We Care a Lot Part 1: Brand New Leaf

October 29th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In the prologue, I discussed Venom: Deathtrap: The Vault, which reader Mark Cook was quick to point out was just an Avengers graphic novel that Marvel re-released with Venom’s name stamped on it. I forgot to bring up one panel that always stuck out at me featuring Iron Man. He seemed to resemble a certain cartoon talkshow host.

“Look, listen everybody… please? Listen to me. I have a hit song about a knife and, yes, I am the head of an international peacekeeping organization.”

Venom had spent several years terrorizing Spider-Man whenever he could, but Marvel deemed him popular enough to get his own series. That would be all well and good, but he’s driven by his insatiable hunger for Spider-Man’s brains. How do you cut away from that?

The answer is to get character creator David Michelinie together with Mark Bagley and write two issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Of course, Michelinie is the creator in theory. There’s a lot of debate over who truly created the concept, but at the very least, Michelinie came up with who he was as a character. Between this story and the one following, he’d lay down the groundwork for the other writers intent on writing Venom.

It takes place in Amazing Spider-Man #374 and #375. Look at that cover. People talk about how great MacFarlane’s Venom is, but I personally consider Bagley’s take to be the definitive version.

Venom has escaped prison and hides out in an amusement park that’s been closed for the winter. Around the time of the comic, Peter’s “parents” had revealed themselves to really be alive. I quote the word “parents” because they turned out to be killer mutant monster clones created by the Chameleon and Harry Osborn. Hearing about this big return, Venom figures it’s time to act.

At the Bugle, Parker hears about Venom’s escape. He suddenly gets a bad feeling that Venom might kill his parents because they brought him into the world. Wouldn’t you know it, Brock does come across the Parker parents and Mary Jane. MJ is freaking out on the inside because she recognizes Brock. Spider-Man steps into the fray and Venom tells the Parkers that it’s okay, Venom will protect them from the evil Spider-Man.

Their brawl is plenty sweet and goes from the sides of buildings to the middle of a Macy’s parade to the mall, where Venom beats the shit out of a clown.

Venom wins the fight, but tells Spider-Man that he has more pressing matters than to kill him. Spider-Man comes to later and discovers from Mary Jane that Venom has abducted his parents.

In the next issue, we find that Venom has the Parkers tied up in his hideout. He discovers that they don’t know about the Peter/Spider-Man connection, but decides not to tell them as it would break their hearts. Instead, he simply just waits for Spider-Man to find him or prepares to go after him eventually. I guess. I’m not sure why he would need to let him live in their earlier fight if his pressing matters are to find the Parkers and keep them safe from their son. I’ll just label him irrational and leave it at that.

Spider-Man does some digging on Eddie’s past and finds that Eddie has an ex-wife out there. He pays a visit to Ann Weying, a mousy, but somewhat aged lawyer who would prove to be the only interesting supporting character for Venom’s next five years. She tells him about how Eddie had all this boyish charm, but due to the Sin-Eater scandal and Eddie’s falling out with his father, his disposition darkened and they got divorced. During the conversation, the amusement park comes up and it’s mentioned how it holds sentimental value to their relationship. Spidey figures that’s where he is and swings off. Ann mopes over the feelings that maybe she didn’t do enough for Eddie during his breakdown and maybe it isn’t too late to save him. She flags a taxi and gets going.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Jameson has hired Silver Sable and the Wildpack to capture Venom. Just thought you’d like to know that.

Once in the amusement park, Spider-Man is alarmed when all the power turns on. He turns around to see this badass motherfucker staring him down.

When I said that Bagley draws the best Venom? He draws the best Eddie Brock too. Look at him! He’s intense! I want that jacket! It’s like Bagley was trying out for his own Amalgam comic by drawing Brock Gardner, the Lethal Lantern.

He goes into full Venom mode, freaking out Ann, who had snuck into the park. Eddie calms down at the drop of a hat with, “Annie? I-Is that you? Hi, babe! Ya look great!”

Just as Ann is about to get through to him, the Wildpack goons show up and cause a ruckus. Venom thinks this is all Spider-Man’s doing and that he had corrupted his wife. A big all-out battle happens between the three parties. During all the mayhem, Spider-Man thinks about what he’d give to just have Venom out of his life. Towards the end, one of the last remaining Wildpack members is killing Venom with sonic blasts. Ann knocks him out from behind.

The alarmed Ann then storms off to go get help, since Venom’s response to her save is talk about how he’s going to go continue Spider-Man’s torment. Just then, the Ferris wheel falls over with Ann as its target. Venom, in his weakened state, holds it up, but knows he can’t do it for long. Spider-Man joins him and they successfully flip it to the other side.

Venom, being Venom, ignores what just happened and tries to kill Spider-Man yet again. Ann steps in and reminds him what Spider-Man, this so-called villain, just did for them.

This is the point that pissed off so many Spider-Man fans back in the day. You could almost call it the prototype to One More Day. Venom makes Spider-Man an offering: he won’t go after Spider-Man anymore as long as Spider-Man leaves him alone. Having had his family accosted time after time and having to live this nightmare over and over again, Spider-Man initially agrees to the deal. Then as Venom escapes, he thinks it over and decides that even though Venom’s gone from his life, it feels like a hollow victory. He shoots a spider-tracer onto Venom’s leg, but the symbiote notices and destroys it.

Peter broods over his decision, wondering if he should or could break his word, leading into the next story. I’m pretty sure that some fans are pissed to this day that Spider-Man would ever make such an agreement. I remember reading about it several times before reading this story and thinking, “Wait, really? That’s it? That’s what everyone’s so mad about?” It’s not like they high-fived and pinky-sweared or anything. Spider-Man was under a crazy amount of stress and decided that he really would be better off, especially after he just witnessed Brock risk his life for someone. Then he decided two seconds later that he was wrong.

That’s when it all begins. We start off with Lethal Protector, a six-issue miniseries with the same team of Michelinie and Bagley, but with Ron Lim taking over the art for the latter three issues. Actually… miniseries might not be the right term. Marvel was very tricky here.

You see, Venom’s comic run lasted for 60 issues plus specials over the course of exactly five years. There were no delays or skipped months. It was just a regular, old fashion solo series. Only that wasn’t enough for Marvel in the 90’s. Who’s going to read Venom #23 and jump into the middle of some comic they’ve never followed when they can just pick up Venom: Separation Anxiety #1 instead? The #1 means that it’s a new comic and they just got themselves a collector’s item!

And that’s how it worked for the whole run. 60 monthly issues disguised as 18 miniseries. That’s insane. I recall reader mail that asked them to just make it officially a series so they could finally subscribe to it. Plus once you get a bunch of the comics, you need an abacus to keep track of what order these things are supposed to be in.

I do find it a fun little coincidence where Venom’s series stands in 90’s Marvel. The arc about Peter Parker’s parents leads to Peter becoming a brooding maniac for a little bit, which itself leads to the appearance of the Spider-Clone himself, Ben Reilly. Venom’s series ends months after the end of the Clone Saga. Looking back, Venom is almost like the Rosencrantz/Guildenstern of the Clone Saga.

Now onto Lethal Protector. The story is mostly about how Venom moves to San Francisco and finds himself out to kill a corrupt businessman named Roland Treece. Early on, some cops recognize Eddie Brock and try to bring him in, but he turns into Venom and resists arrest. Parker reads about how Venom’s beating up police officers and already breaks the ever-hated truce. That was fast.

Lethal Protector gets a bad rap that I don’t think it truly deserves. It’s a unique comic because it’s a set-up story. Much like a strike in a bowling game, you can’t score it until you see what follows. As an example, Matrix Reloaded was a cool movie and a lot of it came from how well it hyped Matrix Revolutions. The lack of payoff in Revolutions backfired and made Reloaded look like crap in comparison. “Man, I can’t wait to see those albino twins come back! Huh? What do you mean they were killed off in Reloaded? That killed them? Really? Bullshit!”

And that’s how it is for Lethal Protector. Apart from Planet of the Symbiotes, this would be one of the last times character creator David Michelinie would write Venom. He spent the six issues laying down groundwork for what could have been a rather great series. Sadly, most of his ideas went untouched by following writers and it makes Lethal Protector look lame because of it.

Let’s look at all the things introduced via this story.

The society of homeless squatters: What is a comic series without its supporting characters? Within the first issue, Venom saves a handful of homeless people from being abused by your run-of-the-mill criminals. It’s a memorable scene for me because as a kid, I thought this moment was entirely badass.

The grateful victims bring Venom into their Atlantis-like lost civilization. About a century ago, there was an earthquake or some natural disaster that seemed to have destroyed a neighborhood, but the buildings somehow survived underneath the ground. A small civilization of homeless have been living there for years.

Venom ends up championing these people, while the citizens argue whether or not they can trust him. You got those who claim that he’s on the level as opposed to those who think that he’ll eat them the first chance he gets.

It was something, at least. It gave him a unique status quo past “Spider-Man that kills”. For the moment he had the potential for both direction and interesting characters to play off of. It lasted for a few story arcs, but as I’ll get to later, just wasn’t given enough staying power thanks to Marvel’s marketing.

Carl Brock: I went a bit in-depth about Eddie’s father in my review of Venom: Dark Origins. The gist of it is that Michelinie took Eddie’s backstory that made him appear as irrational and self-destructive and transformed it into a more sympathetic story. In the end, that’s all it was. Just a retconned origin.

You’d think that with Carl being introduced and being in the same city as Eddie, they would have done some kind of story to force the two to cross paths and maybe even work towards some sense of closure. Nah. Nothing outside of the occasional, “My father didn’t love me,” talk.

Venom’s Children: This is the exception. These guys actually did last for a while. Treece lures Venom into a trap and discovers that although the symbiote has already given birth to Carnage a while back, the Venom symbiote has five more seeds left in it. Those seeds are extracted and given to some of Treece’s soldiers.

You know, at least Spider-Man was nice enough to wear underwear underneath his symbiote. God, man.

Brock ended up frying the symbiotes with sonics, which of course pissed Spider-Man off. It was moot anger, since the symbiotes would live to fight another day in other stories.

The Jury: Hahaha! Okay, now we’re talking. This right here is the epitome of failed potential. Back in one of his early appearances, Venom escaped the Vault by tricking and then killing a guard. He then showed some remorse, but decided it was necessary and took off without a second thought.

Well, as it turns out, Venom picked the wrong security guard to maul to death. That guy was very popular among his peers and had a very rich and very heartbroken father. The father put together the Jury, a task force of Vault guards in armor gear created specifically to catch and destroy Venom out of revenge. I really believe that this is a great concept. Venom, despite all his claims about protecting the innocent, hypocritically murdered an innocent man for selfish reasons. Now he’s paying for it by being hunted down by a bunch of guys who have every right to kill him. Can Venom really bring himself to kill them first and therefore prove their point? It’s a good dynamic.

They spend an issue fighting and it’s a very fun fight. Then a helicopter sent by Treece bails Venom out, turning the battle into a draw so that they can have a rematch later. Only there never was a later!

The Jury, a team that had to cost millions of dollars to create in order to hunt down ONE GUY only goes as far as fighting him briefly where there’s no clear winner, then never going after him ever again. They got their own back-issue story arc in a later Venom miniseries, fought Spider-Man and the Thunderbolts, but they never went after Venom again. It’s like if the Sinister Six chased down Spider-Man, couldn’t quite catch up to him and then decided that they’d go after Nova instead.

At least Christos N. Gage had enough memory about them. In a recent Thunderbolts one-shot, they had to bring in the Jury in the opening scene. Mac Gargan loudly insisted that he’s not THAT Venom.

Also, one of the guys in the Jury was named Screech. I just thought that was worth mentioning. If my superhero name was Screech, I’d probably use my powers to kill myself Obidiah Stane style.

Roland Treece: Treece is your usual corrupt businessman and is in charge of the Life Foundation. I don’t even remember what the Life Foundation is even supposed to be in terms of cover. What’s important is that he created Venom’s symbiote children, has giant digger mechs for henchmen and has a plan that involves killing Venom’s homeless friends for the sake of stealing a bunch of gold.

Venom just about begs Spider-Man to help him stop Treece and the two do just that. At one point, Treece tries to activate a bomb and Venom’s the only one able to stop him by reaching his symbiote past a bunch of flames and pulling Treece away.

Venom’s too weak to kill Treece, plus he has Spider-Man hanging around. Treece may not be A-list material as a villain, but the fact that his life was spared should have earned him at least another story or two.

Venom uses a diversion to sneak off. Spider-Man considers what’s happened and makes the decision to just go home to New York City. Sure, Venom is his responsibility, but the more time he’s off trying to track him down and bring him in (which is near impossible for him, all things considered), the less time he would be able to protect Mary Jane and NYC from real villains.

Venom is celebrated in the underground San Francisco neighborhood. This brings him to the next series, Funeral Pyre, written by Carl Potts and drawn by Tom Lyle.

“Fabulous 1st Issue!” Because if there’s any word to describe two mass murderers in black causing a gigantic body count, it’s “fabulous”. Then again, there was that time that Wolverine caught Frank carrying gay porn around. And they are in San Francisco.

Before I get to the story, I have to comment on a part I find absolutely hilarious. This little kid goes to Venom for help and we see Eddie Brock chilling in his street clothes.

There are four reasons why I consider this funny.

1) Eddie Brock wears Zubaz pants. Any time somebody wears Zubaz pants, it’s automatically funny. See also: Hammer pants.

2) The artist decided that regular pants wouldn’t do and made sure to point out that Eddie is wearing Zubaz pants by drawing a logo for it.

3) Eddie isn’t wearing actual Zubaz pants here. That’s the symbiote in the form of street clothes. In other words, Eddie specifically asked the symbiote to take the form of Zubaz pants with the Zubaz label included.

4) Those look nothing like Zubaz pants.

The story is centered around Gray Russell, an undercover reporter who has joined a dangerous street gang called the Jadoo. Gray joined the group to get closer to a secret, abandoned Hydra base he heard about from his father. He’s reached the point where they’re going to initiate him by making him kill someone in a drive-by. He sends a messenger to get help via the police, but gets Venom instead. Venom goes with it because the guy is both an innocent and a fellow reporter.

Punisher shows up in Microchip’s van full of gadgets and computers. He’s heard about the brewing gang war in San Francisco and wants to clean up. Venom sees him and asks him to help out, since they’re both killer vigilantes. Frank refuses for two reasons. First, if Russell is hanging out with the Jadoo, chances are he’s already done some messed up stuff that makes him a target for the Punisher. Second, while Frank has a code about killing bad guys, Venom is just a psycho that uses it to justify his bloodlust. Frank even brings up those guards that Venom murdered back at the Vault.

The throwdown begins. Frank Castle’s experience is textbook Batman. Frank vs. Venom straight up? Venom wipes the floor with him. Give Frank enough prep time to see what Venom’s weaknesses are and get the right weapon? Now Frank is the winner.

In the second issue, a lot of the comic is just Punisher and Venom each going around killing gang members. Frank is just out to kill anyone that moves while Venom is searching for Russell and killing anyone who isn’t Russell. You’d think that a comic about Frank Castle and Venom going on a killing spree would be hella violent. You couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s really weird to compare the violence in comics now to ten years ago. Sure, we’d see characters dying, but the most violent thing we see is guys spazzing out as Frank shoots in all directions. Everything Venom does is bloodless and off-panel. These are two guys whose mantra is KILL THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING BAD. Compare that to the last couple years. A high-profile Geoff Johns comic has characters graphically exploding into blood and gore every other issue. We have covers that showcase Wolverine and Sabretooth slicing into each other’s faces as blood spews all over the place. Red blood! None of that black crap you see whenever Wolverine sliced someone from behind.

Russell is forced to go ahead with the drive-by and is haunted by having committed murder. He gets to the secret Hydra base and tries to hide from all the warfare going on by sneaking into some containment tube. Wouldn’t you know it, it gives him microwave powers, turning him into this:

Now known as Pyre, he kills some of the other Jadoo guys and tries to kill the Punisher. Venom pops in and Pyre gets seriously pissed upon learning that Venom was the one sent to save him. Because of him, Pyre is a murderer. Venom doesn’t want to hurt Pyre. He especially doesn’t want Frank to hurt Pyre. Yet he has to defend himself against a guy whose very essence is like kryptonite to Venom. At one point, left with no choice, Venom drops a big chunk of the ceiling on Pyre, crushing his legs.

“Turn me into a monster! Cripple me! It can’t get much worse… Come on! Let’s finish it!”

“We… we… are so sorry! Promise not to attack us again and we will free you!”

“I’d rather fry and take you with me!”

Despite all the problems of the story, this is the saving grace. Venom doesn’t even realize it, but he’s staring right in the mirror. Despite Venom’s good intentions, he is faced with a monster that blames all of his own problems on Venom. It wasn’t Pyre’s fault that he killed those people. Venom forced him to do it by not saving him in time. Venom thought he had a common bond with this troubled reporter and he was more right than he expected.

The place burns down, Pyre dies and Venom and Punisher have a little argument over who is at fault and who was right. As much as the two would love to tear each other apart, the police are on their way. They part, hoping to get another rematch in the future.

It was underwhelming and came off as a really quick read for three issues, but I didn’t hate it. Unfortunately, the entire concept of the crossover was the first symptom of what would become the series’ disease.

Oh, sometime in-between these stories, Venom took a trip back to New York City to help Spider-Man stop Carnage and his cronies. Eh… maybe I’ll review Maximum Carnage some other day. Or year. Or life.

Join me next time as Venom tries to stop the unstoppable.

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10 comments to “We Care a Lot Part 1: Brand New Leaf”

  1. Man that was a wicked mullet Eddie was sporting.

  2. 6 year old burt just did a fist pump, looking forward to your coverage of “The Madness.”

  3. I am very much looking forward to your coverage of Venom: Carnage Unleashed. It was one of the first comics I ever bought for myself (though I started with issue #4 and was pretty confused). Why have the symbiotes’ ability to bond with the internet not been mentioned since then?

  4. Bagley’s art is always what i call definitive..

  5. I was never aware of the 5 years worth of every month miniseries. Facinating.

  6. This. This was what I read as a child. I didn’t even realize it had been drawn by USM’s Bagley. His really was the best Venom.

  7. Venom did encounter the Jury once more, in The Arachnis Project, a six issue mini by Mike Lackey and Andrew Wildman. It was about the Life Foundation cutting a deal with the Jury and some scientist pal of Peter’s and a cute girl thief and it really wasn’t very good.

    The Jury didn’t even go after Venom; Venom was pissed that Spider-Man was in the area he was operating in at the time and just showed up in the middle of it all. It was a blatant “editorial says bring this guy in so it can sell a little” move.

  8. […] We’ve seen Venom deal with Spider-Man a couple times, then cross paths with the Punisher and at some point help put an end to Carnage’s plot to destroy New York City. Now what? […]

  9. Funny how Frank didn’t want to team up with Venom cuz “killing evil people is just an excuse to satisfy his own bloodlust”, which is pretty much what Ennis made Frank into later.

  10. I love these reviews! You’re fucking hilarious! XD

    “These are two guys whos mantra is “KILL THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING BAD”” XDDD LMAO

    Venom FTW

    Gargan’s a failure -_-; I was also saddened in the original part of this to hear that most writers hate Venom. He has so much potential.