Agent Venom’s plan to free Manhattan from the clutches of the Spier-Queen continues this week, along with another entry in the Spider-Girl/Spider-Woman saga from Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Just like many of the other “Secret Wars” tie-ins, this comic offers an interesting, alternate take on the “Spider-Island” event and allows Christos Gage and Paco Diaz ample room to play around with characters and concepts. This sort of play doesn’t always result in fantastic comics, but at the very least allows for some truly unique, consequence-free takes on established characters. Spider-Island isn’t particularly stirring as a narrative, especially considering it likely won’t make a splash in Marvel comic continuity, but it provides a fun, if bizarre, take on the popular event and allows Agent Venom to shine for a bit before his adventures continue (in space!) in the fall.
Spider-Island #2 picks up immediately following the execution of Agent Venom’s plan from the end of the first issue. He and his team—Spider-Woman and The Vision—have infected several of the Spider-Queen’s superhero minions with various supernatural or scientific methods of transformation. Thus, Hulk is now The Lizard/Hulk, Captain Marvel is a vampire (in the vein of Michael Morbius), Captain America a werewolf, and Iron Man has been infected with the Green Goblin formula. Their transformations are tenuous at best, but that’s about the best that they can ask for in this nightmarish version of Manhattan.
The redesigns are frightening, fun, and the main appeal of this book. Paco Diaz’s pencils are at their best when illustrating the Green Goblin/Iron Man, an inevitable pairing for those familiar with the characters’ recent histories. The newly transformed (and liberated) Avengers join Venom’s team and fight Spider-Queen’s forces before escaping for a brief respite among the rubble. All of these plot developments happen lightning fast, which is fine, but there is exceptionally little breathing room for character development or nuance. I suspect that Spider-Island will feel like a more complete experience when collected as a trade paperback as the character developments that are occurring here will likely spread out over the entire series and come into clearer view.
The vagueness of Agent Venom’s plan is a bit irritating; there’s just not a lot of information provided by writer Christos Gage. It makes it hard to invest in the forward momentum created by the rocket-fast plotting. Still, the vagaries of the plot are balanced fairly well by the twisted fun that Gage is clearly having with the premise of monster superheroes. I think I like the concept more than the execution; but again, I’d like to read all of these issues together in order to see how cohesive the story becomes when presented that way. I can’t say the same for the back-up story, “Avengers at the Gate,” which yet again leaves something to be desired.
As a fan of Spider-Girl, now Spider-Woman, I hate to express that my disappointment with the backup story presented here continues. This Spider-Girl tale builds on threads left dangling from the original “Spider-Verse,” which is strange considering that it is almost definitely not set in “Secret Wars”‘ Battleworld. Here, Spider-Woman is running from the Avengers, who believe she’s an impostor. She runs from the Avengers before coming across Enthralla, who is apparently the niece of Mastermind and definitely someone I don’t remember from previous Spider-Girl comics.
I’m trying to imagine a new reader trying to make sense of this backup and I’m finding it rather unlikely that readers new or old are going to be satisfied. It’s going around in circles and generally just filling space. Why not release this as a full story in its own comic where it would be allowed to tell its story and build to some kind of narrative flow? I do however quite like the art; classic pencils and concise action, that’s what Ron Frenz is known for and as usual, with the help of inker Sal Buscema, he delivers.
Spider-Island continues to be incredibly fun, offering a strange, if rushed, story about Agent Venom and his team of infected heroes. The backup Spider-Girl story seems out of place when paired with this the primary story and "Secret Wars" and end ups feeling confusing and inconsequential.