The Flash Thompson-Eddie Brock personal confrontation we’ve been waiting for since Eddie made his return to this series!
Writer: Cullen Bun
Artist: Declan Shalvey
Color Art: Lee Loughridge
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
“Night of the Symbiote Slayers”
Spoilers follow after the break:
The Plot: Flash goes to school only for Eddie Brock to meet him in the hall. Eddie offers Flash the choice of going off to an isolated location to fight or fighting right now in the school where innocents could get hurt.
As the conversation between the two gets more intense the four alien-cyborg-zombie-insect-people from last issue also arrive at the school and begin massacring people. Flash and Eddie agree to team up to protect the students.
There’s a moment in the fight where it looks the alien-people might kill Brock but Flash makes the save. After which the two symbiotes massacre these dudes pretty quickly. Brock is ready to throw down with Flash as soon as the first fight ends but Flash is able to convince Eddie that he deserves a chance to try to use Venom for good. Brock agrees to leave but notes he will be watching and waiting for the day Flash loses control of Venom.
Critical Thoughts: There’s a lot to like here, especially for fans of the original old-school Venom/Eddie Brock stories.
Now I will preface my positive remarks by saying I can see why some people would see this as a very by-the-numbers story. This plays out and ends exactly as I expected when the “symbiote slayers” showed up in the climax last issue and we saw the cover preview of the two symbiotes teaming up: that Brock and Eddie would put aside their differences to deal with an immediate threat and this would lead to Brock deciding Flash isn’t such a bad guy after all and walking away. And yet I am not going to complain about that because Eddie has done this before with Peter: most notably in the ASM 375 story that served as a prelude to the first “Lethal Protector” miniseries; and again years later in “New Ways To Die” when he became Anti-Venom. So we’ve seen in the past that circumstances can cause Eddie to put aside grudges and form uneasy truces with his enemies, particularly if he sees those enemies working to protect innocents.
That brings me to what I liked about this story. Eddie’s voice finally feels 100-percent right this time out when it did not in the early chapters. Eddie tracking down Flash in school in public harkens back to the delicious relentlessness that made classic Venom in my mind the all-time greatest Spider-man villain (and possibly the best comic-book villain, period). This scene is something I wouldn’t have predicted last month, because Eddie’s just been wandering around with no rhyme or reason for months; so for this kind of old-school classic tactic to show up at this point in this story was a real treat. Flash’s thought balloons when he sees Brock in the school also really sells the horror of the scene. BTW I have no doubt that Eddie would attack Flash in the school if he felt he had to. We saw that all the time in the original classic stories: when given a choice Brock would try to lure Peter to a secluded spot for their fights but if that was not an option he would still attack; and for all his talk of preserving innocents Eddie never hesitated to kill guards at the Vault or anyone else standing in the way of his perceived holy mission.
Furthermore the verbal confrontation between Eddie and Flash hits all the right notes. Eddie finally expresses why he hates Flash and why he wants to kill the Venom symbiote. Are his reason’s perfect? No, but then Eddie’s reasons never are, even going back to his origin story. At his core Eddie is an unstable psychopath who does not take responsibility for his own failings—that is why he is Spider-man’s perfect nemesis because he is Peter’s dark reflection in more ways than just visually. The reasons are believable enough given Eddie’s past, and Flash is then given ample opportunity to refute those reasons. Flash calls out Eddie point by point: on his hypocrisy in claiming to want to protect innocents while threatening Flash in a high school, on whether he really was forcibly bonded Toxin or if in fact he wanted the power of a symbiote back, and in their final conversation Flash explains how he is different than Eddie and because of those differences will be able to harness the symbiote for good.
Flash’s reasoning in that last argument, i.e. that his having a normal civilian life will give him the strength to keep the symbiote in check, retroactively makes some the Lethal Protector era stories make more sense. We all know Eddie mellowed into the Lethal Protector due editorial mandate in the 90s in the hopes of selling a solo-title more than any true character reason. But if you look at those 90s mini-series the early days when he was living in that underground city in San Francisco was when Eddie was probably in the most control and the most heroic; whereas once he left that city in the later limited series he was eating brains before slowly descending back into villainy. Heck that explanation could even explain why the symbiote never had influence on Peter’s psyche when he was awake, because who in comics has a stronger connection to friends and family than Peter? It even fits with the original Toxin limited series, where the cop dude was a good man trying to use the symbiote for good but the more he stayed away from his family the more often he lost control and let it take over. That might be an interesting take for Bunn to explore further. We’ve already seen the one time the Symbiote has taken over Flash in his sleep was his first night in a new city after he was feeling alone and isolated from his former girlfriends. The idea the symbiotes’ want an all-consuming relationship with their hosts and that other interpersonal connections make them lose their power could open up a whole batch of interesting stories in the symbiote mythos.
I suppose on the negative side I have to say the alien hobo people are still lame villains. They’re not so much characters as plot devices. Even for possessed people these guys are lame. Their alien possessors have no motivations beyond eating and taking on apex predators, the latter of which as this issue shows is a pretty dumb motivation since challenging stronger life-forms to a fight gets you killed rather quickly.
There is one other element in this issue that has absolutely no bearing on the plot but is so jarring I felt it had to be pointed out. Apparently Flash is bringing a gun into a school building when he goes to work. When he first turns into Venom to got fight the alien-cyborgs he is drawn with a gun in his hand. He does not use the gun in the fight so maybe it is an artist’s error since his Soldier-Venom look usually has a gun. First of all it doesn’t seem like Flash could hide a gun in his wheelchair/civilian clothes without being noticed but that’s a nitpick. The more relevant detail is when the alien-dudes walk into the school they kill two cops. So a school in Philadelphia that needs two police officers to guard the main entrance doesn’t have a metal detector too? I find that to be extremely unlikely. Furthermore I’m going to get on my soap box and say I think it is socially irresponsible of Marvel to have a character, particularly a hero, who works in a school as an educator bringing a handgun into a school building. Especially since the narration makes it clear he wasn’t expecting a fight to break out or that Eddie would follow him to school. Therefore by inference Flash does this everyday and is just casually walking around with a gun while he’s teaching gym class which by law would make him unfit to be an educator in a public school system.
Grade: B. While the overall story is formulaic it is filled with strong dialogue and interesting character beats.