Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Venom: Nights of Vengeance # 1

Cover Artist: Ron Lim
Published: August 1994
Original Price: $2.95

Title: "Nights of Vengeance, Part 1: Reprisals in Blood"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Ron Lim
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Tom Smith
Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

A homeless man named Sean Knight is being chased through the back alleys of San Francisco by Michael Badilino, former NYPD and now a government agent.  When Knight is cornered, Badilino is grabbed by Venom, who has taken an oath to protect innocent people.  He knocks Badilino unconscious, Knight passes out, and he takes both men back to the underground city Venom calls home.  There, Knight regains consciousness and tells his story to Venom and a woman named Beck: Knight was a DEA agent who infiltrated a group of mercenaries called the Stalkers.  When the group discovered a wrecked alien ship they stole sets of battle armor, Knight blew his cover, and he's been on the run from them ever since.  Badilino wakes up and confirms Knight's story, saying he thinks the Stalkers may have connections to Anton Hellgate, who Badilino has been trying to find.  The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the Stalkers, who threaten to blow up the underground city with a bomb if Knight isn't surrendered to them.  Knight goes outside to face them, but the Stalkers are then attacked by Venom, who disables the bomb.  When Venom begins to be overwhelmed by the four technologically superior mercenaries, Badilino transforms into Vengeance and joins the battle.  When the Stalkers are defeated, their armored suits cover them in circuitry, transforming them into hosts for an alien life form that goes from planet to planet looking for lifeforms to hunt.  Believing that Venom and Vengeance are worthy of being hunted, the alien-possessed Stalkers teleport away with the innocent people in the underground city, including Venom's lady friend Beck.  Knight volunteers to help the two "heroes", he knows where the Stalkers have gone.

Vengeance last appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) Annual # 2.

Venom mistakes Vengeance for Ghost Rider, who he met during the "Spirits of Venom" crossover that ran through Web of Spider-Man (1985) # 95-96 and Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance (1992) # 5-6.

Michael Badilino had dealings with Hellgate sometime in his past, but most recently encountered him and his agents in Ghost Rider (1990) # 46-49.   He was captured by Hellgate in Ghost Rider (1990) # 50 and subjected to torturous experimentation before being rescued by Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (1990) # 52.

Venom's ongoing series of mini-series sees a new storyarc by Mackie and Lim that teams him up with Vengeance, resulting in an overdose of 1990s EXTREEEEEEEME!

I've talked before in previous reviews that the '90s had a bad habit of taking popular "antithesis" villains and turning them into anti-heroes in their own right.  Venom was the first example, going from arguably THE most popular Spider-Man villain to a "lethal protector" with his own comic series.  Vengeance was next, quickly bumped up from villain to supporting character to outright taking over the ongoing Ghost Rider series.  This is the inevitable mini-series that teamed up the two, and honestly all it's missing is Sabretooth, who was going through his own rehabilitative attempt in the pages of X-Men at the time, for it to achieve critical mass of villains-turned-good.

I can only imagine that this mini-series must have been commissioned when Vengeance was still the lead in Ghost Rider, which resulted in such a huge backlash that the creators had to hit the reset button just five issues later in # 50.  This issue, and the arc as a whole, is pretty indicative of the brief Vengeance era, resulting in a bland and harmless story that feels like it really doesn't belong to the characters involved.  "Nights of Vengeance" is essentially Mackie writing his own version of Predator with the two angriest characters he had available, which makes it as unoriginal as it is inoffensively mediocre.  What could have been an interesting exploration in the anti-hero/villain trend is instead replaced by posturing and lots of teeth.

The artwork by Ron Lim really hammers home a lot of those points, as the work is filled with overly-muscled heroes who look surprisingly sanitized as superheroes despite their horrific character designs.  Lim doesn't really do well on stories like this, he fit in much better on titles like Captain America and Silver Surfer, because of how clean and bright his art looked.  Plus, Lim gives Eddie Brock the sweetest mullet ever, long hair in the back and flat top in the front, it's glorious.

Ultimately, this is a really bland comic that robs the characters of anything interesting to do while simultaneously being a perfect '90s time capsule.  I say pass on this issue and the mini as a whole.

Grade: C-