Today I am offering an extra-special double helping of Venom reviews to make up for lost time! So make sure you also check out my review for issue #11, below. Please, please, please leave a comment on both reviews. Anyhoo, let’s dive into the latest installment!
“Road Trip” Part 3
WRITER: Rick Remender
PENCILS: Lan Medina
INKS: Nelson Decastro
COLORS: Marte Gracia w/ John Rauch
LETTERS: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER: Tony Moore & Dean White
Flash Thompson swaggers into The Devil’s Den casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, feigning drunkenness to draw out security. Flash “Venom’s out” and plows through the guards, making his way to the casino’s secret laboratory, where persons unknown have stored the Toxin symbiote. Capturing the Venom symbiote’s grandchild was Crime-Master’s plan for Flash all along! The plan goes awry when Flash’s symbiote freaks out at the sight of its kin. The symbiote drugs Flash by releasing opiates into Flash’s body, taking total control. Speaking through Flash, the symbiote proclaims that Toxin is its competition for world domination.
Flash breaks up with Betty over a payphone, presumably to make her safer. Flash next chugs a bottle of liquor with a homeless dude.
Red Hulk, on assignment to apprehend Flash, closes in on Vegas.
I mostly focus on the writing in my reviews, but Venom #12 is all about the visuals. The art team of Lan Medina, Nelson Decastro, Marte Gracia, and John Rauch deliver one face-melting page after another, as Venom continually erupts into bigger and more savage versions of himself. In the past, I have not cared for the Hulk-like interpretation of Venom’s physique, but by brilliantly tying Venom’s size with his emotional state, this series has finally sold me on it. And here we see the most monstrous venom ever rendered on a page.
The trade off for showing this twenty-feet-tall, three-mouthed, spike covered Venom in all its glory is that this issue features many pages with single panels dominating two thirds of their space or more. Also, many pages feature little dialogue other than Venom roaring or Jack O’ Lantern making wisecracks. The action flies by quickly and with nothing resembling subtlety. Fans who deplore decompression and yearn for a dense, character-driven Venom story should look elsewhere. The appearance of Red Hulk reminded me of how similar this issue is to Jeph Loeb’s Hulk run in its sensibilities. Try not to see that as too much of an insult.
As much as a like this issue’s art, it has a weak story. The last few issues established the rivalry between Venom and Jack O’ Lantern very well, and I hoped this issue would finally let them release that tension through a vicious and personal battle. The tension was deflated, however, by the revelation that Jack O’ Lantern really stands no chance against Venom in a heated fight. Venom is just too unstoppable and the best Jack O’ Lantern can do is run away with his broomstick between his legs. Although the symbiote lashes out with palpable anger, Flash’s personality gets buried, so his personal vendetta against Jack O’ Lantern becomes lost in the mix.
Also, what a waste of Toxin! I couldn’t help but think of our administrator Kevin Cushing, who posted a while back stating he would order Venom #12 only because Marvel advertised Toxin’s appearance. Readers in his shoes will be disappointed that only Toxin’s symbiote shows up, and as little more than a prop at that. Furthermore, this issue offers no explanation of how the Toxin symbiote came to be separated from Patrick Mulligan and stored in a . . . secret casino laboratory? Huh?
And, yes, I am one of those fans who yearns for a dense, character-driven Venom story, so the abundance of splash pages and/or near-splash pages showing nothing but Venom ripping into things did not satisfy me. Flash breaking up with Betty and hitting the bottle were character-y enough to put some meat on this issue’s bones. The drinking scene lasted just long enough to be effective, but Flash dumping Betty deserved more. We only see Flash’s side of the conversation, with nothing of Betty’s reaction shown.
3 pumpkin seeds out of 5 (Adequate). No artist has ever drawn Venom with more visceral brutality. Nevertheless, Venom #12 disappoints on the story front.