First introduced within the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man #252 (May 1984), Venom stands alongside Frank Castle (aka The Punisher) as one of the favourite anti-heroes of the Marvel Comics Universe.
A black, tar-like alien symbiote that requires a living – preferably human – host to bond with to ensure its survival, Venom was initially referred to as simply “The Alien Costume” when Peter Parker (Spidey’s alter-ego) first came in touch with the substance, giving birth to the black Spider-Man costume which the character donned for a number of subsequent issues.
The background to how Spider-Man first came into contact with the symbiote was told later in 1984 as part of the twelve-issue Secret Wars mini-series, in which the main Marvel superheroes are transported to a distant planet called Battleworld by a character calling himself The Beyonder.
The initial concept for the character that would eventually become Venom was first conceived in 1982 by an avid comic book reader from Norridge, Illinois named Randy Schueller, who received a grand sum of $220 for the rights to the idea from then-Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter.
The symbiote was officially given the moniker of Venom in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 (May 1988) after making his memorable introduction on the final page of the previous issue, menacing Peter Parker’s on/off girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. Written by David Micheline and drawn by noted artist Todd McFarlane, it was here that the true character of Venom was established and struck such a strong chord with Marvel’s readership, who responded to the villain’s darkness and imposing physicality, and the symbiote’s ability to jump from host to host.
While Venom has inhabited a number of male and female characters in the Spider-Man universe over the years, including Peter Parker’s high-school bully Flash Thompson and of course Parker himself, his most popular and well-known host was Eddie Brock, a young journalist who when inhabited by the symbiote turned Venom into a character who often walked a line between vicious villain and street vigilante, dishing out his own violent brand of justice and occasionally forming an uneasy alliance with Spider-Man when needed.
Despite the character’s popularity and the current domination of all-things Marvel at the box-office, Venom has had a chequered history in making his presence known on the big screen. He turned up in several of the different Spider-Man animated TV shows of the 1990s (with Eddie Brock being voiced by Hank Azaria in several episodes of Fox Kids’ Spider-Man, and more recently by gruff tough guy Danny Trejo).
The first live-action attempt came via an aborted project that David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Man of Steel) was putting together for New Line Cinema in the mid-2000s. When that film collapsed amidst development hell and the rights to the character reverted back to Sony Pictures, the studio pressured Sam Raimi into shoehorning Venom into Spider-Man 3 (2007), widely considered to be a disappointing follow-up to the director’s first two excellent Spider-Man films (and sadly best remembered by most people today for the laughable scenes in which Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker turns emo by way of John Travolta’s Tony Manero).
With Topher Grace cast in the role of Eddie Brock, Venom’s third act appearance in Spider-Man 3 seemed token and rushed at best, and not the sort of live action debut that Venom fans had long anticipated. The film was overstuffed with too many characters (Thomas Haden Church as Flint Marko/The Sandman and James Franco as Harry Osborne/The New Goblin were the main villains of the piece), and plans for a fourth film in the series were ultimately scraped when Raimi withdrew from the project in 2010. Despite mixed reviews, the film still performed well enough at the box-office for Sony executive Avi Arad to announce a Venom spin-off film, another project which ultimately fell by the wayside.
When Sony hired Marc Webb to reboot their Spider-Man series with a whole new cast and team of writers, the Venom Symbiote was briefly spotted towards the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), nestled amongst the Oscorp building’s collection of experimental technology and weaponry (also spotted amongst the artefacts are Dr. Octopus’ mechanical arms and the Vulture’s wings).
Yet another Venom spin-off was announced in 2013, with Alex Kurtzman slated to co-write and direct, but as with previous attempts it led nowhere and was cancelled when Sony and Marvel came to an agreement that would allow the Spider-Man character to be incorporated into Marvel’s own cinematic universe, which was ushered in by an appearance by the web-slinger (now played by Tom Holland) in Captain America: Civil War (2016) before getting his own solo feature in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
Though Marvel were finally able to bring their most famous and best-loved hero home to them, the rights to Venom remained with Sony, who have now finally been able to deliver their long-promised Venom solo feature.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) and starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, Venom has a lot riding on it after such a protracted and rocky road to production. Early trailers have not filled die-hard fans of the character with much hope, and its PG-13 rating in the US indicates that the more horrific elements of the character are likely to be downplayed (or perhaps saved for an eventual unrated director’s cut).
The real wild card for the film will no doubt be Tom Hardy, a terrific actor and charismatic screen presence who clearly possesses the talent to deliver a memorable tour-de-force performance to do the character justice and give him the degree of malicious menace and sarcastic wit that he deserves.
Whether Hardy and all those involved can do so, while also pulling off a movie centring on a Spider-Man villain without an appearance from Spidey himself (unless he pops up for a surprise cameo), will soon be revealed when Venom breaks out worldwide in early October.
Venom is in cinemas October 4, 2018