Eugene "Flash" Thompson has idolized the super heroes of the Marvel Universe ever since he was a teenager. Unfortunately for him that adulation doesn't automatically make him a successful hero. Flash, once Peter Parker's high school bully, was given the opportunity to become like his idols when the U.S. Government recruited him as a host for the alien Venom symbiote.
The opportunity came about because an Army General was impressed by Flash's service in Iraq where he lost both his legs while saving several of his fellow soldiers. As Venom, Flash recently became a member of the Secret Avengers after saving Las Vegas and the world from the forces of Hell in the recent "Circle of Four" event. In short, Flash isn't completely clueless about being a hero. However, he often gets into trouble when he becomes embroiled in emotional situations that can impair his judgement. Writer Rick Remender had Flash run afoul of the villainous Crime-Master in his inaugural mission in the ongoing "Venom" series and the villain has been blackmailing Flash after discovering his true identity.
Flash has made several attempts to placate Crime-Master and extricate himself from beneath the villain's thumb, but all ended in disaster. In the current "Savage Six" storyline Remender is joined by co-writer and eventual successor on "Venom," Cullen Bunn, to tell the tale of Flash's latest attempt to end his Crime-Master problem. CBR News spoke with Remender and Bunn about the story.
Previously, Remender wrote the first 16 issues of "Venom" on his own. With #17, the first part of "Savage Six," he welcomed Bunn into the symbiotic fold as co-writer. It was a change that Remender happily welcomed. "I'm a little over booked and I don't want to let the quality of what I'm doing diminish. At the same time you want to find somebody you're simpatico with and who's going to enrich the story," Remender told CBR News. "That's definitely Cullen. I think the guy has got super human chops. I couldn't be more proud of issue #17. It's one of my favorites of my run."
Bunn was also happy to become part of the "Venom" team. He was offered the book after finishing up work on the recent "Spider-Man: Season One" graphic novel and eagerly accepted.
"I definitely wanted to work with Rick because I'm a fan of his work and I've loved his run on the book. It's Rick's work that led me to think about Venom as an actual character rather than as a villain who makes occasional appearances. I know he's had ongoings in the past, but this is the run that really made Venom come to life for me," Bunn said. "A big part of that is the Flash Thompson character as a super hero, because what I love about Flash is he's such a terrible screw up. All the Marvel heroes have these failings and these human sides where they mess up, but Flash has that in spades.
"It's funny because Flash is a character who's grown so much over the years, but it's hard for me as a person to get past what I was reading as a kid, which was bully Flash Thompson," Bunn continued. "Now though, he's grown and become this very relatable character because just like you and me, he makes these terrible mistakes. The big difference is that his mistakes come back to haunt him in such a big way and that's exactly what 'Savage Six' is all about."
The division of labor between Bunn and Remender while writing "Savage Six" has been pretty even. Both writers strived to make their contributions to the story feel seamless.
"A lot of this is going off of stuff that Rick has been building up to since his first issue of 'Venom.' So we worked on the outline and with scripting there's been a handoff," Bunn explained. "I did a lot of first drafts of the scripts before passing them to Rick, but there's a lot of back and forth as well. I wouldn't say there's a point where it's my script handing off to Rick and then it becomes his. I feel everything meshes and melds together extremely well. Co-writing with Rick has been an awesome experience."
While Remender has been building to the events of "Savage Six" since his first issue of "Venom," he's enjoyed the chance to have his long term plans for the book change and improve through the collaborative process. "The things that I wanted to have happen in this story were enriched and made better by both Cullen and my Editor Tom Brennan. Frequently you'll write something yourself and there's nobody there to challenge you. You might not be critical enough of what you're doing and you might overlook something, but we were all very critical of what we were doing here and I think we came up with an outline that I'm damn proud of," Remender said. "It's got all the landmarks that I wanted to hit and all the things we were building up to, as well as a whole truckload of other ideas that Cullen brought to it."
Part of the reason Remender has been able to have long terms plans for "Venom" is his habit of outlining his story ideas in advance. "All editors push you to do it, but [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso really ingrained the habit in me of working the hell out of your outline. I know that there's been plenty of stream of consciousness stories written from the beginning that move forward and are exciting and fun, but they're not as enriching as one where the outline has really been beaten up four or five times," Remender explained. "I find that the story is more fulfilling to me as a writer and hopefully more fulfilling to readers if things are seeded and then paid off. Usually when you're just writing and moving from beginning to end with a rough idea of where you're going you can't seed things as well and you can't make things feel as intentional. It seems a little more haphazard.
"We worked the outline to death with Tom," Remender continued. "We had numerous phone calls and then Cullen took a pass at the script and I took a pass. Then we each took one more pass and it's been a lot of fun. I really think that it's brought out the best in both of us."
In "Venom" #17 Remender and Bunn entered the final stages of their revised outline when they kicked off "Savage Six," which pays off the larger Venom versus Crime-Master story Remender began telling with the first issue of the series. "Everything that was set in motion in those first four issues is now coming full circle. We reveal what it is Crime-Master and his forces have been up to and why he wanted to get his hands on the Toxin symbiote," Remender explained. "By the end of the arc we'll find out who Crime-Master is and he'll go head to head with Flash. If I've done my job right, it's a conflict that people are excited to see happen. Hopefully it's been built up slow enough that now that it's coming there's anticipation for the confrontation."
When Flash first ran afoul of the Crime-Master he was a solo hero, but he's since joined the ranks of the Secret Avengers. As "Savage Six" plays out Flash finds himself alone battling the Crime-Master and his associates.
"Flash has saved New York, Las Vegas, and basically the planet, and because of that he's now a Secret Avenger. So he's earned his chops, but now he's stuck in this situation where he still has to deal with consequences of his early adventures in his crime fighting career -- namely the Crime-Master knowing his secret identity and blackmailing him," Remender said. "It was one of the things where one lie led to another until he's ensnared in the web of deceit. The only way out for Flash is to deal with this on his own."
The Crime-Master's reign of terror nearly came to an end in "Venom" #17 when Flash tired to assassinate him, but it turned out to be the latest in a long line of mistakes by the hero. Not only did Flash's plan fail, he angered Crime-Master who sent his associates gunning for Flash's friends and family.
"Flash messed with the bull. So he gets the horns, and we're going to go to some very dark places," Remender said with a laugh. "#17 set the train up and featured some stunning, gorgeous art by Kev Waker and Chris Sotomayor. Then issue #18, in stores now, is the return of Lan Medina whose action stuff is great, but his pedestrian stuff is what excites me the most about his work. A scene of just Flash and Betty in a room could come off boring, but Lan sells the emotion and tension of that scene with his visuals. We've got a lot of that in the beginning of #18 before the nuke goes loose and the city blows up, metaphorically.
"This is the issue when shit gets real," Remender continued. "I've hopefully made you feel like there are some boundaries that can't be stepped over in this story, and issue #18 is where they start to get stepped over and it all gets broken. We want the stakes to feel high because they are."
The stakes are so high in "Venom" now because the eponymous "Savage Six" are a dangerous and merciless band of killers. Their ranks include: Crime-Master; his chief assassin Jack O'Lantern; the new host of the Toxin symbiote; the Human Fly; Megatek; and Death Adder. Long time fans of Remender's work may recall that he resurrected the latter three during his run on "The Punisher" where they were part of a larger villain group known as the Deadly Dozen.
"I can't help it when I'm grabbing for villains. I understand these characters; I have an affinity for them. I know how to write them, and I care about them," Remender said. "Megatek is a character who I can't help but love. He's a 1980s computer game who became real and he can make anything from his computer game world real. To him, the binary language is the universal cosmic language made real. He's like a god in his mind because in the video game he was created for he was the bad guy. Death Adder is the silent looking snake dude who slithers up and viciously slices people. Jack O'Lantern and Crime-Master are two characters I've been spending a lot of time developing.
"And I just love the Human Fly," Remender continued. "He's super fast. His wings can cut you in half or block bullets. Plus he's a cannibal who has to vomit on people before he eats them. So he can spew a bellyful of acid at you, which means he's a power house when you think about it. He's as fast as a fly, spits acid, has wings that can cut you in half and deflect bullets, and he's crazy out of his head. Plus he likes to eat vagrants.
"The Human Fly is just one of those characters that seems so cool to me. I even have plans for him outside of Venom," Remender explained. "It's always way more fun to take a character like him and go, 'Look how badass that guy is' than doing another power chord where someone like Bullseye shows up, who was a nothing character until Frank Miller turned him into something pretty special. That was the challenge that my editor Steve Wacker lay before me with the Jack O'Lantern character when we started this book, and it's one I had already given myself with Death Adder and the Human Fly and Megatek. So this was a prime opportunity to start mishing and mashing and I think that what comes out of is one of the coolest bands of villains that we've seen in the Marvel Universe in a long time."
Remender included Toxin in the line up of the "Deadly Dozen" for a couple of reasons. "I love the visuals of Toxin," the writer told CBR. "There's a Simon Bisley image that [initial "Venom" artist and cover artist] Tony Moore showed me and that's where I fell in love with Toxin." The other reason Remender included Toxin in the group was because it allowed him to do more with the character of former Venom host Eddie Brock, who had embarked upon a symbiote killing spree before he was kidnapped by Crime-Master and forced to become the new host for Toxin in "Venom" #17.
"I think it's interesting that everyone assumes Eddie is wrong or being crazy in his crusade against the symbiotes," Remender said. "Who knows the symbiotes better than Eddie Brock though? If he's going out and killing them because he's afraid that something is happening perhaps somebody should listen to him."
"Eddie is an interesting character. He's played the role of villain, the role of hero/anti-hero and what's most interesting about him is that I think his motivations are suspect," Bunn added. "He's gone through the transformation of being Venom, getting rid of the symbiote, and then becoming Anti-Venom. What we're examining here, though, is what Eddie really thinks about the symbiotes and Venom, and what he really wants. In some ways I don't think Eddie has really ever known what he wants. I think in creating this holy war against the symbiotes he might be lashing out and dealing with some of the abandonment issues he feels after being separated from the Venom and Anti-Venom suits."
"Savage Six" comes to a conclusion in "Venom" #21, but it's not the end of Remender's work on the series. He'll wrap up his run with issue #22, and then Bunn takes over as the book's sole writer with #23. Bunn will miss collaborating with Remender, but the writer is excited for his solo run to begin. His initial story will deal with some of the fallout from "Savage Six."
"Every issue of 'Savage Six' has these big moments which will have lasting repercussions on Flash and on Venom. And once everything is over Flash will realize he's been making all these mistakes," Bunn explained. "He's really going to have to own up to those mistakes come the end of 'Savage Six.' To some degree he'll have to come clean about some of the things he's been doing. That will change everything from the way he interacts with people in his day to day life to how he interacts with the Avengers."
"Venom" #19 goes on sale June 20.