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Venom #154 – REVIEW

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It would be fair to say that my favorite issues of this new Venom run have been those that have played with the traditional narrative and approached the characters from an unexpected angle. The first issue switched our expectations of morality on their head, presenting the alien as the victim at the end of its rope with the human Lee Price being the soulless monster. Venom #150 seemed poised to give us bombast and over-the-top action, but instead delivered a dark, personal, and introspective story that set the tone for Venom’s relationship going forward.

So, when I read the solicitations for this month’s story, told from the symbiote’s point of view, I was immediately intrigued. And after the last story arc fizzled out, I was at the very least looking forward to a change of pace. Does the issue live up to its promise?

The first thing I should advise is that Marvel’s marketing may have over-hyped this a wee bit when they called it “A FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND TALE TOLD IN THE MIGHTY MARVEL MANNER!!” (Emphasis and capitalization entirely theirs.) The twist to this issue is that rather than Eddie driving the story’s events, the alien costume is our point-of-view character. We get to see what the vicious phantom blot gets up to when Eddie isn’t in the driver’s seat, and its narration holds the story together.

And here’s where the marketing doesn’t match what’s presented: this isn’t new to this volume of Venom. In fact, one of the most unique parts of this run is that the alien is treated as a character with agency in its own right, with its own opinions and conflicting agendas from some of its human hosts. If you’re expecting something hugely unique and, for lack of a better term, alien in this issue’s narrative, you’ll be disappointed. Having said that, that mistake lies with Marvel marketing and not the book itself.

What’s actually presented in the book is interesting, if not earth-shattering. The alien gives its own opinions on recent results, and if I had to find a point of contention with the story, it’s here. In its internal monologues, the costume mostly affirms what it had already said to Eddie Brock and Lee Price in earlier issues. The revelation that the alien was being completely honest with its hosts is a bit anti-climactic, particularly since the toxic relationship aspect of the character has been so emphasized under Costa’s pen.

That’s not to say the alien has been entirely forthcoming; it still subtly manipulates Brock’s behavior and takes his body for joy rides while he sleeps. However, the audience already knew these types of excursions were happening, and to a much more shocking degree; the alien almost murdered Eddie’s priest a few issues earlier. That thread does come back into play in an unexpected fashion: in my favorite sequence in the book, the costume actually apologizes to its former victim, and tries to understand religious concepts of goodness and forgiveness. It’s pretty obvious that the gospel falls on deaf ears, but I’m genuinely curious to see what lessons the symbiote mis-learns from the encounter.

The story is interspaced with the alien reflecting on its pasts hosts, and while it mostly tracks with what we’ve already heard it opine on prior to this issue, there is an amusing aspect to its reflections on Mac Gargan. I’ve noted in the past that the Venom symbiote has been written so wildly different from writer to writer that I’m only going to ask that Costa be consistent with himself; nothing better exemplifies this point than Gargan’s history with the creature. So, right now the story is that Gargan’s psychosis brought out the worst in the alien, which in turn brought out the worst in Gargan, making them a savage monster. Even the bitter scorned ex, the costume blames all their relationship problems on the other partner.

Of course, that’s not what was presented in the Gargan/Venom stories as they unfolded, but these original tales couldn’t decide on a characterization for the costume either. The suit is both vicious and eager to join Gargan in Mark Millar’s initial story which fused the two; in Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts storyline, which established how monstrous the new Venom had become, the alien is threatening and psychologically abusing Gargan until Mac finally snaps. Granted, it’s left ambiguous how much of that was real and how much was a result of psychic tampering the entire Thunderbolt team was experiencing at the time, but the point remains: two successive writers using the character can’t agree on how Venom works. I’m not about to hold Mike Costa at fault for choosing an interpretation that serves the story he wants to tell.

Guest-artist Paulo Siqueira provides the interiors this month, and he unfortunately doesn’t fare as well as our last guest artist. This story, told from the perspective of a semi-solid parasitic alien, would have really been better served by a unique artistic style to establish a sense of otherness or horror. Siqueira provides completely average, if serviceable, work, but with some absolutely bland examples of page composition. There shouldn’t be so much white negative space in a book about Venom, particularly following months of tone established by Gerardo Sandoval’s heavy shadows.

This story is certainly a welcome change of pace following the underwhelming “Land Before Crime” arc, but it doesn’t take full advantage of the concept; additionally, the script isn’t served well at all by its artwork. Even with those limitations in mind, this issue still represents a welcome change in direction for the book, and sets it up well to return to its old numbering as part of Marvel Legacy.

Wait, we already did the renumbering thing.

Huh.

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