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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

X-amining Venom: Tooth and Claw #1-3

November 1996 - January 1997

In a Nutshell
Wolverine and Venom battle Dirt Nap and Chimera!

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Joe St. Pierre
Inks: Al Milgrom
Letters:  Ken Lopez
Colors: Tom Smith 
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

As Eddie Brock, human host of Venom, is possessed by the villainous Dirt Nap, two young boys, Jerry and Rocky, are captured along with the symbiote Scream by an orb-like spaceship designed to hunt symbiotes which is seeking Venom. On orders from Chimera, Dirt Nap heads to the offices of Landau, Luckman and Lake, but finds Wolverine waiting there. When Emmet, a young LL&L agent, arrives, he determines that Dirt Nap is possessing Venom. During the ensuing fight, Venom is able to escape, but Wolverine is unable to kill Dirt Nap, as he is still possessing a young boy Wolverine tried to save during their first encounter. Venom, however, has no such compunctions, but he is hit by the suddenly-arriving orb. In the confusion, Dirt Nap escapes into a nearby warp chamber, followed by Venom and the orb, as well as Wolverine and Emmet, who give chase. During the ensuing fight, the orb opens and Dirt Nap possesses Scream, at which point Chimera enters the fray, at the head of a group of plasma wraiths. 

Using the wraiths as a distraction, Chimera journeys through another chamber with Dirt Nap and the orb. There, she destroys the chamber that leads back to Earth, but Wolverine and Venom reluctantly team up and with Emmet's help, stop the ensuing vortex. The trio again chases after Chimera, who has left Dirt Nap tied up as the bait in an obvious trap. Venom and Wolverine fight over Dirt Nap to draw out Chimera, enabling them to take out the wraiths while Scream frees herself from Dirt Nap along with everyone else he's captured, including the young boy. Realizing she's lost, Chimera destroys the chamber, creating another vortex. However, Jerry and Rocky are able to pull everyone inside the orb, save for Dirt Nap and Chimera, who fall into the vortex. Using another symbiote still on Earth as a lure - Carnage - the orb begins to fly its passengers back home.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Venom was a big deal in the 90s (kinda like now, but, uh, I swear there was a time where Venom was NOT a big deal), and the approach Marvel took with him, rather than give him his own solo series, was to give him a series of miniseries. For whatever reason, Larry Hama ended up writing a bunch of them, and this is the fifth (of eight) such minis he wrote starring the character. It is also the only one starring Wolverine (a remarkable bit of restraint on both Hama and Marvel's part), which is why I'm reviewing it. 
In addition to Wolverine, Hama brings in a handful of other characters from his work on Wolverine's solo book. The main villains of this story are Dirt Nap (the body-hopper who usually appears in the form of a rat with a smiley face on his butt, who last appeared in Wolverine #100) and Chimera, the woman in bondage gear who makes psionic shadow puppets. 

The Plasma Wraiths, who first appeared during the "Crunch Conundrum" in Wolverine #51-53, also return, basically as Chimera's henchmen.  

Chimera, Dirt Nap, and the plasma wraiths will next turn up in Generation X working with Emplate, after Larry Hama has taken over as the series' writer. 

Emmet, the kid styled after a turn-of-the-century newsboy who works for Landau, Luckman, and Lake, also pops up in this story; now he's dressing like Cable. 

Agent Daryll Smith, who first appeared in Onslaught Epilogue, is retconned into having appeared behind the scenes of Wolverine #95 and been absorbed by Dirt Nap; he is freed here, enabling him to appear (chronologically) in Onslaught Epilogue. Hama will continue to use him in some of the later Venom miniseries he writes as well. 

The kid who Dirt Nap absorbed in Wolverine #95, whose presence inside Dirt Nap has prevented Wolverine from killing him, is freed finally as well.  

This is, I believe, the first time editor Tom Brevoort's name has appeared in the credits of an issue I've reviewed; Brevoort remains with Marvel today (one of the few editorial holdovers from the pre-bankruptcy/subsequent restructuring days) and as of this writing, remains the longest serving editor in Marvel history. 

A Work in Progress
Dirt Nap notes that Venom is as indigestible as Wolverine

His desire to leave Earth is prompted by the events of Wolverine #100, in which he saw the savage Wolverine brutally slaughter his Dark Rider teammates. 

Dirt Nap's true form, of a wizened, malformed old man, is revealed in issue #3.

The Reference Section
Early in issue #1, Eddie Brock walks past a group of people leaving a building with Marvel's address in New York, and I believe they are meant to be contemporary Marvel staffers.  

Austin's Analysis
Outside of the context of whatever else Larry Hama was doing with his series-of-miniseries Venom books, the fairly random mashup of Wolverine and Venom  makes this read a lot like the kind of story which would have once appeared in Marvel Comics Presents. Hama didn't do much work for that series (and this is paced better than most of those multi-part "eight pages at a time stories" were), but a lot of the same hallmarks are there: the mashup of two popular characters, the inclusion of some original-to-the-story characters, a focus on brisk action, and little in the way of complex characterization. Like many MCP stories, it's also not showcasing powerhouse art, as Joe St. Pierre's work falls somewhere between "serviceable" and "a complete mess". Sometimes, it almost seems like he's trying to ape Sam Keith (another thing that gives the series a MCP vibe) but, well, while I'm not terribly familiar with Joe St. Pierre's work outside this story, it's clear he is no Sam Keith. 

One way this does differ from the typical MCP story is Hama making a point looping in his Wolverine continuity, using Dirt Nap and Chimera as the chief antagonists of the story. Neither are terribly interesting characters - they get by mostly on the weirdness of their powers - but their presence does help at least ground the story in something familiar. As a result, the series becomes at least worthy of a footnote: it's the place where Hama wraps up his Dirt Nap arc. As a story, that doesn't really do much to improve what is otherwise a lot of repetitive nonsense involving Wolverine and Venom almost-fighting each other, but it at least adds some value, however minor, in terms of its place in the shared X-Men narrative. 

Next Issue
Another interminable miniseries as Joseph takes the stage in Magneto #1-4!

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  1. "Brevoort remains with Marvel today (one of the few editorial holdovers from the pre-bankruptcy/subsequent restructuring days) and as of this writing, remains the longest serving editor in Marvel history."

    I'd love to read a memoir from Brevoort someday. Likewise from Ralph Macchio, who I believe previously held the title of longest-tenured editor until he retired and was eclipsed by Brevoort. Between the two of them (and with a great deal of overlap), they served through the entirety of the 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s, and beyond, surviving (again, between the two of them) regime changes from Jim Shooter to Tom DeFalco to the "group EiCs" to Bob Harras to Joe Quesada to Axel Alonso to C.B. Cebulski to who knows?!

    I'd argue that no one is more qualified to speak to the inner workings of Marvel over the past forty-plus years than those two. They surely know where some bodies are buried!

    1. Maybe Sean Howe could team up with both of them for a follow up to Marvel: The Untold Story?

  2. I feel like this series (or series of series) is what people think of when they discuss 90's comic books. It certainly doesn't sound like a bad comic, just not very compelling. Something done only because it could make money, not because anyone had a strong idea for it. On the other hand, I don't see anything wrong with these kind of projects. I'm sure there are many people who read this and have fond memories of doing so.

    As for myself, I don't feel like I missed anything by skipping it and it doesn't feel like anything that I would need to make my collection feel more complete.

    1. And in a strange bit of.. serendipity? Irony? I just bought the new Wolverine Epic collection that dropped last week, "Tooth and Claws" which features this story. So I guess I got it whether or not I wanted it.


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