FCBD 2020 Spider-Man / Venom (#1) – Jed MacKay, Donny Cates

5 out of 5

Aright, bear with me on the rating here, because Free Comic Book Day entries I generally assess a bit differently than I might a one-off read, or a series arc. To me, FCBD books are intended to be entry points, and to generate interest for either new comic book readers or, perhaps, seasoned readers just sifting through their options. By that basis, I really do think this Spider-Man & Black Cat / Venom split hits all the marks. The actual contents might be hit or miss, depending on tastes – for example, I loved Jed MacKay’s bit, but was quite bored by Donny Cates’ – but that’s actually why I think the book succeeds in the tasks I’ve mentioned, as it offers different options, linked thematically (Spider-Man!), though with varying tones and styles.

In the Spider-Man half, MacKay and artist Patrick Gleason give us a funny tale of a team-up between the Spider and Black Cat (that piggybacks on MacKay’s Black Cat ongoing) halting the Vulture’s attempted purchase of some arsenal. MacKay’s balance of narration and banter and actual character dialogue is excellent, and it’s great to see how he balances out his witty, sarcastic BC approach by having Spider-Man play somewhat more of the straight-man. Gleason’s art is wonderfully expressive and readable, and we get a recap of sorts of the Black Cat series while our duo push each others’ buttons, and pick on ol’ Vulture (leading to a pretty hilarious final panel).

Over in Venom, Donny Cates has Eddie Brock going to the Avengers to recap them on what’s going on in his book (lead-up to the King in Black event, I believe), and then has Brock’s inner, angsty dialogue interrupted by a new character outfitted in a mash-up of Hobgoblin and Iron Man-esque tech attacking him. Ryan Stegman is all over-expressive muscle dudes and lots of angry lines and widescreen, dynamic panels, but it fits the soap opera style in which the strip is written.

So Spider-Man fits the more poppy comic type, and Venom is the serious and gloomy stuff. Two different things; and maybe you like one or the other, or maybe both, but in each case, you get a pretty slick summary of what’s what in the current titles, and then a self-contained story. Plus, at the end, our enthusiastic editors of both books have two whole pages to hype what’s coming up. Yeah, it’s a sales pitch, but it’s still “extra” content in a free book, and the excitement comes across as genuine enough.