I almost didn’t do this article this week. Truth be told and allowing myself to editorialize a bit, I’ve been getting a bit burned out with all the writing I’ve done lately for this site and elsewhere, and decided to cut a loss or two.
Then last night I went to my LCS and found a comic I’ve wanted since I was a tiny lad watching Saturday morning cartoons and reading collected books full of different Spider-Man stories on sale for $15, and this week’s Longbox Diving was born.
Ladies and gentlemen, for both a brief yet entirely narcissistic auto-biographical look at my love of comic books as well as some thoughts on what I can only define as a classic, take a look after the jump.
When I was a kid, I thought that Eddie Brock/Venom was just the coolest. Like, the absolute coolest character ever. He wasn’t a “good guy”, but he had his own ongoing anyway where he threatened to eat people’s brains (and, at one point, did). One of the first comics I can remember going to the store and buying was Venom: Carnage Unleashed, in which Carnage’s exploits are made into a videogame and Venom and Carnage have a TRON-esque showdown. That defined comic books to me as a kid: fun, ridiculous and bloody.
When people ask me who my favorite superhero character is I by default say Spider-Man these days, but it isn’t entirely true; I love Spider-Man, and I love his ongoing adventures in both the 616 and the Ultimate Marvel universes, but while Spider-Man was what originally caught my attention, it is without a doubt that Venom is the be-all, end-all character for me. Or rather, the Eddie Brock version that I grew up with. (Once you get to the Daniel Way run, turn around — you’ve gone too far.) Venom is everything that made for a compelling character to me: he didn’t walk that straight and narrow line of being a hero, but he always inherently tried to do the right thing. He showed that a good person could become a bad guy and still somehow make the right decisions; if that wasn’t somewhat of an influence on my ruffian behavioral mindset as a young upstart, I don’t know what else could be.
On top of that, as a fan of literature in general, I love the idea of characters with distinct foils. I assume there is still some debate on who Spider-Man’s greatest villain is (Green Goblin threw Gwen Stacy off a bridge and Doc Ock tried to bang Aunt May — two rather heinous offenses, all things considered), but to me, it could only have ever been Venom, as Venom was Spider-Man’s foil. Venom was almost the complete opposite of Spider-Man; where Spider-Man worked from a sense of responsibility for failing to help another, Venom was fueled by blinding selfish vengeance. Despite similar power sets and an arguably similar sense of ethics, Eddie Brock simply went into a blind rage when it came to issues involving Peter Parker. It was amazing to me to watch how Brock could be the Lethal Protector (an infinitely cool name) one minute, yet a rampaging supervillain the next. You just don’t get that from your average villain.
To that end, one of my lifelong dreams as a comic fan was always to own Amazing Spider-Man #300. I’ve read it god knows how many times at this point, because I currently own four copies of it (including the one I bought yesterday). I have my Birth Of Venom trade paperback, my Michelinie/McFarlane omnibus and that Toys R Us reprint my mom got off eBay for my birthday when I asked her for a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #300 for my birthday (true story!). Hell, I have every issue of Venom that has ever been printed since David Michelinie began the Venom ongoing with “Lethal Protector” and Mark Bagley behind the art wheel, as well as maybe 50% of appearances he’s made in other comics just because. Right now, as I sit here writing this in my living room I can count seven visible items of Venom-related merchandise, and there is more scattered throughout my apartment. I like Venom, you guys.Continued below
And now, thanks to a fluke spotting of something out of the corner of my eyes, I own
that issue. It’s not the first true appearance of Venom (that would be Amazing Spider-Man #299
, which I also own, which features his first full body appearance — or, if you want to split hairs, Amazing Spider-Man #298
, which featured his hand), but it is the
birth of Venom. And even now, reading it for the umpteen-billionth time, it doesn’t get old: the overly expositional dialogue, the gratuitously long build-up to a fantastic smack-down, or even the anti-climactic fight between Spider-Man and Venom which simply results in Venom being put on the sidelines for 15 issues while he chills in a tank in the Baxter Building. Everything about this issue reads new to me, as I always come at it a little bit older and a little bit wiser, bringing new perspectives into my read of it based on ever-growing preferences in the medium. While other older comics I used to like generally feel the strain of time, this one never does despite all of it’s flaws.
See, that’s the thing about Amazing Spider-Man #300: I will talk your ear off about how much it is a classic comic book and I love it, but it isn’t very good. Not really, anyway. I look at it with beer goggles because the meer trip down memory lane this comic gives me is enough to give me an instant heart-on for it, but from a completely objective standpoint, it’s not as much the cat’s meow as I pretend it is. Michelinie’s writing drags a lot throughout the issue, suffering from the element of “tell” instead of “show”, especially in its incessant need to recap events that happened only a few issues ago, and some of the dialogue is just ridiculous. McFarlane’s art on the other hand isn’t nearly as slick or as sharp as it is now, and is instead a rather chaotic and uneven (albeit still talented) run through the pages. The issue was certainly an important milestone in continuity – Peter and Mary Jane move into a fancy new penthouse, Spidey goes back to the classic blue and red, and Peter also changes his photography career a bit – but the main reason you buy the issue, to see Spider-Man and Venom beat the living tar out of one another, is never as long as you want it to be.
Still, my self seeps out of my pores and drips onto the pages, and I can’t help but get lost in the issue time and time again. I know all the events like history I studied in school, and I know all the story beats like lyrics to a song. I’m sure, somewhere in your comic book collection (whether in floppy or in trade), you have a comic just like this. We all do. That is, in the end, what is magical about comic books. For you, it could be any number of characters or stories, but for me, it’s a sociopathic supervillain with a love of Jesus, some slight self-destructive tendencies, an incredible ability to hold a grude, and – buried beneath a thick, oozy black alien substance – a heart of gold.
As time has run it’s course, Eddie Brock has certainly downgraded as a character. At least, in my eyes, anyway. He was given cancer, given an even heavier religious sense, left to rot in a hospital, morphed into Anti-Venom and then used as a curaga for “Spider-Island.” Flash Thompson currently lives with the symbiote, and while I certainly like Flash’s adventures, I miss the good old days of “WE WILL EAT YOUR BRAINS!”, California deamin’ and good old fashioned Spidey bashing. Even so, Amazing Spider-Man #300 is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Sure, I’m biased as all heck and I won’t pretend otherwise, but when it comes to classic Spider-Man stories, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Viva la Venom.
Of course, you must realize that this means I might pull out my copies of “Maximum Carnage” or “Planet of the Symbiotes” soon to write about in this column.