Venom (2016) #1 Review


WRITER: Mike Costa

ARTIST: Gerardo Sandoval

COLOR ARTIST: Dono Sanchez Almara

LETTERER: VC’s Clayton Cowles

COVER by Gerardo Sandoval

ASST. EDITOR: Allison Stock

EDITOR: Devin Lewis

STORY (with commentary): The Venom symbiote (separated from Flash Thompson sometime between this issue and Space Knight #13) is running ragged around NYC, jumping from host to host to survive. It eventually stumbles onto a crime scene in-progress and joins with one of the crooks, a man named Lee Price (not crazy about the re-design). The symbiote thinks that it and Price can work together to be a hero, like it was with Flash (the symbiote called him “one of the most decent men I’ve ever known.” Awww…). Price, however, has other plans and mentally overpowers the alien, using it to kill everyone at the scene, including his partner and the innocent homeless man the symbiote rode in on, then steals the merchandise for himself (some kind of “toxic gas that maybe turns you into a monster”: Goblin formula maybe?).

 

Lee Price, it turns out, is a veteran who lost two of his fingers in war. Having grown up in an abusive family, then being put into the system when they died in a fire, Price felt screwed by that system for not providing him with work after being discharged and turned to crime. He picked up this fateful job from, of all people, Mac Gargan (a former host of the symbiote’s). Turns out in addition to his security gig at Alchemax (see current issues of Spider-Man 2099), Gargan is moonlighting as a supplier in a criminal organization (“a crime boos who looks like a supermodel in spandex”: Black Cat). This “monster gas” was supposed to be delivered to Tombstone’s crew, but the deal went sour, and then the symbiote showed up and all hell broke loose. Price took advantage of the opportunity to seize some semblance of control over his life and we leave him contemplating how best use the “power” he has now taken, with the symbiote lying broken in despair on the floor.

To be continued…

 

ANALYSIS: Huh… OK. I’m in.

While Lee Price is not yet the most compelling character to join with the Venom symbiote, the symbiote itself has never been given a voice like this. Costa and Sandoval’s storytelling partnership was on point in this regard: for the first half of the issue, the reader is left to assume that they’re following Price’s thoughts, but it turns out to be the alien’s. It’s a nice bit of layered storytelling that makes the comic warrant a second reading.

And though I’m hoping Price will be fleshed out as the book progresses, to me, the main hook of this book, its central conflict, is the intriguing reversal of the traditional relationship between the Venom symbiote and its host. Traditionally, the symbiote is the one corrupting its host with murderous urges, but here, after having been “purified” out in space, the symbiote genuinely wants to be heroic and its host wants to use its power for evil. Props to Costa and Sandoval: I really felt for the symbiote’s plight here, which is saying something to get a fan who’s been jaded of late by below average Spider-books to emote with a pile of black space goo.

That being said, the series opens with a pretty big question left unanswered: What happened with Flash? When last we left him (in Space Knight #13), he had reverted back to his Agent Venom look and was swinging around Philadelphia with Mania. How he and the symbiote were separated and how it got back to New York remains to be seen. Hopefully this will be answered sooner rather than later and doesn’t become yet another loose plot point, the likes of which have plagued Venom’s mythos since the late 90s. To my immediate recollection, here are the ones left unresolved:

– How did the symbiote get back to Brock after the Senator Ward storyline in the PP:SM reboot?

-What happened to Venom being “with child” at the end of Paul Jenkins’ opening SPEC arc?

-How was the symbiote able to separate from Eddie Brock and bond with Angelo Fortunado, and then Mac Gargan, during Millar’s MK:SM run when its re-bonding with Brock, in the story mentioned above, was supposed to be its “last”?

-What were “B.O.B’s” plans for the symbiote at the end of Way’s run?

-Whatever happened to the “Spawning” from Remender’s run?

-(any others in the comments?)

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Raising more questions than you answer is a shaky foundation to lay at the beginning of a Venom book. While I’m not optimistic that they will all be answered, I am pleased to have heard that Gargan, Flash, and even Brock will be making appearances in this book. It tells me that there is a sense of the history of this character in the minds of the creative team.

However, this book does commit the collective sin of all modern Venom stories in assigning to the symbiote alone the name of “Venom.” In the early stories (when Venom was still a ruthlessly awesome villain, something the current run is trying to recapture, but more on that in a bit), “Venom” was neither the name for the symbiote nor Brock, but the combination of both, hence the classic line: “We are Venom!” Technically, Patricia Robertson (forgettable proto-Mania), Fortunado (place-holder), Gargan (loser), even Flash (awesome), and now Price (…we’ll see) are not truly “Venom,” but a different entity. I understand the tendency to advertise this book as “Venom” from a marketing standpoint (dude sells books), but this is yet another in a long line of continuity snafus in Venom’s history that should be addressed (admittedly, I may be niggling here, but it would still be nice to have this cleared up).

And, since we’re dealing with lingering questions, why is the symbiote so weak that it can’t beat Lee Price in a battle of wills? This is a creature who has humbled Otto Octavius in a mental battle (Superior Spider-Man #25), a feat so daunting that even Peter Parker himself failed to do so on a couple of occasions (ASM#683 & SUP #9). Another bout of Marvel’s chronic short-term memory loss? Or a plot hole intentionally left open for the sake of a future storyline? Let’s give Costa and crew the benefit of the doubt.

Now, let’s talk about making Venom a bad guy again:

In theory, I am all for this move. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Flash’s term with the symbiote, especially those early Remender stories. But Venom is, to his core, a Spidey rogue. And what made him interesting in those early books was the fact that he made such a compelling villain. The way Michelinie wrote Brock as a sanctimonious, relentless psychopath and how MacFarlane and Larson developed his iconic look were awesome. Best new Spidey-Rogue since the Kingsley Hobgoblin, easy.

Eventually though, Marvel decided to milk that cow until it what dry and Venom fell victim to over-exposure, a common problem with 90s comics. Also, in a strange move, Marvel moved Venom out of Spider-Man’s core books and spun him off as an anti-hero, in a relentless slew of mini-series with foil-embossed covers. But, Venom is most interesting when he’s played off of Spider-Man, as he is very much the Anti-Spider-Man, with power & responsibility, but a corrupted moral compass. Eventually, Venom ran out of steam, and after a couple of failed attempts in the reboot era to restore his place on Spider-Man’s A-List, Marvel gave up on Eddie Brock and gave the symbiote to others.

But Eddie Brock could never sustain his own book not because he wasn’t a compelling (if under-motivated) character, but because he was removed from the environment that made him so compelling. So, if Marvel wants to make Venom a compelling villain again, why not move him back into ASM? To my recollection, Venom (i.e. Brock+symbiote) has not appeared in Amazing Spider-Man since vol.2 #12, and only in the last panel. Before that, Venom hadn’t appeared in ASM for a full story since “Maximum Carnage.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Venom, and given what we have here I am genuinely interested in where Costa and Sandoval are going to take Lee and the symbiote. The idea of the symbiote being an enslaved do-gooder is a clever and nuanced reversal of the traditional dynamic it has with its host. And, if you’re going to do a true villain-book, the “Breaking Bad” model, “watching a bad guy get worse,” is a worthy attempt. However, this book, like all of its kind before it, has a shelf-life. I don’t see myself reading and clamoring for more Lee Price/Venom 10 years down the road, whereas fans of my ilk are still clamoring for the return of the original Venom. If you want to give the character some longevity as a villain, put him back where he belongs: in his hero’s book.

A huge “Thank you!” to Mike Costa, Gerardo Sandoval, and co. for putting this book on the shelves for me and my fellow Venom fans. See you all later in December for #2!

 

GRADE:

B-

Good (an interesting twist on the classic Venom formula that frustratingly gambles by raising more questions than it resolves) 

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(12) Comments

  1. Jack Brooks

    @Andrew -- picayune or ancient-history bits, sure, I'm with you. But when unanswered questions pile up like mountains, and illogical plot holes make up most of the highway, you start to wonder if anyone edits these stories anymore. At least the more-recent things -- maybe no one should care about Senator Brock, but what about stuff that just happened six months ago? Or simple common sense stuff, like "Why not just leave this two-bit merc?"

  2. Big John - Post author

    @Jack & hornacek: Lol good question. Giving the creative team the benefit of the doubt, maybe it has something to do with the separation from Flash that's made it too weak to resist Price's domination. I dunno. @Shaun: Word. And thanks again for handing me the reigns of "Venom Reviewer!" I loved reading your reviews and hope to keep some semblance of that quality and fun going forward. @WolfCipher and hornacek: There you go. Loose plot threads galore. Although, I do have somewhat of an answer to the Carnage symbiote lineage in my head: In "Maximum Carnage," as you mentioned, Cletus' symbiote bonded with his blood (Shinick seems to be the only modern writer who remembered this, in "Superior Carnage"). Then, in the original "Planet of the Symbiotes," it's established that Carnage can absorb other symbiotes. Next, in the reboot era, when Venom took the carnage symbiote from Cletus, he didn't drain all of Cletus' blood, so some of the original Carnage symbiote, if only a minor remnant, would have remained. Then, in the "Webspinners" story, when Cletus found a new symbiote in the Negative Zone and absorbed it, I kind of imagined that the remnants of the original Carnage symbiote in his blood stream consumed the Negative Zone one, thus preserving the original symbiote's lineage with Venom. @Andrew: Fair enough. It's just something that always ate at me, but is admittedly far from the most significant of unresolved plot threads. I also think though that good storytellers can mine gold from even the worst ore. So, I can dream, I guess :)

  3. Andrew_C

    "– How did the symbiote get back to Brock after the Senator Ward storyline in the PP:SM reboot?" Sorry, but who cares? I like being mindful of continuity, but when stories are egregiously awful like the Mackie/Byrne relaunch stuff (or Sins Past for another example) I find it's best ignored. Plus, it confuses new readers. That stuff did come out a decade and a half ago. If we're encouraging new readers to plunder Spidey's rich back catalogue, is that really where we want to point them?

  4. Jack

    @Hornacek: The lawyers. Really, though, is there any reason why the symbiote doesn't just bail on this guy? The symbiote once abandoned a host while the host was in mid-leap between buildings (letting the guy plummet to his death). The review says the symbiote is shown jumping from host to host. If he can't stand the guy, why not just vamoose?

  5. hornacek

    @WolfCypher - How does the Carnage symbiote have all these memories of Venom and the other symbiotes when it's not the original Carnage symbiote? Venom ate the Carnage symbiote in the Mackie/Byrne reboot, leaving one of Marvel's most popular villains (hey, it was the 90s) de-powered and just plain Cletus Cassidy (how did Marvel let that happen?). Marvel quickly wised up and took Cletus o the Negative Zone where he coincidentally found a symbiote that was just like Carnage. The Marvel wiki has some nonsense about the original symbiote combining with Cletus' blood during his first fight with Venom, but in fact all the appearances since the Mackie/Byrne run have been a completely different symbiote with no relation to the Venom symbiote.

  6. WolfCypher

    More unresolved questions -How did Carnage get free from Silver Surfer's permanent cosmic shell trap? -How are Venom and Carnage always birthing new symbiotes when they're only supposed to be able to birth one offspring per life cycle? -If Cletus Kasady had his entire lower body severed, why is he always shown as having leg stumps? He shouldn't even have those. -Scorn stole away with the Carnage symbiote at the end of Carnage USA whole the Avengers took Cletus to prison. So why in his immediate next appearance was Celtus and the symbiote together (with legs) in jail? And what was Scorn going to do with the Carnage symbiote? -Why did Cletus have physical legs anyway in Minimum Carnage and Superior Carnage? They were not constructs of the Carnagr symbiote because in both stories the symbiote was either blastes off his body or separated from him. Those had to be his own legs... -Didnt Planet of the Symbiotes (the real Planet of the Symbiotes, not GotG's Planet Venom) have Eddie and the symbiote fuse on a molecular level? So Eddie should NEV-AH be separated from the Venom symbiote? -How could I make it through Space-Knight Venom til at least issue 3 or r before I just couldnt anymore while Lee Price Venom issue 1 already has me like, "f***this I'm done"...?

  7. Shaun Martineau

    Agreed on all points. Love the Venom rant; Thompson introduced the idea of the Klyn'tar's name but I think Marvel from high axed it. I do like the Agent Venom distinction of the Flash period. Excited to see where it goes.

  8. Jack Brooks

    I like that they healed the symbiote's mind. It being ill explained why there was ambiguity over who exactly was the bad-guy in the past. But I hope they don't forget that this thing is still an alien, hailing from an alien society, and not just a struggling reformed baddie (a la Sandman).

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