Venom has always been a tricky character for writers to make sense of. He was a big hit with the fans, so there was an editorial push to change him from a true villain into an anti-hero. Unfortunately, this did cause some inconsistencies with how he was portrayed in the books, ranging from full-out psychopath to a twisted reflection of Spider-Man himself. With this new volume, write Rick Remender hit upon a brilliant approach to the Venom character - by keeping the symbiote away from Eddie Brock and setting up a new host in existing Spider-Man supporting character, Flash Thompson.
Flash had recently suffered a crippling injury in the Army, losing both of his legs. Frustrated by his disability and full of yearning to return to his days of being a hero, he accepts the job offer by a shadowy government agency to don the symbiote to become: Agent Venom. The government are under the belief that they can 'control' the symbiote's more destructive elements allowing Flash to remain in control and perform top secret government missions for them. Unfortunately, they over-estimate their abilities and it becomes quickly apparent that Flash is continually struggling for dominance over the symbiotic mind controlling his body. This is a wonderful twist and seems far more realistic than the previous attempts of making Venom into a flawed hero, because we have a true hero being poisoned by the corrupt nature of his symbiotic suit. Add to this the fact that he happens to be one of Spider-Man's oldest friends, then we have much more dramatic tension than ever before!
This graphic novel collects the first five issues of the ongoing series, which is largely stand-alone tales which tie in with an over-arching theme of Flash getting to grips with his new abilities and the curse that comes with it. He struggles with his double-life with his girlfriend, Betty Brant, who is unaware of his web-swinging day job, and when he gets his very own rogue gallery in Jack O'Lantern and The Crimemaster, it sets up a long-running rivalry between them.
I love the artwork on this by Tony Moore, who captures the grimy nature of the symbiote alongside some evocative scenes. His work on the first issue with Jack O'Lantern is a highlight and the level of detail is amazing, especially during the snowy scenes. There is also fantastic artwork during the Kraven the Hunter issue where Venom is poisoned by Kraven's 'jungle juice' and begins to hallucinate.
This is a great introduction to a new take on Venom, which does a better job at showcasing a darker Spider-Man than any previous incarnation of the character. The similiarities between Flash Thompson and Peter Parker make it ideal reading for existing Spider-Man fans, and the differences between the two men make for compelling reading with Flash's decisions often causing greater problems for him in the long run.