*** (three of five stars)
In a flashback, Gabe, Miguel, and Xina are waiting for Gabe's new girlfriend at the Escher Club. Xina tries to get Gabe to convince Miguel to shave his goatee, since she's been unable to convince him to do so. Miguel asks Gabe how long he's been with his "latest girlfriend" and Gabe tells him a week (and not to call her his "latest girlfriend"). Gabe asks how the Babylon Towers are; Miguel responds that they're fine and Xina crassly informs Gabe that they "broke it in" three months earlier. Miguel implies that Xina has drank too much; Dana then arrives, resulting in Miguel staring at her with his mouth agape. In the present, Xina screams for Miguel's help, causing him to scream her name, leading Venom to decide that he chose Xina. However, before Venom can kill Dana, Miguel attacks, slicing off his tentacle. Venom assumes that Miguel had a concealed weapon as Miguel hustles Dana into his office. Venom pounds on the door and Miguel puts Dana in Tyler's emergency exit; before she leaves, they share a kiss. Xina calls for Miguel's help, but, when a glowing-eyed Miguel arrives in the foyer, Venom and Xina are gone. (Miguel was ready to attack Venom as Miguel, realizing that he didn't have time to change and that it might throw off Venom). S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives and Miguel authorizes lethal force in their hunt for Venom. In the parking garage, Dana thinks to the day when they began their affair. She and Gabe were supposed to visit Miguel in his lab, but Gabe was running late. She talked to Miguel about her frustration with Gabe being so busy, resulting in Miguel remarking that he always makes time for things worth his time. Gabe then calls to cancel and suggests that they do something without him. Dana's reverie is broken when Venom arrives in the parking garage with Xina. Meanwhile, in her apartment, Conchata is revealed not to have shot herself, but the recording device where she made her confession instead. She decides that she wants to go on trial, hoping to be able to tell the truth about why she shot Tyler.
Elsewhere, S.H.I.E.L.D. tracks Venom, who's riding in Xina's car along with Dana. Miguel changes into Spider-Man and goes in pursuit of the car. In a flashback, Xina arrives home from her parents' house early, noticing that Miguel has shaved off his goatee. She says that she came home early because she noticed how distant they had become, so she was trying to be spontaneous. She then notices a bra on the bed and Dana emerges clad only in a sheet. Miguel tells Xina that they just clicked and Xina leaves in a rage. In the present, Dana tries to convince Venom to let Xina go, but Xina tells her not to get "nobler-than-thou" on her and suggests that Venom let Dana go. Dana wonders if Xina doesn't want her help because she doesn't want to owe Dana anything and Venom cuts off Xina's retort midway, asking Xina to watch the road. Both Dana and Xina mention that he seems familiar, but they're distracted when S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives.
As Venom destroys one of the flybikes, another flashback reveals Gabe's anger at Dana and Miguel for their affair. Miguel confirms that they've been dating a few weeks, since the day that he canceled on her. Dana tells Gabe that it was dull, because they used to just watch old "vids" or she would watch him "doing cyberstuff." Dana tells Gabe that she feels smarter when she's with Miguel because he doesn't talk down to her. Gabe says that Miguel talks down to everyone else and she asks him if that doesn't tell him something. Miguel steps outside and Dana says that she just wants people to be happy, the outcome of being the daughter of a priest and a psychiatrist. She says that she can't bear for Gabe to be mad at Miguel, because they share a bond like she does with her sister, Jenny. Gabe says that he'll think about it while, in the present, Xina swerves to avoid the falling S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, sending them off the mag-lev track. Spidey arrives in time to use some webbing to catch the car, but Venom appears and grabs the women. He flees into the Escher Club and Miguel follows, getting distracted by the memory of meeting Dana there and the fear he feels for Dana and Xina. Venom mentions that he's got Miguel and Tyler's lovers and Dana attacks Venom, telling him that she's Miguel's lover and that she also means something to Tyler. She tells him that she's not afraid to die, making Venom respond that it's all the more reason not to kill her as Xina escapes. S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives and opens fire. Venom survives the rain of bullets, letting them hit Dana, who lies bleeding on the floor. Venom disappears while Spidey runs to Dana. She tells him that she can't see and asks if it's Miguel. He tells her that it's him and she tells him that she's glad that he shaved, since it tickled when they kissed. She then dies and Spidey clutches her body to him.
It was pretty clear that David was going to kill off Dana or Xina in this issue, mostly due to Joey's hint in last issue's letters column about a "shocking end sequence." Moreover, I did sort of expect it to be Dana. But, when the moment came, it was still a shock. It does, as I realized after I finished the issue, turn her into Miguel's Gwen Stacy. Given how much more aggressive Miguel is than Peter and how much less of a support network he has, you really have to wonder how he's going to respond to this event. I'm guessing that it's not going to be by watching sad movies and eating ice cream.
The Really Good
David used the flashback sequences to amazing effect here, showing us the history of Miguel's troubled relationships with both Dana and Xina. The tension in the past, as Dana and Miguel's affair is revealed to both Gabriel and Xina, really amplified the tension in the present, as both women are at the mercy of Venom.
1) When I said I wanted Dana gone, I didn't want David to kill her! I thought David did a good job here of not exactly committing Miguel to either Dana or Xina. For example, he screams Xina's name but then Venom forces him to save Dana. Moreover, he kisses Dana, showing that he's not as ready to resume his relationship with Xina as he seemed to be in these last few issues. Along those lines, I doubt that we're going to see Miguel and Xina together anytime soon, given the grief that he's undoubtedly going to be processing. (Given how guilt-ridden Miguel is normally, it's unlikely that he's not going to compound that grief with guilt over his role in Venom killing Dana.)
2) David provides all sorts of subtle clues about how unhappy Miguel was with Xina, from his refusal to shave his goatee (something that he almost immediately did for Dana) and his discomfort with her drinking. It really helped get a sense of why he had an affair with Dana. Since her introduction, Xina has been such a more obvious match for Miguel, so it was important to see why he would've gotten with Dana in the first place.
34) I'm not a fan of Wildman, but, man, that last shot of Spidey clutching Dana to his chest was pitch-perfect.
I wonder what the repercussions of Dana's death are with Spidey's relationship with Father Jennifer, now that we learned that Dana's her sister. Will she hold Spider-Man responsible?
1) At first, I thought it was weird how Dana told Venom that she wasn't afraid of dying. Was she just trying to save Xina because of the guilt she felt over the affair? Was it because of her religious beliefs, which we first learned about last issue? David never really clarified her motivations; he just seemed to want us to believe that she was just that heroic. But, to be honest, it's not like she's really been all that heroic in this series so far. She cheated on both Gabe and Miguel and, although that certainly doesn't mean that she should die or that she couldn't be a hero, it does make you want to know why she was suddenly so selfless at the end.
But, the more that I've thought about that question, the more that I can't say that Dana has ever really had a consistent characterization throughout this series. In the beginning, she seemed to be a pretty capable corporate manager; after all, she became Synthia's liaison to Alchemax. Even if Tyler pulled some strings to get her that position to put his seduction plan into action, it's unlikely that she would be completely incompetent to be given such an account. Plus, in conversations with Miguel's father, we got flashes of the idea that she was brighter than Miguel's usual girlfriends. But, then, you began to question her judgment when she started dating the guy who got her boyfriend addicted to rapture. Sure, Tyler fed her some line about not really getting Miguel addicted to rapture, but you'd still have to wonder about a guy who let someone think that they were addicted to rapture. Then, suddenly, she's moving to Washington, DC, with Tyler, without even telling Miguel that she's ending their relationship. Now, in this arc, she tells Gabe that she's not the smartest person in the world, even though we originally saw her at least as a competent manager. Plus, she's also now religious (you know, despite all those affairs). It all leads you to the inevitable conclusion that David went "Women in Refrigerators" here, using her -- from getting her with Tyler to getting her to confront Venom -- simply to engineer the reaction from Miguel that he wanted. I really expected more of him, but it's hard not to draw that conclusion when you look at the ever-changing characterization.
2) Venom's motivations seem to change in this issue, but David doesn't really give us much insight into the reason. For his first two appearances, Venom's goal was to kill Tyler; in fact, he decided not to kill Dana last issue because she had nothing to do with Tyler. In this issue, he seems to have turned his focus on Miguel, since it's not like he came to Alchemax to go after Tyler (unless he thought that they took him there from St. Teresa's). Was he reminded of his hatred for Miguel when he saw him at the hospital and decided that, if he no longer had access to Tyler, he might as well go after Miguel? But, he just as quickly leaves Alchemax, deciding not to kill Xina so that she can drive him somewhere. But, we never learn where he was going to have her take him. Why not kill Xina in front of Miguel like he had planned? He certainly had plenty of time to do so before the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents arrived. Moreover, why flee in the first place, particularly since it's unlikely the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents could stop you? Was he just doing whatever he could to inflict the most damage to Miguel? I get that we're trying to ascribe logic to a homicidal maniac, but I think the story would've been stronger had David made some of these points clearer.