The Issues of Today: “Venom: The Mace”
After Venom’s little tussle with the Incredible Hulk, he moves on to his latest three-part limited series, “Venom: The Mace.” This series is going to ramp up the 90s-era most cliched attributes: tough guys in armor! Tons of weapons! Lasers and pouches! Other series have utilized some of these characteristics before—“Lethal Protector” featured a whole team of armored warriors—but “The Mace” takes these and runs even more helter-skelter with them.
Is that a good thing? Guess we’ll have to see.
“Venom: The Mace”
Writer: Carl Potts
Penciler: Liam Sharp
The “visionary writer” behind “Venom: Funeral Pyre” returns, making him the first writer we’ve had so far to tackle more than one Venom-centered limited series. Unfortunately, Potts will fail to unite his previous story with this one, which makes for an interesting element I’ve noticed in these stories.
Other than the “Venom protecting the homeless” concept introduced back in “Lethal Protector” and the return of Eddie’s “girlfriend” Beck (who’s more of a “girl” who’s a “friend” at this stage), “The Mace” doesn’t really carry over much continuity from past stories. In fact, the other tales we’ve looked at do largely the same kind of neglecting. There are elements, such as characters and locations, that transition from one story to the next, but that’s about it. Has anyone remembered that time Eddie recently bonded with sentient sludge and became a multi-headed-hydra monster? No. Is anybody going to mention how San Francisco is still reeling from the goblin invasion we witnessed in “The Enemy Within”? No, not at all. In fact, that entire, devastating event seems to have been forgotten by time this story comes around.
The lack of continuity between these stories is frustrating, because it really points to how little the writers seemed to care about creating an ongoing narrative. Admittedly, having a new Venom limited series every couple of months wasn’t the best incubator for an overarching story, and by no means is that necessary either. But for a medium that, at its best, strives to create cohesion between story arcs, characters, locations, and events, this disparate form of storytelling is disappointing.
This new tale by Potts introduces us to the series’ namesake: The Mace, a cyborg supersoldier on the run from his employers, the Sunrise Society (don’t worry, Venom’s in this, too!). Like his name suggests, the guy carries around a mace, which he uses as a projectile weapon. Confronted by bounty hunters from the Society, Mace manages to escape and flee to San Francisco.
Though introduced earlier in a comic series called “Shadowhunters,” the Sunrise Society is an organization I would have loved for Potts to explore deeper. The sequences with Mace running from the bounty hunters introduce several different concepts—that Mace uses invisibility armor, that his cyborg implants have targeting systems and infrared vision, that these bounty hunters are equipped with several interesting pieces of tech—to a degree that’s both cool and disappointing. “Cool” because Potts tosses in a lot of jargon (“LCD suit,” “electro-whip,” “HT gun,” “bio-engineered”), and how comfortable these armored guys are throwing around phrases like “electro-whip” makes their futuristic society fit better in the comic universe. “Disappointing” because as soon as I started reading, I wanted to know more about who the Sunrise Society and Mace were, and sadly, we don’t get that. These elements aren’t distracting but are only hints of something that would’ve made the comic more interesting had they been used more purposefully.
This is probably because, unsurprisingly, we’re reading a Venom story. When Mace travels to San Fran and gets hired by a group of people claiming to have been assaulted by members of Venom’s underground community, our cyborg and anti-hero come to blows. And until they’re interrupted by the Sunrise Society’s bounty hunters, that’s largely the story Potts delivers. The various actions sequences are cool, showcasing Venom’s abilities in some new ways (at one point, he uses the symbiote to create a shield for himself) and exploring Mace’s own cyborg implements. There is, also, a strong narrative point to the various battles featured in this story—Mace battles the bounty hunters to flee his masters’ grasp; Venom assaults Mace after the cyborg kidnaps Beck; the two team up against the bounty hunters, Mace to fight for his freedom and Venom to keep innocents from getting harmed.
On one hand, the story shows both anti-heroes as “protectors” of some kind. Venom strives to protect the society he has come to regard familiarly, and Mace works to defend other San Fran citizens in exchange for room and board. But that’s about as much comparing/contrasting as the tale does with our primary protagonists. As a result, it really comes down to yet another “heroes fight each other until unifying against a common threat” storyline, which I know I mentioned in my previous post about the Venom/Hulk one-shot, but I find it a good example to point out here.
The idea is not bad, bringing two superhuman characters into conflict and infusing tension between characters who really should be working together. And I get that it works in certain cases: if San Francisco’s been suffering earthquakes, and the Hulk sails in and demolishes a city street, you’re going to try and put two-and-two together. But for Venom to do the same thing to Mace feels somewhat pointless. Utilizing his “eat brains fist, ask questions later” methodology, Venom shoves all his bluster about being a “great hero” and “protecting innocents” aside.
This is a problem that doggedly stalks every Venom storyline we’ve read up to this point. Writers can have Venom espouse his heroics and extol his abilities all they want, but unless they back that exaltation with tangible action, all his huffing and puffing comes across as hollow. While it can be argued that, yes, Venom does protect several people in his stories and does follow a distorted view of his own mission and self-righteousness, that’s hardly an excuse for writers failing to bring about tangible change in his character.
Why bring that up now? Two reasons:
1) Eddie does start changing soon. At this point, I’m ahead by a few stories, and there are moments of insight into Venom/Eddie’s character that break away from the repetitive cycle we find ourselves in currently. Unfortunately…
2) …that doesn’t happen here. Here, we have a story beginning with Venom murdering some muggers (and, oddly, being cheered on by the potential victims) and continuing with the guy charging headlong into Mace, not even taking responsibility when Beck winds up injured in the crossfire.
If you’re a fan of 90s comics, and if by “fan” you define yourself as “lover of armored costumes, explosions, lasers, excessive violence, and dark vigilante characters,” you’re in for a real treat. But if you want your comics to include a little more thought, perhaps some desperate soul-searching, maybe a hint of innovative growth on the part of your hero (too much to ask?), you may end up enjoying this anyway, but not as much. Think of the wonky action as a “my condolences” gift from a writer who introduces some intriguing concepts but never dives deep enough for them to make this story much more than an excuse for people with guns and superpowers to slug it out in the alleyways of San Francisco.
• The bounty hunters, in the scenes where they initially go after Mace, keep talking about how irritating this all is—how they’re wasting their “hard earned R and R time” chasing him down, how they’ll “shove the paperwork until tomorrow,” and asking who the “designated driver” is for that evening’s libations after catching Mace. This dialogue doesn’t carry through the rest of the story, but for a few brief pages, I get to enjoy a bunch of high-tech mercenaries, armed with futuristic weapons and hunting an escaped cyborg, complain about their job like it’s a regular 9-to-5 gig.