Being a hero in the Marvel Universe isn’t simply about having fantastic powers and going on exciting adventures. Sure, those things can be part of the job, but more often than not it’s about suffering and sacrifice, putting the needs of others before your own and learning to make the right — and often difficult — choices. Those are tough lessons to learn, and in “Venom” #1, writer Rick Remender began teaching that exact curriculum to the latest host of the titular alien symbiote, Peter Parker’s old high school nemesis and U.S. war hero, Eugene “Flash” Thompson.
Since then, it’s been a tough road for Flash. He’s had to battle both personal and actual demons, making some right choices and wrong ones. On August 8, Remender will offer Flash one last life lesson as he ends his run on “Venom” with issue #22. We spoke with Remender about his time on the book and what readers can expect when the title’s current co-writer, Cullen Bunn, takes over the title with issue #23.
When he was offered the chance to write the series, Remender was initially unsure what to do with Flash Thompson. However, upon taking an extended look at the soldier turned super hero, Remender realized that Flash was a man of violence who was also his own arch-enemy, not unlike alien exterminator Heath Huston, the star of Remender’s creator-owned series “Fear Agent.”
“When you’re writing these stories, you want your characters up a tree, and when they’re their own worst enemy, that’s as high as it gets on that tree,” Remender told CBR News with a laugh. “Aristotle had always said that you want your tragic hero to make some mistake that gets them into the problem. You don’t want it to be malicious or evil, but you want your characters to make mistakes that lead to their predicament. I’ve always tried to follow that rule, especially with characters like this; tragic heroes, which I think both Flash and Heath Huston definitely are.
“Both characters have suffered things in the past that led them to withdraw into a corner with a bottle,” Remender continued. “It’s a fairly common thing to happen, but the differences come down to a core thing: Flash is a broken person who was beaten and not cared for by his own father, but Heath had a great dad, and while his mom drank she didn’t beat him or abuse him. She more embarrassed him.”
While both leading man’s experiences with alcohol changed gave them different sets of issues, they also developed different relationships with alcohol. “They were both drawn to drinking, but Heath only stops a couple times, ever, and Flash is mostly sober and falls off the wagon when things get a little heavy for him,” Remender said. “While those things were similar, I wanted to honor what had gone on with Flash and who he was. His issues are more about the anger he grew up with; the rage that his father exerted and the physical beatings. Taking a physical beating from your father does things to a kid that some people may dismiss with, ‘He’s got daddy issues.’ That’s pretty easy to say if you haven’t been a kid that was beaten by your father’s fists. That seemed to me like it was different enough, and it was part of his origin. It really did fit in with the drama of wearing an alien symbiote that fed on negative emotions. I had to lean into it.”
“Amazing Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott was the one who first put Flash Thompson in the Venom suit, setting the character’s current status quo up in a back-up story in “Amazing” #654 and then #654.1 before Remender picked Flash’s story up in “Venom.” This wasn’t the first time Slott collaborated with Remender as the two writers talked and shared ideas often, especially when they were putting together last summer’s Spider-Man event storyline, “Spider Island.”
“Working with Dan was lot of fun. He has so much enthusiasm and loves the stuff so much. He is an amazing asset to have while you’re working on this stuff because he’s basically a Spider-Man historian, and his passion for the subject leads to really exciting stories. You’ll never meet anybody as passionate as Dan is when it comes to Spider-Man,” Remender remarked. “He was always very generous with story beats, too. In ‘Spider-Island,’ the Venom storyline ended up playing such an integral role that it was part of the main collected edition and inter-spliced with the main story because it played such a big role in what was going on. That’s hard to coordinate, but Dan made sure to do that so the book felt like it mattered to the larger story. It was a real pleasure working with him and my editors Steve Wacker and Tom Brennan. I had a lot of fun in the Spider Office.”
When Remender took over “Venom” with issue #1, he introduced a new take on a lesser known Spider-Man villain called the Crime-Master, who uncovered Flash’s identity and used the information to blackmail him. In issue #21, Flash had his final face-off against the current Crime-Master where he discovered the villain was actually Bennett Brant, the long lost and presumed dead brother of Flash’s girlfriend, Betty Brant. The issue climaxed with Bennett’s death, but “Venom” readers can rest assured they have not seen the last of the Crime-Master.
“Having the Crime-Master be Bennett was one of Dan Slott’s ideas. As we got to talking about what I was building with that, it sort of sat there. When I came back around to that story and started cooking it all up with my co-writer Cullen Bunn and my editor Tom Brennan, that was something they gravitated towards,” Remender explained. “So we built on it. I don’t want to give anything away, but the death of Bennett is not the end of the Crime-Master identity. Cullen has a lot of ideas that will help develop and solidify that in the future, but we wanted to hit that point and leave it for a while, so there are many questions that will be answered.”
Some of the questions raised in “Venom” #21 came up in a flashback showing readers items and elements that left them wondering who or what was the power behind the Crime-Master while raising the question of just how many people have used the identity over the years.
“The multiple Crime-Masters throughout history was Cullen’s idea. He was building off something I had in mind for a legacy for Crime-Master in order make him a little different than just a an organized crime-oriented super villain,” Remender remarked. “It was something that Cullen added in there and it really made it four-times cooler. He came up with so many ideas about how it all works and where it all goes. We workshopped it a little bit, and it’s something he’s going to play with down the road.”
The Crime-Master made Flash Thompson’s life miserable during Remender’s run, but the villain that caused him the most distress and discomfort was Crime-Master’s chief enforcer, the super assassin known as Jack O’Lantern. Like his boss, there had been Jack O’Lanterns before, but the one Flash faced off against was a more fearsome and frightening incarnation, with an expanded arsenal and a twisted modus operandi; turning the heads of his victims into Jack-O’-Lanterns.
“Artist Tony Moore and I collaborated pretty closely on the new Jack O’Lantern. We would talk on the phone and cook up ideas. When I threw out that I wanted him to ride on a broom, I can’t imagine many people making a broom as awesome as Tony did,” Remender said. “Then it came down to how you set him apart. I kind of went full-circle on that. I had a lot of different ideas on how to make him something completely unique. Then I thought it would be interesting to make him a parallel of Flash in a way.
â€¨”That always makes for the best arch-nemesis. Jack-O’-Lantern was somebody whose childhood was not just broken, but shattered,” Remender continued. “He was somebody who was obviously a sociopath that was exploited by the Crime-Master. We’ll deal with the connections between Flash and Jack-O’-Lantern in my final issue and look out how they echo one another. How Flash deals with Jack-O’-Lantern makes for a nice end of this arc. It shows him growing a little bit.”
Flash’s role as a super hero and soldier for the U.S. Government was what got him embroiled with the Crime-Master, but for reporter Betty Brant, one of the chief supporting characters in “Venom,” it was her familial connection to the costumed evil-doer and her romantic relationship with Flash that that placed her square in the middle of the situation.
“I wanted her to be this very important figure in Flash’s life, but I also wanted her to be a character that we never had time for,” Remender said. “We didn’t have time for her, and neither did Flash. She needed to be hurt by that, and Flash’s inability to be present, which he’s done before and Ned Leeds had done to her as well. Betty has had a really rough life, and I didn’t want to make that better right away. I think to make her life better, her relationship with Flash needed to end. I think with what Flash is up to and where his life is at now, it’s not fair to Betty. That relationship needed to have a pin put in it. She’s a great character, and she’s a very strong character. The great thing about putting somebody through so much is when they come out the other side. At the end of our most recent storyline, ‘Savage Six,’ she’s very wounded, but we’ve seen her get over so much more. She’s a rock.
“Since Betty is an intrepid reporter, it’s natural to compare her to DC’s Lois Lane, but I think Betty is even saltier,” Remender continued. “I always saw Betty as being even a little tougher. It’s hard to compare the two, given all that Betty’s been through with the loss of family members and her husband and having Flash in and out of her life as well as other various complications. I always saw Betty as somebody who would give you a rap to the nose if it came to it.”
While the Crime-Master and his ties to Flash and Betty were a big part of Remender’s run on “Venom,” they weren’t the sole focus of the series. In issue #13 Remender kicked off a special “Venom” mini-event that then ran through 13.1-13.4 before culminating in issue #14. “Circle of Four” teamed Flash with the new female Ghost Rider, the clone of Wolverine known as X-23 and the Red Hulk, General Thunderbolt Ross. It was co-written by Remender, Jeff Parker and Rob Williams.
“That story went through so many iterations. It started off as a reunion of the original members of the ‘New Fantastic Four’ and was something that Jason Aaron and I were working on together as a crossover between ‘Venom’ and ‘Wolverine.’ It would also involve the green Hulk and the latest incarnation of the Ghost Rider,” Remender explained. “Then, as it progressed, the editors really wanted it to incorporate all of the legacy characters. So instead of Wolverine, it’s X-23, it’s the new Ghost Rider, it’s the new Venom and it’s the new Hulk, with Venom echoing Spider-Man. That seemed to make a lot of sense.
â€¨”They’re all legacy characters, and it made sense for them to come together,” Remender continued. “I was on the phone regularly with Rob Williams, Jeff Parker and Jeanine Schaefer. At one point, editor Joy LeHeup, who was still at Marvel at the time, and Editor Sebastian Girner mentioned that Blackheart was still rumbling around out there. So we ran with it. My first instinct was that I was going to love it because I love the supernatural stuff, but I was a little afraid because there’s been a tendency where Marvel fans have been hesitant to embrace the supernatural. When we started cooking up the story where Hell was going to take over Las Vegas, that got me so excited that I figured it was worth the risk and people who are not big supernatural fans would still be able to look at guys like Tony Moore and Julian Totino Tedesco doing Las Vegas merged with Hell. We spent a few weeks on the phone beating it up and putting together the story. It was definitely a giant group effort.”
In “Circle of Four,” Venom helped save Las from the forces of Hell, a high-profile action that caught the attention of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In the aftermath of the story, Flash Thompson was welcomed into the ranks of the “Secret Avengers,” a book Remender had recently taken over.
“It was my idea that Venom join the team. At that point, he fit naturally and, given his life and where he was at, it also added a nice bit of drama. Plus, I knew the character really well at that point and I loved him and still do,” Remender said. “He’s still on the team, so I’ve still got a few more big Venom stories left to tell because of it. He’s going to play a big role in our upcoming stories.”
Venom became a Secret Avenger right as things were heating up in his solo title with Crime-Master, so Remender never had the time to show Flash Thompson, a fan of Marvel’s heroes, stopping and appreciating the fact that he’s now part of one of the Marvel U’s premier super teams.
“There hasn’t been that moment where he sits down and looks at his Avengers card and says, ‘Holy shit!’ That’s something I assume the character has gone through, but real estate-wise, there’s been so much to get to that I haven’t had that quiet moment,” Remender said. “In terms of how the story has progressed in ‘Venom’ and ‘Secret Avengers,’ I tried to make each equally important. I spent a lot of time in one issue of ‘Venom’ sewing the seeds for the relationship between Valkyrie and Flash that is coming together. I wanted to make sure that neither book felt more important than the other.”
Venom’s membership in the Secret Avengers began right around the time Cullen Bunn joined Remender as co-writer on the character’s solo series, Bunn joining the title with the plan of eventually taking over the book on his own, which he’ll do in September with issue #23. Remender didn’t want to walk away from “Venom,” but the writer feels comfortable knowing Flash Thompson is in Bunn’s capable hands.
“I still had a couple big ideas, but when opportunities like ‘Captain America’ and ‘Uncanny Avengers’ come about, which are obviously two things I’m excited about, the hard decision had to be made about where I was going to allocate my time,” Remender said. “I figured since I still have Venom over in ‘Secret Avengers,’ ‘Venom’ was the one to take the hit. I’ll miss controlling and chronicling Flash’s life, but I know Cullen’s plans and they’re great. I’m going to bounce off them, and I still have the benefit of being able to use the character and write him. So I’ve kind of got the best of both worlds.”
In Remender’s swan song arc on “Venom,” “The Savage Six,” he and Bunn gave Flash Thompson his own version of the classic Spider-Man villain team the Sinister Six. Remender has assembled new takes on classic villain teams before in books like “Uncanny X-Force” and “Secret Avengers,” finding it to be something he greatly enjoys.
“They say a hero is only as good as his villains, and Venom didn’t really have any classic villains since it’s Flash’s first time being hero. There are some villains like Carnage, but you wouldn’t think of him as Flash’s immediate arch-nemesis. A lot of what I wanted to do in ‘Venom’ was set him up with a real rogues gallery of characters who are Venom villains,” Remender said. “Stephen Wacker challenged me to use all B- and C-list guys. We had one A-List character in the form of Eddie Brock, the former Venom and now the new Toxin.
“I really enjoy taking something that existed previously and trying to make it relevant again,” Remender continued. “It’s a challenge I’m always up for. With a character like Jack-O’-Lantern, coming into this, he was basically a mercenary who came and went and never had much of an impact on anything. Hopefully coming out of this, now Jack-O’-Lantern will be a fully fleshed-out villain that people will want to play with. He’s been cemented as Flash Thompson’s arch nemesis as well as setting things up with the Savage Six. When that beat gets hit again, it will be, ‘Those are members of Venom’s Rogues Gallery.'”
In Remender’s final “Venom” issue, he’ll examine the relationship between Venom and his now arch-enemy Jack O’Lantern. “Jack-O’-Lantern got away in issue #21. He’s still out there and he waits until Father’s Day [to attack], given that he knows all about Flash’s past from their road trip in ‘Circle of Four’ as well as having kidnapped his sister and picked apart her brains. Jack knows Flash and knows how to screw with him,” Remender explained. “I wanted my last story to be a kind of final shazam between the two of them, to get to the end of my character arc with Flash and show what direction he’s growing in and who he’s becoming because of the events we put him through.
“[Artist Declan Shalvey] was a perfect choice [for my final issue,” Remender said. “I’m really glad Tom Brennan suggested using him. He and Lee Loughridge are one of the best teams I’ve seen come together in forever. Lee just went nuts with the color palette. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s like licking a nine volt battery. It’s so exciting, and all of the scenes are set with very distinct palettes. When you cut to somewhere else, it feels like you’ve gone to an entirely new place. I’m always a big fan of that. He uses the color to set tone as well as embellish the art.
“I think the dark nature of the story obviously fits what Declan does. He really sells the emotional components of the tale,” Remender continued. “For an artist who likes to use a brush and spot blacks like Declan does, with ‘Venom,’ you really get an opportunity to do a dark Spider-Man. I tried to write him a lot of scenes that really gave him the opportunity to show those chops with that stuff. There are a lot of very smooth, dynamic action scenes in there that play like storyboards, and Declan just nailed them.”
Remender has enjoyed his time on “Venom,” and now that it’s over, he looks back at his time on the book with fondness, encouraging the readers who who enjoyed it as well to stick with the title now that it’s in Cullen Bunn’s hands.
“I hope people who have heard rumblings about the character will go out and buy the first trade and give it a shot. I think people who have a preconceived notion of what the book is or who the character is when they buy and read that first trade paperback and then see the new direction and the heart that we’ve given him they tend to stick around,” Remender concluded. “I hope people will give that a shot, and knowing what Cullen Bunn has coming up and all the exciting ideas he has, I know people will want to stick around and keep reading it, because it’s just going to get better and better.”