A Retrospective on Web of Spider-Man #1 (1985)
The concept of the symbiote has been one that has integrated itself into the mythos of the Spider-Verse for decades.
Symbiotes themselves are defined as an extraterrestrial species that may bond with a host, upon which they are able to influence the host both mentally and physically. As a result, symbiotes have been the subject of ambiguity and controversy since their 1984 comic book debut.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the term “symbiote” is arguably most associated with characters such as Spider-Man, Venom, and Carnage.
Consequently, I want to revisit one of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man’s first encounters with the mysterious symbiote, taking place in Web of Spider-Man #1 (1985). This particular issue follows the symbiote's first appearance in the notable Secret Wars saga, in which Spider-Man encountered the entity on an alien planet.
Now, Web of Spider-Man #1 is particularly notable, not only for its monumental sequence of events, but for its complex depiction of the symbiote itself and its potential inclinations for empathy.
Web of Spider-Man #1 begins with a distressed Peter Parker. Firstly, his relationship with the Black Cat has recently ended, an event that has certainly had an emotional impact on our titular character. Additionally, as aforementioned, Peter recently encountered an alien symbiote that bonded to him. Initially, this bond appeared to provide Peter with totally positive benefits including enhanced superhuman abilities. Unfortunately for Peter though, these enhancements were not the only qualities the symbiote maintained. In fact, he and Reed Richards discovered that this symbiote actually presents serious parasitic qualities.
Thus, the two locked it away as to save Peter from completely succumbing to the influence of the symbiote.
Unsurprisingly for him, this was not Peter's last encounter with the symbiote.
In fact, the symbiote would escape its confinement and locate Peter's apartment, which brings us to Web of Spider-Man #1.
In the events of this issue, the symbiote disguises itself as one of Peter's classic, red and blue Spider-Man costumes. As a result, when Peter makes an effort to relieve his anxieties by going out for a swing as Spider-Man and, thus, don his suit, Peter quickly realizes that the symbiote has bonded itself to him once more.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Immediately, Peter decides to swing to the Baxter Building in order to gain Reed Richards' assistance in removing the symbiote again. However, the symbiote, having a connection to Peter's thoughts and motivations, recognizes this objective and takes control of Peter's actions so that he cannot swing to the Baxter Building.
Thus, Peter engages in a sort of internal battle in which he struggles to regain control of his own body. This struggle is only made more difficult when Peter encounters a group of thieves known as the Vulturions. Thankfully for Peter, he overpowers a handful of them quite easily. Additionally, in the midst of his scuffle with them, Peter encounters a bell tower, from which a series of cacophonous sounds emit.
The sound of this ringing immediately irritates the symbiote. So, Peter decides to take aggressive action and descend into the bell tower itself in order to weaken the symbiote further.
The process of removing the symbiote through this particular method is an incredibly difficult one. Peter himself feels close to death during the process and even pleads with the symbiote that he would rather die than serve as another entity's instrument.
Eventually, Peter's efforts succeed and the sounds of the bells successfully remove the symbiote from its host as Peter falls unconscious.
Behind the Mask
Now, it is in Web of Spider-Man #1's final moments that the symbiote truly establishes itself as its own complex figure.
Initially, the symbiote appears to be a self-seeking entity, one that does not maintain much of a thought process outside of its own, seemingly, selfish inclinations. The issue's final moments emphasize this perception further as they describe how a symbiote is indeed an emotionless being by nature.
However, this particular symbiote bonded with an individual who is very much motivated by their emotions and closest relationships. As a result, the symbiote has learned from its host, acquiring the ability to feel and act on empathy.
Consequently, when the sounds of the bell tower break the symbiote's hold on Peter, the symbiote ultimately decides to spare Peter of his role as a host and, thus, his life. In that moment, the symbiote recognized Peter's fear and distaste at being bonded with the symbiote.
Ultimately, it appears as though Peter and his symbiote fail to understand each other despite their time bonded together. They only understood the aspects of the other that they wanted to see, as it benefited their own interests.
Peter initially perceived the symbiote as something that could enhance his abilities and his lifestyle. Peter maintains this perspective until he discovers that he actually has little to no control over the symbiote. The symbiote on the other hand initially trusted that its host would not reject it. The symbiote did not anticipate fear from its host nor the emotions it would derive from its host. Additionally, the symbiote assumed that its host would submit to its control entirely.
This impasse results in a complex conclusion for Web of Spider-Man #1. Despite the symbiote's despair as a result of its host's actions, it moves on from Peter. In this moment, it is safe to assume that the symbiote is struggling to decipher its own state of mind, as it had never encountered a host with such an array of empathy before.
Perhaps the symbiote cannot even understand the despair it is feeling. Perhaps the symbiote is afraid of what it will become without a host to learn from.
Really, only time will tell what will become of this alien entity.
Though, it should come as no surprise that this is definitely not the last of the symbiote's interactions with Peter Parker.
Regarding Peter Parker, he too has his own sentiments to decipher. The final page of Web of Spider-Man #1 states that he did not understand why the symbiote freed him.
Of course, in this moment, Peter does not realize that this parasite actually learned much from his own subconscious. It managed to learn of positive emotions such as affection and kindness. Though, it also learned of guilt and anger, emotions triggered by Peter's abandonment of the symbiote.
Thus, Web of Spider-Man #1 sets the stage for some complicated analyses of Peter Parker and his mysterious symbiote.
Though the two entities separate from each other on bad terms in the context of this issue, they each leave something of themselves with the other.
Unfortunately for them, and in the context of this issue's conclusion, these remnants only manifest in the form of hauntings and resentment.