Venom: Lethal Protector #1-6
Issue(s): Venom: Lethal Protector #1, Venom: Lethal Protector #2, Venom: Lethal Protector #3, Venom: Lethal Protector #4, Venom: Lethal Protector #5, Venom: Lethal Protector #6
Amazing Spider-Man #375 cleared the decks for a Venom mini-series by settling things relating to his hatred of Spider-Man and, in reciprocal, having Spider-Man reluctantly agree to not go after Venom any more. So it's a little ironic that Spider-Man is a guest star in every one of the issues in this series, especially since the story is deliberately set in San Francisco (Eddie Brock's birthplace), well out of the standard reach of Spidey's webs.
And the next series will feature the Punisher. After that, Venom more or less gets to stand on his own.
Between the stealth nature of the series (i.e. disguising it as a series of minis) and the guest stars on the early issues, it's almost like Marvel wasn't confident that Venom could hold a series on his own. But i guess those doubts were assuaged after the first two minis.
I actually like the idea of a series of minis instead of an ongoing series. In more recent years, Marvel basically does that anyway without really admitting it. Books get cancelled and rebooted on a regular basis. At least with what's going on here with Venom, you know that you're getting a complete story as originally intended each time, with sales only determining the fate of the next one.
The downside of this format, especially due to the multiple creative teams, is that it's not really feasible to develop much of a supporting cast or ongoing subplots. And that's especially a problem for a character like Venom, who is a) crazy and b) basically a villain, whatever he thinks his motivations are. There isn't a lot of depth to Venom, so his stories are going to be pretty much entirely plot driven. Of course, a lot of that could be said about the Punisher, too.
Also, that's not to say that this mini doesn't introduce new characters. Holy crap does it introduce new characters. We meet the Jury, new Symbiotes (yeah, seriously), another David "I wish i was still writing Iron Man" Michelinie corporate villain, and a civilization of seemingly homeless people that turn out to be living in an old underground city. The latter seem like they might have been intended as a regular supporting cast, but they'll never appear again. The rest, you'll note, are all antagonists for Venom and don't qualify as supporting characters.
Venom gets involved with the homeless people when he comes across some armed thugs rousting homeless people in a park. He defends the homeless people, and he's joined by Spider-Man (who has come to San Francisco because of reports of an earlier fracas that Venom was involved in). The homeless people bring Venom (who slips away from Spidey) to their underground home after the fight. It turns out that a part of San Francisco fell underground during the earthquake of 1906. But their sanctuary is threatened by the guy that sent the thugs, a man named Roland Treece. Treece sends armored goons into the caverns, and Venom again defends the Old San Franciscans.
After he beats the mechas, the Old San Franciscans debate whether or not to welcome Venom into their society. The council ultimately votes not to permit Venom to join them. So Venom decides to go after Treece, hoping that if he takes care of Treece, they'll change their mind.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man searches for Venom and learns that Eddie's father, Carl Brock, still lives in San Francisco. He doesn't learn anything from him as Peter Parker...
...so, secret identity be damned i guess, he approaches him moments later as Spider-Man.
Nonethless, he still learns nothing from Carl. He gets some info from the Brock's housekeeper, Sharon Dempsy, but even that doesn't amount to much (basically, Brock's father doesn't like him very much). Neither Carl Brock nor Sharon Dempsy will appear again. As with the Old San Franciscans, i wonder if David Michelinie would have used them more if he continued to write the series.
While Spider-Man is doing that, Venom invades Treece's building and learns that Treece is planning a renovation of the park over the underground city, supposedly as a gift to the city. Venom is attacked by a ton of guards, but gets away. But before that plot goes any further, Venom is attacked by the Jury.
The Jury are led by Orwell Taylor, who was the father of the Vault Guardsman that Venom killed in Amazing Spider-Man #315. He's organized a group of ex-Guardsmen and other friends of his son from the military to get vengeance on Venom.
Venom lamely says that he "didn't want to hurt anyone" before fighting back and escaping. He later says to himself that killing Orwell's son "was a regrettable necessity" as "part of our quest to destroy Spider-Man", but that "the elder Taylor's grief is valid". The Jury continue to pursue Venom.
Venom is offered an escape when he's approached by Treece, who offers him sanctuary and a job as his new head of security. Venom warily goes along with it, but winds up getting trapped. And it turns out that Treece works for Carlton Drake of the Life Foundation.
The Life Foundation is still in the business of selling upscale survivalist condominiums, and Drake thinks that symbiotes would make for good suits for security guards. I guess the fact that both current symbiote hosts are murdering psychopaths isn't a cause for concern.
So five spawn of Venom are extracted from him the same way that Carnage was created.
Spider-Man, still searching for Venom, meets the first of the new symbiotes.
Deja vu is a nice way of putting it, Spidey. More like brand dilution.
Spider-Man has a much easier time with this symbiote than he's ever had with Venom or Carnage, and she requests extraction. Spidey follows the ship that picks her up back to where Venom is being held. But that's where all the new symbiotes are.
It's just too many. It's too much. Diminishing Threat Syndrome is part of the problem - five symbiotes is just way too much for anyone to handle unless there's an explicit reason why these ones are so much weaker. But it's also just overload. Venom was cool. Carnage, being more "extreme" than Venom, and more unambiguously evil, i can see the point of. But now we've got symbiotes that are just generic goons. I mean, none of these characters are given backstories, or even names. The whole thing just feels crass, in an embarrassingly obvious way. You like Venom?! How about FIVE VENOMS?! (And i bet they don't even know kung-fu.)
It is said that they don't have Spidey's experience, and that they haven't had time to bond with their hosts. But they also have nifty new powers, like the ability to produce acid.
Eddie Brock was separated from his Venom symbiote in that final scan there where he got hit in the face by all five new symbiotes. Makes them seem really weak.
Brock and his symbiote eventually re-bond, and he and Spider-Man defeat the symbiotes, arguing about whether or not to kill them. Venom uses a device that artificially brought the spawns to adulthood to age them completely, seemingly killing the symbiotes while "probably" keeping the hosts alive. But we will actually see the symbiotes again.
Carlton Drake's plan was to use the Venom spawn, but Roland Treece really did have designs on the park because he's learned that gold is buried underneath. So even after Spider-Man and Venom stop the symbiotes, Treece is still trying to deal with the Old San Francisco denizens. But dealing with some armored units is pretty mundane after the fights with the Jury and the symbiotes, and the final issue feels a bit anticlimactic. The gold that Treece was looking for is found and turned over to the city without disturbing Old San Francisco, who vote to let Venom in after all.
We'll see at the start of the next mini that Venom kind of sort of maybe is still associated with the undergrounders, but we never see the characters that appear here again (which is why i haven't bothered enumerating them).
David Michelinie apparently took this first miniseries because he knew it was going to happen no matter what, so he wanted to set things up in a way that seemed plausible. I guess having him face friends of one of the people that Venom murdered in cold blood was a way to get at the problem of Venom becoming a hero, and you can see how that plus the idea of him becoming a "Lethal Protector" for Old San Francisco might have worked, and maybe if Michelinie had stayed on as a writer we'd see those things developed more, along with a reason for the weird cameo by Brock's dad. But at the same time Michelinie introduces five more symbiotes! I mean, maybe the idea was to create them now and say that they're Venom's "final" seeds, and then kill them off, eliminating the possibility of ever creating any more. But it doesn't work out that way.
Michelinie also skirts the challenge of writing Venom as a solo hero by making this just as much a Spider-Man story, with Spider-Man really being the moral driving force. Spider-Man and Venom constantly argue about killing, and it doesn't feel like we're supposed to think that Spider-Man is some kind of wishy washy weakling for doing so. It feels like he's "right". So Michelinie, who reportedly had serious misgivings about Venom as a hero, doesn't really seem to want to show us how Venom will work as a solo character. And subsequent creators do not follow up on the groundwork that Michelinie does lay (the Jury will next appear in a Michelinie-written Amazing Spider-Man story, for example).
Michelinie is still a decent writer, and i like both Mark Bagley and Ron Lim (although the latter just does breakdowns; his sudden arrival on the title was likely due to deadline issues). But we've seen Spider-Man and Venom fight several times already, so it already feels tired to me. The creators do squeeze in a lot of stuff into these issues: we go from Treece to the unresolved interruption by the Jury to a non-sequitur plot about Drake and the symbiotes and then back to Treece.
It's worth noting that in addition to this new series and all the symbiotes appearing here, plus the Venom story in Amazing Spider-Man that overlapped this by publication date, Marvel is getting ready to start the Maximum Carnage crossover. So it was a crazy symbiote-full time.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's worth noting that this series was published concurrently with Amazing Spider-Man #375. That story is said to have occurred "a few days ago".
None of the symbiotes have names in this series. Marvel Handbooks eventually provide names for the hosts, and the toy line is apparently where the yellow and green ones first got named Scream and Lasher. For the record, here's a list of the symbiotes and their hosts.
Scream (Yellow Symbiote) - Donna Diego
I've got character tags for both the symbiotes and the hosts, like i do for Venom and Carnage.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
Why do I suddenly just imagine that infamous Woody/Buzz image with Venom and Spider-Man and the words "Symbiotes. Symbiotes Everywhere" under it?
Posted by: Ataru320 | September 21, 2016 4:22 PM
Note that Michelinie seems to be attempting to make Eddie more of a victim than he really was- the housekeeper describes Emil Gregg as a PRANKSTER, and not as a mentally ill man that thought he was a serial killer.
Posted by: Michael | September 21, 2016 7:52 PM
Not too much of a connection, but the "five times" gimmick and the art that so resembles Mike Zeck remind me of the story in Master of Kung Fu #95 (which is not covered in this site at the moment).
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 21, 2016 8:37 PM
Not using the names for the other symbiotes?
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 21, 2016 11:22 PM
That first scan is a perfect encapsulation of what went wrong with Marvel's superhero comics in the 1990s. 10 year earlier, a character acting and talking like that would've been depicted as a miserable villain, but in '93 he gets his own series? And at the same time, another fascist "hero" with similarly grotesque morality gets three different series to his name, plus tons of guest appearances. By this point I'd already stopped reading Marvel, and I didn't return until in the 2000s; looks like I didn't miss much. DC of course was also affected by the nineties grim 'n gritty trend, but I think they were a bit better in not letting all their comics get tainted by it. Grant Morrison and Mark Waid in particular were pretty essential to DC in being one of the few major writers who didn't misinterpret Watchmen and think Rorschach was actually a good model for future super "heroes".
Posted by: Tuomas | September 22, 2016 4:37 AM
Venom was ruined when they changed him from a villain into an antihero. This miniseries starts that.
Posted by: Steven | September 22, 2016 8:58 AM
@Tuomas: I hear you.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 22, 2016 9:14 AM
As I have mentioned before, I really do not like Venom at all. Having said that, I am willing to cut David Michelinie a little bit of slack here. Michelinie clearly intended for Eddie Brock / Venom to be a deranged, dangerous villain who engaged in a tremendous amount of self-serving skewing of reality to justify his horrible crimes to himself & others. He was a "victim" only in his own delusional mind. Michelinie has stated on several occasions that he intended for Brock to finally get killed in Amazing Spider-Man #400, at which point the symbiote would start hopping around the Marvel universe looking for new hosts.
Michelinie was apparently caught off-guard at how ridiculously popular Venom quickly became. He soon realized that Marvel would never let him kill the character off. Michelinie has stated that he never wanted to make Venom into any sort of anti-hero, but the higher-ups insisted that Venom get his own book. Michelinie agreed to write this first miniseries in an attempt to make the transition from homicidal lunatic to "protector of the innocent" as painless as possible. It's clear that he's twisting himself out of shape trying to sell this ridiculous idea, such as the bit Michael cited, with Emil Gregg being re-cast as a "prankster" who maliciously caused Brock's career to be destroyed.
Looking at these issues back in the day, I hated Venom even more as an anti-hero with his own book. I was actually rooting for the Jury to succeed in killing him.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 22, 2016 10:17 AM
I always liked Venom, but then I was also the right age (10-12) during the era when he was popular so that probably has a lot to do with it.
That said, I do think Brock's derangement and excuses for himself and obsession with protecting those he considers "innocents" gives the character of Venom more depth than a lot of more classic Spider-man enemies like Doc Ock, whose backstory was that he became criminally insane after a nuclear power accident because Stan Lee sez so.
Posted by: Red Comet | September 22, 2016 1:04 PM
At the time, I felt like they were doing the string-of-miniseries thing so that they could keep generating "Collectors Edition First Issue!!!"s with gimmick covers*. I imagine that was a great way to attract a rotating crew of writers and artists too, since they'd get to work on a lucrative #1 instead of a lame-o #17 or whatever.
* This one had the red foil cover, which actually wasn't too bad. The next one, Funeral Pyre, has a much worse foil gimmick that makes it hard to read the title. Then comes The Madness, which I think had a die-cut? Enemy Within had glow-in-the-dark tongue drool...and after that one, I guess I stopped buying Venom comics for some reason. Hmm.
Posted by: Andrew F | September 22, 2016 1:30 PM
@Thanos6, there seems to be some debate about the names of the other symbiotes. None of them were officially given names at first, and then as i noted two of them got names when they were made into toys. The other characters were given names by fans that stuck. Eventually the symbiotes get merged into "Hybrid" and, if i understand things correctly, the fan names were finally used in the comics after that, but there's some debate about whether or not they came out of Hybrid the same as they went in and if the names should count? I'm saying all of this second hand; i haven't read Carnage USA yet. But i'm following the MCP which only identifies them by color.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 22, 2016 1:32 PM
Also worth noting that Lethal Protector got a video game adaptation in 1995 for SNES/Genesis called "Venom/Spider-man: Separation Anxiety."
It played almost identically to the Maximum Carnage game.
Posted by: Red Comet | September 22, 2016 2:02 PM
I never played the game so I don't know about the plot but there was another Venom mini in 1994 called Separation Anxiety.
Posted by: Robert | September 22, 2016 3:14 PM
By the way, I only ever bought the first issue of this miniseries. I was so underwhelmed by it that I skipped the other five issues, although I did skim through them in the comics shop. Nothing I saw in them convinced me that I was missing anything.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 22, 2016 4:49 PM
@Red Comet- I think the problem is treating Eddie like a hero- none of us would have a problem with his excuse-making and "I'll protect innocents unless they get between me and Spider-Man" if he were a villain.
Posted by: Michael | September 25, 2016 10:36 AM
Little bit of a brain fart from Michelinie in issue #5. Upon first encountering the five symbiotes, Spider-Man mentions his spider-sense tingles. A few panels later, her remarks that, like Venom and Carnage, these new symbiotes don't trigger his spider-sense.
Posted by: Uncle Gazpacho | September 27, 2016 6:08 PM
Actually, I believe his spider-sense can still sense danger. It just wouldn't know from what.
Posted by: clyde | September 27, 2016 8:49 PM
The way Michelinie had been writing it over his run, a direct physical attack from Venom or Carnage would not trigger his sense. If they were to throw an object at him, however, it would trigger. As far as I can tell, the five symbiotes didn't do much of anything to set off his sense.
It's just a nitpick.
Posted by: Uncle Gazpacho | September 27, 2016 11:31 PM
Comments are now closed.
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