WRITER: Mike Costa
ARTIST: Gerardo Sandoval
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): Eddie Brock, the only remaining member of the FBI’s Anti-Symbiote Task Force (Brock is told that he’s “the only agent at the Bureau with any knowledge of how to stop these things” – I call shenanigans! Venom was in the Vault and Carnage in Ravencroft for years!), is en route to the scene where last we left Price and the symbiote. Despite the alien’s objections, Price attempts to make his getaway in one of the Bureau’s choppers when Spider-Man suddenly pops onto the windshield. The Web-Head wants to know if it’s still Flash inside the symbiote, However, any inkling of a thought that this is still Agent Venom goes out the window (Heh. Sorry) when Price changes tactics and tries to kill the Web-Slinger, crashing the chopper. Despite the symbiote’s resistance towards hurting Spider-Man, whom the alien sees as a hero, Price utilizes its invisibility and immunity to Peter’s Spider-Sense to coldcock the Webhead.
As Price is about to accomplish what none ever have and finish Spider-Man off (except for SpOck. And Morlun. And Thanos. OK nevermind), Brock arrives with the FBI, who cordons the area off. Spider-Man escapes Price’s grip, then he and Brock come up with a strategy to separate the alien from Price and capture them. As Price is ready to die fighting, Spider-Man appeals to the symbiote’s better nature, beckoning it to leave Price and come back to him so that things “can be the way they used to be.” As Price tries to mentally dominate the alien, the latter fights back, threatening to break Price with the horrible memories it has uncovered in his mind. Then, (in a triumphantly heartbreaking sequence) the alien overcomes Price’s control and frees itself. But as it races towards Spider-Man, desperate to be the hero it once was, Spider-Man begrudgingly betrays the symbiote, signaling the FBI to pelt it with sonics while he captures it in a sealed capsule. As the symbiote’s seething hatred for Spider-Man is poignantly renewed, Lee Price is taken into NYPD custody, and mocked as insignificant without the suit.
Later, Eddie Brock sneaks into the symbiote’s confinement area, incapacitates the guard, and reclaims the alien for himself. The issue ends with a double-splash page depicting the return of the Lethal Protector! (The pretender Lee Price is dead [I wish]! Long live Eddie Brock: the one, true Venom!)
To be continued… In Venom #150!
ANALYSIS: That’s more like it! While it’s certainly not a flawless comic, Venom (2016) #6 proves to be the strongest issue of the series yet, as well as one of the strongest Venom stories in recent years (this issue, not the whole series, mind you ). Not only was it a surprisingly emotional tale, but it successfully restored one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains in an effectively nuanced manner. It really makes the old feel new again.
But before I sing this issue’s praises, let’s get the flaws out of the way, which, although slightly niggling, unfortunately begin on the first page: it may be forgettable, but the recap says that last issue, when Lee and Spider-Man first met, “the two found themselves embroiled in a fight across Manhattan.” Did whoever wrote this recap read Venom #5? I did [unfortunately], and I am certain that not only did that encounter only take up about one city block [and only 3 ½ pages], but Price and Spidey made it through their first confrontation without throwing a single punch. I wish I had read the recap’s version of #5 last month instead of the hot mess that was the previous issue.
Having got that minor grievance out of the way, I confess that Costa’s handling of Brock’s character is the one major detractor for me in this comic. While we are given an incredibly strong reason for the symbiote to hate Spider-Man once more (and one that was evocative of their classic fight back in ASM#317), Eddie Brock could be removed from this book and the story at hand wouldn’t really suffer, and that sucks. That is not how I wanted this reunion to occur. This lends itself even further to the assumption that Brock was never initially meant to be a part of this story in its original conception, despite what Devin Lewis tells us on the letter page, i.e. that this has been in the machinations “for over a year” (Although I am STOKED to see Flash, Carnage, and Anti-Venom [it’s going to be Price, though, I bet: ugh] appear in this book).
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted this to happen since Millar broke them up in 2005. I’ve always felt that that was a mistaken attempt to make Venom feel “fresh” again after about a decade of misuse. But, much like the Hobgoblin before him, no successor to the role of Venom ever really matched up to the original. Angelo Fortunado and Mac Gargan never reached Brock and the alien’s chemistry, level of menace, and voracious determination as a Spidey-Villain. And even if the alien couldn’t be with Eddie, I was happy to read its adventures with Flash, but only because it was an entirely different dynamic. Together they made a great hero, but Venom works best as a Spider-Man villain.
Here, much like his handling of Lee Price, Costa doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence in his ability to portray Brock in as layered & nuanced a manner as he writes the symbiote. For instance, as soon as he recognizes it, Brock calls the alien “my darling.” This was a detractor for me – the last time Brock and his symbiote were together, he was trying to kill it. And, in Conway’s Carnage ongoing, Brock ended that book having come to grips what he did when he was part of Venom, seemingly ready to move on?? Brock’s story since his separation from the symbiote in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man has been about his recovery and effort to move on from that relationship. Here, all that he fought against as Anti-Venom, his attempts to wipe out all the symbiotes in the latter part of Remender’s run (RIP Scott Washington & Donna Diego), and his turn as Toxin might as well never have happened. Oh well. Hopefully this will be addressed in #150.
And, to be fair, this is more Conway’s fault than Costa’s: when Brock showed up in the former’s Carnage book, he was portrayed as a bit of an addict who “jumped at the chance to get reinfected” with a symbiote when Toxin was put before him. Well, apparently Conway never actually read the first part of “Savage Six” when Brock is captured by Crime Master and screams in terror as Toxin is forcibly poured onto him. So again, to be fair, Brock’s machinations at being reunited with the symbiote in this issue do fit with his most recent portrayal. That doesn’t excuse the error entirely, but makes it a bit more forgivable nonetheless.
Now that that’s out of the way, what this issue did more than any other Venom comic (even Christos Gage’s awesome hero’s ending for the alien in his Secret Wars: Spider-Island mini) was to effectively get you to really care about the Venom symbiote. What this series has done better than anything else is to make the alien into a real, sympathetic character, and here that all is brought to fruition and pays off big-time. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really felt Spider-Man’s betrayal of the symbiote in this issue. The alien’s hatred for Spider-Man has never been more viable. (I am sincerely hoping that Costa and Sandoval can work the same magic with Brock’s hatred of Spider-Man, which has historically been the weakest part of his character: under-motivation.) The symbiote’s victory over Price and subsequent betrayal by Spider-Man was the true emotional payoff of the story that’s unfolded over these six issues. It doesn’t excuse some of the grievous errors in pacing and characterization that came before, but all that could realistically have been forced into place so that we could arrive at this issue’s reunion. Putting that reunion to the side though, the alien’s issues with abusive relationships, the core story of this book, was brought to a very satisfying conclusion here.
However, I’m not quite sure how I feel about Brock’s further manipulation of the symbiote in its capture though. Once the alien finds out that Brock was complicit in its incarceration, it’s not going to be too happy. While it is on-theme for this book to make the alien into an unknowing victim to continue to generate sympathy for it, the alien is not the only character we want to see when we read a Venom comic: it’s a book about two characters, not just one. Again, this is admittedly not the Venom story I want to read. I want to see that classic pairing that comprise the true Venom in a new light. I want to see why they are in a sense meant to be together, how they’ve each grown as characters in their time apart, and, as the creative team accomplished for the symbiote here, a renewed and justifiable motivation for their shared hatred of Spider-Man. Venom deserves to be one of Peter’s “Big Three,” right up there with Norman and Otto. In fact, in the 90s, with Norman out of the way, Venom was widely considered to be Spider-Man’s #1 archnemesis. Among the things that make Norman and Otto so compelling is that they are just as layered and storied as Peter. Moving forward, what I want to see is Eddie rise to those heights with the symbiote, not shrunk in its shadow. Time will tell, but I admit that, for the first time in this current run, I am finally enjoying what is and am hopeful for what’s to come.
At last, a huge, 12-years’ awaited, shower of gratitude goes out to Mike Costa, Gerardo Sandoval, and co. for giving us back the one, true Venom!! See you all next month for the landmark 150th issue!
Pretty good (an emotionally charged, landmark event for the title character that’s slightly hampered by the somewhat shoe-horned, albeit welcomed, reunion at its conclusion)