Venom has lived many different lives since it was first introduced as Spidey’s new suit in The Amazing Spider-Man #252. Nowadays, the alien symbiote is coming to grips with its emotional demons with the help of one of the first true loves of its life. Eddie Brock and Venom are back together, doing a sort of supervillain couples therapy.
Brock and the symbiote have been reckoning with their issues in the current ongoing solo series Venom, written by Mike Costa and illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval. They’re finally dealing with the fact that they’ve been trapped in an unhealthy, emotionally codependent relationship for too long. It’s a thematic framing that’s familiar ground for superhero comics; the most fascinating relationships between heroes and the villains they fight are always those that begin as a powerful love that, in time, turns into a darker, more sinister obsession before completely warping into something more resembling a passionate hate.
Characters like Batman and the Joker, or Professor Xavier and Magneto, aren’t simply enemies, they are people whose personas have been largely defined by their shared histories—they are people who could not exist without each other. Often these relationships are binaries based on the idea that the people involved are inversions of one another, but in a character like Venom’s case, the story is decidedly more complicated.
It boggles the mind to think that a character who began as a piece of clothing has gone on to become one of the most narratively-rich ideas in Marvel Comics history. The seething hatred that Venom has always harbored for Spider-Man, you’ll remember, all comes back to the fact that being bonded with Peter Parker gave the symbiote an identity that it’d never had before. From Venom, Peter gained a snazzy new suit and unlimited webbing, but from Peter, Venom was given the opportunity to define itself as a sentient being able to move through the world with purpose and agency.
All of that was ripped away from Venom when Peter first rejected it after realizing the danger that the symbiote posed. The trauma of being separated from Peter and the unique circumstances of its meeting Eddie Brock are what ultimately led Venom down the path of villainy that’s defined the character for the past 33 years. For a time, the line between Venom’s own inherent viciousness and the hatred that Brock bore for Spider-Man was blurred in such a way that rendered Venom (their bonded self) as a rather straightforward sort of villain. When operating as Venom, for instance, Eddie isn’t just wearing the symbiote, but rather operating as a single entity that refers to itself as “we” rather than simply “Venom” or “Eddie.”
But as Venom and Eddie were eventually separated and Venom went on to bond with other hosts, they’ve both grown and evolved as people in ways that gave their recent reunion a unique significance. Following its time with Flash Thompson as Agent Venom, the symbiote’s gone through something of a reinvention of self in which it remembered its original host long before Peter Parker who was the first being to teach it hatred and rage. Now free of those dark impulses, Venom sought to live its life as a hero, fulfilling its biological destiny to bond with those who would make the world a better place.
After being separated from Flash, Venom briefly spent time with Lee Price, a sociopathic Army Ranger whose military skills and belief in strength initially attracted the symbiote. But in being its newer, less monstrous self, Venom found that it was susceptible to being dominated and abused by Lee, who could use memories of his traumatic childhood to cause Venom pain through their psychic connection. The experience of being held prisoner and tortured by a host left Venom shaken for reasons that should be obvious: in all its existence, it’s been used to being in control and never hurt quite like that before.
Fear of Lee (and the chance at bonding with Spider-Man again) is what convinces Venom to break free of its newest host, but it ends up coming face to face with Eddie and is presented with a chance to try their pairing out once again. In the time that he and Venom spent apart, Eddie bonded with a number of other symbiotes and left much of his villainous life behind him. A number of deaths, losses, and personal struggles transformed the the classic Eddie Brock into a much more mature man who better understood the value of making peace with one’s demons rather than reveling in their rage.
But Eddie’s reunion with Venom has been a complicated one for the past few issues of Venom. Even through they’re different than when they first met, old habits die hard and the pair have found themselves slipping into familiar patterns. There’s a newfound intimacy between Eddie and Venom that’s markedly different than before, and it most often comes across as affectionate, bordering on romantic.
Eddie frequently refers to Venom as his “love” and Venom expresses a deep desire to to protect Eddie from harm that comes across as more than the symbiote looking out for its own self interests. Much in the same way that Jean Grey and the Phoenix have come to understand that they are two halves to a much larger whole of a being, so too have Eddie and Venom.
And yet, the darkness within both of them is stoked by their being interconnected once again. Venom, for all of its desires to be heroic like Spider-Man, struggles to understand the finer points of abstract justice and why heroes can’t simply kill the their foes. Eddie, for his part, is unsure of the influence that Venom has on his own mental state but understands that, at this point, Venom sees him as a source of strength and a place of refuge. He wants to protect Venom, but at the same time, he has a sense that Venom may be putting him in danger at night while Eddie sleeps and his mind is no longer in control of his body.
The two are entangled in an emotional and psychological web that’s difficult for either of them to fully parse both in spite of and because of how close they are. Internal demons have been a fact of both Venom and Eddie’s lives for years, but for perhaps the first time they are one another’s demons and at a loss as to how to reconcile that. As a series, Venom has its fair share of action-packed, daring moments, but they all pale in comparison to the story being told about the symbiote and Brock. It’s sickeningly fun to watch Venom battling with the dino-humans living beneath New York City, but the story’s at its strongest and most engaging when it’s focused on the back and forth between its two leads.
Costa’s Venom is a surprisingly cerebral take on a pair of characters who have most commonly been depicted as a hulking, cannibalistic terror. There’s a depth and intellectual complexity to this idea of Venom that one imagines could make for exactly the sort of bold, R-rated movie that Sony wants its Tom Hardy-led Venom film to be. We’ve spent so much time re-hashing Venom’s hero/villain dynamic with Spider-Man, but it turns out that Venom’s richest, most complex, most important relationship is with the man inside him.