Spider-Man is a superhero with a wide variety of villains. Over the years, he has battled a number foes ranging from street thugs to god-like beings. Many would argue that his greatest opponent was either the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus. Although the Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy and Doctor Octopus has been a thorn in Spider-Man's side for many years, I believe Venom is an even greater foe to Spider-Man.
I was first introduced to Venom in the 90s animated series (which for me was one of the best tellings of Venom's origin). Venom is a dark opposite of Spider-Man (I know there have been many evil twin-type villains in comics, but stick with me). He has all of his powers with none of the responsibility and his very name is based on him being poison to Spider-Man.
Similarities to Spider-Man
Rather than simply being someone else who gained spider-powers, Venom was actually a new host to the symbiotic black suit Spider-Man wore after the original Secret Wars storyline. Because the suit had been bonded to Peter Parker for a while, it retained his abilities at slightly enhanced levels. It also retained all of his memories. The retention of Peter's memories came in very handy for the next host of the symbiote, Eddie Brock. He was a journalist who was ridiculed by Spider-Man after he wrongly accused a man of serial murder, leading to a deep seated hatred of Spider-Man. When he came into contact with the symbiote that Peter rejected, it was the beginning of a twisted friendship.
The symbiote imbued Brock with all of Spider-Man's abilities while also revealing his greatest secret, that Spider-Man is Peter Parker! He then begins a campaign to make Peter's life a misery. As Peter was bonded to the symbiote, his spider-sense does not recognise it as a threat. This allowed Venom to terrorise Peter without his knowledge. This is where the true psychological aspects of Venom's character come to the fore.
What really drew me to Venom was the psychological aspects of the character. Initially, Peter is unaware of his existence, so Venom is able to sneak around and catch Peter off guard. In his initial appearances, Venom is nothing more than a black arm appearing just out of frame. He initially pushes Peter in front of a moving train and eventually moves on to terrorising Mary Jane. Once again, Venom having this knowledge of Peter's loved ones allows him to attack Peter on a mental level. Peter is very protective of his secret identity, especially after what happened to Gwen, and Venom tries to use this to his advantage. When he finally reveals himself to Peter, Brock shows that the symbiote has amplified his hatred of Spider-Man. Brock hates him due to being ridiculed whilst the symbiote wanted revenge for being rejected by Peter.
Venom was physically stronger than Spider-Man and he used this to his advantage. In the 90s series, when they initially meet, Venom battles Spider-Man across a number of rooftops before he eventually gets the better of him. His organic webbing is stronger than Peter's web fluid and he manages to trap Peter and remove his mask in front of the media. Peter manages to escape, but is haunted by Brock from then onwards. After Brock turns up at Aunt May's house, Peter decides he must take action. He realises that he too must use psychological warfare by posting newspaper clippings of Brock's failures all over his home. Enraged, Venom follows him to a space shuttle launch which allows Peter to get the upper hand and remove the symbiote from Brock, launching it into space. The episode ends with Spider-Man pondering if Venom will return and how he will defeat him again if he does...
I feel that the 90s series adaptation was the best version of Venom's origin. Though there were some parts that were slightly changed for TV, the show really demonstrated the effects the symbiote had on Peter and also perfectly set up Eddie Brock to become Venom. This possibly comes from John Semper Jr (the head writer of the series) who has stated on the series' Facebook page that Venom is his favourite villain. The fact that Spider-Man never truly defeats Venom in the 90s animated series speaks volumes to this.
When the symbiote eventually returns from space it is ready to create Carnage - yet another brilliant Spider-Man villain. And at the end of his return Eddie Brock sacrifices himself by jumping through a portal to another dimension. The fact that Venom only appears in 3 episodes shows that Semper respected the character enough to show how powerful he is without overusing him in the show.
In a way, it saddens me that Venom has now become somewhat of a hero. I enjoy the idea behind Agent Venom (Flash Thompson bonded to the Venom symbiote to act as a government agent), but in my opinion this has been a loss to Spider-Man. The psychological battles between the two were excellent and allowed Venom to evolve past the point of "super villain mirror of the hero". He is a great example of someone else who is imbued with great power but does not take the great responsibility seriously. He truly is a formidable opponent for Spider-Man. I greatly look forward to the day that Venom returns as a villain to menace Spidey once more!