Book Review: The Philosophy of Venom
‘The Philosophy of Venom’
Published by Titan Books and Marvel Comics
Review by Tyler Harris
Venom. Is there a more iconic and perfect villain out there? Created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane in 1988, this character has gone on to receive enormous amounts of popularity. From his appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, through his countless mini-series (of varying quality) in the 90’s, then to his own film in 2018, and all the way up to date with the historic Donny Cates/Ryan Stegman run; this character is one that means something to a lot of people. To me, Venom was a huge part of my formative experiences with Spider-Man – especially due to his appearances in the 90’s animated series (of which I own every available episode on DVD and every comic adaption). As a result he holds a dear place in my heart.
So, to be given the opportunity to review a book entitled The Philosophy of Venom (after recently reviewing The Philosophy of Spider-Man, which I highly recommend you check out), is something of a dream. This character is complex and interesting in a lot of ways, though it hasn’t always been this way. I mentioned the varying quality of some of the Venom-themed mini-series in the 90’s, and “varying” really does fit the bill. Now, in terms of my frame of reference for this review, I haven’t read every single one of those mini-series, but I have kept up with all of his solo series since Cullen Bunn’s run in the early-2000’s, so I have a very decent knowledge of the character. Though, much like my Spider-Man review, I'm going to be trying to look at this through the lens of someone who is using this book as an introduction to the character.
We Are Venom!
Published by Titan Comics, this book is almost identical in nature to The Philosophy of Spider-Man. There isn't a single writing credit in sight, though we can thank Jake Devine, who was the Senior Editor, and Dan Bura, who was our designer, for the book looking super slick and being very well presented. Heading into this book, I was extremely curious. A volume like this, centred around a character like Spider-Man makes sense – there are some incredible morals and values that you can take away from Peter Parker and his super-hero persona – but what can you take away from a book about Venom? Sure, he's been an anti-hero – and a straight-up hero – on many occasions, but not to the extent of Spider-Man. So, the only route I am left to think this book may take is a comedic one, and honestly? That’s fine with me!
Our first chapter introduces the reader to Venom, though it doesn’t expand too much further than that there's an alien symbiote bonded to Eddie Brock. In fact, this entire book doesn’t give any explanation of where the symbiote came from, or even who Eddie Brock is, which I feel is something that the first chapter should have covered. To be fair: in the Spider-Man version of this book, they don’t dive deep into his origins, though everyone knows the “bit by a radioactive spider” story by now. I’m going to try not to compare this too much to that tome, but considering how essentially identical the format of the books are, it’s hard not to use it as a frame of reference.
I mentioned the previous review how anyone can enjoy that book – new fan, old fan, or anyone in between – whereas this one feels more like something that someone with a lot of background knowledge of Venom would enjoy more than the casual comic reader. That being said, it could entice people to go and read more comics featuring Venom, so they can see this insane artwork in full, or learn more about his character... but we then fall into the same trap as the Spider-Man book, in that there are no pieces of reference material in sight. There isn't a single image or artist or issue attribution for any of the many, many images in this book, which makes it so hard for people to locate which comics they should read, based on which version of Venom they like the look of. Even I – who can tell which artist is drawing the character (McFarlane especially!) – struggled to identify where a lot of these images came from, and I am certainly not a casual comic fan!
So Many Tasty Snacks
I'm kind of at a loss on what precisely to discuss about this book. It certainly does lean into the more humorous take on “The Philosophy of…” series, with this obviously not being a serious book about the best ways to kill people and eat their internal organs. Is that enough to sustain it, though? Well, not really. I mean, let’s take a look just at Chapter Five, which is an entire chapter of Venom’s best smiles. It totals eight pages – including the chapter title page – and it’s just panels that feature Venom smiling…that’s literally it. What – no chapter on his best tongues? Okay, yeah typing that out I can see why that didn’t happen…
Jumping ahead a little, the thirteenth and final chapter features not one – not two – but three pages just showing off some action figure variant covers for Venomverse #1, Venom #1, and Absolute Carnage #2. In fact, there are a whole lot of variant covers in this book – covers that show battles which never happened or characters who were just “flavour-of-the-month” when Marvel does things like “Venomized” or “Mary-Jane” covers. There is a chapter (twelve, to be precise) about the Venom Multiverse, and 90% of the images used there are variant covers of well-known Marvel characters (Black Cat, Mary-Jane, Doctor Strange, Ego) wearing the Venom symbiote. Why not actually use scenes from Venomverse or Venomized? You know, those Venom Multiverse events that actually took place?
I titled this section “So Many Tasty Snacks” because that's precisely what these chapters are – just snacks, there's nothing of real substance here. I'm sorry to sound like a broken record, but the Spider-Man book had similar chapters and they were executed flawlessly. There are some genuinely cool comic covers that I didn’t know existed – like a Peach Momoko cover for Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble #2 that looks incredibly cool – and I'm always a sucker for those “Venomized” covers, but when most of the book's just variant covers and less than half of the pages contain actual comic panels/moments from Venom’s 200 solo comics (not to mention his countless other appearances), it leaves me feeling a little empty.
The Things I Actually Enjoyed
So far, this review has been mostly negative, but my experience reading the book wasn’t inherently so (despite how my writing may make it seem). So, let’s talk about some of the things I did enjoy, and that I think the book did well. Firstly, it nailed Venom’s voice. All of the writing on each page reads exactly like how it would if it was in a (good) Venom comic, and I put the word “good” in brackets there because getting his voice right isn’t as easy as it may seem. The final page ended with the line “always remember: if you are innocent, we will protect you, if you are not, you are dinner!” and that actually made me laugh out loud. If you had to summarise Venom to anyone (as he is now, not how he used to be), this line is perfect.
One of the best parts about Venom is his design, and from that angle, this book is a veritable feast for the eyes. You get to see everything from Venom’s first appearance to the Knullified Spiral Venom from the Cates run. There are pages dedicated to Scream, Toxin, and Carnage, as well as several showing off the sleeker design of Agent Venom. Sadly, nothing from Absolute Carnage or King in Black (sorry Knull), but there's so much amazing Venom artwork to engage with here – some that even I have never even seen before! That’s always a plus (though it’s a damn shame once again that there's no source list to direct readers to those specific comics. Marvel – if you’re reading this – hire me... I love researching and referencing!)
I guess I would finish up by saying that, despite my many criticisms, there is something about this book that feels quite…fun, and carefree. I took the Spider-Man one reasonably seriously, whereas I went into this one knowing it would be more of a joke. Please note that “joke” is definitely not used there to mean that there's nothing worthwhile or of substance here, but naturally an anti-hero character like Venom has less moral dilemmas, or nuggets of wisdom to share than one of the worlds’ most recognisable super-heroes.
The real question is the one I posed at the start: is this book good as an introduction to the character? Honestly? Not really – you’re better off just reading the alien costume saga from Amazing Spider-Man and then picking-and-choosing which Venom minis you want to read if you like the character in the Spidey book. This release feels more suited to someone who wants to read a certain era of Venom based on a particular appearance/costume – but then obviously you would have to find a way to figure out which books feature that appearance (since there are no image credits), so really that falls flat too. It’s fun, but very middle of the road for me – even as a huge, life-long Venom fan.
This line of books is a brilliant idea, but it feels more suited to heroes rather than morally ambiguous alien symbiotes. Characters like Spidey and Captain America would be perfect for these books, and even going so far as anti-heroes like Deadpool, whose brand of comedy would fit perfectly in line with this. To my disappointment, The Philosophy of Venom didn’t cut it for me in the ways I wanted it to, though I am still more than happy to have this book on my shelf alongside the Spider-Man one.
A very mixed bag, which feels fitting for this character in particular.
Book and Images Courtesy of Titan Books and Marvel Entertainment