Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Kim Jacinto's work on "Venom" #38 caught me completely by surprise. I figured with all the attention reviewers pay to the main Spider-Man title, it just might be time to give this one a fair shake. As it happens, this issue is exactly the right issue to try it out.
The recap page does a nice job of bringing readers up to speed, making for a very convenient summary. The crimelord, Lord Ogre, (who does not appear in this issue) has set a price on Venom's head. That leads to some snazzy cameos from the Brothers Grimm, Constrictor and others in the early pages of this issue as Venom and Katy Kiernan stomp through the underground of Venom's new home in Philadelphia. The alliterative reporter (every superhero book needs one at some point, regardless of whether or not the book embraces that fact) opens Venom's eyes to a seedy underbelly he had no idea existed and wasn't aware of how helpful it might be. Bunn continues to nurture Venom's cast, ensnaring Flash Thompson's neighbor, Andi, even deeper into Venom's web.
Venom's work against Ogre's minions doesn't stop one of the symbiotic slinger's greatest foes from tracking him down with a bill for vengeance. Jack O'Lantern is a stellar foil for Venom and the visuals from Kim Jacinto and colorist Lee Loughridge makes the two characters much darker and more Halloween ready than any pairing of comic book characters ever. Of course, it helps the argument that Jack O'Lantern's noggin is a giant flaming pumpkin and Venom's costume is all black, but the colors in this issue are washed in lots of orange as the story hits its turning point and barrels on to the tragic, frantic end.
The look of "Venom" #38 would be one-third less impactful without Joe Caramagna onboard. He puts fiery oil into Venom's words and a cacophony into the shrieking madness of Jack O'Lantern's voice, all while adding in subtleties in the caption boxes between the characters. Under a striking and deceptively simplistic Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire cover, "Venom" #38 is a visual spectacle.
It's been a while since checking-in on Venom, but his relationship with Jack O'Lantern is so poisonous that picking this book up can only be equated with starting to read Spider-Man on "Amazing Spider-Man" #39 or Batman on "Batman" #426, both issues where the hero's greatest foil strikes an emotionally crushing blow. I've never -- ever -- considered myself a fan of Venom, but Bunn, Jacinto, Loughridge and Carmagna have me dialed in for at least an issue or three more, especially given the twist at the end of this issue's fiery cliffhanger.