Even Venom Can’t Keep “Guardians of the Galaxy” #21 From Feeling Underwhelming [Review]

By | November 21st, 2014
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

The Guardians of the Galaxy get an unlikely new member, and space-horror adventures quickly ensue.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Valerio Schiti

As the Guardians of the Galaxy encounter an entire world full of alien symbiotes, they ask themselves…was allowing Flash Thompson to join their ranks a wise decision?

Two years into the latest “Guardians of the Galaxy” re-launched, the series has had more featured guests than a Lil Wayne album. First, it was Tony Stark joining the team to gallivant across space, soon followed by Spawn totally new character Angela. Now Spider-Man nemesis Venom has left Manhattan and joined the Guardians in their latest adventure. While it seems strange to picture a character so closely linked to the Spidy-corner of the Marvel Universe, Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti have come up with an incredibly compelling reason: symbiote home planet.

Picking up after the “Original Sin” crossover, the latest issue finds the titular Guardians back in their familiar roles as underdogs. Peter Quill is doing the hard work of a long distance relationship, Drax is fighting big things, Gamara is fighting slightly smaller but still pretty big things, Rocket is building things while being snarky, and Groot is Groot. One thing is different, however, the Avengers have sent a new represented from Earth, villain-turn anti-hero Venom. But in deep space, symbiote grows stronger and stronger, like it’s trying to get home.

The first thing that readers will notice when Venom appears is the identity of the unlucky host the symbiote has become attached to. Sorry Topher Grace fans, but the days of Eddie Brock are long over. Former high school bully Flash Thompson, possibly the last regular person to land a punch on Peter Parker, has become the latest host. Flash has grown up since his teen years, and has become a decorated soldier who joined the Secret Avengers after bonding with the alien. He has undergone quite the character arc, and almost none of it is featured in this issue.

This primarily is a set-up issue, but Flash’s role is only touched on. The basics are there: trusted by the Avengers, new member of the Guardians. The problem, however, is that everything we see Flash/Venom do indicates that no one should trust him ever, least of all the Avengers. From the moment we see Venom, he’s hidden under a veil of darkness, and quickly terrifies an alien for information, before mercilessly killing him. The character is a monster in the shadows from the very first moment.

Jumping ahead a bit, once the symbiote is forcibly removed from Flash we do get brief glimpses of his character. He lost control of the symbiote the further he got away from Earth, and didn’t mean to start killing people. It does make you feel sympathetic towards Flash, but does nothing to hint at the character’s extensive history and the agency he normally wields over the creature. Flash tamed one of the most feared beings in the Marvel Universe and used it for good, and unless you’re a long-time reader you wouldn’t even know he had this depth of character.

Bendis is known for decompressing his story arcs, and while there are clear story threads to be followed, this issue can’t help but feel like a gentle introduction that only delays the real action. He makes sure that every character has a little moment to shine, but even these don’t particularly build towards much. Drax has an entertaining fight, but it seems to exist only to have a fight scene. It is a nice change of pace to see long-time bachelor Peter Quill actually trying to build a real relationship with Kitty Pryde, and their conversation is one of the highlights of the issue. It’s a good example of trademark Bendis dialog, and the pair actually seem rather sweet together.

In contrast to a story that never really gets going, the art from Valerio Schiti has some truly great moments. Forget the old version of Venom, which was pretty much a roided-up Spider-Man. Here the character resembles a mash up of the xenomorph from Alien and a Dark Lord of the Sith. Flash first appears draped in black cloak, with hints of the white eyes of Venom around the edges. It looks almost like a strange belt. But then the cloak starts to swirl and morph like oil come to life, and encases Flash in a terrifying shell. This Venom is almost insectoid, like the worst dragonfly from the most terrifying nightmare you’ve ever had. Schiti uses one moment to illustrate the terror Venom instills in his victims, and employs the characters classic long tongue as a creepy and deadly weapon.

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Despite the fact that Venom looks great throughout the book, the rest of the art can be a little uneven. Drax’s fight in particular quickly dissolves to a montage of action shots on monochrome backgrounds, leaving the images feeling a little empty. Certain sections are more detailed than others, giving the issue a slightly rushed feeling. There good moments, particularly the Peter/Kitty scene again. Her reactions are great and not overdone and the mess of his room is nicely detailed, and Schiti included a few easter eggs that will make fans happy.

Schiti saves the best art for the big showdown between Venom and the Guardians. Gamora and Venom hack and slash at each other in a way that feels really kinetic and fast paced. These aren’t two brawlers, but skilled warriors instead, and Schiti creates a real flow to their showdown. The moments when the symbiote starts to be torn off from Flash are very visceral. Schiti keeps things from getting too gory, but it’s clear that this is a very unpleasant experience for both of them. It’s like trying to escape from quicksand, but the quicksand fights back and has claws.

This is absolutely a set-up issue, and if you picked it up hoping to catch a glimpse of the symbiote home planet you’re sure to feel a little disappointed at the end. There are very good moments, spread throughout the issue, and Bendis’ knack for dialog and character beats ensures that the whole thing is perfectly enjoyable, but it still feels uneven and underwhelming. For Venom fans, Schiti delivers some great art that stands above everything else in the issue.

And just when you thought you weren’t going to bother with the next issue, something awful happens to a fan favorite character in the last and flips their signature line around in a scary way. This story-arc clearly has potential, but it’s not a great start.

Final Verdict: 6.0 – Great Venom moments aren’t enough to prevent “Guardians of the Galaxy” #21 from feeling uneven and underwhelming.

Matt Dodge

Matt Dodge is originally from Ottawa (go Sens!), where he attended University and somehow ended up with a degree in history and political science. He currently resides in Toronto where he is a full-time procrastinator who occasionally takes a break to scribble some pretentious nonsense on a piece of paper. He knows way too much about hockey, Saved By The Bell, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter @Matt_Dodge.