We Care a Lot: Prologue

October 26th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(WE CARE A LOT!) About the gamblers and the pushers and the geeks
(WE CARE A LOT!) About the smack and crack and whack that hits the streets
(WE CARE A LOT!) About the welfare of all you boys and girls
(WE CARE A LOT!) About you people ‘cause we’re out to save the world! Yeah!
Well, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it

— Faith No More, “We Care a Lot”

I’m going to do a little history lesson here. While yes, it is about Venom, for this first part, it’s more about me, my interest in comics and this very site.

We all have our stories about how we got into comics. Whether it be because someone lent you a copy of Killing Joke or your father read you issues of Rom: Spaceknight when you just a kid, we all have something to say about it. For me, it was sometime in early 1994. In our neighborhood, we had this place called The Great American Party Store which had party supplies and was THE place to go every October for Halloween costumes and decorations.

They also sold comics and as I looked through the area out of boredom, I came across Venom: The Madness #3.

I may not have been into comics, but thanks to television and videogames, I knew who Venom and Juggernaut were. Juggernaut was that awesome domed dude from that X-Men cartoon that I watched all the time and Venom was that bastard who would randomly jump out and attack me in the Genesis Spider-Man game. I never was able to beat him on the Daily Bugle level. Still, I found his evil Spider-Man design magnetic. When I saw this cover, it blew my mind.

Venom’s a good guy now? And he’s fighting the Juggernaut?! This rules!

What, I was 13 at the time. What do you expect?

The issue itself, having not read the earlier two issues, is a complete mess. Even if you have read the whole thing, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. That doesn’t matter. I ate it up. It got me into Venom comics, which got me into Spider-Man comics, which gave me a window into the complete comic picture. It’s not like I had a lot of disposable income or even a job, so I couldn’t afford to be too interested in anyone who didn’t shoot webs. There was a What If issue mixed in there, so it wasn’t a total wash.

The excitement was there and both the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons fueled it, but even I was weighed down by the questionable quality of everything that was going on. Remember, this was the infamous Clone Saga days. By the time that started winding down, they had Onslaught going on and that was all I could take. I gave up comics and moved on. I know I’m one of many who can say that in regards to that era.

Obviously, the fact that I’m writing this means that my comic fire got reignited somewhere along the way. You’re probably thinking that although it was something as laughable as a Venom comic that got me into the hobby in the first place, there must have been some brilliant piece of work to drag me back in. Was it Watchmen? Kingdom Come? Dark Knight Returns? Hey, maybe it was Sandman that did it!

No. No, I regret to inform you that it was none of those.

Years later, at my campus bookstore, they had a scant amount of comics, but one of them had the Juggernaut on the cover. That immediately caught my eye and I gave it a look. If you can put two and two together, you can probably guess why I’m not so proud of this. This wasn’t just any Juggernaut comic that brought me back into the fold, it was a Chuck Austen comic. I feel so dirty.

Eh, to hell with it. Austen wrote a good Juggernaut. That was his claim to fame.

It’s kind of fitting, in a way. It was Venom as a good guy fighting Juggernaut that got me in the first time around. The second time, it’s the revelation that this time Juggernaut’s the hero. It worked and it led to me getting back into comics. This time I had the internet on my side, so I had an easier way of navigating what was what. It wasn’t about hearing news from the few friends who were into comics, but being able to read sites dedicated to different characters with encyclopedic knowledge on their appearances. That got me to discover certain What If issues that caught my interest. What If led to my education on the Marvel Universe in general, which led to me getting into DC. Though I’m sure the Justice League cartoon gets plenty of credit for that too.

With better resources at my disposal, I was finally able to go back and get closure on my childhood. I would go on to read the entirety of Venom’s hero run from the 90’s. The times had certainly changed. I had read more than enough to know what was a good comic and what was a bad comic. Was I punishing myself in my own attempt to revisit childhood? Yes or no, I’d let the experience answer the question.

Was the series good? No, not really for the most part, but I did enjoy the experience and found a lot of it to be very intriguing in ways. Within the strengths and flaws of the character, I could see the flaws of the comic industry itself.

Around that time, I had read a brilliant series of articles on the internet called “The Life of Reilly”. The insanely long write-up tells the history of Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider and beater-down of Superboy. I found it an inspiring read and upon finishing the Venom stuff, I decided to do my own bargain basement version.

I started writing up essays about Venom issues on a fighting game forum’s comic thread. Why? I don’t know. Sometimes I just NEED to write and I didn’t have a livejournal account. I didn’t feel it needed its own blog. I referred to it as “The Life of Brock”. The few who read it seemed to dig it, but I never did get around to finishing it. For a good reason.

David Brothers and I have been friends online for seven years. At the time he had a livejournal account called “Guerrilla Grodd” and was changing it to his own blog site 4th Letter. He told me about it and how it was going to involve him and Thomas Wilde, a mentor of sorts to me who has since been devoured by the soulless void we know as World of Warcraft. He asked if I’d be interested in joining up, reposting my Life of Brock entries while finishing the series off. I went with it.

This was before the site died and needed to be rebuilt, purging all the articles. It’s a good thing because holy shit, those were some awful writing jobs. Well, it wasn’t so much the writing, but my own greenness with comics. A lot of it just reeked of me trying to hide the fact that I didn’t really know what I was talking about. Though I still think the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat comic articles still hold up, which is why I eventually reposted them. I don’t think it was until the What If Countdown that I really started to hit my stride.

4th Letter started up almost four years ago and as you already know, as evidenced by this being a prologue, I never did finish, let alone repost, Life of Brock. I suppose I was more interested in my other article ideas and tossed it to the side for later, much like my intent to do a series of articles about any and every comic to star Mr. T. Though the fact that I’m finally getting to it suggests the real reason.

I was just so disenfranchised with the way Eddie Brock had been treated the last few years. Between the end of his 90’s series and that awesome Sensational Spider-Man story where he considered killing Aunt May, the only writer to give him a semi-interesting portrayal was Mark Millar. Damn!

So there he is. Venom. Evil Spider-Man and low-risk moneymaker for Marvel.

I don’t have to intimately discuss the early days of the character. More importantly, I don’t really want to get into it. If you look at any Spider-Man comic that features Venom, chances are that Parker will go on a long-ass monologue where he talks about the Secret Wars, how he got the living alien costume and so on and so forth.

Though one thing that still puzzles me is the behavior of the symbiote. People attribute the reason Spider-Man freaked out so much at the symbiote is because it was making him evil and violent. I’m pretty sure that that was just something the cartoon added to simplify the situation and everyone just ran with it. From what I remember about the earlier black costume stories, it was only that the symbiote would take Peter’s sleeping body out to get in more adventures for the adrenaline buzz. That doesn’t make what it did okay, but it at least made it seem like a naïve animal instead of a soulless murder machine.

Spider-Man spurned the symbiote and tried to kill it with a church bell. The whole thing was hurting Spider-Man just as much and the symbiote’s seemingly final act was bringing Peter to safety. In reality, it just slinked into the church, where it discovered Eddie Brock.

With Brock, we’ve all heard the Sin-Eater story told over and over again. Eddie had a ruined reputation as a journalist and was praying for forgiveness for his planned suicide. He and the symbiote got together, Venom happened and Spider-Man had a new pain in the ass.

I find it funny how Thomas Wilde, the previously mentioned former writer here, HATES Venom. Good God, how he hates him. He’d rant about him if you gave him enough reason, but one of my favorite rants was how around the time, Spider-Man was Marvel’s resident giant killer. This was the guy who beat up Firelord! He would trash someone like Venom!

This is ignoring the part about how Venom’s gimmick is that he’s supposed to be like Spider-Man but stronger. It’s like saying that because a million is such a big number, it should therefore be worth more than a million plus one.

That was part of an interesting aspect of the character that I don’t see too often in other supervillains. If you put Spider-Man up against Venom straight up, it’s hardly fair. Venom is stronger, is immune to spider sense, and has a healing factor on Wolverine’s level. Not to mention he is able to get into Spider-Man’s head because the symbiote literally was in his head for a while. Yet in the end, Spider-Man can beat him because Venom is made of weaknesses.

It isn’t like Superman, where you need a magic wand made of kryptonite to stand a chance. Venom, despite his threat level, has plenty of flaws that are easy to exploit with enough skill and resources. Sonics scramble the symbiote. Fire harms the symbiote. Microwaves are like a mix between the two. If you let him overexert his webbing, he’ll weaken. You can play the symbiote and Brock against each other. You can exploit how the symbiote and Brock are bonded to the point that separating them equals mind-blowing pain. Even if they’re still conscious, they’re all but worthless apart compared to most heroes.

“Impossible! The Remonster can only be killed by stabbing him in the heart with the ancient bone saber of Zumacalis!”

“Or maybe his head and lungs too. Just stab him wherever.”

“And the saber probably doesn’t have to be bone.”

“Yeah, just anything sharp lying around the house.”

“You could poke him with a pillow and kill him.”

And that’s how it was for a while. Spider-Man would always beat Venom, but he’d do it the roundabout way. In a one-on-one fight, he was always outclassed. I’m not saying this for the sake of “my character can beat up yours” mentality. I’ll get to my point later. Just keep it in mind.

Venom proved popular and showed up an awful lot. More than I care to keep track of, personally. Again, I could read and review every single time he popped up, but that would take too long. Besides, the well-liked glory days of the character aren’t what this is about. It’s more about the pure insanity that followed.

During this time, Venom belonged to the fraternity of villains created out of revenge and misunderstanding. See also: Doctor Doom, Juggernaut, the Scorpion and Ezekiel Stane. These are villains who live off of their insistence that they’re victims wronged by someone else and use that to fuel their evil. Really, one good conversation or moment of clarity should set them straight. Venom sticks out among them. The others stick to their guns that they’re victims, but at the end of the day, they’re still corrupt and rotten people. Juggernaut and Scorpion blamed Xavier and Jameson, but they still robbed banks when they were up for it. Stane thinks Stark is the great Satan, but doesn’t seem to care about the hundreds of innocent lives he’s snuffed out.

Eddie Brock, despite his human failings, is still a pretty decent guy and means well. He just really, really wants to kill Spider-Man. On his days when he isn’t thinking up new ways on tearing the flesh from Parker’s bones, you don’t see him taking mercenary jobs or knocking over gas stations. Instead, when positioned in a room with robbers and criminals, he’d turn around and slaughter them all. As far as he’s concerned, he’s a good guy out to take care of that big villain Spider-Man. It’s not his fault that nobody sees things from his side.

Just thinking about it now, it’s rather brilliant. Venom is a monstrous extension of J. Jonah Jameson. Eddie Brock’s reasoning for why Spider-Man is evil is flawed beyond reasoning, but so is Jameson’s. I never picked up on that. You have this bitter man from the media who hates a hero for made up reasons and wants everyone to believe he’s a menace. After years of Jameson only able to hurt Spider-Man’s feelings and occasionally back up a new villain, we had finally been given a version of Jameson that could physically destroy Spider-Man himself.

With the right situation, Eddie and Peter could talk things out and Venom would no longer want to kill Spider-Man. There’s no evil extracurricular activities to fall back on, so it’s not like he’d just move on to fighting Daredevil every other week. That was the pitfall of the relationship. Their dynamic was beginning to get worn out and what would you do with Venom after that?

Marvel had a good enough idea. Despite his popularity, Venom was wearing out his welcome in Spider-Man’s comics. If they could steer him away from being Spider-Man’s problem, they’d have plenty of potential for him elsewhere. Already, a couple issues of What If played around with their upcoming concept. One issue had Frank Castle as the symbiote’s host, where he ended up using it to meet his own ends. Another issue featured Spider-Man fighting evil at a cosmic level and allowing Venom to inherit his role as New York City’s web-slinging vigilante. I wonder if either of these stories was meant to test the waters.

I’ll get to those waters next time. Long as this is getting, it’s still a prologue.

Though I will discuss one comic that had Venom’s name slapped on it because it’s more a part of his pre-hero characterization. It’s a strange, forgettable, but not-so-bad one-shot known as Venom: Deathtrap: The Vault (1993). Which is weird, since it’s barely even a Venom story. It’s an Avengers/Freedom Force team-up story where Venom is a supporting character.

Written by Danny Fingeroth and illustrated by Ron Lim, the timing of the issue is a bit suspect. Despite being about Venom being in the Vault, it came out a few months into Venom’s Lethal Protector series. I guess delays or faulty editors are to blame there.

The story is about a riot at the Vault caused by Venom and Mentallo. They take over the floor and take all the guards as hostages. It is kind of weird to see Venom fighting alongside Moonstone and Radioactive Man back before it became a regular thing. Truman Marsh, the warden and all-around bigot against all super-powered people, refuses to deal with them and secretly activates a time bomb.

Call me a bitter fanboy, but Venom causally killing prison guards while leading an army of criminals to freedom seems a little questionable. At least he isn’t the only player in this. Thunderball challenges his leadership due to his Banner-level intelligence. Armadillo leads a couple of villains who want to stay in the Vault and see their sentences through. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde and Nekra decide to use the situation as a way to find an empty room and have their own conjugal visit.

Warden Marsh sends both Freedom Force and the Avengers into the fray to contain the situation, uncaring that they’ll all be blown up anyway. Before he himself can sneak off, Venom catches him and makes him a hostage. Despite the many claims from other personnel about the bomb, the villains just think it’s a trick.

The villains capture the two hero teams and Dr. Pym convinces Thunderball, the smartest of the villains, that the bomb threat is very real. Iron Man, Pym and Thunderball team up to deactivate it. Once that’s dealt with, all the heroes and villains get in a big brawl as Marsh sneaks off. Venom follows him to a nuclear reactor, where Marsh has sabotaged it for an upcoming meltdown. To reiterate how crazy he is, he goes into one of those speeches where he starts ranting to his parents as if they were there. I think Azrael did that a lot.

Venom decides that although they may be doomed, he might as well take some pleasure in his death and does so by tossing Marsh into the reactor. Pym shows up, shoots Venom with a sonic ray gun and the teaming of Iron Man and Radioactive Man saves the Vault from exploding. The end.

It wasn’t bad, but I just get this feeling like they had to up-sell Venom’s role so they could slap his name on it and get more cash. I don’t have anything against Freedom Force, but I don’t think anyone was frothing at the mouth to see them team up with anyone.

The comic did have this going for it:

It’s times when I see a flying robot turn into a ghost and punch a half-man/half-alien through the chest that I remember how grand comic books really are.

Next time I’ll tell of David Michelinie’s Spider-Man story that cut Venom loose to do as he pleased.

Said it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it!
(WE CARE A LOT!) About the army, navy, air force and marines
(WE CARE A LOT!) About the NY, SF and LAPD
(WE CARE A LOT!) About you people
(WE CARE A LOT!) About your guns
(WE CARE A LOT!) About the wars you’re fighting, gee that looks like fun!

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14 comments to “We Care a Lot: Prologue”

  1. LETHAL PROTECTOR BABY! I have to agree though, 6 year old burt got his hands on ASM 375 with the shiny cover and the rest is history.

  2. Fun Question: Did old Venom ever substitute chocolate for brains? I read that somewhere. Maybe.

    Anyways, Mac Gargan getting the Venom symbiote is badass and a good idea. I don’t know why he could control minds during the Civil War though.

  3. If by “mind control,” you mean that Choosing Sides one-shot, I think the symbiote messed with the suits of the cape-killers from the inside.

  4. The chocolate thing will come up during his series. I’ll get to it in a later article.

  5. There’s a good reason why Venom: Deathtrap: the Vault feels more like an Avengers/Freedom Force story with terribly shaky timeline issues: it was originally published in 1991 in an oversized format as The Avengers: Deathtrap: the Vault, Marvel Graphic Novel number 68. Presumably it was re-released because the Venom comics were selling really well, he played a reasonably prominent role in it, and they could turn it around fast for a quick cash-in by changing the title slightly – and I think that’s probably exactly what happened, because that’s a pretty bad cover which doesn’t even use the same Venom logo as Lethal Protector.

    (I got the Avengers version in about ’95-’96, when I would have been in grade 9 or 10. A friend of mine had the Venom version, and I liked it, so when I saw the Avengers version I couldn’t resist. Plus it had must have been in the store since 1991, so the owner was probably happy to be rid of it)

  6. Thank you for explaining that Mark. That also explains the multiple copyright dates in the book.

  7. You’re gonna do one about Web of Shadows right?


  8. I’ll come back to read the actual article sometime soon, but I just had to give you props for using We Care A Lot. The pre-Epic Faith No More rocked.

  9. I was sucked back in by New Avengers #7. Look at the cover and tell me I’m wrong.

  10. Also worth noting: my first comic ever was Amazing Spider-man #374.

  11. @OnimaruXLR: Maybe later. I haven’t actually played the game yet.

    @Jbird: That is worth noting, since that’s the first thing I’ll review in the next installment.

  12. I got into Marvel because of those trading cards from the 90’s. The “Energy Projection, Strength, Intelligence, etc. on a scale of 1-7” ones.

    The first comics I bought were a Classic X-Men one (Magneto’s origin involving his first daughter and killing those villagers) and Fatal Attractions. It was only later that I realized that I had struck gold.

    Oh and some Hulk and Sleepwalker and Transformers ones here and there, I think.

  13. My first comic was Amazing Spidey 316/317, so I’m pretty partial to Venom, myself.

  14. I think if you’re going to do a whole series on Venom, you need to call it “The Courtship of Eddie’s Symbiote.”

    You’re welcome.