Venom stories in Spider-Man titles all seem to walk the same beats. Spider-Man gets the symbiote, thinks it’s great, loses control, struggles, and repels the alien. Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #9 sticks to the formula, but also adds a few unique takes in what has become a very Renew Your Vows fashion. The creative team behind the title has shifted again, as Conway seems to be slowly moving further from the title while Stegman takes over writing duties. This issue was co-plotted by the duo, with Juan Frigeri billed as “guest artist” and Jesus Aburtov returning for an excellent color job. #9’s script lacks the glossy polish from Conway’s years of experience, but Stegman’s script is more than adequate.
Guest artist Frieri’s inks are a little fast and loose for my taste, but his figures and paneling rise to the standard that I have come to expect from this title. The layout with Mary Jane dropping two super villians mid-heist is both a smart use of space as well as an enticing one. The “Venom vision” depicted from Mary Jane/Venom’s perspective in the later pages of the issue is just so cool – it reminded me of the scenes from “Predator” where the camera would shift to the Predator’s perspective. But without the heat vision, obviously.
The issue opens with an extended sequence of Peter gathering clues pointing toward Venom’s return. Peter seems to have come to a conclusion based on the rumors fairly early, but he continues to dive deeper into the leads due to denial. This is where the story could have used a fine tooth comb, as Peter’s continued denial can also come off as convenient ignorance meant to pad the story to 20 pages. The story ramps up once Peter, Venom, and MJ all square off, but the first eight pages feel like wheel spinning.
But what a great confrontation it is! This might be a “by the numbers” Venom story in its structure, but the motivations and nuances behind it bring enough twists that the story still feels fresh. In the recent Venom #150, Mike Costa played with the idea of the symbiote and Eddie Brock being “married,” and here we have Venom insisting that Eddie Brock was his family. It’s a nice touch that Stegman is able to slip in, extending Venom’s personal beef with Peter to the rest of his family – not only has Pete shunned the symbiote, he has also taken something from it that Peter has himself. Brock’s murder is brought up in a matter-of-fact kind of way, which doesn’t really give weight to how big a step that was for Peter. There’s a substantial time skip in the original Renew Your Vows between Brock’s death and the meat of Dan Slott’s story, so there’s plenty of room to insert some kind of flashback or mention to Peter’s guilt (or reasoning for lack of guilt!) over taking a life.
For a Renew Your Vows issue, this is a very Peter Parker-centric tale. Not that it’s wrong to take a break and focus down on one character, but there are times when this feels more like a Spider-Man story rather than a story that focuses on the Parker-Watson family. The inner struggle between MJ and Venom is personified in fisticuffs, which is something to expect in the superhero mega-genre, but being sent flying physically from such a struggle is a little weird and hard to wrap my head around.
The issue ends on a slightly ambiguous note. Peter drains Venom the same way that MJ would siphon Peter’s powers as Spinneret. But they make no mention as to whether or not this means the symbiote is in control or if MJ is going to continue to use it in some capacity. The last time we see her in the issue, she’s still wearing the suit and while she and Peter mend the rift between themselves, the matter of what to do with the Venom symbiote is not answered. The last page teases the upcoming Normie arc, revealing Liz Allan has been keeping an eye on Normie’s activities and enables them to some degree. Next issue also marks Conway’s complete departure from the book (according to solicits). Stegman has proven that he can write an enjoyable script, and we’ll soon find out how he does when flying solo as the plotter as well.
Conway and Stegman plot a familiar Venom storyline for the Parker-Watson family, but some clever twists inserted into Stegman's script make for a subtle but enjoyable twist to the Spider-Man/Venom relationship. Guest artist Frigeri's draws an appropriately slimy and intimidating Venom, but it's colorist Jesus Aburtov who takes home the prize for the art department in this issue.