The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Venom chronicles some very important moments in Spider-Man lore. There is the debuts of Todd McFarlane, Venom (surprise), and…Speedball. Collecting a year’s worth of issues in one trade paperback, ASM: Venom is a look at a pivotal time in the history of Spidey.
The first three parts of the collection collect the three part ‘Life in the Mad Dog Ward’ story arc. After a chance encounter with some children, Spider-Man ends up in a confrontation that lands him in the Pleasant Valley Mental Hospital. Thinking that Peter Parker is delusional and believes he is a superhero, the staff place him in a section of the hospital known as the Mad Dog Ward. This area is for the most dangerous residents of the hospital; all are kept under heavy sedation while illegal tests are run on many of the patients.
Ann Nocenti handles the writing duties and has a very distinct style. Nocenti spends time dealing with the internal struggles of almost every character that is introduced. Sometimes it works: readers are let into the innermost thoughts of Peter as he worries about bills, Mary Jane, and the problems he has at work. Spider-Man comics are at their best when ample time is given to Peter trying to sort his life out.
However, when this deep insight fails, it does so spectacularly and comes off as heavy handed. The most glaring example is with Jacob, one of the children Peter meets, when he confronts his father. He sounds so unlike a child Nocenti has to resort to a character literally asking why Jacob speaks like an adult. The most egregious example of poor writing is with Spider-Man’s secret identity. Despite finding him in costume, none of the staff believe he is the real Spider-Man-all except for one person — whose reasons are never really explained.
The art is done by Cindy Martin and Bill Sienkiewicz, the latter drawing the eerie covers that capture the madness found in the pages. Overall, the arc does a great job of giving insight into Peter Parker.
The next story arcs sees the debut of one of the most underrated writers in Spider-Man history. David Michelinie began his run with a two part arc involving long time Spidey foe, Doctor Octopus. The story is mainly about Peter as he tries to deal with everything that is going on with his life. It is an action packed story that highlights Peter’s intelligence. It also leads into the debut of a new artist named Todd McFarlane.
McFarlane was the right artist for ASM at the right time. McFarlane joined Michelinie in ASM # 298. While the issue and proceeding two issue story arc involving the mercenary Chance are unremarkable, McFarlene’s art was perfect for the more extreme 1990s which were just around the corner. The future creator of Spawn had a style that still made Peter look like your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man while also giving the entire comic a more adult like appearance. Spidey’s body is contorted at odd angles that highlight his powers while battles take on a big cinematic feel. Faces are drawn with more lines, but instead of aging the characters, they add a sense of desperation.
Arguably, issue 298 is also equally important for the debut of the character that would become known as one of Spider-Man’s greatest foe. Venom makes a shadowy debut in the epilogue of the issue leading to his iconic first full appearance in the following issue. The historic issue 300 is memorable on many levels. From how terrifying Venom looked before it was decided he should constantly be drooling, to the pitiful story of how the symbiote and Eddie Brock came together, to the return of the red and blue suit, the comic is a series of unforgettable moments. Michelinie’s writing fits perfectly with the art in an amazing issue.
Unfortunately, the collection goes downhill from there. There is nothing wrong with the writing or the art. Michelinie does a great job of capturing the dual identities of Peter and his struggles as a person and a superhero. The stories also never lose the sense of fun a Spider-Man comic should have despite some of the issues being tackled. These are fun comic books. Still, even an appearance from David Letterman did not prevent the issues from seeming like filler.The covers done by McFarlane still hold up to this day. They are absolutely stunning, capturing Spider-Man at his best and adding a real sense of added gravity to ASM. The stories inside may have been normal comic book fare, but the covers had a serious, mature look to them. One thing that does stand out after reading a bunch of issues drawn by McFarlane is unmasked faces look distorted at times.
The main problem with the collection is it peaks to early. The early issues start off slow but there is a gradual build to Venom and his debut. From there, readers are treated to the epic battle, then Spidey moves on with his life. There is nothing wrong with this when reading the series. There is not one issue that could be considered “bad.” But when the book itself is called Venom there is a certain expectation. The collection would have truly had an epic feel if it ended after issue 300.
The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Venom is a great pick up for long time fans of the web-slinger and for new fans who want to know the backstory of one of his greatest foes. This is also an absolute must buy for fans of Todd McFarlane. The title may be a little misleading, but every Spider-Man fan who reads this will walk away happy.