising, Symbiote Spider-Man really isn’t about a (spider) boy and his pet symbiote, but rather Quentin Beck, A.K.A. Mysterio. To the best of my knowledge, no writer has ever really delved into Mysterio’s psyche other than Kevin Smith that time he had the poor guy kill himself after orchestrating yet another calamity in Daredevil’s life. Ol’ Bubble-Head has been one of Spider-Man’s key opponents since just about the character’s inception, yet we’ve never really had too much of a look into him as a three-dimensional human being with hopes and fears and relateable motivations. He’s mainly just a guy with an awesomely weird costume who makes you see stuff that ain’t there. Here, though, we see him not only vulnerable after his heist goes horrifically wrong, but thoroughly in mourning over the bank teller’s death. That depth is a hallmark of Peter David’s writing, and one I’m more than glad see applied to Mysterio.
Peter Parker, though, gets the short end of the stick and has to suffer from being a supporting character in his own comic – and worse still, does little other than go through the motions of being both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. As both, he does things that we as fans can tick off pretty handily and without much effort: fights a colorful villain and wins while quipping; gets bashed by J. Jonah Jameson; has sexy flirting with the Black Cat; mourns Uncle Ben and explains that that is why he’s Spider-Man.
None of which, I’ll say again, has remotely anything to do with his symbiote, which is literally in the title of the comic. Cynic or no, it’s hard to argue against the notion that a comic is a cash grab when bait-and-switch shenanigans like that are going on. And a cash grab of what, you may ask…? Well, Marvel may be a little slow on the uptake, but the recent surprise success of Venom in both film and on page certainly comes to mind. Why not go back to where it all began?
But there are other problems in this comic, and that has a lot to do with the book’s timeline. Allowing for the notion that Marvel’s infamous sliding timeline consists of roughly twelve years’ total continuity from Fantastic Four #1 to whatever happens to be going on at this very second – there’s one particular scene, one very notorious panel, that immediately caught my attention:
It’s 2019. 9/11 happened in 2001. That is eighteen years’ difference. In the era depicted in this comic, Peter Parker was a good ways removed from his college graduation, which means he’s somewhere in his early- to mid-20s. Unless it was Peter David’s intention to imply that Peter Parker is now pushing forty in modern times – or that it’s just not 2019 in the present – there is no way he should be leaping between the Twin Towers. The math doesn’t work! I realize that the inclusion of the Towers was intended for the purposes of emphasizing that this story is taking place in the past, but they’re such a glaring anachronism that it completely took me out of the story. Peter David is a skilled enough writer that he should have thought about that; if not that then editorial should have caught it. I realize that by its very nature, Marvel’s sliding timescale is a bit of a hot mess, but this oversight is extremely sloppy and egregious.
On the art side of things, Greg Land does what he does and makes everybody supermodel-beautiful in the present-day scenes; whether or not that’s a reader’s cup of tea is completely up to them. In the flashback scenes, Iban Coello does a good job with some relatively mundane set pieces in that he makes them compelling – not everyone would be able to bring a sense of dynamism to a bar scene with two guys talking, but Coello sells it. He has a particular knack for conveying body language and blocking that brings a real fluidity to his characters on-page.
So in the end, we have a comic that’s not quite what it’s billed to be, featuring a lead who’s not really the lead in his own story but manages to be surprising by taking a fishbowl-headed villain the turning him sympathetic. That’s a great trick, but it doesn’t quite justify this comic’s need for existing other than to empty fans’ wallets just a little bit more. It’s not the worst comic you could read by any means, but I’ve come to expect better from the legendary Peter David. It’s a serviceable comic that can be read and enjoyed but will ultimately be forgotten shortly thereafter, and that’s a real shame, because there was a lot of potential in digging in psychologically to Peter’s symbiote time. Perhaps the series will come to that, or something similar – after all, this is only the first issue – but it’s not off to the kind of start that makes me feel inclined to do more than hope for that statement to have some truth to it.
If you were hoping for a deep-dive into Peter Parker's life with a symbiote, and how it impacted him, this comic won't be for you. But if you want a surprising take on a classic villain who's usually depicted in a more two-dimensional manner, there's a lot of promise. With only five issues to work with, I hope Peter David turns it around.
Symbiote Spider-Man #1 (of 5) – Back in Black
- Writing - 6/106/10
- Storyline - 5/105/10
- Art - 6.5/106.5/10
- Color - 7/107/10
- Cover Art - 5/105/10
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