The first issue of Venom revolved around a narrative misdirection that played on readers’ familiarity with past incarnations of the title character, saving its reveal of the real status quo until the last third of the book. This proved to be a very effective hook, particularly for long-time fans of the character. However, doing so necessitated keeping major bits of information about the new status quo unrevealed, leaving much more integral information and motivation to be spelled out in this month’s installment. The results have potential, but are certainly a mixed bag.
Let’s start with the good: Mike Costa sets up an interesting series of hurdles for both Lee and the alien to overcome, while continuing the eternal theme of Venom being both a blessing and a curse for whomever holds the title. Lee wants power, influence, and wealth, but for their more practical applications; he’s not driven by ego, or a desire for respect. He’d rather stay in the shadows and allow more flamboyant characters like the Black Cat and the Scorpion take the heat and unwanted attention; this presents an obvious problem when your most effective weapon as a criminal also turns you into a seven-foot tall drooling space monster. His means to success undermine his goal as much as they aid it, and in his arrogance, he’s not self-aware enough to realize that. Couple this with the symbiote’s resistance to its new host, and you have a pretty solid basis for some interesting conflict.
However, the route taken to establish this status quo is unsatisfying, and occasionally conflicts its own internal logic. The most glaring issue is the explanation for why the symbiote can’t simply exert control over Lee’s body, as he has with other hosts. The reason presented is that, as a former Army Ranger, Lee received training on how to resist psychic control, and the alien costume hasn’t experienced such resistance before. Now, I completely believe that the Marvel Universe would have military training on how to overcome psychics and other superpowers in a combat situation, but if such training existed…why didn’t Flash Thompson receive it? Assuming he did, why was it something Flash had to struggle with for months, but Lee immediately shuts the alien down?
Also, as to why the alien doesn’t just leave Lee and find a new host: I’m willing to allow for the idea that it’s too weak to do so. That may or may not jive with how the alien has operated in the past, but the biology of symbiotes has been….inconsistent at best. (I can think of three times off the top of my head when the suit “permanently” bonded to Eddie Brock, for example.) A part of the creature that has been consistent, however, is its twin vulnerabilities to sound and fire. So when Venom is attacked by an assailant wielding flame, I was excited at the prospect of seeing Lee react to something that Venom couldn’t just power through. Except Venom just powers through this problem with no mention of particular difficulty, so forget that, I guess.
Even ignoring what’s been previously established in the alien’s history, Lee’s own actions contradict themselves. His stated goal is to remain under the radar, so why explicitly bring himself to the Black Cat’s attention? Why mouth off to the Scorpion? The narrative purpose is that we as readers are more familiar with those two than with Lee, and can further understand him by how he interacts with more established characters. But it should be antithetical to what Lee states he wants. Further, having him overpower the alien, match wits against Black Cat, and ridicule the Scorpion so easily feels very unearned, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The art is a bit more consistent. Gerardo Sandoval’s Venom is still a delight, and his action pieces are incredibly entertaining, reminding me a bit of Joe Madureira. In this issue, Sandoval gets to play with visualizing the alien’s mental interactions with Lee, and he finds a new way to display them based on the context of the situation. I’m particularly a fan of “tiny Venom” on a character’s shoulder; it reminds me of Baby Groot. I’m getting used to Lee’s design, although he still does strike me as much more anime-inspired than the rest of his environment. However, there are a few issues with proportions that crop up in the non-action scenes; at one point Mac Gargan’s digits each appear half the width of his face, and Black Cat’s upper arms are the width of paper towel tubes. Sandoval definitely works better with the large action pieces, but when he’s on point with those, it’s solid.
All in all, I think I’m more sold on the concept behind this book than the character the concept is being applied to, because most of my griping comes down to how Lee is being portrayed and interacting in a world of established figures. To be completely fair, I’ve accepted a bit of awkward transitioning for the sake of an entertaining status quo before, (paging Doctor Octavious; you’re needed on-site in Peter Parker’s body), and Costa has done great work for the Spider-Man books very recently, so I’m still very optimistic for the book going forward. But judging this as an individual issue, a lot of inconsistencies bogged down a great concept.