Um… let’s not make eye-contact. Just move on.
To bring us up to speed, Venom left his life in San Francisco as a Lethal Protector to the secret underground city behind so he could visit New York City and throw down with Carnage. Carnage was already taken care of, so Venom fought the newly-christened Scarlet Spider, who knocked him out and led to his apprehension. Now Eddie Brock and the symbiote are separated and incarcerated by the government.
This brings us to Separation Anxiety (Venom #23-26) written by Howard Mackie and drawn by Ron Randall.
In a bout with splitting hairs, I always found it interesting that they named a videogame after this story. For one, the game’s story isn’t based on Separation Anxiety, but Lethal Protector. Second, the game is meant to be a sequel to Maximum Carnage, even though that story came after Lethal Protector. Third, even though Carnage had nothing to do with Lethal Protector, they toss him in as the final boss for the hell of it. Hey, they did have those sprites lying around from the last game.
Onto the comic. Eddie is meant to be shipped to a research facility in New Mexico and spends some time held in an overly sci-fi restraint device. Despite being without his symbiote and being completely prone, he has dozens of guards aiming their guns at his vital organs in case something happens. They’re that scared of him.
This is the first time in a long, long time that he’s been able to think to himself in a semi-rational state of mind. No ranting about vendettas or having the symbiote whisper in his ear. For once he’s able to reflect on the last few years of his life and decide, “Hot times, I’m a gosh darn maniac!” All this time he’s come up with reasons to justify countless murders and his illogical hatred of Peter Parker. Now, with a clear head, he comes to realize what he’s become.
Elsewhere, in New York, some scientists probe the Venom symbiote. The symbiote itself is longing for Eddie and shows it by taking the form of Eddie’s head. It’s a bit unnerving.
Back in that Scarlet Spider vs. Venom arc, there was a reporter named Ken Ellis, who gets credit for naming Ben Reilly’s superhero persona. For that story, he had an obsession with interviewing Venom and it continues into Separation Anxiety. Using some contacts and infiltration skills, he fakes his identity as a scientist and sneaks into where Eddie’s held. Right as security wises up on him, Eddie Brock is able to break his restraints. He may be somewhat sedated, but the dude is still built like a semi.
The guards get ready to shoot and kill him, which Eddie accepts. With all the sins he’s committed, he deserves death. As he eggs them on, five other guards walk in. Their clothes melt and reveal their true forms.
Hey, it’s the Life Foundation symbiotes! Looks like they weren’t destroyed after all. Interesting thing about these guys is that they do have names and stuff, but it’s no thanks to the comics. Throughout the story, the five of them are referred to by their first names, but nothing else. They eventually got codenames to go with their action figures and it wasn’t until 2007 that they got full names, thanks to the Spider-Man: Back in Black Handbook. For reference, they are:
Scream (Donna Diego): Yellow and red female.
Phage (Carl Mach): Spikey, orange-brown male.
Riot (Trevor Cole): Brown, though sometimes pale blue, male.
Lasher (Ramon Hernandez): Green male with the tentacles.
Agony (Leslie Gesneria): Purple female.
That should make things less confusing. Then again, not even Mackie could keep it straight. He kept mixing up which one was Carl and which one was Ramon and HE was the one who gave them first names.
The five take out every single guard and deactivate all the sonic weapons, while taking extra care not to kill anyone. Once they’re done patting themselves on the backs for a job well done and without any overly-nasty bloodshed, they kidnap Eddie and take Ken Ellis with them for the sake of having a hostage.
Eddie wakes up in the symbiote team’s hideout and lashes out at them. Scream explains their situation to him. They joined the Life Foundation because they thought that they were going to do good. That wasn’t the case, as they were lied to about their purpose. They left the Life Foundation and are on the run, but they’re having trouble with the symbiotes. They’re growing out of control and constantly trying to force them into killing. They need to find a way to communicate with them and maybe even control them. They want Eddie’s help on this.
Still reeling from his actions as Venom, Eddie acts like an unsympathetic dick. He has a defeated reaction to their situation and says that it’s hopeless. That’s where they hit a roadblock. Eddie is being an asshole to them and is pushing them to kill him. Their entire point is that they DON’T want to kill him or anyone else. Annoyed by this, they toss him back with Ellis, who continues to pester him with an interview.
While all this is going on, the symbiote escapes imprisonment, slaughters the facility that tortured it and sticks itself to the back of a truck. At a truck stop, the symbiote ends up latching onto the driver and killing a couple would-be carjackers. But this trucker isn’t Eddie and he won’t do.
Also, I should just point out…
Why are those bullets still in their casings? Why are so many of those bullet casings coming out of a shotgun blast? Why… Why am I even reading this?
Agony stares at a mirror, pulling back her symbiote to admire her human features. As she ponders her strange recent experiences, someone sneaks in and stabs her to death with a knife. Wait, wait! Before you get bent out of shape, this isn’t like that bullet casings fiasco. There’s an actual explanation.
But yeah, she’s dead and Phage discovers that Eddie and Ellis have escaped. Coincidence?!
Eddie can sense that the Venom symbiote is on its way and wants to rejoin with it for the sake of killing his spawn. As he runs off into the night, Ellis can’t keep up. He gives it a rest, only to be accosted by some street punks. Eddie comes back to save his life by beating up all four of them by himself. One of them shoots him in the arm, but Ellis knocks the guy out with a trash can and they run off again.
Having discovered Agony’s body, the symbiotes go after Brock. It isn’t a hard trail to follow, considering the beaten gang-bangers laying around. They track him to an abandoned factory, where Eddie is having trouble running due to the bleeding in his arm. Phage busts in and gets ready to take care of Eddie, only to see someone in the dark holding a red, glowing knife. Phage laughs at how a knife is supposed to hurt him, but it cuts through his symbiote and into him.
Eddie sees Phage stumbling over, asking, “Brock. What… did… you… do?” before collapsing into his arms. Eddie discovers a knife sticking out of his back and wonders how that’s possible. The other three see this image and put two and two together. Scream, who acted like the voice of reason, now wants Eddie dead.
Eddie claims innocence in the whole murdering thing, but Scream points out the “sonic knife” in his hands and calls him a liar. Sonic knife? Okay, that’s not a bad concept. Mortally wounds the host and keeps the symbiote from being able to heal them. I can buy… wait. Why does Scream know what a sonic knife is?
She goes for the kill, but Lasher holds her back. Despite their friends dying, they can’t stoop to Eddie Brock’s level. They beg him one more time to help them deal with and understand their symbiotes before it’s too late. This time Eddie decides, yeah, okay, sure. That in itself could have carried the series towards an interesting direction.
That’s when Brad Meltzer takes over the comic.
After eyeing the sonic knife for the last few moments, Scream picks it up and screams that they have to kill Eddie Brock and his symbiote because symbiotes are evil.
“It had to be. We were corrupted by them! I had to kill Leslie… Ramon (note: she means Carl)… before their others took over. They want to spawn… to multiply… I can’t let that happen. It wouldn’t be right.”
Lasher, the only one left, tells her, “Donna, please listen to me… Listen to yourself! The voices you’re hearing… are you sure they’re from your other? Are you–?!”
“I can hear it! I’ve always been able to hear mine. Even before I was united with it. The voices! The voices told me they were coming. Told me to be quiet about them. Told me what I had to do!”
“Oh, Donna… How is it that none of us ever knew? How could you have passed the psych evaluation at the Foundation?”
That’s right. The mystery is revealed with an Identity Crisis “Crazy bitch out of nowhere” revelation. Scream kills Lasher, which sucks, since he was the best design of the five. Right as she’s about to go after Eddie, the Venom symbiote finally appears and re-bonds with him. Once again having his mind clouded with the symbiote’s presence, Venom fights back and takes out Scream with a haymaker.
The government goons rush in and fire at anything that moves. Venom escapes and simply knocks out one of the soldiers that gets in his way. “We didn’t kill him! Maybe we’re not all bad. Maybe.”
The government folks send Ellis off on his way. Though Venom escaped, they still have a good consolation prize. Other than Donna, all the Life Foundation symbiote hosts are dead, but all five symbiotes are still alive and in their captivity.
Separation Anxiety ends with Eddie Brock questioning his existence as Venom, even with the symbiote trying to sway him. This would lead into the Planet of the Symbiotes storyline, which I have covered about a year ago on this site. The important parts are that Eddie and the symbiote split for a bit, but Eddie had no choice but to bond with it again. In doing so, the two joined on a molecular level (never referenced again) and they killed off just about the entire symbiote race with pure angst. While it was outside of the main series, it does set up a couple storylines for down the road.
One last thing about Separation Anxiety, even though there’s a lot to criticize, it’s still probably the best Howard Mackie comic I’ve read. Doesn’t mean much, but it’s something to toss out there.
After that, it’s time for Carnage Unleashed by Larry Hama with Andrew Wildman on art.
That’s still one of my all-time favorite covers.
Larry Hama, otherwise known as “That GI Joe Guy”, became the main writer for Venom from here on out. There was one really great story arc and a couple specials that he didn’t take part in, but other than that, he was in for the long haul. After a couple years of revolving doors, we finally had one writer to stay put and play around with his ideas. Whether that’s for the better is up for debate. Truth is, I probably wouldn’t be doing this series at all if it wasn’t for the Hama issues.
It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I think the best way to explain Larry Hama’s Venom run is that it’s an unholy marriage of the extreme 90’s and the Silver Age. It’s filled with ridiculous shit. Crazy, ridiculous and stupid shit. Some of it is so stupid that it’s awesome. Some of it is too stupid to be awesome. More than any of the stories that have come before, there’s a more underlying feeling of fun. Hama knew that Venom, both the character and the character having his own series, wasn’t something to be taken seriously and he goes with it.
Not to say that there aren’t a ton of flaws. Up until the last year, there isn’t much of a point to Venom. He’s just there, waiting for stuff to happen. All of Hama’s recurring characters are a bore and as I write this, I can’t remember the name of any of them. Only one supporting character is in any way interesting, and she existed prior to Hama’s run.
Oh, and he also has everyone constantly yell, “Hoo-Ha!” At first I thought it was Venom’s catch phrase, but then Carnage says it a lot too. I guess Hama just loved Scent of a Woman way too much.
Hama gets style points for the way he titled each issue of Carnage Unleashed.
Issue 1: There Must be Some Way Out of Here…
Issue 2: Said the Joker to the Thief!
Issue 3: There’s Too Much Confusion!
Issue 4: Can’t Get No Relief!
Anyway, now that the comic is centering itself back in New York, Venom has to have his obligatory Carnage fight. In the story, Venom is pissed off because Carnage has his own popular videogame. Yes, the comic is jumping on the success of the SNES/Genesis Maximum Carnage game and using it as inspiration. The posters for it even show the same looming Carnage pose used to advertise the actual game.
“Seva Genesis”? Why does the print continue onto the brick wall? On the subject of weird mistakes, Eddie’s inner narration mentions, “Time to trade the Windy City for the Big Apple.” Exactly why Venom is in Chicago is never explained. But it’s good enough reason for him to get on a bus so he can take a trip to New York and meet a green-haired punk-looking folk singer named Kirsten. She annoys him with her singing and shows him a picture of a guy she’s meeting up with. Eddie stares at the picture and can tell the guy does heroin from the scars on his arms. There’s something charming about how happy she is compared to Eddie more or less thinking, “I should probably have to kill that guy.”
Cletus Kasady is at Ravenloft, playing his videogame. In the comic’s version of the game, you play as Carnage and go on a killing spree while fighting off superheroes. As he plays this game, his psychiatrist Dr. Pazzo grills him about his past. She’s very young and drawn very slutty, with a tank-top midriff with the shoulder strap hanging to the side and a miniskirt that nearly qualifies as a belt.
Rather than give you a better look at her, let’s watch nerds discuss the videogame. I want you to feel the pain like I do.
Fordham Rhodes, the douche in purple, is a businessman and made the deal for Carnage’s likeness because Cletus is unable to profit off of it. The people at Ravenloft went with the agreement because they feel that perhaps some of the money could be used on the facilities or for the families of Carnage’s victims.
Cletus tells Dr. Pazzo how he killed his dog and tricked his father into killing his mother with a hammer. Then he transforms into Carnage and goes to kill her, only it turns out she’s in the room via hologram. Probably for the better, yeah. After this meeting, it’s brought up by Pazzo that Cletus’ computer is only connected to the programmer guy at the videogame company. You know, the other douche from that above image.
Get ready for something really, really stupid. Okay. Here it goes…
Hahaha! Yes, that’s right! Carnage sent his costume through one monitor and out another monitor miles away!
By the way, is it just me or does Cletus look like the Late Show’s Alan Coulter?
Carnage forces Sherm to hack into Ravenloft and disable security. Afterwards, he tosses him out the window, where coincidentally, Eddie Brock has just exited from the bus. How about that.
Upon escaping from his cell, Carnage is blasted back by head of security John Jameson and his men. They send him into retreat via microwave guns. Carnage attacks a second time, only this time, the guns blast through him. They fire a bunch of grenades at him and after the smoke is cleared, there’s no sign of his remains. As they soon find out, by hacking into the security, he’s also taken over the hologram projector.
Don’t try to think about it too hard.
Carnage kidnaps Dr. Pazzo, jumps out the window and escapes in an SUV with no top to it. He doesn’t want to kill her quite yet, but discuss his philosophy on chaos. He wants to track down Fordham Rhodes and kill him for cheating him out of his videogame royalties.
This is when Venom shows up. He has hijacked a police car and hops onto the SUV. The two start slugging it out as Pazzo calmly begs for someone to take control of the vehicle. The punches and banter go on for pages until Venom, who’s hanging off the side of the vehicle, gets himself splattered onto the face of a train. After it makes a stop, he gets away and regroups for his rematch.
He tracks down Kirsten and has her help him with the recovery. Her new friend Clive appears and says that he knows that Eddie is Venom and that he’s going to call the police. Then, when Eddie nears him, Clive backs over a stairway railing and falls down several stories. Venom doesn’t really try to save him and tells Kirsten that it doesn’t matter, since by all accounts, he’s a junkie asshole out to steal her money.
“He wasn’t using me. He was pretending to be a junkie so he could move into the milieu! He was writing a whole series of poems about the drug culture! He cadged money off me to pay off the printers so he could get his journals out of hook – and you murdered him!”
God, I haven’t a clue what the hell that means outside of “Clive wasn’t a bad guy”. Anyway, Venom swings off to go after Carnage and Kirsten later overhears the paramedics say that Clive will live, though in a wheelchair.
Let’s get back to Carnage. He and Dr. Pazzo jump onto a prison transport bus and he kills off all the guards, including the driver.
That’s actually pretty clever use of the comic format.
They end up on a bridge with a school bus in the way. Dr. Pazzo turns off the road and tries to kill them all. Carnage grabs her and swings off, leaving all the cuffed prisoners to drown. He’s excited because now she’s a murderer like him. From there, they go to the headquarters of Excessive Violence Video Games, where Fordham Rhodes is talking to all the beta-testers for Carnage’s game. The online version of the game is supposed to go up that night and with no sign of Sherm the programmer, the beta-testers are getting antsy.
As Carnage busts through the window with Dr. Pazzo in his arms, one of the testers gives what may be the worst piece of dialogue I have ever seen in a comic.
“Ahhh, this is like unto some maximum bogosity, dudes! Wotta publicity stunt! Hiring some stunt bozo to dress up in a fake Carnage suit is a primo example of your marketroidinosity! Rhodes, you are like mega-barfulous!”
My first response is to say that it’s 1995 and nobody talks like that, but then I realize that NOBODY HAS EVER, AT ANY TIME, TALKED LIKE THAT! NOBODY! It’s not hip and it’s not funny. It’s embarrassing, like 99% of this goddamn comic book.
And we’re supposed to root against Carnage for reaching through that guy’s computer and killing him? He goes on to kill off the other beta-testers and gets excited at how many people he can kill at once when the game goes on-line to the public. That is at least a neat twist on Carnage’s usual rampages.
Venom finds a building that’s connected via modem to the Excessive Violence building and uses his own ability to crawl through the internet. He challenges Carnage to fight him, leading to Carnage reaching into the monitor with his symbiote.
God, I… I really want to describe this scene as best I can. It’s balls-out insane. First off, the guy whose computer Venom’s hijacked is the guy in charge of the big screen in Time Square. He comments that, “This is gonna be a big overload on the system! Good thing I installed that new heat sink and fan or else my CPU would go into meltdown!”
The black/blue Venom symbiote tendril crawls through a bunch of circuits and meets the red Carnage symbiote tendril halfway as the two badmouth each other. The big screen programmer guy is able to translate this battle into the in-game versions of Venom and Carnage and broadcast it on the big screen for everyone to see.
So in review: Venom and Carnage are having a thumb-wrestling match inside the internet and it’s being depicted as 16-bit versions of themselves beating each other up on the screen in Time Square. Holy. Fucking. Shit.
I honestly don’t know whether to love or hate this comic.
Wait, there’s more!
As he and Carnage strangle each other, Venom sees a green capsule sticking out next to him. He immediately identifies it as that heat sink that the programmer guy mentioned earlier. He smashes it, thereby BLOWING UP THE INTERNET!
Venom and Carnage each back off from their computers in extreme pain as all the monitors, including the one in Time Square, explode. Dr. Pazzo pours cognac onto Carnage and lights him on fire, causing him to flail around and fall out the window. Venom can hear this and decides to reach into the fried monitor, out into the other fried monitor, out the window and a couple feet from the streets, where he catches Cletus Kasady and prevents his death. I’m not even going to try and discuss the physics there.
As for why he, the most killingest spider alien monster hero, would save the life of a man who he not only hates more than anything, but deserves to die more than anything, Venom explains to some bystanders that Carnage wants to die. So by not killing him, Venom wins. I guess.
The epilogue shows Kirsten talking to her mother about how Clive is in the hospital and that she wants justice. Kirsten’s mother is shown smoking a cigarette and brandishing a gun, as if there was any reason to see this as threatening against a guy who casually catches bullets with his chest.
Phew. I am tapped out just from having to relive all that. I was intending to go into the next story to close out the article, but I’m too exhausted and the next story is five issues long. Besides, what can possibly follow-up on that?
Anyway, here’s what the next article has to offer.
See you then.