The Venom movie starring Tom Hardy
has just hit theatres has been in theatres for a while. Plus, Donny Cates’ Venom series has recently finished its first arc and loves to dip into the symbiotes’ mythos. With that in mind, now is a good time to look back on past Venom comics and get some sweet, sweet clicks.
I’ve always been fond of Venom, but before 2018, my experience was largely with adaptions and the series launched by Rick Remender starring Flash Thompson. But after getting really into Donny Cates’ current run, I dug into a lot of Venom’s past appearances and comics, and I think I’ve sufficiently got a grasp of the character. So without further adieu, here are my personal favourite Venom stories.
10. “The Land Before Crime”, Venom (2016) #151-153
Mike Costa’s Venom run isn’t anything particularly special, but it has some interesting ideas buried in it. However, the arc that stands out the most is “The Land Before Crime”, a relatively simple story featuring Eddie Brock becoming the protector of an underground society of dinosaurs… because superheroes.
The story is not subtle about being largely a rehash of Lethal Protector with added dinosaurs, but it’s actually engaging in how Eddie returns to his Lethal Protector persona and deals with his own issues with the symbiote with the assistance of Alchemax. This sets up something of a supporting cast for Eddie, in the form of a scientist friend and longtime Spidey supporting character Liz Allan. These characters help elevate the story beyond a simple rehash and make for a fun, breezy read. Probably the bright spot in an otherwise mediocre run.
9. “Carnage”, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #361-363
While Cletus Kasady is by no means a compelling character or villain, his introductory arc was just the shot in the arm the Spidey mythos needed. Serving as an evil(er) version of Venom, Carnage was able to push Spider-Man and Venom into teaming up, and Peter Parker into questioning his morals. While the character has come to epitomise so much of what is wrong with comics, his debut was a treat.
This story is at its best when it’s playing with the dynamic between Spider-Man and Venom, highlighting the differences between the two while having them begrudgingly team-up. It’s a fun ride, and it’s a shame that Venom and Carnage became so overexposed later on, because keeping their appearances limited would have kept them both menacing and special, rather than making them into random characters that people beat up (or in Carnage’s case, tore in half). Carnage’s is still menacing in this story, because he hasn’t become a cheap villain. He doesn’t have random robot legs or some posse of bad guys. This story is Carnage at his most pure and most simple.
8. Venom: Dark Origin #1-6
Dark Origin is a retelling of Eddie Brock’s origin, also highlighting his childhood and college years. While Zeb Wells takes some liberties with canon, he distills Eddie Brock down to his most villainous aspects; Wells’ Eddie isn’t a misunderstood anti-hero or some noble protector, he’s an angry man with inadequacy issues who blames the world for his misfortunes. He’s what Eddie was originally intended to be.
Wells’ retelling expands on what we already knew about Eddie and revels in how twisted Eddie is as a person and is the kind of villain origin story that is refreshing after so many writers tried to give Eddie excuses for how he is. We repeatedly see Eddie take the easy way out and avoid responsibility, reinforcing how Eddie is, at his core, an evil version of Spider-Man. After years of Eddie being a misunderstood anti-hero, Wells returned Eddie to his roots as a true villain, if only in his origin — The return of Venom to villainy would have to wait for Mac Gargan’s turn as Venom.
7. The Return of Venom, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #315-317
Venom’s return to the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man was handled incredibly well by David Micheline, who I still think is probably the definitive Eddie Brock writer (being his creator doesn’t hurt). Like Carnage, it helps that this is one of the earlier Venom stories before his overexposure, and his character is still at his purest here.
Venom’s return this time played up his dread, showing his planning and workout, and inklings of morality, better realising Eddie Brock as a character. His return is treated with complete seriousness, as Peter prepares to face his new enemy and Venom absolutely demolishes Black Cat. The cat and mouse game between Spider-Man and Venom is easily the best part of this story, as Eddie shows up and befriends Aunt May and the two agree to a showdown — it has an old west vibe, even in the art. The ending is creative and only further defines the dynamic between Peter, Eddie and the Symbiote. This story showed that Venom wasn’t just a one-hit wonder; he was here to stay.
6. Venom Wins, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #346-347
When he was first introduced, Venom was a real menace to Spider-Man. He knew who Spider-Man was, knew who his loved ones were, knew where he worked and didn’t register on Peter’s spider-sense. This story was to be the final showdown between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock, with Peter having to use all his resources to stop his superpowered stalker.
This story is basically a drawn out fight, but we see Peter struggle with his morals and what it would take to finally defeat Venom. The resolution is creative, as Peter does something (somewhat) morally ambiguous as he allows Venom to pretend that he’s finally beaten his nemesis, and walks off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Of course that wouldn’t last, but
5. Venom: Separation Anxiety #1-4
Separation Anxiety is probably the best of the 90s Venom miniseries after Lethal Protector, and it definitely feels like Howard Mackie knew what people wanted from Venom comics of the 90s. There were tons of new symbiote characters, a cool plot with some mystery and of course violence. Even if not all the symbiotes spawn were memorable, visually they were striking, and sometimes that’s enough to leave an impression.
The story involved Eddie hiding from his symbiote spawn, and somebody was going after them. Eddie without his symbiote was incredibly vulnerable, something that didn’t happen often for the character. While the story started the trend of throwing symbiote characters at the wall and seeing what stuck, it was just cool to see this group of characters with their cool designs hunting Venom.
4. Venom: Lethal Protector #1-6
Turning Venom — specifically, the Eddie Brock incarnation of Venom — into an anti-hero is a decision that many disagree with, including many Marvel creators. I’m one of those people. However, there are times, when the stars align and the moon gods smile upon us, that this interpretation of Venom actually works. Such is the case with Lethal Protector, a series that oozes nineties from its pours, but is just so endearing.
Transforming Eddie into a misunderstood anti-hero was no easy task, but this series managed it… mostly. Eddie’s desire to protect those he deemed innocent felt very much like a natural evolution of his character, given his previous appearances showed him keeping innocents out of his and Spider-Man’s blood feud. The rest of the story is very nineties, with underground cities and evil corporations, but in a really enjoyable way that brings out the best parts of Venom. It’s a ludicrous story, but it gives Eddie’s character some depth and it’s just cool to see him as a fugitive fighting giant robots while on the run.
3. The Original Venom Saga, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #258, 298-300, Web of Spider-Man #1
I don’t know what it’s actually called, but the original story told across several issues featuring the first clash between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock is classic. It’s a story so good that every good version of Venom borrows from it in some way and gave just enough about Venom to capture the imaginations of so many.
Sure, aspects of it, such as the borderline cartoon that is Eddie Brock, haven’t aged particularly well, but this idea of Eddie as a superpowered stalker put him on the map as a force to be reckoned with. It was scary that someone knew everything about Peter but couldn’t be beaten by him. Reading this and watching their dynamic be explored is just incredibly entertaining. Sure, there are some faults, like Peter constantly reminding the reader that he blames himself for Venom’s existence, and the art hasn’t aged well in places, but man was this just… cool. There’s a good reason this story (or at least the first part of it) has been replicated to much in other mediums, it’s just that timeless.
2. “Rex”, Venom (2018) #1-6
The introductory arc of Donny Cates’ Venom run is so much better than it deserves to be. Serving largely as a way for Cates to retcon the symbiotes’ history and set up his run, Cates goes balls to the wall with 90s comic book visuals and Geoff Johns-calibre sweeping retcons, building a dark, fantastical story that culminates with Venom literally sticking weapons to himself and fighting a giant symbiote god dragon.
Cates’ story retcons the symbiotes to tie them into the wider Marvel universe, a retcon that allows Cates to tell this story of dark gods and demonic possession. This story isn’t one about Eddie Brock, it’s a story about the symbiotes, what they are, where they come from and what they might become. Cates’ story touches on SHIELD, Wolverine and Thor, all of which feels remarkably natural for a story of this scope. Whatever Cates has planned, his run had an excellent start.
1. The Life of Flash Thompson, Venom (2011) #1-9
This isn’t really a traditional arc, but it’s a big character arc for Flash Thompson and I’m counting it. Rick Remender’s run may have been shorter than it deserved to be, but the first nine issues managed to paint the best version of Venom — It touched on Flash Thompson’s addiction to the symbiote (portrayed infinitely better than Eddie Brock’s), the importance Flash places on his duty, his struggles with alcoholism and his difficulties managing his personal life, all with engaging villains. Tony Moore’s art is hit or miss (mostly miss, especially with random blurring that I kept thinking was a printing error),
While Remender’s run petered out, this collection of issues shows how special it could’ve been, with a darker, more mature take on stories popularised by Peter Parker himself, with a protagonist who would be allowed to grow, whose status quo isn’t almost completely set in stone and who is infinitely more flawed, yet still relatable and engaging.