I ended my Venom #4 review with the comment, “I wouldn’t mind seeing an issue or two focusing on character development now that we’ve had four straight issues of frenetic action.” Venom #5 certainly granted my wish! So join me as I examine Rick Remender’s effort to explore Flash Thompson’s emotional baggage. Read the review and leave a comment, or I’ll eat your brains!
WRITER: Rick Remender
ARTISTS: Tony Moore and Tom Fowler
INKS: Crimelab Studios
COLORS: John Rauch
LETTERS: Joe Caramagna
Flash, in his Venom gear, rescues some victims from The Human Fly. Apparently, The Human Fly got an “upgrade” that lets him dissolve people with his vomit and consume them like a real fly. That was news to me. Anyway, the battle takes place at the church where the Peter Parker originally separated himself from the symbiote, which makes the raging alien hard for Flash to control. Flash wins by hurtling the bell at the Fly.
Flash rolls his sorry, legless self home to find an answering machine message from his mother. She says that Flash’s father has started drinking again and has gone missing. Flash pulls himself over to Betty’s place while reminiscing about how his father abused him as a child, and how his actions as a football star and bully were attempts to get approval from his peers that he couldn’t get at home. The first thing Flash ever did for himself was joining the army, and ironically that was the first thing to make his father proud. His dad sobered up and Flash forgave him, but Flash promised to end his relationship with his father if the old man ever drank again.
Betty awards Flash’s punctuality with a kiss, calling him her “Pavlovian dog.” She says she is in a good mood despite her recent abduction by Jack O’ Lantern because life is too short for her to feel sorry for herself. Then Josh Bertone’s face magically appears on the page and starts screaming indignantly. At least that’s what happened with my copy, but your mileage may vary. Betty’s mood abruptly changes and she threatens to dump Flash unless he calls her more often. Then she demands make up sex. Flash’s mom suddenly calls his cell phone and begs him to find his father and bring him home. Flash at first refuses but realizes that he must do this so his mother doesn’t suffer. Betty offers to accompany Flash, but Flash ignores the offer. Instead, he asks Peter Parker for company. Yeah, you know it’s true love when your boyfriend would rather rely on the guy who is best known mysteriously vanishing at the sight of trouble.
After checking a few bars, Flash and Peter find Flash’s dad, Harrison Thompson, at the police station where he once worked. After taunting Flash for being a cripple and shoving a bottle of liquor in Flash’s face, Harrison collapses. At the hospital, Flash learns that Harrison has terminal cirrhosis of the liver and that Harrison resumed drinking out of depression. Flash has to be the one to break the news to his mother. Harrison extends his hand and implies that he wants one last opportunity for forgiveness so he can die with his son by his side. Flash simply leaves, saying nothing and yet saying everything.
Outside, Betty waits for Flash. He falls out of his wheelchair and into her arms. His cell phone rings, and Betty tells him not to answer. He answers, and tells his superior officer on the other end of the line that he’ll “be right there.”
I could never relate to fiction dwelling on “daddy issues.” A single mother raised me, and I neither had much resentment for my father, nor much motivation to impress him. So when I read a story about someone pushing himself to gain the approval of an abusive drunk, I don’t really get it. In fact, it makes the main character look pathetic to me. I want to say, “doofus, this guy isn’t worth it.” But just when I’d had it with Flash Thompson moaning about how his father never loved him, I got to the part where he refuses to help his father until he gets dragged back into the situation out of loyalty to his mother. That is something to which I can relate. And when Flash finally left his father’s deathbed, I was convinced that this is one of the best comics I’ve read in years. There’s no sappy, forced reconciliation or cheap melodrama here, just the raw depiction of a moment in one man’s life when he realizes that he owes it to himself to stop forgiving someone who can never change. It’s especially painful because the moment comes when the choice could not be harder. With Harrison on his death bed and seemingly repentant, and Flash’s innocent mother trapped in the wake of her husband’s choices, it would have been easy for Flash to cave and stay by his father’s side. It would be especially hard to criticize him if he stayed for his mother’s sake. However, if he hadn’t turned away at that point, then he’d have no other chance. Harrison’s condition would have worsened and his family would be relying on him to stay. I do not know if Flash made the right choice, but Rick Remender and Tom Fowler powerfully conveyed the decision’s gravity. And hey, Harrison is not dead yet, so there is still a chance for a forced, melodramatic reconciliation. But at least now it won’t come too easily.
I didn’t want to steal material from Bertone by ranting about Betty’s scene, but he assured me that it did not bother him that much (aside from Betty comparing herself to Wolverine) so I wouldn’t be stepping into his territory. But seriously, she literally calls him her trained animal, threatens to dump him, and starts hounding him for sex. Mood swing much? On the positive side, she is there for him when he leaves the hospital, and that page is one of the most gut-wrenching pieces of storytelling to appear in a Spider-Man comic. One can understand why Betty is the way she is. She’s with someone who can’t be there for her, can’t even be there for his own father, and when she dutifully lends him a shoulder to cry on, he runs away the second his cell phone buzzes. This is the type of secret identity drama that I enjoy, complicating real human situations instead of the contrived sitcom drivel appearing in another arachnid-related book that shall remain nameless.
In this issue, I really felt the weight of these characters’ histories pushing down on them. Flash Thompson in particular looks haggard and beaten down by life. Basically, he looks like someone would actually look after living through an abusive childhood, two wars, battles with addiction, multiple heartbreaks, and loss of limb. In an era where comics companies constantly obsess over making every story feel as youthful and fresh as possible, this book comes as truly refreshing.
I give a lot of credit to Tom Fowler, who substantially upped his game since Venom #3. He no longer appears like someone trying to mimic Tony Moore; instead, he has adopted a grittier, more personal style that suits this story perfectly. Tony Moore also contributes a few pages at the issue’s start, and the Walking Dead co-creator’s twisted, gory sensibility helps highlight this creative run’s intriguing undertones of horror.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5. Did anyone expect a Venom solo series starting Flash Thompson as the symbiote’s host to be this good? This issue isn’t just good, it’s the best comic to come out of the Spidey Office since before One More Day.
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