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