Breaking up is hard to do, indeed.
Collecting a smattering of Spider-Man and Venom special issues written by David Michelinie alongside a series of all-star Venom artists including Joe St. Pierre and Kyle Holtz, Venom: Planet of the Symbiotes is a strange, alien, and thrilling saga worthy of a space on any Venom fan’s shelf as long as they’re willing to keep up with the sometimes uneven tangents.
The setup is simple: Eddie, egged on by Spider-Man’s psychological prying, is re-considering the nature of his relationship with his dark passenger and partner – this vicious Symbiote he’s come to know and love — specifically wondering whether he’s in control as he thinks he is.
From there, though, things get absolutely, mindbogglingly, wild as Eddie casts off the Symbiote and all out pandemonium ensues: an army of alien Symbiotes invade Earth at the behest of the Venom Symbiote’s pained wails, Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider and Eddie must team up to take them out, and a revived Carnage (following the events of Venom: Carnage Unleashed) is cut loose from prison, quickly growing to over 50 feet tall. On top of all of this, that core setup remains, does Eddie want to go back to his now-ex? How do they reconcile? Especially so, given the revelations of the (now retconned) Symbiote’s origins that are to come to light in this very story.
It’s a fun, if overwhelming and sometimes too familiar, saga that often spends more time focusing on Peter’s view of Eddie than it does on Eddie himself – a strange but not entirely off-putting decision as the switches between viewpoints are often handled well and the third party in Ben Reilly’s Scarlet Spider acts as perfect median. Michelinie possessed a real knack for this kind of sentimental but fittingly dark take on the relationship between Eddie and the Symbiote that takes center stage less frequently than one might expect but is poignant when on display. The frantic, high stakes, and totally alien fights taking place in the latter third of the run are especially well written, quips flying, intricate set pieces, compelling twists and turns afoot.
Less effective are the viewpoints of almost any side character. This was a weird time for Spider-Man and M.J.’s relationship in particular, as she was pregnant with his child, and any time spent with her is unwieldy and unfocused, trying to jump between the issue at hand (Venom) and the intricacies of her and Peter’s relationship without much cohesiveness. Other side characters, like The Thing and Carnage, often sound way too similar, blurring the sidelines of the story into a kind of ill-defined mess of extra words without character. For all its hyping up, the Carnage subplot is also scary but dealt with little-to-no fuss, a bit of a let down.
The real question, then, is do the artists keep pace? Mostly. More than a few stumble noticeably on the human parts of this story – faces are contorted and expressions are either far too flat or twisted into painful grimaces. Almost all of them, though, absolutely nail the more monstrous, outlandish aspects. It’s obvious they were having fun here, indulging in the dark, broody, Xenomorph-like worlds brought to life throughout the twists and turns Eddie, Peter and Ben have to keep pace with. None, more so than Kyle Holtz who draws the best written and illustrated issue of the collection, part three’s Venom Super Special #1, fittingly subtitled “Monsterworld” which features Geiger-esque architecture, writhing masses of a Symbiote army, and more space machinery than you can shake a stick at in stunning detail and robustness.
Pound for pound, this is a fun if sometimes unbalanced, story that highlights all the best aspects of Eddie Brock’s trials and tribulations as the Venom Symbiote’s host with Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider along for good measure. I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a jaw dropping Peter Parker story, but if you’re coming for Eddie like I was, you won’t be disappointed.