[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Venom #2.]
Being a symbiotic puddle of black goo from Klyntar isn’t always easy, but it does have its advantages. You get to travel the universe as both a hero and as a villain. You get to set your own hours – at least presuming your willing host doesn’t have to get up too early in the morning (which they usually don’t). You also get to hold dominion over the pathetic little life-form whose cerebral cortex you’ve sunk your tendrils into, or at least that’s usually how it goes for a certain symbiote named Venom.
Throughout the years, it’s had its share of troubles: getting dumped by Spider-Man (that one still stings apparently), fighting against Flash Thompson’s will before learning to work together and even enjoy his heroic missions. Venom #1 finds the symbiotic alien back on Earth, fresh off its tour of duty as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Ready for another honorable soldier host and another chance to do the right thing, the Klyntar warrior discovers it’s attached itself to a manipulative, borderline-psychopathic former Army Ranger named Lee Price. Worst of all, it no longer has the upper hand in their relationship.
Battle of Wills
In its weakened state, Venom assumes Lee Price to be another tough in his luck vet like Flash Thompson, this time as Price is caught in a weapons exchange gone awry. Unfortunately, the symbiote quickly learns that Price is no hero. Once conjoined, the duo quickly dispatch a batch of double-crossing thugs from Tombstone’s gang, as well as every witnesses to the bloodbath – including a homeless man and Price’s childhood friend. Following the bloody battle, they scram to Lee’s apartment with briefcase full of expensive, lethal chemical weapons.
During a tense night, Price and the alien parasite engage in a psychological wrestling match, with Venom attempting to reassert dominance over its host. The once-villainous sludge turned heroic, however, is unable to break through Price’s Ranger training, which conditioned his mind to resist psychological control and torture tactics. This allows the mercenary to maintain his tenuous grip over the super-powered creature. Beaten but not defeated, Venom searches for ways to resist Lee’s near-total dominance, eventually discovering a unique method of protest during an inopportune moment.
An Uneasy Alliance
The day after the shootout, Price talks his way into an audience with crime boss the Black Cat and her main enforcer, Mac Gargan (a.k.a. Scorpion and a former member of the symbiote exchange program). During their meeting, she calls into question his actions (or inactions), as well as how he managed to persevere when everyone else involved in the exchange wound up in a coffin. Lee talks his way out of suspicion for the most part, though, entering into a tenuous coalition with the criminal organization.
One party isn’t happy with the new employment arrangement, though: Venom. Once he realizes Lee is trying to forge an alliance with his former immoral host and Black Cat, he figures out he can control his host’s involuntary nerve responses and lodges a formal complaint with Price, forcing him to throw-up into a wastebasket in front of his new associates. Although the meeting goes well otherwise, Price admonishes his new co-dependent on the way home, but their internal dialog is interrupted by an unexpected presence. Firebug – or at least a young thug who bought the fourth-string super villain’s gear – ambushes them at Lee’s apartment, as Tombstone hired him to take revenge for the slaughtered members of his gang.
Throughout the brief struggle, Venom rails against Price’s killer instincts, but confronted with fire, it’s survival instincts kick in. Just as Price/Venom are about to end the Z-lister’s brief career, though, the FBI busts in.
The Struggle Continues
The second chapter of the latest Venom run continues the intriguing story arc began by writer Mike Costa and artist Gerardo Sandoval in Venom #1. The classic Spider-adversary has, since its very inception, been a metaphor for impulse control, mental stability, and responsibility – a counterpoint to Peter Parker’s own heroic intentions. Costa’s storyline offers a distinctive play on the schizophrenic nature of the character, giving the symbiote a true voice of its own. Watching the now altruistically-inclined Klyntar duke it out inside Price’s damaged brain offers an interesting power play. Sandoval’s well-rendered ‘out-of-body’ depictions add both depth and levity to book, especially those moments where Venom plays devil’s advocate for Price or trails alongside him acting like an angry child not getting it’s way.
While Price isn’t pure evil, as the symbiote suggests, he’s clearly cynical to the point of near-sociopathy and criminally ambitious, a curious contrast to his symbiotic companion. In addition, Venom displays a genuine sense of humor in this book, perhaps learned from his prior hosts: Rather than making Prices elbow twitch or coaxing a sneeze, the Klyntar prankster forces its host to hurl in front of his would-be boss. Humor aside, the most fascinating part of Costa’s evolving crime drama-tinged story is the battle of wills between Venom and Price, which plays well to the themes of superpowers and how easy it is to abuse them.
Venom #2 wraps up on a tantalizing cliffhanger, with an FBI agent aiming a (sonic?) bazooka at a Price/Venom, and the next issue teases a reversal of fortunes. Will the symbiote finally gain the upper hand, and if so, will its upbeat attitude keep it from succumbing to the rage and pain which still dwells between its heroic persona?
Venom #2 is currently available online and in print.