The battles between Spider-Man and his arch-rival Venom are the stuff of comic book legend! From the outset, Venom proved himself as one of Spider-Man's greatest foes, and since then the concept has been adapted to other media. He was a powerful enemy in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, played a major role in Spider-Man 3, and Sony is toying with the idea of a Venom stand-alone movie. But who is Venom, and why are his battles with Spider-Man so iconic?
Who is the Classic Venom?
The story of Venom begins in Secret Wars #8. During this event, Marvel's greatest superheroes and supervillains had been transported to the artificial planet 'Battleworld' to battle for the amusement of a being known as the Beyonder. Spider-Man's costume was wrecked, and he was sent to get a replacement from a machine that would weave new outfits.
In a typical demonstration of the Parker Luck, Spider-Man went for the wrong machine! He came out with a mysterious new black outfit, one that created its own webbing, repaired itself, and - once Secret Wars was over - was gradually revealed to be alive! Little by little, the pieces of the jigsaw came together; Spider-Man realized that this costume was a symbiote, and was attempting to make its bond with him permanent. Meanwhile, it was fuelling his body with adrenaline, pushing him to become increasingly brutal and aggressive. Spider-Man rejected the symbiote, using its vulnerability to sound to drive it away.
But Spider-Man hadn't factored on one Eddie Brock, a reporter for the Daily Bugle who blamed Spider-Man for the end of his career. The symbiote bonded with Brock, granting him powers equal to (and likely greater than) those of Spider-Man. The mental component of the bond meant that, from the outset, Venom knew all of Spider-Man's secrets - including his secret identity!
Spider-Man Versus Venom - The First Encounters!
Venom launched a campaign to terrorize Peter Parker, aided by the fact that his Spider-Sense couldn't detect Venom's presence. In Amazing Spider-Man #299-300, Venom upped the ante on his campaign and revealed himself to Mary-Jane. Outraged, Spider-Man battled the creature, and defeated Venom when he encouraged Brock to lash out with webbing - he knew that the webbing was part of the symbiote, and that projecting too much would tire it. Venom was imprisoned in the Raft, and for some time began a pattern of escapes and revenge attempts.
That first battle was superbly written, with artist Todd McFarlane drawing Venom as a brutal, looming monster with a slavering tongue. Venom's first appearance at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #299 is the stuff legends are made of, as Mary-Jane cowers from this unknown menacing being!
Perhaps one of the most fascinating battles was in Amazing Spider-Man #347, in which Spider-Man realized that Venom's vendetta would never stop. Venom had taken Spider-Man to a deserted island to do battle, and Spider-Man saw an opportunity; he faked his own death, and fled from the island. Content with that outcome, Venom settled on the island, intending to live the rest of its life in isolation. Ironically, Spider-Man ultimately had to end this when he needed help against another symbiote, Carnage.
Eddie Brock's Love-Life Unleashes a New Venom!
Into the 1990s, the relationship between Spider-Man and Venom began to change. One of the darkest plots in Spider-Man history was a long-running arc in which the Chameleon, having learned Spider-Man's secret identity, sought revenge; he created simulacrums of Peter's parents! In Amazing Spider-Man #375, Venom kidnapped Peter's parents, seeing a new way to get his revenge on Spider-Man.
But things took an unexpected twist. Ann Weying, Eddie Brock's ex-wife and a successful lawyer, got involved in the plot; she pursued Venom to the amusement park where the final battle would take place, and tried to end Brock's vendetta. She was almost killed during the inevitable battle between Spider-Man and Venom, and Venom was shocked when Spider-Man risked himself to save her. Incredibly, Venom made his peace with Spider-Man, and soon became something of an antihero - later using the symbiote to save his ex-wife, briefly transforming her into "She-Venom". Brock even teamed up with Spider-Man during the famous "Maximum Carnage" crossover!
In 2000, Amazing Spider-Man #19 saw another twist in the tale. Ann Weyland committed suicide, and it seemed likely to be because she saw Spider-Man - then in a black costume - swinging past her window. A furious Venom blamed Spider-Man, but before the vendetta could escalate the symbiote was forcibly stripped from Eddie Brock. By 2004, Brock had made the decision to get rid of the symbiote, and sold it at an auction.
Venom Becomes a Major Part of the Marvel Universe!
The years since then have seen a succession of characters take up the Venom identity. Angelo Fortunato, the son of a Mafia capo, bought it from Eddie Brock; he proved unfit for the symbiote, which abandoned him to his death. More famously, Norman Osborn arranged for Mac Gargan to bond with the symbiote as a member of his Dark Avengers.
The most recent Venom is none other than Peter Parker's old schoolfriend, Flash Thompson. Working for the U.S. Government, Flash became a superb black-ops superhero, playing a key role during the "Spider-Island" event. Even this version of Venom wound up crossing paths with the Wall-Crawler in the pages of Superior Spider-Man. At the time, Doctor Octopus had possessed Spider-Man's body; not knowing that Venom was now a superhero, Doc Ock forcibly stripped the symbiote from Flash, but it bonded to him. Doc Ock believed he could control the symbiote; he was wrong, and the so-called 'Superior Venom' went on a rampage that was only halted by Flash.
Flash regained the symbiote, and - in a fantastic twist - took to the stars, becoming a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Sadly for Flash, the Marvel NOW! preview suggests Venom will soon become a supervillain once again...
Over in the movies, we can't be certain where the story of Venom is going to go. On the one hand, I simply can't believe Marvel Studios can resist introducing the concept at some point. On the other, Sony remain interested in using some key characters to launch new franchises unconnected to the MCU - and Venom is reportedly one franchise Sony find very interesting indeed. If Sony go ahead with a Venom franchise, then it may be quite some time before the symbiotic menace makes his MCU debut...