Cullen Bunn and Kim Jacinto sure know how to put a kid through the wringer as they show us in “Venom” #39. Covered in the oozy black sludge of the Venom symbiote, Andi Benton is suddenly given the powers and ability to act on the rage she’s feeling as her father lays dead at her feet, victim of the merciless, hate-filled Jack O’Lantern.
Bunn devotes an entire page to the escapades of Jack O’Lantern in a Silver Age monologue, but it works in the context of this story. Jack O’Lantern would undoubtedly twirl his mustache if he had one and Bunn makes the character that much more intimidating and maniacal as a result. Jack’s story is an interesting tale to juxtapose with Andi’s and even Flash’s, and it gives the writer plenty of grist for the mill of investigating self-control and control of self. Bunn does a nice job balancing Venom’s own quest for vengeance, his need to set a good example and his concern for his newly christened protege. As for said protege, while the shocking transformation happened at the end of last issue, Andi Benton has a full issue soaked in symbiote and proves to be quite adept, adding dynamic wrinkles to the cliched tragedy of hero becoming mentor and ultimately breaking that cliche to pieces.
Kim Jacinto’s scratchy, sandpaper-infused artwork peopled with dynamic, exaggerated figures is perfect for the Halloween-flavored story filled with widescreen panels. Even though Venom’s expressions are limited to snarls and waggling tongues, Jacinto packs pain and struggling into the characters’ poses. When the artist does have faces to work with, like Jack O’Lantern’s mug once the pumpkin shell is split, the expressions are sharp and chilling. Colorist Lee Loughridge and letterer Joe Caramagna round out the visuals for “Venom” #39. Caramagna dynamically performs voiceovers for the characters involved, including adding eerie scratchiness to the voices of the symbiote’s hosts when the symbiote exerts influence. The caption boxes are tight and clean, and Caramagna’s word balloons are well placed to avoid blocking Jacinto’s figures. Loughridge’s colors are hot, wild and edgy. This comic book is filled with reds and oranges as Venom and Andi (soon to be dubbed Mania) battle Jack O’Lantern in the ruins of the Bentons’ apartment. Even when Venom and Mania have a chance to recoup after their fight with Jack O’Lantern, the backgrounds are still filled with hazy burnt red and ashy shadows. The final four pages are by a different artist, but that really doesn’t become noticeable until we see Flash and Andi not shrouded in their symbiote costumes
“Venom” received a little goose lately in the press, but for all the wrong reasons with the series’ impending cancellation. The good news is that Bunn is still writing this comic in world-building mode, so “Venom” #39 is easily approachable for newer readers, and the final storyline might provide readers with an almost miniseries-like presentation. “Venom” #39 might be one of the final handful of issues, but this comic is a handful of fun, exciting uncertainty with judge enough of a heroic sting to make it cheer-worthy.