Let the Madness Begin
I expressed (fairly explicitly), my displeasure with the recent turn that Spider-Man's story has taken. Where once it looked like poor old Pete was finally catching all the breaks and a completely new direction was being taken with this series, the recent Alistair Smythe story has me fairly miffed out how quickly things seem to have returned to their normal, hopeless regularity for the old web-head. While I still am leery about where this series goes from here, issue #654.1 at least takes its focus off that for a minute to spin a nice narrative web.
Secret Agent ManIn fact, #654.1 doesn't really have Spider-Man in it at all, instead opting to continue fleshing out the back-story for our new Venom, Flash Thompson. Flash goes on his first series of missions in this ish, having a very James Bond-ish feel to them. Flash has to infiltrate a party held by some nefarious characters, gets to dance with beautiful women, plant spy equipment, engage in some stealth espionage action, and even bite a character's arm off. Again, just like James Bond (if James Bond's suit was made of a carnivorous, parasitic alien, that is). We also see how Flash's personal life is going to be affected by his Venom assignments, as well, which does a good job at giving Flash a lot more depth than most may be used to.
This is again mostly thanks to the writing of Dan Slott. Although the humor seems to be on the back-burner here in favor of a different approach, but it works well for the darker tone of this story. Slott weaves in story elements with believable dialogue extremely well, and it gives the story here a good momentum, which is paramount when you're trying to portray the high-stakes "black ops" style that this new Venom's adventures are likely going to take him on. Again, the addition of real human elements into the character of Flash Thompson are greatly appreciated.
He's Baaaaack...Humberto Ramos returns to art duties here, and I must say I really enjoy his work. His dynamic and exaggerated characters make action scenes seem extremely chaotic and frantic, and in a book about a super-soldier using a shape-shifting costume, that fits right in. Although it's only been shown a few times now, he gives the new Venom suit an iconic look that makes it seem as if it's been in use for years.
The negatives of this book really come in its focus on Venom with little to no Spidey in it at all. This is alright, if you know what you're getting into, but people picking this up and expecting to understand and be caught up with Spidey's exploits are really only going to be given a self-contained story on Venom. I'd also like to mention ONCE MORE how much I dislike where this story is going as far as Spider-Man (his one appearance here confirming he's on a bad path), and I mirror Flash Thompson's sentiments when he questions just what the heck Peter is doing.
Perhaps a Misnomer...As an issue of ASM, this becomes extremely hard to recommend simply because of its lack of Spider-Man or real context. As a primer to Rick Remender's new Venom series, however, this is a great book. It's a good, self-contained story about this new Venom, and it's got great artwork in it. If you're excited for the new Venom, definitely check it out.
ASM #654.1 gets 4 out of 5 stars.