[WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Venom #1.]
Even those who aren’t, strictly speaking, major Spider-Man fans are probably well aware of a certain symbiotic creature who created some major chaos in Peter Parker’s life from the mid-80s onward: Venom. The first shapeshifting Klyntar to take the Marvel Universe, since its creation by Randy Schueller, Todd McFarlane, David Michelinie, and Mike Zeck, the gnarly alien has done its best to make Spider-Man and many others’ lives a living hell throughout the MU, the animated realm, and even Sony's cinematic version of the Spider-Verse.
In recent years, though, Venom wound up a force for good, serving alongside some of Marvel’s most iconic heroes. But after returning to Earth, the parasitic alien separated from his latest host, Flash Thompson, and is looking for a new partner. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending upon your take), Venom #1 reveals that its latest cohabitant doesn’t have the... decent motives of its former ally.
What’s Venom Been Up To?
Venom bears a history of rejection and change: After being ditched by Peter Parker, the dejected symbiote apparently found Deadpool (Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars and Back in Black), which left it mentally unbalanced. After the Merc with a Mouth, it merged with devout Spider-hater Eddie Brock and really tore things up around town (Brock had a lot of issues to work out and it showed). When he tired of dealing with the alien and its carcinogenic effects, the Klyntar conjoined with former Scorpion, Mac Gargon, logging time with the Dark Avengers. Later, though, Venom cleaned up its act.
Flash Thompson – who fans might remember as Peter Parker’s college chum nee high school foe – allied himself with the symbiotic life force, regaining the legs he lost to war and a whole lot more. Becoming Agent Venom, Thompson works alongside the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Thunderbolts, and the Secret Avengers before being assigned as a special envoy to the Guardians of the Galaxy. His time in space gave both he and the symbiote an opportunity to bond and grow, eventually even allowing him some control over it.
After returning to Earth, though, Thompson was forced to confront his old pupil. Eventually he and Venom go their separate ways, leaving the Klyntar parasite looking for love in all the wrong places.
Venom Gets a New Host and a Voice
One of the most interesting new hooks that writer Mike Costa introduces in Venom #1 (with artwork by Gerardo Sandoval) is the voice of the symbiote. Previously, fans were limited in scope to the white letters on black balloons of the conjoined twosome. For this iteration, though, Costas allows both the new host, Lee Price, and the stalwart alien codependent the chance to speak. It’s an interesting take, particularly in the way it reveals that Venom enjoyed its work as a cosmic do-gooder. Sure, the symbiote bemoans the challenges of keeping a righteous path, but it genuinely seems to prefer fighting the good fight. Price, however, doesn’t exactly share Venom's altruistic motives and has something else in mind for his new super powers.
A former Army Ranger, Lee Price is missing a couple fingers thanks to combat. Registered as disabled, he often finds himself behind on rent and waiting on his government assistance. On the verge of destitution, he's scrambling to survive when a childhood friend shoots him a message about some work. They meet up with Mac Gargan – one of Venom’s former hosts, who now works in security and for the Black Cat's gang. Lee and Tony agree to deliver some toxic gas to Tombstone’s thugs for a payout, but naturally, the deal goes bad.
At the same time, Venom, fresh from possessing a homeless drifter, manages to stumble upon the standoff. Recognizing something familiar and soldierly in Price, traits possessed by its former host, Flash, the symbiote conjoins with the down-and-out mercenary. Unfortunately, for it's sake, Price ain’t no boy scout.
Venom is a Bad Guy Once More
Character-based flashbacks and moments slowly reveal Price's difficult upbringing, including an abusive home life and a mutant friend who 'disappeared' after some suspicious events. The seeds of violence mixed with army life seem to have given him psychopathic tendencies, as indicated by his willingness to kill for personal gain. Their dynamic, heroic skin suit and cold, opportunistic human, is a far cry from the Flash Thompson days, and even a departure from early Venom years, particularly with regard to the dual perspectives.
The new Venom, classic waggling tongue and all, already seems to have its (or at least its new host's) sights set on making life a lot better, for Price anyway. After a mini-murder spree – which yes, some of the deceased were definitely bad guys – the Army vet seems to have a lockdown on the symbiote and their actions, despite its protests. The only question is, how long will Venom sit by and let a new host corrupt it back into an amoral anti-hero. More so, even if it wants to, can it regain control of the partnership?
Never Look a Gift Symbiote in the Mouth
The relaunch in Venom #1 should come as slightly controversial to fans. Some devotees of the longtime Spider-fiend weren’t thrilled by the valiant new sybiote embodied by the Flash Thompson era. Others found the its heroic turn in Venom: Space Knight and Guardians of the Galaxy a refreshing change of pace. Despite establishing a clear trend towards villainy early on, writer Mike Costa's leaves the storyline somewhat open. The Klyntar and its new host may be poised to return to the nasty ways of the past, but the symbiote could theoretically reassert itself and its valiant ways at some point.
Hopefully, Costa and Sandoval (whose artwork is a little busy at times, but overall appropriate for the gritty storyline) succeed in putting a new spin on the classic character. The Venom comic has always been a fascinating means to explore the dualistic nature of humanity, as well as how easy it is to fall into co-dependent relationships and situations where others overtake our lives, in both positive and negative ways. This dichotomy of Venom and its ‘bad guy’ host could not only flip the book's concept on its head, but offer some interesting explorations of the character and human nature, especially if they develop Price into less of a generic mercenary archetype.
Venom's restart has a lot of potential for interesting storylines and situations, including a one-symbiote rebellion, a change of heart for either character, perhaps even a superhero intervention thanks to the Klyntar's GOTG comrades. Depending upon how Marvel and Costa play it, Venom could easily become a breakout book for the latest Marvel NOW! launch.
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Venom #1 is currently available at stores and online. Venom #2 arrives December 21.