Eddie Brock Sucks (But Venom's Great): Nic Woolfe
By the time this article comes out, Sony’s Venom will have been released internationally. This is big news for the character, as the film itself was announced as far back as 2008, with the character himself having been around for nearly 30 years since Amazing Spider-Man #300. However, that raises the question of whether or not a character like Venom can hold a movie. After looking over the character’s origins and subsequent adaptations, I find the answer to be a little complicated: Venom can hold a movie, but Eddie Brock cannot.
Before I go deconstruct the character, I must say that I like the concept of Venom, or at least the costume part of Venom. In 1984, during Marvel’s Secret Wars miniseries, Marvel gave Spider-Man a black costume based on a fan suggestion that would grant Spidey enhanced speed, strength, the ability to produce any clothing he desired, and unlimited webbing. Later, the suit was retconned into being a living creature, an extraterrestrial with a limited understanding of life or morality, that would take over Peter’s body while he slept and work as Spider-Man. Peter got rid of the suit as soon as he learned this was happening. Then the suit came back, with a new host, as the monster called Venom, and made for a formidable opponent. Not only did Venom have all of the black suit’s upgrades, but it had also managed to cancel out the Spider-Sense, which is supposed to alert Peter to danger. All in all, Venom made for a very powerful, paranoia inducing villain for Spider-Man. The only downside is that Venom had to be attached to Eddie Brock.
One of the big draws for a character like Venom is the ability to take the idea of Spider-Man and twist it into a dark reflection of himself, something that Eddie Brock doesn’t really accomplish. In the comics, Brock was fired from a respected reporting job after he wrote an interview with a man claiming to be a serial killer named Sin-Eater. Little did Eddie know, the guy he interviewed was a compulsive liar, with the real killer being caught by Spider-Man. After having to make a living off of writing tabloids, taking up body building to reduce stress, and coping with suicidal thoughts, Brock found himself in the same church where Spider-Man rid himself of his black costume, which would then bond itself to Brock due to their joined hatred of Spider-Man. While I get wanting to tie all of the elements of Venom’s origin together so that nothing feels wasted, Brock still comes across as a third-wheel to the already strong Spider-Man/Symbiote dynamic. On top of that, he’s also a bit of a self-righteous jerk and doesn’t endear himself to a sympathetic audience. I’m just saying, there’s a huge disconnect between “I am dealing with serious issues in my life, someone help me” and “posing as a woman’s husband and scaring the life out of her is a GREAT idea!” Later writers would take more stabs at Brock, like how he has cancer or his catholic upbringing, but I’m not sure a moviegoing audience would want to see “Self-Serious Deadpool” or “Bulky Monster Daredevil.”
90s Animated Series
With pathos eluding the Eddie Brock of the comics, it’s surprising how well the Saturday Morning-ification of the character worked for Spider-Man the Animated Series. For one thing, this was the series that not only gave the Symbiote costume a more Spider-Man centric origin (it was inside a space rock that J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son brought from space), but also established the idea that the Symbiote enhanced negative emotions, a plot point that later adaptations like Spider-Man 3 would use. More importantly, it simplified Eddie Brock’s character that fit the tone of the Venom story. Gone was any mention of cancer or a ruined life, he was just a jerk reporter at the Daily Bugle who liked to mess with Peter Parker. Think of their relationship as similar to Popeye and Bluto, only for that dynamic to be played for drama once Brock got the suit. In fact, pathos didn’t even enter Brock’s life until two seasons later, where Brock had been away from the suit for a long time and had been going through therapy. Once the Venom Symbiote did return, along with its offspring Carnage, Eddie used the Symbiote for as long as he could to stop Carnage from destroying New York, sacrificing himself along the way. The only problem I have with Venom in this show is that Brock was only in it as Venom for three episodes. While that gives the impression that the show staff didn’t know what to do with Venom, I must remind you that Spider-Man, the star of the show, was not allowed to punch people. There was no way they were going to show Venom eating brains.
Spectacular Spider-Man TV Show
9 years later after Spider-Man the Animated Series went off the air, a new cartoon, Spectacular Spider-Man, brought forth a new interpretation of Eddie Brock. Drawing on the Ultimate Spider-Man line of comics, Brock and Peter Parker were childhood friends, with Brock protecting Peter from bullies like Flash Thompson before Brock went to college. After the Symbiote tried playing body snatcher Peter, it merges with Brock and shares it’s knowledge on Peter’s life with Brock, strengthening Brock’s conviction that Peter uses his loved ones for personal gain. That would be well and good, except in the episode “Group Therapy,” where Eddie, wanting to get back at Peter for just letting the Symbiote be stolen in the previous episode, takes Mary Jane on a motorcycle ride and drives intentionally dangerous because Peter took Mary Jane to the prom. Wow. Again, “potentially harming someone who my former friend may like is a GREAT idea!” Now, if this had happened after Eddie was forced to drop out of college, I could easily by this as the act of a desperate man, wanting to cause pain to someone who caused him pain. But as it stands, the writers don’t seem to understand how pathos works. Yes, Peter stole the suit which caused Brock to lose the scholarship, but Brock pulled that MJ stunt before that development. Brock was a bad egg waiting to happen.
I wanted to talk about a beloved cartoon’s interpretation of Eddie Brock before I got to discussing Spider-Man 3, a film whose portrayal of the character I...feel strongly about. Firstly, ripping off the bandaid, I like the dancing Symbiote. While The Animated Series’ stamp on the Symbiote is important, the fact that it just made whoever wore it angry is a boring, lazy way to get across the idea that the Symbiote is a bad thing. Rather, the idea that the Symbiote’s much more of an inhibition releaser, and can get people to act goofy as well as angry is more interesting. Secondly, and this may be hearsay, I don’t like the bulky look for Venom at all. Spider-Man is supposed to be this slender figure because he’s acrobatic and it makes him look gangly like a spider, whereas Venom’s design is usually this proto-Rob Liefeld hulking beast with all the grace of a bulldozer. Thirdly, 0% trolling, sleazy, nerdy Eddie Brock is THE best version of Eddie Brock. He believes so much that he’s the put upon hero of his own story when he’s so clearly not. He concocts this story about how he wants an upcoming promotion at the Daily Bugle because it will help him take care of and marry the woman of his dreams, only for said woman, Gwen Stacy, to bluntly tell him they’ve only had one cup of coffee. The dude is so up his own ego that when he rightly gets fired for forging photos of Spider-Man being a criminal, that he goes to church and earnestly prays to God to kill Peter Parker! This is so much more engaging than if they tried to make a fully sympathetic portrayal of Brock. By making both Brock and Venom a dark mirror of Peter and Spider-Man the villains become more engaging. It really does seem like the less sympathetic Brock gets the more interesting he is.
Flash Thompson, Harry Osborne, & ???
While I don’t think it’s possible to make a sympathetic character out of Brock in a Spider-Man story, that’s not the same as making Venom into one. For a long time in the comics, Flash Thompson, former bully of Peter Parker, served the U.S. Government as Agent Venom. As it turns out, Peter’s heroism as Spidey inspired Flash to join the army, and while it cost him his legs he didn’t seem worse for wear. In the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, Harry Osborne winds up becoming Black Suit Spider-Man for a brief time. When Peter tries to talk to Harry about responsibility, Harry scoffs that his father taught him that “with great power comes great reward.” That quote alone makes me think that Harry should’ve been Venom instead of Hobgoblin in Spider-Man 3. While the character has never been directly associated with Venom, I actually think J. Jonah Jameson would be a great host for the Symbiote. For nearly 60 years, Jameson has been decrying Spider-Man as a menace, and it would be an interesting turn for the character to not only gain knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity but have the capability to carry out personal revenge in a future adaptation. I’m not talking about a Spider Slayer with JJJ’s mug on it, Venom/Jameson is gonna get his hands dirty. Plus, I could see a Jameson Venom having a bulky physique and making sense for the character.
After 30 years, I have yet to see proof that Eddie Brock as Venom is one of the great comic book characters. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have staying power, as I’ve tried to prove. At the very least, ignoring the Brock’s connection to Spider-Man and trying to make him into his own person is probably the best direction creators can take. In fact, in doing research for this article, the latest Venom comic seems to be focusing strictly on Brock and the Symbiote’s relationship with one another, which actually sounds very interesting. At any rate, I do hope the Venom movie is good, and not just a weaksauce version of the similarly themed Upgrade from earlier this year. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong.