Venom #164 Review

by Charles Martin on April 04, 2018

Venom #164 Review
Writer: Mike Costa
Penciller: Mark Bagley
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colourist: Dono Sánchez-Almara
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

The current run of Venom has developed a very schizophrenic tone. That's generally appropriate; Venom is a pretty schizophrenic (anti-)hero. This issue, and the new "Nativity" arc, are swinging back to the "Eddie and Venom are trapped in a ☠☠☠☠ed-up quasi-romantic relationship" end of the tone spectrum.

Confession: I love "☠☠☠☠ed-up quasi-romantic relationship" Venom, so this issue was meat and potatoes with extra gravy for me. If you prefer the other end of the spectrum, where generically-sassy Venom beats up dinosaurs or chaperones the X-Men on space adventures, you might be less enthused. 

Let me tell you why quasi-romantic Venom is the awesomest Venom.

In his quieter scripts, Mike Costa has done something new with the Eddie-Venom relationship: He's given it distance. Venom has emerged as a separate character with its own fears and desires, and it's even been able to carve out a tiny, independent life for itself. It keeps secrets from Eddie Brock, and that's amazing.

Venom #164 features a wonderfully subtle illustration of how complex the Eddie-Venom relationship has gotten. At one point, Eddie is Venomed up for a fight and refers to "Brock" in the third person. The symbiote is also addressing Eddie with a voice of its own at the same time. If he weren't busy fighting for his life, Eddie might realize he's not as closely-bonded to his symbiote as he thinks; the symbiote is capable (more capable, in this example) of maintaining a separate identity just like he is.

Besides this wonderful character work, this issue also features a comedic clash with the Shocker, still locked firmly in place as the Marvel Universe's lamest street villain (cf. Zdarsky/Anka Star-Lord). 

The other big splash in Mike Costa's script is that the author is finally referencing the Conway/Perkins Carnage solo. The callback is very welcome; Eddie Brock played a significant role there. What influence the Carnage series will end up having is undecided, though; there are some significant mysteries that still have to be explored. There's oodles of potential - will it get paid off?

Mark Bagley and Dono Sánchez-Almara team up to deliver some solid visuals. Mr. Bagley's art is up to his usual very high standards, and while it doesn't break any new ground, it's certainly not short of detail. Mr. Sánchez-Almara's colour palette is mostly earthy. It seems like an odd choice for this title, but the theme developing throughout this issue ends up fitting the warmer colours by the end.

This issue involves a lot of nightmares, and there's a missed opportunity to make those nightmares more visually distinctive. Also, Mr. Bagley's layouts feel too clinical during the final fight. Venom's getting captured and the camera is pulling out just when we want it to press in for an emotional connection.

Mike Costa's script also has a few quibbles. The pace is a bit slow; Mr. Costa is pushing an early plot point into cliffhanger duty and thus finds himself with time to kill. As much as I love the character exploration (and comedy time with the Shocker), I can see that Venom fans who want straight plot progression as quick and heavy as possible might feel let down.

In the rare quiet interludes between crossover shenanigans, Mike Costa has crafted a fascinating take on the Eddie/Venom relationship. He's turned the symbiote into a separate character, one with its own agenda and secrets it keeps from its host. What happens when those secrets are laid bare to Eddie Brock? Venom #164 delivers a blockbuster of a revelation, and there are doubtless more surprises ahead. Unless you absolutely cannot stand introspective, character-driven Venom, you'll find this new evolution enthralling.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
Purged from my review: Misplaced ire about the fact that this is only about the fourth "☠☠☠☠ed-up quasi-romance" script Venom has featured in 21 issues. Let's be grateful when we do get the good stuff!