- John Gaines
The graphic novel Spider-Man: New Ways to Die begins like many Spider-Man stories before it. There is a brief explanation of Peter Parker’s dual life as a superhero and a photographer stuck in perpetual poverty, quickly followed up by a battle between Spidey and the newest “Goblin” character, Menace.
However, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that the status quo has been greatly changed for this latest adventure. Parker works for a different newspaper, his former nemesis Eddie Brock is dying of cancer, and Norman Osborn, previously the Green Goblin, is in charge of the Thunderbolts, a team of “hero hunters” out to capture Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: New Ways to Die is an exciting adventure with many gripping action scenes--even if some of the plot twists are less than new. The most interesting thing about this story is its depiction of Eddie Brock, the former villain Venom. At the beginning, Eddie is working in a homeless shelter’s soup kitchen, having been acquitted of crimes he committed while bonded with the Venom symbiote.
Unable to get approval for an experimental trial of anti-cancer medical treatment at Oscorp, his life continues to spiral downward until one day he finds himself completely cured of cancer. Later, he is attacked by Mac Gargan, the current host of Venom, and Eddie’s body secretes a suit of mysterious white cells, turning him into the “Anti-Venom.”
Armed with the ability to destroy the Venom symbiote on contact and cure poisoning and genetic mutation through touch, Eddie’s desire to “save” people proves horribly destructive. He nearly kills an old man by accident during a fight and comes close to “curing” Peter Parker of being Spider-Man! Eddie’s mental instability and evolution into a new role in the Spider-Man series make him the standout character of this graphic novel.
Sadly, the other characters in New Ways to Die have considerably less development than Brock. Mac Gargan is far less interesting as Venom than Brock was. Although drawn in a bestial, frightening style, he is just as inept as he was during his long run as the Scorpion, a villain infamous for losing decisively to Spidey in almost every fight. The answer to the mystery of Menace’s identity is unlikely to shock most Spider-Man fans, even those more familiar with the films than the comics.
The only villain to really stand out is Norman Osborn, here portrayed as being more dangerous as his “rational” self than as his Green Goblin persona. The series utilizes the modern characterization of Osborn as a malevolent chess master capable of dangerous schemes in his non-Goblin identity rather than the older concept of Osborn as a well-meaning businessman driven mad by the Goblin serum. His villainy is far more entertaining than that of Parker’s other enemies in New Ways to Die.
The artwork of New Ways to Die is quite good, especially in its excellent action scenes. The symbiotic creatures are frightening, distorted monstrosities that twist and spiral all over the page with viscous tendrils and long fangs. Explosions fill the panels with brilliant red hues as characters battle for their lives.
Even the dialogue balloons have a unique visual component. Although most characters use a standard format, Venom’s dialogue appears in a black bubble with twisted wording in white print. Anti-Venom’s dialogue appears in a similar white bubble with wording in black print. Even minor details such as incorporating the characters’ color schemes into word bubbles go a long way to making the artwork of New Ways to Die compelling.
New Ways to Die is a solid read for Spider-Man fans. The opening does a good job of summarizing Spider-Man’s history and bringing the reader up to speed on the current state of the Marvel world. The action scenes are compelling, and Osborn is an excellent villain, even if his Thunderbolt lackeys and Menace aren’t very interesting. If you enjoy the Spider-Man or Venom characters and are looking for a good comic story arc to read, New Ways to Die is an excellent choice.