Venom (2016) #4 Review & Special Venom Announcement


WRITER: Mike Costa

ARTIST: Gerardo Sandoval, with Juanan Ramirez

COLOR ARTIST: Dono Sanchez-Almara

LETTERER: VC’s Clayton Cowles

COVER ARTIST: Gerardo Sandoval

ASST. EDITOR: Allison Stock

EDITOR: Devin Lewis

EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Nick Lowe

 

STORY (with commentary): The FBI agents meet Price outside of the Baxter Building, confidant that Venom won’t maul them on “Spider-Man’s front doorstep.” Turns out, they want Spider-Man’s secret identity from the symbiote in order to coerce the Webslinger into sharing intel on organized crime (this was a nice touch – just because Spidey’s a company mascot doesn’t mean that his vigilantism is legally forgivable). When Lee mentally asks the alien about it, it responds, “I don’t think so Lee.” (This line and the art were unclear to me: does the symbiote mean “No way! I’m not telling you!” or “I may know, but my memory isn’t what it used to be…” – I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, because of later lines in this book about the symbiote getting dumber. It could also be a nod to the OMD Mind-Wipe). They leave Price to think about their offer, who decides to play the government like he’s playing Black Cat.

Speaking of our current favorite victim of character assassination, the Cat calls Price in to assign him to intimidate a Bugle reporter who’s sniffing around her organization. However, one of Gargan’s toadies outmaneuvers Price, convincing Felicia to assign Scorpion to the op as well.

When Price shows up, Gargan is already there in full armor. The symbiote starts to freak out, but Price keeps his cool and tries to make the best of the situation. They break into the man’s apartment and attack the reporter, but Scorpion turns on Price. Not wanting his secret to get out, he mentally commands the alien to protect his vital organs and let Gargan think he’s dead. However, with Price knocked out and Scorpion about to murder the reporter, the symbiote takes control and attacks Scorpy in order to defend the man’s life. Gargan (refreshingly reflecting that he’s been at this life for a while) is prepared for the alien and emits a sonic pulse from his suit, protecting him. So, Price/Venom chucks a freaking refrigerator at Scorpion, knocking him through the wall into the next apartment. As the fight continues, the resident of that apartment films it with his camera phone for the whole world to see.

To be continued…

 

ANALYSIS: While far from what this issue needed to be, it is enough to get things back on the right track for this title. However, it doesn’t get the momentum going quite fast enough. This book’s biggest problem is proving to be its pacing, but otherwise it’s not a bad read.

The character work, if anything, is handled well (except for Black Cat, but that’s hardly this book’s fault). I am liking how calculating Price is. Especially with the symbiote so weak and reactionary, having Price be so cool under pressure makes for a nice contrast. I don’t know that it’s quite enough for me to root for him, but I at least don’t hate him (which is a win for this creative team, since I am a pretty staunch classic Venom, i.e. Brock, fan – more on that in a bit [!!]). I also love how Gargan shows his experience as a villain. Not only does this make him into much more of a threat for Price, but it pays credence to the fact that he’s been at this for at least 13 years Marvel time, and roughly 50 years our time. As a former host, I’d be prepared to deal with the symbiote too, if I were him. One of my major annoyances is when experienced villains are treated like noobs by a creative team, instead of growing as their respective heroes grow. Like Peter David’s recent handling of Scorpion in the last volume of Spider-Man 2099, Mike Costa does this classic character justice here.

Speaking of these two, I must say that the fight between them was AWESOME, if way too brief, abruptly interrupted by the issue’s end, and frankly one issue too late. Again, this title’s biggest hang-up is its pacing. It seems to me like last issue and this issue’s first half should have been condensed into one so that we could get a one-and-done brawl between Price and Scorpion here, and leave more room for the Spider-Man fight next issue. Conversely, we could have back-seated the FBI plot thread and just focused on the Gargan fight last issue. I am honestly wondering if this is simply an attempt by the team to spin this book’s wheels so it can pull off its more ambitious and exciting stories in #6 and #150. But, as I mentioned last issue, you can’t do that on a second tier book like this. Every issue has to justify this comic’s existence or it will start circling the drain of cancellation PDQ.

Additionally, Ramirez’s art makes me realize how much I really like Sandoval’s. I can hardly see myself calling a professional comic artist’s work “bad” since they are clearly good enough to do this for a living, but it is nonetheless jarring when a book’s look is abruptly interrupted. Ramirez’s pencils are much heavier and his lines not as sharp as Sandoval’s, so the transition back and forth in this issue was anything but clean. And bringing a filler artist into this issue, where things finally start happening, as opposed to last issue, where practically nothing happened, seems like a poor decision. Again, to be fair and clear, I do not think Ramirez’s work is poor, just inconsistent with the look of this book (and, honestly, just not my cup of tea). I also think that I’m showing my age nowadays with this hobby, because I’m all like, “Back in my day there was a consistent voice and look in every book, for like 30 issues at a time!”

 

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: It’s happening. IT’S HAPPENING!! Two issues from now, in Venom #150, Eddie Brock and the symbiote, the one, true Venom, will be back for good! According to Marvel’s press release on the issue, not only will the Lethal Protector return, but Venom’s co-creator, David Michelinie, with Ron Lim on pencils, will return for a back-up story between the pages of the original Lethal Protector, AND this book’s legacy numbering will be restored! According to editor Devin Lewis:

Eddie Brock and Venom, swinging through the concrete jungle. There’s a lot of ‘Lethal Protector’ in the DNA of Mike’s current run and his approach to Eddie, and, like that story, Mike’s has a lot of heart. But I’ve been adamant about the fact that the symbiote has to be a threat. Not necessarily to Eddie or anyone in particular, other than Spider-Man, but certainly to the world around it. It can and should be a destabilizing force. Regardless of its mental state or the fact that it’s been cleansed, Lee has proven that the symbiote can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and we’re going to see the ramifications of that play out in Tradd’s story.

Check out this preview art by Tradd Moore:

While it is absolutely asinine that Venom will be the highest numbered comic in Marvel’s stable, again, (this happened briefly when Bunn’s run was in its 40s and every other title had relaunched during Marvel NOW *gag*) maybe this will bode well for other titles who’s original numbering may be restored as well.

And, OK, granted that Eddie’s “Lethal Protector” days were definitely a low point. He was taken away from Spider-Man’s world and was circling the drain due to over-exposure. Still, the character itself was still great. Gold has been mined from worse ore than that. So, in addition to his trademark tenacity and ruthlessness, hopefully we’ll see Brock reflect the changes he went through in Conway’s Carnage ongoing that just concluded, in which he owns up to everything that he did when he was a part of Venom. Lump that together with the symbiote’s purification in Guardians, and we might see a fresh take on this classic pairing. I. Can’t. WAIT.

Unfortunately though, this news does significantly detract from my caring about what will happen next issue. Lee Price has officially never been less interesting to me as a host for the symbiote. Let’s just turn him into one of this book’s antagonists and move things along.

 

All said and done, a big, heaping “Thank you!” to Mike Costa, Gerardo Sandoval, Juanan Ramirez, and co. for putting this book on the stands for me and my fellow Symbi-Bros. See you all next month for the conclusion of Price’s fight with Scorpion and his inevitable confrontation with Spider-Man!

 

GRADE:

C+

Above average (things finally get moving again for “the Venom we don’t need right now” just in time for the impending return of “the Venom we deserve”) 

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