DC Comics December 2017 solicitations
Credit: Gene Ha (DC Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #792
Written by Dan Slott and Mike Costa
Art by Ryan Stegman and Brian Reber
Lettering by Joe Caramagna and Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Dan Slott has his hands full with Amazing Spider-Man #792, as the second chapter of Venom, Inc. juggles Spider-Man, Venom, an all-new Anti-Venom, as well as new spinoff symbiote Maniac in a story that feels jam-packed in story elements but occasionally lacking in characterization. That said, it’s still very solid comic booking, particularly with Ryan Stegman providing such a strong foundation on the art.

Similar to Spider-Verse before it, it feels like Venom, Inc. will be defined by the sprawling, perhaps even unwieldy, number of characters Slott will have to maneuver across his narrative chessboard. In the case of Marvel Legacy’s meat-and-potatoes approach to superheroing, it feels like a comfortable throwback to have Peter Parker dealing with symbiotes again — but just like the good old days of the ‘90s, Spider-Man’s not the only one gunning for an alien costume. There’s Eddie Brock, now powerless as he pursues his alien “other”; there’s Flash Thompson, whose search for purpose after losing the Venom suit has led him to become the new Anti-Venom, in a smart bit of continuity kung fu that lets Slott and co-story writer Mike Costa have their cake and eat it, too; and there’s up-and-coming gang lord Lee Price, who’s taking over the criminal underworld, with the Black Cat being the next target in his sights. Oh, and did I mention that we even get a quick cut to some of the soap opera that is Peter’s personal life?

Given how many balls there are in the air, it’s a lot to take in with only 20 pages of real estate, and Slott works so valiantly to establish (or reestablish) these plot points that it’s a shame that this issue’s emotional hooks don’t quite feel as strong as they could — both Peter and Eddie’s motivations feel about the same as they did back in the ‘90s, with one wanting to eliminate the symbiote for all the bloodshed it’s wreaked, and the other relentlessly wanting to keep the suit for himself. Ironically, if you’re a Flash Thompson fan, you get the strongest sparks of characterization with his new status quo — Flash, in many ways, is the crossroads between Spider-Man and Venom, not as around-the-bend obsessive as Eddie but not as black-and-white thinking as Peter. He sees the Venom suit as a potential force for good, and while there’s some selfishness at play given his desire to be a superhero, you can’t help but warm up to Flash petting the detached symbiote like some sort of ink-black puppy.

While you could definitely make the argument about much of this issue essentially jogging in place, it’d be more unforgivable if we didn’t have Ryan Stegman and Brian Reber on art. Stegman does a great job showing diversity in his characters’ physiques, reminding me of a grittier version of Reilly Brown mixed with some old-school Todd McFarlane — in particular, Stegman does a great job merging the visual iconographies of Spider-Man and Venom with Anti-Venom, even with small panels like Flash somehow extending his arm to choke out Eddie Brock. Given how much information is packed into this script, Stegman does a fine job juggling multiple characters and multiple word balloons in a single panel, and even when fracas like Black Cat versus Maniac can get a little overcrowded, you can’t help but admire the effort. (And his take on the disembodied symbiote is both endearing and surprisingly hilarious.) Reber’s colors, meanwhile, give Stegman some really solid anchoring, giving some weight and drama to his linework without ever sapping his energy or muddying the storytelling.

I’ve used the word “solid” a lot in this review, but I think that’s really the word that describes Amazing Spider-Man #792 the most — out of all the crazy, heartfelt, character-driven storylines that Dan Slott has been involved with, I’m not sure if Venom, Inc. is ever truly going to match up, but its crowded roster is handled with enough dexterity and such thrilling artwork that you can’t write it off as any sort of failure. What keeps this event from really reaching its potential is that thus far it doesn’t really zero in on any personality traits that make Spider-Man or Venom truly lasting characters — there’s shared history here, but given how Slott has made his name by showing his mastery of characterization, Venom, Inc. feels like some flat, albeit technically solid, comic book superheroism.

Credit: Gene Ha (DC Comics)

The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #3
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines and Dearbhla Kelly
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics/WildStorm
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Bryan Edward Hill has things to say and do in the deliberately paced Michael Cray #3. Fresh off the title’s thrilling two-issue opening arc, Hill steps back a bit, letting the characters - including a nightmarish version of Barry Allen - breathe a bit. While the writer fills the narrative negative space with rich character work and a pointed scene commenting on racial politics, artists N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines, and Dearbhla Kelly add stylish indie movie flair to the exposition-heavy script, detailing the action and interactions across tightly framed panel grids, with watercolor splashes across stucco-like backgrounds. Supercharged with a socially minded take on African-American superheroes, unconventionally eye-catching artwork, and compelling character work, The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #3 continues to make this spin-off a stand out.

“Barry Allen is something of an inventor,” Trelane informs Cray as he sits through another briefing on his next target — the man most DC fans know as The Flash. While this third chapter delivers another organically entertaining twist on another big-name comic book do-gooder — namely, recasting Barry Allen as a pill-popping, manifesto-writing technophobe who kills scientists with the help of his specially designed speed armor — this issue’s real strength lies in its characters.

While the criticism that this issue doesn’t really advance the overall plot forward is valid, I feel that Bryan Edward Hill is playing a longer, deeper game than just focusing on propulsive plotting and momentum. For example, much of this comic’s “action” is focused around Michael checking in with the rest of the cast — in particular, taking his father out on a leisurely stroll. But as the scene progresses, we see that this walk is much more than just a friendly chat between father and son, as we start to see the outlines of the themes and dynamics that Hill seems to be aiming for, setting this Wild Storm title apart from its larger-scale sister book.

“They’ll beat you to death with the hope you carry,” Michael’s father warns him, intimating in a world-weary but heartfelt speech to Michael that “white people with the power to kill” will always look out for themselves first. People like Michael are just the people who will be and are always used, no matter how “useful” or “important” they say they are. It’s a bleak but powerful statement on race in America as well as the power differential between handlers and “super-assets” that comics rarely even hint at. While the real hook of this series (WildStorm hitman kills Justice Leaguers) is a good one, I applaud Hill for also making it actually about something other than the punches and the kills.

Speaking of point of view, Michael Cray #3 again proves that the art team of N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines, and Dearbhla Kelly have loads of it, as this series continues to look more like a Jeff Lemire indie comic and less and less like what we would expect from a WildStorm solo series. Focused on characters and their interactions through rigid panel grids, the art team takes Hill’s script and filters it through a grainy but impeccably positioned lens; almost like the photoreal shudder snaps of Jon Davis-Hunt, but with a lower fidelity and sketchier energy. Vines’ inks seem to vibrate at a higher frequency than those of the core title, giving this spin-off a more tactile feel and texture, held together by Kelly’s muted tones and purposeful spikes and splotches of color in the backgrounds.

If you have been sleeping on or trade-waiting throughout The Wild Storm, Michael Cray #3 will be the issue that wakes you up. Armed with a strong point of view, the incideniary spark of indie comics, and a hard as nails, but engaging protagonist The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #3 is the best kind of winner — a daring and responsible one.

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