Despite being over 30 years since its first appearance, there’s still a lot of love for Spider-Man’s black costume, specifically the symbiote version of it. Perhaps it’s the rich legacy it left behind in the form of Venom (not to mention the dozens of other symbiotes that have appeared over the years), or perhaps its the exploration of a darker, edgier side of the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man the costume led to that appeals to fans. Either way, Marvel is heading back to the well one more time, this time quite literally, spinning some untold tales of Peter’s time with the black suit in Symbiote Spider-Man.
The miniseries' logo is a throwback to the classic Web of Spider-Man series, which debuted with Peter in the black suit. But while Spider-Man has returned to wearing the costume in the years since (usually to symbolize him becoming more grim and serious), this story takes place shortly after Peter returns from Battleworld, wrapped in the symbiotic costume that would eventually become Venom.
Writer Peter David is obviously no stranger to either Peter Parker or Marvel continuity, having contributed to both immensely over the years. And while the primary goal of a story like this is to tell a compelling and relevant story, a secondary concern must be towards preserving continuity. This sort of remit is never hailed by writers as something that hampers their writing, nor should it. If, however, you’re going to set your story during a time in Spider-Man’s life that has been reprinted, read and treasured as much as this era has, you need to make sure that it all fits together seamlessly.
Thankfully, that seems to be the case here, at least in this first issue. Black-suit-Spider-Man is on the trail of Mysterio after a bank heist goes wrong, and Black Cat (Peter’s girlfriend at the time) is along for the ride. David wisely humanizes Mysterio in this issue, which works as both a device to explore a different side to a decades-old character, but also contrasts against Spider-Man’s devolving humanity as he is mentally and physically overcome by the symbiote. It will be interesting to see how far down that road David goes, because the payoff -- that being Spidey overcoming the symbiote and casting it off in the belltower of a Catholic church -- happens in a 30-year-old comic book and not here.
Another classic Marvel creator is on board in the form of artist Greg Land. The creator’s divisive artwork is typically pointed to by as many fans to abandon a book as those who will seek it out, largely due to Land’s dependency on photo-referencing that can be somewhat distracting at best and completely inappropriate at worst. Here, though, that side of his art is largely tempered. The only time it becomes obvious at all is during scenes involving Black Cat, especially those panels where she expresses shock and her face resembles a plastic mannequin. His art is so distinctive, however, that it can't help but stand out against the flashback sequences handled by Iban Coello.
Throughout the rest of the issue, though, Land captures the scale of the action well, and the choreography of the fight scenes is fluid and engaging. There’s a page-turn just before the halfway mark that is shocking and almost designed to provoke, to the point that the back matter dedicates an entire page to explaining the creative team’s reasoning behind including it. Does it feel cheap? Yes. Is it necessary to include it? Not at all. But it does evoke a feeling of a moment in time that was cruelly ripped away from the nation and the world which, as you learn in the lengthy explanation, was entirely the point. There will undoubtedly be plenty of debate about how effective, or even necessary it is to the story, but to Land’s credit, the moment is captured beautifully. If you're able to look past the controversy and appreciate the weight of that moment as intended, then it will largely be down to Land’s artwork.
There are some pretty big narrative moments depicted, including Black Cat meeting Aunt May for the first time and learning about Uncle Ben, and Quentin Beck realizing how serious the consequences to his actions are and deciding to quit being Mysterio. Again, this is all essentially a flashback/prequel, so the lasting effects of those moments can only be explored in this series, which is a shame, really. Felicia meeting Aunt May should impact her relationship with Peter moving forward, and the humanizing of Mysterio does change how you view the villain, but in years to come when fans read this in its proper place in continuity, those threads will get dropped as they transition to older stories.
Overall, Symbiote Spider-Man #1 does what it sets out to do, really well. The original Alien Costume Saga (as it’s known in collected editions) never really felt like it needed any more exploration than it had -- surely in previous continuity, it was a matter of days from beginning to end. If you’re going to go down that rabbit hole, though, it’s good that it’s been done with a seemingly faithful eye towards preserving the integrity of the original. It’s hard to imagine that Symbiote Spider-Man will bring anything new to the table, and your enjoyment of it largely depends on how much weight you put into those stories, but those looking for more adventures set in that era won’t be disappointed.