SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains major spoilers for Marvel’s “Venom” #1, on sale now.
A new era begins for the symbiote who once served as Spider-Man’s black alien costume in “Venom” #1 by Mike Costa and Gerardo Sandoval — and this time, readers get a look inside the symbiote’s gooey, toothy head. No longer bonded to Flash Thompson after an adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Venom has found a new host, a soldier like Flash, but one operating under decided different orders.
Who is Venom?
Well, it starts with Spider-Man and the original “Secret Wars” crossover. Stranded on an alien planet, Spidey’s costume gets shredded and he finds a new one in the form of some black goo that forms to his body and responds to his thoughts. Eventually, back on Earth, he discovers the suit is sentient and attempting to control his mind, so he chucks it away.
Enter Eddie Brock.
Brock, a photojournalist with an axe to grind with Spider-Man, willingly bonded with the symbiote, becoming the villain Venom. In this, the character’s first and most famous incarnation, Venom was portrayed with a huge, slavering mouth full of teeth, and an obscenely long tongue. He quickly rose to become one of the Wall Crawler’s most vicious (and most popular) major villains, though he also flirted with heroism, notably in the “Venom: Lethal Protector” series.
After Brock, the symbiote passed to Mac Gargan (who has a role to play in the new series…), then Flash Thompson. Thompson, a classic Spider-Man character who lost both of his legs while deployed in Iraq, was able to control the alien and fashioned him into a military-style hero.
Who is Venom, now?
Through all of this, readers have viewed the actions of “Venom” largely through the perspective of the human host. Costa and Sandoval are changing that. There are now two sets of narrative captions, black for the symbiote and white for the new host, Lee Price. Lee is a former Army Ranger who was wounded in battle, losing two fingers. He has struggled to find work since returning stateside, having to claim disability to receive benefits but disqualified from work that suits his talents by that disability.
Meanwhile, the symbiote, we learn, is searching for a new host, and weighs the pros and cons of being a hero or a villain. Surprisingly, it seems to really want to be good, though it notes that this is much harder than being evil.
Well, it’s out of luck.
Lee and the symbiote meet when Lee, hired by Mac Gargan as bodyguard for a illicit sale of “toxic gas that maybe turns you into a monster,” finds his crew betrayed and about to eat copious bullets. The symbiote, inhabiting a homeless man, saves the day, then jumps over to bond with Lee as a more fitting host.
At first, the symbiote is excited that Lee is a soldier like Flash, “one of the most decent men I’ve ever known.” But no sooner has Lee seized control, then he’s killed all the bad guys and murdered his childhood friend and the old homeless man so that no one alive would know the secret of his new power. He steals the cargo and scampers off.
With his new cache of monster gas and an alien super-suit, Lee goes home to “figure out how to use this power to my advantage.”
Whereas Brock and Gargan were more traditional supervillains and Flash Thompson was a sci-fi action hero, Lee’s Venom will be a superpowered crime boss. He will certainly come into conflict with Black Cat, the criminal overlord who had attempted to sell the cargo, as well as Tombstone, the would-be buyer. It’s reasonable to assume that Gargan, who hired Lee for the job, will have a role to play, especially if the Cat isn’t pleased with his choice of freelancers.
The symbiote’s perspective adds another twist. Not only do we gain new insight into the host relationship, but learning that the monstrous costume seems to have a conscience recasts the biographies of its former carriers, as well. It may even raise the question of what truly could have become of Spider-Man if he’d embraced the alien costume.
But for now, Lee Price is Venom. The big question this series raises, though, is whether Lee is the protagonist or the antagonist — Sandoval’s depiction of the symbiote outside of its host further raises sympathy, as it looks by turns earnest, terrified and pathetic, while Lee is hard and stoic. It’s easy to imagine this “Venom” series setting up the symbiote as its hero and the host as villain.
And if that’s true, one wonders if that host need always be Lee Price…
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