The City of Philadelphia is home to Rocky Balboa, the famous fictional boxer that made the most of his second chances. Over the course of several successful films, the character suffered misfortunes or made mistakes, but used his strength of will and sheer determination to come back from them. Those cinematic exploits have made Rocky one of Philadelphia’s favorite fictional sons.
This November, a Marvel Comics hero takes to the streets of Philadelphia, hoping to rise above a series of misfortunes and disastrous decisions made early on in his heroic career. That character is Flash Thompson, star of Marvel’s “Venom,” who relocates to the City of Brotherly Love in “Venom” #27.1 at the hands of series writer Cullen Bunn.
Bunn spoke with CBR News about taking over as “Venom” writer, Flash Thompson’s new home, how the anti-hero’s experiences lead him to Philadelphia, the feel of the city itself and the upcoming story opportunities the new city offers.
CBR News: Cullen, before Flash can even think about moving, he’s got to survive the situation with Hellstrom and the Department of Occult Armaments in “Venom” #23, your first issue as writer. What can you tell us about this initial adventure?
Cullen Bunn: With the “Monsters of Evil” storyline, I wanted to circle back to some of the leftover plot threads from both Rick Remender’s run on “Venom” (namely “Circle of Four”) and my own contributions to “Fear Itself: The Fearless.” In “The Fearless,” Hellstrom does a heel turn, betraying everyone and joining forces with Sin, Crossbones and the D.O.A. His motivations at the time were ambiguous. In “Venom,” “Circle of Four” ended with Hellstrom noticing that Venom, Red Hulk, X-23 and Ghost Rider were marked with demonic pentagrams that only he could see. It set up a story for another day.
At the time all this was being written, I was waiting in the wings to take over “Venom” while working on “The Fearless.” Since “Circle of Four” was meant to take place before “The Fearless,” I thought the mysterious demonic marks might help explain why Hellstrom went bad. Suffice it to say, Venom has more to do with Hellstrom’s current allegiances than anyone suspects. “Monsters of Evil” sets up some significant troubles for Flash and Venom, and it serves as a launch point for a big shake-up in Marvel’s supernatural world.
We know that a lot of the turmoil Flash went through because of his experiences with the villainous Crime-Master will factor into his decision to relocate, but will the events of this current story line impact his choice as well?
Flash is pretty rattled after Crime-Master’s attack on his family. He’s treading water but sinking fast. The events of “Monsters of Evil” and “Minimum Carnage” will play a pretty significant role in his decision, though. Flash is already worried about the day the Venom symbiote begins reasserting itself, but his experiences with Carnage are only going to make that fear more poignant for him. And he’s going to find himself saddled with an even more disturbing burden.
When exactly does Flash decide to move and why does he choose Philadelphia?
Flash comes to the decision that he needs a change of pace during issue #27.1. In that issue, Flash faces the harsh reality of how his actions have impacted those around him. At the same time, he realizes he’s spinning out of control to some degree. He’s not sleeping. He’s on edge. He can see something bad on the horizon. And guilt is absolutely crushing him. He’s looking for anything to shake up his routine and help him start fresh — something he doesn’t believe he can do in New York City.
Philadelphia isn’t his first choice. He first visits the city in order to help his ally Katy Kiernan. Katy’s snooping has gotten her into a great deal of trouble. While Venom isn’t the ideal person to help her — especially not against the threat she’s facing — she doesn’t have anyone else. Venom’s foray into Philly opens his eyes to the possibility of setting up shop as a local hero. This is his chance to help people who don’t currently have a hero of their own. For various reasons, he’ll need to work behind the scenes. He can’t be a “public” hero.
Speaking editorially, why move Flash to Philly? Is it a city you and your editors are familiar with?
My editor, Tom Brennan, is pretty familiar with Philadelphia. His mom lived there and he went to college at Drexel University. He has sent me novel-length essays on Independence Hall and cheesesteaks and soft pretzels. His knowledge and love for the city is evident when we talk and he’s a great resource. Me, on the other hand, I’ve visited Philly a couple of times and I’ve done quite a bit of research. To some degree, it’s nice to discover (or rediscover) the city along with Flash.
I have, however, eaten scrapple in Philly. That should count for something, right?
I think local cuisine does indeed count! [Laughs] What kind of role will Flash play in the city of Brotherly Love? Is this just a home for him when he’s not on his international adventures, or will Flash become an adventurer more like the Scarlet Spider and serve as Philly’s protector and hero?
While Venom’s adventures will take him outside of Philadelphia from time to time, the last thing I want is for a city with so much character to become nothing more than a place to crash between adventures. Venom will most certainly be spending a great deal of time in Philly. He’ll become that city’s hero. Unlike the Scarlet Spider in Houston, though, he’ll need to be a little more secretive. He will not be a hero in the spotlight. He’ll become something of an urban legend. But he’s not the only urban legend in town. One of his greatest challenges will come from another character who is lurking in the shadows.
What else can you tell us about the initial feel of Flash’s new city in “Venom?” Will he have lots of crime to contend with? What about weirder and more fantastic situations? Does Philly have an active community of super powered heroes and villains?
Venom will deal with some mundane crime, yes, but from the get-go he’ll be tackling some pretty bizarre situations. His first experience in Philly involves the legend of the Philadelphia Experiment, and it will put him into conflict with some extremely powerful villains. Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily have a big community of villains, but that’s something that might begin to change–and it will be Venom’s presence that starts the ball rolling. When I look at the history of Flash Thompson, I realize that the guy is a huge weirdness magnet. That’s something I hope to continue to build upon.
What about the actual physical look of the city? How important is it to you and your collaborators to capture the look of Philadelphia? Should readers who are residents of the city be on the look out for actual landmarks?
Even though this is the Philadelphia of the Marvel Universe, it’s important to me that the book reflects the look and feel of the real city. I do a lot of research on the look of the city — and I don’t have the challenge of drawing it! Readers should definitely keep an eye out for landmarks.
Finally, We imagine one of the fun elements of moving a character to a new locale is the chance to introduce a new supporting cast. Can you offer up any hints or teases about the people Flash will meet when he moves to Philly? Will any of his current supporting cast still be part of his life after he moves?
Flash will be getting a day job in Philadelphia, so we’ll be meeting a new group of people he’ll be interacting with. He’ll also be meeting some new contacts and resources that will be — odd to him to say the least. In addition, some new groups will be taking shape in Philly. Some will be working with him — and some will be working against him.
Katy Kiernan will be visiting Philly quite a bit. She’ll continue to play a significant role in his adventures. Daimon Hellstrom, too, will still be involved with Venom to some degree. And you might see some others, like Valkyrie, visiting Philadelphia from time to time.
I think this move will really open the story up to a lot of possibilities. Every time I think about it, some new Philly-based story element, character, or event pops into my head. It should be an exciting time. This will be a new chapter in Venom’s life, but long-time “Venom” fans will be seeing some stuff that will really get their blood pumping.
“Venom” #27.1 hits stores in November.