We won’t pretend that you have no idea who Venom is, because let’s face it, that giant tongue and those massive fangs are pretty ubiquitous when it comes to comic book iconography these days. But there’s a lot more to that hulking, black suited Spider-Monster than meets the eye, and with Tom Hardy about bring Eddie Brock to theaters for the first time since Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, now is the perfect time to brush up on those symbiote-related facts.
First things first: Eddie Brock is not actually Venom the way that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. This isn’t a secret identity situation, they’re actually two separate entities. Eddie Brock is a human, and Venom is what’s known as a symbiote–or, if you want to get technical, a member of the Klyntar race, an ooze-like alien organism that takes over a host. It’s important to remember that, because while Eddie is arguably the most famous Venom host, he’s definitely not the only one. Unlike most superhero identities, though, it’s not a mantle that is passed around or handed down. It’s literally a matter of the Venom symbiote moving from host to host.
Symbiotes actually have maybe the most bizarre and humble origins in superhero comics. They started as a fan submitted idea for a new costume for Spider-Man back in the mid ’80s. That’s right–a costume. A fan named Randy Schueller thought Pete would look cool in an upgraded costume with some new powers, Marvel agreed, and they bought the idea from him for a mere $220. From there, things quickly started to snowball. Pete’s new costume was given a pretty wacky origin story as an unspecified alien “entity” that conveniently replaced his tattered classic costume at the end of the major Marvel event Secret Wars.
This new black and white costume had all kinds of cool properties, like self healing from damage and shifting seamlessly into street clothes when Pete needed a quick change–a pretty convenient thing for comic book writers and artists who suddenly no longer had to worry about pesky continuity troubles like wounds and costume changes. The new costume also produced its own webbing, which was stronger and had better range than the old stuff. The catch was, of course, that the new suit wasn’t actually a suit, but a parasitic alien creature who could mimic the properties of clothing. This revelation came just a handful of months after the black costume’s big debut, in an issue titled appropriately, “The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man’s New Costume.”
Venom itself didn’t get a name or a real identity beyond Pete’s renegade alien suit until over a year later, when Eddie Brock entered the scene. Basically, Eddie was developed as a scorned reporter with a grudge against Spider-Man and placed in the scene near Pete’s initial “defeat” of his costume. The symbiote, feeling like a jilted lover for Pete’s rejection, sensed Eddie’s burning hatred and, naturally, went straight for him. This gave writers and artists an easy way to start playing with all the potential left on the table by the symbiotic black suit without having to kick off an entirely new origin story or do any more exposition–all the framework had been laid and left behind during Secret Wars.
Once they were officially bonded, Eddie and Venom maintained a pretty tumultuous relationship that tended to fluctuate between an equal partnership and a parasite/host dynamic. Eddie struggled (and often failed) to keep Venom’s homicidal urges in check. Frequently, Venom would threaten wanting eat people (a trait we know for sure is making a live action debut, thanks to the Venom trailers) but Eddie usually managed to reign it in and keep things mostly non-cannibalistic. Mostly.
Later, it was explained that Venom’s willingness to actually work with its hosts rather than just use them up and burn them out was actually extremely atypical for symbiote society and had led to Venom being branded “insane” on its homeworld. Over the years, Eddie and Venom’s bond would be tested, broken, reformed, and tested again, leading to a string for new hosts like Mac Gargan, a supervillain formerly known as Scorpion who was given the symbiote by Norman Osborn, and Flash Thompson, Peter Parker’s reformed high school bully who was given the symbiote by the government for an experimental procedure designed to weaponize its abilities as a black ops soldier while neutralizing its ability to think and act for itself.
As far as powers and abilities are concerned, Venom can do basically everything that Spider-Man can do, including honing in on its very own knock off spider-sense. It can also shapeshift around its host body, taking basically any form including weapons, extra limbs–you name it. Venom’s symbiotic relationship with its host also gives the host enhanced endurance and a considerable healing ability. However, Venom, like most symbiotes, is extremely weak to certain sonic frequencies and fire. Also, depending on the host, Venom’s homicidal impulses may not be under control, making it a pretty considerable chaos factor, especially if the host and the symbiote are trying to work towards to different goals–you know, like killing and eating people versus not killing and eating people.
As far as what to expect from the movie version, most if not all of Venom’s recognizable characteristics are probably going to make the big screen leap with one notable exception. Because this version exists in a cinematic universe isolated from Spider-Man, the classic origin is obviously going to be missing. This likely won’t make too much of a difference, but it will mean that Venom won’t have his iconic white Spider-logo (something he adapted when trying to mimic Peter’s costume) and won’t be bonding with Eddie because of their mutual need to get back at Spider-Man. By the look of things, however, its powers and abilities will all be exactly what you can expect, as well as its complicated–but sort of mutually beneficial–relationship with Eddie Brock.
Venom hits theaters October 5.