Lethal Protector: The Twisted Comics History Of Venom
There’s something about the evil doppelganger that’s irresistible in superhero comics, and among a crowded room of Bizarros, Reverse Flashes and Sabretooths, one dark mirror of a villain stands out as the most iconic; the sinister symbiote known as Venom, which made its first full appearance in comics on this day in 1988.
Venom’s origins date back to to the original Marvel Super Hero Secret Wars, which saw Spider-Man acquire a mysterious black alien costume that enhanced his abilities --- but that proved to be more trouble that it was worth when the webslinger discovered its symbiotic properties. After a fierce struggle, Peter Parker freed himself of the alien costume, but that was just the beginning of his troubles.
The symbiote survived and sought out the disgraced and suicidal Eddie Brock, whose career had been ruined when Spider-Man exposed his lies. Bonded with Brock, and sharing a deep grudge against the hero, Venom made multiple attempts on Spider-Man’s life, but was never quite seen until his on-page debut in Todd McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man #300.
The character of Venom quickly became wildly popular, and spin-off villains such as Carnage sprang up in his wake. Venom’s popularity reached a point that the character began to star in his own comics, and took on more of an anti-hero role, even coming to a truce with Spider-Man that saw the characters agree to stay out of each other’s way.
The popularity of Venom, Carnage, and the spider-symbiotes became a huge draw for Marvel in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and led to the debuts of characters like Hybrid, Toxin, Mania and Anti-Venom. Venom was prominently featured in the Spider-Man animated series of the ‘90s, and a decade later made his big screen debut played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, although the interpretation and portrayal of the character was widely panned.
In order to bring the Venom character back to his role as a villainous foil for Spider-Man, Mark Millar and Terry Dodson's Marvel Knights Spider-Man saw the symbiote pass from Eddie Brock to Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion. As Venom, Gargan was assuredly not in control and the symbiote's influence caused Venom’s physical appearance to become hulking and distorted as it became more of a monster, with a taste for human flesh.
Gargan’s Venom took a role in Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, but after they were deposed the US government took hold of the symbiote and it passed on to Peter Parker’s friend and former high school nemesis Flash Thompson. Flash had lost his legs during his service as a US Marine, and was given a second chance to follow in his hero Spider-Man’s footsteps as “Agent” Venom, performing black ops missions for the government while wrestling his own demons and attempting to resist the symbiote’s call.
Flash eventually joined The Avengers and served as their representative on The Guardians of the Galaxy, where he discovered the true nature of the symbiote. It is from a race of beings known as The Klyntar, which become corrupted if attached to a corrupted individual. Through their shared bond, Flash was able to purify his Klyntar and became a protector of the universe.
After returning to Earth, the symbiote was forcibly bonded to a criminal named Lee Price, overpowered the symbiote’s heroism to become a villainous Venom once again. Once a lowly crook working for Black Cat, Price used the Venom symbiote to aim his sights higher, but in a fun reversal on the trope, had to contend with the angel on his shoulder that is his symbiote.
Whether it’s as a hero, a villain, or somewhere in between, Venom continues to be one of the most popular characters created in the modern age of comics.