Comic books focusing on the character of Venom / Eddie Brock have been less than stellar. Venom has not had much success on his own, despite being one of Spider-Man's most popular foes. All one has to do is check out our reviews of Daniel Way's Venom series or peruse any of the numerous mini-series churned out in the 1990s to know how difficult it is to write the alien symbiote properly. Nevertheless, writer Zeb Wells and penciler Angel Medina tackle the character head-on in their Venom: Dark Origin mini-series.
Our story begins in Eddie Brock's childhood years. A young neighborhood girl, Heidi, has lost her cat. Her father asks Eddie and a bunch of boys to help them look for the cat. Eddie's sister chastises him for wearing his long- sleeved church clothes. Eddie goes right past her, muttering a "whatever," and proceeds to open a box with a cat inside. Eddie returns to Heidi and returns to the cat to her, an apparent hero. Eddie's cat-napping goes undetected and he is praised for his efforts. "It was easy," Eddie proclaims with a huge smile on his face.
Eddie, his father, and sister eat dinner together. Eddie's sister tries to tattle on him for wearing his church clothes. However, their father appears to be more engrossed in the newspaper. Later, Eddie and his father watch a political broadcast on TV. A young Eddie remarks that the politician on the broadcast is lying. Eddie's father recommends that he become a reporter of the news. However, all is not happy as Eddie's father subtly hints he is to blame for his mother's death. The next day Eddie stares at a statue of the Virgin Mary. A kindly woman reassures Eddie his mother's death was not his fault. Eddie remains despondent.
The narrative shifts to Eddie's high school years. He is still lonely and looking for approval amongst his peers. A conversation with a pretty girl does not go well. Eddie enters the boy's locker room to attend to his job as the equipment manager of the wrestling team. Unfortunately, the boys on the team look down upon Eddie, seeing his desperate attempts for attention pathetic. They viciously beat up Eddie. Later, Eddie sits in class with a black eye listening to his teacher speak about the great power of the press. He becomes fixated on the abstract notion of the truth.
A few years later, Eddie is applying to Empire State University's journalism program. The admissions director remarks that Eddie's internship at the San Francisco Chronicle will have to be verified. Eddie nervously rushes out of the office and yanks a pay phone out of a student's hands. He tries to pass himself off as Warren Simpson of the San Francisco Chronicle to the admissions director on the phone. However, the angry student provokes Eddie into grabbing him by the collar. Before they can fight, a young woman breaks up the pair of combatants. Eddie pretends he is lost and she agrees to walk with him until he can find his off-campus apartment.
The pair walk late at night. Eddie blathers on about his goals as a prospective journalist while she remarks they are walking in a dangerous part of the city. Without further ado, a bunch of street toughs assault Eddie and knock his acquaintance out. The pair is at the mercy of the gang until Spider- Man shows up and saves them. Spidey makes a hasty exit after telling Eddie to call the cops. The young woman shakes the cobwebs off and asks Eddie what happened to the gang (who are all knocked out). Eddie takes responsibility for the fight's outcome and remarks "it was easy!"
Here we go again folks, another stab by Marvel in attempting to make Venom relevant rather than a mindless brain eating brute or "lethal protector." And you know what? This first entry by Wells and Medina was a surprisingly good. Sure there was a few flaws but it's rare to see Eddie Brock being given a strong narrative.
Unlike previous tries, this does not have the alien Symbiote present. Wells suggests a strong background of dishonesty on Eddie's part. His white lies are relatively harmless until the issue's climax where Spider-Man has to save him. I thought that this provided an interesting subtext for the first meeting between Eddie and Spider-Man. It works as a nice foreshadowing story- telling device.
While I admittedly profess not to be a continuity hawk, others have pointed out some inconsistencies in the story. We over at Spiderfan have debated the continuity aspects this story adheres or does not adhere to. And on the whole, I think Wells does a nice job. Let's also keep in mind that there are four more issues left.
The jumping around is what keeps this from being a great introductory issue. I feel as if the narrative seemed like an "Eddie's greatest hits compilation" at times. We're never given enough time to adequately digest the feelings of Eddie and why he lies to various people. This rushed aspect has the potential to permeate the rest of the issue as well, considering we all want to see his transformation into Venom. Hopefully, Wells can slow things down a bit and allow the reader to gain some perspective.
The art by Angel Medina is not rushed. Medina's past work on Spider-Man was solid, unique enough from the Marvel house-style to be admired. Here, Medina largely gets to depict facial expressions and conversational scenes. Eddie's big grins are handled well enough but some of his characters appear overly cartoonish for my taste. However, Medina does a nice job of depicting Spider- Man in battle by the end of the issue. There's also a gorgeous cover supplied by Medina.
Wells and Medina's first effort at tackling Venom is surprisingly good. They have me interesting in reading the complete story which is what any good introductory issue should do. Let's see what happens next.