There’s a monster at the end of this book.
And that’s all I can tell you, because like the Golden Book that line comes from, if you know the narrative twist the author is using before you read the book, you’ll be robbed the enjoyment of discovering it for yourself. It should be noted, however, that you don’t find anything as comfortable as loveable furry ol’ Grover at the end of Venom #1, but a tense new status quo for the alien costume that goes in a direction I’ve not seen Venom go before.
And Venom’s gone in a myriad of directions over the years, hasn’t he? Although the original David Michelinie stories pitting Eddie Brock against Spider-Man were blockbuster successes for the Spidey titles at the time, the conflicts did become a bit formulaic towards the end of their feud. Spinning Venom off as the “Lethal Protector” was the next direction for the character, but as his title bounced from writer to writer, he bounced from status quo to status quo, never quite developing much of a mythos beyond what he’d already had in the Spidey books. He languished for a while after his series ended, and with the exception of the truly odd run by Daniel Way in 2003, was a relatively minor fixture in the greater Marvel Universe.
Switching hosts proved to be a shot in the arm for the slimey symbiote, and while the Mac Gargan version of the character was quickly swallowed into ensemble books like Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers, (appropriately enough, being the wise-ass of his teams, if a bit of a darker comedian than his heroic counterpart), Flash Thompson provided the character with his first chance to shine in over a decade. The symbiote was a physical manifestation of Thompson’s metaphorical demons, providing power and anger that could be harnessed for good, but just as easily consume him. The conflicting nature of their relationship gave every issue an underlying tension, and a vital hook for the character was lost when then they actually began to work in harmony.
Mike Costa clearly felt the same, and has created a new status quo to inject that unpredictability back into the character, starting with a new host. Unlike Thompson or Gargan, (the latter of whom is in this book, although it’s too early to tell if this appearance will be just a cameo or a more substantial role), the new host, a man known only as Lee, is a new creation, giving Costa a much freer hand going forward. To talk more about Lee would be to give the game away, but suffice it to say, his inevitable transformation at the end of the book is certainly worth the wait.
Speaking of that transformation, artist Gerardo Sandoval redesigns Venom slightly, taking cues from the immediately preceding Space Knight incarnation, (particularly the white stripes along the arms), and incorporating them into a monstrous form that draws the original hulking Eddie Brock form to mind, while still remaining unique. That’s not to say that I don’t have any issues with Sandoval’s design work, however; his “empty” symbiote doesn’t look like a flat or liquid alien so much as a really skinny Venom, and Lee looks like he just stepped out of an episode of “Trigun”. Dude has a bad case of anime hair, is what I’m getting at. What’s particularly strange is that the other incidental characters don’t share this trait, which makes Lee the odd one out. It’s not necessarily a bad design, but it doesn’t blend with the rest of the world Sandoval creates.
However, those are just nitpicks in the overall reading experience. It’s been a long while since I was this excited to get the second issue of a comic, and even longer since I was this taken in by a book’s twist. I’ve not yet seen enough to predict where this new book could go or what potential the new direction has, (the nature of the conflict seems much more volatile and unstable than when Flash Thompson first received the suit), but as an opening salvo, Costa certainly has my attention.
Oh, and by way, it’s been over a decade since Eddie Brock was Venom. Feel old yet?
Mike Costa plays with readers' expectations in the new Venom series. The set-up is intriguing, and you'll be left wanting more.