After all the talk of Todd McFarlane lately, and the recent casting news on the Venom movie, I went back to reread this issue for the umpteenth time a couple of nights ago.
Amazing Spider-Man #300
It still holds up, and it remains probably the high point of the entire David Michelinie/Todd McFarlane run on Amazing Spider-Man, for me.
It’s a double-sized issue that packs in a hugely satisfying complete story that not only introduces Venom and gives him an origin, but also recaps the history of the alien costume all the way back to Secret Wars, and gives us quite a bit in the way of action, with a standout centrepiece fight between Spidey and Venom, before winding things up pretty comprehensively.
At the same time, it touches on pretty much every key aspect of Peter’s life: it presents a fairly major shift in the status quo of the Pete/MJ marriage (with them moving in together to a swanky new apartment, and feeling like a proper adult couple for maybe the first time ever), and we get a nice appearance from Aunt May (showing how important that relationship and bond is for the series), as well as cameos from Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson and Robbie Robertson.
Not bad for a single issue!
(There’s no JJJ though, sadly - maybe the only really disappointing omission.)
From the opening splash page (which picks up from last issue’s cliffhanger of Brock turning up unexpectedly to threaten MJ when Peter is absent), there’s a strong sense of the horror vibe that Michelinie and McFarlane are going for with the character and concept of Venom.
I’ve heard lots of different interpretations of this panel - with people reading in various levels of violence and harassment into Venom’s visit, which occurs off-panel between issues - but whichever way you look at it, it’s clear that MJ is incredibly disturbed by the encounter.
From there, things build nicely, with Michelinie making the most of the expanded page count (I think it’s around 48 pages or so) to calm things down (with Pete reassuring MJ) before gradually working back up to the reveal of Venom, and the conflict with Spidey. There are lots of teases (following on from the glimpses we got in #299 and #298) before we get to see him in full - but in the meantime, there are plenty of cool shots of Spidey to keep us visually interested. After a couple of issues in which McFarlane was a bit more restrained, #300 feels like the first time he really feels comfortable with his style on the character.
There’s also a nice little scene between MJ and Peter before we really get into the action of the issue, which not only shows how the Spider-marriage can be written well, but also gives McFarlane the chance to indulge in a little cheesecake with his glamorous take on Mary Jane (who is living the life of a supermodel at this point in Spidey history).
After a fair amount of build-up, we get to the meat of the issue: the conflict with Venom. The backstory of Secret Wars is recapped quickly and efficiently…
…before Spidey goes to track down the alien costume’s new owner, and immediately gets drawn into a fight with Venom.
Then, in a monologuing scene worthy of The Incredibles, Eddie Brock lays out his life story to Spidey while the hero is incapacitated on the floor.
While it could be a bit of a clunky expository sequence, it’s greatly improved by McFarlane’s art, especially when it comes to depicting the symbiote itself: the “I was joined” panel still stands as a great example (to my mind) of showing how an artist can enhance a simple moment with a bold graphic approach. I love the way the solid black area at the top of the panel reaches down and envelops Brock in such a claustrophobic way.
(Throughout the issue, in fact, there are all sorts of cool little sequences that help to bring the alien nature of the costume to life in a creepy and unexpected way, often with smart use of light and shadow.)
I have to say, I love the more restrained version of Venom that we see here much more than the exaggerated creature he later turned into. It’s much creepier to have the character be a slightly more muscular version of black-costume Spidey with a thin white grin, than it is to make him the Hulk-like beast with a jaw as long as his arm, as he became over the course of subsequent appearances.
Anyway, back to the story - there’s also a decent amount of tension created throughout this info-dump sequence of Venom-origin pages, as Michelinie uses the device of including a single panel at the bottom of each page that shows Spidey’s hand inching closer and closer to the sonic gun that he knows could be the key to harming the symbiote and escaping from Venom. It’s a fairly simple device but it works well - especially when that hope is pulled out from under him at the last minute, and Venom grabs him and knocks him out before he gets the chance.
When he wakes up, he’s webbed to a bell in a church tower (the kind of location that McFarlane would become so fond of later in Spawn), in a classic cliffhanger-style how-is-Spidey-going-to-get-out-of-this-one? moment.
Of course, Spider-Man escapes, and in a perfectly Spider-Man way: by combining an understanding of science (the retracting mechanism of the clapper) with a moment in which he has to draw on all his reserves of energy and willpower to break through Venom’s webbing (OK, it’s not quite the ‘lifting’ sequence from ASM #33, but it’s in that vein), and then use his knowledge of his enemy to finish him off (by using the sound of the bell to disturb the symbiote, and then forcing Venom to run down his depleted reserves of organic webbing until the alien is exhausted).
It’s satisfying, and crucially, makes logical sense given what we know about Venom, giving Peter a win without destroying the idea of Venom as an incredibly powerful and dangerous threat that has been built up over the course of the issue.
Finally, we see Venom packed off to a holding cell (via a neat cameo from The Thing, who uses the FF’s tech to keep the villain subdued - hmmm, I wonder if he’ll be back?), and Peter return home to his wife. Of course, MJ is still so disturbed by the experience of being intimidated by Venom that she asks Pete to make one very significant change to his costumed career - leading to one of the most triumphant last pages in Spider-Man history.
The red-and-blues are back!