We Care a Lot Part 2: Meet the Heavy-Hitters

November 3rd, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halloween was just a couple days ago, but I still feel the need to post this from one of today’s stories.

The Spider-Man and Captain America costumes are sort of okay, but that Wolverine kid’s got the height accuracy.

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?

Well… more crossovers, I’m afraid. First off is The Madness, a 3-parter by Ann Nocenti (words) and Kelley Jones (art). In on-going terms, this would be Venom #10-12, ending off his first year as an anti-hero.

The Madness centers around two very strong concepts that appeal to me, but unfortunately they’re bogged down by ridiculousness. The first idea is Venom vs. Juggernaut. That’s just my character bias.

Then there’s the idea of more Parker-to-Brock escalation. In that last story, Pyre was to Venom as Venom was to Spider-Man. Same concept here. Spider-Man’s a pretty sane guy, so the idea of a sentient costume added to his person messed with his head and forced him to take action. Brock, on the other hand, was totally cool with it. So this story goes to the next step. Instead of Venom being made of two beings, he’s suddenly made of three. This third being, while granting extra strength, is so extreme that even Eddie Brock needs to take notice.

Much of this story involves Eddie becoming romantically involved with Beck Underwood, a lawyer and above-ground contact of the underground society. Venom saves her life from some generic thugs and learns about her current case. A company called Scarmore Inc. was behind some illegal experiments where they tried to mix their toxic waste with mercury and… I don’t know… make something out of it. All it did was sicken anyone who worked with it, both physically and mentally. Now Beck is out to take down the organization for their recklessness.

Kelley Jones’ art is something I recognize as impressive, but I just can’t get too into it. Every few panels, something will stick out as being really off, like if it was live-action, the character would be a really bad actor. There’s also his tendency to draw people with sixty teeth.

Scarmore Inc. hires Black Tom and Juggernaut to take care of their lawyer problem. This leads to the first Venom vs. Juggernaut fight, which is mostly just Juggernaut tossing Venom around like a rag doll. They break through the streets and into the sewers where, total coincidence, Scarmore had dumped their mercury toxic waste crud, otherwise known as the Mercury Virus.

The Mercury Virus is somehow sentient and calls out to Venom. Venom’s so distracted by the voice that he can barely multitask, allowing Juggernaut to wipe the floor with him even more. Juggernaut stomps the crap out of him and tosses him away, claiming to have killed Venom as Beck escapes. Wouldn’t you know it, Venom lands into the pool of dumped Mercury Virus. It bonds to him and gives him a new form.

They even released an action figure based on Madness Venom. Go figure.

One of the fellow San Francisco underground citizens rants to Eddie later about the evils of corporations and how untouchable their presidents are. While it’s arguable whether or not Eddie would have been able to understand that rationally under normal circumstances, with the Mercury Virus added on, he reads this as, “KILL THE SCARMORE PRESIDENT!”

To show an even bigger lack of sense, he breaks into the Scarmore building in the middle of the night and kills a janitor who happens to be resting in the president’s chair. Thinking he’s won the day, he goes back to Beck. Rather than be the suave guy who could convince a woman to ignore his freakishness, Eddie is now a raving sex fiend.

Hey, you know what would make this comic extra amazing? Venom rape!

When I discussed this story with David Brothers, he referred to Ann Nocenti as being like Devin Grayson but better. I guess that’s just him trying to tell me that Beck should’ve been trying to rape Venom instead.

Thank God it doesn’t go further than that. Juggernaut breaks in and we get round 2. This time, Venom gets the advantage with his extra arms and extra strength. He also has a lot of extra voices talking in his head and doesn’t seem put off by it. The fight pours out into the streets and just when it looks like it’s going somewhere, Venom is sucked away into an alternate dimension.

Yes, I just typed that.

You see, throughout the story, we’d see some demonic guy watching over Venom. We’d also see Eddie’s nightmares, where this demon would taunt him and show him crazy imagery, like a giant Spider-Man head with spider legs sticking out. This was all set-up for yanking Venom into the Realm of Insanity.

It makes sense that my 13-year-old self ate this issue up because Venom’s time in the Realm of Insanity reads like it was written by a 13-year-old. He’s attacked by various demons, including one named Necromancer who admittedly copied his appearance from Ghost Rider. You see, every time somebody goes mad, they fall into the Realm of Insanity for a spell, even if it’s a couple seconds. Venom’s so nuts that he may be staying there for the rest of his life.

The dialogue for most of it is pretty atrocious. Like when Venom sees a big, green, cloaked figure.

“Omigod – that means we’re dying! What is this thing now? Are you Death?”

“Death? My, but you’re paranoid. Must be because I AM PARANOIA.”

Venom gets a grasp on the dream-world rules on reality-warping and uses them to grow Wolverine claws to kill Paranoia. Then he beats Necromancer into nothingness and meets with the head demon Dusk. How does Dusk attack our anti-hero?

Yep. He sends red-tinted versions of Spider-Man and Wolverine to kill him. Spider-Man I get. Putting Wolverine in there is just lazy pandering. Sadly, unless you count the Venom Bomb arc from Mighty Avengers/New Avengers, this is the best instance of a Wolverine/Venom crossover you will ever see. The two red mind-ghosts just go after Venom and pound away, making it easy for him to just push them off and punch the crap out of their no-strategy asses.

Venom screams at Dusk about how he isn’t insane because he chooses not to be. Dusk laughs at Venom’s nuttiness and says that because of how kooky he is, he can negotiate through the Realm of Insanity. He lets him leave and says that he’ll be back one day. I really have no idea what the fuck just happened in the last 11 pages.

The Mercury Virus is dying off just because and Venom hears on the radio that Juggernaut has Beck held hostage in her apartment. Because Beck has a thing for troubled guys, she tries to coax Juggernaut and seems to succeed in both calming him down and getting to the root of his psychological problems. Unfortunately, right when she’s on track to reach a breakthrough, her boyfriend breaks through.

In round three, Venom gets in all the offense. It’s somehow really tame. I mean, you have Venom and Juggernaut in a slugfest in a dumpy apartment and there are no holes in the walls or floors. Just Beck’s neighbors yelling at her to stop all the racket. Beck, not wanting either of these guys to fight, screams for them to stop, but neither listens.

Juggernaut realizes that there are only a couple more pages left to the story, so he announces, “I’m getting outta here. I don’t get paid enough to take this kinda abuse.” He smashes through the wall and runs off into the distance as Venom screams his head off. In the director’s cut of this scene, Juggernaut first suffocates Jack Nicholson with a pillow.

Beck calms Venom down and tells him that it’s over. Once he’s back to being in a smirking, cheerful mood, she breaks up with him. He did kind of accidentally murder an innocent woman and there’s that whole rape attempt, so I can’t really say I blame her. If anything, she’s got stones for breaking up with such a lunatic face-to-face.

After that, Venom goes back to the sewer and extracts the Mercury Virus from his system. Despite everything, Venom respects the sentient virus and welcomes a reunion if he ever needs a power boost. Even without the Mercury Virus, Venom is shown to be overly bulky. As in Hulk wearing a Venom mask bulky. This is an unfortunate habit that most of the following artists would continue with.

Yep. That’s the comic that made me think, “This is awesome!” That’s why I think people in my generation make for good comic writers, such as Robert Kirkman. There aren’t many “classic” concepts in the 90’s considered worth holding onto like how Alex Ross has a man-crush on Hal Jordan or Quesada believes Spider-Man needs to be single because that’s what they grew up reading. Someone like Kirkman survived the 90’s crapstorm by understanding the classics of different eras, while still understanding the redeeming values of comics’ worst decade. That’s just my personal take on things.

Next on the agenda is The Enemy Within. This one is a big step up in comparison to the last story. It’s written by Bruce Jones with art by Bob McLeod. McLeod’s art is pretty awesome here. It’s dark, but doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as Kelley Jones. With Bruce Jones… well… Here’s the thing with Bruce Jones. A lot of the stuff I’ve read by him isn’t so hot. Namely his Nightwing run, among others. The only thing by him I found myself really enjoying was Hulk/Thing: Hard Knocks. I think it’s because Bruce Jones writes bad one-liners and underwhelming storylines, but his redeeming factor is his ability to write really good character interaction. Hard Knocks was 99% character interaction (plus Jae Lee’s beautiful art), so it got a pass.

Enemy Within isn’t going to win any awards for its story, but I’ll be damned if Venom’s relationship with the story’s guest anti-hero isn’t fun as hell. Between the art and the entertaining rapport, this is one of my more highly regarded Venom story arcs.

Did I mention that the cover for the first issue was glow-in-the-dark? Because it was. It was sweet.

The story begins on Halloween night, where Venom thwarts an attempted kidnapping. One of the thugs escapes into the subway, but after going into a train, the lights go out. He hears what he thinks are children playing a prank, but lights a match to find a dead body. Then a legion of tiny green goblins come out of the darkness and maul him to death.

Above the ground, Venom can’t find where the guy went, so he just takes a walk. He gets into an almost-altercation with what turned out to be a guy in a Spider-Man costume and walks by a campaign rally for a candidate for mayor named Palentine. Figuring not to stick around, he decides to pick up a newspaper and go home.

What the fuck? That happened twenty minutes ago! They seem to be ignoring that other dead guy on the subway. I guess those San Francisco reporters are sloppy at getting their facts, but they’ll have the story in your hands within the hour.

Eddie rides the subway and thinks about the news story. Goblins? Nah. Probably just rats. Then the lights go out and the goblins pop out and attack the passengers. Eddie becomes Venom and starts killing all that he can.

The creatures have their own way of dealing with Venom. By grouping together, they all howl as one and create a sonic cannon that blasts Venom out of the subway car. It also nearly kills him. Over the next few nights, Venom tries to protect both San Francisco and his underground society from these goblins, but there are just too many of them and they’re quick to escape.

Elsewhere, in New York City, Morbius the Living Vampire takes apart some drug smugglers and prepares to feast on their blood. Before he can, he hears a deafening howl and vanishes into thin air.

Also in New York City, a cult of heretic monks have their get-together ruined by the Demogoblin, who crashes through the window and slaughters them all. Wow, when’s the last time you heard anyone talk about Demogoblin? He too is interrupted and teleported away by the sudden sonic howl from out of nowhere.

Back in San Francisco, Venom’s had enough and tries to find the nest where these little creeps come from. He succeeds, but is again horribly outnumbered.

Let me tell you something about Bruce Jones. The guy is only capable of one one-liner. I’m serious. Back when he started his Nightwing run, one of the worst quotes in the first issue was when one guy told someone to butt out and the other responded with a punch, “BUTT THIS!” It was stupid, but it got some people noticing. Bruce Jones pulls this “____ THIS!” shit all the time. All the time. He used it again in Man-Bat. He used it again in a later part of his Nightwing run. He just used it in the latest issue of Checkmate.

So of course…

Goddamn it.

The goblins try their sonic howl team-up attack and it proceeds to knock out Venom and reduce him to his Eddie Brock form. They then drag his body down a set of stairs and in front of a stone throne. They start screaming again, only it’s more like they’re chanting. All of the sudden, Morbius appears on the throne and threatens to kill Brock. The two each think that the other is behind all this chaos and Venom’s healed enough to fight back.

They fight it out with the goblins watching on, until the two realize that they’re on the same side. That’s when they start teaming up on the goblins and the story really takes off.

I’m not joking when I say that it was a huge mistake that they never considered making Venom/Morbius team-ups a regular thing. The two have such chemistry that I couldn’t help but get a kick out of their exploits. Their dynamic is that they’re both regularly sarcastic to one another, but in different ways. Morbius seems to despise Venom, though with a sliver of respect for him. On the other hand, Venom appears to be joking around with Morbius as he seems to genuinely admire him. It’s as if the idea of fighting crime with a vampire is a lifelong dream of his.

Once in Alcatraz, Brock discovers a cell with the same glowing goblin symbol found around various city walls. In the cell is a diary belonging to the prisoner Charlie Palene. He talks about how years ago he stumbled upon a cult – the same guys that Demogoblin killed – ready to sacrifice a girl. Charlie was discovered and they were prepared to use him instead. The police came in, Charlie stole some green necklace from the head cultist and kept it for himself.

Years later, after getting tossed in prison for one of his crimes, he read up on the necklace and found it to be some kind of demon thing. He drew up a pentagram, chanted some stuff about Cthulhu and those goblins appeared. As much as they wanted to tear him apart, they couldn’t because he had the necklace. The flashback narration is continued elsewhere as we discover that Charlie used the goblins to escape Alcatraz, used his magic to create a new life and is currently San Francisco mayor candidate Palentine. As for the goblins, he sealed them away underground, figuring they’d never be released again.

Recently, due to the goblin craziness, San Francisco has been quarantined. Palentine declares martial law and overthrows the current mayor while insisting that these are the end times. His solution to the goblins is to burn the streets so they can kill all the creatures and rebuild later.

Demogoblin, meanwhile, is teleported onto the same throne that Morbius was on earlier. Shortly after the tenseness has died down, Demogoblin leads them after Venom and Morbius at Alcatraz. The fight ends when Demogoblin and the little goblins accidentally break holes through the walls, causing the sunlight to seep in. Not only does it wound Morbius, but it also kills all the goblins, giving Demogoblin reason to escape.

Eddie gets back to reading the diary in hopes of finding some clue to beat those goblins. He soon figures out that Palene = Palentine and the two fanged heroes get to stepping.

Come on. I can’t be the only one who would want a buddy series starring these two.

The two of them proceed to get bitchslapped by Palentine’s magic. Demogoblin flies in and steals the necklace, making him the true leader of the goblins. The goblins proceed to devour Palentine and Demogoblin uses the newfound magic to become 60-feet-tall. Venom and Morbius try to stop him, but are quickly smacked aside. Demogoblin leads the goblins to the Golden Gate Bridge and suddenly turns on them all. He zaps them with electricity and knocks them all into the water where they all drown. After all, Demogoblin wants to snuff out the heretics. The only reason he went after Venom and Morbius in the first place was to gain the creatures’ trust and, obviously, to fulfill the action sequence quota of that issue.

As Venom puts it, “You could almost grow to like the guy… if it weren’t for that irritating laugh…”

Demogoblin proceeds to destroy the necklace and shrink down. Then, without any exchange with the heroes, he flies off on his glider and cackles away.

Venom asks to shake Morbius’ hand, but the vampire merely tells him off and vanishes into the fog. Annoyed, he mutters, “…Bunch of arrogant New York snobs…”

You might have noticed that Venom and Morbius did a big pile of nothing in this story. They killed a handful of goblins and figured out the backstory, but they didn’t save the day in any way. That was all Demogoblin’s doing and he would have done it without their interference. I’m not certain whether that’s a good touch or just plain dumb.

For the last story of today, I’m going to step away from the series of Venom miniseries. This next one is separate from all that craziness. It was a send-away one-shot released in conjunction with Unicef. Good old Venom… Eating brains in order to help the hungry.

The Incredible Hulk vs. Venom was written by Peter David and drawn by Jim Craig. Sad to say, Craig gets the award for worst depiction of Venom. No, wait! Second worst. You’ll see the worst when we get to Tooth and Claw. For reference, here’s Venom after saving a couple teenagers from a fire at the expense of the driver’s car door.

We just don’t see enough of superheroes telling off the people they rescue. It’s too bad that this is the only instance of Peter David writing Venom during this time period. He had a really good grasp on him.

The story here is about a mad scientist Doctor Bad Vibes – a name taken from that C.O.P.S. cartoon from the 80’s – who tells a news station that if he isn’t paid a ransom, he’ll turn on his earthquake machine and San Francisco will suffer. They don’t take his warning seriously and a huge earthquake happens.

It’s one of those rare times where Venom isn’t on the offensive. There’s nobody to beat up or kill, but people to save from wreckage. He hears somebody mention a monster nearby that’s been making the ground shake. Venom decides that that’s more like it and follows the directions to find the Hulk smashing the ground and telling the puny humans to run. Due to his unfortunate habit of jumping to conclusions, Venom thinks that Hulk is working for Bad Vibes and is the one causing the earthquakes themselves.

Look at that perspective. I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s like something out of M.C. Escher’s playbook.

This is Smart Hulk, so he calmly explains that he was trying to help the survivors by scaring them off. I don’t know if that’s really a sound strategy, but I don’t have the intelligence of Bruce Banner, so I probably shouldn’t comment. Venom ignores the explanation and continues to pester Hulk no matter how many times Hulk swats him away.

A couple stories back, we saw Venom take on someone on Hulk’s strength level by trying to take the brawl to him. All things considered, it worked well enough. Now that he’s up against the Hulk, Venom’s entire fighting strategy is to hop on Hulk’s shoulders, web over his eyes and insult him. When Hulk punches him off, rinse and repeat. Wow, really? Your big plan is to just annoy the Hulk? That’s like choosing to fight Superman on the surface of the sun.

Hulk remembers Venom’s weaknesses and ends the fight handily. “As I recall, you have major problems with ‘loud’. Which means that all it should take to put an end to this gratuitous nonsense… is a serious case of the clap.”

A couple Hulk claps is all it takes to keep Venom down. Hulk sits down on Venom and the two talk out their differences.

Best thing about the scene is how whenever Hulk would tear the webbing off his head, he’d stop for a second and give an annoyed, “…ouch.”

You may want to brace yourself for this next page.

I could handle the attempted rape scene. That I could stomach. When I originally read this? I calmly stopped reading, stood up and walked away for a few minutes. I needed to recuperate from the pure cheese of seeing Hulk and Venom do the Hans and Franz routine on live television. Damn you, Peter David. Damn you.

They get an angry call from Dr. Bad Vibes and Hulk uses some wrist doohickey to track the call. Venom allows the reporters to follow them to Bad Vibes’ hideout, since Eddie has a soft spot for journalists. Soon the party gets ready for the big throwdown only to discover…

Ha! The copyright information written on the box makes it even better.

Turns out that Dr. Bad Vibes is just some nutball and the earthquakes were natural. The dejected reporters leave Bad Vibes to his own ramblings and our two heroes walk off discussing what just transpired. Venom admits that he wanted to blame the earthquakes on somebody instead of nature itself. Hulk says that that’s how it is. The world is arbitrary and most people want to think everything bad happens for a reason.

Venom seems taken down by Hulk’s speech about life being pointless. Then he sees two survivors from the earthquake who earlier had an argument embrace each other. Venom smiles and says, “I dunno. Every so often, there seems like there might be the occasional point to it.”

You might notice that every single story discussed so far has been a crossover. Thing is, these are crossovers that would still sell to this day. A Punisher/Venom crossover in this day and age? Of course it would get some play. No doubt. Join us next time for a crossover that NOBODY wanted. Nobody, that is, except the guy who wrote the story.

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10 comments to “We Care a Lot Part 2: Meet the Heavy-Hitters”

  1. A cross-over that no-one wanted? Could it be with Speedball? Vengeance? Batroc the Leaper?

  2. Venom teams up wit Ant-Man to stop the Terrible Termite?

  3. Really enjoying the series. Venom is a character I thought was totally rad as a kid but got burned out on when I got older. Reading these posts seems to suggest Venom was a victim of the excesses of the time, and that the problems weren’t really inherent in the character himself.

    I did want to point out that there actually IS another Peter David-written Venom comic and, oddly enough, it’s also a UNICEF one-shot drawn by the very same artist. It’s called SPIDER-MAN SPECIAL EDITION: THE TRIAL OF VENOM or something similar.

    It opens with the symbiote apparently committing suicide, and Matt Murdock is called in to make the case that with his “other” dead, Eddie is no longer insane and should be released with prison. So Matt calls in his pal Spidey as a character witness at Brock’s sanity hearing. It’s actually a really good done-in-one if you’re not too put off by the art. Plus: No SNL jokes.

    Also, there actually has been a Wolverine/Venom team-up. It ran in Marvel Comics Presents from 117-122 (if my math is correct) with art by Sam Kieth. I only have the fifth part, and I have no idea what’s going on, so it’s hard to judge the story quality. Nice drawrings, though.

  4. @Justin: Huh. I’ve read that Trial of Venom thing before but had no idea it was Peter David. Yeah, I remember the art being pretty hard to get past.

    And I do plan on covering that Marvel Comics Presents story in a later installment. I didn’t say that there’s never been a Wolverine/Venom crossover. Just that there hasn’t been a GOOD one.

  5. is Venom/Hulk the most “90’s” series Marvel published outside of X-Men/Force/Calibur?

  6. I dunno; to me any fight between Juggernaut and Venom that lasts more than five seconds would be ridiculous. Venom can beat up Spider-Man pretty easily. That’s not saying much.

  7. What was the “Marvel Presents” comic where you flipped it over to read the other stories? That had a Wolverine and Venom vs. Nightmare team-up once.

  8. Oh, guess that was the same one.

  9. The Trial of Venom established that Matt Murdock considers Brock innocent by reason of insanity. I have no idea if Dan Slott read that, but I’m guessing he did, based on “New Ways to Die”.

  10. @P_B: Ha! If you think Venom standing up against Juggernaut is ridiculous, you ain’t seen nothing yet.