** (two of five stars)
Favorite Quote #1: "Please, Harry. Girlfriends? They're replaceable. And don't act like you haven't died before. You should be used to it by now. We're Osborns. We bounce back." -- Norman to Harry
Favorite Quote #2: "Wow. Ven-orpion. That's like the turducken of super-villains." -- Spidey, on the new Venom wearing his old Scorpion outfit
We're talking about six issues here, folks, so it's a LONG post (and also why we have TWO favorite quotes).
During a fight between Spidey and Menace, a building collapses, causing several people working in what appears to be a sweatshop to flee. Spidey snaps a photo, which later reveals the workers are suffering from some sort of disease. Crowne, behind in the polls, asks Osborn to support him publicly; in exchange, Osborn wants Crowne to use his pull to get the Thunderbolts free reign to take on Spider-Man. Eddie Brock, formerly Venom, is cured both of his cancer and the symbiote by the touch of Mr. Negative, aka Martin Li, who's running the homeless shelter where Aunt May volunteers and that Brock frequents. Spidey pays a visit to Norman Osborn (after being accosted by him earlier at home as Peter) but flees when he overhears that Venom, searching for traces of the symbiote he believes will lead him to Spider-Man, is at the homeless shelter where Brock (and Aunt May) is (are). After being attacked by Venom, Brock reveals (to his surprise) a new identity as Anti-Venom (caused by Mr. Negative's healing), displaying the power to purge the symbiote from a host. Venom, Anti-Venom, and Spidey engage in battle, and are later joined by the Thunderbolts. Meanwhile, Menace attacks the Hollister campaign center, accidentally seriously injuring Hollister, who Menace reveals he's trying to help. Menace then proceeds to attack Osborn, telling him to leave town since he has "plans for the city and its power structure." Osborn refuses and fends off Menace, in the process finding a camera that Spidey had previously pre-positioned to capture his fight. Osborn uses the camera to track Spidey (since Spidey had created a link between the camera and his costume to facilitate taking photos of himself), sending Bullseye and a team of Thunderbolt agents to the "Coffee Bean," where Peter is talking to Harry and Lily. Harry and Lily escape the attack, and Spidey defeats Bullseye and the agents with the help of Anti-Venom, who discovered Obsorn's tracking device while going undercover as a Thunderbolt agent to try to find Venom. Spidey and Anti-Venom head to Oscorp. Spidey engages in battle with Osborn, now wearing his Green Goblin costume, who was fighting with Harry upon Spidey's arrival. Osborn reveals that Harry is using human test-subjects to create some sort of formula, called Prometheus X-90. Spidey and the Thunderbolts free a group of test subjects, while Venom and Anti-Venom continue fighting. In the aftermath, it is revealed that Martin Li's healing powers are apparently starting to wane as several previously "cured" people relapse. Peter helps Harry and Lily search for documents Harry needs in the wreckage of the Oscorp building; while Harry is in another room, Lily kisses Peter.
OK, so I asked for old school and the Spidey Brain Trust delivered old school, and, not just old school, but Norman Osborn and Eddie Brock old school! The first few issues of this arc, the ones focusing on Venom and Anti-Venom, are pretty solid. They weren't as light-hearted as the "Brand New Day" stories, but you can't really get light-hearted with Venom. But, the action was exciting (Spidey v. Venom v. Anti-Venom!) and the evolution of Eddie into Anti-Venom was fascinating. However, the last few issues, the ones focusing on Norman and Harry, have serious problems. "New Ways to Die!" was clearly supposed to be the bridge putting "Brand New Day" behind us and moving us into the next phase of "Chapter Two," as the Spidey Brain Trust likes to call the post-Mephisto world. However, it raised more questions than it answered (and not in a good way) and felt like it actually undid some of the progress the Brain Trust had made in getting us to forget the new status quo and just enjoy the book.
Before "New Ways to Die!" began, we only really had two great questions left unanswered in the new status quo: what happened to the Peter-MJ relationship and what happened to Harry? I mean, we didn't know who the "Tracer Killer" was, or who Menace was, or who Jackpot was. But, those questions are organically part of the new status quo, creations of "Brand New Day." The other two -- about MJ and about Harry -- are the hangover from "One More Day," the needling questions about how this new status quo differs from the old. This arc tries to address some of the latter, but it does so in such a maladroit way that I'm left more confused than I was when we began. Harry pretty clearly isn't Menace, so the time spent implying he is seems like a waste of time. Moreover, the revelation that he's not just running the coffee shop but also engaging in human experiments was just bizarre. I mean, he just returned from "Europe" a few weeks earlier, and he's already engaged in human experiments? The arc showed a lot of promise -- I mean, Norman Osborn AND Eddie Brock -- but it seemed to be unnecessarily damned by the baggage of "One More Day."
1) Menace confirms what we've pretty much known all along by telling an unconscious Bill Hollister (who, by the way, is unconscious because Menace blew up his office) that he's trying to help him. I still can't say I care about Menace, but Slott definitely kicks it up a notch with him confronting Osborn. Again, his conversation with Norman is styled to convince us it's Harry, but Harry (as he's fleeing the remains of the "Coffee Bean" with Lily) makes it clear that he's not Menace, despite his father thinking he is. Menace's dialogue makes him sound like some sort of idealistic teenager. Is Normie a teenager?
2) Um, Venom-Scorpion ("Ven-orpion") is pretty awesome, actually. I'm also down with Anti-Venom. It could've been cheesy, but it wasn't probably because of John Romita, Jr.'s depiction. I'm not necessarily a huge JR JR fan, but his rendering of Anti-Venom was awesome, making him both scary and heroic at the same time. Character-wise, Slott did a good job really getting Eddie Brock here. Eddie suddenly deciding he's a savior -- just one that doesn't kill this time -- totally fits his personality. Brock is back!
3) Eddie pretending to be Spider-Man in issue #573 was clever. Just like Venom, I totally didn't see that coming!
1) I've kind of ignored the Martin Li "house of healing" plot so far because it's been all over the place. In the first arc involving Mr. Negative, I had no reason to believe that he wasn't conscious of both the good and bad sides of his personality. But, after Martin's conversation with Eddie about having a "mysterious" checkers (or whatever that game was) partner, it seemed that Mr. Li may not know about Mr. Negative. But, then again, when May asks why he has his Fortress of Solitude (or whatever it is) at a homeless shelter, Martin implies he knows the answer (which, I'm pretty sure, has to do with Mr. Negative). Confusing.
2) I'm not really sure what Norman meant by the exchange he had with the scientist who tells him Freak is dead: "Idiot." "What?' "Think about it for a second." "... Oh." "Idiot." I'm assuming it just means that Freak isn't really dead and instead just entered another chrysalis. But, there seemed to be more to it than that.
3) I'm assuming Norman lost his knowledge of Peter's identity from something OTHER than Mephisto wiping clear everyone's knowledge of it, because Peter isn't aware of the deal made with Mephisto But, in issue #569, Peter thinks, "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." The "everything" in that thought sounds A LOT like the deal with Mephisto and, in fact, I can't think of anything else it could mean. So does Peter know what happened? I'm pretty sure he wasn't supposed to know, but it sure seems like he does here.
1) Soooo...Peter has been looking for work at newspapers as a photographer, but he's been blacklisted by Dexter Bennett...aaaand...it apparently doesn't dawn on him, until Harry mentions it, to go to a paper competing with "The DB!," despite the fact that it's run by old colleagues and friends Ben Urich and Robbie Robertson. Really? Peter is that dumb? Really?
2) I don't see how Norman Osborn capturing Spider-Man is going to help the Crowne campaign. I mean, so what? Crowne recognized Norman Osborn in a ceremony. I don't see how that makes Norman's success (if he did actually capture Spidey, the accused serial killer) Crowne's success?
3) Oh, look. Aunt May's in trouble. (Again.) Oh, no. Help. Help.
4) I'm confused by the Lily Hollister business. When Peter first mentioned that he thought Lily was flirting with him a few arcs ago, I thought it was just his imagination. But, it was pretty clear in the "Coffee Bean" that she was hitting on him, despite a few pages earlier telling Harry about how he'll always be part of the Hollister family. Then, she kisses Peter at Oscorp, while Harry is in the next room. It seems out of character for her, though they haven't really spent all that much time developing her character, so maybe it's not.*
* It's worth noting here that, after I wrote my review, I read some on-line reviews. I don't normally do that (for fear of spoilers), but I was so frustrated with the storyline that I needed to see how other people felt. So, I know some people think Lily kissed Pete to distract him from pulling the "History of the Norman Empire" book. Norman, earlier in the arc, mentions the book to Harry, so some people believe it contains another secret (possibly Goblin-related) room. I can totally see that. However, it seems a little crazy to me that Lily Hollister, who I don't think has dated Harry for too long and has also seemed more or less an upstanding citizen to this point, would know about Harry and Norman's secret and be willing to help Harry keep it a secret. Given the ongoing insinuations of Lily liking Peter, it could have also just been luck that she distracted Peter from the book and she could have just been taking the opportunity of Harry having left the room. I guess we'll see.
1) I'd like to present you with a conversation that probably would've happened if we were dealing with the real-life world and not the comic-books world: "Hey, Harry, by the way, I meant to ask you: the guy with whom you were speaking at the 'Coffee Bean' before I had my Thunderbolts team destroy it?" "Yeah, Dad?" "Who was that?" "Peter, Dad." "Peter? Really? Now, why would Peter be wearing Spider-Man's costu...oh. OH." I mean, seriously. Normal Osborn knows that the person talking to his son and girlfriend was Spider-Man and he doesn't ask Harry who it was? In fact, based on the conversation he has with Harry, he almost makes it sound like Spider-Man being there was only a secondary reason for him blowing up the "Coffee Bean" (the primary reason being getting Harry to, you know, join him in the evil). It's that sort of lazy plotting that really annoys me. It's the same with Ana Kraven in the last arc deciding Vin, and not Peter, was Spider-Man, despite, you know, the costume being under Peter's bed. It's necessary from a plot perspective (since we don't want her or Norman to know Peter's real identity) but it's ridiculous from a logical perspective, which makes it really hard to engage in the suspension of disbelief and stay engaged in the storyline.
2) The Harry sub-plot is really just a mess. I actually don't even know where to begin. This part reads sort of stream-of-consciousness-y, but it reflects my general confusion over the repercussions of Harry now being alive:
I had been under the impression, until this arc, that Harry was running Oscorp and the "Coffee Bean" was some sort of side investment. Norman even mentions that Harry was running Oscorp, though it's unclear if he's referring to before Harry "went to Europe" or after his return. However, the revelation that it's Norman using Freak, not Harry, muddied these waters. Who's running Oscorp now? This arc pretty firmly establishes that Harry has been running the "Coffee Bean" full time. However, if Harry's hasn't been running Oscorp, how is he engaging in research that involves human testing? I mean, I get that he's an Osborn, so he'd clearly have some access. But, Harry isn't a scientist, so I'm assuming he'd also have to be using Oscorp scientists to run the experiments. Also, Harry's been back from "Europe," what, three months?* He's already experimenting on humans to develop some sort of formula? Moreover, why would Harry leak information about the experiments to Ben Urich and "Front Line" if he was behind them? Plus, while he's searching through the wreckage of Oscorp for files, he says it's to clear his name. But, it seems pretty obvious he was actually responsible for the human experiments. So, how is he going to clear his name if he did it? Honestly, it's seriously convoluted at this point, even if you overlook the attempt to make it seem like he's Menace (another confusing angle). All the Harry sub-plots are bad remnants of the "One More Day" switch to the new status quo and I really hope they resolve them soon before it detracts from the book further.
* Norman confirms here that Harry was, in fact, dead at some point, making it seem likely that the undoing of Peter and MJ's marriage didn't somehow also undo Harry's tenure as the Green Goblin or the events of "Spectacular Spider-Man" #200. This revelation was actually, to my mind, the only positive part of the Harry-related aspects of this arc, because at least we're dealing with roughly the same time frame as existed before "One More Day."