Venom vs. Sandman: Three Stories of Living Grains and Eating Brains

November 14th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , ,

Spider-Man 3 on DVD came out recently. I think I’ll wait off on it for the eventual Spider-Man 3.1 release. In honor of this movie, let’s look at the two debuting villains: the Sandman and Venom.

Venom made complete sense. I think most everyone with a brain knew how this was going to play out from the beginning. First movie would have to be Spider-Man’s top nemesis the Green Goblin. Second movie would have to be Doctor Octopus, who, while doesn’t have all that much of a personal connection to Spider-Man, is such a persistent villain that the public equates him as one of the other top bad guys. The third movie had to have Venom. Who else?

Yes, there are a ton of unused Spider-Man villains out there, but does Mysterio really have the star power of Venom? Do you really see 14-year-olds getting all giddy because they heard the next Spider-Man movie will have the Vulture? No. He may not be the most popular villain among the comic writers and especially Sam Raimi, but he certainly plays the third corner in the Big Three for Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.

The Sandman is a sensible addition because of his classic nature, trademark street clothes appearance and the potential of how his powers would look on the big screen. That and Thomas Hayden Church looked so perfect for the role it was impossible to say no to.

They are two very different villains. One is one of the originals, the other is a product of the late 80’s. One is a team player, the other is a loner. One is an overly-milked cash cow, the other isn’t known for starring in any major storyline. But they are mainstays in the comics and will remain so for some time. That begs the question, how often do Venom and the Sandman meet up in the comics?

As far as I can tell, there are three stories about the two of them butting heads. I won’t count minor appearances, like Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man run. Sure, Venom and the Sandman were both in it, but they had no real interaction. This also goes for any illusion or dream sequence or what-have-you for Spider-Man seeing an army of villains running towards him.

Ironically, the first meeting between Venom and Sandman has them both on the side of the angels. Literally, as fate would have it. At the time, Venom is in San Francisco, claiming to be a great hero while tearing muggers to pieces. Sandman is a member of Silver Sable’s Wild Pack and works as a mercenary with a good heart. This first story takes place over the course of Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #18 and 19, back in 1993.

Recently, the Wild Pack had to fight the team of Spider-Man, Human Torch and Venom. For some reason, the law was against Human Torch, so the Wild Pack was interested in the bounty. The team, sans Sandman, lost and Torch got cleared of his crimes. As we begin the story, Sable chews out her employees over their failure. They may not be able to go after Torch anymore, but if there is going to be any redemption, they can still take Venom in. The guy has umpteen bounties on his head.

Off they go to San Francisco, watching as Venom deals with a couple muggers in a park. They fire their sonic guns at Venom and get the drop on him. At first, Venom is able to easily toss them around like ragdolls. Battle Star shoulders him from behind, allowing the team to regroup and fight back with teamwork. Venom begins dismantling their sonic guns, only to be interrupted by his new friend.

Fact is, Venom shouldn’t really be able to do anything to Sandman. Pure strength doesn’t do all that much and Brock lacks the scientific know-how to counter his powers. He tries to wrap Sandman with some symbiote tentacles, but that does nothing. Instead, Sandman gets a good grasp on his enemy. The others get their sonic guns amped up and fire at the same time. Sandman does the noble thing and holds Venom still.

Venom goes unconscious and Sandman is reduced to lifeless rubble. At first everyone in the Wild Pack gets all misty because of his sacrifice, but our man of sand reforms and shows that he’s okay, though he never wants to do that ever again. Things look like they’re all wrapped up for the team until some mystery black fog shows up and envelops the city.

This seems to tie into some kind of Doctor Strange story. Under the fog, the temperature is around 120 degrees. Sable and her team are sweating bullets. Then some horrific demon creatures arrive to eat the Wild Pack. The sonic guns no longer work and flamethrowers do no damage. A really nasty green demon with purple wings and an upside-down face assaults Sable and prepares to eat her brain. And what better segue than brain-eating to have Venom pull the demon over and gleefully snap his neck?

From there, Venom helps pummel the rest of the demons, while trading quips with Sandman. It’s a cool moment, since despite being good guys, Venom and Sandman represent the two most looked-down-upon traits in superheroism: murder and money.

“Yeah! Heeere we come to save the daaaay!”

“Venom? What do ya think you’re doin’?”

“Isn’t it obvious? We’re saving you and your pals from being eaten!”

“Not that I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, but—“

“—Why? Because that’s what it says we do in the superhero handbook.”

“You’re no hero!”


“No. You’re a murderous psychopath who belongs back in the Vault!”

“Ah! We do this out of the goodness of our heart. Yet you do nothing unless a paycheck is attached. Perhaps I will submit a bill for my service.”

Venom convinces the Wild Pack to let him help them survive this ordeal. In return, they are no longer allowed to pursue him. Sable has no choice and agrees.

The team ends up fighting more demons and works up a plan to get to the top of a bridge’s pillar, which oversees the fog. Venom and Sandman continue to bicker and Sandman begs Sable to let him kill Venom. They make it to the top of the pillar and one of the Wild Pack flies in on their craft to pick them up.

Before it’s over, Silver Sable accidentally takes a spill off the pillar. Venom webs her ankles to stop her fall.

“We’re always having women drop out of our life!” Whether he’s talking about the bad joke or Sable’s yelp of pain from the web bungee, he then says, “Oooh! That hurt! Must have rubbed off of Spider-Man!”

I love that bit.

With Venom fulfilling his end of the bargain, the Wild Pack parts ways with him and promise not to get a piece of his bounty ever again.

Years pass. Spider-Man takes part in his most unpopular era of all, the infamous Clone Saga. Attempts to bring change to the wall-crawler causes horribly negative consequences. Marvel is so bitter towards the events of their never-ending story (ah-ah-AHH… ah-ah-AHH… ah-ah-AHH…) that Spider-Man’s entire world, sans marriage, is rubber-banded back to basics. Aunt May is alive. Norman Osborn is alive. Doctor Octopus is alive. Sandman and Venom… both villains again.

For Venom, it makes sense. I may have liked his psycho hero days, but he’ll always be known as Spider-Man’s villain. That’s where he belongs. As for what happened storywise, Venom ended up being in a situation exactly like the current Venom. With a bomb inserted into his body, Venom was an agent for the government and had to do exactly as they said or else. Only because of some really poorly-worded orders by his superiors, things turned sour and led to what was supposed to be the symbiote’s death.

I’ll go into more detail some other time.

At first, Sandman turned evil just because. Byrne wrote a story where Sandman claimed he was always evil and was just playing all this time. Tom Brevoort later added backstory to say that the Wizard brainwashed Sandman into thinking that, thankfully keeping all that character development intact, in a way.

The two would clash once more. It wouldn’t be a story of heroes fighting and then teaming up. No, instead it is villains teaming up and then fighting.

Cripes. They don’t even come close to matching up.

Amazing Spider-Man #12 brings together a bevy of different subplots. Peter and Mary Jane are having a lot of stress in their marriage, due to their baby that we’re supposed to forget about, a stalker and MJ’s success as an actress. There’s this corrupt guy named Senator Ward that happens to be working for Doctor Octopus. Arthur Stacy keeps talking about how great a friend Ward is to him, yet insists that he really needs to kill him. Then there’s the Sandman, who is, for one reason or another, angry at Ward and Ock. Over the course of the issue, he pulls together a new Sinister Six. Not to kill Spider-Man this time, but to kill their old leader, Doc Ock.

The team is made up of Sandman, Kraven the Hunter (the current one that went on to become a Hollywood personality), Vulture, Electro, and Mysterio. Things are interesting with Mysterio. The original, Quentin Beck, had just killed himself in the pages of Daredevil. And yet here he is. This Mysterio goes on for quite a while, keeping it a secret on who he really is, while suggesting that maybe Beck didn’t really die. Thankfully, they didn’t cop out and it was just another guy.

There’s your Sinister Five. Doesn’t sound as cool. They go after Ward and Ock, coincidentally while Arthur Stacy makes a similar attempt on Ward’s life. Since Spider-Man’s already tailing Arthur, he’s there to fight the villain team. It’s your usual Spider-Man vs. group of villains situation up until what looks like a Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus team-up. Nope. Instead, Ock just tosses Spider-Man into the fray and runs off. Spider-Man is quick to be strangled by a black hand from off-panel.

“Hello, web-slinger! I was in the neighborhood and just started counting that the Sinister Six seem to be shy by one! So… I was wondering if anyone minded if we joined the party?”

And so, Venom joins the story out of nowhere. This continues into Peter Parker Spider-Man #12. Sandman immediately tells him that they aren’t interested in Venom joining the team. If he wants to go kill Spider-Man, just do it and leave. They’re not in it for him. All of the sudden, a bomb comes out of nowhere and hits Venom. Spider-Man escapes and finds that Arthur Stacy is his savior.

Um… guys? I’m pretty sure fire is your weakness too. Unless I missed the issue where Kraven became a man made of animated asbestos.

Venom attacks Sandman, which again doesn’t really do anything. Electro shocks Venom and the villain team stands up to him. Mysterio suggests that they should let Venom hang with them, which annoys Sandman, but he lets it slide. Venom gets to kill Spider-Man while the rest of them get Ock and Ward. With Kraven’s tracking abilities and the fact that he pierced Ock with a poison spear before he got away, they catch up in no time.

Sandman warns Spider-Man not to get involved and invites him to swing his way out of there. Understandably, this gets Venom very angry.

That didn’t last very long, did it? To Venom, the Grasshopper of the Sinister Six.

From there it becomes Venom vs. Sandman as well as Spider-Man vs. Kraven, Mysterio, Electro and Vulture! Truly exciting! Well, it might be, if it lasted for longer than a two-page spread. Senator Ward turns red and explodes in energy, knocking the Sinister Five away. Once the energy dies down, everyone just kind of staggers off like the end of a little league baseball game, as if they’ll meet same time next week.

This is one of the reasons Mackie isn’t very good. He writes himself into a corner and never comes up with a good ending. I mean, Venom is just on that rooftop, watching Spider-Man leave, taunting about how he’ll kill him one day when there’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t just go after him right this moment!

There’s a little coincidence with the two stories I’ve reviewed here so far. The Silver Sable one has a backup story that explains how Sandman went from villain to hero. The second Sinister Six issue shows a backup story about how he went back from hero to villain.

I really wish I could say that was the end of the Mackie Venom vs. Sandman story, but it isn’t. No, we have one more issue to discuss with this one. Let’s look at the utter lunacy that is Peter Parker Spider-Man #16.

Aw, man. Why did I decide to do this article? I’m going to just ignore the first half of the issue, where Spider-Man gets attacked by z-list villains, including one whose power is shooting ink. He goes to the Bugle to see if maybe Ben Urich knows why everyone’s out to get him. Instead, the place has no power and everyone is in hiding. Apparently, Venom has been playing mind games with the employees by cutting the phone lines and picking them off for the hell of it.

Killing innocent people to pass the time. Yes, Howard Mackie knows exactly how to write Venom.

Venom grabs Spider-Man and promises to let him go if he just lets him do what he came here for. Spider-Man refuses and a fight ensues. Mackie tries to be cute by having the two discuss Venom’s hero run as if it never happened.

“You know, Venom, now might be the time for you to consider becoming one of the good guys!”


“Oh yeah! It’s very popular right now. You do some serious soul-searching, give up the super-villain life and walk on the side of the angels. I see a mini-series on cable. ‘The Many Lives of a Lethal Protector’.”

“Does anyone ever really buy that kind of thing?”

“Nah! But it is classic. Everyone is suspicious and waits around to see when he’ll turn bad again. The trick is you wait until they trust you to go bad! What do you think?”

What the hell is this shit? Anyhow, Spider-Man thinks that Venom is after Jameson. Instead, he’s after Sandman. Because of that whole Sinister Six debacle, Venom’s out to kill the entire team out of revenge. His first target is Sandman. Sandman figured Spider-Man could help, so he went to the Bugle while being chased by Venom. Now the two of them can beat up Venom and move on with their lives. Spider-Man, suddenly going out of character himself, decides not to.

Your first reaction might be, “So Venom bit Sandman. Big deal.” Get ready to roll your eyes.

After this fight that lasted an entire three panels, Sandman slinks off. “What did you do to me? I can’t lose any of my sand mass… It’ll… it’ll… I’ll fall apart if… I…” And off he goes out the window. Back to that later.

The next sequence is just… Let me put it this way. Venom isn’t very popular among the people in the industry, yet he gets some level of respect. Mark Millar doesn’t like Venom, but he gave him a major role in his Marvel Knights Spider-Man run because he recognizes him as part of the Big Three. Brian Michael Bendis would like nothing more than to never write another comic about a symbiote ever again, but he still namedrops Venom as being something that Spider-Man regularly has nightmares about. Even though these guys would love to ignore the character, they admit that he’s a major force. Every time Spider-Man meets him, it’s supposed to be a miracle that he even gets out alive.

Venom grabs Spider-Man by the throat and gets ready for a quick kill. Ben Urich passes him a lighter. Spider-Man flicks it on and holds it several inches from Venom’s face.

“Argh! FIRE! You know my symbiotic other cannot tolerate fire!”

That is not how his goddamn fire weakness works! It’s supposed to hurt him, not make him act as if Black Bolt just shouted at him through a megaphone! Hell, he’s less vulnerable to fire than Spider-Man is! A fucking lighter does not turn him into a bad parody of Martian Manhunter! Look at that! This entire issue just offends me in so many ways!

Venom escapes and Jameson storms in all angry. While Spider-Man uses the phone, he proceeds to toss webbing into Jameson’s mouth to shut him up. Or maybe it’s strawberry ice cream. I can’t tell, but it came out of his wrist and he made it very clear earlier in the story that he’s out of web fluid.

So what happened after that? For Sandman, the missing piece of torso caused him to slowly die. After trying to kill Spider-Man one last time, he crumbled away and fell into the sewers. A few years later, a writer realized that that’s really stupid and brought him back. Sadly, the way he was brought back was pretty bad in itself. Sandman reformed into four figures: his good side, his evil side, his feminine side and his inner-child. It was made apparent that Sandman’s personalities can’t exist on their own, so the evil side started absorbing the others. The good side refused to become apart of him and crumbled away himself. Spider-Man shrugged it off because he didn’t think Sandman ever had a good side anyway.

Venom continued to hunt down the other Sinister Six members. Remember how I said Mackie writes himself into a corner regularly? This is no different. Venom is a murderer, but he proceeded to just badly beat up the other villains and leave them for dead. In the middle of his quest of vengeance, Venom was kidnapped by Senator Ward, who wanted to study the symbiote for his own purposes. Once the symbiote was released, Venom was free to return to hunting down the villains that wronged him. But this is Mackie, so rather than have any bit of follow-up, Venom was ignored completely.

Venom wouldn’t make a single appearance again until Marvel announced Daniel Way’s Venom on-going. You better believe that is a story for another day. A day I am really not looking forward to.

The Sinister Six arc was the last time Venom and the Sandman ever mingled, but that’s only in Marvel’s 616 continuity. In preparation for the then-upcoming Spider-Man 3, the two would be at odds one more time in the infamous comic miniseries we know as Spider-Man: Reign.

Spider-Man: Reign isn’t very good, but it’s harmless. It’s a guilty pleasure for many, including David and Hoatzin and known for three jokes.

1) In the first issue, we see the elderly Peter Parker’s wang. While it’s removed (ow!) in future printings and the hardcover, Marvel tries to deny that it is in fact Peter’s package. Not that I’ve spent hours staring at the panel, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine anything else that it’s supposed to be.

2) They tried so hard to make this into Dark Knight Returns starring Spider-Man. Even when they were promoting that, they more or less admitted that they were taking DKR and stapling a picture of Spider-Man on the cover. Instead, they get a slightly less laughable version of Dark Knight Strikes Again. If you haven’t read Dark Knight Strikes Again, that’s an insult. Thought I’d let you know.

3) Mary Jane is dead because of Peter Parker’s radioactive stock. Poor MJ. Gwen died in a cool way, but MJ gets the most embarrassing death since the guy from InXS.

Onto the story. Years have passed and New York City is now a constant police state, run by a blowhard named Mayor Waters and protected/caged by a laser web barrier. Waters has an assistant named Saks, who closely resembles and acts like Owen Burnett from Gargoyles. Much like how Owen turned out to be the Shakespearian character Puck, Saks too has a powerful secret in regards to his true identity.

An even older Jameson, who must be over a hundred by the time this takes place, helps convince Peter to return to being Spider-Man. He beats up some abusive police officers and shows he’s back. Saks suggests sending in the Sinner Six, a team made of Sandman, Mysterio, Kraven, Electro, Hydro-Man and Scorpion, after Spider-Man. They all have bombs implanted into their necks that will kill them if they try to escape or refuse to take orders. At the same time, if they succeed, they’ll all be released from New York City to terrorize the rest of the world and show that everyone should follow Waters’ style in ruling the populace.

The odd thing here is that there is absolutely no sign or mention of Norman Osborn or the Green Goblin anywhere. In a story that tries to include everything Spider-Man, we get nothing about his top villain. Even the Hypno-Hustler shows up for a bit.

The Sinner Six beats on Spider-Man until he’s rescued by the skeletal remains of Doc Ock and his metal legs, which remain animated. Sandman plays the role of leader and I really dig his redesign. Instead of the old striped sweater, he has a cool cargo vest thing going on.

Jameson is brought to Waters and Saks and with some trickery, is able to steal a knife from Waters. He stabs Waters in the neck, insisting that he knows who he really is. He only finds blood underneath. It turns out that though Jameson’s notion was on the right track, he was looking at the wrong guy. Saks is the true brains of the operation. When Jameson stabs Saks in the stomach, black ooze comes from the wound.

Yes, Saks is the host of Venom. Or maybe he’s Eddie Brock with a new name. Either way, the scavenger is now the king. Venom rules over New York City with an iron fist. I have to say, I found this twist surprisingly true to character. It doesn’t ignore Venom’s “protect the innocent” shtick to work at all. For such a low-tolerance character like Venom, the idea of stepping up and protecting people from themselves in such a heavy-handed way is something I can see him doing with the right circumstances.

He goes further by releasing an army of symbiotes into New York City. They will take over the people, make them stronger and make the city invincible. The citizens have few places to go to hide. They can’t escape New York City due to the web force field. A series of survivors go to a church bell for protection. Venom gives the order to stop the bell from ringing.

Sandman is still a bit strained from ordering one of this policeman lackeys to fire upon another for trying to desert them. He confronts the people hiding in the bell and insists they stop. A little girl in a ski mask, who we’ve been following for the entire story, stands up to him and gives a speech about anger, courage and truth. She removes her mask and reveals herself to the Sandman, all while transforming herself into cement.

This right here is the most redeeming bit in the entire miniseries.

The men open fire and chip off her arms and legs. Sandman screams at them to stand down, but they continue. He recognizes that his daughter is teaching him to stand up for what’s right, despite the consequences to one’s self. He clobbers the gunmen and rushes to his daughter’s aid. With symbiotes coming from all sides, he repeatedly swats them aside while trying to coax the girl into putting herself back together.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man makes another big comeback, this time in his classic costume, and goes through the other members of the Sinner Six. Several of which he flat out murders without a second thought. Yikes. Venom senses that he’s around, so all the symbiotes are called away to the mayor’s building.

With all the symbiotes gone, Sandman can finally take a second to breathe.

Filled with quiet rage, Sandman tells one of the few remaining officers to go home and be with his kids. He follows the symbiotes to the building.

In that building, Spider-Man is confronted by Venom. This whole police state is Venom’s way of both outdoing Spider-Man and getting his revenge. Venom sees himself as the victim.

“Yes! That’s it! My whole existence is about you! Why would you ever think that, Peter? Could it be because you brought me here, lured me from another world and left me to die?! Look at me, Parker! I am the one responsibility that you shirked! You brought me to this city and made me its prisoner!”

A series of symbiotes break into the room and Waters runs for it. He runs into Sandman, who demands something from him.

Spider-Man gets to the outside and climbs up the rooftop, opting to end his life up there. Venom and the other symbiotes give chase and once everyone is on the roof, our hero is completely overwhelmed. He continues to joke, but knows that he’s going to die in a moment. Instead…

Sandman walks into battle with the symbiotes and is eaten alive immediately. When walking through Spider-Man, he handed him the detonator. Spider-Man presses the button and causes every member of the Sinner Six to explode. All the bad guys are dead and Spider-Man somehow survives to fight another day. Crime rates begin to rise, but there is at least freedom, so the good outweighs the bad.

Please no sequel.

Somewhat fitting, I suppose, that Venom and Sandman each get their one victory, while their third battle is more of a tie. There is certainly room for another battle between the two, but I don’t see it happening just yet. It would be interesting now, considering the first battle had them both wearing white hats and the second battle had them wearing black hats. Now they’re both in a world of gray. Sandman is still a criminal, but is on better terms with Spider-Man for saving his father’s life. On the other side of the coin, Venom is as evil and nightmarish as ever, but he’s being handled as a weapon for the government and is more under control than most of his team.

If anything, at least Spider-Man has both of them out of his hair for the moment.

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5 comments to “Venom vs. Sandman: Three Stories of Living Grains and Eating Brains”

  1. Johnny was in trouble because he burned down the NYU library on accident. (Fire + Book = BAD!) He ran from the police rather than cooperate, and pissed them off.

  2. Here’s an idea: governmentalize Sandman as well. Considering “World War Hulk,” the upcoming [spoiler] war, and whatever 616-shattering event follows it, there’s plenty of opportunity for Sandman to do something heroic and/or selfless and get the generic all-sins-forgiven-if-you-follow-the-Tony.

  3. Howard Mackie really thought comics fans were idiots, didn’t he? He had no respect for their intelligence, or his own.

    As Paul O’Brien once said, I find the idea that he’s trying his best more insulting, frankly.

  4. Venom was my favorite comic character as a kid – I was introduced to Marvel during the nineties. Honestly, I’d forgotten that any of that goofy shit was as entertaining as this.

  5. very well said and a deffinatly a good outlook on vemon.