It strikes me as odd that I haven’t written more about super heroes in the past, given that I hold comics in such high esteem and they’ve had such a tremendous impact on my life. So, with Halloween just around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to delve into my 10 favorite costume-wearing heroes and explain the nature of each one’s impact on my life at various stages. Some of these I have less history with than others, some have grown on me over time, but all of them have affected me in a profound way that I am now, finally, going to attempt to articulate.
I read a lot of comics when I was a kid, and I grew up wanting to be a super hero, like a lot of other kids, probably. I don’t really read comics so much anymore, but the comic boom in the entertainment business these days is such that you almost don’t have to. I still love super hero stories, maybe even more now than I did as a youngster. What follows here will be a brief history and examination of each character, as well as my thoughts on how my views of said character have changed over the years, if at all.
A few quick disclaimers: there are going to be a few spoilers ahead, I’ve included three characters who aren’t technically “comic book” characters, and I’ve bent the rules a bit further by including a couple of ambiguous “heroes” into an otherwise upstanding lineup of do-gooders. That being said, on with the countdown…
If I had put this list together eighteen years ago, this guy would be #1, no question. The only reason he (or should I say, “they?”) finds himself this low on the list is because I’ve grown up. Now, don’t get me wrong–this is an awesome character. For those who don’t know, Venom was part of Spider-Man’s gallery of villains, and the two had a very complicated dynamic that I’ve never seen replicated in another story. Venom actually began life as a replacement costume for Spider-Man after Spidey’s original costume was destroyed during the Secret Wars. Comic story arcs like to reinvent themselves a lot, but that’s the origin of Venom I grew up with. The costume itself turned out to be a living creature, an extraterrestrial symbiote, that needed a human host to bond with in order to survive. It made the host stronger and more agile, but it also amplified and encouraged the host’s negative thoughts and emotions, which led Spidey to get rid of it, long story short. The symbiote did not take this rejection well. It found another host, this time an ambitious journalist named Eddie Brock who had recently been disgraced by Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and so Venom was born.
This guy was bad ass. He was big, he was mean, he was vicious, and he had this insanely creepy yet somehow fascinating tendency to refer to himself as “we.” He was also very unstable, and he caused all sorts of problems for Spidey. For one thing, the symbiote, having been Spider-Man’s costume for a time, knew his secret identity, which was bad enough. But even worse, it nullified his “spider sense” (arguably the coolest super power ever given to a super hero) since it had spent so much time physically and mentally bonding with Pete, which made Venom the only person anywhere who could actually get the drop on Spidey. Eddie Brock hated Spider-Man because of his perceived humiliation, and the symbiote hated Spider-Man because of his rejection of it, so symbiote and host got along famously. The symbiote encouraged Brock’s self-absorbed loathing, and Brock let the symbiote grow out its famous tongue and dine on human organs. Yeah, the two of them added up to one big, mean, terrifying monster who didn’t take shit from anyone.
As a fifteen-year-old kid, I loved that about Venom. I had been reading Spider-Man comics for years, but when I found Venom I knew that he was my favorite. Spidey had always frustrated me with his pesky tolerance of people, no matter who they were or how much damage they had done to him, his family, or the world at large. Venom had no such tolerance, and at the time, it was kind of a breath of fresh air. Spidey would always wind up on the short end of a savage beating unless he was dealing with your garden variety thug, but Venom put the smack down on everyone–I mean everyone–who looked at him sideways. It’s only natural that an undersized, fifteen-year-old kid still trying to figure the basics of the world out would admire that, and I don’t kick myself for it. Back then, I still thought that super powers and unquestioned authority were what defined a super hero. Funny, when I think about it now.
You might be asking, if Venom was such a horrible guy, what’s he doing on this list? Fair question, and the answer is, he wasn’t a horrible guy. Venom holds a very unique place among super villains because he was unusually, and unfailingly, well-intentioned. In my mind, Venom’s biggest enemy was his own delusion. He always meant well, as was evidenced by the fact that he utterly refused to hurt anyone he perceived to be an “innocent” person, and in fact took it very personally when anyone on any side of the law created collateral damage or, god forbid, outright harmed an innocent bystander. Most of the time, he was right, but there was something about the logic processes in his brain that just seemed a bit off. He wasn’t quite all there. He terrorized everyone Peter Parker (who he perceived to be guilty, oh, so guilty) knew, and had no qualms about killing (and eating) people, proving time and time again what really separates the heroes from the villains. He had the strength, he had the means, he even had the heart, but he consistently crossed a line that a hero doesn’t cross. When I was young and immature, I had no problem with that and didn’t yet understand what really made a hero, a hero. He was the dark, distorted version of my favorite hero, the result of emotion run amok and self-congratulation taken to a dangerous extreme. He was the result of utter and misguided certainty, and for years illustrated why it’s so important not to get too wrapped up in ourselves, a lesson which I eventually learned, thanks in no small part to him. If you want to see a fantastically grounded and entertaining take on the character, check out Ryan Kwanten’s portrayal in the short film, “Truth In Journalism.” You won’t be disappointed:
Would it be fair to call him insane? I think so. Still, when your intentions are as good as Venom’s, you deserve a place on a list of super heroes. Check back in later to find out number 9!