We Care a Lot Part 3: The Last Days of San Francisco

November 27th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I don’t care much about Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan arc in the pages of Wolverine one way or the other, but I don’t get this part. Logan and Hawkeye drive around South Dakota and pass this.

The Venom symbiote just chilling on the side of a mountain. No reference to it anywhere. It’s just that panel. The hell is that about?

Anyway, before I get into the next Venom arc, we should take a look at Marvel Comics Presents #160-163. There were no Venom appearances in these issues. There were stories involving Tigra, Slapstick, Hawkeye and Vengeance, but nothing with Venom. Why is it so important? Because it introduces a character named Mace.

Mace is a character created by Carl Potts. Through the four issues, he writes an origin for him as basically the Japanese Wolverine. A criminal organization called the Sunrise Society takes the cloned DNA of a skilled martial artist and has it genetically engineered to create the perfect warrior. Since the Society is paranoid and thinks the scientist that created Mace is a traitor, they have him killed. The scientist is quick to destroy all of his notes, making Mace one-of-a-kind. Using his new cyber ninja skills, Mace escapes the Sunrise Society and knows freedom for the first time in his life.

He’s armed with a cybernetic mace, a healing factor, a laser gun that’s fine-tuned to the tattoo on his arm so it only works when he’s holding it, special vision abilities and… you don’t care. I don’t care. Nobody cares. Nobody has ever cared about Mace other than Carl Potts. That’s why we have Venom: The Mace (Venom #16-18 for those keeping track), featuring the superhero team-up that NOBODY asked for.

Goddamn that is 90’s. That Marvel Comics Presents arc was so late in the series, and I’m sure the sales were hurting as is, that virtually nobody has read it. So few have read it that the handful of Marvel profile sites out there that mention Mace list Venom: The Mace #1 as his first appearance. Ouch.

The arc, written by Potts with Liam Sharp on art, begins with Venom pouncing on some mugger types and killing the lot of them. The homeless folks he’s defending cheer him on and say how thankful they are that Venom’s on their side. Little does Venom know that he isn’t on the right side in this massacre. The underground San Francisco society has been getting more members and some of the other members have been bullying them for whatever goods they have. When they try to fight back, Venom steps in, thinking that his people are being harassed. This plot has a few holes in it, but we’ll let sleeping dogs lie for now.

Then you got Mace. He’s on the run from the Sunrise Society, made up of generic cyber armor guys and their leader, who looks like Iron Man with a whip made of electricity. He evades them, hides in a truck and hitchhikes his way to San Francisco. Continuing with his origin story, he needs to get to Los Angeles to meet up with his mentor.

He comes across the bullied squatters, who are looking for a hero to protect them from the jerks from underground. Since Mace needs food and shelter, he volunteers. He also steals one of the squatters’ sunglasses, revealing that while his sight is mostly Predator-style, he sees normally with shades on.

Meanwhile, Eddie just celebrated his birthday by building a few houses underground with his super strength and then treating Beck to dinner. One of their underground friends shows up, injured, and asks Venom for help. Mace briefly kidnaps Beck and explains what’s really going on with him and the squatters. While having a calm conversation is ideal, it can’t last in a Venom comic, so our anti-hero shows up and wipes the floor with Mace.

Beck steps in to stop Venom from going too far.

Beck helps Venom dodge the shot and the entire second issue is nothing but Venom vs. Mace. Truth be told, it isn’t a bad fight sequence. They each have enough bells and whistles to carry it. One notable bit has each character use his own invisibility power. Mace is able to see Venom’s heat despite it, but Venom’s able to counter Mace’s invisibility with dust and his tendrils.

By the end, Mace has the win and is ready to take Venom out with a point-blank laser shot to the back of the head. Beck runs forward, begging him not to kill Venom, just as missiles fire down at her. She’s blasted forward and is knocked unconscious.

Those Sunrise Society goons have caught up to them and have threatened to flame the entire underground neighborhood. Venom and Mace spring into action side-by-side to take care of them.

Blah, blah, blah, more fighting. Beck comes to and explains that Mace is a good guy to Venom. Mace kills the Iron Man-looking guy with the electro whip by use of a katana.

Venom and Mace patch things up. Venom wants to kill those members of his underground society who had been shaking down the new folks, but Beck makes him promise that he’ll only banish them. Beck pulls out what was supposed to be Eddie’s birthday present, but says that Mace needs it more. It’s a new pair of sunglasses.

Damn, Beck sucks at gift-giving. She bought sunglasses intended for a guy who barely sees sunlight? A guy who’s destined to shatter them the first time he transforms into a monster? It’s like buying heelies for Bruce Banner.

Later on, Venom tracks down and murders those lying thugs anyway. He defends himself by saying that he is “banishing” them in the way that he’s “banishing” them from their lives. That’s our Eddie! (Freeze-frame, end credits)

That’s also all there is to Mace. Never have I seen such a failed comic character. Even Dan Slott has better things to do with his time than namedrop him in a story. That’s why I’m putting together Mace Watch!

Loyal readers, I want you to keep an eye out. Obscurity is in these days at Marvel and it’s only a matter of time before Mace shows his half-masked face. It’s been almost 15 years since his last appearance, but I just know that his comeback is on the horizon. I want to be the first to know when Mace pops up in a Marvel comic because I’m probably the closest thing there is to somebody caring.

Mace Watch begins… NOW!

As we wait for his inevitable return, let’s move on to the next story. It’s Nights of Vengeance, written by Howard Mackie and drawn by Ron Lim. Seeing Howard Mackie’s name is never a good sign. Recently, this arc got a little mention from Tom Brevoort’s blog. He had the fans vote on the worst comic in Marvel history and this ended up making it as a nominee. Only two people voted for it as the worst, but it is quite the honor to make it that far. If you’re wondering, the #1 voted worst comic was Ultimates 3 #4. Sounds about right.

The question is, does Nights of Vengeance deserve to be tossed in the same crowd as Ultimates 3, Trouble and Marville? Hm… no. I can’t agree with it. It’s a bad comic, no doubt. It’s just harmlessly bad. There are far worse comics out there and far worse Venom comics, as you’ll see soon enough. Keep in mind that one of the guys who voted that the worst comic also said that Daniel Way is the most qualified to write Venom. Haha! Yeah, right! Wait until we get that far into the mythos, my friends.

It starts off with a guy by the name of Sean Knight running for his life. He’s a fed-turned-hobo that’s been on the run and is currently being chased down by another government agent, Michael Badilino. Seeing the poor homeless guy being chased by the big, mean man with the gun, Venom decides to intervene and beat the crap out of Badilino. This involves yet another instance of somebody shooting Venom point-blank with a pistol, only for Venom to laugh it off and spit the bullets out of his chest. I swear, they do this routine in every other issue.

Taking some of Beck’s advice to heart, Venom merely knocks Badilino out. Sean Knight passes out from the excitement and Venom decides to take them both with him to get to the bottom of things. Unbeknownst to him, he’s being watched and followed. Or, should I say, he’s being stalked.

In the underground neighborhood, Knight comes to and explains. He was undercover with a bunch of mercenary gun runners called the Stalkers. He came close to shutting them down from the inside, but while in the mountains, there was an alien spacecraft that crashed nearby. The technology in there mutated and bonded with the Stalkers as Knight escaped. Knight doesn’t think anyone believes him and tries to leave.

There’s also a subplot involving a bizarre term I doubt I will ever be able to use again: an Eddie Brock love-triangle. As it’s shown, Beck still has feelings for Eddie despite the events in The Madness. Then there’s Elizabeth, a doctor in the underground society that Venom saved once or twice back in Lethal Protector.

The four members of the Stalkers arrive to kill Knight, who himself is tired of running, but Venom leaps into action and tries to fight them off. Although they are still getting used to their new powers, they still have little problem smacking Venom down. Badalino sees that he has no choice but to transform into Vengeance, the Ghost Rider knockoff. This changes things and allows Venom to recover and help win the fight.

With all the crossover stories we’ve seen with Venom, Vengeance is the only one to really see eye-to-eye with him. Other than Venom’s occasional violent outbursts, the two are mostly agreeable and could have been considered friends if they had interacted farther than these four issues.

The story takes a videogame-esque turn. The Stalkers are defeated, so the technology that’s merged with them takes them over. Now they’re covered in glowing, green circuits and have glowing eyes. It turns out that they are like cyborg versions of the symbiote themselves and that they exist for the sole purpose of the hunt. They want to hunt down Venom and Vengeance, so they kidnap Beck, Elizabeth, and a whole lot of other people from the underground.

They leave Knight around in order to help Venom and Vengeance find where they’re hiding out. As the trio search, the Stalkers go and absorb more of the spacecraft into themselves, making themselves a mess of circuitry and suggestively more powerful. Eventually Venom and Vengeance meet up with them and are forced through a portal into a jungle setting. The Stalkers don’t just want to kill them, but play the Most Dangerous Game as they do it.

Now, these Stalkers are meant to be a cybernetic alien race of parasites that live for the hunt and are attached to what are supposed to be skilled mercenaries. You wouldn’t know it from reading the story. Considering they’re only up against two guys who they obviously can’t kill for obvious reasons and there are no lesser characters for fodder, there’s no wiggle room for them. They just come off as complete losers, taken apart one-by-one in the jungle.

Each time one dies, their strength is given to the others. This keeps going until there’s only one left, who they seemingly kill by tossing into an airplane and blowing it up. Don’t worry, the only casualty there is a drug dealing pilot. Vengeance and Venom hop onto Vengeance’s bike and ride off into the distance, but the lone Stalker shows to still be alive.

During all this, Knight has saved all of the underground folks except for Betty and Veronica—er, Elizabeth and Beck. Some techno organism has latched out at them and is slowly taking them over. Venom and Vengeance show up to blow up the base, destroying most of the alien spaceship in the process. Then they all go home, believing it to be over.

Badilino has a heart-to-heart with Eddie over how he needs to choose between love interests, but Eddie gets going on how he’s too dangerous for either of them and doesn’t deserve their love. Before this conversation can go further, the last Stalker shows up. He has absorbed the remains of the spaceship and is now the last of his race, with all the strength and knowledge of his race’s history.

During this big brawl, Venom steals the Stalker’s spear and impales the creature.

The Stalker asks to be spared, bringing up how there are more like Venom out there. Then the human underneath the parasite’s control takes over briefly and begs Venom to kill them. Venom does so and it ends with him mulling over the Stalker’s last words.

And… that’s pretty much it for San Francisco. I guess Eddie was serious about choosing neither Elizabeth or Beck because that’s the last time we hear from either one, as well as the underground society in general. I don’t even think Venom reflects on them a single time after this. They’re just forgotten.

This is just my own take on it, but it seems to me that the guys at Marvel realized that giving Venom his own series in San Francisco hindered their ability to use him elsewhere. He may be an anti-hero, but when it fits the need of making money, he’s also a plug-and-play villain. Sure, you can have guys like Punisher, Hulk and Vengeance appear in San Francisco for the sake of crossover, but how is Venom going to chase after Iron Man? How can he team-up with Spider-Man every other week when he can barely afford a plane ticket?

And so, they ended his stint on that coast and put him in the sandbox with the rest of the New York City crew. While it makes sense in terms of marketing, there’s the unfortunate aspect that there’s nothing for him to do. The entire Venom series is split up into three acts, ultimately. The first act is his San Francisco days. The second act is him doing a big pile of nothing in New York City. He isn’t working towards anything anymore like he was in the past few issues. He’s just chilling out in New York, waiting for stuff to happen.

I’ve explained why he went to New York in terms of marketing, but you might be wondering what the story reasons are. This would be explained in another story by Howard Mackie, but not in Venom’s book. This story takes place in Web of Spider-Man #118-119 by Terry Kavanagh and Steven Butler, and Spider-Man #52-53 by Mackie and Tom Lyle. During this time, Peter Parker’s life is being turned upside-down by his new friend and biological clone Ben Reilly. How do you make a clone seem like a big deal?

Beating up one of Spider-Man’s big bad guys is a start.

The previous Spider-Man arc had to do with Carnage going on a rampage of sorts, so Venom took a trip to New York to help take care of it. He’s late, but he still helps take care of a couple bank robbers by drowning them in the river while ignoring the police’s gunfire. He then finds himself drawn into the landmarks of the city. He’s taken aback when seeing the building where Captain Jean DeWolff was murdered. He spends some time hanging out in the church where Eddie and the symbiote first met.

During this, Ben Reilly does the same kind of sight-seeing, like visiting the bridge where Gwen died. He later hears about Venom’s reappearance on the radio and decides that if Spider-Man won’t do anything about Venom, he would. For the first time, he puts on his Scarlet Spider outfit and swings off.

Venom kicks back at the Roosevelt Island Tram Terminal, where he has a stand-off with the police. Behind him on the rooftop, he has a collection of muggers and thieves that he killed in his latest sweep of the city. The Scarlet Spider swings over and the police decide to let the costumed bozos fight it out and clean up when they’re done.

Even though, unlike Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider can use his spider sense on Venom, he still gets a beating. Venom’s prepared to end it and Scarlet Spider seems okay with it, but there’s an unexpected third party.

It’s Scream, the female symbiote! Venom doesn’t want to talk to her. Instead he forgets about Scarlet Spider and tries to kill Scream. He feels that all of his spawn, such as Carnage, need to die. Scream fights back, but insists that she and the others need to know how to control their symbiotes.

As this is going on, Scarlet Spider splits up his energy in three ways. One, he complains about his wound. Two, he rescues those put in danger from the Venom/Scream fight. Three, WAH I’M A STUPID CLONE AND NOBODY LIKES ME! Seeing that he’s the only thing close to a hero around, he joins in on the tussle by knocking Venom and Scream into the water. Yeah, that’ll stop them for good!

Or not, since the last page shows Venom angrily surfacing. He tries to track down Peter Parker for answers on what all that was about, but Peter’s place is empty. He even hits up Aunt May’s home, but finds nothing.

Scream later finds Scarlet Spider on a rooftop and asks for his help. Scarlet Spider leaves her because he’s not a hero. Huh, does that count as an actual reason? This causes her to have a tantrum that makes the rooftop break apart into the streets below. Scream gives in to her symbiote’s desires and tries to test her power on the people below. Venom pops in and beats on her for a while. As he begins to tear the symbiote from the host, he just about sums up the 90’s for most comic readers:

“We’re sick to death of spiders and symbiotes of all shapes and sizes!”

Scarlet Spider debuts his trademark impact webbing on the back of Venom’s skull, saving Scream. She’s out for the count and remains that way for the rest of the arc. At first, Venom gets the advantage and begins strangling Scarlet Spider. At first he seems okay with that since WAH I’M A CLONE, but then decides that he would rather live and punches Venom away. He also rants in his mind about how he can’t believe Spider-Man would ever make deals with a monster like this. Their fight goes from the rooftop to the streets, where Scarlet Spider is still outclassed.

The way impact webbing works, it coats you with webbing and continues to expand. Scarlet Spider shot the impact webbing right in-between Eddie Brock’s flesh and the symbiote. The webbing spreads across his body, forcing the two beings that make up Venom apart. Scarlet Spider pounds on the prone Venom, knocking out Eddie Brock. The symbiote tries to overtake the fake Parker, but his intense feelings of anger and rejection cause it to pass out. Having won the day, Scarlet Spider himself passes out.

He comes to a bit later and is deemed a hero by the surrounding public. He swings off, thinking that if he can stop Venom, then nothing can stand in his way. Meanwhile, some Vault Guardsmen take Eddie Brock and the symbiote away, separately.

This will lead into the next Venom arc, which I will cover next time.

Also in the next article: Venom vs. Carnage! …in the stupidest way possible!

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17 comments to “We Care a Lot Part 3: The Last Days of San Francisco”

  1. Oh God, is that the cyber-space issue?

    I actually read some of the Marvel Comics Presents stories that had Mace in them. He’s not a really terrible character as I recall, just a really generic one.

  2. That first picture… is the symbiote trying to take over Mt. Rushmore?

  3. […] Macy’s Parade spiderman.  Not everyone is posting short updates today.  4thletter added an unbelievably long talk into… I don’t even know what, it took me 2-4 different sittings to read the whole […]

  4. @HitTheTargets: It’s not Mount Rushmore, because they saved that for the big reveal that Mount Rushmore now has Red Skull’s head on it.

  5. Mace looks about as Japanese as Elvis.

  6. Don’t forget Planet of the Symbiotes!

  7. Silly burt. I already covered Planet of the Symbiotes!

  8. @mack:

    I agree with Mack. Mace seems to be 0% Japanese. He looks more like Gambit in the second picture of him.

  9. @Gavok: I’m sorry I ever doubted you, my liege.

  10. has there ever been a reason why Carnage/Venom are so much more powerful than other symbiotes ?

  11. “has there ever been a reason why Carnage/Venom are so much more powerful than other symbiotes ?”

    Are they?

  12. It’s more or less established that Toxin > Carnage > Venom > generic symbiotes. Though with Venom and Carnage, it was kind of a Wolverine vs. Sabretooth thing. Carnage was stronger the first few times, but gets softened more and more every rematch to the point that Venom tends to kick his ass without breaking a sweat. The Life Foundation guys are probably somewhere on Venom’s level, but they never really tested them against him in a real fight.

    I think the comic book mumbo jumbo explanation is that being on Earth, or being born on Earth, mutates the symbiotes and makes them stronger. Venom is dominant over other symbiotes because Brock has both experience and enough bulk and strength by himself that enhancing it makes him a real powerhouse. With Carnage, it’s because Kasady is always on an adrenaline high, which also gives him a power boost.

  13. The stupidest way possible . . .

    . . . through the INTERNET?

  14. Yes, Jbird. Exactly.

    Through the motherfucking INTERNET.

  15. “Through” still leaves it a little vague. Is Eddie warning people away from IRL meets with Cletus’ Second Life avatar? Is Karnage360, level 80 Blood Elf Rogue, totally ganking lEtHaL pRoTeCtA, a mere level 40 Gnome Warrior?

    Or it could be the best worst use of a Lawnmower Man-esque cyberspace since the Spectre fought that guy who controlled electricity.

  16. Nobody tell HitTheTargets the answer. Let him find out by reading Part 4.

  17. The Venom miniseries with Carnage (yes, fighting through the rassin-frassin internet!) is the only Venom miniseries I bought. I don’t know why.

    I. DON’T. KNOW. WHY!!!

    I guess, maybe?, that I Carnage appearances at this point were still rare enough that I thought this would be a big deal? That, perhaps?, I figured that four issues of Venom and Carnage slugging it out would have some base-level entertainment value?


    I’m going to go cry now.