The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1 Presents a Feminist History

by Drew Baumgartner

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Pixar

As a kid, I always suspected the inanimate objects in my life had secret lives of their own. It wasn’t so much that I thought they got up and walked around when I wasn’t looking, but that they had feelings and aspirations and friends that they cared about. That was the bit about Toy Story that really hit me when it came out — that my toys were desperate for my love and attention, and they felt neglected when I turned my attention elsewhere. Worrying about the feelings of inanimate objects speaks to some of my most well-worn neuroses, but I’d defend those early experiences as helping me practice sympathy for other humans. I hesitate to call Toy Story a feminist history, since the marginalized perspective it adopts is entirely fictional, but it certainly has the shape of a feminist history, cuing us (or, at the very least, eight-year-old me) into the heretofore ignored plight of children’s toys. (To be clear: “feminist history” isn’t the history of feminism, but feminist approaches to history — approaches that highlight otherwise overlooked perspectives and narratives in history.) With Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1, Saladin Ahmed and Garry Brown achieve something similar, retelling the classic arc “Alien Costume Saga” from the perspective of the Venom Symbiote.

And there’s the big difference between this issue and Toy Story — we’ve long understood that the Symbiote is sentient, but we’ve never adopted its perspective in quite this way before. (Er — I think. Longtime Web-Heads will have to forgive me if we’ve gotten this type of narration from the symbiote in the past, but it’s totally new to me.) The Symbiote’s voice is so childlike in it’s naïveté, it’s hard not to feel immediate sympathy for it. It reminds me quite a bit of a short story by Scott Brown I first heard on This American Life, which lends a bomb-defusing robot a similarly naïve voice. But I think the similarities are a bit deeper than that — Brown’s story is ultimately about police violence against black men, a theme particularly sympathetic to the kind of feminist history that its unique perspective hints at. Ahmed’s story here doesn’t hint at anything quite so topical, but makes the case for feminist histories just as strongly. Where the Symbiote’s alien origins have othered it enough to make its machinations inherently sinister, the perspective shift here allows us to understand that it never meant to harm Peter. That’s an essential part of the narrative that had been swept under the rug. I can’t think of a more clear-cut argument in favor of feminist histories.

All of which lends Peter and Reed’s actions at the end of the story a kind of monstrous callousness. They had no way of knowing the Symbiote’s true intentions, sure, but they also never bothered to ask. In that light, this key scene from the “Alien Costume Saga” is downright heartbreaking.

Betrayal

The Symbiote was only trying to help what it considered its friend. For that, it was ripped away unceremoniously and imprisoned without so much as an interrogation, let alone a trial. In this way, Ahmed doesn’t need to name-check any specific oppressed person — the lessons here are (unfortunately) universal. That is, so long as we internalize the importance of adopting and understanding perspectives outside our own. We can do it for toys, cars, and even feelings themselves for Pixar, and we can do it for the Symbiote here — surely we can do it for our fellow humans.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

2 comments on “The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1 Presents a Feminist History

  1. In hindsight, I think the analogy might be more literal (and more specific) than I asserted here. That is, I think I missed a key detail in failing to mention the Symbiote’s blackness as it relates to its presumption of guilt and unjust incarceration.

  2. I wrote a post about this, but I guess I forgot to post it.

    I am interested in Cates’ work (despite screwing up Doctor Strange so badly in the second half of his run), and looking forward to his run on Guardians of the Galaxy. But I just can’t drum up interest on his Venom run, and I think Ahmed expresses why by focusing on the elements that do make Venom so engaging.

    I’m not sure I would compare this issue to a feminist history. I’m not entirely sure there is enough new stuff in here for that to be the case. I would expect a feminist history to reveal substantially new content through its exploration of the period, while this just reiterates what we already know from the perspective of the symbiote. I also think Drew is giving the symbiote a little too much sympathy. It is supposed to be sympathetic, but we also shouldn’t let its naivety ignore how abusive it is being. It is grossly disrespectful of Peter’s wants and needs, interested in only what it approves of. And it exploits Peter’s body, leaving Peter physically exhausted and sending his life even more in chaos despite sleeping like a rock. And that’s ignoring how merciless it as a ‘hero’.

    The true success of this issue is by putting us in the perspective of the symbiote during this period it lets us gain understanding of the symbiote. An understanding that has been lost as people, even before Cates, have tried to build elaborate lore around the symbiotes and the planet Klyntar and everything that has divorced Venom from the most important element of Venom’s story. Peter Parker (this is also a big reason why a Venom movie that isn’t part of the MCU is a bad idea). Venom is Peter’s abusive ex, and what we get to learn here is the story from the symbiote’s perspective. Not to redeem it, because it proves in the comic how in the wrong it is. But to understand its obsession. HOw it interpreted the events of their abusive relationship so that it turned into Peter’s stalker.

    And so Ahmed gives Venom the perfect origin story. We understand exactly how Venom becomes one of Peter’s scariest foes but focusing on the abusive dynamics. And proves that Venom is, in fact, one of Peter’s deepest and richest foes. Even if that side has been forgotten for a long, long time

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