Planet of the Symbiotes: History Before it Repeats Itself

October 26th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , ,

If it wasn’t for the fact that Frank Cho apparently needs ten hours to draw each female butt cheek and get it just right, the current arc in Mighty Avengers would be long over and we would be getting ready for the symbiote invasion. That’s not stopping New Avengers, where the underdog superheroes have already been possessed by the liquid nightmares. Not too much of the story is revealed yet. We still don’t totally understand what is going on and how all this came to be. Instead, New Avengers focuses more on the Hood hanging back with old Luke Cage villains and a Punisher bad guy Bendis has taken a shining to.

We do know that in the story, we will eventually see what looks like the Carnage symbiote take over Wasp and become giant. Bendis has also spilled the beans long ago that Doctor Doom is behind this for some reason. The first place my mind goes to is the old Spider-Man arcade game from the early 90’s. Not only did that game feature a 40-foot Venom, but the gist of the plot is that Doom was trying to take over the world with an army of symbiotes.

But that’s not what this article is about. This is about the first time New York City was under siege by the toothy, gooey monstrosities. As much as it might pain you to do this, let’s take a trip back to 1995, for the Planet of the Symbiotes.

The story thus far: Venom was in the midst of his anti-hero run, which only I enjoyed, apparently. Though stationed in San Francisco for a while, he relocated to New York City because the crossover potential was stronger. Enter Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider. This clone of Peter Parker heard Venom was in the area and made his superhero debut by defeating him. By removing the symbiote from Eddie Brock with his impact webbing (remember that?), he was able to dominate Venom in a way Spider-Man never could at that point. Eddie and the symbiote stayed separated for quite a while, until getting involved in an adventure with his colorful symbiote children introduced in the Lethal Protector story. Eventually, Eddie and the symbiote became one again.

Here’s the thing that few people realize about Eddie Brock, or at least Eddie Brock in the 90’s. Eddie never really was all that crazy. He was never the picture of perfect mental health, yes, but he wasn’t a raving lunatic. All of that came from the symbiote and being Venom. When the symbiote and its influence were taken away during that period of time, Eddie had time to reflect. He realized all the death he’s caused and how pointless his hatred of Spider-Man was. He didn’t intend to ever wear the costume again and instead just wanted to die. After being forced to don the symbiote again, the subtle control over his actions returned. This time, he’s more aware of it and wants to investigate it.

Hey, look! They’re playing jump rope!

Spider-Man deals with a bunch of armed fundies called the Neo-Luddites. Venom’s off talking to himself and sees the melee in the distance. The two have an impromptu team-up that goes well until Venom corners a webbed-up goon and prepares to tear him apart. Spider-Man gets ready to stop him, but Venom stops himself. Eddie tells the symbiote that he didn’t give any command to kill, but the symbiote tells him he was thinking it. More confusion happens and Spider-Man’s too distracted by the Neo-Luddites to notice Venom escape.

I myself am too distracted by the fact that Spider-Man appears to have a bird’s beak as a penis.

It also sort of looks like he’s shooting a laser out of his ass. If so, good aim, man!

Eddie figures he needs to talk to somebody about what he’s going through, though the symbiote tries to drive that thought out of his mind. He ends up following Spider-Man and the Thing into another battle with the Neo-Luddites.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man’s been thinking that this uneasiness in Eddie’s tone is just the opening he needs to undo Venom. Perhaps if he could exploit this rift, he could save Eddie’s sanity and save everyone else from Venom’s existence.

Venom escapes again and this time ponders Spidey’s words. Granted, Parker has every reason to lie, there’s still a lot to his rant. Eddie asks the symbiote to leave him so he can think about this without bias. He ends up yelling at the costume until it buckles and slinks away completely.

As we all know, the Venom symbiote has some real rejection issues, so it reacts by making this powerful psychic shriek of heartbreak. Though it’s soundless, the shriek reaches the stars above and has an effect on the people of Earth. For that night, an unprecedented people became cripplingly depressed, with some even committing suicide. At the Ravencroft Sanitarium, a comatose Cletus Kasady smiles in his sleep. And worst of all, a spaceship responds to the signal by landing in a park in New York. The ship transforms and a series of shapeless, white symbiote eyes are seen from within.

The second issue begins with a man murdering a cop while under the influence of what looks to be the Venom symbiote. Spider-Man gets a sonic gun and brings it to the scene of the crime. The Scarlet Spider shows up out of nowhere, offering to help. Before they can get too chummy, Eddie Brock arrives through the air ducts. Since getting rid of the symbiote, he’s cut his hair, going from his Shawn Michaels look back to his trademark Howie Long.

He shows that he isn’t wearing the Venom costume and swears that he’s out to stop the symbiote’s killing spree, due to his own personal responsibility. Spider-Man understands the angle and rewards him with the sonic gun. It’s an act of trust and besides, it can’t hurt normal people. Scarlet Spider still acts a bit uneasy with the idea, but gets over it and suggests they go stop the symbiote from stealing a device called the “clystron wave modulator”. It’s what those Neo-Luddites were after in the first issue. Spider-Man has no idea where that idea came from, but figures it’s as good a place to start as any.

Total shock, Scarlet Spider’s mystery hunch was right. They find the symbiote-possessed thief carrying the modulator doohickey over a legion of dead bodies. While it certainly looks like Venom, it doesn’t have the trademark white spider logo. During this battle, Brock momentarily blasts the symbiote off the host and hears the host pleading to either help or kill him. The symbiote escapes while bringing the entire building down. Brock swears something is wrong, since the Venom symbiote would never take over somebody who was totally unwilling. Scarlet Spider has another hunch of where they should go, which makes Spider-Man suspect that maybe his clone has some kind of psychic ability.

No, you idiot. That’s Kaine.

Scarlet Spider’s hunch is again correct. They find a stargate (or “fargate” if you’re from beyond Pluto) manned by a dozen or so symbiote-controlled humans. A big fight breaks out, including Scarlet Spider going up against a symbiote midget.

That right there is the real reason symbiotes got so stale. They never did anything truly diverse with them. Look at all the different Venoms as well as Carnage, Toxin, Hybrid and all the other symbiote characters. Whether they’re reporters, serial killers, cops or whatever, they’re still just a bunch of mostly white dudes – with the occasional woman or black guy – that fight exactly the same. Think of how much play they could have gotten out of a Hand ninja with a symbiote or even a quadriplegic guy as the host. We need more stories about the likes of this midget guy, is what I’m saying.

Eddie’s playing Rambo with the sonic gun and Scarlet Spider accidentally gets in the way. To his surprise, Ben’s tattered blue sweatshirt reveals itself to be yet another symbiote. It forces the three of them into the portal, just before it shuts off.

The three black out for a moment. When they get their bearings, the find that they’re on another planet, already taken over by the symbiote parasites. A whole bunch of mentally-overthrown creatures that resemble xenomorphs with six arms rush our heroes. Eddie, despite having the sonic gun, is too freaked out by fear to even move. Scarlet Spider gets slashed by an alien and Eddie feels the pain. He realizes that Scarlet Spider’s shirt isn’t just any symbiote, it’s his symbiote.

They end up escaping and find themselves in what they figure to be an alien warehouse of sorts. Since the symbiote just helped save them, they give it the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, it won’t tell its host Scarlet Spider anything. Despite reluctance by all three human protagonists, Eddie has to become Venom again so they can survive and figure out what’s going on. Becoming Venom once more, Brock is able to explain the true origin of the Venom symbiote.

I should point out that David Michelinie, the main creator of Venom, wrote this story. He usually does good stuff when it comes to fleshing out Brock and the costume’s backstories and this is no different.

Since the symbiote hosts barely last long enough to survive space trips, the race usually seeks out planets to take over and builds stargates to bring in the entire race in one fell swoop. That’s what they’re up to right now with Earth. The invasion is imminent unless they can get back to Earth and destroy the stargate.

On the way back to the stargate, they see a series of symbiotes walk by. One of the hosts dies from depleted health and falls out of its parasite. The symbiote just leaves as if it barely noticed. Venom and Scarlet Spider are disgusted and wish there was something they could do, but Spider-Man says that all they can do is hope they can save Earth from this fate.

The three brave through a whole lot of symbiotes in an attempt to get back home. There’s some arguing over who should stay back to wield the controls and it’s agreed that Venom will make the sacrifice. He succeeds and gets through himself, but due to some clusterfuck reasoning, he’s not able to close the portal permanently.

This must be one of those “Zerg Rush” things I’ve heard about.

It took us three full issues, but finally this story is actually going somewhere. This next issue has a strong place in my memory, since I recall owning the issue back when I was a young fourteen.

An anchorman keeps us up to date with the symbiote invasion taking over New York City. Much like the upcoming invasion in Mighty Avengers, it wouldn’t be complete without a couple defending heroes taken over by those creatures.

You know, a lot of people would say that Symbiote Armor Captain America symbolizes all that was wrong with the 90’s.

Our spidery superheroes make the decision to hit the mall to stock up on weapons that could be used against the symbiotes. Elsewhere, a couple guards are making sure nothing happens to Cletus Kasady’s comatose body. The body is hooked up to a computer that transcribes his thoughts, though so far nothing’s up. When a guard is taken over by a symbiote and kills his buddy, Cletus uses the computer to taunt the guy until he loses control and stabs Cletus in the chest.

Carnage absorbs the symbiote and makes himself bigger. He isn’t sure what’s going on, but he digs it. Later, he puts his hand over a fire to torture both himself and the absorbed symbiote. He wants to know where all the other invaders are hanging out.

The Spider-Trio wander the mall, looking for supplies. Each has their own moment to themselves. Spider-Man tries to call Mary Jane at home, but can’t get a connection. Brock thinks over how his symbiote is in actuality the one redeemable member of its entire savage race. Scarlet Spider tears up a blue sweatshirt to recreate his trademark appearance. Then he gets attacked by symbiotes. Spider-Man ends up defeating them by turning on the sound systems and slamming a microphone into the ground to create some crippling feedback.

They come up with another plan to stop the invasion. If the Venom symbiote’s psychic shriek drew all the aliens here, maybe they could find some way to have it shriek in a way that hurts the symbiotes and forces them back into the stargate. There’s the chance that the symbiotes might react by attacking Venom, but the Lethal Protector is willing to take that risk.

Cutting to the chase, their plan is fucked almost instantly, as the symbiotes blow up the stargate. Now they’re stuck on Earth. Damn it. How could things get worse?

Yes, that’s right. It seems it’s never a symbiote invasion without a 40-foot-tall Carnage. I remember having this issue, but never seeing the follow-up for years. That was a bit torturous because, seriously, that is one crazy-ass cliffhanger.

The story ends with the best art of these five issues. Steve Lightle’s stuff is fantastic here.

Venom’s on his own, fending off other symbiotes. Most of the other symbiotes are distracted and confused, as they don’t know what to make of the giant Carnage. This gives Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider some room to maneuver. The heroes watch Carnage feed off several symbiotes to make himself bigger. As the giant does this, the three escape with their lives.

Mary Jane has spent the last several issues worrying herself sick over Peter. This is during her pregnant era, so she’s spending her time fighting over whether or not she should have a smoke to calm herself down. Anyway, she’s boarded herself up, but hears somebody coming. She looks to the doorway and sees Venom staring her down.

Great idea, Peter. Have the monster that once scared the bejeezus out of your wife so bad that you weren’t allowed to wear black anymore be the one to knock on the door when she’s already freaked out of her mind. Great husband you are. What are you going to do next, hit her? …Oh.

Peter showers off as Mary Jane suggests he should stay in and leave the superheroing to the other superheroes. As this conversation is going on, we’re treated to the best panel of the Planet of the Symbiotes storyline.

I can’t explain it, but the sight of Venom and Ben Reilly lounging on a couch and taking back a couple brewskis puts me in such a good mood that I forgive everything about the Clone Saga based entirely on this moment. I can only wonder what this conversation entailed.

“So I hear I might be the real Peter Parker. I’ll get to be Spider-Man in a few months.”

“That’s cool. We don’t really have much direction at the moment.”

“Really? Guy like you? That’s a shame.”

“Yeah. We used to have a cool underground hideout in San Francisco with a bunch of hobos. They weren’t much, but they made for a good enough supporting cast.”

“Why’d you move?”

“We… we don’t really know. Why did we move?”

“You know Justice from the New Warriors?”

“No, not really.”

“He and I were having this argument. Do you think I could take Superboy in a fight?”

“Most definitely! In fact, we could definitely beat up Superman.”

“Nice sarcasm.”

“Not sarcasm! We are pretty sure that we could take Superman and Parker in a fight at the same time… as long as sonics aren’t involved.”

“That’s bullcrap and you know it. That would never happen. Never, ever happen. That’s like Batman punching out Carnage. It would never happen.”

“We beat Juggernaut in a fight once.”

“Bull. Crap.”

I really could do this for five more pages, but I can see you’re growing tired of this.

At first, Venom really beats himself up about how this is all his fault. Then he turns it around with the realization that he can end this. The symbiotes are empathic receivers, meaning that they feel the emotions of others. Maybe he could try to redo the Venom symbiote’s psychic shriek from earlier in the story, only stronger and more depressing to the point that it puts all the symbiotes into comas. The others decide to go with it and they take off.

Venom stations himself at the church where he was created. He tells the others that he needs to be alone for this.

So pretty. Spider-Man taunts Carnage over how predictable it is going after Venom. Carnage hates being logical, so he goes after the Spider-Men. The two lead Carnage away, though Spider-Man takes a lot of punishment from the giant murderer. They end up on a bridge filled with driverless cars. Scarlet Spider opens up a gas truck, lets the fumes spread, leads Carnage there and then blows him to kingdom come.

To make this more of a dramatic victory, the two heroes are knocked into the waters while thinking what they believe to be their final thoughts. For Spider-Man, he wonders about the last time he told Mary Jane he loves her while Scarlet Spider thinks an apology to Peter. Of course, neither dies. But they do find themselves being taken in by a river of symbiote goo.

As for Venom, both Brock and the symbiote try hard to be really, really depressed. Their angst spreads and gets all the other symbiotes’ attention, but it doesn’t do the job. They need to focus more anguish. Their solution is a gross one.

The right third of the page is a vagina joke ready to be served, but I’m too tired to come up with anything.

The uber-despair is too much for the symbiote race and they all kill themselves via disintegration. Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider confront Venom for lying to them. Coma, their asses! Venom shrugs it off and says that if he told the truth about his genocide idea, Spider-Man would have said no to it. He then does a “hey look over there!” and runs off. That’s not a joke, he really did that and it worked.

Peter, Ben and Mary Jane hang back at the Parker apartment, watching the news as they announce Cletus Kasady’s recapture. Peter’s still whiny about Venom offing all the symbiotes, but even Ben and Mary Jane think he should get over himself. If it wasn’t for Venom, those things would still be eating up galactic societies left and right.

In Central Park, Venom monologues about how by saving the world, he knows his place as protector. Due to his gross merging sequence from the climax, Eddie and the symbiote will always be one! They are Venom!

Since then, I can come up with at least six instances of Eddie and the symbiote splitting apart with no problem. Oops!

I guess that wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I appreciate the attempt to make each issue cover a different step of the story (Venom split, initial invasion, adventure on the other planet, full-scale invasion and solution), but the pacing is still off. The last two issues are fine, but it should have been more about that section being spread out with the earlier three issues consolidated. For instance, the Thing’s early featured role really wasn’t needed at all.

Dedicating only two issues to the symbiote invasion makes it seem like not much of a big deal. Memorable story or not, it doesn’t sit right. According to the dialogue, the symbiotes ran New York City for two days. That’s a big deal. I don’t expect it to have any major tie-ins or anything, but other comics should at least make reference to its events here and there. It reminds me of Magneto tearing up the city in New X-Men while all the other NYC-based comics acted ignorant about this major happening.

I’m sure Bendis’ replay will be a much better read. So far so good, as far as I’m concerned.

Were there any lasting consequences in Planet of the Symbiotes? Not really, as you can tell from the mentioned failure to keep Venom as one completely merged being. There were two Venom stories that spun off from Planet of the Symbiotes. The idea was that some symbiotes didn’t join in on the race-wide suicide pact and remained with their hosts. One such symbiote joined with Rune, a Malibu Comics character, as part of a Venom vs. Rune one-shot. The others were dealt with in Venom: The Hunted, which is a very fun story about a symbiote-eating monster from space as well as Eddie Brock hanging out with a bunch of teenage skateboarders.

I’ll get to those stories eventually. I’ve been meaning on doing a whole series about Venom’s murky history since the beginning of this site. Maybe I should get on that.

At the very least, I’ll have something relating to the big-tongued wonder this Tuesday. After all, Spider-Man 3 comes out on DVD on that day and I need to keep on-topic.

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

9 comments to “Planet of the Symbiotes: History Before it Repeats Itself”

  1. I agree that the panel of Ben Reilly and Venom sitting watching the telly is great. Especially Eddie’s posture, Ben vigorously snacking, and that there’s no dialogue, so you’re left to ponder what on earth they’re talking about.

    I read some of each of those issues by just picking the books off of the shelves and flicking through them(I was in the habit of doing that sort of thing because the Spider-books were constantly crossing over with one another and I could only afford one of them each month). I remember the mass psychic-induced suicide, giant-sized Carnage, and Reilly raiding a clothes store to re-complete his outfit, but that’s about it.

    I actually kinda like the look of the symbiote-sporting Captain America. Makes me wonder which characters who might be interesting while bonding with a symbiote. Maybe someone who already has multiple personalities, or characters like Sandman whose bodies are far from normal.

    There’s also something vaguely sad/scary about Brock hanging around with teenagers. Isn’t he in his thirties or something?

  2. I am going to buy a pair of cheap white sneakers and attack them with layer upon layer of black Sharpee marker until they look like Rad Eddie’s snazzy footwear pictured here.

    I’m serious about this. This will happen.

  3. I seem to recall that all of the “Planet of the Symbiotes” books were also double-sized flip books, where you’d flip the comic over and read a terrible, terrible story about The Lizard.

  4. I’d TOTALLY read a history of Venom.

  5. Bless Bendis for bring Chemistro back into the spotlight. Cool beans, says I.

  6. Write about Venom; he’s a good subject. As a kid, comics about Venom or Generation X were the only ones I collected. The lack of continuity in superhero/Marvel/DC comics has sufficiently disincentivised investment in those comics for me to spurn ’em. Marvel’s strategy now seems to be consistently having a tie-in story across their titles. But events which’re hyped as significant play out quickly: The Avengers halt a symbiote invasion in 1 issue.

  7. Hey, great article! I was similarly annoyed that this story is ignored in modern continuity, to the extent that it’s been repeated over in Mighty Avengers.

    You’re not alone in your love for heroic Venom and is oft-ignored continuity.

  8. Seems to me this story is being brought back. Saw a preview for a new Spiderman game that features a symbiote invasion last week, complete with, gasp, fallen heroes such as Wolverine and Cap.

  9. This is pretty much what Spider-Man Web of Shadows is based on. Yeah, completely original storyline, my ass. This is a great post, please do more soon!