A Price to be Paid
Mike Costa (W), Gerardo Sandoval (A), Dono Sánchez Almara
Cover by Gerardo Sandoval
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What? A review on a Friday? Is that even legal? Well, according to my lawyers (me in a monocle), it is! Finals week is done, the semester is finished, and it’s time to talk about some Sweet Christmasing comic books!
I know this comic is about half a month old now, but I have to review it. It’s Venom, it’s replacing my 5th Favorite Marvel Hero, Agent Venom, and, well, it’s actually a pretty interesting comic to talk about.
I’m pretty freaking disappointed that they are replacing Flash Thompson as Venom. Like I’ve said numerous times, he’s one of my favorite Marvel Heroes of all time. However, I would be lying if I said I never expected it to happen, just like I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to figure out that Kaine the Scarlet Spider (another character I adore, Minimum Carnage was a fantastic story for me) died at the end of Spiderverse recently, but I did when I looked at an issue of Amazing Spider-Man with good ole’ Kaine Parker on the cover.
I was, however, surprised to figure out that the symbiote was not reverting back to Eddie Brock. We are getting yet another new Venom. I’m not complaining, but it was surprising. That being said, Eddie Brock hasn’t been Venom proper in over a decade now. That means for roughly half the character’s existence, the person who is most well-known for being Venom hasn’t actually been Venom. Mac Gargan was Venom for the latter half of the 2000’s. My boy Flash Thompson was Venom from 2011 until—well now. So it probably shouldn’t have been too surprising that they would find someone else to get ahold of the suit, even an all-new character like Lee Price.
The book begins with stone-faced drifter Lee Price getting a message about a job from a friend. We simultaneously get a look at the Venom symbiote on its own looking very sickly. Price gets to the meeting about the job and finds his friend Tony and former-Venom current-Scorpion Mac Gargan. Price and Tony are told about a protection job which they accept.
We briefly return to the symbiote as it inhabits an inebriated homeless man. The bond proves incompatible and this further weakens Venom.
Price and Tony are at the scene of their job when they are confronted by a different crew, and we find out that Price and Tony’s real boss is none other than the Black Cat. They are offered the chance to run, but Price insists on payment. Before a bullet is put in his head, the Venom symbiote arrives and attaches to Price.
We then get a history of Price as the symbiote discovers it. He had a rough home life with an abusive father. He joined the military where he lost two fingers, and the symbiote tells Price about its tenure with Flash Thompson and the admiration it holds for him.
This rings hollow for Price, who proceeds to brutally murder all of the opposing gangsters to the symbiote’s misery. He then kills his friend Tony and the homeless man as Venom continues to plead for him to stop. We get more history from Price as he talks about a mutant friend he had as a child who was killed in a fire of his own making after G-men tried to arrest him.
The comic ends with Price taking the materials he was hired to protect, destroying all evidence, and returning to a warehouse with the suffering symbiote in tow.
This comic is actually really, really good. I almost hate that since I already miss Agent Venom, but, at the same time, I could get used to Lee Price.
This book does a lot of things that you don’t see often in comics. You get a feel for what it’s like to be a small fish in this world of heroes, gods, and monsters. Price is just a normal man. Well, not a normal man, but we’ll get to that in a second. That being said, he is bottom-rung. He was made into a disposable underling for Black Cat. His friend as a child was the one to get mutant powers. He has come into contact with this world, as almost everyone in this universe must at some point, but he has never been a part of it.
Price is also a proper sociopath. This guy is a cold-blooded sonuvabitch as we see in this comic. He’s not cackling and manic like the Green Goblin or Carnage. He isn’t talkative like Doctor Doom. He’s not a dumb brute like Absorbing Man. There’s nothing redeemable about him like Magneto or even previous Venom Eddie Brock. He is cold, quiet, and malicious. When the symbiote attaches itself to him, he only sees it as an opportunity to get his.
This also allows for the comic to invert the “man vs. the beast inside” narrative that Marvel loves so much. When I say that, think characters like the Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and even Venoms Eddie Brock and Flash Thompson. Marvel loves to tell stories about heroes who are fighting something big and ugly inside of them that manifests itself in literal ways. This is different. The symbiote has been redeemed by Flash Thompson and his trip to the Klyntar homeworld. It wants to do good and be a hero, but it makes the mistake of latching onto Price, whom is a selfish and cruel individual. He executes his associate Tony without a second thought. This time the beast wants to redeem the man, but the man could care less. This even separates itself from Carnage, which is a monster in sync with another monster named Cletus Cassidy.
The pacing is really good in this comic. It explains itself perfectly, Price is characterized really well, and the action comes at the right moment. It never drags, but it doesn’t rush itself either. It’s a story with a lot of confidence in itself.
The art is perfect for the comic too. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Sandoval’s artwork back when he was on Al Ewing’s New Avengers. It’s very stylistic and perspective-based. Characters do tend to look a little different from panel-to-panel, but it works because they don’t look too odd or unappealing. It even looks better in this comic, as Venom is already an amorphous beast. It fits his design, and we get to see him distort and twist in interesting ways. The faces are very expressive too, and you can see a character’s mood without he or she needing to say a word. He even manages to give the symbiote itself some interesting expressions, especially when it is alone and ailing. Almara’s colors are very good too, with a lot of muted and darker shades that set the atmosphere perfectly.
This is the kind of villain book that I live for. It’s an interesting and brutal character study. It’s violent but thoughtful. It’s confident but approachable. I’m not sure it’s as good as Remender and Bunn’s Venom yet, but, as much as it pains me to say it, it’s already better than Venom: Space Knight (a comic I wanted to love but fell short). I know I’m a little late on this, but, if you haven’t picked this comic up yet, buy it. You won’t be disappointed.
Final Score: 9/10