[Contains SPOILERS for Venom #4.]
Since the very first issue of the latest Venom series, Mike Costa has taken the character in a new and interesting direction. After the symbiote’s return to Earth, with then-host paraplegic veteran Flash Thompson, the former Guardians of the Galaxy member was separated from his alien skin (answer likely forthcoming). Desperate for the life-bringing sustenance of a host – Venom is is a symbiotic life form, after all – it bounces through several possible co-dependencies before finding former Army Ranger, Lee Price.
From there on out, things got a little bit dicey, as it's quickly revealed that Price is no hero (unlike Flash), and he intends to use his newfound alien powers to improve his station in life. In order to accomplish the feat, he signs up for Black Cat’s gang, seeking to make himself indispensable - at least until he can dispense with her cohorts and set himself up in the criminal underworld. Naturally, things don’t go quite according to plan. After an encounter with a low-grade villain, Venom #4 finds the titular hero coming face-to-face with the FBI.
The Man Beneath the Mask
After Lee Price’s initial excitement at being given strange new powers, everything quickly went south. The Klyntar life form, used to being a hero now, is forced to kill again, when its survival instincts kick in (symbiotes and fire don't care for one another). Forced into these illicit and dangerous situations, it's fed up with its current host, so the symbiote tried to possess a nearby FBI agent, determining that he was a lesser-evil... before the agent’s partner shot and nearly killed Price. Sticking by its heroic credo, Venom saved Lee’s life, bringing him to the merc's dead friend’s apartment — where the Feds tracked them down, offering Price a deal under gunpoint duress.
The FBI may not be S.H.I.E.L.D. or have the cutting edge gear of the Avengers, but they’re no slouches when it comes to dealing with symbiotes. Before Flash Thompson became the Venom host, the U.S. Government studied their Klyntar "guest" extensively, discovering numerous weaknesses and abilities – including its “bio-organic” memory. This allows Venom to remember things from its previous hosts, something the Bureau hopes it can use to fill in a few murky details: in specific, Spider-Man’s true identity.
Their hope is that it will give them a leg up on the superhero, and offer insights into his understanding of New York's criminal empires. Neither host nor symbiote agrees to reveal any pertinent data at this point, but Lee does see the value of feeding the Feds a little minor info here and there. That way, they can keep the FBI coming back for more, and Venom won’t be a target.
Not long after the FBI meet and greet, Black Cat calls on Lee for another job. This time around, she has something a little more basic in mind for Price – a shakedown on a Daily Bugle journalist who’s been digging into her business affairs. The symbiote is initially pleased by the “no killing” gig, but Black Cat’s right-hand man, Adams, views Price with suspicion after the previous botched hand-off left several people dead. As a result, they decide to team him up with the last person either of them wants to work with: former Venom host, Mac Gargan.
Resigned to their fate, the conjoined pair head to the reporter’s apartment. Once there, Lee finally realizes why the symbiote refers to Mac as a scorpion; because he is The Scorpion. The former Ranger tries to set up a plan of attack, but Gargan busts in without a second thought. He also has a very different idea about how things are going to play out: he’s going to kill the both men, framing the Daily Bugle writer for Price's death. Rather than whipping out Venom, Price decides to play it cool, letting Scorpion to beat him to a state near death with the symbiote padding his vital organs on the inside.
His plan works (for the most part) until Mac tries to ice the muckraker.
It's then that Venom and its honed heroic instincts kick in. To Gargan’s surprise, he finds himself in the midst of a symbiotic reunion. The surprise attack gives them an early advantage, but as a former host, Mac’s dealt with Klyntars before. He's outfitted his super-suit with a sonic weapon for just such an occasion and manages to hold his own as their skirmish begins to attract unwanted attention. At this point, it's bad enough that Gargan knows about the symbiote's return to Earth, but as the battle spills out of the apartment, one of the neighbors decides to film – and upload – their showdown.
Lee’s secret is out of the shadows and likely go viral, and Venom's presence is sure to draw some serious attention from any number of undesired parties. In fact, the next issue promises another reunion of sorts... as Spider-Man comes to tangle with his old skin.
In Venom #4, Mike Costa continues his interesting direction with the symbiote and its attempts to control its own destiny. Without a doubt, Venom carries the emotional heft of this series – especially with regard to its conflicted emotions about its new less-heroic host. At this point, Lee Price is the weakest link in the series. He may be duplicitous, but Price simply hasn’t been fully fleshed-out, although between making shifty deals and battling former hosts (which is pretty awesome), there hasn't much time for character development.
Rumors abound that Price isn’t long for the hosting world. Assuming he does remain conjoined, Costa will need to add a few more layers to him as the series moves forward. Of course, with Spider-Man about to swing into action and the Venom #150 anniversary issue on the way, things could get very interesting (and crowded) in symbiote-land.
Venom #4 is currently available online and in print.