Venom by Rick Remender Volume 1 (2011)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tony Moore
Flash Thompson has served his country in Afghanistan, given his all including both of his legs. However, this isn’t the end of Flash’s service. Project Rebirth has captured the Venom symbiote and allows it to bond with the military veteran giving him the ability to walk again and responsibility to carry out missions for the U.S. government. The catch is that he cannot stay bonded with the symbiote for more than 24 hours or he risks a permanent conversion. Almost immediately he secures an arch-nemesis and comes under the thumb of underworld boss The Crime-Master. Just like Peter Parker, Flash finds himself struggling to balance his relationship with Betty Brant, his ongoing conflict with his dying abusive father, and his job as a black ops operative for the government. With so much on one man, it is inevitable that things will break.
While Remender was working at Marvel, he had a penchant for taking on characters I usually would avoid like the plague (X-Force, Deadpool, Punisher, Venom) and somehow making them work for the most part. I can’t quite put my finger how he does it but there’s a precise balance to the core character concept, an emphasis on the humanity of the character, yet also bringing disparate elements onboard you wouldn’t associate with them. For Venom, he drops the drooling monster angle as the main presentation and makes this all about Flash Thompson’s struggles. Venom is his job, and like most people who work long hours, the job interferes in his relationships to a detrimental degree. However, Remender knows that people come to a Venom book for that drooling monster, and it looms as a threat, putting Flash in situations where he begins to exceed the 24-hour limit, and he may end up one with the symbiote.
From the first issue, Remender introduces a nemesis for Venom in the form of Jack O’Lantern. Jack was initially an offshoot of the Green Goblin archetype; however, this incarnation is wholly original to the Venom ongoing. There’s not much character development on Jack in this first volume, but he does receive a “nemesis origin,” Venom exploding a bomb in his face leaving him as a walking skull. Jack is the henchman to The Crime-Master, and it sets up the boss villain as secondary which is another twist I found interesting. Jack discovers Venom’s civilian identity and begins terrorizing Betty Brant which leads to a great Venom/Spider-Man confrontation. One of the best moments of this is when Peter and Flash meet up out of costume, neither aware of who the other one is, and the audience is aware of the subtext of their entire conversation.
Remender also decides to reincorporate Human Fly from his Punisher run, immediately showing us the villain continuing his cannibalistic ways, kidnapping innocents and melting them down with his insectoid acid. This issue turns out to be about Flash’s drunken father who has just found out he’s dying. We get lots of backstory explaining the abuse Flash suffered at his father’s hands, and we end up with a pretty human entry into a series about an incredibly inhuman character.
The rest of the volume gets commandeered by the Spider-Island event which consumed all the spider-related titles for about three months at the time. The conceit is that a villainess called the Spider-Queen…maybe?…is transforming the people of Manhattan into spider-creatures. Venom takes on the transformed Captain America as well as Eddie Brock, the former Venom now Anti-Venom who wants to destroy the symbiote. For the uninitiated, it could be a bit too much inside baseball Spidey-mythos stuff, but Remender works his magic and attempt to make it consumable by someone with no interest in the crossover.
Volume One concludes with Venom on the outs with Project Rebirth setting up a second and final act that brings everything down around the head of poor Flash Thompson. His problems will come to a head and collide with the villains plaguing him. More to come on that later.