Current Reviews


Venom: Dark Origin #3

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008
By: Ariel Carmona Jr./David Wallace

Zeb Wells
Angel Medina (p), Scott Hanna (i), Avalon's Matt Milla (colors)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Venom: Dark Origin #3 arrives in stores tomorrow, October 1.

"Chapter 3"

Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Dave Wallace:

Ariel Carmona Jr.

This comic book is an homage. It's an homage to those great Spider-Man stories in the 80s including Peter David's phenomenal Sin-Eater saga featuring the death of Jean de Wolff. Any Spider-Man fan worth his salt knows the significance of that event in continuity with the web crawler wearing his black and white threads prior to Venom's first appearance.

Yet this comic book series is more than that; it takes what other Spidey writers like David, Danny Fingeroth and J.M. Dematteis have wrought and attempts to expand on these great stories to weave together a highly expanded origin story featuring Eddie Brock who was the original Venom. The book even follows the old comic book format of sticking the credits in the back instead of on an opening splash page.

The only problem is that the plot is highly decompressed. Wells' story telling is very thin with each issue moving at a terribly slow pace, this issue being the most problematic of the three published thus far, in as far as this aspect of the book is concerned.

The central action of the comic doesn't even feature Spider-Man, which is understandable as the web crawler is only a bit player in the drama as Eddie Brock and his menacing alter ego take center stage. But by recounting their origin in the church harking back to Web of Spider-Man #1, Wells seems stuck in neutral as far as plot development is concerned, devoting as much time as he does to the creature's already well known genesis.

The artwork is another thing altogether. Angel Medina’s pencils are deliciously good in this comic. He's one of those talents with a distinct style all of his own and his take on the dark Spider-Man and Venom are a treat for die hard aficionados of the character. While every artist seems to have put his own stamp on the character since its inception, Venom has been devolving into a monster with clawed feet and his current incarnation almost makes him look like an entirely different character.

There are also entire pages detailing events first chronicled in the Secret Wars mini series. Normally I am opposed to so much space being given to large panels devoid of text, but in this case I will make an exception because these familiar events are made fresh again by Medina's wonderful renderings.

Medina does an excellent job of not only capturing the original look of the character, defined by the masked features of his black and white clad nemesis, but also of evoking his original motivation: His bond with Brock born out of pure hatred of the web crawler and a delusional belief that Spider-Man ruined his life following the events in the "Sin Eater" storyline. For this reason alone I have to up the ante when it comes to a bullet grade for this comic as I feel Medina is at the top of his game.

In my opinion, Marvel ruined Venom a long time ago by overexposing the character and by diluting his initial characterization, going as far as to turn him into an anti-hero for the purposes of using him in comics outside of the Spider-Man continuity. It's good to see a comic that at least tries to get back to basics. By doing so, it evokes the old feelings of witnessing a fresh concept and the birth of great new villain for Spider-Man. Also, kudos to the House of Ideas for bringing back a part of my youth. I just wish the execution of the narrative portion of the comic would have been handled with a little more precision.

Dave Wallace:

The story of Eddie Brock's descent into super-villainy continues here, as issue #3 briefly recaps the history of the alien costume and its relationship with Spider-Man, and shows the moment at which Eddie joins with the Venom symbiote for the first time.

As with the previous issues, this is a pretty faithful retelling of Venom's origin story. Writer Zeb Wells encourages us to see things from Eddie's point of view to a certain extent, peppering the story with a few personal details (such as Eddie's impending divorce) that invite a little more sympathy with Brock than we might have felt when we first read this story from Spider-Man's perspective, in Amazing Spider-Man #300. However, the writer leaves no doubt that Eddie's own personality flaws have as much to do with his turn to the dark side as any outside influences, so it isn't as though Wells is trying to justify Venom's actions - just explain them.

Angel Medina's take on Venom is a satisfying one that carefully walks the line between the traditional and the more modern interpretations of the character without ever feeling like an imitation of the style of any particular artist. Personally, I prefer the sleeker, smoother version of the character as originally drawn by Todd McFarlane to the rippling, Hulk-like musculature that later artists added, but Medina's character design is a good compromise that evokes the best of all eras (I particularly liked the thin smile that we see towards the end of this issue that feels just like the character as drawn by McFarlane in Amazing Spider-Man #299 and #300). That said, the final page and the subsequent preview of next issue's cover suggests that Medina's take on Venom might evolve in the same way as the character did in his original succession of appearances, when Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley started drawing him with increasingly exaggerated anatomy, particularly around the jaw. Scott Hanna's tight ink job really makes the most of Medina's linework, too, with one or two panels in particular (such as the first panel on page 2) capturing the slithering, shiny, slick and oily blackness of the alien costume perfectly.

The issue's major plot point is the merging of Eddie Brock with the alien symbiote, and Medina draws the sequence well, conveying a suitably unsettling atmosphere as the creature takes over Eddie's mind and body. Medina is also called upon to provide a brief recap of the symbiote's origins - a sequence that is almost entirely free of dialogue - and even though I'm not sure that there's really enough information here for those readers who aren't familiar with the symbiote's origins to put things together, it's a satisfying inclusion for longtime fans. We see Medina reprise the very first moment (in continuity terms) that the alien costume appeared, and there's also the obligatory Secret Wars flashback splash page that all comicbook artists seem to love to draw.

However, there's a notable omission (whether in the script or in the artwork) in that we don't really get a strong sense of why Spider-Man rejected the symbiote - and that might make the transition confusing for uninitiated readers who are buying this series to get up to speed on exactly who Venom is and how his relationship with Spider-Man works. There are also certain moments in this issue that seem gratuitous and excessive, substituting spectacle for story in a manner that's ironically reminiscent of the kind of hollow stories that Venom eventually became best-known for. The sparse script provides for multiple splash pages that showcase Venom in all his glory, with dazzling explosions of symbiotic tendrils that might look pretty, but which don't really add anything to the story.

The closing pages of the book provide an interesting development that's not quite shocking enough to be a truly attention-grabbing cliffhanger, but which sets up Venom's first confrontation with Spider-Man effectively. I was keen to see how Eddie's knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity would be handled in this series, especially in light of the recent retcons in Amazing Spider-Man, and Venom's current appearances in that book that have him oblivious of the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Happily, Wells & co. stick close to the established backstory here, leaving any "One More Day"-related questions to be answered by other titles. I'll be interested to see whether this approach continues, especially given that the original "Venom" storyline took place shortly after Peter's marriage to Mary Jane in the original continuity.

This miniseries has surprised me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was expecting a more drastic retooling of Venom's story - and instead Wells has stuck quite closely to the established origin story, making only minor cosmetic changes to Eddie's journey from disgraced journalist to all-out super-villain. Secondly, it has reminded me why so many people were hooked by Venom's early Marvel appearances, as despite the character falling into a rut soon afterwards, his core concept is a pretty strong one. Ultimately, this series doesn't add a huge amount to Venom as a character - and those readers who don't have the same attachment to Venom that I do can deduct at least half a bullet from my rating - but this is a solid story, well told, with more than passable writing and artwork, and deserves a certain amount of credit for that.

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