Between the glut of appearances following the debut of Spider-Man's nemesis in the late '80s and his mediocre appearance in 2007's Spider-Man 3, Venom was all but dead to me. But now he's Venom: Space Knight, and I can't get enough. If you had told me six months ago my second favourite (Squirrel Girl forever) Marvel Comic would star someone wearing the Venom symbiote I would have laughed. Had you told me the man inside the symbiote would be Flash Thompson, my least favourite member of Spider-Man's supporting cast, I would have choked.
I enjoyed Venom as much as the next comic book geek when he made his full debut in the final pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #299 back in 1988. The combination of journalist Eddie Brock, who hated Spider-Man for ruining his career, and the inky black alien symbiote, who hated Peter Parker for rejecting it, resulted in a truly terrifying creature. That familiar suit sprouting dripping fangs was the stuff of nightmares.
Or it was initially. Venom's popularity led to countless appearances both in and out of Spider-Man comics. He headlined several series. He showed up in video games. He swapped back and forth between villain and anti-hero more times than most professional wrestlers. He was no longer terrifying.
My dislike of Flash Thompson comes from a much simpler source. A stereotypical jock in his early appearances, Flash bullied geeky Peter Parker incessantly. I sympathised.
But Eugene "Flash" Thompson has been through a lot since those early days as Peter Parker's bully and Spider-Man's pal. He's been to generic Vietnam. He was in a coma for a bit. Then he became a PE teacher. Eventually he went to Iraq, because comic book time is completely screwed, where a surprise attack resulted in him losing both of his legs below the knees.
Venom's come a long way as well. After many stupid adventures with his alien skin pal, Eddie Brock eventually wound up selling the symbiote at a super-villain auction. I missed the issue, but I am imagining EvilBay.
The alien suit next started doing the incredibly nasty with Mac Gargan, also known as classic Spider-Man villain The Scorpion. That doesn't go so well at first, with the symbiote driving Gargan to cannibalism (mmmm, people), until Norman Osborne stepped in with a chemical stabilising agent. Mac Gargan and friend served briefly as evil Spider-Man for Osborne's Dark Avengers, but when that team was folded and taken into custody the symbiote was forcibly removed.
In March of 2011 we met the new Venom. Agent Venom. The perfect-ish soldier. Combining the military know-how of double partial amputee Flash Thompson with the strength and leg-faking abilities of the Venom symbiote created a one-man fighting force that only occasionally went crazy and killed a whole bunch of people for no reason.
I wasn't very keen on him. Throughout his book's run and his stint in the Secret Avengers he struggled with the symbiote, and those fights were getting old. It all came to a head during his time with the Red Hulk's version of the Thunderbolts, when Flash let the symbiote take over to make sure the team could take him down in case it reasserted control.
Enough. I was done. I'd just go back to reading the comics I knew I'd always enjoy, like The Guardians of the Galaxy.
Venom joined the Guardians in issue 14 of the pre-Secret Wars run, and I was mortified. But then something amazing happened. Something that pissed off long-time Venom fans to no end, yet left me giddy with the possibilities. The found the symbiote's home planet.
In an astounding bit of contortionist retconning, Brian Michael Bendis establishes that the symbiotes, called the Klyntar, are actually a benevolent race that seeks only to help other beings in the galaxy. The Venom symbiote was one of many of their race corrupted by a host's ill-intent or chemical imbalance. Determining Flash Thompson to be a perfect host, they cleansed his symbiote and he was reborn.
Then Secret Wars started and everything was put on hold. For the first time in ages I couldn't wait to see what happened to Venom next.
What happened, as it turns out, is one of the most enjoyable Marvel comic books of the All-New, All-Different line.
The cover to the first issue of Venom: Space Knight takes me to dark and dusty attic of my father's house back in the late '70s, rummaging through boxes of musty dog-eared dime store novels. It's the Heavy Metal magazines I used to hide from my mother as a young teen. It evokes the era of science fiction when everything was fresh and bright and new. The juxtaposition of what was once Marvel's darkest villain and this brilliant backdrop stole my breath.
Then I opened the book, and almost every single panel followed suit. From character moments featuring exotic aliens . . .
. . . to large scale space scenes.
Argentine artist Ariel Olivetti cites the work of frequent Heavy Metal contributor and Eisner Hall of Fame inductee Richard Corben as a major influence on his work, and nowhere is that more evident than in the pages of Venom: Space Knight. It's breathtaking.
The art is a major reason I love this young series (issue 4 is due out next month), but equal credit goes to television and comic book writer Robbie Thompson (no relation, probably). He's taken two characters I was at best cold on and transformed them into the sort of guy I wouldn't mind hanging out with.
The exhilaration Flash feels now that the burden of a deranged symbiote has been lifted is infectious. Sometimes it's hard to understand what motivates a superhero to be a superhero. Here it's plain as day. Flash Thomson is alive, filled with renewed purpose and ready to share what he has with the universe.
Flash Thompson finds himself in some tough situations in the first three issues of Venom: Space Knight. His ship explodes. He has a violent confrontation with other members of the Agents of the Cosmos, a cosmic force tasked with helping a galaxy in need. He's forced to go on a mission without his protective Klyntar. Throughout all of this the new lightness he feels never falters. It's inspiring.
The only thing more enjoyable than watching Flash Thompson tackling Klytariarian missions on strange alien worlds with even stranger alien creatures thus far has been his interactions with his new best friend, 803.
Yeah yeah, robots with personality problems is a big cliché, but 803 is the perfect sidekick for the new Venom, its desire to end it all clashing with Thompson's need to live to the fullest at every turn.
There are dark times ahead for the latest incarnation of Venom. Just look at the cover solicitation for issue #5.
I do not know what that thing is. I just know that I need it.
I am in love with a Venom comic book. I am also worried that this unconventional take on the character won't pan out and I'll be back to getting my Flash Thompson fix from Guardians of the Galaxy alone.
But the fact that I need a Flash Thompson Venom fix is a testament to how well Venom: Space Knight works. And should it go away, well then I'll deal with it the way Flash does, one day at a time.