When I was a kid , one of my favorite television programs to watch was the 1995 Spider-man animated series. I just enjoyed watching Spidey deal with all those baddies so much. In particular there was one character who I always liked, which was Venom, who I was introduced to from this show. He would appear just at the end of the opening credits and something about this massive dark Spidey with a monster tongue and fangs just appealed to me and it became my introduction into my favorite comic book character.
Now Venom for the longest time had been a stagnant entity, pretty much a monster who was blood thirsty and out to kill. He lacked any really compelling backstory. I for instance just enjoyed him really because he looked so damn cool. His portrayals in media had been pretty much the same (also his just not right (sorry Topher Grace) appearance in Spiderman 3), sure the symbiote changed hosts but not much was added to the mythos of the character.
However enter March 9 2011 and enter Rick Remender’s story. Here was a brand new ongoing Venom Series, which was known as Project Rebirth. The title was appropriate because Venom was gonna have a new host and a new begining. Venom would working for the U.S military bonded to new host Flash Thompson a Corporal in the United States Army ( and also childhood bully of Peter Parker), who also was bound to wheel chair after heroically risking his life to save fellow soldiers during the Iraq war (brilliantly depicted in Amazing Spiderman 574, I recommend reading that). The symbiote would allow Flash to not only gain the ability to walk, but also give him a chance to live out a fantasy of his, becoming his biggest hero Spider-Man. Essentially this was a rebirth BOTH Flash and the symbiote. Project Rebirth also ended up meaning rebirth of Venom being compelling, not only was Venom cool visually there was a great story. Remenders run lasted the first 22 (including issues 13.1-13.4) issues, the last one Venom # 22 in August 2012. The series would go on under Cullen Bunn (and just wrapped up with issue 42), however for my money Remenders run is all you really need to read to truly enjoy the character.
Brief Run Overview:
Remender’s Venom run can be divided in 3 part and a a additional small part (Spider Island tie in issues). Here are the books to look for!:
Part 1: Venom Vol.1 (available in Hardcover and Trade Paperback) Issues 1-5 Part 1 of article
Spider Island Tie In: Spider Island (HC and TPB) Issues 6-9 along with the rest of Spider Island Part 1 of article
Part 2: Venom Vol.2: Circle of Four (available in HC and TPB) Issues 10-14 along with 13.1-13.4 Part 2 of Article
Part 3: Venom Vol.3: The Savage Six (available in TPB) Issue 15-22 Part 3 of article
Venom Vol 1 and Spider Island Tie ins:
Issues: 1-5 and 6-9
Aritists: Tony Moore (Issues 1,2,4 and parts of 5) Tom Fowler (3,parts of 5, 6-8), Stefano Caselli (9)
The cover for issue 1(and the collected editions) can be very deceiving to what type of Venom we are getting. The cover by Quesada (which is brilliant) has the traditional Venom, tounge and all, however we get to see in issue one we have a very different character. Right from the get go we experience a frantic war zone and are immediately introduced to Jack O’ Lantern, who would become Venom’s arch nemesis. In my opinion Remender struck gold in developing this Jack O’Lantern (who is a new incarnation for continuity buffs) in creating a rival. A great hero is defined by his villains, for a Batman we need a Joker, for Superman we need Lex Luthor, for Spider-man we need the Green Goblin and so forth. With Jack O’Lantern we get a homicidal maniac who is working for Crime Master, and is laying waste to everyone in his way of obtaining his target.
Six pages in we get our first glimpse of Agent Venom, and he truly is bad ass. The symbiote adapting to a military soldier outfit, is cool visual. We instantly see the type of character Flash is, demonstrated through Remender’s great work on Flash’s inner monologue(with some occasionally annoying football references). Flash Thompson idolized Spider-man, and in a moment ( read Spider-man Blue) realized he should do more to help his fellow man, just like his hero. He quit sports and enlisted in the army and selflessly saved his fellow troops at great cost for himself. We see that in the very beginning as Flash in this war-zone is constantly looking out for people saving stray civilians whenever he can, while also completing his mission. He gave so much for his country and is willing to risk it again, because he aspires to be the best he can be, to help as many people as he can.
In this opening scene are giving parameters in which Flash must abide by in order to keep the symbiote (a 72 time limit, or a bomb will go off), we also discover the Flash is a soldier, and unlike Spider-man will kill in the correct context (for instance snapping a mans neck in issue 1). This establishes the tone,and makes perfect sense for the run because it is in line with the character, and also would bring on fuel to Flash’s hatred which only fuels the symbiote and brings that dynamic into play.
Additionally in the opening scene Jack O’Lantern and Venom have their first fight, which is perfect because it makes this a real rivalry instead of a contrived one. The villains needs a reason to hate the hero, and not only does Venom stop Jack from success, he also throws a grenade in Jack O’Lanterns mask and permanently disfigures him. Right off the bat this rivarly would become a key component for the run’s series.
Once we leave the opening mayhem we delve further into Flash Thompson further as the man. The reader gets to learn that Flash has a plethora of issues. For one he is a recovering alcoholic. This is a defining trait for Flash and the people around Flash. additionally he has a alcholic father who we learn beat him as a kid constantly, which explains why he became a bully in school. Flash also has girlfriend, Betty Brandt and she ends up being constantly disappointed in Flash missing dates and not being there in general. A key note is Flash has to keep his job as Venom a secret from everybody so it creates distrust with all those around him. In short; Flash is great at his job, but when it comes to personal matters, everything around him is a mess. Flash is a compelling alter ego (now my favorite thanks to this run), and the first chapter ends brilliantly with Flash feeling dejected wheeling down a street looking to a church with a A.A meeting and stairs and a bar with a ramp to get inside and thinking. ” I bet the Ol’Basterd’d think those stairs are pretty darned funny.”
What makes this first part and the run in generally really good overall, Remender perfectly being able to set the pace. What I find is some comics end up just being punch fests with no substance, while others are too wordy with no action. Most of the issues of Venom are done extremely well in giving us the right amount of both. Remender does it with the thought boxes and inner monoluge of Flash. The look inside his head, shows us that Flash really harbors everything of his past every time he sets out on amission and uses it for motivation in order to succeed. He wants to protect people from ever being the victim, like he was with his dad, and even from the times he bullied others.
Another quality to the inner monologue(as well as the speech bubbles) in this story is that the text would change font when the symbiote started taking control, and added depth to the story.We could follow Flash as he started to lose control and become the monster.
Flash throughout this part would screw up so bad that Crime Master finds out his identity and uses it to blackmail Flash, and would be the fuel for the rest of the plot. During the middle of the part, Jack O’Lantern pushes Flash to the limit when he kidnaps Betty (completing the sentiment in the rivalry) and has her in a warehouse with a bomb set to blow. Spiderman encounters Venom and almost inadvertanly has Betty killed (as he is unaware of the time limit and assumes Venom is a bad guy and fights with him.) Yes the Spider-man Venom fight feels obligatory, however it works well in the context and allows for the great moment of Flash having to fight his hero. Flash manages to control Venom in order(notably also removes the bomb attached to him as a fail safe as well) to tell Spidey where Betty is and Spider-man saves the day. This chapter endeds with a great shot of Flash , Betty and Peter all on a couch unwinding from the frantic events. Betty gets up to get something and we have a image with Flash on one end and Peter on the other , both unaware that one is Spider-man and one is Venom, sworn enemies. Kudos to Moore for hat panel and all the excellent work he did in this series.
The final chapter deals with the central figure in Flash’s psyche his father, and the issue ends with Flash confronting his father during a bender, only for his father to collapse with liver cirrhosis. Cut to outside the hospital Flash is being consoled by Betty about this issue. Flash and Betty embrace in a hug (leaving Flash on the ground as he lunged out of his chair) and the phone rings, Betty wants Flash to ignore it, and Flash answers knowing duty calls.(kudos to Tom Fowler on that great scene) This embodies who Flash is, he deals with all the chaos in his life by going into battle or a distraction, its why he bullied, its why he drank, its also why he became a hero.
This opening arc exemplifies everything you would need to know about Flash Thompson, and really primes this story for greatness.
With the Spider Island part (issues 6-9), the issues are all good in their own right , however do feel separated from the story. In honesty they can be skipped and the reader would not miss a beat for the over arching story. There is one very key detail from those issues, and it is the passing of Flash’s dad, which leads to a moment where Flash reads a very emotional goodbye/apology letter. This is the most crucial plot point of the spider-island tie ins to the overarching plot.
To clarify they are good issues, but they really belong to the Spider Island story,and not this one. We get a issue where Anti-Venom (Eddie Brock, also the first host of the symbiote) appears and meets Venom, which is nice to see, as well as Cap meeting Venom which is another moment, but for the overall plot again it is of minor importance. The highlight from the issues that resonate for me are in issue 8, Flash and Betty are in a hospital and New York has gone crazy with the spider people, and Flash tells Betty to stay safe in the building he’s gonna help with evac and such, and Betty says ” Flash this is crazy, you’re.. I mean, you’re” to which Flash interupts ” A Corporal in United States army. Thats what you were going to say next, right Betty?” which is just one of the many great character moments in this run.
We also get issue 9, which is the issue where Flash just loses all control and becomes the jacked up monster that Venom really is. He ends up killing a z–list villain Hi-Jakcer in the post Spider Island aftermath. the issue where he starts losing control of the symbiote. This leads into the later parts of this dynamic.
Remender, Moore and Fowler, all did their part in making Venom not only relevent again, but pretty damn compelling. Its in large part to the work they did on Flash Thompson and diving into his world as well as making his threats and his battles truly his own.
Like this article and haven’t read parts 2 and 3 yet? Check them out below: