Rick Remender lives in some dark places.
Not only is he writing Uncanny X-Force, wherein his team of covert bad-guy-killers are trudging through the devastation of the Age of Apocalypse and raking their hearts over coals while an illicit affair blossoms between Psylocke and suddenly-popular vagabond Fantomex behind the back of the incapacitated and murderously-possessed original-X-Man Angel, but he's also writing Venom, which continues to delve deeper into the sick and unpleasant misery that has defined the entire existence of Eugene Thompson. There is no "Flash" here in Venom #5. Only heartache, depression and alcoholic disaster, and that's why he's the perfect match for an alien symbiote suit that feeds off of negative emotions.
We open with a truly disgusting villain called the Human Fly, who regurgitates yellow gunk all over his food before he eats it, and that food is usually rats and people and stuff. We do get to see Venom kick his ass, but that's just the opening slam-bang that leads into Thompson's ugly childhood history with his drunken, abusive, alcoholic father, who in turn made him a bullying drunk in constant need of the old man's approval – an impossible goal for him. Hence, misery. While he's busy trying to rationalize the lies he's been telling his superior officers to keep them from bouncing him out of the service and to his girlfriend Betty Brant to keep her from kicking him to the curb, he discovers his father's fallen off the wagon again, instantly and completely erasing all the progress they'd made in healing the scars of the past. And it's up to Eugene to drag him out of the bottle he's fallen into… only to discover the reason he fell off the wagon is because he's dying.
You kinda need a drink after reading this issue, and it's all about how awful it is to need a drink. Makes you think Remender would have been a perfect fit for writing Daredevil at his bleakest. Now that Mark Waid is brightening up the Man Without Fear, all that bleakness has to go somewhere. At least Remender has a couple of titles to spread it out over – imagine if it was all concentrated in one place. Betty Brant would likely be hooked on meth by now.
If you can handle it, though, it's really good work. Tony Moore handles the art on the opening Fly fight, and he really drives home how disgusting that creature really is. Tom Fowler's got the job for the rest of the issue, and almost everything is so washed in shadow that you can't help but feel that mood permeating everything Thompson does. The only time things are bright enough to offer some hope is when he's getting things settled with Betty (even though he's keeping his Venom exploits a secret from her, claiming he's doing charity work for the Veterans Administration), but that's cut short when his frantic mother calls him to give him the angering news about his father's fall, and he has to wheel back out into the night instead of healing some in his only safe haven. Fowler provides the heavy darkness as well as the only respite from it.
As we head towards Spider Island, in which Venom is supposed to figure rather significantly, it's looking as though we can bet on Dan Slott handling the high-adventure side of the event, while Remender shows us the disgusting and horrifying side of life with everybody in Manhattan getting crazy spider-like abilities. It seems like a good balance… and we'll need the one to cope with the other.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10