Jack O’Lantern returns to settle the score in a comic book that gets very awesome very fast.
Writer: Cullen Bun
Artist: Kim Jacinto
Color Art: Lee Loughridge
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Spoilers follow after the break—btw this issue is fantastic and I would highly recommend reading it without being exposed to spoilers first. On that note you’ve been warned.
The Plot: We start by seeing Andi’s (the teen I usually refer to as “sullen girl”) home life and meeting her father and for the first time since Bunn created her she actually seems like a real character and not a background prop. Her father is also an instantly likeable character.
Next we jump to the park where Venom disguised as a nun, meets with reporter Katy Kiernan. She helps him set up an information network for his crime-fighting. We also get a montage of clips of Venom fighting the various bounty hunters working for Lord Ogre (whose ranks now include the Brothers Grimm from the original Spider-Woman series and some dude with a shotgun I don’t recognize.) At the end of the montage we see Flash is being watched by Jack O’Lantern.
Cut back to Andi and her dad having a nice moment, before Andi decides to go knock on Flash’s door. Unfortunately for her Jack O’Lantern is there instead, and he decides to stalk her horror movie serial killer style in a very effective series of panels. Andi escapes briefly and runs home to her Dad crying and begging him to call 911 but Jack is relentless and bursts through the door of their home.
Venom arrives in the nick of time but Jack quickly turns the tables and is about to kill Venom when Andi’s Dad makes the save. Jack decides to kill him for that and despite Flash’s best efforts he can’t prevent it as Jack stabs Andi’s Dad with a scythe through the heart. Jack takes it a step further and attempts to poison Andi too, so Flash sends the symbiote to her to save her causing her to become a teen Venomette.
Critical Thoughts: This book was excellent on every level. The best issue of this series since I began reviewing it.
The big thing this issue accomplishes is Flash finally has a real supporting cast and the book as a whole actually feels like it has direction, which is a huge improvement from those four issues before the Brock fight. I like Katy Kiernan and the idea of her and Flash having an underground network of sources is solid. We even got a cameo of Creepy Museum Dude, who was in the first issue I reviewed, who is an expert on the occult and urban myths and I think he’s a character that could also aid the overall direction of the book in the future. Andi is finally fleshed out in this story and her dad was instantly likeable so that his death feels like a tragedy even though we just met him this issue. So on that front: kudos all around.
As for the super-heroics, holy cow is Jack O’Lantern an effective villain. I know of this incarnation from the reviews on this site before I took over this title but this is the first time I’ve seen him for myself. It amazes me that what was a notoriously bad villain concept originally can be so effective on both a visceral and visual level here. For those who don’t this is at least the fourth character to use the name: the original rode a frickin pogoball into battle and then screwed up the Hobgoblin identity, the second was a C-list Cap foe whose real name or back-story they never even bothered to reveal, and the last one I saw was a little old lady ripping off Mysterio’s shtick and even that was actually an improvement over the first two. But this Jack, I love him. He actually manages to make the formerly ludicrous pumpkin head costume look supernaturally creepy, he’s viscous, and he has these fascinating little poppet things following him around and helping him stalk his victims.
The art in the action scenes is also fantastic, in that the panel layouts really increase the intensity of the tension of the Jack scenes. The two panels where Jack just wades through the symbiote tendrils as he stabs Andi’s father are do their job perfectly. I also have to praise the lettering of all things: from the scene where Andi calls to her dad to help onward through the sound effects in the Jack-Venom fight it’s really distinctive and just adds to the overall visual flair of what is a startlingly effective comic book sequence.
All that praise said, there are a few negatives here too. One as much I love what Jacinto did in the finale; his faces in the civilian scenes are still terrible. On page 4 the characters do not seem to have eyeballs. At first I thought this was a cool effect to show the symbiote can’t perfectly mimic human skin—which honestly would be a really creepy cool idea. But then I noticed that the reporter chick didn’t have eyeballs either, and then few pages later Andi’s Dad doesn’t have eyeballs when he’s watching TV.
Also I would have liked to see more impact come out of the action montage. This issue does what it set out to very well–so I’m not necessarily critical of the choice to gloss over the lesser fights—but I think if you are running a storyline where there is bounty/free for all of assassins pursuing our hero every night you should at least show him being worn down from all the fights even if we don’t see them in their entirety. The bounty is an extraordinary step thus there should be an impact on our hero even if Jack is still the primary threat. Plus Flash is
still the least effective superhero I’ve ever seen in the role of protagonist. At least if we were told he was worn down from the other fights, he would have an excuse for being so ineffective against Jack.
As Andi’s transformation, my first instinct is to hope it’s temporary. In general I don’t think we need anymore symbiotes running around the Marvel Universe, while specifically I don’t think anyone has been begging for a teenage symbiote sidekick. However, based on the strength of character work and direction, I’m willing to let the idea play out before I judge it. Besides Flash is so ineffective perhaps he could use a sidekick.
Grade A-. A few minor art quibbles aside this is a thoroughly excellent comic book.