Spider-Man #52 – If you want a low profile, why are you wearing red lycra?


Credits: Howard Mackie, writer, Tom Lyle pencils, Scott Hannah inks and edited by Danny Fingeroth.

Cast: Ben ‘Scarlet Spider’ Reilly, Ken Ellis, Eddie ‘Venom’ Brock and unnamed Symbiote creature.

Plot: Deadline opens with ambitious Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis is trying to replace Ben Urich in the bullpen as the Bugle’s top crime writer with a series of articles about the killer vigilante Venom. He is given the location of the last known sighting and heads out keen to get an interview and runs into a masked Ben Reilly, pushing for that same information. The pair make a deal and Ben heads off to Ken’s destination.


At the tram terminal on Roosevelt Island, Venom us just sitting on a roof, minding his own business, well after having killed some criminal types and seems quite put out by the attention of the arriving police. Someone else, someone unseen is also watching this unfold. Ben arrives full of doubts over his ability to accomplish his self-imposed mission to bring Venom in. Venom, however, has no idea who this newcomer is. The police who have gathered have no interest in going toe to toe with Venom and want to see the costumes duke it out first and pick up the pieces afterward. Ben attacks Venom, who realises this is not the Spider-Man he knows and becomes more savage, slashing open Ben’s abdomen.


Ben is about to be killed when another symbiote wearing creature arrives, seeking Venom’s help in controlling her other. Venom goes even crazier and attacks her ( or is it them?) as Ken Ellis finally arrives and starts writing his story. The fight gets more brutal as it escalates and many civilians are in harm’s way and Ben, realising that he is completely out of his depth is ready to get out of dodge, but stays to help those trapped by the battle. Saving people left and right, he decides he needs to get back into the battle and kicks both of the creatures into the river, then saves the last person from the cable car before it joins the creatures into the cold water.


People hail Ben as a hero, but he only sees publicity as a bad thing and wants nothing more than to escape, but Ken Ellis sees a hero in the making and gives him the name Scarlet Spider. But there is no happy ending here as we learn that Venom survived the water and wants revenge against the fake Spider-Man.

Notes: The problem with stories that jump from title to title is that you can lose a lot of narrative cohesion within your story, I’m looking at you X-Tinction Agenda. But this also has advantages where a writer with different strengths can offer different focuses of interest and points of view. DeMatteis as a writer looked at the psychological underpinnings of Ben’s decision to battle Venom, Mackie lacks some of that deft touch, so with a slightly broader brush, looks at Ben as a man who feels less than. Not a good man, not a real man, that sort of thing. But Mackie sells it and that allows him to flesh out the other characters here, including a returning Ken Ellis, who is itching to be a Lois Lane to Ben’s Superman. I have no idea who the female symbiote creature was, probably from the Venom Lethal Protector series from the year before, but that was over 20 years ago I can’t see any appearances for her since.

The fight is brief and brutal for the time and I enjoyed Ben using the webbing as a glue in the way that superglue was invented for, as combat wound dressing. A lot of what Ben does here is save lives that this fight has placed in peril. It paints a picture of a caring man with little ego and a big sense of responsibility, very much who the original Spider-Man is at his best.

Art: Tom Lyle is less to my taste that Steve Butler was on Web of Spider-Man, but he is an under-appreciated talent with good panel to panel progression and dynamic action scenes. 3/5

Writing: Story beats are hit well and both Ben and Ken has distinct and well-defined voices, Venom isn’t so well served, but apart from the 90’s dialogue dragging it down this was a well-written issue. 3/5

Overall: 6 out of 10, I enjoyed this issue a lot more than I expected to and find the Ben-centric issues to be holding up very well.

Next Time: Were-panthers, winged woman and….. are we sure that this is a Spider-Man comic?

Update 20/11/19

Less than a minute after posting this page from another blog, I learned that the penciller Tom Lyle has passed away at the age of 66. Tom was the designer of the Scarlet Spider costume and a great penciller with a host of credits to his name. I have two tattoos planned over the next few years and one of them is the Scarlet Spider, a decision based purely on my appreciation of the costume design. Lyle worked on Robin, the Will Payton version of Starman, many issues of Spider-Man as well as the Impact Comics version of the Comet, which is where I first encountered his work. He left a mark on the comics world with characters that still pop up today and many of his comics stand up well 25-30 years later. But other people have lost a friend, others a family member and I offer my condolences.

As a lifelong comic fan, I want to say a thank you to Tom Lyle for everything he did to make those fantastical worlds a little more exciting.

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