Who created Venom? What a loaded question that is. It’s not as easy as say, who created Cable? (who cares) or who created Spider-Man? (Lee*) And can a discussion of who created Venom be separated from a discussion of who created the black suit?
In order to figure this one out, we are going to have to consider several claims. In fact there may be more possibilities out there than you realize. This week we’ll look at a few contenders: Randy Schueller, Jim Shooter, John Byrne (yes, you read that correctly), Mike Zeck, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Greg Larocque, Rick Leonardi, and Ron Frenz. Next post we’ll tackle Louise Simonson, David Michelinie, and Todd McFarlane. Not that everyone on this list claims credit, but just because you don’t claim credit doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve it (and just because you do claim it doesn’t me you do deserve either).
Back so soon? O.K.! Let’s go make clear mud!
The big question is where do you start? The question really means how many layers of Venom can you remove until it is no longer that character? Does Venom begin at the bonding of the symbiote to Brock, or when Spider-Man first put on the alien suit, or when the suit was first envisioned? In order to give all sides a fair and balanced approach and to let you decide (eat your heart out Fox News), let’s consider all angles, starting with thought conception.
In the beginning, there was a fan.
In 1983, Randy Schueller sent Shooter a suggestion for a new black costume. The original look is much like how the black costume came to be, except it was black and red instead of black and white, plus the original design sported the web pits (I love web pits). When Spider-Man 3 came out, Schueller posted his side of the story. He didn’t tell his story because he was trying to claim credit or ask for more money he did it because he was so excited to see what Marvel did with his idea. He said that he sent it in and Shooter and Shooter sent him a letter back offering to pay him for the idea, but the story was not one they could use. The original story idea involved the suit being designed by the Wasp who happened to be hanging out at the Baxter Building (cocktails with Sue or something). Reed Richards allows unstable molecules to be used in its construction (which makes him stick 25% better whatever that means) and Tony Stark decides to make cybernetic web shooters for it. Here is the rest of the story in Schueller’s words:
“The costume could ‘flow’ onto Pete’s body because it was made with unstable molecules and it featured mentally controlled webshooters. The design was black with a red spider. But I’m not an artist so I never drew it, I only described how it should look.
The rest of the story dealt wasn’t really that great, to be honest. It involved Spidey getting into trouble because couldn’t control the new costume very well. (the web shooters misfire, etc) Anyway, someone ends up getting hurt because of Spidey’s actions (yeah, I know we’ve seen that before…) and ultimately ends up with Pete deciding he can’t keep the new costume and he returns it to the FF. Somewhere along the line he ends up fighting Doc Ock as well. (So what else is new.)”
The parenthetical comments are Schueller’s own – not my additions.
Some people on the Internet questioned Schueller’s authenticity since most references from Shooter only mention “a fan” and not a name, but he does have this really neat letter to go with it. Look at how much times have changed. Just “write your social security number on it somewhere.” Ah, the good old days…
Curiously enough, Shueller’s idea was not actually unique. According to Romita, the suit was originally red and black, but an all black suit makes it difficult to show shading, so blue was used to show light and shade (much the same way a person with black hair was often shown with blue highlights). As artists left more and more room for color contrast, it became more and more accepted that it was actually a red and blue suit with black in it to show shadow.
Schueller’s Creator Cred: Original concept design, Shooter’s backing
Jim Shooter wrote the series, so he’s the one who put the idea in motion. So the argument could be made that since he is the one that put the idea in play, he is the creator.
Jim’s Shooter’s account of the black suit is this:
“Developed first by me, then by David Michelinie and editor Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest), the costume became a character and went on to great things, even being featured in a movie. Though the only thing he contributed to the black Spider-Man costume were, essentially, the two words ‘black costume,’ I think Marvel owes the guy who strung those words together more money.”
My take away from this, for the purposes of this argument at least, is that Jim Shooter claims that he developed the black suit first. This is why he is now thrown into the mix. He has never made claims to have created Venom and his only comments on it that I can find is that Randy Schueller should be paid more.
In Secret Wars, Spider-Man gains the new black suit because Thor and Hulk send him into a room full of machines that repairs clothes and unfortunately, Spider-Man is not sure which machines does what and ends up with the parasite machine. I think there is all sorts of What If? room here – What if Spidey choose a different machine? How many other deadly machine traps are there in this room?
The suit comes out looking just like Spider-Woman’s suit and Spidey thinks that maybe it is just because he was thinking about her (after all, Iron Man does remark that she has “nice legs”). Secret Wars is the first appearance of Spider-Woman, so any design similarity between the two is more due to Spider-Man needing a new costume and not actually molding Spider-Man’s suit after a pre-established costume design for Spider-Woman by Mike Zeck (unless anyone can find out differently). I did find a fan talking on Zeck’s behalf saying that Zeck said he was given no direction on the costume and that the design of the big white spider and such are his. I could not find anywhere where Zeck actually said this, though.
Here is what Ron Frenz says about Zeck’s contribution: “I was the first to draw it, but I did not design it. When I was hired to do the first two fill-in issues on ‘Spider-Man’ 251 and 252, I had no idea what the plot was at the time, and they sent me a package of stuff and in the package were Mike Zeck shots of the black costume, because he was the artist on ‘Secret Wars,’ of course. They sent me me the sketches and I thought it was the new villain, which I was only several years ahead of myself on that one.”
The Crawlspace has a Mike Zeck interview coming up (unless it has been cancelled). One of the questions that was asked by our very own Cheesedique is, “Mr Zeck, can you discuss the development and creation of the black costume design during the original Secret Wars? Was it meant for Spider-Woman who wore it first, or was Spider-Man always meant to end up with it?” I am really looking forward to hearing that one answered.
What is the true origin of Venom? Is it when the black suit debuts, or is it when the back suit is an alien symbiote, or is it when the suit bonds with Eddie Brock? I think we can make an argument that Venom is the suit, not Eddie Brock. In the history of the comic book, the suit bonded with several people, each time that duo is known as Venom. So either Venom is the suit or it is the suit bonded with a person (any person). If we take the idea that Venom is the alien symbiote, then maybe we should be looking to Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz and Greg Larocque.
Tom DeFalco was working as an editor during Secret Wars and wrote the first actual appearance of the black suit (since it would be months before Spider-Man acquired it in Secret Wars. He claims that the action figures had nothing to do with Shooter pushing the costume, but rather it was all about trying to work in that new costume idea sent in by Schueller as a gimmick to make comic book readers invest in the story idea.
Shooter wanted to drop the suit right after it was going to debut (“O.K., we’re going to do this in 252 and drop it in 253”) due to negative fan back lash (“bags of hate mail – BAGS of hate mail!”). DeFalco even got death threat over how he was changing Stan Lee’s Spider-Man (this fact was dropped while talking about negative fan reaction due to the black suit, but it was not specifically stated that the black suit was the cause of the threat). DeFalco had a vision for it and thought it was stupid to drop the suit in Amazing before it came out in Secret Wars. From everything I’ve seen, it seems like it is DeFalco that is taking the goop that became the suit and turning it into a sentient parasite. If that is the case, then I think it is fair to include him as a creator here. Roger Stern is listed as a co-writer to this issue, but it seems more that he is wrapping up his tenure and DeFalco is probably handling the suit details at this point.
Ron Frenz is the first one to draw the suit as an alien, which may lend him to be co-creator if you are leaning toward DeFalco (and DeFalco always is quick to share credit with his artists). Frenz got the gig because JRjr took some time off of work on X-Men. It was supposed to be a short fill-in of 6 issues, but JRjr turned down coming back to the title because he felt that Frenz and DeFalco were working very well together. Frenz suggested (tongue in cheek) that the idea to take a few issues off to focus on X-Men was even more appealing since nobody thought the new suit was going to be accepted.
I guess we should also throw Greg Larocque into the mix as well since he is drawing Marvel Team-Up #141 which comes out the same time as ASM #252; however, I think it is safe to say that he is working off of images already created and that it is doubtful that DeFalco and Larocque were collaborating on this concept. For that matter, Jim Owsley is also co-writing this issue, but again I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he is contributing to the black suit. If anyone knows of anything different than that, let me know.
If we are going by actual first appearances, that is usually considered Marvel Age #12 which came out two months before the ASM #252. It has sketches of the black costume and is the first appearance of the costume in a Marvel publication. This sketch is drawn by Rick Leonardi, so do we give Leonardi credit for the creation of the black suit? On the sketch Leonardi asks “Danny” about whether or not the web shooters are organic or mechanical. Does this imply that whoever this “Danny” guy is (presumably Danny Fingeroth, the editor for Spider-Man comics in the ‘80s), is he the one who inspired the living costume? If you are poor like me, and can afford half a million dollars for Spider-Man history, then look for this comic and you can own the black suits real first appearance for less than $10 mint condition. A graded mint copy of ASM 252 will only run you $480, so I say forget that anniversary gift for your wife and just go ahead and get both of them.**
But wait! There’s more!
John Byrne has an account on his web page about how he is the creator of the black suit. I would quote Byrne here, but he has copyright notices requiring permission to use his work for anything that is not non-profit. I posed on his forum requesting permission (as laid out in the notice) and even though Byrne has posted stuff on his board since then, he has not seen fit to actually respond to my request (no, I’m not bitter about that – well, not too bitter – well, maybe a bit bitter) and since, as one iTunes reviewer puts it, BD is always begging for money, I’m guessing that the non-profit part doesn’t fit. So, I will reference his words, but not reprint them. According to Byrne, he gets quite upset about Todd McFarlane saying that he created Venom. Goes so far as to call McFarlane a toddler. He then goes on to say that it was his own idea for the suit and that he thought it up when writing for Iron Fist. Iron Fist’s costume would always get ripped up during a fight and since he didn’t really imagine one of Iron Fist’s powers to be haberdashery, he wanted him to have a self-healing biological suit. He never actually used it in the comic, but claims that Roger Stern (remember, he did co-script ASM #252) asked him if he could use the idea. I’m not sure if Byrne is serious in this notion or if he is using this to poke fun at McFarlane, but he has said it on more than one occasion, so I’m inclined to believe he feels that he started the ball rolling.
Byrne’s Creator Cred – may have had the original idea to create a living alien suit
This all relies on the idea that Venom’s creation originates with the black suit, but their are other claims as well. We haven’t even talked about David Michelinie or Todd McFarlane. More on that in our next post. This post is too long as it is! If I write any more, there wouldn’t be anything for you to point out in the comments section.
A little bonus for all of you, the actual first official Marvel publication of the black suit is not ASM 252 (May) nor Marvel Age #12 (March). It is actually this from January of 1984:
Anyone know what publication this came from? No no-prize for it, just the smug self-satisfaction that comes from knowing stuff that others do not and being able to lord it over them.
Next week: Ladies and gentle, boys and girls, children of all ages, are you ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmbbbbllllllle? It will be an all-out cage match between Eric Larsen and David Michelinie with commentary by Todd McFarlane and special guest appearances by Louise Simonson and Peter David. Two men enter the ring of death, one creator leaves. Are you ready? Bone Saw is.
Until then, make mine Crawlspace!
* I know you are screaming for Lee and Ditko, but just to be controversial, I’ll stick to just Lee. As long as you’re not claiming Kirby on this one, we’ll get along just fine.
**Crawlspace is not responsible for loss of spouse by following our anniversary gift buying advice.
“Amazing Spider-Man #252.” Comics Price Guide. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <http://comicspriceguide.com/collection/marvel/amazing-spider-man/252/xlwvl>.
Byrne, John. “How Is It That JB ‘Created’ Venom?” Bryne Robotics. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016. <http://www.byrnerobotics.com/FAQ/listing.asp?ID=7&T1=Miscellaneous+Questions#96>.
Cronin, Brian. “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed Extra: Randy Schueller’s Brush With Comic History.” Comic Book Resources. N.p., 16 May. 2007. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. <http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/05/16/randy-schuellers-brush-with-comic-history/>.
Douglas, Brad. “Podcast #394 – Jim Shooter Interview.” Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast. N.p., 4 Nov. 2015. Podcast. 21 Feb. 2016.
Kistler, Alan. “Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Venom and What Could Have Been.” The Mary Sue. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2016. <http://www.themarysue.com/agent-of-s-t-y-l-e-venom-and-what-could-have-been/>.
Lewis, Tony. “Black and Blue.” The Wastebasket. Blogger, 3 Mar. 2005. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <http://thewastebasket.blogspot.com/search?q=black+and+blue>.
“Marvel Age #12.” Comics Price Guide. N.p., 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <http://comicspriceguide.com/titles/marvel-age/12/rntyb#pricing>.
“Marvel Age (1983) Comic Books.” My Comic Shop. Lone Star Comics, 2016. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=84741>.
Regina, Steven. “Drawing from Past to Present, Frenz Reads Comics Future.” The Swerve Magazine. N.p., N.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://www.theswervemagazine.com/Ron_Frenz.html>.
“Ron Frenz Explained.” Everything Explained. N.p., N.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <http://everything.explained.today/Ron_Frenz/>.
Shooter, Jim. “No, Really, This Time for Sure, the Startling Conclusion of the Submissions Saga.” Jim Shooter. Blogger, 9 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. <http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/09/no-really-this-time-for-sure-startling.html>.
“Superior Spider-Talk #10: Spider-Talk and Their Amazing Friends with Tom DeFalco.” Superior Spider-Talk. N.p., 19 Jan. 2014. Podcast. 21 Feb. 2016.
“Superior Spider-Talk #14: Spider-Talk and Their Amazing Friends with Ron Frenz.” Superior Spider-Talk. N.p., 19 Jan. 2014. Podcast. 21 Feb. 2016.
All scans are from Marvel Unlimited.