Rick Remender’s Venom returns with a new artist, a new editor, and a new story arc. Do these changes usher a return to form for this once-promising series, or a deeper foray into mediocrity? The answer, esteemed reader, lies within this review. The only price of entry? Leave a comment! Whether you agree, disagree, or don’t care because you don’t follow Venom, your comments are the only way I know anyone is reading these critiques.
“Road Trip” Part 1
WRITER: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Lan Medina
INKS: Nelson Decastro
COLORS: Marte Gracia
LETTERS: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER: Tony Moore & Dave Stewart
The funeral of Flash Thompson’s father receives an unwelcome attendant: Jack O’Lantern. Posing as Flash’s old war buddy, the scar-visaged murderer taunts Flash by mingling with his friends and family. “Jack” then ferries Flash to the Crime Master, who blackmails Flash with his knowledge of Flash’s identity. Unless Flash escorts the symbiote to Las Vegas for some unknown job, Crime Master will order Betty Brant and Flash’s mother killed.
Flash returns to his base, where Captain America threatens to shut the Venom program down and demands to take the wicked symbiote into the Avengers’s custody. Flash sneaks the symbiote from the compound, but Cap hounds him. The two clash, and Flash scores a punch that knocks Cap out and careens him off a cliff. Flash rescues Cap, but by the time Cap wakes up, Flash has already stolen Cap’s motor cycle and has apparently embarked to Vegas.
Every superhero book should be this good, but I’d settle for every Venom issue being this good. This series began strongly, but the Spider-Island crossover drew focus away from Remender’s own ghoulish imagination and forced a key development, Flash’s dad’s death, to squeeze around Dan Slott’s dribblings. Last month’s aftermath issue should have revived interest, but besides one pivotal moment, the story lacked content. With issue #10, however, Remender has finally regained his stride.
Far from being decompressed, this issue seems packed. Flash confronts two villains, interacts with every member of his supporting cast, fights another hero, and chooses to go AWOL, possibly shattering his military standing. By modern standards, that constitutes much story movement. Tom Brennan, who becomes full editor with this issue, promised stuffed issues in his letters column mission statement. I know not whether this issue’s vastly improved pacing over last issue’s relates to Brennan’s influence, but so far so good.
Artist Lan Medina also joins the crew this month. His work brings a cleaner appearance to the book—an improvement over some previous artists, excluding Tony Moore. Medina realizes Remender’s haunted funhouse of a brain on paper, which is the important thing, and this issue’s snow-swept climax looks gorgeous.
In both story and art, more than half the fun comes from the villains. I really, really enjoy the new Jack O’Lantern. Yes, I say that practically every second month. “Jack” somewhat channels Freddy Krueger—he’s halloween-flavored and totally kill-thirsty, but simultaneously loveably hokey. I like seeing him psychologically torment Flash by introducing himself as a friend to Flash’s friends and family, just like Eddie Brock originally tormented Peter Parker. I have a soft spot for that type of scene and I find a great use of the villain-learns-the-hero’s-identity scenario. “Jack” works in a lot of personal details into his conversation with Betty, like where Flash served in the army and Flash’s participation in Alcoholics Anonymous. This sends a clear, chilling message to Flash that “Jack” has access to every aspect of Flash’s life. I also quite enjoy the Crime Master. Remender writes him like a Bond villain, with themed hench-men, a lavish base so far underground that it apparently sits within the Earth’s mantle, and his own cocktail waitresses.
On the friendly supporting cast side, Peter Parker and Mary Jane show up at the funeral together. Thank God it wasn’t Carlie Cooper. Nothing in the issue prevented me from pretending Peter and MJ were there as a married couple, so this issue dodged the poison that kills my enjoyment of Marvel comics when the post-Mephisto Spider-Man shows up.
Flash himself is on an interesting journey, one that has put him in conflict with Captain America. The nitpicker in me thinks Flash, being a rookie hero, should have a harder time cold-clocking Cap. I suppose Flash does have multiple military tours under his belt, and he out-powers Cap significantly, so I guess it is not that important. The imagery of Venom riding Cap’s bike is classic, and I cannot wait to see where it takes him.
4 out of 5 (Great). If we can expect this level of quality going forward, Venom has an exciting future.