Today I am going to briefly go over a run that really went under the radar, and it’s too bad because it was awesome, and that’s Rick Remender’s Venom.
While he gained popularity with runs on books like Uncanny X-Force (so good), Secret Avengers (soo good), and more recently Uncanny Avengers (sooooo good), Remender really got my attention with Venom.
Starting in the 90’s, Venom’s popularity rivaled even Spider-Man’s. So Marvel took him from being a scary ass villain and made him a watered down anti-hero. It sold a lot of books, but it took the character’s direction away from him for years and years. Then Mark Millar gave the Venom symbiote to Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion, in his awesome “Marvel Knights Spider-Man” (which I need to go over one day soon). This was a nice change, and it looked like the character was going to be revitalized, but then he got stuck as a bit player in Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts and Brian Bendis’ Dark Avengers, and nothing of note was ever really done with him.
Then Dan Slott gave the symbiote to Peter Parker’s long time friend (and former bully) Flash Thompson, who had recently lost both of his legs in the Iraq war. This rubbed some people the wrong way at first. Venom, on Flash Thompson, using guns and working for the government? It was a very new direction for the character, and one that I, personally, was all in favor of. Anything to make Venom not stale anymore. So Slott wrote an issue of Amazing Spider-Man showing off the new Venom, and all of a sudden the nay-sayers weren’t as loud. Then Remender’s book came out, and they all seemed to shut up completely.
Venom, at its heart, is about two things: Overcoming expectations (your own and others’), and fathers and sons/rejection. Everyone expects Flash to give in to the symbiote, and for them to fail. Hell, Flash kind of suspects it, deep down. And Flash has a LOT of unresolved issues regarding his father, who was an abusive alchoholic and whom Flash blames for his own alchoholism and a lot of his issues. The symbiote has a lot of issues with regards to its ‘father’ and his rejection: Spider-Man. To Remender’s credit, Spidey doesn’t show up a lot in this series. Normally a Venom book is almost obligated to shoe horn the web slinger into its stories, which always feels odd, although it is interesting to see their feud from Venom’s point of view from time to time. The one time they really fought Flash was trying to hold the symbiote back, as he is Spidey’s friend and biggest fan, which resulted in catching an ass beating from the ol’ wall crawler.
Flash wastes no time in picking up some new enemies, specifically revamped Spider-Man enemies the Crime Master and Jack O’Lantern, who Remender, to his eternal credit, actually makes scary. They are pretty much the over arching villains for his run, and torment Venom, his girlfriend Betty Brant (who Flash hides his new ‘occupation’ from), and his family. For the most part, Flash has the chemically subdued symbiote under control, but these guys push his buttons to the point that he periodically loses control, and the Venom we know and love makes an appearance.
Jack O’Lantern, in particular, is a nasty bastard. He’s practically unkillable, which is confirmed after a grenade blows up IN HIS MOUTH and he survives. Remender really shows skills in taking a previously very lame villain and making him awesome, to the point that when he isn’t in an issue it’s a little disappointing. He likes to kill people, then cut out their brains and put a candle in their empty skull. Not cool, bro.
A particularly good story arc is a crossover called “Circle of Four”, which is a pseudo-sequel to the classic “New Fantastic Four”, which saw Spider-Man team up with Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider. In the new story Venom teams up with the Red Hulk, X-23, and the female Ghost Rider to try to save Las Vegas from Blackheart and a demon invasion. Full of twists and turns, the story keeps you guessing all the way to the end, and does a great job of showing how Venom interacts with characters not named Spider-Man.
As good as the “Circle of Four” is, the best arc is the “Savage Six”, which features the Crime Master putting together a group of villains specifically to destroy Venom. The ‘team’ includes the Crime Master, Jack O’Lantern, the Serpent Society’s Death Adder, the Human Fly, Megatak, and, in an unexpected twist, Eddie Brock as Toxin (the symbiotic offspring of Carnage). As Venom tries to kill the Crime Master, the rest of the Six are sent after his family, which results in a crazy, edge-of-your-seat story where Flash has to simultaneously fight these freaks, save his family, and try to track down the Crime Master.
The way they force Eddie Brock to take on a new symbiote is horrible. First they murder the previous host, police officer Pat Mulligan. They then capture the symbiote, which is even more powerful than freaking Carnage. Then they snatch Eddie Brock up, and forcibly bond the two. The bonding is immediate, and all of a sudden there is a new symbiote running around that wants nothing more than to kill Venom, is stronger than Carnage, and has a host with more symbiote experience than anyone alive. Good times.
From beginning to end, this run is fantastic, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you can find the trades, or even the single issues, do yourself a favor and give it a try.