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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Venom: Lethal Protector #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the foil covered Venom: Lethal Protector #1…Venom_LPcover

Venom Lethal Protector #1 (published February 1993) – script by David Michelinie, pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Sam de la Rosa and Al Milgrom

With Marvel ending its Flash Thompson Venom series after 42 issues just this past comic book week, I thought it was worth looking back at the evil symbiote’s inaugural solo appearance – back in the days when Eddie Brock was bonded to the alien and Venom was best left alone in a short, six-issue mini-series – the red foil covered Venom Lethal Protector #1. For those who keep track of these things, in addition to the red cover, there is a much rarer gold foil retailer incentive and a black misprint variant version of this comic.

But what about inside the comic?

The publication of the Venom Lethal Protector mini-series marked a confluence of Venom’s peak-level popularity which had been exponentially building dating back to his first ever appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #300, and Marvel’s desire to capitalize on all things Spider-Man during the comic book industry’s boom period. Spider-Man group editor Danny Fingeroth was a busy man in 1993, already overseeing Amazing, Spectacular, Web of and “adjective-less” Spider-Man (with Spider-Man Unlimited on the way).

Still, even with the market’s oversaturation of Spider-Man comics, for the first issue of Venom Lethal Protector, Fingeroth was able to secure the Webhead’s “A” creative team of David Michelinie and Mark Bagley, who were both also working on Amazing. Ron Lim would come on to do pencils for issues #4-6 of the mini, but Michelinie maintained scripting duties throughout.

The mini also marks Venom’s “official” transition from moral-ambiguous villain to Wolverine/Punisher-esque anti-hero. Michelinie and Bagley set the story in San Francisco but, even with the change of scenery from Manhattan, the creative team can’t help but insert Spider-Man into the mini’s very first issue. I’ve never read anywhere definitively that this was due to Marvel’s lack of trust in Venom as the undisputed “star” of his own series, but it’s a curiosity all the same to see Spidey show up so soon in Brock’s first comic.

VenomLP_01

Beyond just my general disappointment in seeing Spider-Man as quickly as we did, his appearance also grinds the story to a halt. Michelinie’s script gets very exposition-heavy, as he recaps the origins of the alien symbiote, and how his rejected black costume bonded with disgraced news reporter Eddie Brock, who also harbored a hatred for Spider-Man because he blamed the Web Slinger for exposing his article about the identity of the Sin Eater as a hoax.

VenomLP_02

At the time this comic was published, it was more than five years since Venom’s origin was explained in Amazing Spider-Man #300. He would go on to appear in a number of issues of Amazing Spider-Man and was arguably Spidey’s most popular villain from that era. Why Michelinie and Bagley felt it was necessary to recap the character’s background is beyond me. I apologize if this is an arrogant assumption on my part, but I have to think anyone who bought a Venom-centric mini-series (like I did in the 90s) was a big enough fan of the character that they probably didn’t need the origin filler.

Meanwhile, as someone who is an unashamed fanboy of late-80s/early-90s Venom, I believe changing Brock from villain to anti-hero was a poor decision because it sucked so much of the fun away from the character. Going back to his very first appearance, Venom had a twisted moral code wherein he justified his urges to murder Spider-Man by claiming his bloodlust was in the interest of protecting “innocents” from Spidey’s “evil.” We get a glimpse of that level of warped justice in the comic’s very first scene when Venom murders a mugger, but that’s about it. Some might argue that Marvel was just trying to evolve the character, but I think they instead neutered Venom as an “anything can happen” harbinger of anarchy, which previously made him a special attraction in the comic book universe.

VenomLP_03

Also, as the issue progresses, the story and action become painfully generic, and I honestly could be reading a comic about pretty much anyone. This is especially true near the end when Venom is fighting a pair of giant robots called Lord Diggers. The fight ends with Venom and one of the robots falling through the floor and finding themselves in a bit of a time warp to the past.

VenomLP_04

Robots and time travel? In a comic about Venom? It feels way too incongruous for me. As the mini marches on, Michelinie eventually introduces a host of new symbiotes to serve as adversaries. While that creative decision ushered in the era of symbiote overkill, that at least reads like an appropriate development in a Venom-centric comic. But, the way this first issue ends does not make a compelling case for me to shell out another three dollars in a couple of weeks – especially since I was already dropping money on four or five other Spider-books at the time.

It’s probably just the nostalgia talking, but I’ve always enjoyed Bagley’s version of Venom. The fangs and the claws always made the character feel imposing and monstrous while also capturing the anarchistic fun of Todd McFarlane’s original character design. But, Bagley’s Brock is a totally different story. The best way to describe his hairdo is “business in the front, party in the back.” What an odd choice for a character that always rocked the big bully buzz-cut.

VenomLP-05

Given everything we know about the “House of Ideas” now, it’s not that surprising that, when the Spider-Man universe was at the peak of its early 90s popularity, the creative output was severely lacking. There were a couple of creators who were still able to pull out some excellent stories during this era (J.M. DeMatteis, some Tom DeFalco) but, by 1993, Michelinie’s scripts had become increasingly bland as he neared the end of his run. Bagley had his moments of greatness, but wouldn’t develop more consistency until he started working on Ultimate Spider-Man less than a decade later.

Verdict: Gimmick

28 Comments

by 1993, Michelinie’s scripts had become increasingly bland as he neared the end of his run.

Michelinie was always bland from the very beginning. It was just harder to notice thanks to the novelty of Todd McFarlane’s radically different take on Spider-Man, as well as Erik Larsen’s initial popularity.

The story just gets worse. A large section of San Francisco SANK during the ’06 quake?? It was buried, built over, and otherwise remains completely intact?

That was as far as I read. Even in the quarter bin, paying an entire buck and a half for the series felt like I would be overpaying.

A new reader who just stepped foot in the comic shop and was attracted to a bright shiny red foil cover might not know who Venom is and would appreciate a recap of his origin.

I agree with Rollo. The comics industry definitely wasn’t as insular 20 years ago as it was today. Stan Lee’s adage of “every comic is somebody’s first” would have held much more true then as it does now. Indeed, if I had picked up this book and there was no introduction to the character I would probably feel short changed. Accessibility is a good thing.

Captain Haddock

October 28, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I agree with Stephen Conway and Rollo, I read this at my friend’s house, I knew who Venom was and that there was something about a symbiote, but I was also pretty young and had no idea what a “symbiote” was, and this spelled it out for me.

And T, I agree, reading those Michelinie stories you can almost feel the boredom seep through. Although it might have been frustration behind the scenes as much as boredom

And T, I agree, reading those Michelinie stories you can almost feel the boredom seep through. Although it might have been frustration behind the scenes as much as boredom

By blaming it on Michelinie’s boredom or behind the scenes shenanigans, that implies that he was capable of writing good Spider-Man stories but external factors or lack of motivation were getting in the way. But to me, based on everything I’ve read from Michelinie, I’d prefer to go with good old lack of talent for the reason. I’ve never read a decent Michelinie story. I’ve heard his Iron Man is good, but I haven’t tried that.

Carl, if you see this, the page isn’t right.

That mullet…that mullet…oh, Eddie, that mullet.

Venom always annoyed the hell out of me. Eddie Brock was a crummy, second-rate reporter who made a major blunder and, when he couldn’t face up to the fact that he was responsible for wrecking his own career by jumping the gun with his Sin Eater expose, placed all the blame on Spider-Man. And in the process of attempting to obtain the revenge he felt he was justified to, Venom murdered a hell of lot of innocent people who got in his way. I know some later writers tried to retcon the alien costume into the true driving force behind Venom, stating that the symbiote was warping the mentally ill Brock’s perceptions & manipulating his actions in order to use him as a vehicle to enable it to kill Spider-Man for rejecting it. But as initially presented by Michelinie (a writer whose work on Iron Man I thought was absolutely fantastic), Venom came across as a pathetic whiner who really believed that it would have been better to for Spider-Man to have let the genuine Sin Eater serial killer go free than to ruin Brock’s precious reputation.

I disliked the heroizing or antiheroizing of Venom. Though I disliked them doing that with other villains. Not just Marvel, and not just comics, but it seems that so many sources will have a villain that is considered cool and popular and then they feel the need to turn them into a hero or antihero. They started doing that with Sabretooth a long time ago, then seemed to quickly change their mind on that.

“Why Michelinie and Bagley felt it was necessary to recap the character’s background is beyond me”. It’s SOP. I find your wonderment wonderous.

Since “One More Day” did this series even happen?

Agreed on the verdict. This comic was shit.

I remember, as a kid, thinking that one of the endless string of Venom limited serieses was pretty enjoyable, but I am sure it wasn’t this one.

I can’t check which because I sold them all off in the build-up to ‘Spider-Man 3′. Seemed like they’d never be worth half that much again.

T. -

I agree with you about Michelinie’s Spider-Man. Mediocre, at best.

But Michelinie’s Iron Man is pretty good. I don’t know, maybe it’s because he had Bob Layton as co-plotter, maybe it’s because Roger Stern was his editor, and Jim Shooter his editor-in-chief. He had three guys making sure he kept on the right track, and Stern and Shooter know their stuff.

[...] Protector #1, the solo debut of the symbiote, the “Gimmick or Good?” treatment in my regular place on the Comics Should Be Good blog. Did I think this red foil covered comic  was a David Michelinie/Mark Bagley classic, or was it [...]

Actually I should correct myself Rene. I did read a lot of Michelinie’s Iron Man but it was his second run not his first. I found it very terrible, and Stark had a Jheri curl mullet to boot. But even people who like Michelinie’s first run often tell me that second run was inferior so I’m still open to try the first run.

T.,

I suggest trying the Dr. Doom/ Camelot 2-parter (v.1 149-150). It was a setting and premise unlike the other Layton/ Michelinie Iron Man stories I’ve read, and I found those two issues enjoyable.

As for Lethal Protector, I gave up after two issues. This was back when I rarely dropped a book unless the creative team changed. I’ve always found anti-hero Venom obnoxious unless played for laughs.

I must be the only person who at the age of maybe 8 or 9 who thought this was the best comic ever!

Going back and finding it, it screams of that era in the 90′s.

Did the Bloodties Avengers/X-men story happen around the same time? it has that exact same feel of mediocre plot with lots of outlandish visuals and protagonists with beard stubble.

@Diarra Harris

All the Spider-Man and related stories still took place. The only things that changed were the wedding issue and that every time Peter or Mary Jane referred to the other as their husband/wife you need to change it to ‘live in boy/girl friend.’

AverageJoeEveryman

October 29, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Remember first seeing Venom in one of the Marvel Universe Handbook Updates for 1989 and was blown away by his design. McFarlane and Bagley Venom rule but most other artists from that time and going forward a bit were awful I thought. They got way too out of hand with the crooked teeth and long tongue.

Bagley’s Venom is still my favorite but this series was weak

Time to nitpick: Venom’s first appearance wasn’t Amazing Spider Man 300. He was fully shown in the last page of Amazing 299 when he tells MJ “Honey, I’m home!” And if you really want to go full splitting hairs, his hand was shown morphing into the alien costume in issue 298. I know it’s dumb, but everyone lists issue 300 as Venom’s first appearance and it simply wasn’t. I never did pick up this series. Venom was so huge and popular that he was over used from 1988-92-ish. He was in Spider Man every few months and making appearances in other titles. Of course by that rationale, Ghost Rider, Punisher, and Wolverine were the same way. You couldn’t pick up a Marvel comic in 1991 and NOT see one of the characters on the cover. In fact in the John Byrne She Hulk series there’s a joke on one of the covers that mentions those guys aren’t in the book but it got you’re (the reader’s) attention.

[...] his nuance. Considering how after this arc was scripted, Michelinie and Bagley followed up with the Venom: Lethal Protector series, which presents Brock as more of an anti-hero, having him run around making Hannibal Lecter jokes [...]

[...] portion of these diminishing returns could be chalked up to lousy writing (Michelinie certainly didn’t bring his “A” game for Lethal Protector), but beyond that, ASM #374-375’s manipulations granted Marvel the license to cast Venom as a [...]

If you want to get completely anal, Venom appeared in a few issues of Web of Spider-Man partly off panel as “this guy attacking Peter who doesn’t set off his Spider-Sense.”

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