Tangled Webs: Before Eddie Brock Was Venom

With the upcoming Venom relaunch introducing a new host for the symbiote, and an upcoming Deadpool mini-series revealing that Deadpool hosted the symbiote before Eddie Brock, it’s worth looking at the symbiote’s best-known host.

One of the things that makes Venom unique among Spider-Man villains is the way the character was set-up before he made his first appearance. There was a cameo in Amazing Spider-Man #298 that suggested that someone with super-powers really hates Spidey.

Amazing Spiderman 298-22

The next issue, he paid a visit to Mary Jane. We get our first sense of what the character looks like, and learn that he knows Peter Parker’s secret identity, and is willing to go after his loved ones.

Venom appearance

Readers sent in letters speculating on the identity of the character. In Amazing Spider-Man #302, Tom Dohman had a guess.

Lastly, the epilogue. Is the mystery man, perhaps, Kraven the Hunter?

David Pliel was more confident.

Concerning Spider-Man #298, KRAVEN’S BACK. Can’t wait for #300.

Jack Sutor had a different prediction.

I think I know who the mysterious character at the end of the issue was: SPIDEY’S CLONE! All those pictures of Ol’ Web Head up on the wall are all the proof I need. It shows that the clone was studying up on the original to see how he’d changed over the years. Who else would be able to mentally control the creature like Spidey did?

In the letters pages of Amazing Spider-Man #303, James Friend had a prescient guess.

Who is Venom? From what I’ve seen he is powerful, revengeful, insane and knows the identity of Spider-Man. There is only one person that adds up to—Norman Osborn. But that’s impossible, he’s dead. Hmm, I wonder.

All of these predictions would come to pass in later storylines, just not this one.

David Michelinie confirmed that he had seeded Venom in his run of Web of Spider-Man. In the end of #18, Peter Parker was attacked by a villain who didn’t set off his spider sense.

Web Of Spiderman 18 Venom cameo

In an interview, Michelinie explained this was the genesis for Venom’s existence. He figured it would be impressive to have a villain who can’t be detected by Peter’s spider-sense.

Whenever I got a chance to write a new (for me) character, I tried to figure out what makes that character unique and then I exploit it. In Peter Parker’s case, his early warning Spider-sense stood out as something unmatched in the Marvel Universe. It has saved his life countless times by warning him of danger before he could be harmed. So I wondered…what would happen if there was a villain that didn’t trigger that Spider-sense? It had already been established, in the Secret Wars story line, that the alien symbiote which had been Spider-Man’s living costume for a while didn’t activate his Spider-sense. And since Spider-Man had cast the symbiote aside, the creature was likely feeling hurt and angry about that rejection. So attaching the symbiote to a host who shared a similar hatred for the wall-crawler seemed like it would make for an interesting-and very dangerous-spider-foe.

In a later issue, Venom attacked Peter again.

Web of Spider-Man 024-08

Web of Spider-Man 024-09

This was a bad guy with a lot of set-up. You’d think the payoff would have to be impressive. Then, in Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom was unmasked as a guy who had never appeared in the comics before. Peter recognized him due to his professional reputation, rather than any previous interactions.

Amazing Spider-Man - 300 21

Brock had a connection to the Sin-Eater story, an idea David Michelinie ran by Peter David, who later recalled how he quickly approved it.

Indeed, although David doesn’t mention it, I recall very distinctly when he was putting together the basics of the character—particularly because he discussed them with me. Not that I contributed anything to the character’s development: I didn’t. But there was a connection with the Sin-Eater/Jean DeWolff story I’d written, and David ran it past me in a “How does this sound to you as a tie-in?” sort of manner. It seemed pretty keen to me. And Todd was nowhere in sight, or even connected with the title at that time.

While the comics introduced Eddie after he became Venom, pretty much every adaptation of Venom’s first appearance introduces Eddie Brock as someone who knows Peter Parker, before showing his downfall and encounter with the symbiote. He was a rival photographer at the Daily Bugle in the 1990s cartoon.

He was the son of scientists who died in the accident that took the lives of Peter’s parents in Ultimate Spider-Man. This was a soft retcon as an earlier storyline featured another Eddie Brock who was a photographer, like the one in the comics. Bendis explained the changes in an interview for Comics Explorer magazine.

Ultimate Venom (is) the most-overhauled villain of all the Spider-Man villains, because of the way Venom was created — the alien symbiote, whatever that means, that doesn’t fit into the book that Ultimate Spider-Man is. We created a drama around Peter, his past and his parents, that involves Venom, and we think it’s pretty damn interesting. It’s about friends, it’s about the past, and it’s about family. On top of all that, it’s about the corporate greed that Ultimate Spider-Man’s been about since the beginning.

In Spider-Man 3, Eddie Brock worked at the Bugle and tried to hit on Gwen Stacy.

One factor is that when writers are adapting the alien costume saga, they know what the endgame is. This wasn’t clear when the original comics were made. When Tom DeFalco revealed that the costume was a living thing, and Louise Simonson pit the alien costume against Peter in Web of Spider-Man #1, they weren’t thinking of how cool it would be for a bad guy to get their hands on it. When Michelinie had his insight, it was some time after the costume was believed to have been finished off.

Michelinie’s original plans for the character were quite different from what later ended up happening. As he explained in an interview with Tom DeFalco in Comics Creators on Spider-Man, he wanted it to be a woman who has a reason for hating Spider-Man.

I originally wanted the character to be a woman. She was pregnant and about to give birth. Her husband is rushing to get her to a hospital. He runs into the road trying to flag down a cab, but the cabbie is looking up at Spider-Man who is fighting someone—it might even be the Living Monolith from my graphic novel. The cabbie doesn’t see the husband and accidentally hits and kills the guy. The woman sees her husband splattered in front of her and she just goes into labor. She loses the child and her mind at the same time, and is institutionalised. Though she eventually gets her mind back, she blames Spider-Man for the death of her husband and her child. The alien costume, which has also been hurt by Peter Parker, is drawn to the woman because of her intense hatred of Spider-Man. The costume then bond with her to try to kill Peter.

When I was switched to Amazing Spider-Man, Jim Salicrup told me that he wanted to do something special in issue #300, and he suggested I introduce a new character. I hit him with the idea of using the alien costume. Though he liked it, he wasn’t sure the readers would see a woman as a physical threat to Spider-Man, even a woman enhanced by the alien costume.

There was a gap of one year between Venom’s cameos in Web #24 and Amazing #298, so the earlier cameos probably fit the original plans, prior to Salicrup’s veto.

In Comics Creators, Todd McFarlane explained his rationale from drawing Venom the way he did. This is likely a significant factor for Venom’s appeal.

Dave originally described Venom as a big guy in the black costume. Now, I’ve always had an affinity for monsters, so I wondered if the alien costume was more like a shell that sort of swallowed the man. That meant Venom didn’t have to look like a guy wearing a suit, which is why I was able to hunch him over a little bit, and change some of the muscle structure. I also changed the way the face looked. I just wanted to make a little kooky and creepy, and not just some guy in a black suit.

The famous cover for Amazing Spider-Man #316 might exemplify this approach to Venom.


While it was a weird moment when a mystery character turned out to be someone new, that wasn’t enough to spoil the issue, which appears on several “Best Of” lists. Venom had a great look, and an interesting combination of abilities—he was a physically imposing mirror of Spider-Man, but he also knew Peter’s secret identity and he could get around the spider-sense—and attitude. The first appearance sold out, and the character would soon make annual returns, with his first two storylines collected in one of the first Marvel TPBs ever: Spider-Man VS Venom.

So, what do you guys think of Venom? Why was he so popular, and could he have been any more successful with some tweaks? Or was this a case where everything came together just right, and any changes might have spoiled the result?

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(12) Comments

  1. Spider-Dad

    For me, Venom was popular at the time for several reasons. Venom immediately made it personal, something that ASM readers had not seen in a very long time. In addition, the way Todd drew Venom made the character look more menacing, creepy and somehow fun at the same time. Something a lesser artist would have not have pulled off. Add in the continuity of the alien symbiote and Venom being stronger, faster and also clever, made him a great foe for our favorite wallcrawler. ASM was also breaking new ground. It seemed ASM and Marvel could do no wrong and was an exciting time for new and old time fans. At the time it felt right and in retrospect still does. Sure over time Venom was overused and the concept of the symbiote took over to the detriment of the series. But to this reader, the introduction was spot-on and adding any tweaks would be hard to beat...

  2. Al

    @Jack and Frank: the symbiote was never presented as evil. Even upon bonding to Venom it was an entity which hated Peter because it loved him. the symbiote was always more of an ethereal animalistic entity with a degree of sentience. Bendis GotG arc Planet of the Symbiotes claimed that the symbiote became evil through exposure to Brock and others which is what DeFalco and Frenz also asserted in Spider-Girl. @WolfCypher: I am buying the Deadpool book but I will not count it in continuity I think Venom is a cursed character as his adaptations and originall version are so different and at the same time the original version was not bad as a character but badly explained. I honestly think part of Michelinie’s original idea behind Venom, regardless of it being a man or a woman was that the character was a stalker. Venom was always going to be someone who’s identity was unknown to Spider-Man AND the reader. Putting aside how this lines up with the reveals of the Crime Master and Electro’s identities in the Ditko run (they were strangers which was more realistic) the intention I feel was for Spider-Man to have enemies whom he didn’t even know about. That in being Spider-Man he either inadvertently caused some slight against someone which could come back to bite him or more likely that there were simply crazy people out there who held animosity towards him for reasons which he didn’t know about and made sense only to them. It’s like thse people who hear a musician’s work and think it’s referring directly to them so they try to confront or harm said musician. Or...like all of Mary Jane’s stalkers whom Michelinie created. Their presence and similarities to Venom’s own invasion of Spider-Man’s privacy is more than coincidence imo. I thin it’s a trope Michelinie simply likes and it makes sense for Venom. It also helps reaffirm the need for Peter’s secret identity which Venom as a character dismantles. In a sense Venom as a character who hates Spider-Man for reasons Peter was unaware of and don’t even make rational sense (because he is NOT rational) and is a complete straner to him proves WHY keeping his identity secret is so important. I also think Brock’s original motivation gets misunderstood. You aren’t supposed to take it as something YOU understand or sympathise with. The whole point is that it renders Brock a hypocrite and deranged. In ASM #300 before divulging his origin Brock kills a cop and says it’s regrettable that innocents must die and then forgets about him. then the tells Spider-Man that he was going to comit suicide but didn’t because it was a sin. The point here is that Brock is not sane or rational and a lunatic who simply indulges in his own selfish desires. He will kill a cop without hesitation and pay lip service to how sad it is before not forgetting about him. Meanwhile taking his own life is too much, he could never do that because it’d be sinful. He’s basically a guy who is the reverse of Spider-Man. Whilst Spider-Man is a heroic, self-sacrificing individual who accepts responsibility for his own failings whilst doing the right thing, Brock is a selfish person who talks about heroism and innocence whilst his actions contradict what he is saying and all the while he handwaves his own guilt and failings or else scapegoats them onto others. He blamed Spider-Man for the loss of his job because he could never honestly blame himself even though it was plainly his own fault. That’s part of why he’s the evil Spider-Man.

  3. smitheric928494

    I remember a comicbook that I was one time a go it was the amazing spider-man comicbook and it had venom in it I wish I had the comicbook back then but I saw a nother amazing spider-man comicbook and I whent and got it

  4. Thomas Mets

    Hornacek, you're right that so much of what we think of as the alien costume saga comes from the Fox animated series. Much of it is that they were working with the benefit of hindsight. Wolfcyther, while the female Venom's motives would still be misguided, the loss of a child is a more understandable source of a desire for revenge than Eddie Brock losing his job because Spider-Man caught a serial killer. I don't know how many people are concerned about the flaws of Brock's origin. It was a weak part of a what is for the most part a well-regarded story.

  5. Cheesedique

    Brock / Venom is a great villain who has suffered at the hands of bad writers. Just realized how I would love to see that scene with MJ and Venom play out onscreen in a film! A big part of what made Brock such an intimidating threat early on was that he could get at Peter through his loved ones.

  6. hornacek

    @Frank When Peter had the symbiote it wasn't evil and it didn't turn Peter evil, it just took him out on patrol when Peter was asleep. It was trying to permanently bond with him so when Peter removed it and rejected it, it was angry at Peter so it found someone that was equally mad at Peter/Spidey (Eddie) and it bonded with them for revenge. Or as Don put it in an old episode: "In the 90s show is the first iteration of the costume negatively affecting Peter Parker's personality. In the comics all it did was basically use his body when he was sleeping, like your average prison cellmate."

  7. herbiepopnecker

    @Jack: My (perhaps dim) memories are that the symbiote was p.o.'d at Peter and matched with the p.o.'d Brock, was SUPER p.o.'d and out for (Spider) blood. Anyone else think they recall such? Nice writing, Mr. Mets. Have you ever happened across anyone with the last name "Yankees"? Man....that was LaMe!!

  8. WolfCypher

    1st, I love continuity that is made to be ignored, cause I am ignoring the hell out of that Deadpool got the alien costume bullshit. 2nd, I have never understood the mentality Venom haters have when saying that Eddie Brock's origins and motivations are terrible while Michelinie's original intended pitch would have been better. Really? These haters say that some random guy (Eddie) hating Spider-Man for something that wasn't Spidey's fault is a terrible motivation... ...do they not realize, these haters when they say the original unused version would have been better, that the original pitch was some random woman hating Spider-Man for something that wasn't Spidey's fault? IT'S THE SAME CONCEPT. A man and a pregnant woman are flagging down a taxi while Spider-Man is fighting the Living Monolith. The taxi driver is distracted watching the fight, and irresponsibly runs over the husband. The woman is so traumatized she goes into premature labor and the baby is lost. She goes insane and blames Spider-Man for...being there? This? This is really any better than what ASM 300 established? To create a female villain whose entire motivation is based on specifically female-tropes? I thought it was deemed stereotypically sexist to base a woman's motivations sorely on things like a lost lover, men, pregnancy, rape, etc...and to top that off, how is any of this Spidey's fault? Its no better than Eddie hating Spider-Man for catching a killer, thus exposing Eddie's career high-point as a farce, and one-by-one losing everything in his life? Is Spidey really responsible for Ann leaving Eddie, his father disowning him, his job firing him, his finances slowing and the journalism business shunning him? Is Spidey responsible for a driver NOT stopping and killing a pedestrian, a woman going into mental shock, a baby never being born, and said woman losing her mind? Lastly, said woman wasn't going to be set-up or pre-established any better than Eddie was. ASM 300 would have revealed the menace under the mask to be...gasp...some...body? I'm sorry, miss, who are you? The mystery would have played out no differently. There are a lot of valid strikes against Venom, factors that contributed to the characters failings and shortcomings in the long game. I by NO MEANS think Eddie/Venom is a perfect planned, consistently well written character; he's been in garbage stories. Instead of complaining about his origin, can we be more concerned about how the character can and should work moving forward? Lots of characters have had sh***y origins/debuts/motivations. I find Dr. Doom's original origin to be terrible, but people don't bring that up, people bring up everything else that came after. Who cares how Venom came to be? ASM 300 was awesome, and Venom works best as a central Spider-Man character, and he had a fantastic run as Spider-Man's foe before Marvel ruined him. Is origin is what it is; lets fix what needs to be fix and move forward.

  9. Frank

    @Jack Pretty sure the symbiote has always been evil. After all it had negative effects on Peter before Brock ever got a hold of the suit.

  10. Josh (Venom65437)

    As everyone knows by my username I love Venom! He is my favorite Spidey villain of all-time. I wish we'd get the original bad ass Venom back. The guy Spidey couldn't beat and it was always a great knock down drag out fight. Oh well. :(

  11. Jack

    Q: Is the 'official' story now that the symbiote was always an evil thing, and it made Brock violent & crazy? Or is it now that the symbiote was sort-of morally neutral, wanted to be helpful and "get along" with its hosts, and counter-intuitively it was Brock that infected it with his own evil thoughts and feelings?

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