Venom has been a secret agent and a space knight the past few years at Marvel, but this week the symbiote went back to the basics - the huge fangs, slobbery tongue, psychotic basics.
It's all the work of writer Mike Costa, coming to the book from his work on Web Warriors and Scarlet Spiders - but series editor Devin Lewis says its the writers dark work on G.I. Joe/Cobra that is more representative of what's going on here. Costa, along with Gerardo Sandoval, has returned the symbiote to New York City and put him with a new host that needs the symbiote as much as the symbiote needs him.
Newsarama spoke with Costa and Lewis as Venom #1 debuted this week, delving into this "back to basics" approach and how they feel they're giving the actual Venom symbiote a starring role for the first time.
Newsarama: Mike, Devin – I’m not going to mince words here. Who is the new host of Venom?
Devin Lewis: One thing Mike and I have been talking about is giving the symbiote a voice. We’ve read about the host, but it’s rare for readers to get a peek inside its head at all. We’ve seen a lot of dialogue, learned a lot about the symbiote in how it reacts to stimuli, but never quite how it thinks or feels. Mike’s following in some sizable footsteps as he explores the symbiote’s personality… it’s been through the ringer as Agent Venom with Flash Thompson in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Venom: Space Knight. Mike’s done a great job staying true to what Brian Bendis and Robbie Thompson have done before him, while really getting inside that thing’s head and making the character his own.
Mike Costa: In Venom, the host and the symbiote – both individual characters – are at a really bad place in their life, but looking for a chance. They’re looking for something to pull them out of the situation they’re in.
We’re really trying to examine who the symbiote is, or what it is. As Devin said, we’ve never gotten too much from its perspective – and it has had such a fascinating, incredible journey.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, we found out what Venom’s homeworld is all about – and we also found out that its psychically damaged in some way. It has these murderous tendencies that’re unnatural to its race, making it effectively ‘sick.’ For lack of a better word, Venom gets reprogrammed to be more peaceful, but that’s a traumatic thing – even if it’s for the better.
So what does the symbiote want? And who would be his best match? In Venom #1, we meet our host: a guy much like the past host, Flash, a former soldier who is down on his luck. His name is Lee Price, and he’s fallen through the cracks of society and needs something to pull him out … and the symbiote needs a host. So those two, their needs dovetail into one another, but it turns out to be what neither of them expected.
Nrama: So Lee Price – the name doesn’t ring a bell. That’s entirely new character, right? Who is he?
Costa: Yes, he’s a totally new character.
Lewis: Lee Price is a veteran Army ranger, who’s completely new to the Marvel Universe. Part of the reason we did that is to put something new into the equation while we emphasize something readers were already familiar with – the symbiote.
Venom’s had a lot of incarnations and hosts over the years– be it Eddie Brock, Ann Weying, Patricia Robertson, Angelo Fortunato, Mac Gargan, or Flash Thompson. Everyone has their favorite, but there’s one common denominator: the symbiote.
Putting a new guy in the suit, on one hand, gives us something exciting and unique to play with, but makes the symbiote more familiar in context. It gives a great lens to see Mike’s story through. That, in a sense, is the whole point of the opening arc.
Costa: We wanted to tell the story in the most straight-forward way possible. We didn’t want it to be a guessing game of who the host is going to be and if they are a pre-existing Marvel character. As Devin said, that’s not our story. The story is about the suit itself. What better way to do that than find a new host, have readers meet him the same time the symbiote does, and see their parallel stories?
Lewis: Mike and I have been talking from the outset about this being a classic Marvel story. Nowadays you have Vision, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman… all very interesting, character-driven, boutique stories. Mike’s Venom takes a similar character-driven approach, but with a lot of Marvel Universe bombast and fanfare thrown into the mix. This story stands alone, but is also very much a new thread in the Spider-Man tapestry. It doesn’t pull you out of the Marvel Universe for a single panel.
Black Cat is in the first arc, Mac Gargan is, too, and we’ve even got a Hobgoblin franchisee featured in our second issue . As the series progresses, there’ll be appearances by just about every person who has been a part of Venom’s circle. We have big plans for characters who have been in Venom’s orbit.
More than that - as Mike started turning in Venom scripts, I told him that it felt like a celebration of everything Venom is.
Costa: I don’t want to say Venom turns into a “legacy book” where we meet all the old hosts, but all of them are definitely part of the fabric of the title.
Nrama: Well, Venom is back in New York City – where it first landed when he came to Earth attached to Peter after the original Secret Wars. What is the symbiote up to?
Costa: This is ultimately a Spider-book, and Spider-Man is so closely tied to New York City – he’s perhaps the most NYC-centric superhero of all time. That was a big reason, right here.
But also, we wanted to try and explore parts of the city you don’t get to see a lot of in the Marvel Universe. Our host character is a street-level character in the way Spider-Man isn’t. And he’s not out in space like Flash Thompson. Lee Price and Venom are now walking the streets of Alphabet City and the rougher parts of Brooklyn. We’re going to see NYC, but not necessarily Peter Parker’s NYC. Another side of NYC for a more appropriate emotional state of the lead characters.
Lewis: The first script is really terrific. As you saw in the preview pages, the symbiote is crawling through NYC alleyways and immediately comes upon a homeless person. This is, in a lot of ways, a grittier, lower, ‘salt of the Earth’ New York City. In some ways even more so than Spider-Man’s stories.
In Venom, the city is a character. Mike plays with it a lot.
Like Mike said, even though this is a Venom title, it’s still part of the Spider-Man family. Black Cat is involved, as is Mac Gargan – a.k.a. the Scorpion, and a one-time Venom; that’ll be the first time he’s ran into the symbiote in five years.
Like you said, Chris, the first place Venom landed on Earth is New York. In some ways, he’s a New Yorker, and this book is a homecoming for the symbiote in more ways than one.
Nrama: Since you’re saying it's different parts of New York City than what’s typically shown, where is it exactly? Do you have a specific area, or street?
Costa: We’re all over the city. Lee lives in Brooklyn, but, yeah, we’re all over the city. We’re not in any of the glamorous parts of Manhattan.
I think one of the reasons Spider-Man is in New York City is because Stan Lee lived there, but also because of the tall buildings he could swing around from. The scale of that is cool to see, and it’s great for big super hero stories as it gives them a real majesty. But with Venom #1, the first time you see the symbiote it’s in a dirty alley. That’s our scale for the time being.
Lewis: I would say this first arc takes place in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In and of itself, that represents two sides of the city. There’s a metaphor there, somewhere, with people having two faces.
Nrama: As readers have seen with the covers and pages so far, this seems like a back-to-basics approach to Venom – even evoking the early Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen sinew-y, dislocated jaw mouth gape. What would you say to that?
Costa: Yeah, obviously Devin hired Gerardo Sandoval… and when I saw his first couple pages, I actually started adjusting the way I was writing the book.
This isn’t a spoiler, but Venom is a bad guy. We’re trying to get back to Venom as a villain instead of him as a Space Knight. Gerardo is going back to that McFarlane/Larsen Venom, with the mask sort of half-covering the host’s face and then the teeth coming through. I wrote a lot of descriptions like that into the script once I saw what Gerardo could pull off.
Even though it’s a brand new host, and a brand new day, we’re celebrating a “back to basics” approach for the symbiote.
Lewis: I think you hit it just about on the head, Chris. Gerardo finished up the end of the previous volume, Venom: Space Knight, and did tremendous work. He did great on New Avengers as well.
There’s something about the quality of his art– the sinewy, visceral nature of it. When we knew we were taking Venom back to Earth, we knew we wanted someone who could get him gritty.
The only thing I’d really add to what you said is that this return to “classic” Venom – huge fangs, slobbery tongue – wasn’t necessarily an edict from up on high, but literally just came after sitting down to talk about what we’d do after Robbie Thompson’s Venom: Space Knight run. When we asked ourselves what would be cool, we landed on the sharp-fanged, slobbery-toothed Venom. It’s fantastic. And the way Mike’s written it is so natural, as it bridges what we’ve seen from Venom recently into where he’s going.
Nrama: Well, that’s how Gerardo sold himself on doing Venom. Devin, how did you land on Mike Costa for writing the book?
Lewis: Mike and I have worked together for a few years, with Scarlet Spiders then Web Warriors – and what initially got him hired was the great G.I. Joe/Cobra. Chris and anyone reading this, you must go out and buy that series – but before you do that, buy every copy of Web Warriors. I love that book more than anyone. Mike did a tremendous job building around the Spider-cast so that everyone shared the same emotional floor – with great power comes great responsibility. Through that, Mike was able to pinpoint a unique voice for everyone. And every time I called him and I asked about throwing in some new character, Mike was up for the challenge in making in work. That adaptability is amazing.
In an industry where there’s a new issue every week, Mike’s adaptability – combined with his voice for characters – is what won him the gig.
Here on Venom, on one hand he has to operate in the Spider-Man world, but he also has to tell a compelling story for Lee and the symbiote. Mike takes those balls and runs with it.
Going back to Gerardo, he did so great with Venom: Space Knight that I didn’t want it to stop. I have to give colorist Dono Sánchez-Almara credit, as he and I worked closely with Gerardo to come up with the visual style. For the past while, Venom has primarily been colored with blue highlights but I ‘ve never been a fan of that. I prefer black, white, and grey, and Dono and I worked with Gerardo to come up with something new that we’re all happy with.
Nrama: Last question then, what are your big goals with Venom beyond just the first issue and the first arc?
Costa: Well, I want the book to do well… for Devin and for everybody else as well. But, creatively my goal is to re-establish Venom. I think Robbie did this particularly well in Venom: Space Knight, keeping the symbiote a scary threat – but ultimately that was a superhero book, and the symbiote was ‘fixed.’ With Venom, I want to do as close as a straight supervillain book as can be done.
Of the ‘Big Two,’ Marvel takes the most risks creatively, critically, and even financially sometimes, but even then its rare to get an ongoing book focused on a legitimate supervillain. It can get exhausting and morally bankrupt, as readers don’t want to follow a cold-blooded killer forever. I want to make a comic about a bad person while keeping it compelling. The really easy thing would be to reach to compare it to Breaking Bad – to show you a guy who is bad and gets worse. So it can be done, so to be able to do that here in the scope of the Marvel U is exciting.
Venom might be the most iconic character to come out of Spider-Man comics since the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era, and he’s such a huge part of the mythos. He’s a character I grew up with in the 1990s when he was really at his apex. So we want to do a good job by the character, and do something we don’t get to see very often – a book about the bad guy. Not just to watch awful stuff happen, but to find the core of what Venom is. As Devin said, the one constant throughout the years is with Venom is the symbiote. To dig in and really find out who that is, and what that thing wants its invigorating.
Lewis: Just to build off that... I don’t think Chris D’Lando will kill me for this, but everyone’s asking about Eddie Brock. I can say we do have plans for Eddie Brock. I can’t say what they are, but stay tuned. In terms of other editorial goals, if readers look closely, there’s an anniversary of some kind coming up and it’s kind of a momentous occasion.
Nrama: We just passed the 30th anniversary of Eddie Brock’s debut, but the 30th for the debut of Venom isn’t until 2018.
Costa: Let me say this: my goal of the first arc is to snap into focus this as a street-level crime story. It’s about a guy dragged into a situation outside his wheelhouse, forced to make the best of a really bad situation. He’s just trying to keep his head above water and get through it. As we continue it, the goal is to expand the canvas out from there. Our very first story is a purely character-driven kind of ‘bad night’ scenario: “Here’s where I am, here’s where things went wrong, and here’s the bad things I have to do to survive.”