Characters Appearing: Franklin Richards, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Kristoff (Time Travel), Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, Venom Symbiote
Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #2
Issue(s): Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #2
According to this interview, it was Dan Slott that suggested using the period where Spider-Man's alien costume was being held by the Fantastic Four. "Our second issue occurs during the John Byrne run, when She-Hulk had replaced the Thing on the FF. Dan Slott actually made an inspired suggestion surrounding the fact that it was the FF who helped Spider-Man get free of the symbiotic black costume that eventually became Venom".
The story is that the symbiote escapes and briefly possesses each member of the Fantastic Four except the Human Torch, ultimately trying to bond with Franklin Richards before getting recaptured.
Unfortunately this issue is a disaster from a continuity point of view and just way too sentimental from a basic storytelling point of view.
The book opens with Spider-Man visiting the Fantastic Four, and just gushing with geekiness at Mr. Fantastic.
If this was the first, second, fifth time Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic met, it might have made sense. But Spider-Man has had substantial encounters with Mr. Fantastic before. This same point could also have been made a lot more subtly (i.e., it's fine for Mr. Fantastic to recognize Spider-Man's scientific abilities, and for Peter Parker to have a lot of respect for Reed), but then Spider-Man wouldn't look like a fanboy geek, which seems to have been the point. And... that's not Spider-Man's character. Is Peter Parker really into science? Of course. But when he's in costume, he's our snarky point-of-view character that helps us accept the wackiness of the Marvel universe by making fun of it right along with us. He doesn't have to be in that mode all the time. But having him go so far in the opposite direction is disrupting and it's way overdone.
We then have Angry Sue, which i think is as much thanks to the art as anything.
That mullet really doesn't translate well to Mario Alberti's style.
Seeing this scene of marital bliss, Christos Gage drops in a too-cute "I am never getting married" from Spider-Man.
Then we have the scene where the symbiote breaks out, which is meant to be from a scene repeated in Fantastic Four #274 and Amazing Spider-Man #261 (but see the Considerations section below).
The symbiote comes web swinging for the Richards family, out getting ice cream for Franklin.
It's worth comparing this to scenes in the 1985 issues of Spectacular Spider-Man after it escaped, where it mostly slowly crept along the streets of the city and never formed a fully humanoid Venom-like figure without a host body as it does here.
The creature is targeting Franklin, and while Reed agrees that Sue's powers are more effective against it, he sends her off with Franklin to a safe room while he tries to hold it off.
Not a good strategy. If Sue just held the symbiote in a forcefield for a while, Mr. Fantastic could have gotten Franklin home and grabbed the sonic gun that he used to repel it from Spider-Man. And that's assuming it's strong enough to break out of Sue's forcefield at all, which is a dubious proposition.
But Sue agrees, and soon Mr. Fantastic is covered in symbiote. It does an amazingly quick job of subduing Reed's mind, even as it says that it really wants Franklin because the boy's mind is weaker.
Reed does manage to get the symbiote to go after Spider-Man instead of Franklin.
Spider-Man, meanwhile, is on his way to visit Liz Osborn in the hospital after her ordeal with the Hobgoblin.
Spider-Man gets Reed free at an Iron Man cover band concert.
We then switch to my favorite scene in the book, which is Johnny pulling a prank on She-Hulk and She-Hulk making it clear that she's not going to be putting up with that sort of thing.
She-Hulk had already been part of the team for a while at this point, and Johnny was being written more maturely for the most part, but it's still a fun scene.
But then Sue finally arrives at the Baxter Building, and the symbiote is hot on her heels and possesses She-Hulk.
The good news is that Johnny has no problem using his full flame on She-Hulk, so he's able to get it off of her quickly. It next possesses Sue, which at least has the benefit of covering up that mullet.
The symbiote then transfers to Franklin and i guess what's happening here is Franklin is using his mental powers to destroy Reed's sonic gun (i'm allowing that the symbiote is able to tap into Franklin's suppressed abilities).
That leaves us with a Care Bear moment as the only solution.
After that, the creature is recaptured.
Reed says he doesn't know how it escaped but claims it will only escape again if "someone blows up the building".
Franklin mentally told the symbiote that everyone hates it and no one wants to be its friend, and Mr. Fantastic says that the nature of the symbiote has changed, making it a creature motivated by hate and only drawn to someone full of rage or resentment. I guess we'll have to say that it gave Spider-Man one last try in Web of Spider-Man #1 before truly succumbing to that.
Then we get back to the gushing.
We end with future Kristoff collecting a sample of the symbiote from one of the probes that he re-directed from present day Kristoff before sending it back on its original mission.
With this he will create the symbiote bomb that will cause the Avengers to attack Dr. Doom in Bendis' Avengers.
BTW, i've got Kristoff tagged as a character appearing but this is future Kristoff and so it's an out of sequence appearance for him. That said, present day Kristoff should be considered behind the scenes here as well, since he's the one who sent the probes.
Some of the things i don't love about Mario Alberti's art (the soft, busy lines and occasionally grotesque faces) also allow him to draw a really great looking Venom. The problem with that is that this isn't Venom yet, and the symbiote's look and abilities stick out like a sore thumb among the surrounding non-continuity implant issues. Similar problem storywise. Forget the big continuity problems (we'll get to them below). Just the way the symbiote is handled is really not in line with the period where this story is supposed to take place. I mentioned how quickly the symbiote manages to possess its hosts (the symbiote did manage to posses some ordinary New Yorkers in the original issues but i expect better from Mr. Fantastic), how the "rage" conclusion doesn't really work with the symbiote's next major appearance in Web of, and how quickly it manages to get around. Even its preference for Franklin is hard to swallow; we did see it mesmerizing Franklin in the original issues but presumably that was to get him to free it so it could go back to Spider-Man, who it had already bonded with.
It amounts to the tone of the book just being wrong, and if you're going to allow that to happen while also getting the bigger continuity issues wrong, what's the point of the story? Take all of that out and you're left with "Mr. Fantastic really loves Franklin" and "Spider-Man has a geek crush on Mr. Fantastic". The first is banal, the second is embarrassingly bad.
I generally like Christos Gage as a writer. His Avenger Academy often straddled the line between overly sentimental and heartwarming, but it leaned towards the latter (or, for a teen drama, the style worked better). So this was doubly disappointing. With the Quality Rating below i'm doing my best to ignore the continuity errors and judge the story on its own merits, but as i said, considering what's left, it's still two thumbs down and a raspberry.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: As i said above, this issue just can't work, continuity-wise. In the original story, Kristoff's probes free the symbiote at night (the moon is out, and the city lights are on), while the Fantastic Four are "away on a mission", and it remains free, creeping around the city, possessing people, as shown in various issues, until it finally reaches Spider-Man in Web of Spider-Man #1. The scene of the symbiote escaping is shown at the end of Fantastic Four #274, and in the middle of Amazing Spider-Man #261, before Liz Allan was hospitalized.
In this issue, the probe scene happens while Reed and Sue have taken Franklin out for ice cream. It's dusk; the sun is still out but the sky is painted golden. And Spider-Man is on his way to visit Liz in the hospital after the symbiote escapes. So already we have a problem. By itself, it's not the end of the world. You could pretend that the scene in ASM #261 was just shown out of sequence, if you ignore the "Just then, across town" and "away on a mission", and the fact that it's the wrong time of day. But that would be ugly.
The bigger problem, though, is that the symbiote is recaptured at the end of this issue. And of course it has to be free to appear in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #98, #99, and #100 and then Web of Spider-Man #1.
So my first thought was to see if two wrongs could make a right. Take advantage of the time difference in the symbiote escape and say that there were two escapes, maybe one initiated by the present day Kristoff and one by the future version. But Liz's hospital stay makes that impossible; even if there were two break-outs, the break-out in this issue would have to occur after the one shown in ASM #261.
Now, Gage's solution seems to be that the costume escaped again when Kristoff launched the building into space in Fantastic Four #278. That can't work for a variety of reasons. The simplest to explain is that in Amazing Spider-Man #267, the Baxter Building is still around (according to the Human Torch) and that issue references Web of Spider-Man #4 which means that the Building also still had to be around prior to Web of Spider-Man #1 (and Spectacular #99, etc.).
So what we're stuck with is assuming that the symbiote escaped again off panel after this issue. We can still go with the "future Kristoff then present day Kristoff" idea; the one thing we have going for us here is that Mr. Fantastic says he doesn't know how the symbiote escaped the first time, which means it's plausible that the same means could have been used to free it both times. But to recap, that means we have one escape shown in three different issues, one of which happens at a completely different time of day, and then another escape that we don't see.
Really disappointing. Now i'll grant you, looking at Amazing Spider-Man #267 to figure out if your story that plays off of FF #274, ASM #261, and FF #278 can work isn't the most obvious thing to do. But you can find other difficulties if you look (even in Web of Spider-Man #1, Peter considers visiting "the Baxter Building")(and put it this way; FF #277 ties in to the Wraith War, so even if you don't know to look at specific things, you should realize that's an area to stay away from). And just think about it by cover dates - FF #274 came out in January, ASM #261 came out in February. Spectacular Spider-Man #98-100 came out from January - March. FF #278 was in May. If you're not going to do the research, do you really want to try to cram five months of Fantastic Four between two issues of Spider-Man? Also? In 2010, there were plenty of nerds on the internet who would have been more than happy to do this research for free.
For Kristoff, since this is out-of-sequence for him due to the time travel involved, i'm listing him with a separate tag than i do for his regular appearances.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: N/A
I'd be tempted to resolve the continuity problems by saying that future Kristoff had managed to time travel into a parallel universe for this issue.
Posted by: Stephen | August 24, 2013 4:40 AM
I did consider placing this whole series in the 2010 year (when i get there...!), looking at it from Kristoff's perspective, and then i could do exactly what you suggest. But i do want this project to incorporate continuity inserts, and of course it wasn't the intent that it was an alternate universe (by this point Marvel had abandoned the time travel = alternate universe idea) so i decided to place it here.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 24, 2013 2:00 PM
In Fall Of The Hulks Alpha it is shown that the Intelligentia has again released the symbiote. I think it is an attempt to correct the error of this story.
Posted by: Midnighter | February 11, 2016 10:49 AM
This issue came out a few months AFTER Fall of the Hulks Alpha. The MCP assumes that the Intelligencia were talking about healing the symbiote after Web of Spider-Man 1.
Posted by: Michael | February 12, 2016 11:53 PM
@fnord and/or michael: Having never read this issue, is there anything specific that says it has to be in continuity? Could Kristoff be responsible for the symbiotes release and get a sample without all the other continuity wrecking stuff in this story? I hate that this issue kinda ruins some of my earliest Spider-Man moments :(
Posted by: Mquinn1976 | January 27, 2018 4:40 PM
Mquinn, as Stephen suggests, you could pretend that this is Kristoff traveling to an alternate timeline. Beyond that, i doubt that this story gets referenced again outside of the Spider-Man/Fantastic Four series (except for what Midnighter mentions, which seems to be a deliberately oblique reference?). So in terms of your personal head canon, i'm sure it's safe to ignore. There's nothing i can do about it being officially in continuity, though. ;-)
Posted by: fnord12 | January 30, 2018 12:28 PM
A part of me suspects the intent was to replace the PPSSM/WSM issues showing Spidey's battle with the symbiote, because I wouldn't put it past 2010 Marvel to wipe away beloved stories so casually. Certainly I can't imagine any effort was put into making that story work with this one; if you told me everyone involved had only ever read Amazing at the time and figured nothing had ever come of the symbiote's escape until Venom came along, I'm not sure I'd be all that surprised.
It does seem that, if you go by the symbiote's demeanor (on top of the whole Liz Allan thing), this escape should take place after the events of WSM #1, but then we're assuming the symbiote, having tried to save Peter with what appeared to be its dying act, was recaptured off panel, sees Peter and Reed talk about it as though a) a ton of info about the symbiote's physiology was new to Peter and b) Peter hadn't gone through the traumatic experience with it of WSM #1, escaped again which the FF and Peter react with complete surprise over, gets recaptured, and then escapes a THIRD time when Kristoff launches the Baxter Building into space. Having this escape come first works better, as fnord lays out, but of course creates the problems mentioned above; if that was the intent, it definitely seems like the ASM #261/FF #274 escape would then be intended to be a separate, later escape if not for the Liz Allan issue.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | March 22, 2018 4:12 AM
The other problems are (a) Peter acts in Amazing 300 like this is the first time he's seen the symbiote since WSM 1 and (b) Brock encounters the symbiote in the same church where it was destroyed. So if this takes place after WSM 1, we have to assume that after it escapes from the Baxter Building, it decides to go back to the church where it was destroyed for some reason just as Brock walks in.
Posted by: Michael | March 22, 2018 8:02 AM
I think Morgan is correct that this was supposed to take the place of the original, much better stories. I think Christos Gage thought it would be kewl to see the symbiote take over the FF. It's so disturbing to me that great writers like Roger Stern, John Byrne, Claremont, etc. had so much more respect for continuity than the (mostly) second rate writers Marvel's had writing their comics over the past 10 or so years.
Posted by: mquinn1976 | March 22, 2018 9:41 AM
I agree with mquinn. And I'm a little surprised that fnord's "two thumbs down and a raspberry" means the Quality Rating of this dreck goes no lower than C-. Spider-Man's characterization alone would've made this a mediocre story at best ("I'm never getting married. I have or have meant to pop the question to three different women, but the fearsome challenge of living with someone you love is not a cakewalk like facing Galactus.")
But the concept itself is pathetic, pointless and perplexing. The result is not even kewl for kewl's sake; falling short, in fact, of the the kind of standards I had as a kid back when I enjoyed Rob Liefeld. There's a "What If the Alien Symbiote Had Taken Over Spider-Man?" (by Fingeroth/Bagley, IIRC) that does a much better job, I wish I had a scan to prove it. And the dialogue, oh, for Parker's sake, the dialogue. It's as tiresome as the script, as gratuitous as the concept, as awkward as the art, as damaging as the continuity mutilation, and even more melodramatic than the action sequences. Allow me, if it you please, to give a two thumbs and two toes down, and a bushel of raspberries.
Posted by: The Transparent Fox | April 22, 2018 2:13 PM
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