Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #654.1

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Absolutely Amazing

This review was first published on: May 2014.

Background...

Last issue, Spider-Man used a Horizon-built spider sense jammer and defeated Alistair Smythe's army of bug/man hybrids. In a last effort of vengeance against J Jonah Jameson's indirect killing of his father, Smythe used his enhanced limps to attempt to stab him. At the last minute, Marla Jameson jumped to save her husband and was killed by Smythe instead of him. And the whole time, Peter helplessly watched.

Lately, Marvel has been releasing Point One issues in every title. They are supposed to be good jumping-on issues for new readers. It is basically like a first issue, it just pisses fans off less. Instead of promoting Spider-Man, this issue focuses on the latest inhabitant of the Venom symbiote, Flash Thompson. In a back story last issue, the military gave Flash the symbiote for covert operations as long as he doesn't lose control. Sadly, if he does, they will blow up the symbiote with him in it.

In Detail...

"Flashpoint"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #654.1
Apr 2011 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man Appears
Editor:  Axel Alonso
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Humberto Ramos
Inker:  Carlos Cuevas
Colorist:  Edgar Delgado
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Issue
Review

A mysterious figure climbs the side of Futura Plaza, the third tallest building in the Pacific Rim. It is known to be "impenetrable...by conventional means." “Fortunately,” the intruder thinks, “I'm an unconventional guy.” He climbs through the air vents until he reaches his destination. Once each camera around the perimeter has been blinded with magnetic webs, he jumps out of the vent and reveals himself to be Venom.

"I'm in. Phase One complete," Flash exclaims over his communication implant to his coworker at Project Rebirth, Kate. "I'd say that puts us at the forty with a new first down and plenty of time left on the--" Kate tells him to stop the football metaphors. "The fate of the world's at stake. This isn't a game, Corporal Thompson," she scolds.

Venom requests to be called Flash, but Kate tells him that, in suit, he's Venom. After a bit of bantering, Flash’s symbiote transforms into a suit, and he reviews that his cover name is Gene Heisman. Meanwhile, Kate, dressed in a fancy dress, pick-locks a door.

"[The] sooner we get the symbiote off this amateur and onto a real agent, the better," Kate says. Flash tells her that he can hear everything she's muttering, and she responds that she knows. (That's cold.) She opens the door, and Flash steps out. He says, "You didn't have to do that. The can use the symbiote to make a lock pick for me. I don't need you here to--" She interrupts again, "I'm not here for you. I'm here to monitor the alien." Flash makes clear that he doesn't need to be reminded about the "kill switch."

"What's next?" our hero asks. "We mingle, Mr. Heisman. The party's around the corner. It's a secret summit of the biggest financial linchpins in our global economy," she informs. Then, Kate informs him that they are after Bianca Demonico, a member of the terrorist group Ultimatum, trying to gather information as to her boss, Flag Smasher’s, location.

Without even entering the crowd of people, somebody recognizes Flash’s cover character. Kate whispers to our hero that the man talking to him is Yusef Kassim, banker to the Middle East's largest oil company. Flash makes small talk with the Middle-eastern man until he is approached by Bianca Demonico, their target. Flash and Demonico begin dancing, our hero saying, “With a knockout lie you, I talk with my feet.” While boogying, Flash plants a symbiote tracker on Demonico’s arm.

Later, Flash is at the Project Rebirth Headquarters, surrounded by General Dodge, Kate, Mackenzie, and a few nameless suited men. When asked about his performance, Kate admits that Flash was “adequate.” Our hero is concerned about how General Dodge’s dog, Samson, is staring at him oddly. Mackenzie assumes that Samson knows Flash’s 48 hour window is closing and continues to remove Flash’s symbiote sonically. “100% of the symbiote is in the tube. No bonding has occurred. You’re clean, Flash. And good for 19 more missions.” Samson runs up to the symbiote-free Flash and begins licking him.

At his apartment in Brooklyn, Flash is thinking about dancing with Demonico when Betty enters, and he feels guilty. Crying, Betty mentions that Marla died leading to Flash getting up from his wheelchair to comfort her. Only…he forgets doesn’t have any legs and falls. Betty, helping him up, mentions that Peter has been hard on himself and urges her boyfriend to console him.

In Tribeca, Flash is told that Peter has left for the Coffee Bean from the doorman of his apartment building. Our hero thinks about how Peter’s “not screwin’ everything up” for once in his life until he spots him in the coffee shop window, conversing with Mary Jane. Infuriated, Flash considers straightening Peter out for betraying his girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, before he gets an alert from General Dodge.

On his phone, Dodge reveals that Ultimatum has kidnapped and extracted Yusef Kassim from the country. Luckily, Demonico among kidnappers and, using the tracker Flash planted, they know she’s in Uzbekistan. When Dodge reveals he wants him to rescue Kassim, Flash objects at first, hoping to attend to Peter, but decides that his country comes first.

Soon, in the F-119 Sky Spider, a stealth plane flying to Uzbekistan, Kate informs Flash that they’ll reunite “ten clicks north of Ultimatum’s compound” once he rescues Kassim. Also, he’ll have no communication because the stealth scrambles connections. Venom leaps from the Sky Spider and lands on the Ultimatum base roof.

After confirming he doesn’t have contact with Project Rebirth, Flash thinks, “Sure, I like being the MVP, but I’ve always been a team player.” Sometimes, though, “it’s just you, the ball…and whatever it takes to reach the end zone.” Venom resumes his mission, sniping three guards positioned around the complex, and then killing another when he discovers the guards aren’t present.

Meanwhile in Yusef Kassim’s holding cell, Flag Smasher, leader of Ultimatum, demands to know Kassim’s bank codes. “Once they are mine…I will bankrupt your monarchy, topple their oligarchy…and begin a cascade effect that will cripple the global economy!” Flag Smasher rants.

Before he returns to beating his captive, a guard rushes up to his boss, alerting that they’ve spotted an intruder. Flag Smasher rushes from room, ordering for the call of arms to be sounded. Then, the guard thanks Demonico, who happens to be in the room, and she’s confused why he does. The guard reveals to actually be Venom, and says, “Thanks for the dance!” as he punches her and the corresponding guard.

Venom releases Kassim, joking, “I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you” Sadly, an alarm is alerted by Kassim’s restraints as they leave, and a flurry of guards begins chasing them. Venom manages to avoid their bullets until Flag Smasher chucks a grenade at him.

Our hero is thrown to the floor and the symbiote retains full control, snarling, “Now we’re gonna tear ya limb from limb!” The monstrous beast murders the guards, terrifying Kassim. Flag Smasher reveals that he has a bomb rigged in Kassim’s restraints and threatens to detonate it with a switch in his hand. Venom isn’t dazed and simply bites the terrorist’s arm off, then spits it out. Kassim calls him a cannibal, to which he replies, “Doesn’t count. We didn't swallow.”

Later, Flash, in control of his symbiote, meets Kate and Mackenzie with Yusef Kassim. Mac dismantles the explosive is Kassim’s manacles. Because she wasn't able to monitor him, Kate asks Kassim if he witnessed Flash “venom-out.” Hesitantly, the man says, “I saw—nothing less than a true hero. I owe you my life, my friend.”

At the Project Rebirth headquarters, Mac reveals that only 99% of the symbiote has been recollected from Flash. When Flash enters the room, he confirms to General Dodge that he’s in “for the long haul.” As he leaves, he mentions, “See you around, partner.” Kate responds, but Mac reveals that he wasn’t speaking to her.

In Brooklyn, Flash enters his apartment with Betty sitting on his couch. She reveals that he missed Marla’s funeral and Flash discloses that he didn’t get the chance to talk to Peter, using the V.A. as an excuse. “I haven’t been a good friend to you…or a best friend to Peter,” he says. He promises to be better as Betty hugs him, but he’s really thinking about Peter keeping secrets.

In General...

I’m an admirer of both Dan Slott’s Big Time run and Rick Remender’s Venom (Vol. 2 run, so this issue is perfect for me. Dan Slott presents the new Venom with a freshness that hasn’t been seen since David Michelinie’s early Venom stories. This introduction to Venom’s new status quo begins, in my opinion, the definitive Venom solo run. It simply teems with inventiveness, introducing many brilliant themes that launch Venom’s solo run.

The first theme presented is the espionage, secret agent, Bond-esque premise of the character. Slott’s script pulls this off in the beginning sequence with Flash’s Bond-esque suit, meeting of the world’s wealthiest, and dance with Demonico. Heck, even the name Demonico sounds Bond-esque! In addition, Venom’s assault on Ultimatum, a terrorist organization, to save Kassim, a major world leader, is a perfect plotline for a war veteran now working as a secret government agent. The mission carries a sense of urgency, but not Avengers-level importance, which works for a B-character like Venom.

The second theme is Flash’s constant battle to control the symbiote from possessing him. In the Ultimatum base, our hero clearly loses control, and it’s obvious in the end that Project Rebirth’s worst fears are realized when Flash begins treating the symbiote as his partner. Readers are totally on the edge when Kassim is asked if he lost control, and the “kill switch” adds tension to the situation.

The third major theme introduced is Flash’s secrets slowly beginning to boil over. He’s lying to Betty about his secret life, he’s lying to Kate about his symbiote control, and he’s lying to General Dodge about his confidence. The introduction of the V.A. plays a large role in the Venom series, acting as Flash’s excuse, until Betty realizes that Flash hasn’t actually been attending any events he claims he does.

Flash’s character is very well-written by Dan Slott. Slott introduces an interesting, sharp character that I have no doubt can maintain his own series. From the football references to the somewhat choppy dialogue, Flash’s character works very well. He’s fresher than Mac Gargan ever was with the symbiote and Eddie Brock, nearing the end of his tenure as Venom.

Slott also introduces a very strong supporting cast for Flash and uses them well to advance the character and plot. Kate is successfully established as a disaffecting invigilator who would have no problem pushing the “kill switch” on Venom, yet she could still be affected by Flash’s charm. Mackenzie is a cool guy who is concerned with Flash’s control of the symbiote. Although I can’t be completely certain yet with this issue, General Dodge is depicted as a respectable man who trusts Flash. Samson, Dodge’s dog, is clever for foreshadowing Flash’s darkness when he wears the symbiote.

Ramos’ art, although it isn’t exactly the most realistic, works well with Slott’s tightly-plotted script. Ramos successfully portrays the glamor and bustle of the financial summit sequence; particularly the spread of Flash and Demonico’s dance is great. Then, Venom’s assault on the Ultimatum base on Pages 11-12 captures the secret agent element of the script. My favorite part of the act, though, is Ramos’ depiction of Venom when he loses control. He establishes Venom’s look with the symbiote taking over: extremely large and monstrous.

Overall Rating...

Slott and Ramos brilliantly introduce many great themes and characters. They portray Flash's character terrifically, inventively reinvigorating Venom's character. This is such a great introduction that the series launching from it lasts for 42 issues, which is almost unheard of with Marvel's constant cancellations and relaunches.

Footnote...

Although Remender could have mined this new status quo for at least fifty issues in his Venom run, he ditched it pretty quickly after two story arcs. He seemed to prefer rouge agent Venom to secret agent Venom. I still think Remender should have used the secret agent aspect more, but...