*** (three of five stars)
Spidey and Venom explode from Tyler Stone's hospital room, where Dana tries to convince the hospital staff to move Tyler, lest Venom return to kill him. Spidey and Venom fight in free fall, with Venom's acid starting to burn through Spidey's costume. Spidey uses a Web-Line to stop his fall, allowing Venom to plummet to the sidewalk. As Miguel expresses relief over allowing him to die (as opposed to the guilt that he says that he feels over doing the same thing with the Vulture), he's shocked when Venom splatters on the ground but then reconstitutes himself. Venom launches himself at Spidey again while, at Miguel's apartment, Xina arrives, getting the update that Miguel was asked to run Alchemax and Tyler was shot from Lyla. Venom decides not to chase Spidey but to encourage Spidey to chase him, breaking into another floor of the hospital and absorbing one of the doctors. Spidey attempts to catch him with some webbing, but Venom manages to return it to him, entangling him in it. Venom then grabs Spidey with a tentacle, smashes him into a wall, and throws him out the window. He then enters an elevator where he kills the two occupants. Miguel regains consciousness as he plummets and creates a cushion of webbing to stop his fall; however, he's then covered with falling debris.
Venom arrives on Tyler's floor looking for him, but he's stopped by Watchdogs, who tell him that Tyler's in a safe place. In Miguel's apartment, Xina calls Conchata, who tells her that neither Miguel nor Gabe is there. Xina asks what Conchata's doing and she tells her that she's tying up some loose ends. Xina asks her to tell Miguel that she called and Conchata promises to leave word. After they end the call, Conchata begins recording a message for Gabe, telling him that Xina called and explaining why she's going to kill herself. In the hospital, more Watchdogs arrive only to have Venom disarm them and use their guns against them. Some onlookers help free Spidey from the debris and he heads to the hospital, promising to take off the kid gloves. However, Miguel discovers a room full of dead Watchdogs and wonders how Venom had known who Miguel is and why his voice sounded vaguely familiar.
In Downtown, Gabe approaches Kasey, who tells him that she doesn't want to see him. Angry, Gabe tells her that she tried to make him something that he's not and menacingly asks her if she'd like to see what happens if he does become something that he's not. Kasey responds by telling him to get out of her life. At Alchemax, Miguel tells Xina by vid-phone that he's substituting for Tyler and, enraged, she tells him that she's coimng to him. Winston arrives to tell Miguel that Tyler is secured and Dana is with him. Miguel tells him that his substitution is only temporary, since Alchemax would turn into a shark pool without someone in charge. He explains that he not only wants to prevent innocent people from getting hurt in the process, but also wonders how much good Alchemax could accomplish with someone with a conscience at the head of it. Winston asks why Miguel's giving him this information and Miguel responds that it's a dry run for Xina. He then tells Winston to pull up all historical records on Venom and tell S.H.I.E.L.D. that Spider-Man is off limits. He then calls his mother, who surprises him by telling him that he'll do a fine job. Telling him that they all have to do what they have to do, she wishes him luck, ends the call, puts a gun to her chin, and pulls the trigger. At Alchemax, Miguel's delivering his "shark pool" speech to Xina, but she accuses him of wanting to be at the top of the chain when the feeding frenzy begins. She asks if he's worried about turning into Stone and he says that it's foremost on his mind, which should be enough. Meanwhile, Winston interrupts, telling Miguel that he's downloading the information that he requested onto his personal database. Winston is then evicerated by one of Venom's tentacles. Miguel ignores Xina as he looks through the Venom files and she leaves, telling him to call her when she ranks high enough on his list of priorities. She runs into Dana in the foyer while, Downtown, a winged figure asks Kasey where the "S-Man" is. At Alchemax, Dana notices Winston's body; she and Xina scream, bringing Miguel into the hallway to discover that Venom is holding both of them in his tentacles, giving Miguel five seconds to choose one or he'll kill them both.
This Venom mystery (even if it's not all that much of a mystery) has really injected some energy into this series. Although Miguel's walkabout in Nightshade and Mexico were probably necessary to keep the book from getting too repetitive (Miguel fighting yet another new costumed villain in New York), it's nice to return to our roots. Moreover, beyond just the Venom part, we're also seeing progress in some of the long simmering sub-plots, like Gabe and Kasey's relationship status and, seemingly, Conchata's motivations for killing Tyler Stone.
I liked how David had Miguel mention his ongoing guilt over allowing Vulture to fall to his death. It's a remind that the events of these past 36 issues have a cumulative impact on Miguel, something that David hasn't really had a chance to explore, but is made clear in this sort of comment.
1) I'm not really sure if Venom absorbs people (he does so with three people here, just like he did with Bloodmace last issue) to gain power or simply to kill. I'm not sure if it matters, really, but it would be interesting to know.
2) Is Gabe the Green Goblin? I know from covers of future issues that the Goblin eventually appears in this series, but, even if you didn't have access to those covers, the silhouette that appears at the end of this issue is pretty unmistakable. It's unclear why Gabe would become the Goblin, though. Did someone offer it to him or blackmail him into doing it? It doesn't seem like he'd be doing it to impress Kasey, given that she pretty clearly doesn't want to see him again. Is he doing it from some sense of sibling rivalry with Miguel? Conversely, if Gabe is the Goblin, it's weird that he would ask Kasey where Spider-Man was, since he knows exactly how to find him. Maybe he was deliberately trying to scare her?
3) Given that Miguel refers to Alchemax as leaderless, I have to assume, as I mentioned in my last review, that Doom did kill Avatarr, meaning that both he and Tyler Stone are out of commission. But, it would really be nice to have that mentioned here, since this whole plot of Miguel taking the reins of Alchemax revolves around it.
1) The art has been pretty subpar lately. I mean, Andrew Wildman isn't terrible, but, for something like the debut of Venom, it would've been nice to see what Leonardi would've done with it.