In comic nerd parlance, a “legacy character” is one whose alter ego has been shared by multiple individuals. Naturally, when you have such a character, there are certain conflicts that writers can use to highlight the strengths and flaws of a particular incarnation; a sure-fire crowd pleaser is to set the current incarnation of the character into combat with one of their predecessors. Both Flash Thompson and Mac Gargan threw down with Eddie Brock, and in this issue, Lee Price is finally getting his own showdown with the last villainous Venom.
Last issue, I reveled in Lee’s hubris and cruelty to the symbiote turning around to bite him, and while that downward spiral accelerates this issue, I’ve softened on his plight, if only slightly. Part of this is due to his dawning realization of how screwed he is, between the federal agents parading him in front of the Baxter Building, or the Black Cat’s distrust of him making every job he takes a potential trap waiting to go off. Mike Costa does a good job of making you feel bad for this sociopathic creep as his arrogance is chipped away; he may be trapped in a Hell of his own making, but you do feel for the guy.
Granted, the other big factor that leads me to go a little easier on Lee is that he goes a little easier on the alien. The past three issues have shown him browbeat and belittle the costume to a level that would have been uncomfortable enough to watch when it was a silent empathic blob; to see it deal with such abuse now that it’s an active and vocal character is even more jarring. Then again, that bit of the status quo is in question now as well: the alien is notably less verbose than it’s been since this series began, and even Lee notices that it seems to be acting less advanced and articulate than before.
Although that may be sowing the seeds of a future plot development, it’s actually completely in keeping with the symbiote’s history. The alien costume has always been at its chattiest when separated from a host for an extended period of time, as seen in Paul Jenkins’, Mark Millar’s, or Robbie Thompson’s take on the character. Granted, this is a function of storytelling utility as much as anything else; if Eddie or Flash aren’t there to tell us what the suit is feeling, it has to do so itself. Still, if it’s presented as an aspect of symbiote biology, that the creature loses its agency the longer it stays bonded to one host, it makes the nightmare of being trapped in a union with Lee even more disturbing.
With that creepy possibility on the table, it was very rewarding to finally see the costume literally stand up and assert itself against the Scorpion at the end of the issue. That triumphant moment was only enhanced when contrasted against Lee’s best response to the situation, which was to literally play dead. And then that triumphant moment was immediately undercut because of course Gargan had suspected the alien’s involvement for the past two issues, and came prepared. A face full of sonic vibrations can’t be good for the plucky black goo, but at least it tried.
It’s interesting to note that neither Gargan nor the alien seems to feel any great emotion towards each other outside of what is pertinent to their immediate conflict. Oddly, this doesn’t feel out of character for either. Not every host can be as meaningful as an Eddie Brock or Flash Thompson, and it wasn’t as if losing the symbiote slowed Gargan’s roll any. If the symbiote had been able to handle its breakup with Peter Parker as well as this, its life probably would have been much easier.
Gerardo Sandoval shares art duties with Juanan Ramirez this issue, and their styles compliment each other well. There’s never a moment I confuse one for the other, but there’s also never a moment where the shift between them takes me out of the story. I’m also incredibly pleased that Sandoval made the decision to return to Stefano Caselli’s design for the Scorpion’s armor. There seems to be a new Scorpion armor every time the character appears, but that’s definitely been my favorite incarnation. I also appreciate the slight tweaks Sandoval made; while Caselli’s Scorpion was built like a tank, Sandoval concentrates the mass into the claws and shoulders, while slimming the rest of the silhouette. It makes him look powerful, but also lithe and ready to strike with the speed of…well, a scorpion.
Seriously, I want a toy of this design. Get on it, Hasbro.
Ultimately, this issue actually exceeded my expectations by continuing its positive development from last month, but also making me actually care about Lee Price when I’d all but written him off as completely unlikable. Sure, guy’s still an ass, but he’s no longer an ass I want to see impaled on a bionic scorpion stinger, so progress has definitely been made. Stan Lee tried to warn you, Venom. “Whatever you do, wherever you go, never step on a Scorpion!” Maybe you should have listened.