Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Tony Moore, Tom Fowler
Collects: Venom (2011) #1-5
Symbiotes are very cool, but their popularity waned after overexposure and never had a big shot at an ongoing. In the 90's Venom had a bunch of miniseries come one after the other, which can essentially be considered an ongoing if you squint. They were of varying quality, however, some good, some bad. There actually was a Venom ongoing years back, but we won't discuss it.
Worse still, Venom in general has been floundering for years. Mark Millar removed the symbiote from Eddie Brock during his Marvel Knights run and things haven't been the same since. Millar decided Mac Gargan - the friggin Scorpion - would be good to shove into the suit and that iteration was essentially a chump for years after. Finally, when the Brand New Day era ended and Dan Slott took over Amazing Spider-Man full time, the symbiote was removed from Gargan in-story.
Marvel responded by giving Venom his own series, written by Rick Remender. Damn good call. Spoiler alert: I'm going to be open about the new Venoms identity, so if you somehow don't know, skip to the score.
Remender dodges expectations beautifully by taking on a new high concept for the character, giving him a new host from Spideys revitilized supporting cast and hitting the ground running. Essentially, Venom has become a tool of the government; a special operative tasked with secretly taking out various threats. The government, however, has it on a strict leash; the user cannot have the suit on for more than forty eight hours due to risk of the symbiote taking control and beginning to bond permanently. If Venom takes control, the government has a failsafe that means the hosts death.
The host? Flash Thompson.
This was a masterstroke. Flash is a long time Spidey supporting character that was really brought back into the fold with Brand New Day. Once a high school bully of Peter Parker, he later grew up, becoming Petes friend. Flash went on a tour of duty with the army during Brand New Day and ended up losing his legs. His personal problems piled up and he's struggled to keep it together. But now, the Venom symbiote gives him another chance to serve his country, powers like his hero Spider-Man and the ability to walk again while into the suit.
Flash has a perfect setup here, from a storytelling standpoint, while having many problems typical to the Spider-Man series. His are actually worse when you think about it; while Peter's the hard luck hero, he can at least pull himself out of the hole, while Flash is a disabled war veteran who doesn't exactly live the good life. It sets up a conflict of interest between his real life and his life on duty; it's quite clear that eventually it's going to reach a boiling point. Since Flash is likable, relatable and interesting that one's going to hit hard.
Remender eschews the whole "write for the trade" style with this series, it seems. Of the five issues here, the first and the fifth are done in ones, while the middle three issues form something of an arc. We seem to be trending back towards more of this and less "six issue arcs designed for collection", which is good. The best writers seem to realize a great story does not necessarily need to be a six issue epic. Within those five issues, you get a great introduction to the status quo, insight into Flashs life that the glimpses in Amazing do not give us and a compelling read.
Remender is helped along by Tony Moore. Moore is definitely suited to the proceedings, having a knack for fun and over the top ridiculousness. There's this one panel that really illustrates it; Venom is running towards his destination, civilian in tow, the symbiote keeping a live grenade from blowing, three tendrils controlling assault rifles firing behind him while he fires a pistol forward. Bullets rain down all over, bodies everywhere. It's completely over the top while managing not to feel out of place in what's written as a very serious mission. Artists with less skill might have made such a panel humorous; and while the comedic approach is a valid one, it's pretty clear such a moment isn't supposed to be played for laughs.
Moore doesn't do everything, but I have to say the fill in for issue three and most of five isn't bad either. His style's a bit cleaner than Moores, but it's not jarring enough to feel out of place. Usually fill-in art is a dirty phrase in comic fandom, but done right it can fit right in. I won't be too upset if Tom Fowler is Marvels regular pinch hitter for this series.
The Score: 8.5 out of 10
A new approach and mission statement does wonders for the Venom symbiote. This is a great read and an excellent introduction. Definitely pick it up, it's well worth the change. Who knew Marvels next must-read series would star Venom?