Growing up in the Marvel Universe means you have plenty of heroes to idealize and emulate. For Flash Thompson, it’s always been Spider-Man. Thompson has idolized the web-slinger ever since high school where, unbeknownst to him, he made life miserable for Spidey’s alter-ego, his fellow classmate Peter Parker. It’s safe to assume that over the years Flash wished for a life like Spidey’s on several occasions.
These days Flash is starting to understand the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for” because, like his idol Spidey, he now has a super powered costumed alter ego — and all the complications that come with it. Flash stars as the titular hero of Marvel’s “Venom” series by writer Rick Remender and artists Tony Moore and Tom Fowler, which chronicles his adventures as host for the alien symbiote and super powered government agent.
In the current arc of the series, which concludes with tomorrow’s “Venom” #4, Flash’s costumed and personal lives are colliding with explosive results. Things won’t get any simpler for Flash when this arc ends, because he’ll soon find himself drawn into the chaos of the upcoming Spider-Man event, “Spider-Island.” CBR News spoke with Remender about his current and future plans for “Venom.”
In “Venom” #1 Remender and artist Tony Moore began a storyline where Flash Thompson was tasked with shutting down the arms supply of an enigmatic criminal mastermind who discovered a way to make bullets out of Antarctic Vibranium, an isotope capable of penetrating and destroying any metal, but things went south for Flash in a hurry. His adversary discovered his identity and kidnapped his girlfriend, Betty Brant. He then forced Flash to ensure the safety of his latest batch of Antarctic Vibranium. At the end of “Venom” #3, Flash had the opportunity to save Betty and blew it when the symbiote took control of his suit and forced him into a fight with Spider-Man. On the final page of the issue, Flash’s commanding officer, General Dodge, makes the decision to activate the fail safe implanted in the Venom suit, which was designed kill Flash and shut the symbiote down.
“It sure looks like the status of this mission is F.U.B.A.R., doesn’t it? I had a few conversations with some people that feel I pulled the trigger too early on some of the big beats with everything going so bad for Flash so quickly. I’m outlined up to about #25 though, and I had a wealth of ideas for this series. For me that stuff was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I wanted to do and it leads into more character-driven stuff in the next arc,” Remender told CBR News. “In screenplay terms #3 was the end of act two and I like having so many complications at this point that things seem insurmountable and that there is no solution. Because the fun is seeing how your characters get out of all of that.
“The challenge of this arc for me was to establish Flash and the new Venom and also hit on who the symbiote is. Because the symbiote is also this black gooey alien that feeds on negative emotions and the psychic energy of its host, it holds a grudge. So Spider-Man comes around and things get complicated,” Remender continued. “Then all of a sudden it’s a classic Spider-Man versus Venom fight with Flash inside the suit and struggling to get control over it so he can deal with his real mission against Crime-Master and Jack O’ Lantern. Then of course you have Dodge and everybody back at base ready to blow him up believing that he’s out of control. I like complications.”
The new Jack O’ Lantern is the chief assassin of the man behind the Antarctic Vibranium pipeline and made his debut in #1. In “Venom” #3 Remender revealed that the pipeline mastermind is the latest criminal to adopt the identity of the Crime-Master; a villainous legacy that dates back to the first Crime-Master’s appearance in 1965’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #26.
“We’re going to keep the true identity of the new Crime-Master a mystery for awhile. It does involve classic Lee-Ditko Spider-Man lore though,” Remender explained. “[Amazing Spider-Man writer] Dan Slott and I were discussing which characters would be great to dust off and bring back into the Spidey-verse and Crime-Master is the only guy from that era who didn’t really make it out. So for me that was a hell of an opportunity to take a classic Lee-Ditko villain and to try and make him pertinent. I also wanted to pair him with Jack O’ Lantern, who is a Marvel villain from another era that I always thought was really cool, but I never really felt there had been a perfect version of him done. Not that I’m saying my version is perfect, but the idea was that there are two really cool villains out there that needed to be fixed up and dusted off.”
Bringing a character like Crime-Master back into the Spider-Man universe can be a little difficult, because it’s already home to another character who views himself as a master of crime, Wilson Fisk AKA the Kingpin of Crime. “Crime-Master is an incredibly formidable opponent, but he’s not out to take over the Kingpin’s job. Every time we see a character like The Rose show up they’re trying to take over the Kingpin’s job. You know Kingpin isn’t going to be overthrown by someone like the Rose. I guess that did happen for a little bit in the ’80s, but for the most part I wanted to give Crime-Master a different set of motives. He’s more global thinking,” Remender stated. “I like that there’s not a lot of thought that went into the branding. He decides, ‘I’m Crime-Master!’ He has delusions of grandeur to call himself that and he does view himself as the Crime-Master of the World, not just of New York. So he’s dealing in weapons and other large scale transactions of that nature.”
Crime-Master and his global network are part of Remender’s long term plans for “Venom” and will return to plague Flash Thompson in future arcs. “Everything just came together and felt right with this character. I even liked the cheesy aspect of his name, so I named his henchmen the Henchmen,” Remender said. “We’ve got some really cool things coming up and who Crime-Master is and what he wants ties into our larger story.”
Crime-Master’s machinations have resulted in Flash being forced to face a foe he never expected or wanted to fight, his idol, the Amazing Spider-Man. “A big part of #4 is that Flash is now trapped inside a rampaging suit of gooey armor that’s basically killing the guy who inspired him to become a soldier in the first place,” Remender said. “There’s a lot to be had there as well. Plus, thanks to Crime-Master and Jack O’ Lantern, Betty is strapped to a ticking time bomb that’s moments away from going off. Then of course Flash has his own bomb implanted in him by the army. There’s a lot on Flash’s mind at the beginning of #4.”
Spider-Man and Betty Brant will also play large roles in “Venom” #5 which serves as a prelude of sorts to the series’ “Spider-Island” tie-in arc. “We have a couple of interesting situations coming up. There’s Flash inside the suit when he’s out of control and fighting Spider-Man and then there’s Flash dealing with the repercussions of their encounter, which are nuanced. Then we have Flash dealing with Peter Parker in a civilian setting and that really drives home the kind of potential this series has,” Remender remarked. “When you see Peter and Flash together dealing with the repercussions of what goes on in #4 it’s classic Spider-Man stuff because somebody close to Peter is now basically Venom. That’s a story development that has a lot of meat on the bone.
“Then you of course have Betty, and when Jack O’ Lantern kidnapped her he dropped Flash’s name. So the relationship between Flash and Betty is going to be tumultuous going forward, but it’s not going to be treated lightly. Flash is an addict and he’s not drinking, but he is bonded to something that tends to make non addicts addicted,” Remender continued. “So you’ve got somebody with an addictive personality who deals with dependency issues and when he wears this suit he becomes one of the most powerful people on the planet. So there’s going to be some consequences in terms of his personal life and what he’s up to. The role that Betty plays in that is obviously going to be a large one coming up.”
Flash’s father is another character that will figure prominently in upcoming issues of “Venom.”Flash’s father comes back into his life in a big way with #5 and he’s going to be an important part of Flash’s story. When I was getting caught up on Flash an important part of his character was that this kid was out there being a bully and picking on Peter Parker and smaller kids because back home he was being beaten by his drunken dad. It became cliche in the ’80s, but it’s not a cliche to me. It’s a real thing that I think needs to be handled with care and addressed in a way where it’s responsible,” Remender said. “I’ve had some personal dealings with some similar situations so it struck as something that A) fed into the symbiote situation very well. And B) really helped define Flash as a character and his rage issues. That rage is passed down from generation to generation unless somebody stops it. So Flash has basically inherited his father’s rage and his desire to medicate through alcohol. What we’ve seen recently in some issues of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ is that Flash’s dad has stopped drinking and they’re relationship is starting to get patched up. Going into #5 some things are going to change.”
In August, Remender kicks off the “Venom” tie-in arc to “Spider-Island.” The writer welcomed the chance to be part of the epic Spider-Man event, but he wanted to make sure that the story he told was driven by and focused on his cast of characters.
“For me the trick about ‘Spider-Island’ or any of these big events and crossovers is figuring out what the context is for your character. If you’re character has to do something like save a building from a giant threat then I don’t really give a damn, you’ve lost me. But if it’s the classic Stan Lee, ‘I’ve got to go save that building, but across town my Aunt May is sick in a hospital and she might die before I get to say my final words to her’ then you’ve got something interesting. The context should have heart and deal with your character, while the conflict should just be something that’s in your character’s way,” Remender said. “It’s great because all of the stuff I wanted to do fit into ‘Spider-Island’ and Dan Slott, [editor] Steve Wacker and I all worked together to make sure it played a large role in the story. I think ‘Venom’ plays the second biggest role in the ‘Spider-Island’ event in terms of moving the story forward, but at the same time all of the things I wanted to do with Flash personally, like dealing with some of the supporting cast, fit perfectly within the story. So I’m really excited about what’s coming up with ‘Spider-Island.'”
In Venom #6, Flash’s personal problems start to boil over right as the government drops him into the chaos that is Manhattan during “Spider-Island.” “He’s one of the only government agents on the scene, but he’s working for a very well connected project lead by General Dodge who is in direct contact with people like Reed Richards, so Flash gets a lot of interesting assignments. As he’s getting these interesting assignments there are things going on in his personal life that he has to try and see to across town and family members that are in danger, so there’s a ton of complications to be had there as well. For me, the focus of #6 was not only to tell a big piece of the ‘Spider-Island’ story, but to again focus on Flash and his cast. In the issue we spotlight General Dodge, Katherine and Aaron, the three supporting cast members at Project Rebirth as the ramifications of ‘Spider-Island’ spill over into their world.”
The symbiote’s past comes back to haunt Flash in “Venom” #7, where he’ll be confronted by its former host, Eddie Brock AKA Anti-Venom. “In the Venom versus Anti-Venom face off Eddie Brock just tears Flash down. Eddie, who had worn the Venom suit for so long, sees it as the black demon from hell come to Earth,” Remender remarked. “We really do get a chance to explore the psychology behind wearing the symbiote. ‘Spider-Island’ is more than just fisticuffs.”
Anti-Venom won’t be the only adversary making life miserable for Flash during the “Spider-Island” tie-in arc. “There are a lot of mutations and things going on and people might not be who they seem to be. So by the end of #6 there is a huge reveal. #7 is all Anti-Venom so that’s pretty big. Flash’s confrontation with Anti-Venom plays a huge role in the overall story,” Remender explained. “Then that leads off into #8 where we get an even bigger adversary who I can’t mention and a team up between Flash and another big A-List Marvel hero who is also somewhat of a hero to him.”
The first two issues of “Venom” featured art by Remender’s friend and “Fear Agent” collaborator Tony Moore, with Tom Fowler (“Mysterius,” “Deadpool Team-Up”) stepping in for #3. Moore returns to art duties with #4 and then Fowler will rotate with and assist Moore with the book’s art duties for the next five issues. “Tom is terrific. I could work with him forever,” Remender remarked. “He did a great job and when you see what he’s done in #5, it’s like Eisner and Mazzuccheli. It’s beautiful work.”
“Spider-Island” will be a big story for Flash Thompson, and once “Venom” wraps its tie-in arc, the character’s presence in the Marvel Universe will continue to grow larger. “After our ‘Spider-Island’ tie-in arc we have a character arc for Flash that people won’t see coming. There will be a lot of speculation by #8 or #9. Fortunately it’s all going to be wrong. That’s the challenge of doing one of these things and hopefully doing it right. You can keep people guessing and keep the book zigging and zagging. So Venom is going to be turned into a Frankenstein-like creature around #12. IF THEY LET ME!” Remender joked, a nod to to his “Frankencastle” run on “Punisher.” “There’s a really big event coming up next winter that Venom is headlining. We might be seeing him in some other big books too. The event storyline grew very nicely out of something Jason Aaron and I were putting together and Marvel got really excited about it. I can’t say anything else about it, but if you’re a fan of what we’re doing and you like the character, he’s not going anywhere. Flash Thomspon’s role in the Marvel Universe just gets bigger and bigger in the next year.”