A brand-new Venom series recently launched at Marvel with the symbiote taking on a brand new host. With the first volume out, let’s see if it delivered. Is it good?
Writer: Mike Costa
Artist: Gerardo Sandoval
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Venom is back (the Klyntar symbiote anyways) and without a host for some reason, wandering around New York looking for someone to bond with. Stumbling upon an incident with the mob, Venom finds a host and latches onto him, an ex-soldier by the name of Lee Price. However, Price may give the symbiote a hard time, especially since the living goop alien wants to stop killing and become a hero now.
The Initial Reaction
I’m not as experienced with Venom and his comic mythology as others are, so coming into this comic, I approached it as a newcomer with basic information on the character and his past. Coming from that angle, the first volume of the newest Venom series still leaves a lot to be desired. The thing about the comic is that harbors a lot of different ideas that don’t really work very well for many reasons, has a lack of strong characterization, and troublesome artwork.
The setup initially seems interesting. The symbiote, after spending time with Flash Thompson, has grown to love being a hero and wants to continue being one. Why it’s separated from Flash isn’t touched upon in this volume, but either way, the Klyntar latches onto Lee Price, who is about to be killed in a mob operation. However, this host is far more vicious than he seems and the symbiote eventually wants to separate from him, but can’t due to the guy’s control. It’s an interesting twist with symbiote wanting to be good and the person it’s attached to being bad, but unfortunately, the story doesn’t do anything with it outside of Venom constantly nagging the guy to change his ways before the ending. Even worse is that doesn’t even feel like the main focus… if there is any focus to the story that is.
Instead of a shoulder angel, in rare cases, people sometimes have a shoulder Venom.
One of the detriments to Venom Vol. 1 is that it’s chaotic. There’s no downtime at all with very little story focus, since the plot always feels like it is on the move. The first issue focuses on introducing Lee and Venom, the next issue is about Lee staying under the radar and getting connections, but then FBI gets involved, then assassins and Scorpion come in, then there’s Spider-Man who appears later on, but after that Lee changes his mind on what he wants to do, and, yeah, you get the idea. There’s way too much going on in this comic with way too many characters, too many plotlines that go nowhere or are abruptly ended, and a conclusion that just falls apart. Heck, we never even find out what happened to Flash or why the symbiote was by itself in the beginning. The whole story has barely any focus and spends very little time developing anything, making it difficult to get invested in what is going on in the story at all.
Writer Mike Costa at least sets up the symbiote’s story in a way that gives it some history. We see flashes of Venom’s time with other hosts and Costa specifically talks about how it misses being with Flash, which helps sell the idea of it wanting to be a hero again. Some more insight into why Flash and the symbiote were separated would’ve been nice (did something happen in the last series?). Also, Venom really doesn’t get to do much else besides complain and yell at Price about him doing evil and not wanting to do evil itself over and over. Due to Price somehow always overpowering it through sheer willpower, there’s not much else to the symbiote besides that character beat. Then when we get to the end, all of that character development is seemingly tossed out of the window in just an instant. It feels like the writer just did a massive U-turn and smacked straight into a brick wall with how forced and regressive the move was.
For new readers and old fans, I don’t see this last-minute change as a good move at all. Which brings us to Lee Price himself, a brand-new character as far as I am aware for this story, and he’s the opposite of the Venom symbiote. He’s not particularly interesting, just a dark, brooding, and vicious evil character with not a lot going for him. He tries to be smart and use his new powers for his own gain, keeping them under wraps, but that goes south due to how forceful and awkward the plot is, resulting in him constantly changing his goals and not really getting to evolve. He stays the same from beginning to end and he’s shoved out of the story in the final issue for the book. I’m not sure if this is just because Costa had him as a decoy protagonist or plans changed, but Price didn’t make for a compelling character. It’s a shame since there were ways that Costa could have gone with the character to make him interesting — for instance, exploring Price’s life after the military. The writer almost seems like he’s setting up for some commentary on the state of affairs regarding veterans with how Price is so down on his luck, disabled but not disabled enough to get anything from the military or be hired for any job, and living in terrible conditions. However, that goes nowhere and he’s just a terrible person. A second idea would have been to have Venom as a positive influence, making Lee more passive and more willing to be good, which would be the complete opposite of how Venom influenced Peter back in the day. Even if the character wasn’t great, there could been routes to go with him to make something.
He was totally cooler than you… why am I settling for less again?
The rest of the cast isn’t much to write home about either. There are no personal relationships or others to help ground Price and make him human (since he killed all of them), so there’s no emotional center here. Spider-Man appears, but only towards the end and it really doesn’t amount to much outside of a forced moment to get Venom hating him again. Eddie Brock returns, but from what I heard and researched, his appearance here feels like it’s going against his own character development and for newcomers, his appearance and presence is underwhelming and means very little. Mac Gargan, former Venom in the past, is here and he’s kind of interesting as he tries to piece everything together about what is going on. However, he just disappears from the plot after a while, after having really done nothing and making no impact on anything (should of explored his time as Venom). Black Cat is here too and she’s utterly forgettable in the role of crime boss. Frankly, that matches with her other appearances over the past few years as this generic, insert-crime-boss-here character ever since being made evil, so there’s that. All of the new characters amount to nothing since they barely no real form of personality or development, just kind of swept under the rug with no conclusion to their stories.
There are other small problems that keep building up as well over these six issues. The endings to several of the issues lack impact or any power since we don’t know the characters or they are just out of nowhere. The story is not furthered by the characters’ actions or developments, but by the invisible hand of the writer due to how arbitrary things get, like Firebug popping up and blowing Lee’s cover. There are awkward cuts in the writing and pacing, while any attempts at character development for Price are quickly quashed before being fully explored. Worst is, like mentioned, several plot points and character arcs are just ended abruptly by the end of the fifth issue, since nothing before issue six is ever mentioned again. I almost hate to say it, but it doesn’t feel like Mike Costa had the heart or passion when writing this opening arc.
The artwork is drawn, for the most part, by Gerardo Sandoval and his work is a mixed bag. Praise-wise, Sandoval does a fantastic job at drawing Venom, symbiote-related stuff, and some layouts. Sandoval’s style is very inhuman and monstrous-looking, making things bigger and oddly more muscular than they would normally be. The style does well with depicting Venom, who has a pretty nifty, wild design when with Price. There are some rather nice-looking layouts, especially with the first big double-page spread used to depict Venom and Price’s lives. However, the style doesn’t really translate well in other places. Every guy looks stocky, over-muscled to a ridiculous degree, and has hands bigger than their heads, making them appear as if they came right out of the 90’s. There are a few copy & paste panels from time to time and the action is incredibly stilted, with no sense of movement or energy to it. The presentation is not helped by Dono Sanchez-Almara’s rather drab and ugly colors, making everything look like it has a brown or grimy filter over it. There are two times where guest artists lend their skills to drawing the book as well and it’s fifty-fifty. With one, you can tell instantly when the art shifts to a new style (one that is a bit more expressive and lively) and the other where you really can’t tell a thing from just looking at it. In the end, the art leaves a lot to be desired.
Exposition: Part of your complete, balanced comic diet!
Is It Good?
Venom Vol. 1: Homecoming is a comic that never quite lives up to its potential. Whether it’s because of the writer or a higher up, the newest Venom series feels underwritten and more underdeveloped than it should. There’s rushed writing, underdeveloped characters, spotty artwork, and a status quo reset that feels forced instead of organic. There’s no good hook to keep newcomers interested and older fans will not take to how their favorite characters are presented. It’s a book that should appeal to a lot, but unfortunately misses the mark.