In case there was one iota of doubt, Venom is très chic in a big way right now. With the buzz surrounding the forthcoming Tom Hardy film (which has been the subject of copious Internet memes) Marvel Comics have been doubling-down on everyone’s favorite symbiotic anti-hero, and the results have been surprisingly great. Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s ongoing Venom series is proving there is plenty mileage to squeeze out of ol’ Eddie Brock. The book sells like gang-busters month after month, and is nothing short of a critical darling. The series embraces the inherent weirdness of Venom, and fans are on board.
The good times keep on rolling for Venom in the new five-issue miniseries Venom: First Host. The first issue takes the reader immediately off world and introduces a Kree warrior named Tel-Kar, the man who first encountered the black symbiote on its home planet. As the title suggests, this is the story of the first person to take the black, so to speak. Tel-Kar’s version of Venom is a cool, but not internally inspired mash up of Flash Thompson’s tactical Agent Venom costume and the uniforms worn by members of Nova Corps. And seeing the serviceable incarnation of the first person to wear the alien being that would later take to various Marvel heroes and villains really sets the tone for this book. In short: it’s good. Not amazing, but good.
It may sound a touch too reductive, but despite being a deep dive into previously unrevealed history, Venom: First Host #1 probably isn’t going to revolutionize the character. Writer Mike Costa certainly has a handle on the character (we love seeing Eddie Brock stand around in heart-shaped boxers with his head still in the symbiote, and Costa knows it), but the opening act surrounding Tel-Kar felt a little under developed.
The title starts out feeling like a lost issue of X-O Manowar or a deleted plot thread from Abnett & Lanning’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy, which is high praise as both of those titles embrace their space-trotting madness with glee. Tossing readers into the Kree/Skrull War with some badass space Venom liberating captive civilians and turning Skrulls into green mist would have been absolutely brilliant. For the first few pages the comic does exactly that, and it’s awesome while it lasts.
But the time spent with Tel-Kar is far too brief and we, as readers, are tossed back to Earth like a kids who snuck into an R-rated movie only to be caught by an usher. “What you are watching is very cool,” the comic tells us, “but you are not cool enough to see it.” And so we slink away back to our familiar confines and pout as a standard Venom story fills the bulk of Venom: First Host‘s debut issue. And while that story isn’t bad or poorly written it feels like starting a art museum tour with a roller coaster ride and then expecting the patrons to just as thrilled while a curator drones on about 17th Century Baroque sculptors (our favorite is Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in case you’re wondering).
Again, none of this makes this comic bad. Not bad a long shot. In fact, the final page of this first issue is strong enough for us to come back next month. But that opening feels like a missed opportunity, one that a good writer like Mike Costa could have had a field day with. Venom is a character who grabs readers by his larger-than-life presence and intrinsically insane origins, turning body horror into a super power.
Artist Mark Bagley is bringing his clean, coherent art style to this book, much like he does with every title he draws. The lines are crisp, the facial expressions are simple but convey the character’s emotions, and the action sequences show the impact without feeling visceral. Bagley has always been a reliable artist, especially on Spider-Man related properties. His art may not turn heads, but Bagley understands the graphic medium and how to properly utilize visual language, something that even some of his more ostentatious peers struggle with.
Bottom line: Venom: First Host #1 isn’t going to make for any Venom converts, but it’s strong enough to pique a fan’s interest for sure. We have no idea where things will go in this miniseries, but if we had a chance to punch in a location, we’d take it to somewhere weird.