Thursday, August 8, 2013

Legacy Character Study: Eddie Brock, Part 1

Well, everybody, the first People's Choice Character to be studied at the NewtCave is....  Venom! Now, this is also a specially requested installment. My sister was very excited for a Venom episode when she saw the poll on my site. I hate to say it.... but I think she may be a bit disappointed by what she finds. You see, she fell in love with a version of Venom which is....  shall we say, non-indicative of the character as a whole. Nevertheless, this is what was requested, and by Galactus, that's what she and the rest of the internet is going to get.

Now, the Venom-symbiote (essentially, a living goo-costume) has been around the block more the proverbial neighborhood bike, with prominent wearers including Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, Mac Gargan, and Flash Thompson, among others. Do I take a look at all of them, or one of them? If so, which one? I’m feeling a little bit burnt out by the Blue Beetle Legacy Character Study, so I’ve decided that this one will be done over a period of time, instead of all in one go. Well, in honor of the version my sister absolutely adores, and the one I grew up with, let's take a minute to examine....
Eddie Brock, aka VENOM.

All-original.  Accept no substitutes.
Character Conception
Now, you might expect me to say that the idea came from Todd MacFarlane, or some other creator at the time. Nope. The idea came from then-anonymous fan Randy Schueller, and you can find the full story here.
To quote a fraction:
I thought it would be cool if Spidey needed to upgrade his powers and his look, so I came up with this idea that Reed Richards had made a new costume for Spidey using the same unstable molecules that the FF costumes are made of. The unstable molecules would flow into Peter’s pores and allow him to cling to walls better. I think my original idea was to increase his sticking power by 25% or something like that.

Well, at least the idea for a black costume came from him. The design of the black costume itself was modified by Mike Zeck, and the costume was written into Jim Shooter’s big Marvel crossover “Secret Wars.” David Michelinie would be the writer to later combine the retconned symbiote costume with Eddie Brock to create Venom.

Interestingly enough, the character of Venom was originally going to be a woman. Yes, you read that right, Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis was going to be female. They changed this not because they thought that Spider-Man shouldn’t hit girls, but because Spider-Man didn’t already have female villains. For some reason, they assumed this meant that a female villain wouldn’t be taken seriously by the fans.
(Maybe they peeked into the future and saw the debacle of "Brand New Day" and Menace?)
But the basic idea never changed:   dark mirror of the hero, who was stronger, faster, and sometimes even funnier than the original.

Secret Origin
The Venom-symbiote was born a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. It was one of many such symbiotes, and they actually had a surprisingly advanced culture. This was mainly because the symbiotes Borgishly assimilated technology of various cultures, while feeding off of living beings until they died, then finding a new host. Except, in any large group of people, there’s going to be that weirdo, you know? This weirdo of a symbiote didn’t want to drain hosts dry, but to bond with them permanently. So the rest of the symbiotes imprisoned this pariah inside a machine on a place that would later be known as Battleworld. Years later, during the Secret Wars (where Earth’s greatest heroes and villains were made to fight on Battleworld by cosmic powers), Thor’s costume was in tatters. Yes, this is an important plot point. He found a clothing-repairing machine, and fixed his outfit. Spider-Man took note, and Thor pointed him towards the room that housed the clothing-machine. As it just happened to turn out, this room also contained the symbiote’s prison machine. Guess which one Spidey activated.
When Silly Putty goes bad.
After Spidey discovered that the symbiote costume was taking him on joyrides by making him fight crime in his sleep, (the symbiote needed extra adrenaline to survive without killing Peter) Spidey got rid of it with help from Mr. Fantastic. It was just that easy. The iconic church belltower scene that they used in the 90’s cartoon and the third film didn’t occur until the symbiote found its way back to Spidey. (I find it interesting that this scene happened in the daylight originally, but at night in adaptations. Also, Spidey fought guys with stolen Vulture technology, but that’s irrelevant.)

Meanwhile, there was this guy called Eddie Brock. Long story short, he accidentally wrote a fraudulent expose on a serial killer called the Sin-Eater whom Spider-Man proved wasn’t the real murderer. This utterly wrecked his journalism career and his marriage, as his wife Ann left him soon after. And who got the pictures of Spidey proving that Brock’s story wasn’t true? That’s right, Peter Parker. So Brock had a hatred of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

After things looked like they couldn’t get worse, Eddie got cancer. Maybe he interviewed Dr. Manhattan? This motivated Eddie to work out in the gym as a coping mechanism/distraction, gaining an impressive physique. While praying for forgiveness over a suicide attempt in a church, Spidey was shedding the symbiote in the tower up above. The symbiote, bitter at rejection, developed a burning hatred of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. And then, it found Eddie.

And so, in this church, the two were joined in holy matrimony symbiosis.
The Venom-Symbiote gives its wearer all the powers of its original host, Spider-Man:
Enhanced reflexes, spider-sense, wall-crawling
Along with that, it also gives the wearer even more powers:
* Shapeshifting clothing, fangs/claws and superhuman endurance
* Ability to create Spider-Man-esque webbing
* Undetectable by Spider-Sense Invisibility though vaguely defined “camouflage” abilities
* Symbiote has all of Peter Parker’s memories up to the point of their separation
* Exponential super-strength (The stronger the host is naturally, the greater the super-strength.)

Obviously. No more elaboration needed.

The spawn of Venom, combined with Cletus Kassady, a vicious serial killer.  Because Venom believes in his own twisted sense of justice, the mass-murdering monster is one of the only reasons that Spidey and Venom would put aside their differences… for a while.
Yes, you read that right.  Venom is Eddie Brock’s most hated foe.  We’ll get to that.

Character History
And so, after the two were joined, Venom started his plan to completely destroy Spider-Man. Venom repeatedly attacked Spidey while he was in costume and out of costume. Subtlety? Forget that, he wanted Spidey dead. Venom already had his twisted sense of justice, so he only targeted Spider-Man, and actually attempted to minimize collateral damage. In fact, the only time he actively went after someone else in his vendetta was when he assaulted Peter’s wife Mary Jane in their apartment, and even then he was just trying to scare her.

"What's for dinner?"
(It worked a little too well; MJ developed a fear of the cloth black costume that Spidey’d been wearing at that point.) After Venom had been going about the whole revenge thing for a bit, he was finally imprisoned in the supervillain prison known as “The Vault,” but he ended up escaping. But this time, they were prepared for Venom’s return. Eddie and the symbiote were separated, and Eddie was put in Ryker’s Island Prison.

After the symbiote recovered from the virus they used to subdue it, it broke Eddie out of prison and they busted out and went on their merry way. But something was left behind. It turns out that the symbiote is neither male nor female (makes sense, a pile of goo would lack… attributes of either kind), and had been pregnant for a while. When it rebonded with Eddie, it left a baby symbiote behind, and it bonded with Eddie’s cellmate, a serial killer named Cletus Kassady.

Wait, they put a vigilante and a serial killer in the same cell together? Now, I’m not a prison warden, but I did 100% complete Batman: Arkham Asylum, so I feel I’m qualified to expertly speak on the subject of prison security. Shouldn’t both of them have been in solitary? I mean, Cletus had an inner monologue in Maximum Carnage #1 talking about his plans to murder Eddie before the symbiote returned, so this guy can’t have been the most model inmate, right? And Eddie was a violent vigilante. For reference, so is the Punisher, and so is Rorschach. And what happens when they put those two in gen pop?

Spoon shanks...
...and 3rd Degree burns.
So, keeping both Cletus and Eddie in gen pop is just going to drastically reduce the number of criminals in pris…. Oh. Oh, you magnificent bastards, you’re doing it on purpose.

Oh, God, I'm turning into monster-Joker!
Anyway, Kassady bonded with Venom’s spawn and became Carnage, while Venom and Spider-Man duked it out on a deserted island. Spider-Man seemingly died in an explosion in their fight, but this also stranded Venom on the island. After Carnage did his thing for a while (murdering), Spider-Man realized he needs Venom’s help, and retrieved him, forming a temporary truce.

Which gives us this amazing image.
Venom gave birth to five more symbiotes, but that’s really not important past a storyline no one remembers. After that, Venom went back to his Spider-Vendetta, but also became more active as a vigilante, under his twisted Break-the-Law-and-Die justice. It seems that Venom gives not one crap about the law, but wants to protect “innocents.” Who is he, Ghost Rider?

Well, I guess they at least know each other.
Interestingly, he often worked with Spider-Man at this point as much as he tried to kill him. Spidey and Venom ended up teaming up to save Ann Weying, Eddie’s ex-wife, who was being hunted in order to draw out Venom. After rescuing her, Venom declares a truce with Spider-Man, saying that Spider-Man must be a good person to help him the way he did. And so, Venom went off to become a “Lethal Protector,” the most 90’s of sobriquets. Except maybe for “Extreme Bloodsport Skateboard Killer-Dude,” that’s pretty 90’s, too.
Oh, 90's, you so 90's!

And this is where we get to the low point of Venom, where every time he appeared, he was slightly different. There weren’t really any ongoing stories, just a new motive/villain/plot of whatever miniseries he happened to be in.

Was he a hero? Villain? Vigilante? Funny? Scary? Both?
Did he drool poison?
Did he eat brains? (Some writers thought so, apparently.)
Did he want to protect innocents or punish the guilty?

No two writers could agree.

In Part 2, we’ll see what happened to Eddie after the Dark Age... into the character’s own personal Dark Age.

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