Story Title: Venom
Published: May 1984
Writer: David Michelinie
Artist: Todd McFarlane
In 1982, Marvel Comics’ editor-in-chief Jim Shooter took a liking to an illustration from reader Randy Schueller that depicted Spider-Man in a smooth, black outfit with a large red spider motif across the chest; after purchasing the concept for a mere $200, writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz conceived of the costume being a living organism and Spidey’s new black suit debuted without explanation in The Amazing Spider-Man #252 before Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 revealed that Spidey acquired the suit during the “Secret Wars” event. Over the next year or so, Spidey revelled in the costume’s unique and helpful ability to form both clothing and organic webbing until Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic revealed its true nature as a symbiotic lifeform. Out of fear, Spidey rejected the symbiote, using the cacophony of church bells to drive it from his body and began wearing a cloth version of his black suit.
At the conclusion of Web of Spider-Man #24, though, a mysterious assailant attempted to push Peter in front of an oncoming train and a shadowy figure was clearly stalking him throughout 1988 before the symbiote, now known as Venom, made its full and dramatic reappearance. Since then, Venom has evolved from a gruesome, twisted killer into a violent anti-hero and a more morally righteous hero, with the symbiote jumping from numerous hosts and spawning a number of similarly-powered offspring. Acting as Spider-Man’s dark doppelgänger, Venom was an immediate favourite for me and many readers thanks to their knowledge of Spidey’s true identity, resistance to his spider-sense, and having all of Spidey’s powers (and more) but being far for vindictive, sadistic, and lacking Peter’s strong moral compass.
“Venom” opens with the startling image of Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Peter’s former fling turned wife, huddled in the corner of their apartment nearly out of her mind with fear. When Peter returns home, still garbed in his cloth black costume, initially Mary Jane recoils in horror before gratefully embracing Peter. Peter, though disturbed by Mary Jane’s condition and the fact that she was attacked in their apartment, is even more troubled by her description of her attacker and worries that the alien costume might have survived their dramatic break-up. Mary Jane, ever the feisty and capable woman, is largely back to her old self after a good night’s rest in a hotel and immediately makes arrangements for them to move so she can put the whole thing behind her.
However, overcome with his characteristic worrisome nature, Peter retrieves a Sonic Blaster from the Fantastic Four (a formidable weapon against the symbiote, which is highly vulnerable to sonic waves and intense heat), but is too highly strung to notice a mysterious stranger stalking him or to properly socialise with his friends and family, despite Mary Jane’s best efforts to perk him up. It’s an extremely effective way to introduce Venom without even seeing them on-panel; although Venom doesn’t physically hurt or molest Mary Jane, their mere presence and alien nature are enough to reduce her to a shivering wreck. Her condition greatly disturbs Peter, who points out through his internal monologue what a strong, impendent, and capable woman Mary Jane usually is; she’s always been very brazen and outspoken so to see her reduced to little more than a frightened child is a chilling moment for him (and us, the reader).
At their house-warming party, Peter suddenly leaves after spotting his alien costume swinging around town and is immediately blind-sided by a muscular doppelgänger of himself baring a horrific grin. Although the reader was introduced to Eddie Brock, a large, stone-faced, muscle-bound man who is in possession of the alien costume, earlier, we don’t actually learn who he is or any of his backstory until this moment. Previously, we saw that he lives in a rundown apartment full of weightlifting equipment and newspaper clippings of Spider-Man, openly converses to the symbiote (though it doesn’t answer him back), and that he religiously pumps iron to increase both his physical strength and the strength of the symbiote.
Peter, however, recognises not only the symbiote but also Brock, who is revealed to have been a respected reporter whose reputation was tarnished when he was duped by a compulsive confessor. Because Spider-Man captured Stan Carter/The Sin-Eater, Brock’s big story was discredited and he blamed Spider-Man for the sudden downturn in his fortunes. Brock’s mania was so complete and had blinded him so completely that he was driven first to strenuous exercise and, finally, to suicide; however, right as Eddie was contemplating the worst sin imaginable to his Catholic upbringing, the symbiote found him and, joined in their hatred of Spider-Man, they formed a bond so complete that Venom was born.
Though Spidey tries to use Brock’s monologue to edge his way towards his Sonic Blaster, Venom easily overpowers him with their superior strength. Spidey is, however, able to knock Venom down with a massive girder and blast him with the Sonic Blaster; Spidey hesitates, though, when he realises that the two have formed an unbreakable symbiotic bond and that further exposure to the high-intensity sound waves could kill Brock and decides to regroup and think of a new plan. This is all the hesitation Venom needs to recover, though, and with one massive blow, they knock Spidey out.
When he awakens some hours later, Spidey finds that he has been webbed up to a church bell by Venom’s far stronger and much thicker webbing. Brock, now garbed in a priest’s robe, revels in the delicious irony and fitting nature of Spidey’s impending death since Peter tried to use the same massive bells to destroy his “Other”. Like any good, overconfidant villain, Venom leaves Spider-Man to his fate and, as such, misses their chance to keep Peter from using his sheer force of will and brute strength to keep himself from being pounded into mush and breaking free of Venom’s webbing.
Unable to match Venom’s strength and at a serious disadvantage since Venom doesn’t set off his spider-sense and appears to have all of his strengths and abilities, Spidey decides to outsmart Venom by forcing them to expend their webbing and tire themselves out, draining the symbiote’s energy and sending Brock crashing to the street below. The story ends with Brock, and the symbiote, being held captive at Four Freedoms Plaza, the high-tech home of the Fantastic Four; there, encased within a cylinder and rendered inert by a constant barrage of sonic waves, Venom’s threat is effectively neutralised. Upon safely returning to Mary Jane, Peter and his wife agree that it is no longer appropriate for him to wear the black costume given Venom’s sadistic nature and he finally returns to the classic red and blue for the first time in about four years.
“Venom” is a really great introduction for one of Spider-Man’s most complex and vicious foes; this story took place during the much lauded Micheline/McFarlane pairing, which results in some absolutely fantastic and detailed artwork. McFarlane always drew a brilliant Spider-Man, emphasising the complexity of his webs, the inhuman positions and poses he would strike while web-slinging, and giving every character an edgy, nineties make-over to help them stand out a little more. Venom, in comparison, is far more subdued, visually, than he would later be, appearing as simply a jet-black, muscular version of Spider-Man with a demonic grin; it wouldn’t be until Mark Bagley came onto the title that Venom would take on some of their more recognisable characteristics, such as the writing tentacles, mass of teeth, and long, drooling tongue.
Still, Eddie Brock makes for a unique and interesting new addition to Spidey’s rogues gallery; Brock is one of a handful of Spidey’s villains who actually knows his secret identity and the only one (at the time) able to use that information to his full advantage thanks to his ability to circumvent Peter’s spider-sense and the many attributes of his alien costume. Brock is, of course, a complete madman here and in his early appearances; slighted by Spider-Man’s involvement, he blames all of his failings on Spidey rather than admit to being duped by a compulsive confessor. Eddie believes that Spider-Man is an evil and malevolent individual and that it is his sacred duty to put an end to his (Spidey’s) menace; his obsessive mania is so complete that he kills an innocent police officer and then justifies it as being necessary to his “righteous revenge”. He openly admits to being disgusted by innocent death but is all-too-happy to torment Mary Jane, stalk Peter, and attack Spider-Man with a maniacal glee.
If there’s a downside to the story, it’s simply that Venom is defeated rather anti-climatically; the Sonic Blaster proves effective but Peter is too concerned with Brock’s well-being to press his advantage and, unable to match Venom’s brute strength (which is on par with Spidey’s and further augmented thanks to Brock’s intense physical training), Spidey simply has the symbiote exhaust itself and that’s it. However, Venom’s threat wouldn’t end here by a long shot and this is a simple way to leave the door open for their subsequent, far more impressive return and defeats. Furthermore, this tactic shows how blinded by his rage and spite Venom are and how adaptable and intelligent Peter can be; he doesn’t win through sheer mindless brute strength, as Venom are attempting to do, and must instead rely on his wiles and intelligence to overcome Venom’s very real and lethal threat.
Have you read “Venom”? Did you purchase a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man’s landmark 300th issue back in the day? What did you think to Venom’s introductory story; were you a fan of the concept and character or do you feel they are a product of a darker time in comics? What did you think to Spider-Man’s black costume and the revelation that it was an alien symbiote? What is your favourite Venom story? How are you celebrating Venom’s dramatic debut today? Whatever your thoughts on Venom, do please leave a comment below.