By Don Alsafi. In this week’s installment of Building a Better Marvel, we’re taking a close look at Venom #150. And while it doesn’t bear a #1 on the cover, this is deliberately a new beginning for the character. (Not that a #1 is always a sign of accessibility, as we’ve seen.) Marvel is celebrating Venom’s longevity and new direction with an over-sized package that bears a 25-page story, two 8-page backup stories, and a cover gallery. So let’s add that up and see how it fares!
Written by Mike Costa, Robbie Thompson and David Michelinie.
Art by Tradd Moore, Gerardo Sandoval, and Ron Lim & John Livesay.
Colors by Felipe Sobreiro, Dono Sanchez-Almara, and Lee Loughridge.
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
Big numbers. First, let’s get the immediate question out of the way: #150? Wha…? This must be a big deal if the character has made it all the way to that, right? Well, yes and no.
For any not in the know: This doesn’t mean that Venom has been running continuously for 150 issues. Far from it! The character was first created in… well, okay, even that is kind of complicated.
Spider-Man’s black costume was first seen in the 1984 blockbuster Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, but it wasn’t long before Peter Parker discovered that his new spiffy duds were actually alive, and trying to bond with him like some creepy stalker. Later, the alien symbiote found its perfect match in Peter’s Daily Bugle rival, Eddie Brock. The merged pair received their first comic book, Venom: Lethal Protector #1, in 1993.
It’s a new day for the antihero – but a #1 on a comic book cover no longer holds the sway it used to. By know, Marvel should know that well: a recent frustration from readers is how often they’ve tried to revisit that well, restarting countless series at a new #1 (even if it’s the same title, starring the same character, and by the same creative team), in a desperate attempt to get that short-term sales spike. By and large, their excessive overuse of this strategy has massively backfired. More and more readers have viewed the ending of one “series” — only to be followed by a meaningless #1 the very next month — as a jumping-off point.
Marvel’s newest linewide plan is a back-to-basics approach restoring some of their classic characters who have been sidelined over the past few years, and a corresponding return to “legacy” numbering. Venom has not, of course, had a single series running continuously since 1993 – a very quick bit of math shows that there are far more than 150 months in the 24 years since – but they’ve added up all the issues to date of all his various series over the years, and from that we get this nice big number. (Other Marvel series are rumored to revert to similar legacy numbering, once the math proves right.)
Like angry peanut butter and evil chocolate. The lead story is written by Mike Costa, a dependably solid writer who has yet to see his own real breakout hit. If this story is any indication, however, he certainly has the chops!
Costa’s first outing shows the symbiote returning to its original partner Eddie Brock, and it’s a more intriguing reunion than you might expect. The writer skips all the weird turns the character has undergone recently (including, I kid you not, something called Venom: Space Knight) and simply gives the reader the bare bones needed to get the story going. He effectively incorporates action in a way that shows the already-troubling relationship between Brock and the alien, and ends on an inevitable yet tragic note that leaves you wondering where all this will lead. Tradd Moore’s art is stylized but not too exaggerated, with a unique design sense, and his figures have a feeling of power and dynamism that might make Kirby proud.
Though Venom has its die-hard fans, I’ve never been one of them. Anti-heroes are interesting when they’re used to explore genuine moral complexity, but too often they’re lazily employed simply to make a character seem kewl or edgy – usually with their casual slaughter of the bad guys. (As long as you show that the criminals getting murdered are worse than the one killing them, that is.) This intro story is perhaps the most compelling I’ve ever found Venom, and that’s largely due to Costa’s incredible character work.
Eddie is someone who’s clearly made a muck of his life. He feels lost and directionless without the symbiote. His feelings toward the alien are overtly written as an unhealthy, codependent relationship. (The obvious analogy is someone going back to an ex who is clearly bad for them.) This unusual interpretation of the interplay between Brock and the alien is fascinating, because this first issue makes a big deal of the two reuniting – presumably to the delight of the original fans. But everything about the situation screams that this pairing is unambiguously bad for Eddie, and the only way he’ll ever grow as a person is by one day leaving this “relationship” behind and standing on his own two feet. (And if that ever happens, what happens to the book?) For a new take on an old idea, it feels surprisingly risky.
Not fuller – just filler. The second story, on the other hand, is written by Robbie Thompson (who penned the Venom: Space Knight series), presumably as a coda to Venom’s more recent adventures. It’s confusing as heck, and – unlike the lead story – has absolutely no interest in appearing comprehensible to those who’ve not already devoted themselves to the character.
I’m assuming the gun-toting (?!) Venom seen here is that of previous host Flash Thompson, but that’s just a guess – because in eight pages, the story never sees fit to actually address the character by name. Gerardo Sandoval’s art is exaggerated and over-the-top in a way that Tradd Moore’s isn’t, and his designs are often unclear. (The two Venoms at hand don’t look remarkably different from the hell-demons they’re fighting, for example.) This is disappointing, as Tradd’s turn in the lead story was as a guest artist; Sandoval returns to full art chores with the next issue.
The final backup story is a flashback tale set in Venom’s earliest days, written by co-creator David Michelinie and illustrated by Ron Lim. Regrettably, while the story is going for a retro-classic feel, the end result feels just outdated and hokey. The first few pages have Eddie Brock delivering a shockingly clunky “As you know, Bob” monologue, and Lim’s illustrations at times look rushed. (Either that, or inker John Livesay was just a poor match.)
All in all, an impressively compelling and sadly off-putting final product. That’s a shame, but the lead story effectively does the job of giving readers the original Venom again, and in a far more interesting way than you’d expect. The dilemma that faces Eddie is so fascinating that it honestly feels more like the premise to a miniseries (with a presumably rough separation at its end), rather than a setup that’s particularly conducive to an ongoing book. But the tale starting here is at the least a decent vehicle for pulling back any wayward old-school Venom fans, while also being accessible enough to potentially gain some new readers to boot.
And hey, if nothing else? The cover to Venom #151 has him going up against a gosh-darn DINOSAUR. That’s pretty cool, right?
6.5 out of 10
What did you think about ‘Venom’ #150? Let us know in the comments below!