Venom the Antihero: My Preparation for the Venom Movie

If I’m being honest, I’m not that excited for Sony’s Venom.  I’ve always loved the character – he’s my all-time favorite Spider-Man villain and I read all his solo series in the ‘90s.  But this…I don’t know.  I want to be hopeful!  I want to like it.  And I do have my tickets for opening night.  But doing a Venom movie completely disconnected from Spider-Man doesn’t make sense to me.  Also, I’m not wildly in love with how the symbiote looks in the film.  It’s a bit too cartoony for me.  But I want to be excited (even if I end up disappointed).  So to try and put myself in the right headspace for the film, I reread the Venom solo series from my youth to reacquaint myself with Venom, the antihero.

With a tagline directly stating, “The world has enough superheroes” it’s clear from the trailer this Venom will be in the antihero vein.

It throws me off though, to see so many differences in Tom Hardy’s version of the character compared to the one I met in the comics.  Eddie and the symbiote were both bitter and broken, angry at Spider-Man, and in their hate they found each other.  They joined and became a nightmarish monster driven by their own warped “code” of honor and justice.  When they left the hunt for Spider-Man behind, they turned to helping “the innocent” in their own way.  But they were always willingly bonded to each other from the very beginning.  This is not the Eddie Brock/symbiote relationship we see in this trailer.  Nor is their relationship founded in a hatred they will seek to justify.  However, only time (and seeing the movie on October 4th) will tell if the changes are minor (like Tony inventing Ultron instead of Hank Pym) or major (like the Eye of Agamotto being an Infinity Gem Stone in Doctor Strange) and if they will affect the character in fundamentally problematic ways.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

To me, removing Spider-Man (and an adult Spider-Man (not the rumored Tom Holland cameo)) from his intimate place in Venom’s origin seems to fall in the latter category.  Taking out Spidey, and with him Eddie and his alien Other’s mutual hatred of the webhead, seems as fundamental a change as removing Uncle Ben from Spider-Man’s origin story.  You don’t have Spider-Man without Uncle Ben and his lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Nor do you have Venom without Spider-Man driving their union.  You’ve removed the fundamental core that births, shapes, and defines the character.  However,  I do always say the movies and comics should be free to be their own thing, even as the films take their inspiration from the comics.  I legitimately think they’re both stronger for not having to slavishly mirror the other.  I think this leads to better comics and films.  So while I’m highly skeptical a Spider-Man-less Venom can work, I’m open to seeing if it does.

As I reread these comics (a full list of what I read before writing this can be found below), the further I got away from Spider-Man the more I remembered how Venom were able to stand on their own two legs as a character.  It gave me more hope for this film.  These comics reminded me of what you can do, narratively, with Venom on their own.  (Note:  For those unfamiliar with Venom, they comprise the human/one-time journalist Eddie Brock and the alien Other (or symbiote) Spider-Man inadvertently brought back from the Secret Wars as his new costume.  Because they are two living entities bonded in symbiosis, Venom always speaks as “we/us” instead of “I/me” in reference to both Eddie and his Other, a form I follow in this post.)  With Spider-Man out of the equation, perhaps the point of interest becomes whether or not the Venom in the film is the same sort of antihero they were in the comics.

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Venom protects the homeless in San Francisco from those who would harass them. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

In a conversation with Kalie (who I’m totally counting as a scholarly source because she’s working on her PhD in Literature and Criticism so this is what she does), she said an antihero is a protagonist/hero who lacks the traditional heroic qualities associated with a hero.  As we talked more about Venom, the Punisher, Deadpool, and the like, Kalie speculated that, perhaps, the comic book antihero finds itself even further outside the bounds of heroic parameters than the traditional antihero.  They test the bounds of conventional morality more than your conventional antihero.  She said she’d be willing to go so far as to say this; the conventional hero’s actions may be seen as questionable, at least upon a second glance and/or in the realm of criticism/analysis, but they are more socially sanctioned.  However the comic book antihero’s actions are more morally questionable even at the first glance.  Our instinct is to be repulsed even if we can find them a little bit justified.

I think this is perfect.  Kalie’s definition is what I felt when I read (or watched) anything with the Punisher and this is certainly how I felt when I was reading Venom.

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This is certainly not the way a hero acts but these are the sorts of judgments Venom makes all the time.  It’s a fundamental part of who they are. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Venom: The Mace #2 offered the best, concise outline of Venom I saw in any of these comics.  Venom are “dead sure of [their] moral righteousness.”  In their view, “We are the protector of the innocent, the poor, the helpless!  We prey on the tormentors of the innocents.”  Beck, an environmental activist, friend, and one-time romantic interest of Eddie’s sees them in a different light.  Talking to one of the homeless squatters Venom is trying to protect she says, “You don’t understand.  Venom is…no angel.  He means well, but he’s unstable.  He overreacts.  He kills.”

Venom don’t just kill…they are merciless and malicious in their killing.  They snap and sever limbs.  They rip apart their victims.  They hunt, haunt, and torment.  They bludgeon and batter until all that’s left is a pulp where once was a criminal.  Even their humor is unnerving.  They try to be jokey but it always feels more like a predator toying with their prey than the bantery wit of Spider-Man.  But you also get the sense that they think it’s funny…even if it’s fairly creepy.  They even go so far (in Venom: The Hunger) to legitimately make good on their infamous threat and begin eating people’s brains.  They see themselves as a hero, but the only higher power they recognize is their own impulses and their own will.  They’re obsessive and single-minded too.  Once they have an idea in their mind, it’s hard to cut through their drive to get them to see anything else.

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Now, it’s worth noting as Venom are doing this to Beck, they are infected by another parasitic organism.  However, it was something they welcomed freely for more power and after they were free of it, no one held them accountable for their actions. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Obviously, Venom is unbalanced as a character.  It’s not anything as simple as “Eddie is good” and “the symbiote corrupts” either (which looks to be the case in the film).  Both Eddie and the Other have good intentions but both are also a little unhinged, corrupted by hate and anger.  Neither is good but neither is fully evil either.  They walk a thin line, often falling (willingly) into the darkness (which they see as justified).  This wasn’t something I ever “got” as a child.

Or perhaps it was more I lacked the emotional depth/awareness to be able to fully understand the character in my youth.  Sure, I knew they were “rougher” than Spider-Man.  Sure, I knew killing was wrong.  But they were headlining a title and teaming-up with Spider-Man on the reg so they couldn’t really be a bad guy could they?  But this unhinged nature, always being one whisper away from violent rage, is a part of Venom in every one of the series I had as a kid…even if I didn’t see it in quite those terms then.

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Venom justifies harm to anyone as they see the entire social system as being corrupt. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Something else I missed as a kid is how Venom’s a character always looking for a place to belong.  They are violent, bloodthirsty, and deranged…yet they seek to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  As such, they have one foot in the world of society and heroics and another on the slippery slope of those who reject all law save their own, sanctioning violence and death through their own moral relativism.

What’s particularly intriguing are how other characters respond to this crusading monstrosity.  There are many around Venom – Beck (above) and Eddie’s ex-wife Ann Weying (below) most prominently – who have a solid connection with Eddie yet (rightly) fear the Other.  Both Beck and Ann are uncomfortable every time it covers his face.  However they also urge Eddie to do all he can as quickly as he can to protect the people of San Francisco (in Beck’s case) or herself and New York (in Ann’s case).  This obviously involves using the Other as Venom.  It creates a weird cognitive dissonance in the title, begging the question of how the reader would react to a creature with methods such as Venom, if you were on the side they deemed “innocent.”

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Ann returns the symbiote to Eddie so the other can heal him of his burns. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

The most important part of Venom, though, is the nature of the relationship between Eddie and the Other.  In many of the series I read, they speak of the extreme intimacy, the euphoric ecstasy the Other and Eddie feel in their bond.  They are literally inside one another, sharing every thoughts and speaking in images, memories, and feelings as opposed to something as limiting as words.  They feel everything.  They share everything.  They are one.  Yet, it’s not a healthy connection.  Their relationship is filled with possessiveness and jealousy.  They fear being separated and they struggle to tolerate anyone else being with the other.

It’s not one way either.  The Other is every bit as possessive of Eddie as Eddie is of it.  It bonds briefly with Ann (in Venom: Sinner Takes All) to help heal her wounds but initially it wouldn’t even go over to her until Eddie threatened to leave it forever if it didn’t save her.  The Other brings out the darkness in Ann, unleashing her killing drives, but it’s not just a corrupting force.  Ann was scared because it showed her the deepest, darkest version of what she wanted to do to those who threatened her.  Established again and again in these series we see Eddie wants to kill as much as the symbiote does.  They feed and feed off of each other.

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Eddie and Ann merge together inside the Other. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When looking at the definition of a codependent relationship (as defined by Mental Health America), we see Eddie and the Other demonstrate many of the characteristics of people who are codependent.  They have a deeply unhealthy dependence on their relationship, doing anything (including kill and maim) to hold on to each other and the feeling of abandonment when they lose contact can be crippling.  As a result, they have a great fear of being separated, abandoned and alone without the other.  They have trouble identifying feelings and clearly have problems with intimacy and boundaries.  We see this both in their relationship (literally living inside each other) and in how they relate to others (Ann, for example, asks them to leave her alone but they keep returning)  They’ve poor communication skills too, unable to see or hear anything outside of their own point of view once they’ve made up their mind.  And they ABSOLUTELY have chronic anger issues.  Unlike most co-dependent relationships though, this isn’t an issue of one person being an addict and another trying to help them.  Rather, they are intimately connected to one another in a way that keeps the whole world out.  Each is addict and each is savior, being doubly unhealthy for both entities.

Even without Spider-Man then, Venom grew into an interesting character.  While they will forever be grounded in their shared hate and rage of Spidey, they developed the nuance of their unhealthy intimacy without Spider-Man in the picture.  So if Sony’s Venom can give me this sort of unbalanced, dangerous, maniacal, self-righteous character – someone where I can see a would-be nobility at the heart of what they want to do while always being repulsed by their actions – then the film can come a long way to succeeding, even without Spider-Man.  Venom, at their heart, has to be a creature whose goals may be noble but whose actions are always evil.  And this evil is the scariest sort of all, the type of evil the doer feels justified and perhaps even sanctified in perpetrating.

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The man, the Other, the monster in action. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics


**For those interested in my source work, for this piece I reread Venom: The Madness (Nov. ’93 – Jan. ’94), Venom: The Enemy Within (Feb – April ’94), Venom: The Mace (May – July ’94), Venom: Nights Of Vengeance (Aug. – Nov. ’94), Venom: Separation Anxiety (Dec. ’94 – March ’95), Venom: Carnage Unleashed (April – July ’95), Venom: Sinner Takes All (Aug. – Dec. ’95), Venom: Along Came A Spider (Jan. – April ’96), Venom: The Hunted (May – July ’96), Venom: The Hunger (Aug. – Nov. ’96 (although I only have the first two issues of this one (this was where Venom finally lost me and got a bit too weird (I wasn’t ready for how they explored madness/the darkness (but I am intrigued by it now so I might track down those other issues))))), Venom: Tooth & Claw (Dec. ’96 – Feb ’97 (I only read the first issue (I tried since Wolverine was in it but Young Me still wasn’t excited about this story)), Venom: On Trial (March – May ’97 (I must’ve read this because Spidey was in it?)), and Venom: Finale (Nov. ’97 – Jan. ’98 (which I know read just because it was their final miniseries)).

You might be wondering why I didn’t read Venom: Lethal Protector (Feb. – July ’93) or even Venom: Funeral Pyre (Aug. – Oct. ’93) when the film, at least loosely seems to tie to Lethal Protector with its references to San Francisco and the Life Foundation.  Well, honestly, I’d reread them not to long ago when I wrote another post on Venom as my favorite Spidey villain so I decided to cover new ground here.

15 thoughts on “Venom the Antihero: My Preparation for the Venom Movie

  1. Honestly, the trailer for Venom confused me so much that I decided I wasn’t interested in seeing it. I wasn’t sure what the relationship between Eddie and the Other was and if I was supposed to be afraid for Eddie or cheering for…whatever kind of weird “justice” they were serving out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be interested to see the box office and how many people share your reaction. Even the tone of the trailer seems all over the place. Is it a horror film? Is it some gritty, street justice thing? Is it the usual superhero fair? I’m not certain the film itself will feel much more coherent. I haven’t been excited about it at all. Then I read these comics and spent some time lost in the nostalgia of a kid who loved Venom in the ’90s. Then I got a little excited! And I’m still betting I’ll be disappointed once I see it :). But I tried! As a Spider-Man lover I at least have to try.


      1. Reading your post made me more interested in the film. But I suppose the idea is to appeal as we to an audience not familiar with comics (such as myself). But if we are totally confused about what the film is, will that work? I don’t know!

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      2. Over the years, my brother and I have noticed the Marvel movie crowds grow from a bunch of super excited comic nerds to nerds + a broad section of the general public to nerds + general fans + families whose children have grown up with these movies. As you said, they shoot to appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the story too. I wonder what the theatre crowd will look like for Venom because I don’t think your reaction to the trailer would be the minority for the non-avid comic reader.

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  2. I think whats put me off about this is its completely different to what we’re used to from both Marvel and DC, it will be interesting and I’ll probably watch it anyway, but its not my must watch! xx

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    1. I don’t even know if the film knows what it wants to be, judging from the trailer. I think, if you go in like that, willing to check it out but not dying for a “must watch” film then it might allow you to enjoy it more. I do hope it ends up being interesting at least. If nothing else, we’ll get to hear them growl, “I want to eat your brains!” to someone. So, there’s that :).

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  3. I think Venom is going to be entirely forgettable. I say this because I completely forgot it was coming out. Frankly, I don’t think Sony is up to par with Marvel Studios or Fox at this point when it comes to superhero films. Don’t get me wrong, I like that Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed are in the movie, but that isn’t enough to encourage me to go see the film. I’d rather just stay home and re-watch Mad Max: Fury Road and Rogue One.

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    1. Um, you seem to be forgetting ‘This Means War’ – the true masterpiece of Tom Hardy’s career where and he and Chris Pine play rival spies who are both in love with Reese Witherspoon. You can also watch that at home when you’re longing for Tom Hardy. But yeah, other than that glaring oversight, I’m 100% with you. Sony flounders, more often than not, with their superhero fair. I want it to be good! I really do! But I’m skeptical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It will come and go with barely a whisper. Does anyone really care about other superheroes while we wrestle with the fallout from Infinity War? Shit, it would have been funny if a Deadpool ad had been made showing Deadpool watching Infinity War at home snuggled up under a blanket. And it would have been REALLY funny if he had watched Peter fade away into dust and started crying because he has such a hard…bro crush on Spidey. Le sigh, if only…

        But oh, wait, Venom. Sorry, I just completely forgot that Venom was happening because I just don’t give a rats butt.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I get that Gary. The movie itself wasn’t too bloody though. Venom did eat some bad guys but there was no actual eating shown, nor any blood and/or viscera. But I appreciate where you’re coming from. This very issue is what led me to stop watching ‘The Walking Dead.’ I just couldn’t do it anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. However, movies will probably get bad before too long. We just have to keep encouraging the people still trying to put the good stuff out there. I wonder how high our filters have to get be set to still be able to enjoy movies? We will keep going, brother as long as we are able.

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  4. The look of the symbitoe might look cartoony because the movie is surprisingly humorous. At the very least I prefer how Venom looks in this movie over the Spider-Man 3 version.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d agree! And, once I saw the film, I found myself liking the symbiote’s look a lot more. I think you’re right too, as far as the humor goes. I wasn’t ready for it but it was one of my favorite parts of the film. It was such a great surprise! I hope we get a sequel in large part because of how much fun this one was.

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