According to his afterword in Venom #22, Rick Remender came at this series the same way many of us did – not being a big fan of the whole symbiote thing, but really liking this new twist on it.
"I'll confess that when Stephen Wacker approached me about the project, before I had heard some of the ideas he and Dan Slott cooked up, I was a bit hesitant," Remender admits. "I was a big Spider-Man fan for many years leading up to the creation of Venom, and while those first few appearances were very exciting, I didn't love where he eventually grew, and I didn't feel I had any stories I wanted to tell with the character. But then Stephen went on to tell me that it would be Flash Thompson wearing the symbiote – Flash, who had lost his legs heroically in service of his country and who had suffered an abusive, alcoholic father and struggled with addiction himself – I began to imagine this man – an alcoholic, a hero, a bully, a victim of abuse and now a veteran bonded to an alien symbiote that feeds off of the very same emotions that fuel most alcoholics. I immediately saw a dozen stories in my head."
Venom #22 is one of those stories, and it's the last of those stories. Remender is leaving the book he made popular, moving on to Uncanny Avengers and Captain America (the latter of whom has featured significantly in Venom). If Secret Avengers survives Marvel NOW in some form, maybe he'll still write Flash there, but it's Cullen Bunn's story to tell starting next month. This month, however, it's Remender, telling us everything he wanted to tell us in his swan song, one thick with the struggle against misery and negativity that has characterized his take on Flash Thompson for lo these many issues.
It takes place on Father's Day, of course, as Eugene Thompson's father is the source of almost all his enduring psychological trauma. As he's tracking down his archenemy Jack O'Lantern, who has ruined his life, killed his brother-in-law, helped drive the woman he loves away forever and terrorized his family, he is still reflecting on the father he lost during the run of this series. We thought he made some kind of peace with it, thanks to Betty Brant's quick-thinking shorthand allowing her to save the content of the letter his dad wrote on his deathbed when Flash couldn't make it. But as we see here, it's that deep-rooted childhood scarring that remains embedded in the brainmeats forever. It doesn't go away. It's a daily struggle to overcome the tendency toward violence and anger, just like it is to overcome addiction. You have to make the choice to survive on a daily basis, and it's never an easy one.
That struggle isn't helped by the fact that a psychopath who wear a pumpkin on his head likes to carve out people's brains and put a light in their skull just as a message to him. Especially when he's done it to the late elder Thompson.
While elevating Flash with this series, Remender has also given us a new Jack O'Lantern who really makes that whole persona as creepy as it should be. His real face looks like a jack o'lantern, for pete's sake, and he's seemed to have Flash's number at every turn since the whole secret identity was discovered. Now, it's time for one last brutal showdown with Eugene Thompson's outer demons and his inner ones, and Declan Shalvey's moody art serves the dark story very well.
It's a hell of a way to leave a book, and a hell of a final statement on everything he intended with the character. It's the most hopeful gutpunch in recent memory.
Thanks for a great run, sir, and for perhaps the best chapter in the history of symbiote stories.