In the last story arc, when Venom attempted to protect his neighbor Andi with his symbiote, a part of it bonded to her, becoming Mania! The new superhero vowed to kill Lord Ogre, the man responsible for murdering her father.
As revealed last issue, the villain Crossbones has been hunting and killing any person marked as a potential replacement for the hell-lords (labeled the Descent), skinning them of their brand. Venom was marked by Mephisto in Circle of Four, but Daimon Hellstrom informed him that he no longer is. Instead, the mark was passed to Mania when she acquired part of the symbiotic.
Also, Daimon Hellstrom has been sighed around America, and Flash even saw his dead body in Austin, Texas (after being skinned by Crossbones).Surprisingly, though, Venom found the Hellstrom right where he's always been: in the Raft.
|Executive Producer:||Alan Fine|
|Chief Creative Officer:||Joe Quesada|
|Editor In Chief:||Axel Alonso|
|Senior Editor:||Stephen Wacker|
|Assistant Editor:||Dan Lewis|
|Cover Art:||Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire|
In the Raft, Daimon Hellstrom explains to Venom that, when he first heard of the Descent, he decided that he wanted all the power and more. Therefore, he cut himself and five duplicates developed from the blood, with the purpose to “explore every possible facet of the coming Descent.” Hellstrom expounds, “But my…others…were too head-strong. Some of them didn’t even believe. I couldn’t tell you…not with any degree of certainty…if I’m even the original.” Daimon is disappointed that he’s hit rock bottom and calls himself flawed.
When Venom asks about the marking, Hellstrom says that he should consider himself lucky for no longer being branded. Many of Daimon’s other selves have already been killed, and he’s safest in the Raft. Venom is angry that Hellstrom is more concerned about himself than others. “Maybe you don’t know what rock bottom feels like just yet. But you’re damn sure on your way,” Venom scorns.
In Lord Ogre’s penthouse in Philly, three guards are concerned about whether they’ll be attacked by Venom or Mania, whom they label “She-Venom.” One guy decides that he’d rather face the girl, and suddenly they are attacked by symbiote tendrils. In his chamber, Ogre orders his goons to allow Mania to reach him to “see if this child is half the beast she’d have us believe.”
Suddenly, Mania busts through the ceiling and swiftly takes down Ogre’s goons. Ogre grabs Andi by the neck, elucidating that when he dies, his “gospel” will “spread on the wind.” He explains that those who breath their last death will never know who unleashed “a death cloud to wash over them” whether it be Lord Ogre or Mania.
Mania realizes that if Ogre dies, he’ll release a toxic gas bomb, and she calls him a coward. “If killing you means dropping a bunch of other people I don’t know…I can live with it,” Mania says. After all, the symbiote will protect her from the chemicals and gases Ogre would unleash. Ogre is astonished, and Andi states, “I’m calling your bluff.”
Suddenly, Venom slams into Lord Ogre and releases Mania from his grip. When the villain mutters that Venom has come to save his friend, Venom says, “I was saving you from her!” Venom explodes at Mania, calling her reckless for allowing Ogre to possibly set off a bomb, whether he was bluffing or not. When Ogre begins to rise, Flash tells him that if he goes any further, he’ll cut Mania loose on her.
Our hero continues with his worrying over Andi until she yells, “You’re not my dad.” Flash cools down and begins to apologize. Changing the sensitive subject, Venom explains that Mania has been marked by the devil. Right on cue, Crossbones and a fleet of assassins enter the chamber with a mysterious bearded man.
The assassin introduces himself as Crossbones and orders the bearded man beside him, now revealed to be named Master Mayhem, to do his thing. Suddenly, a horde of demons explode from his coat, and Venom yells, “This is why you need to listen to me!” As they fight, Ogre is attacked by the demons and a device on his chest begins beeping. Mania realizes that the crime boss may not have been lying about the gas bomb.
As a Hail Mary for old times’ sake, Venom throws the explosive into Master Mayhem’s robe, figuring that it’s “some sort of extra-dimensional gate to the under-world.” The villain drops to the ground as the bomb explodes inside of him, regretting he could’ve been a teacher instead of a villain. Venom is impressed with his awesomeness.
When Mania orders the demons to get off her, they heed to the command. Venom realizes that Andi is able to control the demons with her mark, and she sends them towards Crossbones. Master Mayhem (who seems to have mysteriously recovered) is angry at the disobeying fiends, but Crossbones quickly mows them down. The assassin calls Master Mayhem “a two-bit knock-off of a wizard,” but stops his complaining to ask where their targets went.
Later at his apartment, Flash shows Andi the sphere from Venom (Vol. 2) #30, which dredges up the memories of the onlooker (but also nearly mind-washes them). Flash gained it from the U-Foes and plans on using it to communicate with his symbiote. Our hero orders Andi to stand by and inject him with a syringe if things go wrong. The teenager voices her opinion that it’s a bad plan, but Flash explains that they need some answers because the symbiote’s been acting strangely.
When Flash places his hand on the sphere and begins watching his past, from being a drunk, to a soldier, to a cripple, to Venom, to the death of his father, and to being a coach. While the past rushes by him, Flash asks how the symbiote created a separate piece to attach to Andi. It responds that “the intruder had to be purged” and it was only protecting him, as always. Defensively, Flash tells the symbiote that it was trapped and he set it free, and it snaps, “I gave you strength when you had none.” The symbiote explains that the brand was on it, not Flash, and it cut it out.
“I’ve always protected you! And you feared me…drugged me…prayed to get rid of me! You hurt me! Unless is suited you to use me!” the symbiote screams. Flash is suddenly transported to a desert-like terrain and the symbiote explains that, even though the mark kept the demon at bay, it was seeping into its very being so it cut it out. Flash seems to wither away as Venom turns into its demon form, telling him to "expel the disease before it's too late!" (I think this is what transpires; it’s very unclear.)
In current time, Flash releases himself from the sphere and halts Andi from injecting him with the syringe. He’s dazed and tells the teenager that he didn’t really get the answers he was looking for. Flash decides that the solution to their problem can only be achieved if they make a deal with the devil.
This second part seems to make up for the last issue’s quietness with lots of action. Overall, I found this to be a very satisfying middle part of the story. Bunn smartly avoids the lethargy of typical second parts that sometimes ruin stories. The plot also retains the richness that it had last issue, and the supernatural and street-level tones mesh well together. The beginning of the symbiote/Flash conversation was excellent in reflecting on the series as Venom draws to its last issue. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this arc.
Among the action and fighting, Bunn seems to place a few character moments in the story. I’m enjoying the full circle of Flash’s character: at the beginning of the series, he was being instructed on how to be a hero by Project: Rebirth, but he is now instructing Mania on how to be a hero. The whole “the student becomes the teacher” theme works well here. Venom and Mania’s father/daughter relationship is funny; Flash has taken Andi’s father’s place in her life, even though she may not want him to. The other interesting character moment is for the symbiote. In the flashbacks, the symbiote’s revelation that it has always tried to protect Flash, even when he rejected it, rings true to the symbiote’s character. The scene also displays how reliant the symbiote and Flash are on each other: the alien gives him strength while he gives it freedom.
Among my praise, though, I have a few problems with the story. The last page of the symbiote/Flash conversation is very confusing. I looked at it for a long time before I wrote the summary of it, and I’m still not quite sure what happened. It also seems odd how Master Mayhem wasn’t really affected by the gas bomb Venom threw into him. Additionally, I’m confused as to what has happened to the demon that possessed Flash. Has it been transferred to Andi with the mark or does Venom still retain it? I hope Bunn clears that up.
Coelho provides art once again and it has already begun to improve from last issue. The talking is as excellent as it was before, but the action seems to advance, which is necessary for the fighting-filled script. The characters are more dynamic and the action angles are better. The panel layout of the art is also very good. The only major problem art-wise is the unclearness of Page 20.
There are a few problems that hold me back from giving this a better rating, but the character moments are excellent and the art is great. The supernatural and street-level tones mix well.