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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ultimate Spider-Man: “Back In Black”

Illustration for article titled iUltimate Spider-Man/i: “Back In Black”
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With almost every superhero TV show, it’s always a question of when, not if, the creative team will figure out that serialized storytelling is the way to go. All of Ultimate Spider-Man’s best elements come from the world-building it’s been doing: the S.H.I.E.L.D. super-team, the machinations of Norman Osborne, and it’s no surprise that one of its best episodes so far picked up a thread from the last appearance of Venom, put a new spin on a familiar storyline from the comics, and left the door open for future stories in the same vein. Sure, there’s the same madcap humor, but I’ve got no problem with that as long as you leave room for decent storytelling.

The last appearance of Venom was relatively cut-and-dried, although it changed the origin of the sticky black suit-fluid from an alien entity to a rage-fluid distilled by Dr. Octopus. But apart from that, it had all the hallmarks of the classic Venom origin: Spidey dons the suit, battles with the monster within, and eventually destroys it. But at the end of the episode, Harry Osborne picked up a smidgen of goo, a storyline I figured wouldn’t pay off for a while. I was happily proven wrong by the return of Harry-Venom in “Back In Black,” and although the episode ends with Harry supposedly free of the monster, there’s definitely the implication that it’s not gone for good.


I like the twist. In the comics, Venom’s classic host was Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist who blames Spider-Man for the loss of his job and who hooks up with the equally angry symbiote costume, recently rejected by our hero. It’s a fine origin story, but it’s not enough of a sacred cow that I’m mad about this new spin. It’s a clever way to incorporate Harry Osborne into the action without it feeling like Ultimate Spider-Man is just ripping off the Sam Raimi film series. In Spider-Man 3, Harry’s transformation into a new Green Goblin plus Eddie Brock turning into Venom (plus the Sandman) made for a classic case of too many villains, not enough time.

“Back In Black” sees Spidey confronting Venom (who becomes a super-popular hero within minutes, repeatedly taking down an Oscorp robot villain who looks like a Gargoyles reject) while sick and low on web-fluid. It’s a classic Spider-Man trope to push him to his physical limits for a big battle like this one, just to remind us how human a hero he is versus some of Marvel’s more extraordinary characters. Spidey’s constant sneezing was deployed for gags first, pathos second, but coupled with the loss of webbing, it definitely made his big win feel a little bigger.

This show’s fight sequences are still a little too frenetic, although one part of the Venom showdown, rendered in stark yellow and black with a much more obviously comic-book style, was a lot of fun to watch. The rest felt a little more slapdash, with Venom’s suit really disobeying its internal logic sometimes (although I guess magic black fluid has no real internal logic) and Spidey’s ultimate victory (electrocuting him…twice) feeling a little dissatisfying, as it did in the previous Venom encounter. Venom’s classic weakness of “sound” is maybe a little hokey, but it often led to some really inventive takedowns; this was merely ordinary.

But those are elements that will improve with time. I’ve already noticed how much more inventiveness there is to the fighting scenes, and the funny cutaways are also building in confidence. That extended sequence about the symbiote narrated by Peter in a Bela Lugosi voice was great; the repeat gag about Peter revealing his identity worked too. I imagine we’re in for a few more “villain of the week” episodes that will be on the corny side, but there’s definitely a core of a strong show growing here.


Stray observations:

A newspaper headline about Venom proclaims that he’s “Winning!” Let’s let that meme die, shall we?


Oliver probably should have reviewed this one, given the brief guest appearance by Doop in Spidey’s fantasy. Doop!

I laughed at Peter sneezing on the camera, obvious as it was. “Sorry! Vampire sneeze, gotta remember, vampire sneeze!”


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