Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.
Lately, Marvel Comics has been recontextualizing the mythology of Venom, the conflicted union of reporter Eddie Brock and the shapeshifting alien entity known as the Symbiote. For one thing, we found out that the Symbiote’s adventures with Peter Parker were not the first time that one of its kind visited Earth: The U.S. government experimented with bonding symbiotes to American soldiers during the Vietnam War.
This week’s Web of Venom: Ve’Nam (yes), a one-issue tale from writer Donny Cates and artist Juanan Ramírez, shows us exactly how badly that went, in a story about Nick Fury and Wolverine fighting five Venoms in the jungle.
Web of Venom: Ve’Nam fleshes out the backstory of Rex Strickland, a recent ally of Eddie Brock and his symbiote, who promised to teach Brock what he knew about the symbiote if Brock would rescue his fellow Venom-ized soldiers.
But more importantly, it is a story about Nick Fury and Wolverine fighting five Venoms in the jungle.
As Ve’Nam tells it, the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the Vietnam era was still trying to replicate the super soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. So when the organization found a massive symbiote creature frozen in Scandinavian ice, it naturally attempted to use its substance to create super soldiers. This went poorly. (For more on what happened to that creature, you can read Cates’ new Venom series that kicked off this May, or pre-order the first trade collection.)
Now the five men who volunteered for the procedure are AWOL in the Vietnamese jungle after murdering everyone around them, Americans and Viet Cong alike. It’s Colonel Nick Fury’s job to clean it up, and he calls on someone who’s the best at what he does: Wolverine. So Nick Fury and Wolverine head out into the jungle and fight five Venoms.
In this way, Web of Venom: Ve’Nam perfectly combines the elements of a flashback Nick Fury story (weird-science-flavored government malfeasance), a flashback Wolverine story (a deadly mission only he has the skills to perform that was clearly later mind-wiped out of his brain), and a symbiote story (scary monster men with a taste for human flesh and some questioning of the nature of identity).
And it does it all in one issue. If Cates’ run on Venom has had a theme other than big reveals about the nature of the Symbiote’s species and its history on our planet, it’s that Eddie Brock and the Symbiote are inextricably bonded partners, and it’s just as much Eddie’s responsibility to keep the Symbiote safe as it is the Symbiote’s to aid Eddie. It’s a strong thread, picked up from writer Mike Costa’s recently wrapped up year-and-a-half-long Venom run, which culminated in Eddie and the Symbiote getting pregnant and having a symbiote baby, basically.
And Web of Venom: Ve’Nam, despite its Predator-esque plotline (and, let’s be real, its hate-it-or-love-it name) doesn’t forget this, either. When you run nonconsensual scientific experiments on somebody and then forcibly bond them with American soldiers, and they lash out at everything around them, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re mindless.