WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILER: Kevin Maguire
COLOR ARTIST: Richard Isanove
LETTERER: VC’s Cory Petit
COVER ARTIST: Kevin Maguire
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Kathleen Wisneski
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Darren Shan
EDITOR: Jordan D. White
STORY (with commentary): After being stranded on Earth during Civil War II, Rocket has hit rock bottom. He turns over a trash can in Central Park (Ha!) and starts ranting like a drunk to Groot (disguised as a regular tree) about how much he hates this planet. All because of (wait for it)… Spider-Man! (Don’t hold your breath for an explanation though)
Flashback to sometime during the previous Guardians volume (after the symbiote’s purification but before “Black Vortex” I assume, given the characters and their appearances). Spider-Man has been kidnapped by some schismatic Skrulls in an attempt to trap Agent Venom and steal his purified symbiote (picking up a plot thread from the “Guardians Disassembled” storyline in the last volume). Flash is adamant about rescuing Spidey, despite the other Guardians’ reservations. The team flies to an abandoned planet to extract Spider-Man. Agent Venom goes to the surface alone and attacks “Spider-Man,” guessing correctly that it’s a Super Skrull. The Guardians deal with the rest of the de-cloaked Skrull ships, while Groot rescues the real Spidey. Flash obliterates the Super Skrull, despite its Human Torch powers, by throwing it into one of the ships (OK seriously, did the Klyntar actually get rid of the symbiote’s weakness to fire? The Skrull drops a line suggesting that it has these specific powers to deal with the symbiote, but Agent Venom doesn’t seem perturbed by the flames). Back on their ship, the Guardians discuss unmasking Spider-Man and dropping him off on the nearest port-world to find his own way home. But Flash insists on protecting his identity and giving him a ride all the way back to Earth. Spidey wakes up on a Manhattan rooftop with no memory of the issue’s events.
ANALYSIS: Well that’s more like it! You might be saying “too little, too late” but we finally get a Guardians issue that justifies the presence of our boy Flash Thompson. Ironically, taking this book out of the Spider-Office and into the Star Wars-Office resulted in a great Spider-Man story! (to quote JMS: “just sayin’…”)
The little we got of Spider-Man here was pretty funny. Bendis and Maguire made good use of Spidey’s “floating heads of guilt” during his time in the Skrulls custody. Spider-Man’s blasé attitude towards his hallucinations (“Oh, no. I’m just hallucinating all my little neuroses again.”) was hilarious. (Clash is included in the rogues’ gallery though. Stupid.)
It wasn’t all fun and games however, as Flash’s determination to rescue Spider-Man and protection of his dignity speaks volumes about the strength of both characters. Agent Venom’s insistence of how Spider-Man drives his own heroism reminded me of that awesome Guggenheim story from ASM#574. A valid reading of Flash’s role in such Spider-Man stories is that he represents the Web-Head’s fans. The fact the Spider-Man could drive someone like Flash, formally a self-centered bully, to such heroic heights is a testament to Spidey’s own heroism. I love the idea too that Flash went through so much to save Spider-Man and Spidey doesn’t even know it. This shows how far Flash has come from the old glory-hogging B.M.O.C he used to be.
The story at hand still has its problems though. In a stunning upset of the status quo, Flash’s strong characterization here actually outshines some of the other Guardians, who take up the former’s usual role in this book of being the “talking props.” It’s not quite egregious, as no one behaves out of character, but, excepting the opening page with Rocket and Groot, you could insert any other space-faring super heroes into the supporting Guardians’ roles in this issue and the story would remain exactly the same. As a Spidey-fan, I’m not exactly complaining here, but as I’m sure most of the people who buy this book do so for the rest of the Guardians, I still think it’s a problem. Bendis seems to have trouble balancing the strong characterization of multiple characters in a single issue of a team book, a concern going back to his tenure on New Avengers. His strongest stories are usually the ones that focus in on a particular individual or pairing of characters, hence Ultimate Spider-Man, and now Miles Morales, enjoying such longevity and his Daredevil run having been so lauded. So while the story at hand is the best published issue of Venom: Space Knight I’ve read, it’s not exactly a strong showing for Guardians of the Galaxy.
The story also shoots itself in the foot by showing how strong Agent Venom is as a character when he’s connected to Spider-Man. For my money, the closer Venom gets to Spider-Man’s world, the stronger he gets (Remender’s run had that working for it). Excepting Thunderbolts and then Dark Avengers (which were good regardless of the Gargan the Body-Chomper’s presence in them), every attempt at removing the symbiote from Spider-Man’s world has resulted in poor comics. And like the two aforementioned books, this run on Guardians has been fun regardless of Flash’s presence in them, which, again, has been minimal. And now, when we get a strong Flash story, it shows us exactly why he never should have been taken off of Earth, out of Spider-Man’s sandbox and into Cosmic Marvel’s.
All that being said, Bendis, in what is possibly Flash’s final published appearance as Agent Venom, finally indicates that he understands the core and complexity of Flash’s character. Flash has this awesome line: “I’ve known him since I was in high school. This is Spider-Man. He’s the reason I am who I am.” Cullen Bunn didn’t seem to get this. He saw Flash as still being a bully. Daniel Way should never be allowed to touch a symbiote character ever again (see the Malibu Venom series and his run on Thunderbolts). Thompson’s characterization was passable, but his stories were so far removed from Spider-Man’s world that it hardly seemed to matter. My hat’s off to Bendis in this regard. Better late than never.
However, Flash’s fan love is touching, but sad, in a meta-commentary kind of way. He believes Spidey to be the same selfless every man of a hero he was in the old days. The Spider-Man we see in ASM nowadays seems so far removed from the core of his character (and I wonder what Flash would have to say if he knew about OMD…) that I imagine it would be a bit of jarring disillusion for ole’ Flash (I felt like this could have been played up more in Space Knight #’s11&12, by the way, but that’s a separate matter).
A EULOGY FOR AGENT VENOM: Well guys, this may be our last go-around with Flash and the Venom symbiote. I, for one, will miss their adventures. I was apprehensive about giving the symbiote to Flash back in 2011 (and I still think that it should be back with Eddie Brock). And his debut in ASM#654.1 made me cringe. But then Rick Remender and Tony Moore gave me no choice but to love the characters together. Theirs was a story of two broken souls being thrown together and finding redemption. Flash and the symbiote actually made one another better, despite each other’s brokenness. And while it looks like Costa and Sandoval may be dragging the symbiote back down into the darkness, I hope that some part of it always cherishes the time it spent with Spider-Man’s biggest fan. I know I will. Here’s to Agent Venom!
Unless Agent Venom shows up in “Grounded,” one final, momentous “Thank you!” to Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Maguire, and the whole creative team for putting this book on the stands for us Agent Venom and Cosmic Marvel fans to read and enjoy! Flash’s tenure on the team ended on a high note!
Pretty good (a rare one-and-done Bendis issue in which Venom actually outshines the titular team)
OK seriously though, why does Rocket Raccoon hate Earth because of Spider-Man?