So here we have two very similarly-named pieces of fiction, both designed to capitalize on the immense popularity of both Venom and Wolverine by pitting them both against each other.
Claws and Webs, which was serialized in Marvel Comics Presents between issues 117 and 122, tells a very simple and effective story written by Howard Mackie. The premise is this: the dream-villain Nightmare has lured Wolverine into the dream realm to go toe-to-toe with Venom, and there’s art by Sam Kieth.
That last part isn’t exactly part of the plot, but it may as well be, because it’s Kieth’s art that really sells this story. Everything is dark and animated and surreal, the way a dream would be. It is very reminiscent of his work on The Maxx, one of the better offerings from Image Comics that sadly didn’t get more play outside of its MTV incarnation.
Claws and Webs gets high praise from me for its use of dreams to tell its story. Because of the nature of Nightmare we really get inside of the heads of both Wolverine and Venom. Dreams are intimate. Dreams in fiction don’t operate the way dreams do in real life, because real life doesn’t have the same dramatic, thematic and structural constraints that fiction does. In fiction, dreams can give us windows into the inner workings of a character that would be otherwise impossible. Mackie uses this vehicle to the Nth degree in Claws and Webs, as Wolverine explores the battered psyche of Venom.
The Nightmare subplot was also one of the closest things that the latter half of MCP had to an ongoing plot, so it gets a high grade from me for this and its creative, correct use of dreams.
Tooth and Claw by Larry Hama manages to be equally surreal, but for no real reason. Even though this is a continuation of the Venom series (or series of mini-series that acted like a normal series but got a new #1 every three issues for marketing reasons, to be more accurate) the storyline is much more concerned with picking up on the plot points left over from Hama’s Wolverine #s 95-100, including the shape-shifting vampire Dirt Nap and the psychotic telekinetic Chimera joining forces to defeat the combined forces of Venom, Wolverine, and Emmet the rouge Landu, Luckman, and Lake employee.
Right away from that description, it should be immediately apparent to anyone reading this who was a fan of Wolverine in the ’90s where the main part of the problem comes in: every time Landu, Luckman and Lake were a part of the story, everything went to shit. This is right before they were switched from being Wolverine supporting characters to being Deadpool supporting characters, and it was a welcome change. LL&L turn Wolverine into a parody of himself where anything can happen. He becomes indistinguishable from Lobo, who started out as a parody of Wolverine. When you devolve to the point that you become a parody of yourself, there’s an issue. This element of LL&L was welcomed over at Deadpool however, as that character (and title) are very much aware of being parodies of the X-Men franchise and comics as a whole, while existing within both. That’s part of Deadpool’s charm, but it doesn’t work with Wolverine.
This mini-series is headache inducing. For example, the opening pages are literally this. Eddie Brock is walking by an alley. A talking rat calls him in by saying “Hey you, come here.” Brock/ Venom responds by saying “You’re a talking rat!” Then the rat, who is Dirt Nap in disguise, eats him. Taking Brock’s form he heads over to the LL&L office where Wolverine is waiting to see Emmet, hijinks ensue.
This was going to get a much lower grade than 3 stars, but at some point I allowed my brain to just be turned off and just went with it. That, coupled with the fact that Joe St. Pierre’s art betters steadily with each passing issue, increased my appreciation of it significantly.