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Get to Know: Venom

Get to Know: Venom

Here’s your guide to being the “smug friend” after watching Venom this weekend! Now you’ll be able to complain with the best of them about how the comics got it better. Join us as we dig into the comic books and previous adaptations of one of Spider-Man’s most famous foes!

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What is Venom’s deal? Where did he come from?

To explain Venom, I need to back up and quickly explain Spider-Man’s black costume. A few years earlier, a Spider-Man reader named Randy Schueller had suggested a black costume for Spider-Man. Quite separately, Mattel had acquired the action figure licence for Marvel superheroes, and wanted a story featuring “all the heroes and villains” in it to help give the toyline some juice. Because Mattel’s market testing said kids responded well to the words “war” and “secret,” Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars was born!

The black costume then debuted on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #252 in May of 1984. Its origin was later told in Secret Wars #8 that December. In Secret Wars, Marvel characters are abducted by an all-powerful being, The Beyonder, and forced to fight. Spider-Man’s costume gets ripped and is directed to a machine that can make any clothes. He goes to the wrong machine and some black goo covers his body.

Eventually, the suit bonds with him, and even takes Peter Parker out for unconscious night-time crime fighting as Spider-Man. Later, with the help of the Fantastic Four, Peter discovers the suit is an alien symbiote that is vulnerable only to fire and certain sounds. The symbiote escaped and tried to bond with it. Ultimately, Peter rejected it, and it slithered off.

Eddie Brock was a reporter disgraced that he wrote a story of a man falsely confessing to the crimes of a serial killer known as the Sin-Eater. When Spider-Man catches the real killer, Brock’s career is ruined, and he blames Spider-Man. He also happens to be in the church when the symbiote gives up trying to bond with Peter Parker. The suit finds Eddie, and Venom is born.

Venom basically has the same powers of Spider-Man, knows his secret identity, and is also undetectable by the hero’s “Spider Sense.” This allows Venom  advantages none of Spider-Man’s other foes have. It is also a signal about ways comics creators were trying to keep things fresh in the late 1980s after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

Artist Todd McFarlane first drew Venom in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 in 1988, making him a more physically imposing version of the black costume, with very pointy teeth. McFarlane’s successor, Erik Larson, added the tongue and even more teeth to the character, which has come to define his look all the way through today.

Since then, a few other characters have had relationships with the symbiote, most notably Spider-Man foe the Scorpion, and Flash Thompson.

He also appeared in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, which I detailed earlier this week.

And in the new film? Is Spider-Man in this?

We have no idea if this movie takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there’s no mention of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man being in the film. I suspect this will end up being determined by the critical reception and box office performance.

In Venom, Eddie Brock is a reporter, and meets the symbiote while investigating the Life Foundation. In the comics, the Life Foundation is basically a generic evil company with an unclear profit center. They extract 5 additional symbiotes from Venom called...wait for it...Scream, Phage, Riot, Lasher, and Agony. This is 1993. It was a dark time for comics.

Reading recommendations

I’m going to be honest, there’s not many comics featuring Eddie Brock as Venom that I wholeheartedly recommend.

“Essential” comics

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If you want to read how that origin I summarized above happened in the comics, read this Spider-Man: Birth of Venom collection. It is interesting just to see all the pieces come together, and I do like Todd McFarlane's art when it comes to Spider-Man. His regular human beings look really weird, though, and they all have really dark bushy eyebrows.

If you want to read the story that the film draws from the most, this Venom: Lethal Protector volume is just that. The art changes from Mark Bagley to Ron Lim halfway through, and the story suffers for it, as well as the rushed ending.

But if you’re only going to read one...

This volume, which takes its name from the previous comic I mentioned, is called Lethal Protector - Blood in the Water, but it is much better. It opens with an issue told from the symbiotes point of view. The main story has Venom protecting a race of underground dinosaur people from another Spider-Man foe, Kraven the Hunter. Mike Costa is a good writer, and Mark Bagley draws the whole series this time.

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And one more I really like is Spectacular Spider-Man: The Hunger from 2003. From writer Paul Jenkins and my all-time favorite Spider-Man artist Humberto Ramos (one of the few signed comics I have is from this series), this is a great examination of the relationship between Eddie and the symbiote. There’s a huge retcon of Eddie’s history, but this story has great action, Ramos’ take on Venom looks more liquid than he ever has, and also has a deep moral quandary for Spidey to wrestle with.

The first three of these are all on sale digitally, and all four are probably available on Marvel Unlimited as well.

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