Venom was created in 1988, but he’s about as 90s as any character can come. A few reasons why: he’s a character that has traits tied more to the look than anything else, he’s simple in his goals and desires, and finally he’s focused on bringing fun to comics. The thing about the 90s in retrospect is that it was quite a boring time in comics because it was trying to be so extreme. This trade paperback is loud in its depiction of the character and tends to go nowhere with development of any kind. That can be tiring, but if you tap into the fun of it all, and how ridiculous it can be, it’s hard to resist.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Venom and Wolverine enter the jaws of death! When the two lethal heroes are thrown into an unwilling interdimensional adventure, even in space you’ll still hear the screams! Then, the law finally catches up with Eddie Brock – and Venom goes on trial! But even with Matt “Daredevil” Murdock on defense, what possible verdict could hand Venom a license to kill?! That’s right – Venom becomes a hired gun for the government! But when he targets Ghost Rider and J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man must intervene! The bitter feud between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock is reignited – but can Spidey finally bring about Venom’s big finish?
Can I jump in easily?
This is an interesting time for Venom in comics as he’s more of a reckless maniac who also speaks with a large vocabulary than at any other point in his history. Writers were focusing on how he was a failed writer who had his career dashed by Spider-Man. As if in response to losing the career of his dreams he goes full nuts and decides eating brains is a great life choice. It’s not so hard to swallow (pun intended) when you have him jetting off into space fighting villains like Dirt Nap and Chimera with Wolverine. As long as you go in with the expectation of wild 90s vibes you should be fine.
Reason 1: The way characters speak is totally radical, man.
One thing you’ll pick up on when reading this book is the dialogue tends to tell you what characters will do or want to do to each other. Spider-Man, who appears in the later chapters, retorts to Carnage that he will smash his head into a wall. Venom is almost constantly threatening to do horrible things to other characters. It’s somewhat like wrestling where the players are letting the audience know what might happen and it either does happen–and we love it–or they are thwarted and we’re given a little thrill as it didn’t play out as we expected. It can be an obnoxious element at times since it’s so unnatural, but after 400 pages of this stuff it becomes normalized and fun.
Right off the bat this book is also attempting to be hip and cool. I use those words because they are anything but just like this comic. The opening story which features Wolverine contains two kids who steal a spaceship as well as a young hero sidekick of Wolverine named Emmett (the first I’ve ever heard of him). At one point Emmett shouts (everyone is shouting in this book), “Cheese Louise Logan, we got a moiderous furball goin down over section five!” One of the kids who steals the spaceship says at one point, “Totally awesome stuff. Watch me go vert. Clock this!” Ugh, just ugh. Right? It’s way over the top and trying too hard, but it’s a big reason why this can be so fun to read.
Reason 2: Literally anything can happen as if continuity doesn’t matter.
The opening story with Wolverine is a good example of how 90s comics seemed to do whatever the writer wanted at the time no questions asked. In this story Wolverine and Venom fight a villain named Dirt Nap, end up going to a place called Crunch “at the end of time” and fight a woman wearing bondage named Chimera who is a dead ringer for Hellraiser. When you think about it it all almost makes no sense, especially since none of this is important in comics today. The story seems to be strung along with bad guys to punch and badass one-liners for the characters to deliver. At one point Wolverine actually says, “We’re goin’ to throwdown-city for the stompin’ marathon!” I mean…wow! How crazy badass weird is that?
Later in the collection Venom goes to trial, Carnage shows up for them to fight, and then he’s made into a secret agent. Further down the line Venom is a mob boss, forgets who Spider-Man is (really not sure why that happened) and then remembers. This book collects a few different arcs, they all released between 1997 and 1998, and yet the jumps they take can be shocking. Luckily there is a character named Agent Smith who seems to pop up in all the stories which links them all in some way shape or form.
Reason 3: Venom is always drooling, always killing, and is always awesome.
Up until recently with Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s Venom arc, I’d have to admit this character didn’t appeal to me beyond the costume. It’s a cool look to be sure, especially with how it can constantly change, but the depth of character wasn’t quite there. There are attempts at making him interesting via his failed journalistic career–and there are fleeting moments where he proves he has a large vocabulary in this book–but make no mistake he is always rendered in an awesome way. The art is shared by quite a few people which include pencilers Joe St. Pierre, Joshua Hood, Derec Aucoin, James Fry, Tom Derenick, Tom Lyle and Mark Pajarillo. There are different renderings of the character throughout which range from very sharp and long teeth to small teeth and more of a black mask, to hulking huge, or more spindly and long. Regardless of who was drawing Venom always seemed to be drooling green ooze in the 90s which you can see on full display here. I had a blast enjoying how the character was drawn throughout this collection and I’m sure you will too.
Reasons to be wary?
A lot of what I described above will not be your cup of tea. The lack of character work or a plot that’s beyond paper thin is not found here. The art can be a bit rough at times too. Generally, this work is fun, but it can also be a labor to get through since it’s hard to find a thread to care about. That’s especially true when each of the arcs in this collection seem to start fresh and throw out everything that came before it.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
The Venom movie is nearly here so reading books like this is a must to get the full experience. More than once I read a line of dialogue or saw a great looking panel and thought, “I bet this inspired the process when making the film.” You can’t deny the character is great, warts and all and when you accept that, and accept the whole character like he’s depicted here, you’ll appreciate him even more.