Venom: Birth of a Monster – a Marvel Pocketbook British Edition


By Peter David, David Michelinie, Rick Buckler, Todd McFarlane & various (Marvel/PaniniUK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-052-4

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

You all know the story: Peter Parker was a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he had developed arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – Peter did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such a gifts: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, only to find that it was the felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night the Wondrous Wall-crawler has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

Although nominally a collection dedicated to the savagely driven, alien-infected vigilante who was amongst the Web-spinner’s greatest foes, Venom: Birth of a Monster only devotes a fraction of its content to the deadly dark double. Instead this Marvel Pocketbook compendium from 2007 collects the superbly powerful but barely relevant ‘Sin-Eater saga’ from Spectacular Spider-Man # 107-110 in 1985, and the contents of Amazing Spider-Man #298-300 (March-May 1988) which led to the actual debut of the Savage Symbiotic Sentinel…

The drama begins with chapter 1 of ‘Death of Jean DeWolff: Original Sin’ by Peter David, Rich Buckler & Brett Breeding, which begins with the eponymous lady cop who was Spider-Man’s only friend in the NYPD already murdered by a mystery assailant. In the stunned aftermath the department goes into cop-killer overdrive.

Meanwhile the Amazing Arachnid is savagely dealing with a trio of muggers who have robbed and brutalised a senior citizen. Ernie Popchik is a tenant at May Parker’s boarding house and the senseless assault on the old man has enraged the hero to breaking point. His mood isn’t helped when the arresting cops inform him of Jean’s demise…

Forcing himself into the case, Spidey befriends lead detective Stan Carter, even as in a church across town a desperate young man attempts to expiate his recent sins in the confessional booth…

The next morning sightless crusader Matt Murdock (AKA Daredevil) is drawn into the affair when he successfully defends the three muggers and sets them back on the street. Peter Parker is in court and further incensed as justice again seems to be not only blind by indifferent. The controversial presiding Judge Horace Rosenthal is one of Murdock’s oldest friends, and when the lawyer later visits in his chambers, his super-senses detect a sinister presence…

Before anyone can react a ski-masked figure overwhelms Matt and blasts the judge point blank with a sawn-off shotgun…

‘Sin of Pride’ (with additional inks by Josef Rubinstein, Kyle Baker & Pat Redding) opens moments later in the street where Peter and his Aunt May are consoling the shaken and still-terrified Popchik, who can’t believe his attackers are free again. Suddenly the masked shooter erupts out of the courthouse and instantly provokes a panic. Ditching May and Ernie, Parker changes to Spider-Man and confronts the killer who casually blasts him. The hero’s incredible abilities easily enable him to dodge the shots, but in the heat of pursuit Spider-Man has forgotten that he’s in the middle of a crowded street…

Horrified, the wall-crawler attends to the collaterally injured, allowing the murderous Sin-Eater to make his escape. With no other choice, the badly shaken hero is forced to resort to plain old detective work to solve the maniacal mystery and finds that Jean DeWolff had indulged a secret passion for the Amazing Arachnid…

There are many mourners attending the murdered Police Captain’s funeral, but across the cemetery, only Matt Murdock and close family attend the interment of the killer’s second victim. However as the Rosenthal ceremony concludes Matt’s super-hearing detects the Sin-Eater’s distinctive heartbeat wafting from the gathered crowd of cops, politicians, clerics and celebrities across the still, green park…

The Daredevil in mufti is unable to isolate the source but now has a pool of suspects to track… which is reduced by one when, that night, the maniac kills the Reverend  Bernard Finn in the Confessional…

The tension shifts into overdrive in ‘He Who is Without Sin’ (David, Buckler & Breeding) when political opportunist Reverend Tolliver stirs up racial divisions and Peter learns that one of the bystanders he recklessly endangered has died. Pushed to breaking point, Spider-Man futilely tries to pry a lead from Wilson Fisk, New York’s Kingpin of Crime, but coincidentally discovers that Daredevil was there before him… The web-spinner, now nearing boiling point, then terrorises a local gang-boss and recklessly endangers a small child in his desperate urgency to find the Sin-Eater…

It all comes to a head at the Daily Bugle building later, when the scattergun killer comes looking for J. Jonah Jameson and is anticlimactically subdued by Peter Parker and other journalists. The malevolent vigilante is Emil Gregg, a simple schizophrenic driven by voices to do the Lord’s work, but when Daredevil confronts the captive at Police Headquarters, his hearing soon discerns that this Sin-Eater is merely a deluded copycat…

Meanwhile at Jameson’s mansion the authentic assassin is attempting to kill the absent publisher’s wife and Peter’s best friend Betty Brant-Leeds…

The shocking conclusion ‘All My Sins Remembered’ (Bucker and the inking army known as “M. Hands”) sees Spider-Man save the day and expose the real killer, but also explode in uncontrolled fury as his shock and betrayal erupts into a misguided, frustration-fuelled dust-up with Daredevil.

And in the subway, traumatised Ernie Popchik shoots three young thugs acting tough and intimidating defenceless passengers…

By way of background: During the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars of 1984-1985, Spider-Man picked up a super-scientific new costume which was actually a hungry alien parasite which slowly began to permanently bond to its unwitting wearer.

After being discovered and removed by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four “the Symbiote” ultimately escaped and, like a crazed and jilted lover, tried to re-establish its relationship with the horrified hero; seemingly destroying itself in the attempt.

During a stellar run of scripts by David Michelinie, the beast was revived with a new host and became one of the most acclaimed Marvel villains of all time, helped in no small part by the escalating popularity of rising star artist Todd McFarlane…

The action continues here with another only tangentially germane two-part thriller ‘Chance Encounter’ and ‘Survival of the Fittest!’ from Amazing Spider-Man #298-299, by Michelinie, McFarlane and Bob McLeod.

The story details how Spider-Man stumbles across a coterie of Survivalist millionaires covertly constructing a lavish high tech gated community in which to ride out the fall of civilisation in opulent splendour and lethally protected luxury. The scheme was only exposed when a series of weapons shipments went missing and Spidey’s old enemy Chance was kidnapped. Although a sharp action adventure in its own right – and very enjoyable – each of these tales concludes with a teaser showing a shadowy, bestial figure obsessing over clippings of Spider-Man…

The mystery is revealed in the anniversary issue #300 with the landmark introduction of ‘Venom’ wherein the monstrous shape-shifting stalker, having terrorised Peter’s new bride Mary Jane, begins a chilling campaign to psychologically punish Spider-Man.

Venom is a huge hulking, distorted carbon copy of the web-spinner: a murderous psychopath constituted of disgraced reporter Eddie Brock and the now eternally bonded bitter, rejected parasite whose animalistic devotion was spurned by its former ungrateful host. Parker had even tried to kill the faithful loving Symbiote…

Brock obsessively hates Parker for the craziest of reasons: when Emil Gregg was arrested, Brock was the first – and exclusive – reporter to reveal him as the Sin-Eater.

When the real killer was exposed hours later, Brock lost his job, his career and his grip on reality. As he hit the skids Brock blamed photo-journalist Parker for the debacle, but at his lowest moment, the rejected, starving Symbiote found him. As they merged, human and alien realised they hungered for vengeance on the self-same man…

The story is a stunning blend of action and suspense with an unforgettable classic duel between Good and Evil which famously saw Spider-Man finally return to his original Ditko-designed costume. It also kicked off a riotous run of astounding stories from a fresh generation of game-changing creators…

The savage, shape-changing anti-hero Рa perfect dark-side version of the Amazing Arachnid Рwent on to his own blood-drenched series and eventually the spidery rivals reached a tenuous d̩tente.

Although I’ve carped about this book’s incongruent and perhaps misleading title, Venom: Birth of a Monster does reproduce some of the most powerful, entertaining and cruelly forgotten tales of the hard-luck hero’s long and stellar canon. If it’s simply fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights action and excellent comics enjoyment you’re after, this might well be a very pleasant way to while away your midnight hours…
© 1985, 1988, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. A British edition published under license by Panini S.p.A.