The newly re-renumbered Amazing Spider-Man and Venom titles kick off their first crossover with Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha, the first of a six-part story, co-written by respective series writers Dan Slott and Mike Costa and illustrated by artist Ryan Stegman. Yes, surprisingly, it's the first story arc to span both through Spidey's title and that of his one-time deadliest foe, although Venom has plenty of history with the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Rather than force a manufactured story, though, the writers ensure that the storyline flows naturally from the events of both titles, and deliver an introduction that reads like it could have appeared in either. Along the way, they make it a lot of fun, too.
Readers familiar with one title but not the other might be given momentary pause at the appearance of a couple of unfamiliar characters, but Slott and Costa are careful to explain as the story goes along, enough to explain the Venom supporting cast member who comes to play a major role in this issue. More familiar faces from Spidey's title also make an appearance, giving part one of the crossover the kind of all-star feel that always goes a long way towards selling the allure of such stories. There's not just the simple cool-factor of seeing a mashup of two different titles -- the writers provide some thrills, as well, and it's hard not to enjoy at a pure fanboy level with all of the various Venom-esque characters skulking around.
Stegman again proves himself to be one of the most dynamic and versatile Spider-Man artists in recent memory, as both his heroes and villains look imposing, yet he doesn't get bogged down with repetitive macho poses splashed across multiple splash pages. He walks that fine line between character and caricature -- faces and muscles are exaggerated just enough for dramatic effect, but never look overly cartoonish. His layouts enhance the high-octane pace established by the writers -- when there are breaks in the action, Stegman keeps the pacing lively, even when it's just Peter Parker and Flash Thompson sitting down for coffee.
Slott and Costa's story packs in forgotten or useless characters to good effect -- a couple of Spidey's less illustrious foes from the past are used as comedic fodder, a touch that Slott has always handled well during his time on the title. Another perhaps-forgotten Venom-related character is reintroduced, and a new one is created for a reveal at issue's end. With no shortage of Venom-spawned heroes and villains popping up around the Marvel Universe, another might not be needed, but the writers at least give an indication that this new one might be unique, with a look cleverly captured by Stegman.
Based on its premise, Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha might be unfairly overlooked and seen as a cash grab, but Slott, Costa, Stegman and colorist Brian Reber deliver an introduction with some substance. Fans who enjoy either title, or both, will find the same kind of thrills here, and won't want to miss this issue, which continues directly into Amazing Spider-Man #792, on sale Dec. 13.