Venom has held his own series at Marvel Comics for the majority of the past 30 years, ever since it was revealed that Spider-Man's mysterious symbiotic suit from Secret Wars was actually a dangerous alien with a mind of its own. Throughout the time Venom has been the focus of many talented creators, tied to a variety of interesting hosts, and spawned a supporting cast primarily filled with his own "children." However, in spite of all that time and all of those stories, Venom has never really managed to break away from his origin. Venom has rarely been seen as an anti-hero or character in his own right, as he is primarily defined as a Spider-Man villain. The newest Venom series from writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman acknowledges this problem and is going a long way to fix it.
Across the first five issues of the series, Cates and Stegman have reimagined Venom's alien origins and provided the character with a colorful set of new motives and powers. They are not simply offering a new take on the character, they are redefining his entire place within Marvel Comics. Given what has occurred so far, it is fair to say that Spider-Man is being reassessed as a single chapter within the history of the Venom symbiote. That's not just a good thing for Cates and Stegman's Venom, which has more than earned its hype; it's a good thing for Venom as a character in the long run.
In The Shadow Of The Spider-Man
Many superheroes have made their first appearance in the pages of another character's series only to become their own thing. The Punisher is a great example. He first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129, created by Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr., yet almost no comics fan would consider The Punisher to be a Spider-Man villain or even cast member. He quickly garnered his own stories and fandom, breaking out as a franchise independent of this first appearance.
That isn't the case for Venom. Every notable adaptation of the character, from cartoons to movies, has cast Venom as a foe or frenemy of the webslinger. The upcoming Venom film from Sony will be the first example to break away from this sort of coverage, and even then most of the reporting around the movie regularly references the current Spider-Man franchise and the choice to keep the two seperate. Whereas The Punisher was a villain for one issue, Venom was literally part of Peter Parker for years of comics and has worn a suit based on Spider-Man's ever since. Venom's hosts have primarily been individuals with close ties to Spider-Man or Peter Parker. Beginning with Eddie Brock, a jealous photographer, the symbiote has also bonded to Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion, and Flash Thompson, Parker's high school bully, for extended periods of time.
The origin and iconography make the two almost impossible to separate, and has forced Venom to always return to the Spider-Man saga. Even when Thompson and Venom traveled into space and joined the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man's symbol remained a part of that story. Both current comics readers and casual audiences see the two as impossibly intertwined.
A New Origin And Journey
Venom #4 provided readers, even those who have followed Venom since the 1980s, with a lot of new information about the anti-hero. While it has been canon for quite some time that Venom is part of an entire race of symbiotes that come from the planet Klyntar, the nature of that species and planet was altered in a truly surprising fashion. Cates and Stegman have made the symbiotes something far greater than another alien race among many at Marvel Comics. In doing so, they have also provided Venom with a compelling new arch-nemesis, an ongoing struggle that borders on being a holy war, and a surprisingly sympathetic motivation. There is a purpose to the symbiote's existence that is no longer tied directly to its hosts or any vendetta against Earth-based superheroes. This new story places the focus squarely on the symbiote aliens and their own consciousness, with Eddie Brock playing the role of a fish out of water who accompanies the symbiote on its journey.
The biggest issue that remains is the giant, white spider on Venom's chest. No matter how much everything else changes, this element remains something that is entirely Spider-Man's, an addition encountered by the symbiote during Secret Wars and never released. Stegman has been revamping the visual iconography surrounding Venom throughout the five issues released so far, and it suggests that the spider symbol may not be long for this world. A devilish looking red spiral has consumed many of the rival symbiotes in this story and Venom's increased willingness to experiment with his powers and appearance may be leading to a bold, post-Spider-Man revamp of the character's appearance.
A Future (And Galaxy) Filled With Possibilities
This assessment of Venom and its hero's future may seem early, but given the incredible progress made in just five issues so far, it's difficult to not see a future where Venom is defined by these events. So much of that rests on the fact that in the past Venom's place has been defined by elements outside of himself. Whether it was as a Spider-Man villain, a cool-looking collection of powers, or member of an existing team, there has never been a Venom comic that could be considered definitive for the titular character. This series is clearly seeking to provide a story that does not belong to any other hero at Marvel Comics. Even the choice to include Miles Morales as a guest stars appears to lampshade the importance of Spider-Man-related characters breaking away from the legacy of their initial inspiration.5comments
Cates, Stegman, and other collaborators have a lot of plans in the offing as well, with two new Venom series appearing this week. Venom: First Host and Web of Venom: Ve'Nam both seek to provide history for the symbiotes that predates any contact with Spider-Man. They, along with the ongoing Venom series, are providing a much richer history and personality for the alien who is so close to Eddie Brock.
In the meanwhile, Eddie and Venom have a story ahead of them rife with possibilities. They are battling dragons and literally spreading their own wings. It's unclear where the story will lead, although both spacebound stories and mystical ties seem likely, but that's the joy of this new Venom. It is a story that belongs to its leading man (and symbiote) for the first time, and is already defining them without the need for any pesky wallcrawler.