Welcome to Adventure(s) Time’s sixtieth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. Last week, we examined the debut of Spider-Man’s famous black costume in both comics and animation. Today, we’ll revisit the rest of the story. What happens when the stylish and cool black outfit turns nasty?
Okay, everyone knows Venom is what comes next. And the history behind his origin is also fairly well-known. Yes, Venom was initially conceived by writer David Michelinie as a female. A young woman in labor, specifically, who blamed Spider-Man for being unable to reach the hospital in time and losing her baby.
Even after the events of Web of Spider-Man #1, the black costume hadn’t disappeared from the comics. Spidey was merely wearing a cloth replica while out on night missions. Amazing Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup has stated previously his goal of having Spider-Man return to his original costume in issue #300. (Salicrup has also indicated that a brash young Todd McFarlane expressed interest in penciling Amazing…if Spider-Man returned to his true costume.) His bosses, Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco, felt the landmark issue needed something else.
Michelinie pitched resolving the still-brewing Venom subplot for issue #300. (He’d included a few mystery scenes of a proto-Venom during his previous run on Web of Spider-Man.) Marvel editorial liked the idea, but felt strongly that Venom should be a male, not a female. As Salicrup has been quoted as saying, “Venom should be a guy. A big guy!”
So, after making two brief cameo appearances, Venom’s true debut occurs in Amazing Spider-Man #300. We meet him as a mystery figure, searching for Peter Parker. He finds a newlywed Mary Jane at Peter’s home instead, terrorizing her. (Peter and MJ being married, as we all know, destroyed interest in the series. Oh, wait. These are some of the highest-selling Spider-Man comics ever. Never mind.)
This scene might elicit eye-rolls today, but casting MJ in the petrified female role was rare during these days. Typically, she’d handle the stress of being Spider-Man’s wife by going out and dancing. The creators were usually restrained in doing scenes like this. MJ’s reacting this way because we’re to believe this new threat is a very big deal indeed.
The next page offers the first real look at Eddie Brock, the man behind this monstrous new vision of the black costume. It’s a nicely laid-out page by McFarlane that also emphasizes his inking skills. In just a few panels, you have a sense of the squallor Brock lives in. The gym equipment indicates the new villain’s size, and the background newspaper clippings establish his antipathy towards Spider-Man. It’s only one page, but it sums up much of the appeal of the character. He’s Spider-Man…but big. And angry.
MJ’s run-in with Venom has convinced her and Peter to move into a new place. This enables a few of the supporting cast to stop by, commemorating the anniversary issue. And provides us with a few pages of Peter doubting himself, realizing he can’t begin to pay for his share of the new place. It also works to contrast Peter’s life, surrounded by loving family and friends (while still having everyday anxieties), with the mess Brock’s has become.
Hints of the new villain’s past are dropped along the way, as he visits the church we remember from Web #1. There, he’s confronted by a police officer who isn’t long for this world. Villains casually killing civilians was still fairly new in 1987, a shorthand way to establish a foe as particularly nasty. Venom isn’t quite in that category, even in his debut, however. The regret he feels for killing the man made the villain feel unique. It’s smart writing on Michelinie’s behalf. Venom views himself as the victim in the story, so any of the evil acts he commits he can’t allow himself to view as honestly evil.
Eventually, Venom is able to draw Spider-Man’s attention. And, naturally, the fighting stops just long enough for a villainous monologue. Michelinie reveals the new origin for his villain, establishing Brock as a reporter inadvertently burned by Spider-Man.
After praying over his suicidal thoughts at Our Lady of Saints Church, Brock encountered the spurned symbiote. He’s absorbed knowledge of Peter’s identity from the alien, and its sense of hatred. Venom now thinks an appropriate ending for the story is for Spider-Man to die in the church where he was born. He even adopts a priestly robe, a move I doubt the network censors would ever allow the cartoon to adapt. Ultimately, Spider-Man escapes and uses the church bells to harm Venom. The villain overexerts himself, and is taken to the Fantastic Four…to live in a tube, apparently.
(Don’t ask me about the oddity of Fantastic Four continuity in this era. Some things you’ve just gotta leave to Brian Cronin.)
Upon returning home, MJ expresses a desire to never see that black costume again. Peter agrees, returning to his original suit. And with that, Spider-Man stuck with his original look for good. Or at least until some publicity could be squeezed out of a return to the black look.
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