Recently, Marvel announced that the current iterations of Venom and Captain Marvel will be joining the ranks of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s pretty fitting, not just because of the extraterrestrial tie-ins to those two characters, but because all three parties are modern initiatives of Marvel. For various reasons, they really want the Guardians of the Galaxy, Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, and Flash Thompson as Venom to be seen as big staples in the Marvel brand.
Captain Marvel seems like a good fit already. She’s fought major battles in space before and just got back from the most explosive intergalactic war yet in Infinity. But Venom? He’s out of his element. He’s a street-level warrior who isn’t exactly effective in galactic warfare. I guess time will tell if he’s up to it.
At least we know that he isn’t new to being a team player. For one, his entire existence is based on working in tandem. Venom is two guys acting as one. A human being with issues wearing a pair of oozy pants with the personality of an irate Rottweiler. Even the costume’s origin is based on being part of an epic war on another planet between heroes and villains. In his anti-hero days, Venom had team-up adventures with the likes of Spider-Man, Punisher, Wolverine, Vengeance, and Mace (one of the most ’90s characters in Marvel history). Venom even joined up with Spider-Man’s motley crew of heroes out to stop Carnage and his followers from destroying New York City.
Before Venom goes off to hang out with a raccoon and a tree, I think it would be a good time to reflect on all the various teams he’s joined in his various forms.
Host: Eddie BrockIssues: Amazing Spider-Man #12 and Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12 (1999)Creative Team: Howard Mackie, John Byrne, John Romita Jr., and Scott HannaOther Members: Sandman, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Mysterio, and Vulture
After Venom had gone back to straight-up villainy, he was brought back after a two-year absence in the various Spider-Man titles written by Howard Mackie. For those of you who haven’t read the latter-90’s Spider-Man era, Mackie is a guy who can come up with a great concept and a first chapter, but then falls completely apart. You know how sometimes a fiction writer can come up with a threat so interesting that you wonder, “How will our heroes possibly get out of this one?” Mackie doesn’t think about that because he just moves onto the next story and ignores the previous one completely. Maybe he’ll explain it away in some kind of offhand comment, but for the most part, he’s too focused on his next big idea to move onto the second act.
Another Return of the Sinister Six is one of those instances. A major plot going on in the background of Mackie’s run is Senator Steward Ward, a shady and mysterious government official with ties to Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock has drawn the ire of his fellow rogues’ gallery regulars and Sandman gets a group of villains together to bring the Sinister Six back to the glory days with intent on taking out Doc Ock. Then there’s Arthur Stacy, who is out to assassinate Senator Ward for mysterious reasons and when Spider-Man arrives to play peacemaker amongst the chaos, Venom pops in to strangle him.
Lots of arguments are had and when Spider-Man escapes thanks to Stacy’s intervention, Sandman and Venom have at it. Venom wants a piece of Spider-Man and the others are more invested in going after Doc Ock and Ward. Mysterio figures that Venom should just join their side.
Venom’s cool with this and remains on the team for about literally five minutes until Doc Ock, Ward and Spider-Man are tracked down. Sandman offers Spider-Man a chance to leave and when Venom speaks up, he’s clobbered by a giant, sandy fist. A very minor tenure that doesn’t live up to the two-part cover image that plays up Venom joining the team.
The situation is ended when Senator Ward lets loose an explosion of lasers that knocks everyone back. Although everyone is still standing, the villains decide to just call it a day. It’s the craziest, laziest thing. Doc Ock and the villains who were out to kill him are shown walking off in the same direction, like it’s the end of their shift.
Venom would go on to attempt to hunt down the remaining Sinister Six members who betrayed him. He temporarily kills Sandman, beats up Electro, and chases Kraven until letting go of his vendetta due to Mackie not being able to come up with a suitable ending.
Host: Mac GarganIssues: Marvel Knights Spider-Man #10 and #11 (2005)Creative Team: Mark Millar, Terry Dodson, and Rachel DodsonOther Members: Green Goblin, Boomerang, Chameleon, Electro, Hammerhead, Hydro-Man, Lizard, Sandman, Shocker, Tombstone, and Vulture
Marvel Knights Spider-Man is the comic that introduces the idea of Mac Gargan being Norman Osborn’s go-to henchman. After years stuck in his Scorpion armor and being increasingly crazy, Gargan is liberated at the cost of having lots of scars on his body. This is after Eddie Brock had auctioned the Venom symbiote to the Fortunato family. The symbiote abandoned its new host and instead tracked down Gargan, giving us the new status quo.
The story of this run leads to a big climax with Osborn forcing Spider-Man to break him out of prison and follow his directions or he’ll kill Aunt May and Mary Jane. Spider-Man and Black Cat are led to a trap where he’s surrounded by the Sinister Twelve, where Gargan debuts his new look.
The beating doesn’t last too long. Mary Jane tattles to SHIELD and a bunch of Spidey’s hero buddies arrive to thrash the various B-listers. Spider-Man goes off to fight Green Goblin, but is intercepted by Venom for a one-on-one fight that ends with Spider-Man getting the upper hand. He ends up saving his loved ones from the Green Goblin and then goes on to star in a story where the Absorbing Man is turned into cocaine and snorted by mobsters. Comics are weird.
Host: Eddie BrockIssues: What If This was the Fantastic Four? (2008)Creative Team: Jeff Parker, Mike Wieringo, and a whole lot of Wieringo’s friendsOther Members: Sandman, Sabretooth, and Abomination
While not part of 616 continuity, I have a soft spot for this What If issue, so I’ll toss it on the list. This project between Jeff Parker and Mike Wieringo ended up being Wieringo’s final project as he passed away after the completion of five pages. Various other artists filled in and made it a tribute to their lost friend.
The story is based on the events of the New Fantastic Four storyline from the ’90s, where Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider temporarily replaced the regular team. Here, the Fantastic Four are all gone except for a depowered Ben Grimm and the New Fantastic Four are made permanent. This doesn’t go over well with the public, as the team is made up of a suspected menace, a destructive monster, a vicious mutant, and a demon. The most reluctant to join the team is Ghost Rider, who is afraid of the kind of threats his presence will attract.
That’s pretty silly, though. I mean…look: they take on the new Frightful Four with Sandman, Venom, Abomination, and Sabretooth. There are no Ghost Rider villains in there!
Oh. Um…fancy pentagrams, guys. Keen horns too. Yeah.
During the brawl, we find out that these guys are really pawns of Dr. Doom, who is possessed by Mephisto. Doom vaporizes the Frightful Four to enhance his power and with the New Fantastic Four’s help, is able to fight back against Mephisto, sacrificing himself to save the day.
After seeing that, the public is pretty cool with these guys.
Host: Mac GarganIssues: Thunderbolts #110 (2007) to #127 (2009)Creative Team: Various, introduced by Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr.Other Members: Norman Osborn, Moonstone, Songbird, Radioactive Man, Swordsman, Bullseye, and Penance
With the passing of the Super-Human Registration Act and the sudden disappearance of Baron Zemo, the successful Thunderbolts concept has been taken over by the government and handed into the hands of the politicking Norman Osborn. Naturally, Venom is given a major role due to his connection as the Green Goblin’s glorified sidekick.
Venom would become the tank of the team, mainly because the symbiote would turn Gargan into a hulking, uncontrollable monster. Most famous is how Venom devours the arm of unregistered superhero Steel Spider, causing his teammates to see him as nothing more than an insane cannibal. This doesn’t sit right with Gargan, who is uncomfortable with how he’s perceived. When a handful of psychics attack the minds of the Thunderbolts, the symbiote berates Gargan for being a wuss and takes full control until being felled by the Swordsman. Whether the symbiote was truly speaking to Gargan or if he’s just insane is up in the air. Especially since the Venom symbiote talking to its hosts is an established thing before Thunderbolts, so…
Venom doesn’t do much of note in the book other than that. He does have a really cool one-shot spotlight where he’s blackmailed into joining a team of villains against Osborn, but remains loyal to his boss in the end and gets rewarded for it.
Outside of the Thunderbolts books, Venom is used as an attack dog against Namor, ending with Venom’s tongue being torn out of his mouth. He’s also instrumental in the transformation of Eddie Brock into Anti-Venom.
Host: Mac GarganIssues: Dark Avengers #1 (2009) to #16 (2010)Creative Team: Various, introduced by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato Jr.Other Members: Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn), Ms. Marvel (Moonstone), Hawkeye (Bullseye), the Sentry, Ares, Wolverine (Daken), and Captain Marvel (Noh-Varr)
Due to saving Washington DC from the Skrull Invasion when nobody else could, as well as publicly killing the Skrull Queen, Norman Osborn is given the keys to the government and becomes a mentally-unbalanced Nick Fury with a hate-on for all superheroes. Venom rides his coattails to the top and is moved from the Thunderbolts to the government-sponsored Avengers under the guise of the new Spider-Man.
Venom rarely gets to shine during the series and there’s a subplot/running gag about the medication he takes to keep himself coherent turning him overly sensitive. When Bullseye threatens to kill him down the line, Venom’s response is to tattle on him instead of standing up for himself.
Following Osborn’s path, Venom goes down in flames along with him when the Siege on Asgard blows up in their face. Venom is thrown in prison and they finally get around to removing the symbiote from Gargan, thus causing him to return to this Scorpion persona.
Personally, I’ve always loved Dark Avengers as a study on anti-heroes who can’t bring themselves to walk the right path and are punished for it, much like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.
Host: Eddie BrockIssues: New Avengers Annual #1 (2011) and Avengers Annual #1 (2012)Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’ottoOther Members: Wonder Man, D-Man, Virtue, Captain Ultra, Goliath, Atlas, Devil-Slayer and Century
Eh… not Venom proper, but I’ll count it. Eddie Brock has a new lease on life when the remnants of the Venom symbiote in his bloodstream are merged with his white blood cells and turned into a new organism that gives him amazing healing powers. As Anti-Venom, Eddie wishes to cleanse New York City of disease, crime, and drug addiction.
As this is going on, Wonder Man has become obsessed with ending the Avengers, as he feels that they’re more destructive than they’re worth. Between Ultron, Scarlet Witch going crazy, the way they treated the Sentry and their turning a blind eye to everything the Hulk does, Wonder Man’s had enough of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and he puts together a team of random superheroes to help take them down for good.
Although they’re able to beat up the New Avengers roster, they get shut down by the main Avengers team. As each Revenger is questioned, we find out that most of them didn’t even join the team out of agreement with Wonder Man’s beliefs. For a lot of them, it’s pure revenge for being slighted by the Avengers over the years in various ways. Anti-Venom admits that he realizes that the others are crazy, but he really does see where Wonder Man’s coming from and he feels that the Avengers as a concept just doesn’t work.
Even though Wonder Man does have some strong points, Bendis never does give the Avengers much of a rebuttal other than, “Man, Simon. You’re so crazy. Why are you acting so crazy, Simon?”
Funny thing is how there’s such a delay between the two issues that by the time Avengers Annual #1 comes out, Anti-Venom has already been depowered in the Spider-Man titles.
CIRCLE OF FOUR
Host: Flash ThompsonIssues: Venom #13 to #14 (2012)Creative Team: Various, introduced by Rick Remender and Tony MooreOther Members: Red Hulk, X-23, and Ghost Rider
Told through a release of weekly comics numbered 13.1 to 13.4 in-between the bookends, the Circle of Four storyline is a take on the New Fantastic Four line-up, only using their spinoff knockoffs. By this point, Flash Thompson has become Venom as part of a government initiative and due to it having been decomissioned, he escapes to Las Vegas and goes on a bender. Red Hulk is sent to bring him in.
As this is going on, Mephisto’s son Blackheart takes over Vegas and turns it into Hell, hoping to do the same to the rest of the world. X-23 and the new Ghost Rider Alejandra get looped into this as well.
In order to save the world, the team is forced to make a deal with Mephisto himself. Thanks to temporarily giving the Venom symbiote and Ghost Rider powers to Red Hulk, the team is able to put an end to Blackheart’s plans. What they don’t realize is that they’ve all been marked by Mephisto for future use, leading to an incredibly uninteresting subplot that ends up killing the Venom series once Remender leaves it to Cullen Bunn.
Host: Flash ThompsonIssues: Secret Avengers #23 (2012) to #37 (2013)Creative Team: Various, introduced by Rick Remender and Gabriel HardmanOther Members: Hawkeye, Black Widow, Beast, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, Captain Britain, Human Torch, and Giant-Man
Due to his handling of the Las Vegas incident, Venom is seen as an asset by Captain America and is handed a spot in the black ops Avengers offshoot. This doesn’t sit well with team leader Hawkeye, who is really pissed about having Venom of all people forced into his little club. Although never brought up, I have a feeling the whole Dark Avengers situation has a lot to do with this.
Venom earns his spot on the team and starts a “friends with benefits” relationship with teammate Valkyrie. He doesn’t get any defining story arcs during his time in the team, but he does get mighty offended when he finds out Ant-Man has been replaced by a traitorous robot duplicate.
After that adventure, where the Secret Avengers are faced with a rising society of AI beings, the team is disbanded and started again from scratch, thereby writing Venom off the team.
The biggest negative about Venom’s time as an Avenger is how they never went into the easiest excuse for a story. In the so-awesome-read-it-if-you-haven’t-already Carnage USA, Agent Venom is sent to help Spider-Man defeat Carnage. Although he doesn’t find out that Flash is behind the mask, Spider-Man does learn that the government has a gun-toting Venom at their disposal. You would think that he would lose his mind over this and maybe yell at Captain America for letting this happen, but… nope! He makes a crack about the Punisher being dressed as him and that’s that.
Host: Flash ThompsonIssues: Thunderbolts #1 to present (2013)Creative Team: Various, introduced by Daniel Way, and Steve DillonOther Members: Red Hulk, Deadpool, Punisher, Elektra, Red Leader, and Mercy
The Circle of Four situation causes more ripples as Red Hulk recruits Venom to join his band of outlaws. The team is put together to undo some damage that Red Hulk’s caused as General Ross and, honestly, I can barely remember anything that happens in the first ten issues or so. It’s a big, confusing mess that finally found its direction once current writer Charles Soule took control of the story.
Now the team is based on helping each other perform missions that they can’t do on their own. Everyone gets to put their name in a hat and whoever gets picked chooses the mission. The others have to honor this mission and help complete it. So far we’ve only seen Frank Castle get picked, so who knows what Venom’s getting out of this. He better hope his turn comes up before his space adventures in Guardians of the Galaxy kick in.
Venom is treated with the least amount of respect outside of Red Leader. Castle, Elektra and Deadpool are all experienced killers who understand each other on some level while Flash is seen as a green army grunt who doesn’t understand how the world works and uses his alien pajamas as a crutch (which he does in the literal sense too). As of now, he’s the team’s resident straight man.
When he isn’t eating people, of course.