When the world first met Eugene “Flash” Thompson he was ironically making life miserable for his idol, the Marvel Universe’s premier costumed hero, the Amazing Spider-Man. That’s because as a student of Midtown High Flash mercilessly tormented Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker. As the two grew older their relationship changed and even became friendly. Flash wrestled with some difficult personal demons including a fierce temper bestowed upon him by his abusive father and a bout with alcoholism. Although for the most part, he tried to be a better person and live up to the example set by his hero, Spidey.
For Flash, following Spidey’s example meant joining the army and during the Iraq War he made his idol proud by saving his entire unit when they were ambushed in Fallujah. Flash’s bravery lead to the loss of his legs, but he refused to let that loss keep him from having the life he wants. That determination coupled with a strong sense of duty led the U.S. government to select Flash as a candidate for a top secret super soldier program. Enlisting in the program gave Flash the chance to walk again and experience some of the same things his hero deals with. That’s because Flash is now the new host for Venom, the savage alien symbiote that once served as Spider-man’s living costume. Will wearing the Venom suit give Flash a way to serve his country and be a hero? Or will it bring out some of his dangerous and destructive impulses? Beginning with the debut of “Venom” #1 earlier this week, writer Rick Remender and artist Tony Moore begin to answer those questions and more. CBR News spoke with Remender about the project.
Spidey’s living costume became Venom in the late ’80s back when Remender was actively collecting Spider-Man comics. The writer remembers loving the character’s monstrous visuals, but when Remender’s editor Steve Wacker offered him the chance to write Flash Thompson’s adventures in the Venom suit he was initially unsure of what to do with the character.
“I wanted to write Venom for sure, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into the head of Flash Thompson, a character I had written off as a dumb jock. Then I read Marc Guggenheim’s story from a couple of years back where Flash lost his legs in Fallujah while trying to save his army buddies,” Remender told CBR News. “The story was inspiring and then beyond that, I talked with Steve and ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ writer Dan Slott about their ideas for the character, and between all the different angles I really began to like Flash. During those conversations I got my head around what makes him interesting. Then we put together some world rules, ways his situation is unique in regards to the symbiote, how they’d interact, his temperament, alcoholism, all of which really helped solidify my interest in Flash as the man in the suit.
“The main three rules we cooked up being that if he wears the suit for more than two days it starts to take him over, if he loses his temper the suit will take him over, and he can only wear the suit for 20 missions. The rule about controlling his temper feeds into the fact that the character was kind of an asshole at one point. He had major anger issues and is an alcoholic. Plus, he had an abusive alcoholic father. So there’s a history of temperament issues,” Remender continued. “The 20 mission limit plays interesting[ly] with the fact that he is a person of disability who lost his legs in service to his country. Now he’s being given the chance to be one of the most powerful people in the Marvel Universe. So the juxtaposition between his daily life as a person of disability and his night life as an international super spy really solidified to make it a story that I wanted to tell. Obviously the set pieces are easy because he can go anywhere. He’s an international spy and black ops agent.”
As Venom, Flash will have to deal with the always thorny issue of power and responsibility — just like his idol, Spider-Man. Those issues will be made twice as painful by the fact that he has to relinquish his powers whenever he leaves work. “He’s this guy who wants to do good and serve his country, but his relationship with Betty Brant, his girlfriend, is falling apart because he’s not around enough. It’s all the classic Spider-Man things about the cost of the responsibility,” Remender said. “Then behind it all, he goes home at night and he’s back in the wheelchair. He’s back to having trouble getting himself up and in the shower some days. Then at night he’s basically flying through the Savage Land fighting Kraven on a dinosaur.”
While Flash obviously enjoys the fact that Venom suit allows him to walk, the suit is more to him than just a pair of prosthetic legs. “The symbiote bonds with you. I don’t imagine it like a ‘chocolate coating’ I imagine it like it’s connecting to your nervous system. It’s been shown to have telepathic abilities. So when Flash isn’t wearing the suit it’s like the pain of phantom limbs only a hundred times worse, because with the Venom suit they’re super limbs. They allow him to do things like bound over buildings. You feel everything in the suit, it gets hurt, so do you, and you have to because it also leads to stakes,” Remender explained. “If you jet your symbiote fingers out to stab somebody and he grabs them and cuts them off, there needs to be a consequence to that. You need to feel it. So in order to make that work I’ve written it as if this thing connects to you. This way you can’t just have it do stuff where it can get injured and you don’t feel it. If it gets cut Flash definitely feels it.”
While Flash may now have a costume and super abilities like his idol, he ultimately still views himself as a soldier. “Flash is not the Punisher, and he’s not the members of X-Force. He is a soldier though and we will drop him into war zones where killing is going to be necessary. He’s not going to turn away from that,” Remender remarked. “That is the primary difference between him and Spider-Man. He is a soldier and he’s not taking the law into his own hands. He is sanctioned by the United States government to do what he does. He gets dropped into war zones. He’s sent on missions to infiltrate bases. While he’s on a mission, killing targets is on the table for Flash.”
Flash’s Venom missions will usually be solo ones, but he will have a support team to help prepare him for his assignments and offer up remote intelligence and logistical support. The team consists of science adviser Dr. Aaron McKenzie, mission overseer Katherine Glover, and Flash’s commanding officer General Dodge.
“General Dodge is a great character. He’s not the stereotypical general that yells at you and calls you names like ‘maggot.’ He’s highly intelligent and has the mind of a chess player. He’s got a big picture in mind, and he’s definitely moving pieces across the board in a way that won’t be clear right away, but there will be payoff down the road,” Remender said. “He was blinded at some point in his career but still managed to rise to the rank of General. That might also have been why he selected Flash, because Flash’s situation speaks to him. And he might have overlooked some aspects of Flash’s personality that are going to work against him and the project. I like that. I like that human foible, where somebody hires someone who works for the job and is seemingly a good choice in about 85 percent of the categories. They’re such a good fit for those 85 though that the other 15 are overlooked, and that feels like a human decision. General Dodge is somebody I’m enjoying quite a bit. He feels very fleshed out to me.”
Flash’s girlfriend Betty Brant will also be an important supporting player in “Venom.” “One thing that I had forgotten before I picked the job up was that Betty was married to Ned Leeds when he was the Hobgoblin. So Flash knows that her ex-husband had a double life that killed him and that sent her into chaos for years and years. It caused her to spiral into a depression and it ruined her life. So think about the consequences of that,” Remender remarked.”Your girlfriend’s ex-husband was also a costumed adventurer who died and now if you’re on a mission and things are ugly and looking bad for you, you have to think to yourself, ‘Betty is going to have a second funeral to attend for somebody with a secret life. That just might ruin her forever.’ When I started digging and putting things together with the supporting cast there were so many aspects of their history that fed into telling really meaty drama.”
Remender also knows that in recent years Betty Brant has become an intrepid and skilled reporter. Her curiosity and journalistic instincts will factor into the stories the writer is planning for “Venom.” “Betty’s role in the first ten issues will be pretty shocking I think. We’re working hard to make sure she’s not just Venom’s girlfriend. She’s not the cast member waiting in an apartment that will get upset when he doesn’t show up for a date,” Remender explained. “She’s definitely that too, but there’s more going on for her in this book.”
Spider-Man will also have an important supporting role in Remender’s initial “Venom” storyline. “In these first four issues you will see some confrontations between Venom and Spider-Man,” Remender stated. “It would be foolish not to hit that note early on because it’s been awhile since we had a big symbiote versus Spider-Man show down. This first story was structured to get us to that beat within the first four issues. So we’ll see that sooner than later.”
Spider-Man won’t be the only familiar face causing problems for “Venom” in the series’ inaugural arc. The villain of the story is an established character, whose identity will initially be a mystery. “Our first arc deals with a mysterious overlord. This character is a New York-based crime boss and their identity won’t be revealed ’til the third or fourth issue. This character is a logical choice to become a big time crime boss. His sights aren’t just set on New York. This character wants to become the crime boss of the world,” Remender explained. “He’s looking at a bigger picture than the Kingpin. So he’s an international crime lord of sorts and he’ll play a big role in this series. He’ll also then grow out of some of the other things we’re seeding to play a pretty big role in other Marvel books.”
This mysterious new crime boss will have an army of henchmen to aid him in his goals, and in the opening arc of “Venom” Flash runs afoul of one of his top enforcers, the all new Jack O’ Lantern. “I always liked the visuals of Jack O’ Lantern, but — and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone who put time or energy into Jack O’ Lantern because I haven’t read all of the character’s appearances — to me he always seemed like sort of a third rate Green Goblin style character. He was on a pogo glider and he was tossing things. So he didn’t strike me as a distinctive enough to survive in that world on his own,” Remender explained. “Tony Moore and I got on the phone and we were talking about redesigning the character. Tony had this idea for almost a ‘Hellraiser’ like suit with leather straps and buckles. It had a very Halloween sort of feel to it. So I came up with [this] angle that he’s more of a Halloween style villain now. He’s a piñata of death. He throws candies made of Antarctic Vibranium that will melt through armor and dissolve people’s faces. He’s got candy corns made of acid. He’s got Ghost grabbers; giant claw like devices that look like Ghosts that lock you down while he kills you. He’s pretty much a complete psychopath. His calling card for his assassinations is cutting open a target’s head, scooping out their brains and eyes, replacing them with a candle, and then putting the top of their head back on. When Jack O Lantern does a hit, you know it.
“I had this visual of him riding around on a broom and Tony made it work,” Remender continued. “So he rides around on this broom where the bristles are like a fiery engine. It’s got a laser scythe at the end of it so when he’s landing it pops out and sinks into you. We spent days and days on the phone trying to think of ways to make this guy cool. Then when you find out his origin story I think he’ll be solidified as an interesting character as well as an interesting villain.”
Jack O’ Lantern’s deadly Antarctic Vibranium candies are a gift from his mysterious employer who has found a huge supply of the anti-metal isotope. He then hired scientists to devise a way to weaponize it. In the opening arc of “Venom,” the mysterious mastermind begins selling these illicit weapons to terrorists, criminals and dictators.
“Our villain’s scientists have made Antarctic Vibranium bullets that can be put into plastic clips and fired from plastic assault rifles. If Antarctic Vibranium comes into contact with any other metal it goes through it like butter. So these aren’t just bullets. These are projectiles that will just keep going through anything. Say someone like Iron Man shows up. BLAM! He’s dead,” Remender explained. “If you were to take a large quantity of this stuff and spread it across the globe to dictators, warlords and super villains you would have destabilization. The U.S. government recognizes that they need to shut this down immediately.”
In “Venom” #1, in stores now, the U.S. government dispatches Flash to take out a group of terrorists armed with Antarctic Vibranium weapons. “We open our story in a war torn Eastern European nation where the bullets have been sold to a band of ethnic cleansing bad guys known as The Bright. They’re using the bullets to mow down armored UN troops and the civilian population. So in comes Venom whose armor is organic and thus the bullets cannot penetrate. So all of a sudden Venom is the guy to go up against these characters. You always want to make sure that there’s a tie-in between your threat and your hero. So he’s put in a situation where he has to try and protect civilians and find some things,” Remender said. “Jack O’ Lantern is on site filming the carnage and slaughter of the armored UN troops so they can use the footage as an infomercial to sell their bullets to other dictators. [He] is hopping around filming all of this and having a merry old time. This obviously leads to his first conflict with Venom. It will be a nice run in with some consequences that will have a lasting effect throughout the series.”
Flash’s quest to shut down the Antarctic Vibranium weapon pipeline continues in “Venom” #2 on sale April 27th. In that issue he heads to the Savage Land where he’s targeted by one of his idol’s most cunning foes, Kraven the Hunter.
“Flash heads to the Savage Land to find and shut down the facility where the Antarctic Vibranium is being harvested and Kraven has been roaming around there since the end of last year’s ‘Grim Hunt’ story in ‘Amazing Spider-Man.’ In that story he was resurrected by a mystical bonding ritual and now he can’t die unless Spider-man kills him. He sees Venom in his black costume and thinks Spider-Man has come to the Savage Land. He’s pretty wigged out on psychotropic cacti juice and crazy as shit. I love Kraven and I wanted him to be the whole, ‘The drums are beating in the background and my mother’s ghost is whispering in my ear.’ Kraven’s heavy handed faux poetic internal monologues have been a real treat to write,” Remender remarked. “Beyond that it’s not just a story about the conflict. It’s not just some random happenstance. Kraven wants to die. In order to die he needs Spider-Man to kill him. Then lo and behold the gods deliver Spider-Man to his jungle. So he sees black costume Spider-Man and he’s going after him.
“When we were putting the story together Steve Wacker had the idea to cut the first two days. So we open up in the middle of the story with Venom in rough shape. He’s being hunted by Kraven. I’ve never really done a story where we pick up in the middle like that. It was really fun and exciting,” Remender continued. “Flash has to make a lot of choices in this story that define his character. So what are his priorities? Someone like Kraven, this crazy psychopath who might be a land mine for somebody else to step on if he’s left running around, or getting his mission accomplished? Plus there are a few other twists and turns that we throw in.”
Those twists and turns will keep Flash busy and on the move throughout the first arc. “The first four issues are so jam packed with our first adventure and catching up and getting to know Flash. We don’t get to take a breather until the beginning of issue #5 where I start digging into some of what Flash’s life is like when he’s not on missions,” said Remender. “I think that when you read these first four issues in order and see what he goes through, and then when you get to the fifth issue, which is about his day-to-day life, there’s a real impact. Those scenes feel weighty and the character speaks to me. That’s always a good sign. I’ve written things in the past where that hasn’t happened and those are the things that don’t click with people.
Remender’s good gut feelings about “Venom” also stem from the fact that the series is being brought to life by his friend and longtime collaborator Tony Moore. “The book has turned out to be a pretty perfect series for Tony and me. It’s planted in the middle of the Marvel Universe. It’s a little shadowy. It’s got monsters. Venom is a monster with his long tongue and veiny muscles. That stuff is in Tony’s wheelhouse for sure. And the way Tony handles classic Spider-Man villains like Kraven and our new Jack O’ Lantern is fantastic,” Remender remarked. “It makes me very excited about them. I hope that translates to the reader as well. So it’s turned into a pretty perfect series for us. Who would have thought? I guess there’s something fun with taking these big, iconic ’90s books and trying to update them and make them pertinent and feel smart and still exciting.”
Fans of Remender’s Marvel work know that the writer is fond of crafting long term stories that are character-driven and make the most of their Marvel Universe setting. He’s currently putting together plans to do that with “Venom.”
“There are big things happening in the Spider-Man universe that Venom will play a key role in. Beyond that we have some very crazy things that I can’t even say one word about. There are potential crossovers and all sorts of incredibly big, fun things that will solidify Venom not just as [a] shadowy black ops agent, but an important player in the Marvel Universe,” Remender said. “And the 20 mission limit gives the series this great, tense, ticking clock feel. When Flash gets to the point where he has five missions left, every one of them is going to be tough. Because basically he’s going to be an addict who knows that somebody is coming in a couple weeks to take all the liquor out of the house. There’s just so much great stuff to be mined out of it. I think we’ve got 15 issues pretty well broken down at this point and there are so many big ideas that we have to cut a couple of them. ‘Venom’ will be a big, fast, fun, Marvel Universe comic that is basically a Black Ops Spider-Man series with a lot of big setpieces throughout the entire world.”
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