REVIEW: Venom #20

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Venom #20 is halfway through the Savage Six arc, as Venom fights his way through a bevy of ne’er-do-wells to protect his friends and family. In the face of the murderous Crime Master and the Savage Six, does Flash Thompson have a chance without succumbing utterly to his (and his symbiote’s) darkest desires?

VENOM #20
Writers: Cullen Bunn & Rick Remender
Pencils: Lan Medina & Robert Atkins
Inks: Nelson Decastro & Rick Ketcham
Colors: Chris Sotomayor
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Michael Del Mundo
Editor: Tom Brennan
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99

Previously, in Venom: Spider-Man’s buddy Flash Thompson has gone through some changes. After losing his legs in combat, Flash accepted the government’s offer of service as a secret agent, utilizing the unique powers of the Venom symbiote to carry out black ops missions. Unfortunately, on one such mission, Flash got involved with the nefarious Crime Master, who blackmailed Flash and threatened his family. Finally, things have come to a head as Flash tries to finish his business with the Crime Master and his cronies once and for all.

“PART OF A BIGGER PLAN”

Venom #20 is the midway point in the Savage Six arc, an arc which is the culmination of all Rick Remender’s work on Flash Thompson. Remender’s been putting Flash through the wringer, stripping him of almost everything of value in his life, and in the process crafting one of Marvel’s best character studies in ages. It reminds me of Remender’s superb work on Uncanny X-Force through the Dark Angel arc, as everything comes to a head, incorporating all the framework laid down before. But where Uncanny X-Force was an epic saga about teamwork between outcasts amidst the Marvel multiverse, Venom is focused, as one man’s self-destructs while fully aware of what is happening. This issue itself is a master class in pacing, as Venom moves from villain to villain, trying to track down his kidnapped mother. Each scene finds Flash moving closer (or perhaps crossing over entirely) to the dark side, even as Remender plays with audience expectations during the scene transitions. The action is intense and powerful, with a palpable sense of danger lurking for Flash’s loved ones.

Venom has always been an antihero, but this isn’t just another brooding, hard-edged killer. Flash genuinely regrets the violence he commits, even as circumstances force him to become even more brutal. This issue especially traffics in some very dark material, and Remender is able to give it moral weight, rather than just indulging in darkness for darkness’s sake. It is hard to tread that line, but Remender does so with aplomb.

THAT SUIT!

This book seems to have the art being done by committee, but thankfully, it is impossible to tell on the pages within. Everything looks smooth and coherent. I am not sure if this is a case of a new art crew working with the old (as is occurring with the writers), but it all looks great. The action is dynamic and clear, the backgrounds detailed, the faces emotive. My favorite is the work on the Venom suit – it looks hefty and functional, like armor, but the artists never lose the fact that it is also a living organism. Joe Caramagna’s lettering also deserves some mention. In the digital era, lettering has lost some its luster, even as it is one of the subtler aspects of comic art. The way Caramagna alters fonts to evoke the influence of the Venom symbiote on Flash’s internal monologue adds a lot to the story, and when he emphasizes certain words during the fight scenes, it produces that much more punch.

FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS

Venom #20 is not an appropriate jumping on point if you have not been following Flash Thompson’s adventures up until now. But it is a testament to the groundwork Rick Remender has laid out for the character, and as good a reason as any to catch up on this great series.  This is a series that rewards loyalty, and most issues have matched the quality of #20. I appreciate Marvel having Cullen Bunn co-write this book. Remender is about to leave the series for a higher profile gig on Uncanny Avengers, and I like the idea of apprenticing the new writer to the old one. Seems like a good idea. In any event, this is superhero comics done right – action-packed, character-driven with moral choices that feel like they have real meaning. Venom #20 proudly earns four-and-a-half out of five stars. Check it out.

Rating: ★★★★½