Stew’s Reviews: Venom
Welcome back, everyone! You know what I’m a fan of? For one thing, not ending sentences in prepositions! So let’s try again: You know of what I am a fan (Whoof, proper grammar is unwieldy)? Free Comic Book Day! First weekend in May every year, just like clockwork. Good old Free Comic Book Day. And I will tell ya: for a day with “free” right in the title, I consistently spend far too much money every year it comes. Comic book sales are like mythical sirens, though; I just can’t deny their alluring call.
This past year for The FCBD (that’s what I’m told the kids are calling it), one of my local stores was doing a special on assorted Marvel trades where they were $5-$15 on trades that were regularly $15-$35 or so, and that was where I plugged most of my cash this year. Among those books that I picked up was this week’s offering for Stew’s Reviews, Venom.
Writer and Artist: Rick Remender; Tony Moore
Protagonists: Venom; a.k.a. Agent Venom; a.k.a. Flash Thompson
Antagonists: Jack O Lantern, Kraven.
Wait… didn’t… didn’t I just… are Rick Remender and Tonyy Moore doing EVERY comic I come across to review these days? Well that’s going to get old fast. I am, however, always open to sponsorship opportunities, if perhaps they get their eyes on this article someday and would like to see it rechristened “Stew Reviews Rick & Tony”. That’s twice in the first four weeks! Crazy random draws.
You’ll notice that the score is now Remender/Moore Books – 2, Jubilee Books – 1, so I am showing great restraint here.
Anyway, the whole Agent Venom storyline was one with which I was passingly familiar thanks to his appearance in Superior Spider-Man and his being a character in the cell phone game Marvel Puzzle Quest (in which he is one of my better four star characters, so there’s that). The premise is that after Mac Gargan was a relative letdown version of Venom as a follow up to Eddie Brock, the symbiote was removed from him and given to Flash Thompson to give another whirl with the Venom-as-kind-of-a-hero story route.
Flash Thompson… there’s a guy with some backstory. He was an aggressive meathead bully who hated Peter Parker, but hero-worshipped Spider-Man. Then he joined the military after being inspired to heroism by Spidey. Then he… came back as a civilian, I guess? And dated Felicia Hardy for a while in the 90’s in her plot to get revenge on Peter until she actually fell for Flash’s earnest ways. And then while Peter was a science teacher, I think Flash was a gym teacher at the same school? Boy, I hope I’m remembering that right. And then I guess he was back in the army at some point and lost his legs. And then he was Venom! I guess as far as convoluted backstories go, he’s not that bad, but it feels like he would go so long between appearances and the writer who brought him back up just felt like picking-and-choosing what parts of his history to acknowledge. I distinctly recall a one-off appearance in the 2000’s where Peter and Flash bumped into each other in a library, and Peter is shocked that Flash can relate a biblical tale to him, only for Flash to call Peter a name behind his back as he goes back to reading Bible Cliffs Notes or something, and I thought “Hasn’t Flash grown as a person by this point?”. But we also live in an era where Dan Scott can ignore DECADES of character growth to turn Black Cat ruthlessly heel because Doctor Octopus punched her in the face once, and UGH. Don’t get me started on that.
Wow, what am I even doing here? I haven’t mentioned the book at all. This is just my documenting the stroke I’m having in real time, I think.
Flash Thompson is working here as a secret agent of the government to perform covert missions as Venom as king of a one-man Marvel Suicide Squad (down to the bomb they’ve implanted in him to ensure an easy clean-up should the symbiote take control and go about some brain eatin’), while also trying to maintain his personal life and a burgeoning relationship with Betty Brant (speaking on crazy character backstories! Does anyone but me remember the two minutes in the 90’s—god bless the 90’s—where Betty was a gun-toting, hardcore badass in Web of Spider-Man? No? Just me? Okay, probably for the best). Also of note is Flash’s relationship with the symbiote itself here. Obviously, they wrestle internally for control of each other, but they also depend upon and need each other. Flash needs the symbiote to act as his literal legs and give him a freedom from the chair he is otherwise bound to, but the symbiote itself admits to Flash on at least two occasions that it wants to stay with him (even when it has a chance to be free of Flash, it returns to him). It’s like… Codependency: The Comic Book.
The very first few pages of the story introduce the idea that Flash can’t stay attached to the symbiote for more than 48 hours (the government removes the suit from him between missions) without permanent bonding, and while I think that would have made a great drama sell throughout the series, Remender blows right by that by having them get stranded in South America past 48 hours… in the second issue! That seemed like a waste to me; I’d have pushed that plot point for at least ten issues (and yes, we’ve obviously seen guys like Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, and Mac Gargan wear the costume for longer than 48 hours at a time, but Flash didn’t know the repercussions, so it could have been drama for him).
And that’s kind of how the series goes, at least for the first trade. There is tension and some stakes, but it never really feels that dire. Betty gets kidnapped at one point, and the symbiote goes a bit nutty because Spider-Man shows up, but they save her. It’s pretty by-the-numbers. The best aspects of the story are Flash’s dealings with his father. Both with a history of alcohol abuse, and Flash sees his own potential for failure in his father’s rage and inability to stay on the wagon. And just like his father hurts those he loves with his drinking, Flash finds himself unable to say no to the call of duty when he is with Betty. It’s the best part of he tale, but everything around it just feels… average.
Talking Point: Flash Thompson being the third Venom (or fourth… or fifth… or sixth, depending on who else you feel like counting), leads into one my favorite comic book topics ever: who are your favorite legacy characters of all time? God knows, there are a bunch to choose from, so… who ya got?
It’s okay. It’s just “okay”. It’s not going to hurt you, and there are moments that work. But the whole story of Venom getting caught between the government and some criminals regarding weaponized antarctic vibranium just isn’t that compelling. Probably that is why they ended up shooting him into space to play with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a while.