Marvel's latest "Next Big Thing" press conference call took place Friday afternoon with writer Rick Remender is on hand to talk about what's coming up in the March-debuting "Venom" ongoing series. Someone new will be bonding with the vicious symbiote beginning in February's "Amazing Spider-Man" #654.1, someone not unfamiliar to the Spidey family. Whoever this person is, he'll be working on behalf of the United States government as a peacekeeping agent—so long as he can keep the black suit in check. Also on hand for the call are Marvel Senior Editor Stephen Wacker and Junior Sales Administrator James Viscardi, who moderated the discussion.
Asked about the rationale for the changes to changes, Remender said the original concept came from "Amazing" writer Dan Slott and Stephen Wacker. "My problem with Venom as a lead character is that he's such a bad guy," Wacker said. "It's hard to make him a hero when he's eating people." Wacker added that he could never get behind the "Lethal Protector" aspect. He said that Flash Thompson would be a great host for the Venom symbiote, and the pitch was built from there.
Wacker did not realize he was not supposed to reveal that Flash was the new Venom. "You're giving it away!" Remender said. There was general laughter.
Remender joked about a convoluted family relationship regarding J. Jonah Jameson, an uncle's-cousin or somesuch named "Snappy" Jameson, who is actually Venom. "It's a big bait and switch," he said. Wacker added, "I was waiting to see how far you went with this."
Getting things back on track, Viscardi asked Remender and Wacker to discuss the Marvel espionage community and Venom's role within it. Wacker said it's based in more real-life military aspects, which Remender said helps the series stay grounded. "What he's got is advanced technology, he's got the armed forces behind him, but it's just straight-up U.S. armed forces" rather than S.H.I.E.L.D., Remender said. Wacker added that Venom would have a large armament "beyond these giant teeth."
Asked about "building a threat that Venom can't eat," Remender said that making the weapon of the suit itself a danger helps build tension. The writer described Flash as "a true patriot" but "one with a temper." "He cannot let his temper get out of control, or the symbiote will take over," he said. At that point, "the teeth come out" and he may start killing indiscriminately. "The hard resolutions, the murdering that he might have to do, will come at moments you completely don't expect it—unless he loses control."
The suit will need to be removed after a certain time limit, Wacker said, to keep it from bonding with Flash's psyche. Remender added that there's a twenty-mission limit—"they don't want any one person wearing this thing more than twenty times." "You've also got a character in Flash who's been disabled serving his country, and now he's no longer bound to a wheelchair but is swinging through the city and bounding through the Savage Land," Remender said, adding additional stakes to the time limit.
The second issue begins with Venom chased by Kraven the Hunter on a dinosaur, Remender said, and is a continuous action scene—but one that will "define Venom through the decisions he makes."
Asked about what the government hopes to accomplish with Venom where the rewards would be worth the risks, Remender said the stakes are exceedingly high. "The first arc deals with a new boss on the scene who's not focused on New York, or Chicago—he's an international crime lord," Remender said. This character has weaponized Antarctic Vibranium as bullets. "Once distributed, you can't put that milk back in the carton," he said. The substance melts any metal. "He's preparing to sell it to Doctor Doom and every dictator and scumbag on the planet, so that every terrorist has these guns that can shoot bullets that are unstoppable. After that, it doesn't matter if you have the Avengers."
Wacker added that a challenge for the series was "finding a reason that sending Venom in is the logical step."
Venom will interact with other Marvel heroes, Remender said, and they will react to him based on their past experiences with the character as "a person-eater." Wacker added that Spider-Man's reaction will play into big plans for the Webhead this summer.
Asked about their outreach to fans who "see Venom as a relic of the '90s," Remender compared the series to his other book, "Uncanny X-Force," which "is doing pretty well in the X-Office." "I think people respond more and more to quality craftsmanship," Remender said.
"The reason we were able to get approval on this so fast is, there's still a market for Venom, even that '90s stuff," Wacker added. He said the original "Venom: Lethal Protector" miniseries has done well on Marvel's digital apps.
There was a question about Venom's weaknesses, such as "ringing a bell or playing music really loud." Remender joked that Venom goes to a "big show early on and gets bummed out, and then it's just Flash." He added that "the weakness is the weakness," which is necessary for a character with his power levels. Wacker added, "not everybody knows that weakness."
"If you're a villain, you don't expect Venom to show up to stop you," Remender continued. "He's not dealing with a lot of threats where you know he's coming for you."
Remender added that he looks forward to "honing in on" Flash, whom the writer described as "a classic Marvel character," as well as his relationship with Betty Brant.
There was a question regarding Flash's history with addiction and the potential for him to become addicted to the suit. Remender said this will "play in quite a lot," but unlike many of his heroes Venom will not ultimately be a cynical character.
Asked what the consequences could be if the government's use of Venom could be if the secret were made public—a la Wikileaks—Wacker said things would be "pretty bad." "in the real world, it would scare the hell out of me, but in our book we can have things go wrong—these are people who fly too close to the sun."
Asked about supporting characters, Remender said there would be a "Q"-type person supplying Venom with gadgets, and people from his personal life would also play a significant role. "It's also a classic Spider-Man scenario—juggling these two things, secretly. Betty doesn't know he's doing this, Peter doesn't know he's doing this," Remender said, adding that these characters might attribute Flash's absence to less heroic activities.
Remender said he enjoyed the idea that Venom could be deployed anywhere. "They could drop him into Utopia [the X-Men's mutant haven] to hunt a mutant terrorist hiding out there; they could drop him into Latveria," Remender said. Wacker added that he likes that Remender "is a writer who doesn't forget that he doesn't have a budget. He's not going to do a scene with two people eating dinner when they could be in Kilimanjaro."
Jack O'Lantern's redesign by Tony Moore was the subject of some praise. "I think we've got a character here that people will be excited about," Remender said, adding that the first issue takes place in a war-torn Eastern European country while the next opens in the Savage Land. "The book kind of demands that you do that," the writer said.
Asked about the thought behind a sustainable "Venom" ongoing, Wacker said that the connection to the repeatedly-selling-out "Amazing Spider-Man" would help and that, however they're remembered today, "not many people have lost money doing a Venom comic." He added that Remender and Moore's concept is the real draw, though.
"There's so many different levels to this that it can appeal to fans of the initial concept," Remender said, "but we never lose sight of the number one factor: character, character, character." He described Venom as a "super-iconic character" and hopes that his version "is the one that people have been waiting for."
Remender said that, though the ability has not been used much in recent years, Venom's power to morph will play a role in his espionage missions, as will his Spider-sense-dampening ability.
"The other interesting thing is Flash, who is historically Spider-Man's greatest fan in the world, now has the powers and could be Spider-Man's greatest enemy in the world."
"Venom" #1 is on sale in March.