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There and Brock Again: Part One

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With the recent news that the Venom symbiote is returning to its original owner, Eddie Brock, SuperiorSpiderTalk is going to chart the tumultuous journey of this alien goo from its humble beginnings to its current phenom status today.

In part one, we’ll look at Eddie Brock:

Eddie Brock was not always destined to be merged with the alien symbiote, but he is unquestionably the character who is most associated with being the sometimes supervillain/sometimes anti-hero named Venom.

In the days following the birth of the symbiote and the “black suit” Spider-Man, comic book creator David Michelinie had an idea for a new villain that has an air of familiarity to it, despite the fact that it never saw the light of day. What if, he proposed, the alien symbiote that Spider-Man/Peter Parker had rejected in Amazing Spider-Man #258 (and again in Web of Spider-Man #1)  had bonded with a human who equally had an axe to grind with Spider-Man? For Michelinie, that person was a pregnant woman, who tragically lost both her unborn child and her husband, when they were involved in a car accident that was indirectly caused by the chaos that typically follows a Spider-Man battle in the friendly neighborhood streets of New York.

Marvel’s editorial team inevitably sided against the idea of a female Venom deeming it was scintillating enough. And let’s be honest, comic book readers in the late-1980s probably wouldn’t have accepted a female villainess as someone who could take out Spider-Man anyway (if you could even argue that they would accept such a premise today). So for Amazing Spider-Man #300, which Marvel’s editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco had wanted to be a big deal, Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane created Eddie Brock, a disgraced newspaper journalist who was publicly humiliated after misreporting the identity of the serial killer from “The Death of Jean DeWolff” fame, the Sin-Eater. Brock was on the verge of suicide in a church tower when the symbiote, who had been left for dead there by Spider-Man in the inaugural issue of his third “B” title, Web of Spider-Man, overwhelmed him — saving his life but fueling him with power and hatred in the process (he was also able to provide Brock with Spider-Man’s secret identity, allowing the psychopath to hunt Peter’s family and friends down in a show of dominance).

The Brock iteration of Venom has always remained the most rich and complex from a character standpoint. Yes, he wanted to utterly destroy Spider-Man but what has long defined Brock’s stint with the symbiote was his unique sense of honor and morality. Brock loathed harming “innocents,” often lamenting their deaths as unfortunate collateral damage in his war on Spider-Man (which, in turn, only further provided fuel for his hatred). Also, Venom’s sole purpose was to kill Spider-Man. He had no cares or desire to use his extraordinary powers for any other gain.

However, it’s worth noting that it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Brock and the symbiote in the early days. While it certainly seemed like a match made in heaven when an angry musclehead like Brock bonded to a sociopathic, life-sucking symbiote, the little alien still lusted for his original host, Spider-Man. In the first full Venom arc following the fallout of ASM #300, Spider-Man is able to defeat the otherwise unstoppable Venom (who does not trigger his Spider-senses), by feigning a desire to get back together with the symbiote. The alien leaves Brock long enough to get zapped and separated from the flat-topped villain.

Of course, Venom and Brock were far too popular for any divorce to be permanent. While the creators working on the books certainly loved the royalties that often accompanied a Venom appearance, there was definitely a sense of the market becoming a little oversaturated with Brock and the symbiote. Venom kept coming back despite there being stories insinuating that he and the symbiote were through, and he even produced “spawn,” most notably Carnage to further his adventures. The advent of Carnage also led to a bit of a personality-change for Brock — rather than dedicate his life to destroying Spider-Man, he evolved into more of an anti-hero. He dubbed himself a “lethal protector” (which happened to be the title of the first Venom miniseries by Michelinie and Mark Bagley).

Still, the character often towed the line between good and evil. And when he eventually slipped back down to evil, the character had actually devolved into a pale caricature of the more nuanced version that first appeared in the late-80s. Late-90s/early-00s Brock-Venom was marked by an obsession with eating Spider-Man’s brains (and other body parts), and the character was seemingly turning himself off to a new generation of readers at a time when Marvel was slowly regaining its prominence in the comic book marketplace. To counter that, the always cerebral Paul Jenkins developed a pretty compelling story to add some sympathy back to Brock’s character when he unveiled that the symbiote he had bonded too had actually given him terminal cancer. “The Hunger” was certainly a great start to changing things up for Venom and Brock, but the actual trigger-pulling came courtesy of someone with a bit more cache in the industry.

Enter superstar writer Mark Millar, who, along with artist Terry Dodson, got his own maxiseries, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man to play around with. Rumor has it that Millar actually wanted to KILL Brock, but was later talked out of it by Marvel’s editors. Instead, Millar came up with the storyline that Brock would sell off the symbiote to the highest bidder to pay for his medical bills. And that’s how the first iteration of Venom gave way to the second one — more on that one later.

Brock never truly “left” the comics, and after a short hiatus, reappeared as part of the “Brand New Day” era of Amazing Spider-Man as a new character, Anti-Venom. Brock’s stint as someone who had the power to “cure” someone of their super-abilities, in turn, cured him of his cancer. Naturally, Brock would get seduced again by another symbiote, the spawn of Carnage, Toxin, which brings us to the present day.

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