Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Symbiote Makes The Man


The story involving Spider-Man's black costume from the mid-1980s involves a curious timeline--particularly since it plays a large part in the promotion of several existing comics as well as the launch of a brand-new title. We got our first look at the costume when Spider-Man returned with all of Earth's other missing heroes from the Beyonder's planet in May, 1984--yet we didn't see the costume's creation until the eighth issue of the Secret Wars series published the following December. However, Spider-Man decided to abandon wearing the costume in his own title, a month prior to the Secret Wars story where we first saw it, which made its appearance there somewhat anti-climactic.

In the meantime, the costume was given generous exposure in both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, presumably to help build anticipation for the upcoming limited series. Once the costume's status as a symbiote was discovered, it would then play a key role in the launch of the new Web of Spider-Man title in April of 1985, where the symbiote would meet its end. From that point, Spider-Man would almost immediately readopt the look of the black costume, switching off between it and his original costume until mid-1988, when Venom would make the scene and snag the black look as his own.

Show me the story conference(s) where that kind of mess is mapped out in detail.

To give you a more sane look at the continuity of the costume/symbiote/whatever, connecting the dots a little more fluidly and a little less promotionally, let's try to get an idea of how a story like this might be approached if we streamline things and tighten everything up a bit. And it seems obvious where to begin:


Yep--this time, at the beginning.





As we can see, Spidey is still on "Battleworld," the Beyonder's planet, where he'll finish out the series with the others before returning to Earth. Back in New York, Peter Parker discovers a lot of advantages to the new costume; for instance, he doesn't need to strap on mechanical web-shooters anymore, nor does he need to change clothes since the costume can assume any look. But he's also noticing certain quirks, such as how fatigued he's become and how the costume seems to anticipate his wishes at times.

Finally, he seeks out Reed Richards at the Baxter Building for a long-overdue analysis of the alien garment:




Yet Reed's chilling conclusion gives Peter cause for concern, which leads to alarm:




Fortunately, this is the Fantastic Four we're talking about here, and the FF's middle name is "resourcefulness":




And so Peter is rid of this potential threat, though you have to love the final scene of the issue which promises WE HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST of the sinister symbiote:



You can almost hear the diabolical laughter, can't you?


But Web of Spider-Man is due to be launched in a few of months--and so we skip over to the Fantastic Four mag two months later, where we see one of the probes used by Kristoff (the boy who would assume the identity of Dr. Doom) infiltrate the Baxter Building and make its way into the lab, where its tampering results in an unfortunate escape:






It takes awhile for the symbiote to get its bearings in the city as it attempts to locate Peter. (Translation: Web of Spider-Man #1 doesn't hit the racks for another three months.) It finally manages to take control of a passing tourist, who drops it off near Peter's apartment, where it hides in his closet and disguises itself. And when Peter reaches for a costume that appears to be his own, the trap is sprung:




Peter's first instinct is to get himself to the Baxter Building for help. But the symbiote refuses to cooperate in that respect, and a lot of the issue is spent showing Spidey fighting its efforts while also trying to keep from getting killed in the process:



Fortunately, a bumbling group of hoods who have latched onto the Vulture's technology--the Vulturions, I kid you not--locate Spider-Man and attempt to take him out. But Spidey instead uses them to transport him to a belltower, where he improvises and uses a variation of Reed's sonic device to rid himself of the symbiote. That is, if he himself survives:





The gambit works, though Peter is still in danger of being killed by the intense sound. Were he conscious, he'd probably never believe who--what--ends up saving him:



Afterward, the great costume switch-off begins, as a laundry malfunction leads Peter to slip on a duplicate of the black costume that Felicia Hardy made for him:



And three years to the month later, the symbiote, which has survived, finds its way to a new host, Eddie Brock, and bonds with him completely. Brock, who blames Peter Parker for his firing from a rival newspaper, The Globe, finds that his symbiotic skin appears aligned with his wish to seek out Peter for revenge:



(I don't think Mary Jane is on board with this new bedroom game.)


"Venom" would lead to all sorts of symbiotic threats against Spider-Man, such as Carnage, Toxin, et al. If you're curious (and who wouldn't be?), you can explore this handy table of future symbiote creations as well as further appearances (and other incarnations) of Venom.

As for how this costume came about in the first place, this 2007 column gives a litte more information on the fan who dreamed it up and sold it to Jim Shooter for a whopping $220.  Which I suppose makes Venom, by extension, a bargain.

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