Remender Prepares "Venom" for "Circle of Four"

In the Marvel Universe it takes an even tempered and responsible person to balance the obligations of friends and family with the duties of being a costumed super hero. For most of his life Eugene "Flash" Thompson wasn't up to the challenge. Years of battling to control personal demons inherited from his abusive father including an out of control temper and alcoholism have worn on him, but he wants to be a better man. He's also been inspired by his hero, Spider-Man, to undertake selfless acts including serving his country as a soldier.

While serving in the Middle East Flash, suffered the devastating loss of both legs in combat while saving fellow soldiers. That sacrifice brought him to the attention of a general looking to give the U.S. Government its own black ops super soldier. Flash agreed to become said soldier and, as the title character of the ongoing "Venom" series, he has entered the toughest battle of his life so far; to be a good soldier, friend, family member and hero, all while playing host to an alien symbiote intent on bringing out the worst in him.

Flash's struggles in the coming months will escalate and bring him face to face with several heroes and villains from across the Marvel U. CBR News spoke with "Venom" writer Rick Remender about his plans for the series which include a special 6-part story arc that sends Flash Thompson to Las Vegas for a hellacious adventure with Ghost Rider, X-23 and the Red Hulk.

Remender's work on titles including "Punisher," "Uncanny X-Force," and now "Venom" has made him Marvel's go-to writer when it comes to characters that employ lethal measures to solve their problems. "I love the challenge of writing these types of characters, but that's never been my wheelhouse. I'm a pretty big liberal. I don't have any guns and it makes me sick to think of killing somebody. It's utterly foul, irreprehensible and I fear it's something we as a society have become desensitized too," Remender told CBR News. "I try to be responsible and show the cost and consequences of that violence.

"As for Venom, Flash Thompson is not a murderer; he's a soldier. He's somebody who believes in his country and wants to serve, protect and make a difference," Remender continued. "He's been put in spots where he's taken lives. He's capable of that and now that he's wearing this Venom suit, which feeds off of adrenaline and negative emotions, it telepathically nudges Flash in the direction of killer. Negative emotions, adrenaline, and danger make Venom stronger, and Flash is somebody who is well established as having a temper. So the suit is pulling him to be more violent, and he has to fight that for all he's worth. This set up is juicy stuff to build from."

In "Venom" #9, Remender and guest artist Stefano Caselli brought the character's adventures in the recent "Spider-Island" event to a close with an epilogue that thrust Flash Thompson into violent conflict with a marauding super villain known as the Hijacker. "In issue #9 we put him in a situation where he watches a young mother and her son plowed over by a bank robber in a tank. This story was inspired by something personal that happened to me. A friend of mine passed away in a similar scenario and my feeling at the time was that it was in such a thoughtless way and the person who did it was trying to get away from the scene of a crime," Remender explained. "So I'm not a big proponent of capital punishment, but now I'm in a situation where I don't want the guy who killed my friend to be able to enjoy things in jail like a beautiful sunny day or a sandwich. I think that person should get no more existence because they robbed the world of a young woman. That's what Flash turned to here, where my head was when I was processing this event."

After Flash brutally murdered the Hijacker he went back to the hospital where his father recently passed away and met with his girlfriend Betty Brant. Tense and horrified by the violence he had just committed, Flash was unable to share what he did with Betty, but she helped him resolve some of that tension by reading the letter his father wrote on his deathbed.

"Can you imagine coming home after experiencing something like that to your girlfriend or your wife and to not be able to tell them about what you've gone through?" Remender remarked. "Then while he's sitting there stunned and phased he gets some good news in form of the letter from his father that got burned in the bunker when he fought the Queen in issue #8.That letter was actually transcribed by Betty and she kept the rough notes of it all. She could read his father's last thoughts to him and if you read issue #8 you saw that it was a very nice letter. So at the end of it all Flash does get a little bit of a wrap up with his father at least. But it should feel like chaos; he never has that nice clean moment to reflect, he's always dealing with the next ten things."

Listening to his father's final words was Remender's way of wrapping up a major sub plot in the series involving the origins of the rage Flash often struggles with. Much of that rage comes from the physical and verbal abuse Flash suffered at the hands of his drunken father as a boy.

"In our 'Spider-Island' tie-in issues Flash made the decision to forgive his father at the end of his life. That's a character defining moment. That's the thing I would most like people to walk away from the 'Spider-Island' issues with," Remender stated. "He's the kind of guy who could get beaten and have his entire life affected by an abusive, alcoholic father and then after all he's been through leading up to issue #7 he made it to his father's deathbed and, instead of holding onto any anger or ugliness, he forgave him. He told him he loved him and that he did the best he could. That's Flash Thompson. He became a soldier to serve his country and lost his legs while doing that. Flash is a well rounded human who has overcome so much, this was his real hero moment in my eyes."

The human drama of Flash's family and relationships continues to be an important facet of "Venom," and his desire to protect his loved ones will drive the next several issues of the series. In the introductory arc of "Venom," Flash ran afoul of an international arms dealing organization run by the mysterious Crime Master and his chief assassin, the new Jack O' Lantern. Unfortunately for Flash, Crime Master and Jack O' Lantern discovered Venom's true identity and used it to threaten Betty. While Betty was rescued by Spider-Man, Crime Master and his organization are still active. This all comes to a head in tomorrow's "Venom" #10.

"If you like the way things are playing out in 'Uncanny X-Force' I think you'll love the stories we having coming up in 'Venom,' which will stretch all the way up to issue #23. All of this involves a big plot that's been boiling in the background since issue #1 with Crime Master, his weapons dealing, and what he's ultimately up to," Remender explained. "Crime Master sets this all in motion by blackmailing Flash to go to Las Vegas to acquire something that he wants. What that is will be revealed, but not until issue #12. This thing that Crime Master is sending him to retrieve is in a casino in Las Vegas and is something that Spider-Man fans will be excited to see return. It's going to play a giant role in the story lines of this coming year."

In order to acquire the item Crime Master needs Flash goes A.W.O.L. with the Venom symbiote and the government responds by sending its other super soldiers after him. However, they won't be the only people hunting symbiotes.

"In issue #10 Captain America gets into a scuffle with Venom, which leads him to send the Red Hulk after Flash," Remender remarked. "Complicating things even further is our new supporting cast member Eddie Brock who is lurking in the background. He's become a Van Helsing style symbiote hunter with this sneaking suspicion that the symbiotes are a plague sent from the black depths of space to take over Earth. Who knows if he's right or wrong, but he's going to go out and kill them all to make sure they don't take over the planet. He's got this religious fervor. He's convinced that he's doing God's work here."

February's "Venom" #13 is the first chapter of the "Circle of Four" event by Remender and artist Tony Moore, which sees Flash Thompson arrive in Las Vegas for the beginning of a special 6-part story line guest-starring Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, the Red Hulk and X-23. The story line was inspired by Walt Simonson and Art Adams' "Fantastic Four" arc from the early '90s which saw Spider-Man, The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider coming together to briefly form a new incarnation of the FF.

"This thing has gone through so many changes. Originally it was going to be Jason Aaron and me doing this. Then Jason took on another project and couldn't, so we got lucky that Rob Williams ["Ghost Rider"] and Jeff Parker ["Hulk"] had time to become involved. The three of us got on the phone with editor Jeanine Schaefer and developed the plot into like a 130-page story. It's a big, epic tale," Remender said. "Everybody agreed that pinning it on the 'Venom' series proper was the right way to do it because it feeds out of so many things that are being built up in 'Venom;' his road trip to Las Vegas, why Crime Master sent him there, what he finds when he's there, and Rulk chasing him. The big reveal that he uncovers is that Vegas is the site of a power struggle taking place between Mephisto and Blackheart for control of Earth. I just love that, in the midst of all these threats, Flash can actually handle what he unearths [and it's] that, 'Oh the Devil and his son are trying to take over the planet.'

"During the course of this Ghost Rider is tricked into opening a centrifuge for Blackheart, which causes Hell to explode out of Hell and to start creeping across the Earth. So Las Vegas is transformed into Hell on Earth and it starts spreading. Johnny Blaze uses a relic to hold it back, but no one can get in or out of this sphere of Hell. So it's up to the people that are inside and that's Ghost Rider, Blaze, X-23, Red Hulk and Venom," Remender continued. "So while our story does pay visual homage to what Walt Simonson and Art Adams did -- and we got a Walt Simonson cover, which is pretty crazy -- it really needed to develop into something that felt like its own special thing."

Venom, X-23, Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze and the Red Hulk's struggle to save Las Vegas and the Earth from Mephisto and Blackheart begins in "Venom" #13. It then runs through issues #13.1-13.4 and concludes in issue #14.

"We hashed out the beats together and I'm writing issue #13, which we wanted to make special. So it's 30 pages and all Tony Moore pencils and inks. Then the next two issues are Rob Williams writing. The third issue is Jeff Parker, and it's insane what he's done. Then I'm writing #13.4 and #14 is me and Tony again," Remender said. "So by the end I will have written 70 pages of this and those guys will have done 60, so a nice even split. It's been terrific collaborating with those guys. We get on the phone quite a bit and we get really excited talking about this stuff."

Joining Tony Moore on pencils is an all-star team of artists that includes Lee Garbett ("Ultimate Comics Fallout," "Fear Itself: The Deep), Sana Takeda ("X-23"), Julian Totino Tedesco ("Marvel Season One" covers), and new regular "Venom" artist Lan Medina. "Tony Moore will be taking on special issues, covers, and things like that. He's a terrific artist and amazing storyteller but he's too slow to take on the monthly 'Venom' series. Whereas Lan, who is also amazing, can turn out pages a little quicker. So Lan is doing the majority of 'Venom' issues now while Tony does things like #13-14. After those issues Tony and I have some other plans together that I can't talk too much about yet."

All the creators involved in the "Venom: Circle of Four" event are having a blast writing and drawing the story. One of the main reasons they're having so much fun is the rag tag group of heroes they're playing with and the uneasy dynamic between these heroes.

"Everybody wants to place certain characters at certain levels; like A-List or B-List. Characters are only as A, B, or C-List as the people writing and drawing them and the quality of the comic books being produced. So we wanted to make sure that not only did we get top notch quality, and Tony Moore has been working on this already for several months, but we also wanted to make sure we had a story that was epic enough to make this essential; where people go, 'Holy shit!'" Remender explained. "Then it becomes even more fun that it's not Captain America and the big time Avengers dealing with it. It's a bunch of people who don't know each other and can't really work together.

"Red Hulk has been sent to capture Flash Thompson who went A.W.O.L. and stole the Venom symbiote. X-23 is trying to track down a sample of her blood that someone is using to make clones of her. Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze are in a situation where Blaze has to come to terms with the fact that Alejandra, the woman who has taken over the Spirit of Vengeance, shouldn't have it. She should not be Ghost Rider and now Blaze is in a conflict with her," Remender continued. "Then the Earth cracks open and Hell comes up. So I think anyone that's a fan of comics should give this a try and you don't have to be a fan of any of the characters to appreciate this story. We're hoping that this story will make you fall in love with these characters."

The Venom event is also a story that will have dramatic impact on the lives of each of its main cast members. "After 'Venom' #14 nothing will be the same for Venom, Ghost Rider, X-23, or Red Hulk. All of us have plans to bleed these events into the characters' own books as well as my upcoming run on 'Secret Avengers,'" Remender remarked. "What it sets up for Rob in 'Ghost Rider' is a really terrific ending. I don't want to give too much away, but where things end with 'Ghost Rider' and Johnny Blaze are not where you're going to expect them to end. As for X-23, this is a character piece about how, if you were a clone, you would wonder if there is such a thing as a soul and if you have one? Her adventure in this story line is to come to terms with those questions. So while it seeds into what's left of her ongoing, it's also a nice defining character piece for her. You don't have to know that she has an ongoing or anything. You can just enjoy it as a story. As for Red Hulk, Jeff has some pretty terrific plans about some baggage that he'll carry away from this and will continue on in the Hulk series.

"Then for Venom, it changes the landscape of his universe entirely. The pieces are on the board to insure that Venom comes out of this a very different person. This journey for him takes him as low as I could possibly take character in a mainstream comic," Remender continued. "I just wish I could talk more about the coming arcs because I'm so excited about them. The stuff that's coming up with the symbiotes is so big and will have such a ramification on the Marvel Universe that Flash will all of sudden be placed in a situation where he's not just a covert ops super hero trying to save some lives. The fate of an entire continent might soon be in his hands. He's going to have to learn how to deal with that especially since he's also going to become an Avenger."

Venom will have a higher profile in the Marvel Universe in 2012 thanks to his upcoming membership in the "Secret Avengers," but he'll continue to be a vital part of the Spider-Man Universe as well. "The looming threat out there is what happens when Peter finds out? Everybody asks when we're going to hit that. That note is too powerful for me to hit casually. That note is a six-issue story that would be a terrific one to tell, perhaps during the summer the new Spider-Man movie comes out," Remender said with a laugh. "So 'Venom' is absolutely going to play a giant role in the Spider-Man universe moving forward. Flash and Peter's complex relationship will become more complex at some point I would imagine. Plus, 'Amazing Spider-Man' writer Dan Slott and I speak often and I would hate to give anything away, but I do believe Venom will play a role in next year's big Spider-Man story, 'Ends of the Earth.'"

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