Rick Remender dropped a bombshell to end Circle of Four, and picks up on it here with Flash Thompson as Venom inducted into the Secret Avengers. Editorially this makes sense as Remender was also writing their adventures at the time, and Venom’s presence was a surprise for both titles. An opening chapter reveals how Flash is keeping the addictive part of the bonding a secret from his new team-mates, and he’s also had a civilian upgrade via the adoption of artificial legs, meaning he’s no longer confined to a wheelchair when not in costume.

It’s not the Avengers who’re the main concern here, though, only really used as means of giving Venom greater leverage. The membership is primarily used to limit Flash’s access to the Venom costume as the Avangers are aware of the addictive tendencies. Further complications are former Venom Eddie Brock on a mission to wipe out everyone connected with symbiote technology as he also knows it’s an addictive corruption, and the Savage Six of the title. They’re five z-list villains gathered by the Crime Master who’s blackmailing Flash, and they prove far more effective than assumed, threatening Flash and everyone he cares about. “I’m nothing if not reasonable”, gloats the Crime Master, “Maybe I’ll only kill your mom in Queens”. Conveniently for the plot, they stay away from Peter Parker.

Kev Walker draws the opening meeting with the Avengers very nicely, but that’s only the prelude to Lan Medina blowing our socks off. His work earlier in the series (see Venom by Rick Remender: The Complete Collection Vol. 1) was certainly not poor, but here he ramps things up to widescreen, with multiple eye-catching shots of Venom swinging across the city and while the villains might be losers overall, they make for some great visuals. Robert Atkins draws one chapter well enough, but not as well as Medina. Declan Shalvey is also a star turn, despite only drawing the single episode, and his is a very atmospheric Venom, set at night.

Remender writes The Savage Six with Cullen Bunn, who’d take over the series solo starting with the next volume, Devil’s Pack, and from the credits this seems to be a deeper collaboration than one plotting and the other scripting. Whoever’s responsible, this is the best of Remender’s time on the series, and that’s been good overall. Few of the Venom supporting cast are untouchable, so the tension is high when they’re endangered, and the writers are unbelievably good with third-rate villains like the Fly and Jack O’Lantern, sadistic tricksters both. The revelation of the Crime Master’s identity is a pointless piece of showboating, and ultimately disappointing, and a sequence with large vats is a little too staged like old Batman, but they’re the only mistakes in a thrilling title saga in which Flash crosses a line and so does someone else.

Everything here is also collected in the bulkier paperback Venom by Rick Remender: The Complete Collection Vol. 2.