Venom by Rick Remender Volume 2 (2012)
Written by Rick Remender with Jeff Parker, Rob Williams, and Cullen Bunn
Art by Tony Moore, Lee Garbett, Sana Takeda, Julian Totino Tedesco, Lan Medina, Kev Walker, and Declan Shalvey
Flash Thompson is down and out in Las Vegas, his relationship with Betty Brant ruined due to his obligations as Agent Venom for Project: Rebirth and the shadow of Crime-Smith looming over him. He becomes inadvertently involved in the attempted hostile takeover of Earth by the prince of hell Blackheart. This crisis also brings together Johnny Blaze & the new Ghost Rider, The Red Hulk, and X-23 for the “Circle of Four” story arc. Once this is resolved, Flash finds himself back in New York ready to face down Crime-Smith and Jack O’Lantern. However, they were prepared for him and unleashed their gang of villains, some familiar faces from Remender’s opening arc on The Punisher. All this culminates in Venom’s induction into the ranks of the Secret Avengers and the possibility of a new life for our hero.
Volume 2 is packed with story, and it ranges in quality. The Circle of Hell storyline was shockingly familiar to Donny Cates & Nick Spencer’s recent Doctor Strange crossover Damnation. This time around it was Mephisto running the casino in disguise. This storyline also brought together of low tier heroes (Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, and Scarlet Spider). The setting and villains feel way too similar for Cates & Spencer not to have been referencing (or ripping off) Circle of Four.
Circle of Four suffers from what many of these attempts to create a mini-event are afflicted with, feeling way too drawn out. There’s not enough individual character development to justify its five-part length, and it honestly could have been done in one or two. If there had been some deep pulls from continuity, maybe referencing the other hell on earth storyline Inferno, it could have been cool. The cosmology of Marvel’s Hell is one of the more baffling aspects of the shared universe and one that many a writer has tried and failed to sort out. The artwork is a profoundly mixed bag ranging from the beautiful (Tony Moore) to the horrid (I won’t name names).
We kick off the next arc with the resolution from Venom going AWOL post-Spider-Island. His ties with Project: Rebirth are severed thanks to Captain America and Flash is offered a spot on the covert Secret Avengers, a series Remender had just started to write around this time and one we will inevitably get to in a couple of reviews. I have always been a sucker for a weird roster on a team, and Secret Avengers is just quirky enough to make me love it: Beast. Valkyrie. Hawkeye. Hank Pym. The Astonishing Ant-Man. Captain Britain. Add Venom into the mix and the potential for strange storylines combining these varied characters’ background and enemies is pretty rich.
The main event kicks off with Venom helping to transport The Human Fly to a maximum security prison. The Kingpin sends the new Hobgoblin to take out the insectoid villain, but everything goes sideways. Venom fails. The Human Fly escapes and allies with Crime-Smith who unleashes his Savage Six on Venom with plans to ruin him and his life. Remender pulls in Death Adder and Megatak to the roster, two more carryovers from the Punisher run. I’m not sure why of all characters Remender is so fond of these, but they certainly have a very distinct visual charm. Megatak was, of all things, a Thor villain introduced in the early 1980s. I can’t imagine a villain less fitting for the themes and aesthetics of Thor. Megatak was an industrial spy who was digitized and turned into a living video game character. This was 1983, and apparently, writer Doug Moench was angling to pull in people from the video game craze of the time.
Remender reimagines Megatak as an inhuman nightmare. Whatever was once human has been stripped by his digitization, murder at the hands of Scourge, and subsequent resurrection by The Hood. Megatak feels like this unstoppable force, able to manifest out of every cell phone on the street. Remender has quite a talent at giving dull characters an edge again, which he does with Eddie Brock. Brock, the former Venom host, shows up again this time executing the symbiotes that spawned from his time as Venom. He makes Flash his next mark but during a showdown in Crime-Smith’s warehouse headquarters Brock ends up in the villain’s clutches. They expose him to genetically modified symbiotes that used the Venom DNA as a base and he becomes something even worse than he once was.
The wrap up of Remender’s Venom run feels so incredibly satisfying. Maybe not as epic as Uncanny X-Force but more finite than The Punisher was allowed to be. Everything from the long-running Crime-Smith is given a great conclusion. Flash’s personal life is given closure though all may not be happy for the hero. His romantic relationship with Betty comes to a perilous edge. However, his rivalry with Jack O’Lantern is saved for the surprisingly quiet final issue. Flash doesn’t get to reset his life in any manner, but he faces the mistakes he made and tries again. A very human conclusion for a very inhuman character.