David Micheline, Mark Bagley, and Ron Lim’s Venom: Lethal Protector, a fan favorite six issue miniseries released in the ’90s and prominently starring the goopy titular anti-hero is a seminal touchstone for the character. Awash in a very particular, undeniably askew ’90s weirdness, the plot introduces a number of important developments for the character and the broader “Venomverse” such as a new home in San Francisco (away from that pesky Peter Parker), a father figure, and five additional Symbiote children.
Most importantly, however, it served as a loose inspiration for the recently released Venom movie. Now, it also serves as inspiration for a new novelization of that same comic series written by novelist James R. Tuck who has penned takes on CW’s Arrow and Robin Hood to relative acclaim.
How does this novelized transformation hold up on its own? Fairly well, but not without fault. As an adaptation of a spectacularly goofy, important, but somewhat lacking series, however, it is fantastically reverent but also re-inventive. Venom fans should be more than satisfied.
Following the main beats of the story, but also introducing a number of new contextualizing moments or angles, Tuck finds a great medium between a “ripped from the pages” feel, and a more nuanced, adaptive one. There’s nothing missing here from the original Micheline work, but quite a bit added — mostly from existing canon or cribbed from other stories that really speaks to Tuck’s fandom status, too.
The very opening chapter, a beat-for-beat remake of the opening pages of the first issue of the comic, is a great encapsulation of this. Here, the narrative gets more time to explore the mindsets of a petty robber and his would-be victim than the comic gets to, as they’re kind of superfluous characters when readers are expecting the titular hero (or anti-hero) to show up, but Tuck’s writing does a great job making the world feel real. So real, that when Venom does appear — “the stark white impression of a spider, two pale Rorschach blots, and teeth…so many teeth in a raw red mouth” — it feels as truly terrifying and alien as it ought to. The wonderful depictions of Venom don’t stop there as verbose, sometimes almost sickening descriptions of wet slops, the Symbiote “spilling up” Eddie’s chest, and yes, enough TWHIPPING to fill any Spidey fan’s heart abound. Tuck has a seemingly endless supply of adjectives on hand for the whole bevy of action scenes at hand and I would gladly read a hundred more.
That being said, there is a slight hesitancy to expound on the more dialogue heavy bits of the narrative. This is particularly noticeable in scenes where Eddie would be exchanging words with the Symbiote. Rather than filling in the second half of the conversation — the Symbiote’s — which is missing from the comic as well, Tuck elects to just have Brock’s dialogue. This works slightly better in the visual medium than it does here, and makes things feel a little uneven and weightless. Especially when the author has elected to add so many other great angles and moments that aren’t covered. Spider-Man’s voice is also not as realized as the comics, and readers more familiar with that character than Venom will find that the characterization of Peter here is nothing to write home about. These are minor things in the big picture of course, but noticeable as the story progresses through a number of twists and turns, especially noticeable to readers whose first exposure to the Lethal Protector — or even Venom character — this is.
As die-hard Venom fans know, and new readers will find, though, there’s more than enough going on here to power through those weaker moments and deliver a great story that, again, really leans into those twists and turns. This is a story predicated on absolutely wild things like a hidden city — seemingly also removed from time — under San Francisco, a crazed tycoon going after the gold in that city, super soldiers, Venom’s kids, and more. Tuck nails and expounds on all those commendably — the most prominent example being a fantastically involved arc for the Life Foundation Symbiotes and their hosts.
While they are arguably the most memorable development from the comic, the Venom children created by the Life Foundation: Scream, Riot, Lasher, Agony, and Phage are actually not in the story all that much, and their hosts are never named. Here, they are. Tuck dedicates a fantastic arc to those hosts and to the purpose of their symbiotic development — touching on the Foundation’s findings about the symbiosis process, their reasons for capturing Eddie, and more expertly. When I first came across Donna Diego (Scream’s Host)’s name in the novel, just after being confused about this scene that was notably absent from the trade paperback I was comparing it to, I audibly gasped and cheered. It’s exceedingly well done, canon-based work that gives the story some much needed development.
That’s the ultimate strength of an effort like this: to lean into the stuff that’s not there originally. By getting into the minds of the characters that aren’t Venom: petty robbers, crazed tycoons, under-city dwellers, and other Symbiote hosts alike, Tuck adds a whole new layer to the story that helps everything stand here on its own merits. Sure, it doesn’t always work and the bits where Venom is left to spin dialogue on his own, or Spider-Man, could’ve used a little more work, but the wholeness of this world, with key moments from an iconic touchstone from the tale intact, makes this a fantastically fun and readable tale in its own right. I would happily recommend it to any Venom fan, and those interested absent an exposure to the larger Venomverse might just find something to like, too.