VENOM and TOM HARDY
THE NEW WILY COYOTE and ROADRUNNER??!
I’m a lifelong comic book fan as you probably have already gathered. Spider-Man is one of my all-time favorite characters and I also happen to think that his rogues gallery, hands down, is the best in the business (yes, better than Bat Man’s villains). You have the crazed Green Goblin, who is basically the Joker on steroids. There’s Doctor Octopus who sounds like a whimsical, fun villain until he walks up on the set with those titanium tentacles. Electro is the master of the alternating current. Sandman can transform his physical body into…SAND! The Vulture, The Rhino and The Scorpion all join Spidey’s sub-group of animal totem based characters. Kraven, a big game hunter with a hard on for Spider-Man. The list goes on…Kingpin, Shocker, Morbius, The Man Wolf, Hammerhead, Tombstone…etc etc.
Then there’s Venom and Carnage.
Without getting to deep into backstory and such, all I will say is the original incarnation of Venom which I think reared it’s ugly head in 1989 corresponded with me unfortunately ending my trend of collecting Spider-Man sequentially. I was in college and perhaps at that point out growing Peter Parker/Webhead’s nifty adventures. Venom to me was a cool character to look at and certainly appealed to my inexplicable interest in the “black suit” that Spidey had acquired during a massive crossover called SECRET WARS. In fact, it was not a suit…it was referred to as a “symbiote”, an actual living being that lives off of a host body. Weird, but sounds like an interesting way to keep readers engaged. So we have this alien symbiote thing that coats Spider-Man’s body like an actual latex suit, and it can intuitively assist Spider Man by doing things like manufacturing it’s own web fluid, making him impervious to gun fire and heightening his already acute “Spider Senses”. Sounds cool and at the time I dug it. Now not so much. Once it was decided by the powers that be that Spider-Man’s traditional costume was just as iconic as Superman and Batman’s respective raiments and should return to the comic, what would become of the black symbiote organism that imitated a superhero suit? I’m sure this was tossed around a million times in the Marvel Bullpen. Evil Spider-Man in Black? Peter Parker’s evil twin, like a Bizzaro Spider-Man…they already had that covered with Doppelganger and Ben Reilly (The Spider-Clone). Alright…then let’s grab a generic thug out of Riker’s and expose him to the symbiote…you know like a Flint Marko (The Sandman) or Mac Gargan (The Scorpion). Stan Lee was known for using down on their luck thugs to agitate and challenge Spider-Man throughout his classic run and this was a tried and true trope. We’ll call this palooka, Eddie Brock. He’s basically a rival journalist who incorrectly exposes the identity of a supervillain called Sin Eater as a serial killer. Later on Spidey/Peter catches the real serial killer and Brock is immediately disgraced and there’s your revenge motive. For some unexplained reason, Brock becomes a body builder and then goes to prison… soon after he is discovered by the symbiote and is compelled to express his baser instincts once he becomes the host of this alien entity (The Spidey Symbiote). Not a lot of substance their, I refer to him as a clever contrivance at best. A musclebound Spider Man in the retired black costume/symbiote with huge shark teeth? Yeah, I’d read that for a few kicks one afternoon. Why not?
Marvel discovers shortly after the creation of Venom that there is a damn near insatiable appetite for the critter amongst the faithful Marvellites out there and this enthusiasm was even bleeding over into the hordes of the uninitiated (people who liked Spider-Man but never bought the comics). This most certainly prompted the House of Ideas to try and wow us again using the same formula. So there’s this guy named Cletus Kassady (awesome supervillain name, btw) and it turns out that he was the former cellmate of Eddie Brock. During one of the many inane storylines that involved these Power Rangeresque villains…Kassady is exposed to an offspring of the symbiote that is left behind in the cell and merges with his blood. Yeah…you see where this is going. Kassady manifests his own symbiote that will come to be known as Carnage.
Venom and Carnage (to a lesser degree) goes onto become household names. I grow up and have a baby boy who also loves comics and his favorite Spider Man villain…Venom!!! I tried talking him out of this…I explained how Venom was really scraps and pieces of Spidey’s already exemplary rogues gallery. That he was just a “gimmick” character who looks cool, so they plaster him on a bunch of covers and exploit the hell out of the image to move books. But he didn’t care. There was something visceral about this character…and people are obviously still susceptible to the aesthetic charms of Venom. Devin, my oldest son, and I have now shown up for both Venom movies on opening night and here’s what I will tell you…
Venom and Tom Hardy are this generation’s Wily Coyote and Roadrunner. They are Heckle and Jeckle…Tom and Jerry…Scooby and Shaggy or perhaps more fittingly the Laurel and Hardy of the cinematic comicscape. Tom Hardy is a hellishly intense actor…he has chameleon like abilities that allow him to dissolve his own personality into the varied characters he’s played over time and you begin to forget he’s Tom Hardy. His role as a bloodthirsty fur trapper in the Revenant or his entertaining if not memorable turn as Bane in the third Nolan Batman are career highlights for me…but I remember it more for the performance than I do for his personality. In the case of his two Venom movies…I’m sure there was some physical comedy and athletic aptitude he had to display to achieve some verisimilitude but come on man…this is a straight phone in. Cinematic Venom is a cartoonish, wisecracking alien from another world who manipulates Tom Hardy’s character like a finger puppet and that gag is played for laughs throughout both movies. The first Venom flick that was released in 2018 was mildly entertaining as a motion piture anomaly. The effects were to die for and seeing a character the likes of Venom depicted with comic book accuracy on the big screen was enough to satisfy. But now in 2021…with the overused, but reliable Woody Harrelson as Venom’s blood brother, Carnage, we begin to see the trick to this franchise. Special Effects and weird symbiote spinoff characters! These gimmicky symbiotes (I think there is an Anti-Venom) could sustain this trilogy at least for two more installments. Venom is hollow super-hero fluff that reminds you of 90’s superhero films that didn’t require a plot line or real characterization that rose above cartoon quality. And I guess that’s cool. Sometimes you just want to look at the pictures.
I enjoyed an evening at the cineplex with my son and the soothing escape that a dark movie theatre generally provides for me no matter what’s currently showing. Venom and Venom: Let there be Carnage is adequate “escapist entertainment”.
Bring on the Spider-Man v.s Venom matchup…I’m game for one more installment.