He is one of Spider-Man's most popular and well known villains, especially of the post-Ditko, post Romita Sr. era. Along with Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin) and Doctor Octopus, he is considered one of Spider-Man's "A-List" supervillains, the third part of an Unholy Trinity. His one word name inspires fear in Spider-Man himself and excitement among Spidey fans. He is one of the few Spider-Man villains (along with Morbius) to have had his own series (or series of limited series - whatever you want to call them).
Yet, he is also one of the most maligned of villains, his motivations belittled, his origins considered atypical for villains of the "Friendly Neighborhood" Spider-Man. Both Brian Michael Bendis and Sam Raimi, the two men most responsible for reinterpreting Spider-Man for the 21st Century, had to be pushed into using him. Bendis' hand was forced by overwhelming fan demand which began from the very beginning of Ultimate Spider-Man, and Raimi had to be persuaded by Avi Arad into using him in Spider-Man 3. He is unfortunately, in many ways, the ultimate "victim" of his own popularity.
His name, of course, is Venom!
Yet, he is also one of the most maligned of villains, his motivations belittled, his origins considered atypical for villains of the "Friendly Neighborhood" Spider-Man. Both Brian Michael Bendis and Sam Raimi, the two men most responsible for reinterpreting Spider-Man for the 21st Century, had to be pushed into using him. Bendis' hand was forced by overwhelming fan demand which began from the very beginning of Ultimate Spider-Man, and Raimi had to be persuaded by Avi Arad into using him in Spider-Man 3. He is unfortunately, in many ways, the ultimate "victim" of his own popularity.
His name, of course, is Venom!
This series will examine Venom in all of his incarnations - symbiote, Eddie Brock, and Mac Gargan. It is true, I have stated many times in many columns that I have never really cared for Venom for various reasons - including what I believed were less than compelling motivations of the primary human host, Eddie Brock. Even those who love the character will willingly admit that he was overused and nearly ruined. However, the purpose of this series is not to malign the character, as, to misquote Jessica Rabbit, characters by themselves aren't necessarily bad, they're just written or drawn that way. We will take an even handed look at Venom's history, his potential, the reasons for his popularity, and where I think Marvel began to run him off the track.
I had originally considered writing this series much like my HobGoblin one, where it was assumed that we always knew that Roderick Kingsley was the HobGoblin from day one - rather than years later. I thought about taking the approach that we knew everything about the symbiote's and Brock's backgrounds and motivations from the beginning, and writing from that angle. However, one of the points of the HobGoblin series, besides bashing Marvel for screwing him up in the first place, was to show that no matter how far things got off track, miraculously it worked itself back to writer Roger Stern's original intentions for the character. And for the most part, the original HobGoblin is not a controversial character as most Spidey fans seem to like him. Venom, on the other hand, seems to have as many detractors as supporters, and his character is an example of what goes wrong when you don't have the "ending" already figured out, when a character unexpectedly explodes in popularity. In some ways, he's the poster boy for what went wrong in comics culture in the 1990's.
But before we get into the real nitty gritty, we unfortunately have a lot of expository ground to cover, beginning with the symbiote - what was it and where did it come from? And before there was Eddie Brock - there was the Sin-Eater.
Once upon a time, Mattel wanted to sell toys. And Marvel wanted to sell comic books. And the two companies came up with an arrangement by which they could do both!
Actually, the story of Venom begins a little earlier. In the introduction to the Secret Wars trade paperback, then Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter stated that the idea of the black costume came from a piece of fan fiction he was sent, and he liked the concept enough that he bought it from the fan, and subsequently used the "Secret Wars" story to implement the change. As a result of the publicity from Spider-Man 3, the fan, a man by the name of Randy Schueller, came forward and identified himself. The story of that fan, and his idea for the costume, is discussed in detail in his own words in the following story from Comic Urban Legends Revealed . His idea for the costume was quite different than what eventually saw print, but he is still credited for coming up with the idea in the first place, although, as a point of clarification, not the idea of Venom.
Secret Wars, which debuted in 1984, is one of those Marvel projects which is popular with many, and probably disdained by the same number. Some (myself included) see it as a primary example of Marvel Whoredom, an overlong, overblown year long advertisement for a line of toys, which, well, it really was. However, there are many fans (including my spider-crony and the man behind the Spider-Man Crawlspace Brad Douglas) who enjoy it - either as a guilty pleasure, or just accept it at face value as a rousing knuckle-busting adventure with a veritable potpourri of Marvel heroes and villains, and don't vex themselves with the politics or motivations behind its creation.
Anyway, according to The Comic Book Heroes by Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs (published in 1997 - I found this for $5 in the bargain box at a comic book shop - and it has been one incredibly valuable purchase. It's a marvelous history of comics from the beginning of the Silver Age to the mid-1990's), Mattel Toys struck a licensing deal with Marvel and wanted a comic book to promote the new toy line. According to Heroes, the title Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, and the concept, all of the heroes in one big story, came NOT from Marvel, but from Mattel! Jim Shooter, in an odd bit of assignment distribution, gave the writing job to himself. He claims in the following Comic Book Resources interview by Michael Thomas, "The only goodies, the plum I ever took for myself, was Secret Wars. You know why? It had all the characters in it and I thought about getting someone else. But no matter who I picked, they would've screamed. Because they'd say, "You're going to let John Byrne or Chris Claremont write my characters? Blah, blah, blah!"
Heroes tells a slightly different story - that Shooter was originally going to assign the story to another writer, until he discovered that one copy of Secret Wars was going to be included in each comic "sampler" package at various toy stores (you still see similar packages at Toys R Us - there's about 5 comics, and you can see what two of them are - but the ones in the middle are pot luck), guaranteeing sales of at least a few hundred thousand copies, which meant some nice royalties for the creative team. Jones and Jacobs postulate that Secret Wars was the straw that broke the backs of several retailers and independent publishers in the mid-1980's - as the retailers, already overextended, ordered Wars heavily to meet anticipated demand. In order to free up the cash necessary, they slashed their orders for other things, starting with independent comics, which initiated a chain reaction of unpaid distributors, publishers, and creators.
So, for these reasons, among others, I have no use for Secret Wars. Another reason being that it's basically only an average story stretched out over 12 months, and that it so thoroughly bored me that I dropped it after issue #4. Of course, that's only half of the story. The twelve issues of Secret Wars all together sold eight million copies (this is per Heroes again), not counting any of the subsequent trade paperbacks, which you can still buy more than 20 years later. That's over 650,000 copies per issue. Even the Marvel opus Civil War, which is a mega smash by current standards isn't going to get anywhere close to 650,000 copies per issue. If Joe Quesada thought he could sell eight million copies of a twelve issue series by whoring out to Hasbro, or ToyBiz, or whatever, he'd do it in a heartbeat - and you couldn't blame him. And looking back to the 1980's - Marvel was not nearly in the healthy financial situation then that it is today. Its long-term survival was NOT assured, and it needed the cash this series generated. And while it may have indirectly exacerbated the economic crisis in the industry, the fuse was really lit by the lack of proper capitalization and poor business practices of retailers and distributors, many of whom probably shouldn't have been in the business in the first place.
Now, beyond the politics and into the story, Secret Wars in a nutshell, tells the story of an alien being of immense power, known as the Beyonder, who plucked large numbers of superheroes and villains from Earth, placing them on another world so the Beyonder could study one of those typical good vs. evil fights. I think I saw variations of that story in about half a dozen Star Trek episodes in the 1960's, and it was worn out then. In issue #8, during an assault on the fortress where the villains are hanging out, Spider-Man's costume gets chewed up in a battle with Femme Fatale and Absorbing Man squeeze Titania. After the fight, noticing that Thor is sporting a new helmut and cape when they had been trashed earlier, Spidey is pointed to a room full of alien contraptions, including one that he is told will generate whatever clothing he desires. In a move that by any rationale is still stupid, rather than actually ask anyone, Spidey just starts fooling with alien technology he does not recognize nor has any clue how to operate. He sticks his head up the first upside down punch bowl that he sees, "thinks" about a new costume, and out comes a black glob that immediately begins to cover his entire body, turning into what he believes is just the latest in popular alien fashion, albeit with a big white spider on the front and back. Although the "costume" is not in the traditional red and blues, Spidey dismisses it as him thinking about the new (Julia Carpenter) Spider-Woman's costume at the time. And not only does the costume respond to his wishes, clothing and "de-clothing" him at will - it also comes with its own supply of webbing!
Nothing weird about that. No siree. Happens at least one out of every three visits to an alien planet.
Oh well. It is what it is.
Needless to say, Spidey returns home with the rest of the heroes and villains (well, most of them), displaying some snazzy new duds that evoke more than a few gasps of fright from various unsuspecting goons.
The Death of Jean DeWolff
Another story that must be discussed as a precursor to the Venom Saga is this one. As is typical with the Spider-Man mythology, so little of what ultimately happens is planned, yet somehow it still winds up fitting together in one large, rich, if somewhat convoluted, mosaic.
Whenever you see a top 10 list of Spider-Man stories "The Death of Jean DeWolff," written by Peter David, which ran from Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110 (October 1985-January 1986), is usually among them (including my own). Captain Jean DeWolff, created by Bill Mantlo way back in Marvel Team-Up #48 (August 1976) was one of Spider-Man's few friends among the police. She was a chain-smoking tough talking cop whom Spider-Man often infuriated by what she perceived as his reckless behavior and his tendency to be a hot head. But underneath the bluster she had a deep respect for the wall-crawler, and a hint of romantic affection.
Anyway, Jean's death was one of a series of murders (other than Jean, a priest and a judge were also killed, and J. Jonah Jameson targeted), committed by a villain known as the Sin-Eater - who punishes the "sinners" he perceives as soft on criminals. In issue #109, the Sin-Eater invades the Bugle, looking for Jonah, but Peter Parker drills him with a typewriter roller (typewriters - I remember those). This character turns out to be a mentally ill poser by the name of Emil Gregg who confessed to the crimes, but the real bad guy actually turned out to be a cop himself, an Ex-SHIELD agent driven mad by exposure to an experimental drug and the recent violent death of his partner.
Of course, I'm grossly oversimplifying it - but as it turned out, Gregg's confession would have long and dramatic repurcussions which have shaken Spidey's world ever since.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, the actual, first true appearance of the symbiote and the black costume was Amazing Spider-Man #252 (May 1984), which incidentally was also the debut of Tom DeFalco, now the scribe of Spider-Girl, on the title. We learn at the beginning of this issue that Secret Wars has already happened as far as the core titles are concerned, and it's now the aftermath (other than Spidey's new costume, for example, Ben Grimm had reverted to human form and stayed behind on the alien world, She-Hulk had taken his place among the Fantastic Four, the Hulk had been badly injured and was losing his tenuous grip on Bruce Banner's intelligence), an unsubtle tease to get you to start buying the Wars mini series that debuted around the same time to see how we all got to this point - kind of like an early version of 52, I suppose. As it turned out, by the time we saw how Spider-Man actually obtained the black costume, more than half a year and passed and we had already seen him reject the costume and go back to his original red and blues in the main titles!
Now, in the more than 30 years that I have purchased Spider-Man comics, I don't always remember buying each and ever one (I'm not THAT anal), but I do remember this one. I was a junior in college at Indiana State University in Terre Haute (sounds and smells like "goat"), Indiana, and there was a comic book shop on Wabash Avenue called "New Concepts." It later moved out to a shopping mall and I do not believe it exists any longer, sad to say, like so many comic shops that I have patronized during my years (I'm cursed, I tell you, cursed). But here's one reason I remember it so vividly. Without Diamond Comics to tell me when the releases were, I had to make the trip every Wednesday (fortunately the store was a short walk from campus) to New Concepts so that I could be sure not to miss anything. Usually I got there early enough on New Comic Day (even at my age, there's just something special about that, and something I miss now that I order my comics online), that there would be plenty of copies of every new title.
Not this time.
There was one issue of Amazing Spider-Man #252 left, and it was in less than mint condition. The thing had flown off the shelves - and it wasn't hard to figure out why.
That black costume was just too damn cool. And using it in an homage to the original Jack Kirby cover for Amazing Fantasy #15 didn't hurt either. I've come to believe that one of the key reasons for Venom's popularity is that costume. With the large white spider on the front and back, it is just totally baaaaad. I know that I loved the thing from the minute I saw it. Marvel stated in the letters pages of issue #259 that issue #252 generated six times the usual mail - and that the verdict was 58% in favor of the new costume, 36% against, and 6% indifferent. Lies, damn lies, and statistics aside - the black costume was a smash hit, which took even Marvel by surprise. I remember when the Secret War toys debuted - I immediately bought a black costume Spider-Man action figure the first time I saw one. So, yeah, I was a hypocritical chump and succumbed to the hype and the whoring. The black costume has remained a favorite of many ever since, and it's not by accident that it continually appears in the many incarnations of Spider-Man (the third movie, two cartoon series, Ultimate, etc.) as a key part of the mythology.
This was also the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man pencilled by Ron Frenz, who soon became one of the hottest artists in comics at the time, and deservedly so. Ever since John Romita, Sr. put his indelible stamp on the character, Peter Parker had grown more handsome and robust over the years. Frenz' Peter Parker on the other hand, was a step back to the Ditko days. Peter was not his old nerdish self, but he was back to being a very lean and wiry character - and the fans took to that immediately as well.
I forget how many times I read that issue just to keep looking at that costume. I wouldn't consider myself as much a traditionalist as a lot of Spidey fans - but I would never have thought at the time that Marvel would consider changing his costume because the red and blues were too iconic (and we all know how popular Superman's new duds were - and don't get me started on "Bat Nipples"). Even Sam Raimi, after considering making some changes to the costume for the first Spider-Man film (including leaving the eyes exposed), decided to abide strictly by the traditional Ditko design. But, the black costume actually looked more in tune with a stealthy, sneaky superhero who travelled from rooftop to rooftop during the night, than the loud entertainers' outfit that he initially designed for his wrestling career. As I mentioned, the white wraparound spider was also awesome - although I wondered just how practical that would be. While it would be eerie for a bad guy to turn around and see only a pair of white eyes and the big white spider staring at him - that spider also provided a lot clearer target, particularly during the night, if you wanted to pump him full of lead. But that was an acceptable concession for a medium that relies on visual imagery (the original concept by Randy Scheuller was that the spider would be blood red - which unfortunately could not be successfully duplicated by the coloring processes of the time). The only aspect of the costume that really bothered me was the fact that it responded to Peter's mental commands, a little too sci-fi-ish for a working class superhero such as Spidey. Of course, we know now what was to come. And it didn't take us long to figure out that there was more to this costume that met the eye, but Spidey was really slow on the take.
First of all, Peter noticed that he was always tired, even moreso than he figured even a superhero who burned the candle at both ends should be. And beginning with issue #255, we could see that as Peter dozed off during the night, the costume would, without guidance from him, cover him and take him out for joyrides as Spidey - all while Pete was still asleep!
So it was to no one's great surprise (well, except for Spider-Man himself), that during a fight with Puma (another one of those guys who can track Spidey by his distinctive smell) in issue #257, the latter told Spider-Man that the webbing was organic (by the way, this was the same issue in which Mary Jane told Peter that she knew that he was Spider-Man). Spidey finally took the suit to Reed Richards in issue #258 to get it analyzed and Richards concluded what he and the rest of us already suspected, except for Spider-Man himself, that the suit was alive. I suppose we can accept Spidey being slow on the draw as perhaps the symbiote dulled his judgment so that he didn't try to jettison it before it had a chance to bond permanently with him.
One of the things that has become an accepted part of Spider-Man lore, reinforced in Spider-Man 3 is that the symbiote brought out the darker side of Spider-Man, getting him drunk on his power, and turning him more violent and vicious. This was true in the 1990's Fox Animated Series, which was the first re-telling of the tale, and in Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man revisitation and in Spider-Man 3. However, this was NOT part of the original canon! Rather than boosting Spidey's powers or influencing his emotions, the symbiote was really akin to a "space vampire" that was feeding off his life force and making him weaker. Eventually, as it was originally written, the logical outcome would likely have been that the symbiote would consume and discard him - much like the fate that was in store in What If Volume 2 #4, which I discuss in my Alternate Spidey article Spidey Dies , and in What if Volume 2 #114 (November 1998), which postulated a universe where the heroes stayed trapped on the alien planet after Secret Wars and did not return to Earth.
Sensing Spidey's horror at finding out that it was actually alive, and fearing separation, the suit attempted to bond permanently with him. Using a sonic weapon, Reed blasted the alien symbiote off and imprisoned it, which of course, left Spidey without a costume, prompting the infamous Amazing Bag Man outfit, which is fondly remembered yet today (appearing as an alternative costume choice in a Spider-Man video game, and also as one of the variant covers during "The Other" in 2005).
Imprisoned at the Baxter Building, the symbiote began to plot its escape and revenge, and resisted efforts by Richards, as noted in issue #259, to communicate with it. In issue #260, the symbiote attempts to take control of Franklin Richards' mind - but finds out that Franklin's psychic abilities are too much for even it to handle. It finally escapes in issue #261 with the help of a curious mechanical intruder that drills a hole in the chamber in which it is kept (the intruder was a factor in the FF title, but not Spidey's).
The stage is now set for the "final" confrontation between Spider-Man and his killer klothes.
For many years, there had been what I like to say were "2 1/2" Spidey books. Obviously, there was Amazing, and in the last 8 years Spectacular, along with the first volume of Marvel Team-Up which was "sorta" Spidey's book because he always seemed to be in it. However, Marvel decided to drop MTU and replace it with a true third monthly Spider-Man title - Web of Spider-Man , debuting with the April 1985 issue. For most of its 10+ years on the shelves before being cancelled and replaced by the first Sensational Spider-Man in the wake of the emergence of the Ben Reilly Spider-Man, Web had a very shaky life, often plagued by the lack of a consistent creative team, and was the lowest selling of the Spider-Man titles. That doesn't mean that there weren't several good stories - notable Spidey scribes such as Peter David, David Michelinie, and Gerry Conway took turns toiling on the title (oooh - aliteration), but it never really gained any traction - and its career could probably best be summed up by the fact that issue #100 was the first and only appearance of the infamous Spider-Armor. But it certainly started out with a bang - the "death" of the symbiote.
After escaping captivity in the Baxter Building, the symbiote reaches Peter Parker's apartment, where it disguises itself as the familiar red and blue pajamas in order to mislead Pete into putting it on - and then it promptly tries to finish the job of permanently bonding with him. Spidey is determined to return to the Baxter Building in order for Reed to blast the symbiote off again, but it resists. Although waylaid by a group of flying criminals known as the Vulturions (let's not invest a lot of time talking about them), Spidey realizes that he'll never reach the Baxter Building in time, but passes by Our Lady of Saints Church in lower Manhattan, where a ringing bell draws his attention.
In a scene that will no doubt be permanently memoralized by being a climactic moment in Spider-Man 3, Spidey uses the sound of the bells to force the symbiote to leave his body - but the constant loud ringing begins to turn his brain and eardrums to mush, and he passes out as the symbiote disengages from him and begins to flee the church, leaving Peter behind to face either death or permanent brain damage. However, the narrative (written by Louise Simonson) describes the symbiote as an emotionless being who preys upon the emotions of others but its pairing with Spider-Man has permanently altered it to where it now feels emotion and affection for its former host. It returns, and carries Peter down the stairs of the tower, beyond the deadly effects of the bell. And, after one last gentle touch, the sonics generated by the bell dissipate the symbiote, leaving Peter to ponder why it sacrified its life for his own.
And thus the symbiote was dead.
Well - as dead as anything can be in the Marvel Universe.
The Host With the Most
Flash forward another year and a half, and David Michelinie is the scribe of Web of Spider-Man (and as I discuss Venom's creation, some of these comments are cribbed from Comic Creators on Spider-Man, by the one and only Tom DeFalco, another essential (no pun intended) guide for the Spider-Fan). Intrigued by the idea of a Spidey villain who doesn't trigger our hero's indispensible spider-sense, Michelinie begins to foreshadow the introduction of this new villain. At the end of issue #18 (September 1986), Peter Parker is shoved in front of a passing train - and horror of horrors, his spider sense did not warn him! Six months later in issue #24, someone literally reaches out a window and yanks Peter off a building, sending him into freefall.
Michelinie is then given the flagship title and is asked to come up with a special event for the quickly approaching issue #300.
In the closing moments of Amazing Spider-Man #298 (March 1988 - which was also significant because it was the first Todd McFarlane issue), we see a large, dark mysterious figure staring at a wall covered with clippings about Spider-Man. The figure becomes increasingly angry as he talks about Spider-Man, pounding his fist into his other hand, talking about the shroud that was put over his life. We then see his hands become covered with a black substance and suddenly we realize...that the symbiote is alive and has found a new host.
Well, considering that this figure is cloaked in darkness - it has to be someone we know, right? After all - what would be the point of obscuring his identity if it is someone we've never seen before? It's just been revealed that the symbiote is alive - which is shock enough - so then the identity of the host has to be the real stunner - right? Right?
And the "shroud" reference? Could this mean an old foe from Spidey's past has been resurrected by the symbiote somehow? Or someone incapacitated or left for dead whom the alien has rejuvenated? Who would meet those crtieria? Could it be that Kraven the Hunter really didn't die from his self-inflicted gunshot wound - but was merely comatose until the symbiote found him - perhaps drawn by Kraven's emotional anguish near the time of death - and waited in the wings to claim the body?
Well, it couldn't be Norman Osborn because he died in such a classic story that no one would consider bringing him back (although apparently Bill Mantlo actually tried - Osborn was supposedly his original choice for Carrion).
And then the very last page of issue #299 gives us an iconic snapshot, as you can see with the image leading off this essay - our first full shot of Venom, brought to life by superstar artist Todd McFarlane. Mary Jane enters the Parker apartment and is greeted by You Know Who. It's interesting to note that as Venom originally appeared, he was mostly teeth and muscles - no tongue, no green drool, no wildy exaggerated jaw, no taste for brains - that would all come later - much to the character's detriment.
The story begins with a frightened out of her wits Mary Jane telling Peter about the massive figure that spooked the hell out of her. Peter recognizes it immediately as the symbiote with a new host and borrows Reed's sonic gun.
We first see Eddie Brock very early in the story, as the symbiote receeds from his body. However, he is not named yet - and I remember being completely befuddled. Who is this guy? And those of us who love to point out inconsistencies will quickly note that when Brock revisits the church to prepare for his battle with Spider-Man, he mercilessly and without hesitation brutally suffocates a police officer who's barely older than a boy. Although he says "innocent death is so unpleasant," it rings hollow, since Brock has the ability to render people unconscience by cutting off oxygen for only a moment and could have done so here. Such an action in our world would earn Brock an appointment with a needle or old Sparky, something to remember as Marvel made him a hero years later with his own series, calling him "The Lethal Protector."
Later, Peter spots the symbiote webslinging by his and Mary Jane's new apartment (the ritzy one that they were kicked out of later), and pursues him after changing into Spider-Man. But since the symbiote doesn't trigger Spidey's senses, it isn't long before the new symbiote/host are able to get the upper hand. Then, the revelation is finally at hand, as we learn the identity of the man behind the symbiote - and it's...it's....it's....
Who the HELL is Eddie Brock?
When I first saw this (and yes - I bought this off the rack almost 20 years ago - and no, I don't remember the comic shop where I bought this one. Told you I wasn't that anal) my first reaction, besides the comment above, was where did I miss this? I assumed that the character had to have appeared in the Spider-Man (or even other Marvel) titles earlier, or at least have been mentioned, and I just didn't remember. It was plausible because I had only been buying the title erratically during that time. Turns out, of course, that Brock was specifically created to be the new host - he was not an already existing character. The exchange between Brock and Spidey indicates that the latter recognized Brock by his picture in the Daily Globe, and not as a result of a previous encounter.
Brock then goes into a classic supervillain monologue and tells his story. He was a reporter whose column in the Globe was read by millions and he was writing about the Sin-Eater murders as they occurred. As a result of those articles, he stated that he was contacted by the aforementioned sad sack Emil Gregg, who confessed to being the Sin-Eater (Michelinie actually based this on a real event that had occurred in New York during the 1970's, when someone claiming to be the Son of Sam approached reporter Jimmy Breslin - again the credit for the reference goes to Comics Creators). Brock began telling Gregg's story but was pressured by police and the Globe's lawyers to reveal his identity before he killed again. And of course, we know what happened. Gregg was a phony and Stan Carter was soon revealed as the real Sin-Eater. Brock was fired and ostracized by his former colleagues, and as he described it - forced to write venomous (hence his supervillain name) celebrity pieces for tabloid magazines in order to survive. And rather than say, being mad at Gregg for being a screwed up liar, Brock blamed Spider-Man for exposing Brock and Gregg's fraud.
Brock pondered killing himself, but couldn't do it because it was contrary to his Catholic faith (Catholics believe suicide is a mortal sin - us Protestants just hope you have us spelled out in your will before you go off yourself). The symbiote found Brock in the same church the confrontation from Web of Spider-Man #1 took place, and it was a match made it heaven - with two lonely, rejected souls providing comfort and strength to each other, and feeding their mutual hatred of Spider-Man.
Eventually, though, Brock overextends himself. He uses too much webbing to subdue Spider-Man in order to set him up for one of those brilliant death traps (rather than just stepping on Spidey's head while he's unconscience, cracking his skull open and squishing his brains like any supervillain with sense would). Since the webbing has to be manufactured by the symbiote - like a human body manufactures its own blood - Brock depleted the symbiote's reserves - as if his own body had lost several pints of blood (something which Spider-Man himself never really tested during the time he had the organic webbing). In mid swing, Venom literally runs out of webbing and crashes to the ground. The two personalities are both unconscience, but still joined, and Spider-Man hauls them back to the Baxter Building where the Thing incarcerates them in a sonic chamber until they can be sent to the supervillain prison called the Vault.
Little did anyone know at the time - but a legend had been born.
Now - Why Again are you a Supervillain?
But it was a legend built upon a pretty flimsy premise - because there's simply a lot that's wrong with Venom as he was created. Basically, Brock f****d up, and his blaming of Spider-Man for his troubles is a helluva stretch. It wasn't like Spider-Man kicked Brock's ass personally for something, or hurt someone he knew. Brock was fired, not because Spider-Man caught a psychopathic super powered murderer, but because he failed to do his homework on a story - very much the same reason why Dan Rather was nudged aside at CBS because he and his staff didn't do their homework and rushed a bogus story to air before it had been properly vetted. Brock was a reporter long enough to know better. Even JJJ's bizarre hatred of Spidey, fueled by jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, made more sense than this.
For starters, there's the ethical problem of Brock working with and shielding from the authorities a man he himself believed was a vicious serial killer. Brock says that he was telling Gregg's story "incisively, compassionately," but if Gregg truly had been the Sin-Eater, he didn't deserve any compassion. The Sin-Eater didn't mercifully kill people who had it coming, he blasted huge holes in innocent people (remember, Venom is supposed to believe in the protection of innocents, right?) and splattered their guts all over the place. He killed a priest for goodness sake, and if Brock was such a damn good and holy Catholic (as we will see in a minute), why would he have any compassion for a priest killer? And I'm admittedly no constitutional lawyer, but Brock's perception that he was within his First Amendment rights to not disclose Gregg's identity seems rather specious. Gregg wasn't disclosing the Sin-Eater's identity and wanting to be shielded from retribution or the fact he gained his knowledge in the commission of another crime - he was saying he was the killer! The First Amendment prevents the government from throwing you in jail because you stand in front of the White House carrying a sign that says "The President of the United States Sucks!" - but I'm not so sure that you still have a First Amendment right if you're protecting a murderer who is very likely to do it again. But like I said, I'm not a constitutional lawyer.
After all, Brock could have worked out a deal with Gregg that resulted in him giving himself up - but Brock would keep the rights to tell his story. Let the police arrest Gregg and let them do the dirty work of investigating whether or not his story made sense, and let them take the heat when he turned out to be the wrong guy. Brock could still have told his story - but then it would have been the police's fault that they nabbed the wrong guy. So, this isn't just a tale of Brock making an honest mistake and being ruined for it - Brock was already criminally negligent at the very least. He was using a confessed murderer for his own ends and he got burned! Boo hoo!
And his logic that Stan Carter might have simply given up being the Sin-Eater once someone else was caught for the crimes? Right. The Sin-Eater was a psychopath whose mind had been fried by the drugs he had been injected with. He was a nutjob on a holy mission - and nothing short of incarceration or death (or a savage beating by Spider-Man that permanently crippled him) was going to stop him. For a hard-bitten reporter of Brock's ilk, that was either naive or just plain dumb of him to think that.
And here's the worst part - that's not even how the Sin-Eater story unfolded in the first place! Gregg didn't come to Brock and then Brock revealed his identity - Gregg stormed into the Daily Bugle dressed as the Sin-Eater threatening to kill J. Jonah Jameson. Peter Parker knocked him out by throwing a typewriter roller at him, and then the cops arrested him.
Considering that The Death of Jean DeWolff had been written just a couple of years earlier, and was already a classic story - this isn't the case of a writer misremembering an obscure event that only a continuity obsessed fanboy whore would remember - this is a case of a writer who just picked a flimsy motive for his villain in the first place, and then took some artistic license by retconning an already existing story that actually unfolded a different way.
Plus, it should be noted that every re-telling of the Venom story in the other mediums such as the cartoons, movies, and Ultimate Spider-Man ditches the entire "I f****d up and got caught" plot, and gives us more compelling reasons for Brock to hate Spider-Man AND Peter Parker, usually via an already existing relationship and animosity between the two before Brock first becomes Venom. For example:
Now - of course - some of this simplified storytelling is for the sake of brevity. I mean, in any of these situations -"Secret Wars" and the "Sin Eater" require too much set-up which ultimately is extraneous to the character anyway. But it's clear every retelling seems to find it necessary to "tweak" the original origin.
But as we know now (as per the interview with Michelinie in Comics Creators), it turns out that there were reasons why Brock was not as effective a choice for the host of the symbiote - he wasn't the one Michelinie had in mind! This story has pretty well made the rounds of fandom, but Venom was originally supposed to be a pregnant woman whose husband was killed in an automobile accident because the driver was distracted by Spider-Man. To add to the misery, the husband was flattened right in front of her. The shock forced her into labor, and she lost her baby, and her mind, in the process. The symbiote would find her in her grief and bond with her and the two would seek revenge against Spider-Man. While a misguided motivation, at least it wasn't because her misery was caused by her own actions as Brock's was. She was a true victim and hadn't done anything wrong except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And since Spider-Man has historically had very few female villains of any lasting merit, this could have been a definite change from the ordinary.
But Spider-Editor Jim Salicrup did not believe that the audience would accept a woman as a viable physical threat to Spider-Man, even one enhanced by an alien symbiote.
Whatever he was smoking, I want some. Considering that the Dashing Competition only had a superpowered superheroine called - what was her name - oh yeah - Wonder Woman - one of the most recognizable of all superheroes - whom the audience had accepted as being a superhuman powerhouse for a mere 40 something years. So, I guess yeah, no one would buy a superpowered woman being able to fight Spider-Man. Yeesh. As Peter David mentioned in the podcast with Brad Douglas on the Spider-Man Crawlspace , perhaps nothing's dumber than getting spider powers from the bite of a radioactive spider - but we've already accepted that convention. But we wouldn't accept that a woman's fury augmented by a space vampire would give her the strength to take on Spider-Man?
So, Michelinie was forced to come up with something else which did not work quite as well. But as we'll discover in a future article, circumstances again interfered with his original plans for Venom.
On the Other Hand
I've repetitively digged at what I've perceived as Brock's lame motivations over the years - but really - in some ways I, and some of the other Venom critics have maybe been too harsh. After all, regardless of whether or not Brock's problems are of his own doing - he is a man in considerable emotional distress and on the verge of suicide. An alien being of unknown origin and power, with a burning hatred for Spider-Man, takes over his body and shares a physical and emotional relationship with him.
And we expect him to be rational? Would you be?
And considering that the symbiote craved powerful emotions - wouldn't it be continually pricking Brock in some fashion to enrage him, creating additional adrenaline rushes and emotions to keep the symbiote fed? If Brock was crazy in the first place - then the symbiote could easily have made him a hell of a lot crazier. Think how goofy schizophrenics are who only believe they have more than one personality sharing their body? How bolted down would someone be if there really WAS another intelligence sharing his mind and body?
Plus, - in real life, nutcases often don't need an excuse to stalk or murder someone. I read not too long ago about a serial killer who murdered several people because he just didn't like the way they looked at him. He stalked and killed one woman because she accidentally bumped into him with her radiology cart at the hospital he was working at and he believed that she gave him radiation poisoning! Knock all you want, but no one's home.
Let's look at another couple of lame villains that Spider-Man has fought over the years. You know, those two losers called the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.
The Green Goblin debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964), and after two years of mystery - his identity was revealed in issue #39 (August 1966). Who could he have been - reporters Ned Leeds, Frederick Foswell, or even Jolly J. Jonah Jameson himself? No - he turned out to be - Norman Osborn.
Who the HELL is Norman Osborn?
Oh - that guy that was first introduced in issue #37 - just two months ago? The father of the guy introduced just eight months ago? You mean Stan Lee and Steve Ditko came up with this Goblin character before even knowing who he really was? So if Osborn was the Green Goblin all the time - why in issue #37 was he trying to kill Mendell Stromm with a rifle when he's got pumpkin bombs, razor bats, smothering ghosts and - gasp - sonic toads? Why in issue #38 is he walking around in a phony moustache and goatee hiring lame thugs to take out Spider-Man when he's the motherfriggin' Green Goblin? Who let this Stan Lee guy near such an icon as Spider-Man? And why does Osborn want to be a crime lord? The man invented a compact glider and a super strength formula (well, he stole the formula, but what's a few details) - legitimate military contracts and patents would have made him a multi-billionaire and given him all of the power and control he could handle (I've already delved deep into Osborn's psyche and rationalized it - but that's just me - a middle aged goofball sitting at a computer - not a real writer of the spider titles).
In Amazing Spider-Man #3, Otto Octavious starts acting whacko after a radiation accident bonds him and his mechanical arms telepathically. He takes over a nuclear power plant, threatens to blow it up, Spider-Man comes and kicks his ass - and he's mad at Spider-Man? When he finally gets out of jail, he kidnaps Betty Brant and her brother and starts working with a criminal by the name of Blackie Gaxton - rather than using that brilliant mind of his to make all kinds of amazing discoveries and thus make far more money than he ever would by being - oh, and this is original - a crime lord? What is it with being a crime lord with these guys? Surrounding yourself with a bunch of goons with guns and shaking down a bunch of other mooks in pin stripe double breasted suits, along with legitimate small business owners who are struggling to get by in the first place, only to have some other mook try to overthrow or kill you? Look what it did for Al Capone, John Gotti, Sam Giancana, Bugsy Siegel - I could go on and on.
And these two are probably the only Spider-Man villains more popular than Venom. And let's not even get started on Lex Luthor's original motivations for hating Superman because when Superman (Superboy at that time) saved Lex's life, he accidentally burned off all of his hair.
Yeah, but they were crazy.
And Brock wasn't?
So what's the difference?
Well - the times they debuted for one. When Osborn and Ock were created in the 1960's, the comic audience was on average much younger, and a lot less demanding. They just wanted good stories with cool villains, brave superheroes, pretty girls, and a lotta action. Stan Lee and Marvel were ahead of the game by giving them all that, and solid character stories as well. By the time audiences became more sophisticated, repeated appearances had resulted in additional layers being added to Osborn and Ock to make them less ludicrous. Osborn secured a permanent place in the Supervillain Hall of Fame by precipitating the death of Gwen Stacy, even if he never had "returned from the dead" more than 20 years later. By the time of the late 1980's, Brock's being a victim of his own stupidity, rather than a victim of chance (or Spider-Man) rang more hollow each time Venom was used - which was also part of the problem as he was used too much- but that's later.
And - Norman Osborn blames everyone but himself for his problems. In his mind, he even believes that Harry died (pre-BND) of a drug overdose just to spite him - rather than face the fact that he was a lousy father who literally drove his son to his death and that it was Norman's own goblin formula that wound up killing Harry. Doc Ock no doubt blames Spider-Man for all of his misfortunes, but his real problem is his own selfishness and hubris. And naturally, all of the other assorted goombahs, such as Electro, Chameleon, etc. blame Spider-Man for their problems even though if they wouldn't commit crimes, Spidey wouldn't bother them.
And as far as my whining about Brock not being someone we already knew, and that he didn't deserve to know that Peter Parker was Spider-Man (after all, not even Doc Ock knew that - the only two villains who had found out by that time were both surnamed Osborn) - why did Venom have to be someone that Peter knew? Isn't that part of the danger of being a superhero - that sometimes, someone out of nowhere will get your number? Why is Venom any less of a great villain because he didn't discover the hero's identity through his own ingenious methods or because he hadn't already bedeviled him for several years?
But sometimes, we smugly deride Brock's somewhat weak motivations and overlook the seeds of just why Venom ultimately became so popular, seeds which were clearly evident even in his first appearance:
So, O.K. Venom started out a little shaky - but his bloodlust, twisted morality, and joy from creating chaos gave us a villain with a lot of potential. Now, if he could be handled judiciously, and in just the right way...
But then came the forces that even Venom, with all of his might, was overwhelmed by and he was totally powerless to fight its tide as it swept over him. His greatest enemies turned out not to be Spider-Man, Carnage, fire, or sonics. It was the 1990's, his own popularity, and the Age of Image.
This essay was originally written in two parts, and I have combined them for ease of archiving. But, I wanted to keep some of the information leading off Part 2, so I have just included it as an Interlude. The essay resumes with "The Next Adventure."
Well, I thought that I might get some extra action if I did a series on Venom, (not that kind of action - I'm old and married and wouldn't know what to do with it if it were offered to me) and you people didn't disappoint me. The two days after the new article was posted, Spidey Kicks Butt had the highest number of hits since I returned from one of my sabbaticals. I find it amazing (no pun intended) how much debate this character inspires. On the Spider-Man Crawlspace Message Boards, webmaster Brad Douglas questioned whether or not appreciation for Venom is a generational thing, with hairless, toothless, arthritic, cranky old codgers like me who started reading Spidey in the 1970's (or earlier) not caring for him because we love our Octopi and Goblins, with the brash, cocky, pimply-faced youthful generations preferring Venom. I thought that Brad's idea might have some merit, but to my surprise, debate on the boards seemed to be split, with some whippersnappers actually siding with the Alzheimer's crowd in preferring the old villains. Then there was this long thread on the Spider-Man Hype Message Board which I kicked off to shill my new article, but ultimately became one long circular argument over Venom/Eddie Brock's perceived lame motivations for hating Spider-Man.
But there's one thing we can ALL agree on - his smokin' costume ramps up his cool quotient considerably!
The Next Adventure
When last we left Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #300, Spidey defeated him by forcing him to expend too much organic webbing, which drained the symbiote of its life fluids, and a weakened Venom crashed to the pavement in mid web swing. After a stopover at the Baxter building, Brock and Buddy were incarcerated in a cell behind a sonic shield at the Vault (the official Marvel supervillain prison pre-Civil War and Tony Stark's big honkin' Negative Zone Gulag) in Colorado.
But supervillains never stay in jail, whether they're Lee, Ditko, Romita or Michelinie villains! In Amazing Spider-Man #315 (May 1989), a security guard believes he sees a fellow guard collapsed on the floor in Brock's cell, which he interprets to mean that Brock has escaped. Now, you would think that if you were in charge of guarding supervillains, you would be told exactly what your personal supervillain's powers were so you could recognize all of his gimmicks and cons. You can bet that Reed Richards scanned and studied Brock & Venom atom by atom after Spidey dropped him off at the end of issue #300, filing a complete report before he was turned over to the Vault. Well, this guard must have been a last minute sub, because he didn't realize the first lesson of Symbiote 101 - the symbiote can mimic any kind of clothing! So naturally, he shuts down the sonic barrier, approaches his fellow "guard" and guess what - it's Brock and the symbiote posing! Who'd a thunk?
And so - what does Venom - this great protector of innocents do? He promptly murders the guard, to go along with the young policeman that he brutally and casually suffocated back in issue #300. Then, he does something really weird, planting a smooch on the dead guard's forehead, apologizing for the "innocent" death.
Why am I making a deal of this? Because this is a crucial point. Regardless of what we feel about the strength of Brock's motivations for hating Spider-Man - he is clearly being portrayed here as a murderous psychopath. This particular killing reinforces that Brock is a sick, deranged individual who really doesn't need a logical reason for behaving the way he does. He is unbalanced with or without the symbiote (although the symbiote probably makes it worse). If you are in his way then he will kill you, with only the pretense of care or concern. He's nuts, and he's dangerous. People like this do not "get better" without very heavy levels of medication, or their brains are completely re-wired. Even given that, Brock has already committed crimes which would qualify him for the death penalty today (although when these stories were originally written, New York did not have the death penalty). He's also one person who can't claim that in jail he "found" Jesus because as a Catholic - he already "knew" Jesus (W.W.J.D. with a symbiote?)!
However, this particular murder will come back to haunt Brock, but we'll discuss that later. Venom/Brock escapes from the Vault and hitches a ride to New York with unsuspecting travellers, leading us to issue #316, and the first confrontation between Venom and the Black Cat. Felicia Hardy learns a nasty lesson about running afoul of the Big One (in fact, she thinks "He's too big!" which is something I doubt any of us will hear a woman complain about in our lifetimes. But I digress...) In what seems like a good candidate for a caption this picture contest entry "Venom comes home very displeased with the cleaning job that he hired Felicia to do. She insists that she has mopped up every spot, whereas Venom implores her to make a closer inspection."
Ouch. That hurts just LOOKING at it.
Later, Mary Jane sees Venom swinging amidst the skyscrapers and tells Peter, who subsequently dresses up in the red and blues and goes Venom hunting. But, just as he is ready to give up the search - viola! Venom appears, revealing that he's been following the webhead for hours! Fists go flying, but, but rather than fighting to a draw, or making a discreet getaway in order to regroup, Spidey panics, turns tail and runs away, after Venom dumps a vat of animal guts on him. Admittedly, it's a logical human reaction (I wouldn't react too well if I had a vat of animal guts dumped on me), particularly against an exponentially superior foe. And even though Spidey has often stood toe to toe against vastly more powerful enemies, he has also beat a hasty retreat now and then (Marvel Two In One Annual #2 (1977) comes to mind - although he had to rejoin the fray because - well - he was on a space station with nowhere else to go). But rather than an isolated moment of fear, it was just the beginning of a series of somewhat unsatisfactory and unseemly reactions from our hero concerning Venom...
One of Pete's worst fears is realized at the beginning of issue #317, when in the process of stepping out with Aunt May, Brock is there waiting for him on the front porch - "I'm Eddie Brock - can Peter come out to play?" Brock deliciously taunts Peter by turning on the charm for Aunt May, and then morphs into his more sinister personna once he and Pete are alone. In this issue, we begin to see the spin already being put on Brock for his eventual quasi-rehabilitation, as he refers to Aunt May as an "innocent," and tells Peter that he didn't want to battle in a suburb because it might hurt innocent people (oh - NOW - he doesn't want to hurt innocent people - just a few bodies too late). We also learn that Brock has no intention of publicly disclosing Spider-Man's secret identity (he obviously delights in the power that this information gives him) as long as Spidey "plays by the rules." The conversation ends with Brock telling Peter to meet him at a deserted estate in Long Island so the two can resolve their grudge match.
Although I'm in the process of being critical of how Spidey has handled Venom over the years - what he does next actually makes perfect sense. Realizing that he's overmatched, he goes for help to his closest friends in the superhero community - the Fantastic Four. The Thing unconditionally offers their support. However, Brock has anticipated this move and shows up in Forrest Hills once again. He reminds Pete that their conflict is personal, is not to involve "outsiders," and makes a veiled threat against Pete's loved ones and others ("Be on the beach tomorrow morning - alone - or nasty things could start happening to all sorts of people." Seems pretty clear to me what that means) which indicates that Brock is still a psychotic scumbag who tosses aside whatever moral convictions he pretends to have in order to achieve his ultimate ends. Remember that.
I made the point in Secret Identity that there have been times when it has been suggested that Peter go ahead and reveal his identity, and sure enough, in issue #317, when Pete tells Mary Jane of his plans to meet Venom for a superpowered throwdown, her response is "To heck with your secret identity! Let's call in the marines!" Of course, such action is currently not feasible, especially when your loved ones aren't yet hanging out in Avengers Tower under 24 hour protection and you have no immunity from the inevitable lawsuits. So, after a quick stop at a psychatrist's office to get some insight into the symbiote's motivations, Spidey does battle with Brock. The fight goes poorly for our hero at first, much to Brock's sadistic delight - and Spidey's response is similar to the one two issues ago - to bug out! However, Venom isn't about to let him get away again and is ready to administer the coup de grace before Spidey remembers his conversation with the shrink about the symbiote's love-hate feelings for him. He thus offers the symbiote the chance to rebond with him. By this time, however, the symbiote's bond with Brock has become too strong, and the resulting effort to detach and return to Spider-Man overloads both with pain, rendering them unconscience. After a reference to telling the Fantastic Four to come and pick up Brock, the nightmare appears to be over - well - for the next 12 issues, because that's all the time that elapses before Venom returns!
This wasn't a bad story at all. Again, the traits that made Venom/Brock such a breakout villain are on display here - his cool look, his overwhelming power, his single-minded quest, the notion that he can strike at Spider-Man anywhere and at anytime he chooses, and his ghoulishly gleeful sense of humor (illustrated by the "happy, happy happy!" moment I've included here). And finally, this is clearly a villain that genuinely frightens Spider-Man and makes him shiver in his little pink booties.
But in retrospect, as we look back on this story, the first signs of the creative rot that ate away at the Venom character begin to show. The first is the repeated reference to innocents, and not hurting innocents, although it is still within the context of Brock conveniently misplacing his moral compass when it suited him. The other is Spider-Man's disturbing tendency to run scared from Venom, when he is a character who has historically faced his fears and refused to back down no matter what the overwhelming odds against him. Plus, I found it strange that this time, when Spider-Man goes to meet Venom in Long Island - he doesn't have a sonic weapon with him (as he did in issue #300). What happened to it? Did Reed Richards repossess it? Did he leave it with his other suit? Even when Spidey solicited the FF's help against Venom, why didn't he borrow some kind of weapon then, if only just a flamethrower, in case Brock decided to blindside him? He's so terrified of Venom that he doesn't bring every possible weapon at his disposal to fight him (and that's the ONE thing I actually liked about that forgetable Spider-Man Unlimited cartoon - a Richards-designed suit that had sonics built into it for the express purpose of handling those contrary symbiotes). We could have had a scene of Venom somehow disabling or destroying the weapon so that he wouldn't be beaten the same old boring way, and it wouldn't look like Spidey had downed stupid pills before rushing to battle.
Flash foward to Amazing Spider-Man #330 (March 1990), and significantly, Todd McFarlane has departed the title, and the art chores are in the hands of Erik Larsen, whose style seemed to have a bit more than a passing similarity to McFarlane's(which isn't intended as a criticism - Romita tried to ape Ditko when he first took over the title back in the 1960's).
Brock is once again in the Vault, but when we catch up with him this time - he appears to have hung himself with his prison uniform! After his body is hauled down, the lack of a pulse seems to confirm that he has indeed finished the job he had started after the Sin-Eater debacle when he planned to punch his own ticket on the Afterlife Express.
But unlike the idiot in issue #315, these Vault guards run a sensor sweep of the cell and detect no life forms. So - where is Mr. Black and Gooey?
As the primary story (with the Punisher) unfolds, we have to wait until #331 for an answer. Brock is about to undergo an autopsy, but just as the first incision is made - rather than blood - it's the symbiote that spurts from Brock's chest (they must've been showing Alien during movie night at the Vault). As Venom murders the two doctors (once again crying crocodile tears about the death of innocents - it's interesting how Spider-Man can use his strength and webbing to render people ineffective without killing them - but Venom simply chooses not to at this point), he conveniently tells them (and us), that the symbiote mimicked Brock's own skin, thus shielding his pulse and any other obvious life signs, but still keeping him alive. Of course, this still doesn't explain how the symbiote's own life signs escaped detection. Even though it is an alien - you would think that as a result of its chameleon-like qualities, which fooled the guards at the Vault before - that they would have come up with something to keep from falling for the same damn trick again.
As issue #332 gets underway, we begin to see the contributions that Erik Larsen made to Venom lore. When McFarlane was handling the artistic chores, Venom was a frighteningly large mass of muscle with sharp teeth, lacking some of the other physical exaggerations that would ultimately become a part of the character. In this issue, we get our first looks at the long, slobbering tounge, the elongated jaw, and the infamous craving for brain matter munchies. We also get the first explanation of why the symbiote augmented Brock's physical strength and endurance, but did not do likewise for Spider-Man (but as I've mentioned before, the 90's animated series and Spider-Man 3 include this feature). The reason - Spider-Man's "abilities were already augmented by some kind of genetic mutation."
So - what does this mean - that the symbiote was just coasting when it was attached to Spider-Man's body - just hanging loose, sucking up some adrenaline until its stomach was full and then taking a snooze? Wait a minute - we don't know at this time that the thing fed on adrenaline, do we? Remember, when Spider-Man had the symbiote - it didn't augment his powers - it weakened him because it was taking his body on joyrides while he slept, feeding off him - a fact conveniently forgotten when the symbiote bonded with Brock.
After finding out that Venom has escaped from the Vault - again - Spidey goes mono a mono against him in Central Park, where once again the fearsome supervillain seems to easily get the upper hand.
That is, until both Venom and Spidey see that a taxi, which Venom had thrown at him earlier, knocking over a handsom cab, also pitched a baby into the lake. Spidey can't break free of the webbing that Venom has encased him in - but the child is saved by a timely web line that pulls it from the water before it drowns. Except it wasn't Spidey that came to the child's rescue - it was Venom! Returning the baby to its parents Venom states "innocence is precious. It should be cherished, protected always. I was innocent, once."
Now excuse me while I do a quick double-take. It was just one issue ago that Venom killed two doctors while spouting that "it's ever a pity when innocents must die, even when such tragedy is necessary for the greater good - like the obliteration of that godless Spider-Man!" But now, when Venom is just about to snack on a helpless Spidey's brains, he allows himself to be diverted from his task because of an "innocent"? What about the greater good, pal? You may argue that "geez, MadGoblin, there's a difference in killing a couple of doctors but letting a baby drown!" After all, even Doctor Octopus has occassionally moments of moral clarity where he hasn't allowed harm to come to noncombatants. And that may be true - after all, unlike many other supervillains, Brock actually does have religious convictions - and regardless of his psychosis - it was never implied that the symbiote rendered inert the humanity and Faith that Brock still possessed. So, it probably really isn't out of character at this time for him to save a baby.
But it just wasn't that - it was the moral babbling that came with it - that would soon become a regular and irritating part of Venom's personna. And it didn't end with rescuing the baby. Once again, rather than take out Spider-Man when he has him on the ropes, Venom sees the cops coming and declares that "Our crusade against Spider-Man is personal! Such interference could soil its purity! Our triumph must be postponed for now." And then of course, Venom proceeds to beat a hasty retreat, rather than easily tearing them all apart.
Next issue - Venom shows up yet again at the Parker house! Yikes! And once again, he issues a challenge to Peter to meet and fight him at another location, but this time, unlike back in issue #317 where he makes a veiled threat that he will harm Peter's family if he tries to pull a stunt - this time he merely says that Spider-Man will "pay dearly." This prompts an angry response from Peter - who tells Venom to stay away from his aunt - to which another chink in Venom's armor is revealed: "Sir, you offend me. Mrs. Parker is so innocent. I would never harm her. You have my word."
Whoa - my head is spinning from the abrupt shift in characterization here. And then to compound it - Peter thinks to himself "Brock is nuts - but he has a strong, if twisted, sense of honor."
SINCE WHEN, PETE? Saving that baby is enough for you to ascribe a hetetofore unhinted at moral code to the man who is becoming your deadliest enemy - after all of the other murders, chaos, and wanton destruction that Venom has unleashed? Have you so soon forgotten the earlier implied threats against Aunt May (showing up on May's front porch in the past was sending a very clear message to Pete) just because Brock suddenly begins to insert some gallantry into his speech patterns and blather about her "innocence"? Notice that once again, with Venom loose, Peter's first instinct is to run away, this time by trying to con Mary Jane into going to Aruba with him (not realizing that Mary Jane walked away from her legal action to get back her savings in the Bedford Towers condo debacle, and thus they have no money). His thought balloons tell us that he wants to protect Mary Jane from Venom, but there's no indication that he wants to take Aunt May with them to protect her such is his staunch faith in Brock's sense of honor!
See - it isn't just that Venom's character is undergoing a revision to make him more palatable and justify his repeated appearances - it's also the fact that Spider-Man's character is being compromised in the process! He comes across as a coward who wants to run away every time that Venom shows up - and then he starts acting stupid and naive enough to believe that "well, he's really not all that bad - he does have a sense of honor."
It takes Flash Thompson, of all people, to give Petey the pep talk he needs. Flash is teaching boxing skills to underprivileged children, trying to serve as a positive male role model (which he feels he did not have growing up). He tells Pete that his inspiration was Spider-Man, who taught him not to give up just because the going gets tough.
Hey - whatever gets the man back in action.
So, Spider-Man arrives at an abandoned subway tunnel for his knuckle-fest with Venom, but there is an additional complication. As the "B" story, Jonathan Caesar has hired the mercenary tag team of Styx and Stone to rub out Spidey because he always seemed to interfere with Caesar's plans to put the moves on Mary Jane. Stone's got himself a big ole sonic blaster and Styx has a lethal, rotting touch (somewhat like Carrion) and they talk to each other like the two assassins from the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever "Mr. Stone," "Mr. Styx." The two are staking out Venom's hideaway hoping that Spider-Man will show up, and they aren't disapppointed.
For the record, it is Amazing Spider-Man #333 (June 1990), as the battle between Spidey and Venom is joined, that the latter utters his first brain chomping declaration. Just thought you would want to know.
However, Spidey and Venom aren't allowed to settle their score the old fashioned way, because Styx and Stone join the battle, with Stone levelling his sonic beam on Venom and keeping him at bay. Of course, being more Spider-Chump than Spider-Man at this point, Spidey just can't let any harm come to poor old Venom, because "Beneath that costume, Eddie Brock is just a screwed up human being."
Well, damn, Peter, let's just have a little sit down with Oprah and Doctor Phil and help poor little Eddie get over that itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini self esteem problem of his.
Like I said - Spider-Chump.
Harry Osborn was a screwed up human being. Curt Connors is screwed up, despite Paul Jenkins' ill-advised retcon in Spectacular Spider-Man #11-13, which indicated he had always been in control of his reptillian alter ego. Felicia Hardy was screwed up with a father figure obsession that lead her to dress in kinky black clothing and steal things. Eddie Brock is a murderous psychopath.
Well, at least he was.
Spidey has a hard time keeping Styx at bay, but when Styx sees that Venom has reclaimed the upper hand against Stone and is about to have his brains for an appetizer, he switches targets. His touch, which instantly incinerates living material, is unleashed in full force on Venom. The symbiote begins to disintegrate, and is reduced to a shred of its former self. Brock is in tears as he bemoans the death of his symbiotic partner, and he is carted off to prison - where - as we will soon learn - he makes a deadly acquaintence.
With the third Venom story in three years, we can see that the character is clearly being deconstructed and where it is going, not only in behavior, but in physical appearance as he is slowly becoming an exaggerated cartoon, emphasizing the alien aspect of the costume. And it's not even Spidey putting the kibosh on Venom this time - but Styx!
But, at least the symbiote was dead, right?
Well, it didn't take long to find out. As Amazing Spider-Man #344(February 1991) opens, we are introduced to a brand new violent vigilante character in Cardiac. Remember, it wasn't long ago (issue #331), that we had just concluded a story featuring Marvel's signature violent vigilante character, the Punisher. Cardiac is a physician and medical researcher (and a very rich one at that - dude owns his own hospital) during the day, and at night in his disguise is busting up an operation that ships processing chemicals to drug lords. That's the "A" story - the "B" story takes us to Riker's Island, where Eddie Brock is working out furiously in his jail cell, honing his body and skills so that he can avenge the death of the symbiote. Except this time - he has a cellmate - Cletus Kasady - a serial killer who is serving eleven consecutive life terms (and of course, his room and board is all paid for by the gracious taxpayers of New York City. You gotta love humanitarian sentencing for serial killers when they all deserve a few minutes riding old Sparky). Cute isn't he? You know, with the long narrow chin, the crazed smile, the wild hair - he couldn't possibly be a knock off of some other supervillain could he? Well, not a knock off - an homage. Yeah that's what it is (although I read later that Erik Larsen, who first drew Cassady, admitted to patterning him after the Joker).
Next issue, as the Cardiac story continues, Brock's relentless channeling of Jack LaLane is driving his buddy Cletus even nuttier than he already is, but just before he can skewer Eddie with an ice pick - guess who shows up to claim his significant other? The symbiote, believed dead, slides in between the bars, rebonds with Brock and the two smash through the jail wall - leaving just a leeeetle gooey bit behind to seek the nearest available warm flesh, who just happens to be our red-haired Joker ripoff, I mean homage.
And you know where this is going - but not just yet.
With the next Venom story, issues #346 and #347, we get the green drool, so now the look is complete. We find out that after the events of issue #333, when the symbiote appeared to have died, Spidey dropped its remains off with the Fantastic Four, and those "remains" mysteriously escaped from the Baxter Building about the same time Brock busted out of Riker's. It isn't long before Brock catches up with Peter, and tells him that the symbiote "retreated" into a comatose state to fight off the effect of Styx's touch. Later, Brock tricks Spidey into a cryogenic chamber and "freezes" him long enough to spirit the two of them away to a deserted island, which was the site of a mining operation until a disaster destroyed it, killing the miners (whose remains were buried on the island), and forcing the rest of the population to leave. Brock claims this is where they can have their final confrontation without any interference.
As per usual, the battle is not going well for Spidey, so when in the distance he sees a passing ship (although abandoned, the island is close to shipping lanes), his first impulse is to swim out to it and escape (i.e. turn tail and run again), but Venom reels him back in. After exploring the island, Peter discovers that the mining disaster was caused by a natural gas explosion, and the place still reeks of the gas. He then tricks Venom into precipitating another explosion, and when ole Big and Nasty moves in to investigate, he discovers a tattered Spider-Man costume covering a set of charred bones, a melted webshooter, and therefore deduces that yes - he has finally succeeded in killing Spider-Man. And now that Brock believes that Spider-Man is dead, he decides to remain on the island and live out his life in blessed, blessed peace while pondering the great island debate - Ginger or Mary Ann? Aaaahhhhhh.... (just for the record - Mary Ann - no contest - well - before she turned out to be a dope fiend).
Of course, we see that Spidey just faked Venom out, leaving his costume and web shooters behind on one of the miners' bones, and swam out to another passing ship for rescue.
Now, I don't know about you - but this makes no sense. First of all, it has already been established that Brock is a psychopath. If he is psychologically unhealthy enough that he single-mindedly wants Spider-Man dead because he blames him for his own idiocy, and has shown a propensity to kill anyone who stands in his way - just because he believes that Spider-Man is dead, he's going to build a hut, eat berries, and wipe his ass with palm leaves for the forseeable future? Even before he bonded with the symbiote and became Venom, he was clearly a driven, ambitious professional, or else he wouldn't have foolishly fallen into the trap of exploiting some mentally ill doofus who claimed to be a vicious serial killer.
And what would the symbiote live on if not for the powerful emotions or adrenaline rush of the host? It was already established back in the pre-Brock days that the symbiote craved action and excitement, or else it wouldn't have taken a sleeping Peter Parker out for nocturnal web slinging. And it can also be reasonably assumed that one of the reasons that Brock was such a madman was that the symbiote was perpetually stimulating him and evoking powerful emotions from him.
So, what's with the idea that once Brock thought Spider-Man was dead he would beat his swords into plowshares? And that the symbiote would be just fine and dandy with that? Even if Spidey's dead - Brock's life and his career are still in ruins. That's not going to change. And a person as sick as Brock is probably going to find another target for his psychosis, because that's what psychotic people do.
As we pass through the era of the early 1990's, we can not only see the corrosive effect of overuse on Venom, but a general deterioration in the quality of the Spider-Man titles as well. However, it probably went unnoticed because sales, particularly when Venom showed up, were pretty good. Whenever we think of Spider-Man, and what makes him popular, one of the things that always comes up is the fact that he is a "down to earth" hero. But, as we can see through the early 1990's, the adventures were anything but down to earth. In fact, they were consistently getting louder, more violent, and more absurd. The titles seemed to be overrun with high tech heroes and villains. Everyone could fly and they all seemed to have some high powered laser or sonic boom guns that they wielded with abandon. The Femme Fatales (with such names as Mindblast, Whiplash, Knockout, Bloodlust), Cardiac, Tri-Sentinel, Hyperion, Bloodshed, the Praetorian Guard - I probably haven't even touched them all. Then there was Todd McFarlane's bizarre horror twist on Spider-Man, and other weirdo villains such as Doppelganger and DemoGoblin. Crossovers and guest star appearances were frequent, and usually not just one, but a wide range of heroes in long, multi-part tales that usually ripped up a lot of scenery, but ultimately had little real impact and zero characterization - "Night of the Demons," "The Assassination Plot," "Acts of Vengeance," "Cosmic Spidey," "Round Robin: The Sidekicks Revenge," "Infinity Gauntlet," "Infinity War," "Spirits of Vengeance," "Spirits of Venom," etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (my daughter was in the "King and I" - I still have some of the lines on the brain). Individually, they may have been enjoyable (for example, I actually thought "Cosmic Spidey" was an interesting idea - what would it be like if he were the strongest hero on Earth?), and each story has its fans, but collectively, it became deafening. Even the Sinister Six, which hadn't been seen together in more than 25 years, joined forces twice in less than two years!
Spider-Man himself seemed like an afterthought, lost in the chaos - or carnage (ouch, couldn't resist).
But remember, it was all Mary Jane's fault that Spidey seemed to lose his edge as the titles approached Amazing Spider-Man #400, because once Marvel dumped her, things would be so much better and Spidey would be back to basics and sell a million copies. Hell, why not go the whole nine yards and just give ole Peter Parker the boot and replace him with someone else as Spider-Man!
But shhhh...don't give Marvel any ideas.
Venom Saves the Day - Retroactive Symbiote Justice Part 1!
Venom's rehabilitation was kickstarted in 1991, as this backup tale in the Amazing Spider-Man Annual illustrates. It's called "Venom in - The Truck Stop of Doom," taking place between Amazing Spider-Man #315-316, when we saw at the end of the former issue that Eddie Brock had hitched a ride with an unsuspecting couple and their baby to facilitate his escape from Colorado to New York. The premise of this story is that the family stops at a truck stop to get a bite to eat, but aha! There just happens to be a heavily armed Evil Goon Squad waiting for a truck carrying a cash shipment to stop in (the driver always eats at this place same time same day during the week) and they waste no time before they really piss Eddie off. So, you know that we're in for a heaping helping of Symbiote Justice! One of the scumbags yanks the cute lil ole waitresses' hair, reaches for the friendly couple's crying baby talking about how puny he is, then shoots the father who's only trying to protect his baby! Brock asks them to step outside - and of course, Brock kills them - but THEY DESERVED IT! Realizing that his cover is blown, Eddie checks to see that the father is o.k., places a tender little smooch on the baby's face, and hits the road again on his way to try to eat Spider-Man's brain.
Now here's the thing - I actually agree with Brock's brand of justice. If I saw Charles Bronson running from the cops after plugging some vile no good crackheaded commie terrorist puppy kicking gangbanging scum, I'd give him cab fare or a subway token to get away. But this story was just dumb, from the title to the overstated villainy of the Evil Goon Squad, deliberately calculated so that we'll forget that Venom used to kill innocent cops, guards, and doctors, and threaten old ladies.
Speaking of the title "Venom in "The Truck Stop of Doom," let's substitute some other villains and see how the concept works:
Oh - can't forget this one:
I think you get my point.
The Coming of Carnage!
Amazing Spider-Man #359 (February 1992) not only featured the return of that sworn enemy of Managed Health Care - Cardiac, but also the return of Cletus Kasady. Ole Clete has undergone a transformation since the last time we saw him, and escapes jail after pulling a guard through the bars in his cell (eyeeeww). These changes were clearly manifest the following issue, when the supervillain known as Carnage makes his next kill, choosing his victim based upon the absurdity of his name ("Gunny Stein"). However, we had to wait until issue #361 (April 1992) to see him in his full blood red gory, er, glory.
The story begins when Peter receives a phone call that one of his acquantences at ESU has been "slaughtered like a pig on a spit" and then remembers that there have been a dozen "incredibly brutal" murders in New York in the last week with such features as "spines torn from bodies, heads spun 360 degrees, limbs re-arranged, and at the site of each atrocity, a message written by blood by someone called Carnage." Eyewitness descriptions seem to point to Venom, but after Pete engages in some research in the Daily Bugle's archives, he learns about the existence of Brock's psychotic cellmate, Cletus Kasady and begins to put two and two together. On a hunch, Spider-Man pays a visit to the ruins of the St. Estes Home for Boys, where Kasady grew up, and he encounters Carnage for the first time. The subsequent battle proves inconclusive, as Carnage slips away while Spider-Man tries to save a couple of cops who have stumbled onto the fight scene.
Of course, even though Spidey goes to the Avengers and FF for help, they have "planet threatening problems," and won't spare the time to hunt down a lone serial killer (somehow, I find that very doubtful, but I suppose that's not the point...), but now that Carnage knows that Spider-Man is aware of him, he won't be as easy to find. Then, a news bulletin reports that Carnage is responsible for the slaughter of a couple and their three young children, and Peter feels that he has no choice but to go to the one person who could give him insight into BOTH Kasady and Carnage...and set Venom loose.
No, Peter, here is what you do.
First of all, you get Reed Richards' sonic gun again, you get a super duper flamethrower, and you swing around town with a police scanner glued to your ear because Carnage can't stay hidden. He delights too much in causing - uh, well - carnage, after all. And once you find him, you turn the sonic gun on him full blast with no relief until that damn symbiote disintegrates into powder, and if Kasady dies as a result..too bad. If not...well, even if you don't kill him, there's nothing that says you have to return him to prison with all of his body parts or motor skills intact. After all, such a thrashing was good enough for Stan Carter, the real Sin Eater himself, whom Spidey brutally beat in Spectacular Spider-Man #110. You at least leave him with the FF to ensure that there's no trace of the symbiote left - because you never know...
But Pete didn't ask me for my opinion, so he goes about this the hard way.
Issue #362 demonstrated just how much Marvel seemed to be revelling in this bloodlust as it advertised Carange as "The villain so awesome we had to put his name on the cover twice!" Awesome - yeah - that's it. Now, this month we begin with Spidey and the Human Torch flying out to the island where Brock and the Venom symbiote are currently exiled. This time, at least Spidey had the sense to borrow the sonic gun from Reed, but since the gun is FF property, Richards insisted that the Torch go along.
O.K. - just last issue - Peter told us that the Avengers and the FF had such planet threatening problems that they couldn't spare any time to help hunt down a loathsome serial killer enhanced with an alien symbiote who had killed at least a dozen people (what - the Avengers couldn't spare one of their lame third stringers who can't even get their own title?) - BUT - the Fantastic Four can certainly spare the Human Torch to enforce the Rental Agreement on the sonic gun! Maybe Spidey burned Reed before by borrowing a book on Astrophysics and losing it - that's the only thing I can think of why making sure that Spider-Man respects the FF's property is more important than hunting down a psychopath who butchers children as well as adults.
But I digress.
Well, Eddie gets understandably miffed when his tanning session on the beach is interrupted, and only after he gets nailed with the sonic beam from the Fantasticar is he calm long enough for Spidey to tell him the story of Kasady and Carnage. Naturally, since Carnage is killing "innocents," Venom agrees to help. He tells Spidey that the race his "other" belongs to reproduces asexually once per generation, but since there is no social structure or concept of family, it didn't tell Brock that it had spawned (now remember that "reproducing once asexually," because, well, it'll be retconned). Venom makes a deal with the webslinger that he'll help with Carnage if he goes free afterwords, to which Spidey agrees (not an ideal situation of course, but sometimes you do have to make a deal with the devil, particularly to get out of your marriage).
On the way back to New York, Brock tells the Torch that he once did a profile on the Fantastic Four during his reporter days, that they do a marvelous job protecting innocents, and to keep up the good work. Hmmm. Let's see, he apparently doesn't hold the Torch zapping him with fire and with a sonic beam against him, because he protects innocents, but he hates Spider-Man because...forget it, I've already been down that road.
The new Venom and Spidey tag team find Carnage, but he slips away after distracting them by tossing a baby out a window (we have to keep re-inforcing the idea that he's a real scumbag so that Venom looks like Mother Theresa by comparison), but leaves behind a clue that he's going after none other than Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson!
Issue #363 is the conclusion of the first Carnage story arc (this cover tells us that he's still so awesome they had to put his name on the cover twice - again), and opens with Kasady kidnapping JJJ for the purpose of a high profile slaughtering, which Spidey deduces is going to take place at a metalhead concert in Madison Square Garden. After a few more people are added to Carnage's body count, Spider-Man cranks the PA system at the Garden up (I wonder if he turned it up all the way to 11?) and while the sound is enough to incapacitate Venom, since the younger alien isn't as strong as the adult (so Brock says), the Carnage symbiote disintegrates. As the sonics continue to hum, Brock wastes time that he could have used to kill Kasady by attacking Spider-Man. Then it occurs to Spidey to remind Venom that after all, he helped save the audience - which was comprised of innocents - right?
Venom's moment of hesitation is long enough for Mr. Fantastic and the Torch to come out from the shadows, and Reed zaps Brock with a sonic gun. As Venom and Kasady are taken away, Brock snarls at Spider-Man for his perceived betrayal of him and their "deal," saying that this proves that Spidey was never innocent.
O.K. everyone - time out. Let's look at the end of this story. Everyone just assumes that because the Carnage symbiote "appears" to disintegrate, it's really dead. What bad memories people have - including Brock of all people! He should know first hand that just because a symbiote appears dead - doesn't mean that it is! After all, didn't Styx appear to kill the Venom symbiote back in issue #333 - but no - it was just "comatose." And how about the time that it couldn't be detected, but was just mimicking Brock's skin, and then came spurting out as soon as Brock's "autopsy" began in #331? Like I said, Brock should have tried to rend Kasady limb from limb and spit on the remains to ensure that neither would come back.
But then, even genius superheroes are conveniently stupid when it serves the plot. So, we know that it's only a matter of time before this psycho serial killer is back in business.
It would be easy to blame Marvel alone for the sickness that was pervading the Spider-Man titles, and comics in general, but sad to say, they were simply meeting demand. Carnage's first appearances in issues #361 & #362 sold out and resulted in second printings. And remember the time period we're in - the comics market is not far from imploding. And symbiotes sell. Man, do they sell. You as a writer, artist, or editor - you've got bills to pay, kids to feed, you like your job and want to keep it. So you do symbiotes. To be honest, I understand perfectly. Survival before Art any day of the week. But then again, this was an era where the writers weren't as nearly important as superstar artists. Welcome to the Age of Image.
And Venom and Carnage are the perfect Image villains.
But why, with Venom around, was Carnage introduced? Well, here is the story from the man himself, David Michelinie, summarized below, but you can see the article in its entirety at Carnage Rulz:
From a longer-term creative perspective, I think it was a mistake to introduce Carnage, for reasons no more complex that it really doesn't make sense to have two of the same type of villain. For example, now that Norman Osborn is back as the Green Goblin, the HobGoblin hasn't been seen but once in the regular continuity, which is too bad because I like the Roderick Kingsley Goblin - although he is currently being put to pretty good use in Amazing Spider-Girl. I won't discuss the Gray Goblin since I really doubt we'll ever see him, or his sister again. After Otto Octavious was revived by mystical ninjas (while it was the dumbest of resurrections - it was also the right thing to do), Carolyn Trainer, the female Doc Ock faded away (although she briefly showed up in "Secret War" - no relation to the 1984 space saga, and incidentally, she also showed up as a Spider-Girl villain). When Quentin Beck was revealed not to be dead in Amazing Spider-Man #193 (long before Kevin Smith thoroughly screwed things up), the Danny Berkhart Mysterio did not reappear until decades later (Although Mysterio is a somewhat quirky exception to the rule as Peter David made multiple Mysterios an integral part of a recent story).
But by having two symbiote characters, they had to be clearly distinguished from each other. To make Venom not appear to be so bad, Carnage was over-the-top totally evil and without any redeeming qualities, which frankly, gets REALLY old with repeated appearances in serialized fiction.
I've made the point before, that it's a mistake to make a villain so disgusting, so vile, so irredeemable, that each time he appears and kills innocent people, you begin to make the hero look like a fool by letting him live. If I were Spider-Man, once Carnage/Kasady had killed a child - that would have been IT. I'd've just been "to slow to respond," and let Brock "accidentally" kill him if I didn't have the balls to do it myself.
Retroactive Symbiote Justice Part 2!
In 1992, all three of the Spider-Man Annuals (back when there was such a thing - although they seem to be creeping back beginning in 2007) crossed over with the New Warriors annual to form one long story. And included in the various backup stories in Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Web of Spider-Man, was a three part Venom solo story, which actually had an interesting premise. What were the first few days of Eddie Brock's life like when the Venom symbiote bonded with him? We should have been given an even closer glimpse of just how deeply Brock's despair was over his ruined life (and not just "Spider-Man revealed my blundering to the world"), before he went into the All Saints Church, and then how the symbiote manipulated that despair to turn him into a one-man killing machine. This could have been the opportunity to tinker with Venom's origins to put his psychopathic hatred of Spider-Man into a better context, and perhaps even better develop the roots of his almost obsessive concern for the well-being of "innocents." While there is a little of that, it's shoved into the background as we get yet another one of those "See, Eddie's not so bad because we eventually want to give him his own series," stories.
The same night that Brock and the symbiote bond, we catch up with Eddie as he is walking back to his crappy apartment building, and he is greeted by a Delightfully Cheery Old Man. That's not his real name, of course, but his real name is irrelevant because once we meet Delightfully Cheery Old Man, who likes Eddie and wants to invite him in to celebrate his impending new patent, we just know that he's got the shelf life of a Star Trek red-shirted security guard, all so Venom can dish out yet another justified heapin' helpin' of Symbiote Justice!
We find out that Delightfully Cheery Old Man has invented a valve that will increase fuel efficiency and cutdown on pollution, but his Angry Young Nephew is, well, angry, that Delightfully Cheery Old Man has turned down a fortune from Evil Scumbag Businessman (it's not said yet that he's evil, but we just know he's going to be - because - well, he's a businessman) for the rights to the patent. Delightfully Cheery Old Man also turns out to be Terrific Humanitarian, because he doesn't just want to make a fortune on his invention - no, he wants to give it to the world - not make the greedy rich (that's a quote). Well, it isn't long before the Evil Scumbag Businessman's goons are roughing up Delightfully Cheery Old Man, and although Eddie tries to come to the rescue, it's too late. The Delightfully Cheery Old Man is dead - and Angry Young Nephew is missing! Needless to say, this does not sit well with Eddie and his new black and gooey buddy.
As part two opens - Brock/Venom is confronted by the police in the just deceased Delightfully Cheery Old Man's apartment - but he can't let them stop him from seeking out Evil Scumbag Businessman. So, he slams a cop against a table saying "That should stun you, knock sense into you without doing real damage." Whaaaaat? Did I miss something? Oh wait, there's an explanation later.
When Brock tracks down Evil Scumbag Businessman at his machine company, he learns that Angry Young Nephew was complicit in Delightfully Cheery Old Man's death. He thought that Evil Scumbag Businessman's goons were just going to lean on the old geezer a little, while taking his invention, not kill him. Brock spares Angry Young Nephew because "he's suffered enough" but of course, he is not so merciful to Evil Scumbag Businessman. The latter tells Brock that he's not taking him to the cops, to which Venom replies "You're right." And then, we get this horrible and inexplicable narrative drivel as Venom tosses the Evil Scumbag Businessman into a vat of molten metal:
A man's life is measured in moments. And this is a moment that will change Eddie Brock's life forever. It's a moment he couldn't have forseen yesterday when he was sane; a moment when, through rage and alien encouragement - Eddie Brock's now twisted mind first equates justice with murder! (the bold's are mine for emphasis).
The story ends with Brock and the symbiote deciding to permanently bond, for after all, as Eddie says "We saved an innocent from corruption tonight, something which we couldn't have accomplished alone. And there's so much more evil to be punished - why not see to it as one?"
And then, Venom quotes perhaps the most famous line in Spider-Man history, which is kind of funny, because one of the statements I hear in support of Venom is that as Spidey is "power with responsibility," Venom is "power with no responsibility." But that's not what is being said here. Of course, you could suggest that both Brock and the symbiote are actually mocking Spider-Man by quoting his mantra, but that is clearly NOT what is meant. A blurb at the bottom of this panel (which I cut from the scan) tells us to watch for Venom's upcoming ongoing series. This story was meant to kick off Venom's turn as a hero, conveniently re-writing, forgetting, or ignoring everything before that could conflict with that.
So then, the idea that Venom's sole objective was to destroy Spider-Man was wrong, because he really wanted to fight evil. In their collective mind Spider-Man was just part of the overall evil in the world - and I suppose that once Venom destroyed Spider-Man, he would have started fighting for truth, justice and the American Way (cue music). So, then, instead of choosing to remain on the desert isle back in issue #347, once he believed Spider-Man was dead, he should have left to pursue the fight against evil, right?
The writing is all over the place, with Brock's characterization literally changing from moment to moment. What, you say that crazy people don't make any sense? But according to this last story, Brock wasn't crazy until he threw Evil Sumbag Businessman into the molten metal. Yet the explanation that we are persisently given as to why Brock's motivation for hating Spider-Man doesn't make any sense is because he was nuts from the start. And while crazy people may not make any sense, you would at least hope that the narrative and characterization would make sense and be consistent within the context of the story. And there isn't even the excuse of different writers and different takes on the character, because up to this point - the only person to write Venom is the man who created him, David Michelinie.
Those of you who are big fans of Venom just have to hate watching this unfold. This cool looking, powerful, single-minded villain is being torn to pieces to accomodate Marvel's master plan of sucking as much cash as it could from you before the whole thing collapsed.
Now, let me digress and explain that this madness was not entirely the fault of the writers, artists, and editors. In you read Comic Wars and Tales from the Database (both of which I reference in my Reading Log, then you realize that due to the extremely poor, stupid decisions of Marvel owner Ron Perelman and his cronies, Marvel was being strangled with an almost insurmountable load of debt, and the writers, artists, and editors were under explicit orders to generate as much cash as possible, which meant a ridiculous expansion of titles, price increases, variant covers and milking the cash cows for as much as they could bear and more. And for awhile, the public kept buying.
But the company still went broke and came within a judicial order away from shutting down completely, and possibly taking the comic book mass market with it.
These were indeed dark times.
And they weren't over.
The Final Confrontation!?
Well, that's certainly what was advertised. Came with a spiffy foil cover too for Spidey's 30th anniversary, as you might be able to tell in spite of the poor scan.
To set the stage, we are about halfway through the infamous "Robot Parents" storyline. This ultimately turned out to be a nowhere plot concocted by the editor at the time, Danny Fingeroth, who subsequently instructed Amazing Spider-Man writer Michelinie to script it. The idea was that rather than being killed by the (as it turned out, fake) Red Skull (as detailed in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 (1968)), Richard and Mary Parker, who were SHIELD agents, were actually alive and held captive in a Soviet prison camp, released after a two decade internment due to the end of the Cold War. "Were they real or phonies" was the question. But there were two big problems with this scenario (1) Fingeroth didn't tell Michelinie whether or not they were real because as it turned out (2) He hadn't made up his mind whether or not they were real - and so the story meandered for two years! Ultimately, they turned out to be robots created by the Chameleon in a posthumous scheme of Harry Osborn's - and their "deaths" in Amazing Spider-Man #388 (April 1994) triggered the descent into darkness that became the Clone Saga.
Anyway, the plot to this story can be summed up as: Venom kidnaps Richard and Mary Parker because he believes them to be "innocents" and wants to protect them from their evil son, Peter Parker. And that's it. Really. No, seriously. Well, don't get on MY case, I didn't write it! And no, I don't know why he wouldn't consider Aunt May an innocent who needs protection as well. This is also the first appearance of Brock's ex-wife Anne Weyring, whom Spidey seeks out for a clue as to where Venom could be hiding his parents. Turns out, Brock is at an amusement park which he frequented with his wife, as he was supposedly happier there than anywhere else.
But Venom truly did a public service in issue #374 when he killed a clown. Now that one I'll spot him. I really, really hate clowns. John Wayne Gacy pretty well sums up my suspicions about the evil lurking beneath a clown's smile.
Anne comes to the park to talk some sense into Eddie, and Spider-Man rescues her before she is killed (the plot is complicated by the arrival of Silver Sable's Wild Pack, a bunch of heavily muscled people who fly and have big honkin' sonic guns and flamethrowers). Just prior to this, of course, Venom is seconds from squeezing the life out of Spider-Man before one of the Wild Pack just coincidentally comes to his rescue by hitting Venom with the sonics. After Spidey saves Anne, and Venom is about to turn on him again, the ex convinces Brock that in protecting innocents, Spider-Man is actually doing a good thing, just like Eddie, and he should be allowed to continue to do so. After a certain amount of befuddlement, Brock sees the logic (if not the utter hypocrisy of what he has claimed to believe in) and says "We were blind, but now we see." So, he makes a deal with Spider-Man "I leave you alone if you leave me alone." And in a rather controversial move - Spider-Man agrees.
Was this an out of character move for the webslinger? A lot of people think so - as it even became a bone of contention between Peter and Spider-Ben during the Clone Saga when the Scarlet Spider found himself ensnared in Venom's web. Reotroactively, the writers seemed to like the idea of this being "proof" that Peter was really the clone, as the fact that he would make a deal like this with Venom showed that something was not right with him.
I'll agree - when I first read this - it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Spider-Man's sense of personal responsibility is too strong, crossing the line into obsessive compulsive behavior, to just let a villain walk away. But then again - Spider-Man had repeatedly proven himself to be totally inept against Venom! More often than not he either ran away from a fight (or faked his death) and other times either someone else had to take down Venom (Styx in issue #333) or needed help or rescuing himself, such as from the Torch in issue #362 Reed Richards in #363, and the Wild Pack in issue #375! So, unless Spider-Man planned on going full force and taking Venom out permanently, what's the point of continuing to pursue him when he's only get his ass kicked over and over and over? And besides, with Brock's twisted "moral code," can't Spidey be reasonably assured that Venom won't kill "innocents," just scumbags - like the Punisher does? And you don't see Spidey continually on the Punisher's ass trying to take him down, do you?
Of course, this development then led into...
The Lethal Protector
And that brings us to one of the saddest chapters in the Venom Saga - in my opinion the point of no return that the character reached which permanently compromised the Brock Venom as a viable supervillain - and it all begins here with Venom: The Lethal Protector #1 (February 1993). Marvel clearly wanted a Venom series due to the character's popularity - and frankly - this was also an era where Marvel was trying to launch any number of characters to expand the empire. The Annuals at this time were criminally killing trees to bring us solo stories featuring any number of C & D list characters such as, uh, Solo, the Prowler, the Foreigner, the Shroud, Chance, yadda yadda yadda, hoping that they would catch on so Marvel could issue more poorly produced monthly titles. They were also ripping off Spidey fans who were buying the Annuals to read about Spider-Man, but wound up stuck with all of these backup mediocrities. For whatever reason Marvel couldn't bring itself to actually sign off on a true Venom monthly series, so it did an end run by having a succession of limited series. It may have been because they couldn't assign a regular creative team due to other conflicting commitments. Michelinie wrote Lethal Protector. He has stated that he saw the writing on the wall about Venom's transformation from supervillain into superhero and wanted to have some hand in guiding that transition so that he could protect as much of the character's integrity as he could (although, I'm of the opinion that this was a lost cause already).
Trying to find his bearings and his purpose - Eddie Brock returns to San Francisco, the city where he was born. But when we first see him again - just what the heck is with the mullet (you'll see it in a scan closer to the end of the article)? Classic Eddie Brock, who was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #300 looked like a Marine. Big, bulky guy, buzz haircut, rough features, pock marked face, probably middle aged. It wasn't a classic look like the famous red Osborn cornrows or the Doc Ock bowl cut, but it was a look that suited him well. You knew who he was when you saw him, and he looked like a bad mutha. This version of Brock looked like he was first cousin to Patrick Swayze, ready to star in Dirty Symbiote Dancing.
The story opens with our new hero Venom terminally taking out a mugger and would-be rapist. But, if I may contradict myself slightly - I actually liked this little ghoulish confrontation. As Venom lets the body fall to the ground, he goes into a spiel along the lines of "You'll do nothing but decay, running in rivulets of rot and corruption, mingling with the rest of the filth in the sewers of ..." and as he sees the girl he just rescued "Oh, forgive us, we're being rude. Hi! We're Venom." He pats her on the head, saying she's safe, then bounds away happy with himself - and she runs away screaming - just as much or more terrified of her rescuer than her assailant!
I thought it was funny.
Meanwhile, Peter Parker (Marvel isn't 100% confident in Venom's ability to carry a series by himself, so it decides to hedge its bets by including Spider-Man in it as well) is really feeling like a chump for letting Venom get away the last time (like he could've stopped him), so when the news breaks that Brock has been spotted in San Francisco, he figures that he has to go find him and bring him in.
Later, Brock is walking around in a park, a bit despondent that he can't even rent a hotel room without being recognized and arrested. Earlier in the story, as Brock tried to check in, he was recognized and confronted by the police, whom he didn't kill because they were "only doing their jobs." Anyway, in the park, he happens upon an Evil Goon Squad beating up on what appears to be a group of homeless people. Venom comes to the rescue with more good old fashioned Symbiote Justice (he is briefly interrupted by Spider-Man, who comes across as a complete dumbass once again, as he finds out the hard way that the thugs he thinks are government agents are really an Evil Goon Squad, and Venom is trying to rescue people from them).
Venom uses the distraction created by Spidey to get away, and finds out that these people really aren't homeless at all - but they live under the earth in a remarkably well preserved section of San Francisco that was accidentally covered up and forgotten in the wake of the rebuilding of the city after the 1906 earthquake. Several of society's outcasts eventually made their way there and formed their own little community (think of City of Ember without superheroes and with a means of conveniently getting in and out of the city). Of course, where they got their money for the food they purchased whenever they came up from the depths was not explained - nor how the city stayed nice and clean and didn't strangle its inhabitants with its foul stench since I don't imagine how there would be anyone sophisticated enough to design and install a self contained waste disposal system. To be honest, considering the succession of limited series afterwards, perhaps all of this was explained - but frankly, after getting done with Lethal Protector, there was no way in hell I was going to sink any more cash into a Venom series.
Venom comes to the rescue again as we discover that Evil Scumbag Businessman #1 (not the same guy as before - but it's irrelevant - they're all the same - and yes, we will also meet an Evil Scumbag Businessman #2) wants these people out of their settlement. He was the one who sent the Evil Goon Squad, and now he has sent Giant Killer Machines to find them. Venom destroys the Giant Killer Machines, and later faces the community council, hoping that he will be allowed to live among them, giving him that sense of belonging that he has always lacked.
However, the council votes against him. As he leaves, he decides to track down Evil Scumbag Businessman #1 and get him to stop threatening the community - then they would have to accept him! So he breaks into #1's (who is #1? You are #2 - whoops - sorry - but it'll be shorter and more tolerable to just use the numbers) office and notices that he wants to build a park over where the outcasts live - but that shouldn't be a problem. What's the real reason he wants them out?
Before Venom can pursue the answers further, he is attacked by a gang of heavily armed and armored flying guys with big honkin' sonic guns called The Jury! This group of heavily armored flying guys is financed by Orwell Taylor, whos son was the Vault guard murdered by Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #315.
Eddie's response? "We didn't want to hurt anyone." What? Let's que up that murder scene again.
Damn, Eddie, it doesn't look like you really tried for another outcome, did you? That was a pretty gruesome death you gave the boy there, Eddie old pal.
Venom escapes from the Jury, admitting to himself that he did kill that guard, but that it was a regrettable necessity. But it wasn't a necessity to kill the cops who confronted him guns drawn earlier in this series? Or back in the 1992 Annuals? Remember, Brock has Olympian strength due to his exercise regimen (a point made later in the series). He could have bashed this guy's face in as Eddie Brock and left him unconscience, bloodied, and in need of extensive plastic surgery, but alive.
I'm confused again.
While Spidey tries to track Venom down, he decides that he's going to learn more about Eddie Brock so that he can understand him better. He shows up on the front step of Brock's father, Carl, in his civilian identity. Once he asks if the elder Brock is "Eddie Brock's father," Carl slams the door in Peter's face. Later, Spider-Man barges in and demands that Mr. Brock talk to him, which he refuses, only saying that as far as he is concerned, there is no longer a relationship between he and Eddie.
But, conveeeeeeeeeeeeniently, Brock's housekeeper pops up and decides that she's going to tell Spider-Man Eddie's story - having been the housekeeper since before Eddie was born. Get your hankies out folks.
Once upon a time, there was this taciturn successful businessman who was a bit lacking in the emotions department. But to everyone's surprise, everyone's surprise, including his own, he fell in love with a woman called Jamie. So smitten with her was Carl Brock that he would give her anything she wanted. And what she wanted most was a family.
You could probably skip the rest of the explanation because you just know where this is going.
We can see how close the two of them were in this panel, which - hey -wait a minute. That looks familiar. Let me look around in my vast collection of long boxes here. No, no, no - ah ha! There it is!
It's Norman and Emily Osborn from Revenge of the Green Goblin #1, (October 2000) more than seven years later. Smitten husband - joyful and expectant wife. Boy, that's kinda weird.
O.K. - back to the story. The housekeeper says "But when she died giving birth to Eddie - that part of Carl that allowed him to care for another person died, too." And so, we have this forelorn scene of Carl Brock standing at his wife's grave, thinking who knows what deep and dark thoughts, with the housekeeper holding the baby because you just know that Carl's not going to touch the little douchebag that killed his wife!
Hmmm, I have deja vu again.
Let's satisfy my fanboy curiosity here by checking the archives once again - and - viola!
The first image is from Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 (1994), and the second is also from Revenge of the Green Goblin #1 (October 2000). Admittedly, not exactly alike, but with similar sentiments.
However, we can see marked differences, for example, between Carl Brock and Norman Osborn. Brock keeps his emotions hidden underneath his steely resolve. Osborn, on the other hand, is totally consumed by his grief, a grief that will ultimately destroy his son, and wreck numerous other lives.
Now, the reason that you see a young Peter Parker rather than Harry Osborn is because in that particular story Harry has posthumously implanted his memories into Peter's mind, so as Peter "sees" the events play out, he is actually standing in Harry's place.
The housekeeper then proceeds to tell us that Carl was not abusive and gave Eddie the best of everything. However, he steadfastly refused to give him any of the affection or the companionship that a son craves from his father. Eddie tried excelling in school, in sports, but Carl was unmoved. It's probably a safe bet that Eddie got in trouble more than a few times and got busted for underage drinking, drug possession, vandalism, the typical things that desperate, troubled young men often do to force someone to notice them. Of course, it would have the opposite effect, with Carl ostracizing his son further.
Well, slap me upside the head and call me ...never mind. But it is pretty cool, huh (or "eh?" for you Canadians out there)?
So, where am I going with this? As I mentioned earlier, the Lethal Protector panels actually pre-dated the Osborn ones, since Protector debuted in 1993 - Harry Osborn's story was told in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14 in 1994 - with the Revenge image from 2000. However, based on what we had known about Norman and Harry Osborn prior to this, filling in the missing pieces wasn't too hard. I don't think it's a total coincidence that Eddie Brock's story nearly parallels Harry Osborn's, with Norman and the elder Brock appearing to be cut from the same cloth. But then again, having a bum father seems to be the logical crutch to fall back upon when you want to explain why someone turned to a life of crime or became a general scumbag. Later years saw Doc Ock, Mysterio, and Electro (just off the top of my head) all being given lousy fathers as an explanation for why they turned out they way they did. But although Harry was troubled, he did have that one good friend who helped him keep his head together and not do something really stupid during those early years - Gwen Stacy. Thus far there is no indication that Eddie had a similar big brother or sister figure.
As far as the art similarities. Well, if you asked 100 people to draw a panel describing the "indifferent father," or the "grieving father," or the "happy to have a baby" couple, a large number would probably look the same.
So then the crux of the story is that Eddie's pursuit of journalistic excellence was all a ploy to get his father's approval, and when the Sin-Eater story turned out to be a hoax - Eddie knew that was it - that his father would never accept him.
Welllllllll - O.K. Obviously, Michelinie realized Brock's backstory needed some more detail to explain his behavior. But this is actually a pretty weak supplement to an already weak motivation. And what compounds my frustration is that the housekeeper referred to Eddie's source in the Sin-Eater story, Emi Gregg, as a prankster. WRONG! Emil Gregg was NOT a prankster - he was a mentally ill man who genuinely believed that he was the Sin-Eater, because he kept hearing the "voices" (which turned out to be from Stan Carter's babblings next door). That's a BIG difference.
Now, of course, within the context of the story, we can say that the housekeeper probably just misunderstood the situation. After all, it was a coast away and stories lose quite a bit from retelling to retelling. But I don't think that's the issue here. I think it's a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the circumstances of Venom's origin - to make Brock seem like a victim - which frankly, is just plain offensive and dishonest. But the real crime is that it further comprises Venom's villainy. Now even Spider-Man pities him by saying - and I quote "I may be getting to know Eddie too well - I honestly feel a little sorry for him"? Beyond the fact that we're talking about a ruthless murderer who has left a string of bodies in his wake - Spidey actually feeling sorry for Brock? Stick a fork in him - he's done.
My faithful readers know what a big fan I am of Norman Osborn - but I don't want to pity him. He's a bastard and he should stay a bastard. Same with Doctor Octopus. Both of these villains for example, had crappy home lives, lousy fathers, and lost the women they loved. And Norman lost his son (well at least temporarily). It's one thing to understand where a character is coming from, and learning about the events which shattered their lives. After all, no one is born wanting to be a crazy supervillain. But pity? That's a lousy trait for an arch supervillain - to elicit pity. That's for lower tier bad guys. Again, Harry Osborn was a "villain" deserving of pity because he wasn't really a hardened criminal (although yes, he did commit some crimes), but a sick, lonely, tortured soul. His father, Ock, and Eddie (you thought I was going to say "Ock and Brock" didn't you? Well, fooled you! Wait a minute...) were all true criminals, enjoying the power that allowed them to carry out their actions. That's what made them (among other things) great supervillains (at least for awhile with Venom).
Anyway, back to the story. We find out that Evil Scumbag Businessman #1 is really after the gold that's somewhere beneath the park (I won't bog things down by telling the tale of how it got there) - and he fears that the underground community will find it. The Jury find and attack Brock again, but this time, #1 sends a chopper to rescue Venom, and makes him an offer - to become his new Head of Security? Of course, Venom doesn't trust him, but decides to play along and takes a chopper ride to an underground bunker in the Mojave Desert. But it's a trap (duh) sprung by Evil Scumbag Businessman #2! Turns out #1 contacted #2, who thinks that Venom can be of use in his latest venture - well, more specifically - not Venom - but his children!
And after that cliffhanger, we come to the first letters page which is called "Eddie's Clubhouse."
Eddie's Clubhouse? What is this? A tree fort where supervillains can hang out, play cards, eat snacks, look at dirty magazines, drink beer and engage in belching contests?
Yeesh - what's next? "Venom's Bedtime Stories"? "So the Three Bears came to Little Bear's bedroom and found Goldilocks sleeping in his bed. They then proceeded to EAT HER BRAIN. The end. Pleasant dreams, boys and girls..."
Anyway, Evil Scumbag Businessman #2 specializes in building condos for rich people who want to survive the coming apocalypse, and they're going to need super guardians to protect them from all of those scared and starving people who will come in waves and try to take what they have (I'm not embellishing this whatsoever). Therefore, #2's (this seems like an episode of "The Prisoner" now) scientists remove "five seeds" from the Venom symbiote that can each be grown into separate symbiotes.
Wait a minute - wasn't it said back in issue #362 that the symbiote produced asexually ONCE during its life? So what's with the "five seeds"?
Spidey calls Mary Jane at home and tells her that "weird creatures" have been seen lately in San Fran, and from descriptions, they could be symbiotes! Well, glad to see that you clarified that Pete - since I'm not sure that "weird creatures" would be an anomaly out on the West Coast. But sure enough, Spidey soon confronts the first female symbiote! #2 has matched the "five seeds" with his top five security personnel, sending them out to confront the police and test their powers.
Spider-Man bests the symbiote in a fight, and as she escapes in a hovercraft, our hero hitches a ride to the base under the Mohave Desert, where he not only finds Venom, but the five new symbiotes and their hosts!
After a convoluted battle (which fits right in with this convoluted tale), Venom and Spidey discover a beam that will age the symbiotes to the point of decay. When Spidey expresses concern that the humans inside the symbiote might not survive - Venom states that since they haven't bonded completely with their symbiotes, they should survive. Of course, since Spidey's being an outright dick in this series, he says that's not good enough (even though the Symbiote Squad is about to back them in a corner). Venom then sneaks a tendril behind Spidey and chokes him into unconscienceness, and proceeds to kill the symbiotes, yet leaving the human hosts alive. Spidey behaves like a sore loser as he tells Venom "that was a dirty trick - I won't forget it" to which Venom responds "the humans are still breathing...is there no pleasing you?"
The final issue of the miniseries starts with Venom racing to take on Evil Scumbag Businessman #1 and his plot to kill the people under the park. Spidey also arrives at the park and naturally proceeds to pick a fight with Venom, ranting like a lunatic about he should never have let Venom go, that Venom's insane and bloodthirsty, yang, yang, yang, and of course, Venom gets the upper hand and restrains that moronic Spider-Man so that he can tell him about #1's hideous plot.
As #1 goes to push the button that will blow everyone up, he is separated from Venom by a wall of flame, which as we know, is deadly to the symbiote. Hwever, Brock and symbiote HEROICALLY go into the flames and yank him out before he detonates his explosives. Spidey, of course, is just stunned at Venom's selfless heroism. He asks Brock "why put yourself through something like that?" to which Brock responds "could you have done any less?"
Venom slips away into the crowd again, and Spider-Man comes to the conclusion that since Venom was more concerned about keeping innocents safe than killing him, thereby honoring their "deal," it's time to just give up and come home. And why not? Venom has owned him this entire time (or is that "pwned"?) - so he might as well go pick fights with easier targets. And of course, the irony of Venom honoring the "deal" and Spider-Man breaking it in no time flat is not lost on me.
The outcasts beneath the surface vote to accept Brock as part of their community, prompting this speech (and the last word that I had to cut out of the scan is "Venom" - as if I had to tell you). You can almost hear the music in the background....
So, at least for now, Brock has found a home, and a purpose.
In Conclusion - For the Moment
Now, I'm not going to pretend that I am unbiased. After what I've said over the years about Venom, I can't make any such claim. Hopefully, this article was entertaining and informative, and not just a long rag against the character. I hope I've made clear that other than the dubious motivations that were originally prescribed to the character, it was his overuse and misuse by Marvel, and the increasing number of contradictions that harmed the character. I supposed that if I had really tried, I could have explained away many of the inconsistencies, since that's what I usually try to do with the tangled mythology of the Spider-Man Universe - but admittedly, that was not my objective this time. These problems were just so glaring and careless that I didn't even want to try.
During an interview, David Michelinie spoke about what he perceived as the decline of Venom as he saw it. I thought it would be best to lift the quote rather than try to paraphrase it, but to give credit where it is due, this is from an long interview mostly about his time with the Avengers, so go there if you want more from the man:
I think Venom became popular for two reasons: one, of course, was Todd McFarlane's incredible visuals. The other was the fact that the editor at that time, Jim Salicrup, allowed the character to grow at his own pace. He declined to allow other writers to exploit the character, and didn't ask me to write a Venom story just for the sake of having a new Venom story to promote. We only did Venom stories when I came up with ideas that progressed the character, that took him somewhere he hadn't been before. So each story was interesting, and the readers started looking forward to seeing what we would do next. I think that was a big factor in the character's ongoing popularity. As for the decision to make Venom a hero, I thought it was a bad one, and I told Marvel that. Let's face it, jolly as he may be, Venom is still a psychopathic mass murderer--not exactly classic hero material. But Marvel owned the character and could do whatever they wanted with it. I was twice offered the writing assignment for the proposed monthly series, and twice turned it down. Then they decided to do a string of mini-series instead, and offered me the first 4-issue run (later expanded to 6 issues). I decided that, if they were going to do this no matter what, maybe I could at least set things up to be as true to the character as possible. So I agreed to write the first mini-series. Everything after that was beyond my control.
Believe it or not, as I've researched and written the Venom series to this point, I grew to understand the popularity of the character, and actually to kinda like Eddie Brock. For one, just like the other villainous heavyweights such as Norman Osborn and Doctor Octopus, Brock had a distinctive voice, with his sardonic humor and casual expressions. As only one example among many, in Amazing Spider-Man #375 as he's tangling with Spider-Man, Eddie spots his ex-wife and says "Hi Babe! Ya look great!" Plus, whenever the moment called for it - he could be quite articulate and erudite - which you would expect out of a professional journalist - and it would be amusing to see the massive Venom actually become ponderous and contemplative. Like the other two A-List Spidey supervillains, when he spoke, the dialogue was truly indigenous to Brock and/or Venom. He was also a lot closer to being a "working class" villain than either of those other two. Although Brock was a journalist and the son of a wealthy man, there was an "edge" to him, a sense that he had been to the school of hard knocks a time or two, occassionally getting slammed flat on his ass, but always coming back up ready for more.
And in none of this am I suggesting that we couldn't have seen moments of genuine humanity and compassion from Eddie Brock. Kraven the Hunter was devastated over the death of "Gog," his giant alien companion while he was hiding out in the Savage Land Amazing Spider-Man #103-104, whom Spider-Man led into a quicksand pit. Norman Osborn never recovered from the death of his wife. And best of all - Doc Ock liked Aunt May! Now, the "wedding" in Amazing Spider-Man #132 took it to a ridiculous extreme, but at the heart of it was that the gentle, nonjudgmental, caring May represented something that the good doctor had been missing his entire life. If they didn't have some glimmer of humanity - they would just be one-note, tiresome villains who wore out their welcome early - like Carnage. These guys all had moral lines they wouldn't cross - but they were still bad guys, and it was never suggested that these guys would normally be fine fellows - doggone it - if they didn't want to kill Spider-Man! But that's exactly what was done with Brock.
I would like to have known by this time, for example, just why Brock had this weakness for protecting "innocents," because each time he says it, it sounds goofy and insincere. The "we were innocent before Spider-Man f****d our life up," doesn't really wash. Due to the constant repitition, it just seems that there has to be something more.
In my opinion, after reading through all of the stories thus far, the end of The Lethal Protector miniseries should have been the end of Venom as a supervillain. Even taking into consideration all of the problems with the stories, the character really does seem to have gone through an entire major story arc, with life changing events and ultimately a new perspective on life, relationships, and the world around him since his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #300. At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #375 and this miniseries, Brock should have realized that perhaps at their core, there really wasn't that much difference between himself and Peter Parker, that Brock's career was inadvertent "collateral damage," just as the number of people that he injured and killed along the way to his own epiphany were (I'm really stretching this, so bear with me). As lousy as these latest stories were, Venom as a character truly seemed to have grown, and future appearances should have reflected that growth, rather than returning him back to hating Spider-Man and wanting to eat his brains. He should have come to the conclusion that "you know what - my life is my life, regardless of what a bum the old man was, and what a prick Spider-Man is. And it's time I took control of it."
Either Brock should have been killed off, like Michelinie originally planned to do (and this was within a couple of years of Amazing Spider-Man #400, which was his original time frame for disposing of Brock), or he should have gone all of the way and became a Punisher style crime-fighting vigilante with a twist. After all, with Carnage, disgusting piece of crap that he was, Marvel had its irredeemably evil symbiote. Obviously, there would have been much in Brock's past that he would have had to say grace over, but then again, look at the current line-up of the Thunderbolts, which includes Brock's successor Mac Gargan, and of all people - Norman Osborn! It wouldn't have taken a whole lot of creative writing to either have Venom do something meritous to warrant the granting of some kind of conditional parden, or have him continue to be a fugitive from a legal perspective, but spend his time searching for redemption for his prior acts. He and Spidey could never become friends, only tolerate each other's existence, because beyond that would in my opinion have been too much of a compromise of the characters.
Of course, that makes no sense either based on what I said earlier - that Brock was a psychopath and wasn't going to really reform any time soon. But putting a stop to that psychosis here, and at least showing Brock trying to deal with it and curb it wouldn't have been as damaging to the character and as intellectually dishonest as having him bounce back and forth between good guy/bad guy based on whatever Marvel felt like doing with him at the time. It was this horrible inconsistency, more than his originally lame motivations, that in my opinion, destroyed this character.
But not only that, but Spider-Man never came across as a hero when he fought Venom. He usually was presented as a coward, or as needing help from someone else every time he tangled with the guy (the first story in #300 as the exception). And in Lethal Protector Spidey comes across as an out and out fool, always with the wrong answers or wrong way of dealing with the problem at hand. Trashing Spider-Man's character in order to make Venom look better wound up harming Venom as well!
The best villains are those who the hero could have been had things gone differently for one or the other. Doc Ock is the arrogant, demented "mad genius" that Peter Parker could have been without the positive influence of friends and family. Osborn and Peter have that weird father/son thing going. And Eddie Brock really is power with no responsibility - no agenda - just selfishness. He doesn't even intend to use it to amass a fortune, or to rule the world, or something that resembles a long-term objective. He just wants to kick people's ass, even scores, and go on a series of petty tirades. Venom is Eddie Brock standing on the top of a tower screaming "F**k You" to a world he feels has screwed and mistreated him. Peter Parker could done the exact same thing with his spider powers - but made an entirely different choice. But instead of focusing on that aspect of Venom/Brock, and truly making him a reflection of Spider-Man's "dark side," Marvel gave us the Lethal Protector.
Ponder this for a moment. If Lance Bannon (Peter's competition at the Daily Bugle from Amazing Spider-Man #208 to just before the start of the Clone Saga, when he was foolishly killed off) had been revealed as Venom in issue #300, I think it would have made a lot more sense. For one, there was already existing bad blood between the two, which wouldn't have taken much to explode into full blown hate. Plus, the readers already knew who Bannon was, which would have mitigated the "huh?" factor when Venom was revealed as Brock. After all, he had been a suspect in the "who was the HobGoblin" mystery. Although in my hypothetical situation, Bannon would ultimately have gotten fired from the Bugle due to his own stupidity, his existing resentment of Peter (and Spider-Man) simply would have made things much "neater." In fact, that's EXACTLY what they did in Spider-Man 3. When you think about it, Topher Grace is really playing the Lance Bannon character - a photographer competing with Peter who also happens to be around the same age, is preppyish where Peter is nerdy, and makes smooth moves on the ladies where Peter is befuddled and clumsy. But in the movie, Sam Raimi is just calling Lance Bannon - Eddie Brock (to be honest, "Eddie Brock" is a lot better sounding name though for a villain - with a nice one syllable last name).
Of course, to have had Bannon be Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #300, coming off the heels of the disastrous Ned Leeds-as-HobGoblin reveal in issue #289 would have looked like lazy and sloppy plotting at the time, having another Bugle employee become a supervillain so soon (not to mention the late Frederick "Big Man" Foswell, and the Scorpion, Fly, and numerous Spider Slayers funded by JJJ). Of course, 20 years later, now that the HobGoblin has been "set right," and Ned Leeds is relegated to history, it wouldn't look so bad.
I'll wrap this effort up with another quote from David Michelinie. In the following interview , he states that Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup allowed him to control the Venom and Carnage characters. However, after a new editor (which would have been Danny Fingeroth, I believe, who frustrated Michelinie and other members of the Spider-Man staff on more than one occassion) "decided to let anyone on the planet write them, they suddenly started sprouting unexplained new powers, inconsistent speech patterns, and altered backgrounds. And readers started to get tired of them." In another interview, he stated that Marvel had run Venom "into the ground." And finally, when asked if he would want to write another character that he created, the Taskmaster, again his response was "Probably not. Like other characters I created for Marvel (Venom and Carnage in particular), the character has become something other than he was created to be. If I wrote the character again, I want to write the character that I created...but that character doesn't exist any more."
And boys and girls, I really don't think there's anything that I can add to that.
Will There be More?
At the moment, that's where my Venom series ends. I tentatively began writing the next chapter beginning with Maximum Garbage, but for various reasons, including falling behind on other, more timely articles (Year In Review), I've postponed it. Also, as mentioned earlier, Lethal Protector seemed to be a natural end to Venom's arc. After that, it's really more of the same lame story one after the other, and until I can figure out how to write an essay and put some pizzazz in it, it's on hold for awhile.
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Write me at MadGoblin
Or join me on the to talk about this article with the Crawlspace Crew!
Write me at MadGoblin
Or join me on the to talk about this article with the Crawlspace Crew!