Spiderman is sometimes a hit and miss read for me. I love the character, but you go from the great early 90’s dumb action of a story like Maximum Carnage to a debacle like the Clone Saga. Then you have a bunch of filler before Joseph Michael Straczynski makes his mark going into the 2000’s by basically redefining the character and a bit of his back story involving his spider powers. After that you have crap like a Brand New Day that completely craps on continuity, but in recent years it has recovered a bit with Dan Slott taking over writing duties on the sole Amazing Spiderman title.
In the mix between some of that stuff in 2004, Mark Millar started writing duties on Marvel Knights: Spiderman, culminating in 3 story arcs that spanned 12 issues. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Scotsman responsible for writing in such comics as Kick Ass, The Ultimates, Ultimate X-men, Wolverine, Old Man Logan and Marvel: Civil War, now you are familiar with him. And that’s just some of the titles just from Marvel. It seems to me like his run on Marvel Knights Spiderman is seriously overlooked because to my mind it’s almost right on the same level as the work Straczynski did with the character. The Marvel Knights brand itself was supposed to be a little more dark and edgy, dare I say a little more grown up and violent. Marvel Knights Spiderman was definitely a mixture of all of those but never failed to capture the true essence of the character. Sure Spiderman has moments of rage in the series when his Aunt’s life is threatened and takes some savage beatings along the way, but he never loses his wisecracking cheerfulness that makes him stand out from other heroes without being too cheesy.
The story itself reminds me a lot of Batman’s Hush storyline that DC brought us 2 years previously. Someone has kidnapped Aunt May, and that kidnapper knows Spiderman’s true identity and sends him on a search that will test his limits both physically and morally. Pretty much every Spiderman villain in existence at the time shows up in this story arc, from the Green Goblin to Venom and Doc Ock to Electro. Hell, even Hydro Man shows up for a few minutes to give ole’ Spidey some grief. Aside from truly capturing the spirit of Spiderman’s character even in such dire circumstances, Millar succeeded in making a couple of the villains a little more respectable. One in particular by far.
Throughout the Millar run, Venom and Eddie Brock factor into things heavily as a supervillain auction is called so that everyone can bid on the Venom symbiote that Eddie Brock is willingly giving up due to him having cancer and wanting to contemplate the remainder of his life in peace. The suit doesn’t initially go to the villain I mentioned above, but when it does, it reinvents him and the Venom symbiote as well. Mac Gargan, the Scorpion is the villain who was calling Peter at the beginning of the storyline and he is working for none other than Norman Osborn who Spidey initially discounted from the suspect list. Gargan explains to Spiderman that Osborn has dirt on plenty of politicians out there and goes into a long conspiracy theory about how the government has created certain supervillains to sort of keep the superheroes in check, Osborn being an upgrader of sorts to a lot of supervillains out there. I’d hate this whole idea, but Gargan clears it up and explains that most villains are natural, there’s just those random jobbers out there that were created for the sole purpose to keep the superheroes busy. Gargan went from being a B lister to a guy who knew Spiderman’s secret identity. Then to further raise his status the Venom symbiote seeks him out and offers a partnership which Gargan takes, creating a whole new Venom. This version of Venom would stick around even past the Dark Reign storyline as he masqueraded as Spiderman on the Dark Avengers. Even though there is a whole new take on Venom with Flash Thompson now owning the symbiote, Millar’s run on Marvel Knights Spiderman made Venom a little more relevant for little over half a decade.
Even casual fans of Spidey should check this one out. There’s a great story and mystery throughout (if you didn’t read the spoiler) and some stellar artwork by heavyweights Frank Cho and Terry Dodson. There are a few unnecessary cameos by the Avengers and some X-men but other than that, this is one fine read. Don’t pass it up! 4 out of 5 grizzlies!