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Commentary TV and Movies

Hey Venom, please don't suck

As a lifelong fan of the Spider-Man rival, I'm worried about the movie.

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The '90s Spider-Man animated series introduced me to the villain. 

Marvel/Fox Kids/Screenshot by CNET

Venom is finally getting his own movie, out Friday in the US (Wednesday in the UK and Thursday in Australia), and part of me is wildly excited about the alien-symbiote adventure. The other part is deeply concerned the film will leave me bitterly disappointed.

For those only vaguely familiar with Venom, he's actually the combination of two characters, journalist Eddie Brock and a gooey alien symbiote that latches onto other living beings and enhances their natural attributes, but also fuels their darkest impulses. (In the comics, the symbiote's had other hosts, starting with Spider-Man and including other Spidey allies and villains.)

I've loved the character since age 9, when I first saw him in the opening of the '90s Spider-Man animated series, where he's crushed by the logo. Clearly, the last villain seen has to be the biggest threat, right?

That glimpse was enough to excite my 9-year-old imagination, and his appearance -- voiced by Hank Azaria -- in the final episode of the three-part Alien Costume arc didn't let me down. It's pure, villainous perfection.

I dragged my parents to countless toy stores to find a Venom action figure during a 1996 family vacation to France (growing up in Ireland, we were behind the curve on toy releases). I finally found one, and he stands in my family home to this day.

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Hi, I've lived here for 22 years.

Sean Keane/CNET

Since then, I've religiously followed the character through comics, animated series and video games; his popularity has made him one of the go-to Spidey villains. His first solo movie -- starring Tom Hardy and directed by Ruben Fleischer -- is a big moment.

Of course, this isn't the first time Venom has reached the silver screen, but his role in Spider-Man 3 left many fans disappointed (I'm actually pretty fond of Spider-Man 3 despite its flaws, but Venom was way underused). Director Sam Raimi wasn't a big believer in the character, but gave in to studio pressure and shoehorned Venom into an already packed movie.

Longtime Spidey producer Avi Arad took the blame for this version of Venom, Screenrant reported Friday.

"I think we learned that Venom is not a sideshow," he said. "In all fairness, I'll take the guilt because of what Sam Raimi used to say in all of these interviews feeling guilty that I forced him into it. And you know what I learned? Don't force anybody into anything."

As a result, Eddie (played by Topher Grace of That '70s Show) was underdeveloped, as was the threat of the symbiote, which infamously made Peter express his newfound jerkishness through a dance number.

I'm worried Venom's solo movie will disappoint on a whole new level, despite its solid cast. Can a movie with Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed and Woody Harrelson be that bad?

My concerns center around the lack of an apparent Spider-Man connection (despite his vital villainous historical links to the webslinger), and the trailers. I actually liked the first one, which only showed Hardy's Eddie Brock and not his alien Other, because of its restraint. The second one showed Venom in all his glory, looking suitably oily with a super cool voice.

The third trailer left me feeling pretty indifferent, until the lame "like a turd in the wind" line at the end.

That line highlights how inconsistently the character has been written since his debut in 1988's Amazing Spider-Man #300, created by writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane. In this issue, he's a terrifying stalker who matches Spider-Man's powers, knows Peter Parker's secret identity and holds a major grudge.

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A variant cover for Amazing Spider-Man #798 -- by artist Terry Dodson -- paid tribute to Venom's first appearance, in which he harassed Peter Parker's wife, Mary Jane.

Marvel Comics

It's so good because Venom is an overpowering, unrelenting threat.

For a few years, Venom continued to battle Spidey -- whose brain he started threatening to eat in ASM #333 -- before they were forced to team up. The unlikely duo battled a bigger threat, Venom's offspring Carnage -- a symbiote bonded to serial killer Cletus Kasady and created by writer David Michelinie with artists Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley in ASM #360.

When Venom buried the hatchet with Spidey, he moved from New York to San Francisco in the 1993 Lethal Protector limited series. This shifted Venom from villain to Punisher-style antihero -- he kills criminals and tries to preserve innocent lives, quipping and twipping all the way.

The series is one of the movie's main inspirations, since it includes appearances by Carlton Drake (Ahmed's character), the Life Foundation survivalist group and five more symbiote offspring -- hinted at in the trailers.

After this, Venom's popularity ensured he was rarely off the shelves (much to my delight) and he went on to star in many silly comic series over the years.

He even became a secret agent in the ridiculous 1997 Licence to Kill miniseries by writer Larry Hama and artist Derec Aucoin, which was riddled with stupid James Bond references -- the main villain was Sergei Yesenofsky (or Dr. Yes) and part of the story was named "From Russia With Blood-Lust."

Things got a little bit too silly, to the point where I knew (even as a 10-year-old) that the character had jumped the shark.

Venom has also jumped back and forth from being a muscular guy in a suit to a flat-out monster. Even though the latter is less grounded and interesting (especially when he's slobbering and going on about eating brains), the trailers suggest that the movie is going down that route.

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Venom was a little different in Ultimate Spider-Man.

Marvel Comics

In Ultimate Spider-Man, an alternate-universe retelling of Spidey's early days, the symbiote suit was developed by Peter and Eddie's fathers as a cure for cancer. It had the unfortunate side effect of turning the user into a shape-shifting monster -- it's likely elements of this version will be used in the movies.

Back in the main Marvel Comics universe, the symbiote even left Eddie a few times, bonding with Mac Gargan (the Scorpion) and Flash Thompson (Peter Parker's high school bully), with the latter pair starring in an amazing 2011 to 2012 run by writer Rick Remender.

However, the symbiote recently returned to Eddie. His series relaunched in May and it's been excellent -- writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman have taken the character in some fascinating directions.

We've also gotten a nice five-issue cross-promotional series called Venom: First Host, which revealed that the symbiote initially bonded with a Kree soldier in a war with the Skrulls. Both races will appear in 2019's Captain Marvel.

While there's plenty of quality reading for Venom fans at moment, it's the movie that'll define the character's status for the more casual fans.

So, please Venom solo movie, for the sake of my 9-year-old self, don't suck. I'll still love the character even if the rest of the world laughs, but it'd be nice for Venom to have a cinematic win at last.

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