No matter where you look these days, listicles about the sexiest characters in comics all look the same. You’ve got your Gambits and your Thors, for example, characters whose canon beauty is basically an explicitly listed trait on their wiki-pages. Some fans swoon over Clark Kent’s earnest farm boy persona, while Emma Frost’s fierce and indomitable spirit makes other fans want her to step on them. Out of the menagerie of animal-themed superheroes available to fawn over, most go for the felines like Selina Kyle or Felicia Hardy. If you’re more inclined to enjoy your sexy wrapped up in a broody atmosphere of secrets and tragic backstories, look no further than Natasha Romanova or Bucky Barnes. And characters like Dick Grayson and Kara Zor-L always earn top spots on these lists for their incomparable assets.
But it looks like a new contender for sexiest comic book character has entered the public imagination. They’re big, and mean, and more often than not the creepily carnivorous antagonist to our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. I’m talking about Venom, the dynamic partnership between character Eddie Brock and an alien symbiote brought to life in purposefully horrifying, yet surprisingly desirable, physical form.
Uh what the fuck, you might be thinking, shocked that anyone would find this literal sack of slime sexy in any way. And to give you credit, you’re not alone—multiple sources have spent this entire summer theorizing about the uptick in extremely vocal Venom fans. At its most unimaginative, Tom Hardy is to blame: he is a longtime master of sexiness, so of course audiences can’t wait to see him half-naked and covered in black goo. Some have been much closer in diagnosing the positive reception, with sites like Vice and Polygon dubbing this the age of teratophilia.
However, these intellectual extremes do not paint a proper picture. Yes, Tom Hardy is hot, but that doesn’t mean people are also attracted to his movie characters to the degree we’re seeing now. And while teratophilia is an incredibly valid sexual expression, it puts the onus of Venom’s magnetism solely on the imaginations of fans. Both theories totally erase the hopes and dreams of multiple comic creators responsible for Venom’s sexually charged reputation.
So let’s celebrate some of those brave creators whose work has helped usher in this latest instance of monsterfucker madness. Consider this an artistic overview of Venom’s most iconic aesthetic developments, a quick and dirty introduction to the Eddie Brock/symbiote OTP that has ensnarled the CBM community this month.
The Birth of Venom
Technically, the symbiote was first introduced into Marvel continuity in 1984—though not as the gooey hunk we know now. It was initially a new, notably non-sentient costume for Peter Parker in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8. It then became the possessive alien entity we are much more familiar with in that year’s The Amazing Spider-Man series run by writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz.
But we will officially begin our sordid tale of sexiness and vore in 1988. That is when the Eddie Brock and the symbiote premiered in their fully venomous form in The Amazing Spider-Man #299 by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane.
Now, a few things can be gleaned from this one striking image. The original Venom design is more man than monster… and a very buff one at that, in stark contrast to Spider-Man’s lithe frame. Sure, the claws, angry bug eyes, and large creepy smile might be somewhat off-putting but, in a way, it’s also almost adorable. Scary, but in a relatively aesthetically pleasing manner, especially when the opportunity to go much uglier was there. Plus did I mention that Venom has abs and is super tall and muscular?
It certainly helps that in the following issue, The Amazing Spider-Man #300, McFarlane showed off Venom’s new bod through the reveal of Eddie Brock. After first bonding with Spider-Man, the symbiote’s next partner is a disgraced former journalist who spends much of his first official issue working out, parading around half-naked in his apartment yelling that Spider-Man ruined his life, and getting into spirited fights with the aforementioned hero and anyone else who stands in the way of his revenge. And obviously, all that activity has just does wonders for him.
It’s interesting to note that in the late 1980s, Venom was missing some of their signature modern attributes. For one thing, their skin during this time period is more reminiscent of silly putty than the dripping slime more common in today’s comic books. For another, their Cheshire Cat grin is appropriately and uncomfortably larger than life, but it’s otherwise pretty normal—regularly sized teeth, no green spittle, no exposed gums, and no multi-foot tongue to speak of.
Eddie himself was not quite the charmer either in his first aesthetic iteration. He morphs from a pretty average looking middle-aged office worker to a grizzled older man throughout his introduction, a visual indication of just how far he has fallen after Spider-Man’s heroics inadvertently cost him his job and professional reputation. As his hatred for Spider-Man erodes Eddie’s mental fortitude, the symbiote’s possession of his body is symbolic of his obsession’s physical toll. And yet the premiere of this new antagonist was presented to readers in a neat, large, bodybuilder’s package. While McFarlane’s aesthetic choices helped establish the menacing alienness of Spider-Man’s latest threat, it also made Venom… kinda hot in the eyes of many, many, many future artists who would take up the mantle.
A Tongue For Your Thoughts
As I’m sure you know by now—and if you don’t, a quick peruse of Tumblr should do the trick—what really sets readers’ hearts on fire about Venom is that tongue. And surprisingly, it wasn’t McFarlane who blessed readers with this most iconic appendage!
For his part, McFarlane insisted on keeping Venom as aesthetically close to human as possible. Even when his artwork in The Amazing Spider-Man played around with Venom’s design, such as having the character open their mouth starting in 1989’s The Amazing Spider-Man #316, the visage is still rather ordinary. If any substantial changes happened during McFarlane’s run on the series, it was giving Venom their signature jagged canines.
Tongue enthusiasts have artist Erik Larsen to thank for the star of their fantasies. As he explained in a recent Facebook post, he joined Michelinie on The Amazing Spider-Man title following McFarlane’s departure in early 1990. After seeing his predecessor start to experiment with a tongue for Venom in his final issues, and incorrectly remembering the extent of this modest addition, Larsen wanted to push the envelope and give the character “an even bigger, crazier tongue.” He officially debuted his special new tongue later that year on the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #332, but it didn’t reach its elongated form until The Amazing Spider-Man #347 in 1991. In this issue, the now iconic tongue is accompanied by some excessive spit, a newly deformed gumline, and chaotically drawn eyes.
The untold(?) origin of Venom's tongue.As you all know, Todd McFarlane was the first guy to draw Venom in the pages of…
#332 marked Venom’s return to the Spider-Man franchise as a full-fledged villain out for blood, and so his physical degradation was an apt evolution of the character’s design. Larsen can also be credited for adding several other much-appreciated aesthetic characteristics to Venom during his tenure. He made Eddie’s transformation into Venom a suitably creepy cascade of teeth, sinew, and slime encasing his body, rather than McFarlane’s originally more subtle sequences. He also showcased the still-evolving skillset that Michelinie was establishing for the character, such as super strength, camouflage, and shooting the symbiotic substance out like tentacles to capture its intended targets.
Of course, some of Larsen’s additions just seemed to be for pure fun. Most notably, he started the tradition of lovingly rendering Venom’s thick ass and thighs in the most ridiculously overt ways possible. And for the early 1990s, Larsen and readers alike basked in this mutual thirst:
We Have Mixed Feelings About the ’90s
Artist Mark Bagley served as Larsen’s successor on The Amazing Spider-Man series for the remainder of the early 1990s. He is probably the most cited Venom artist in this entire decade, given his involvement in several major Venom storylines such as the birth of Carnage in The Amazing Spider-Man #361—#363 and the mini-series Venom: Lethal Protector.
In many ways, Bagley’s Venom merely refined the character designs already introduced by McFarlane and Larsen. With the aesthetic already firmly in place, all Bagley had to do was ensure that no panel passed a reader by without showing off how toned the character was. At the same time, this version of Venom had a bluer hue, more expressive (and even comical) movement with their eyes, floating tendrils, and an almost perpetually open-mouthed smile that caused their green spit to drip all over their face and neck.
Bagley helped set the tone for a new era in the Venom mythos, one in which the former villain decided to forgo his vendetta against Spider-Man and instead become a hero in their own right. The success of this transition was undeniably due to Michelinie and Bagley leaning into the ridiculous image of a truly heroic Venom, so that the character’s sincerity to be better did not undermine the fact that they are still a giant monster man swinging wildly across San Francisco. Besides, who doesn’t love a funny guy? The entire display was immediately endearing to fans.
Bagley also seemed committed to beautifying the aesthetics of Eddie Brock, softening his previously hard features for a more classically handsome look. Curiously enough, he also was adamant to establish that Eddie is completely naked underneath his alien veneer. The choice logically makes sense, but previous artists all kept the man at least clad in basic white underwear while he transformed into Venom. Bagley… just didn’t bother with anything except minimal coverage over Eddie’s little brocks. Remember these facts, for Bagley’s crusade to make Eddie as pretty and naked as possible in the comics is far from over. I promise you that readers at the time didn’t forget Bagley’s honorable commitment.
After Bagley, the rest of the 1990s saw a more diverse portfolio of artists put their own spin onto the increasingly popular symbiotic relationship… with some admittedly mixed results. Most mid-to-late 1990s artists were eager to emphasize Venom’s monstrous side by exploring the limits of the character’s inherently horrifying physical form. As this was the height of Venom’s eating brains phase, this aesthetic shift makes sense. Sure, the result of this focus was a degradation in Eddie’s looks, making him more often than not look like a rejected member of Motley Crue during his appearances. But at its most successful, these horror attempts created the downright disgusting artwork of Greg Luzniak when it came to Venom.
They also, unfortunately, produced the extremely roided up nightmares of Kelley Jones and many other artists. Venom thus became another good character to join the long line of uber-macho casualties from that decade. Certainly not a deterrence for some fans to get their scare-on from the character, but it was a marked difference from the character’s more gently curvaceous forms in the past.
However, if anything good came out of this later period, it was Len Kaminski and Ted Halsted’s Venom: The Hunger limited series. From a canon standpoint, this story adds rich new material to Eddie’s backstory. The series revealed that Eddie bonded with the symbiote not just because of their mutual hatred for Spider-Man, but also because he is dying from cancer. The symbiote’s presence in his body somehow helps keep him alive.
As for the artwork, Halsted successfully married the terrifying physicalities of the ’90s Venom with the sensuality of the ’80s Venom. He also drew the symbiote as its own separate entity when not in its Venom form with Eddie during this run. While previous artists also did this, their versions of the solo symbiote had it move through the world as a flat shadow that specifically took the shape of the black suit Peter Parker first wore.
Halsted introduced the idea that the solo symbiote is more goo than shadow, and could transform its body into various shapes. This innovative move made for some very exciting imagery in Venom: The Hunger. This story is a notorious staple in the Venom fandom because it is explicitly a love story, with Eddie spending a significant portion of this comic praising the symbiote as being better than any girlfriend he’s ever had. Halsted thus took this content as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their love. The symbiote takes the shape of a hand in order to hold hands with Eddie at the movies. The symbiote takes the form of a giant noodle with eyes and tentacles to give Eddie a comforting hug. The duo even shares a heart-shaped box of chocolates together in the end. I am so serious. It’s wonderful, and great fodder for the turn in their relationship. Shipping culture is a large part of fandom, after all, and there’s nothing fans love more than a canon ship.
Walking A Lonely Road
Unfortunately, this new romance was short-lived. The turn of the century immediately brought on two major changes in the Venom mythos. The first comes in appearance, thanks to Venom vs. Carnage #2 by Peter Milligan and Clayton Crain. Crain really emphasized the shiny, sticky sliminess of the symbiote race, particularly when it comes to offspring symbiotes.
Venom: Dark Origin by Zeb Wells and Angel Medina was the comic to ascribe this aforementioned stickiness to Venom themselves in 2009. This series was a dark and edgy reimagining of Eddie’s life from childhood to his bonding with the symbiote, and it was hotly contested among readers as a pretty poor foray into the character’s backstory. Still, Medina’s artwork really grew into itself over the run, culminating into some really creepy cool aesthetics that, along with returning Venom to a manageable buffness for fans, also gave future artists some new inspiration for all that malleable skin. So, just as a reference, the result of any symbiotic interaction can be gleaned as a mess of inky tendrils.
The second major change was that the dynamic duo were separated for most of the early Aughts and 2010s. Eddie began experiencing a crisis of faith and morality brought on by the continued issue of his cancer, causing him to finally reject the symbiote from his body and his life. Even if the symbiote wanted to force the continuation of their relationship as Venom, it could not survive in Eddie’s rapidly deteriorating body.
Thus started a very long hiatus for the original Venom team. During that time the symbiote bonds with several other hosts, while Eddie flirts with death and various other purposes in life that have nothing to do with his former Other. After some brief resistance, fans for the most part embraced this new status quo as well. In fact, many fell in love with the symbiote’s fifth canon host in 2010, Peter Parker’s former childhood bully and war veteran Flash Thompson. This version of Venom particularly shined under the care of Rick Remender and Tony Moore, and during their run Moore outfitted the new Agent Venom team with some pretty slick military armor made from the symbiote’s body.
Venom wasn’t much of a monster in these days, so longtime fans thirsting for a stickier Venom to fawn over were pretty dormant over this run. But this version of Venom did win over a new vibrant crowd of readers thanks to its interesting story arc, consistently great art, and Flash’s wholesome hotness. And in hindsight, this success was very helpful in luring these new fans into an awkward sexual awakening when Eddie Brock finally returned to his symbiote’s embrace in 2016’s Venom #6.
Welcome to the New Age
Venom entered a new renaissance with the return of the Eddie/symbiote OTP. The comic book property relaunched a new ongoing series, heralded by Mike Costa and Gerardo Sandoval. The appearance of Venom in this run was arguably the most consistently chaotic readers had seen yet. The anti-hero’s form is overall very rough and teeters on the boundary between large monster man and outright monster, their teeth and tongue and form continuously shifting under their own skin. Sandoval also emphasized the amorphous external symbiote noodle of Halsted in his work, but think more rolling, angry sticky goo than a cute little worm sneaking around the corners of Eddie’s apartment.
It’s the perfect style to reflect the hardships the duo faced during their break, and the obstacles they still had to overcome in their reconciliation. After Eddie, the symbiote bonds with a string of malevolent hosts whose bad influence tainted its mind and mental wellbeing. The worst of the bunch is the abusive Lee Price, who tortured the symbiote so severely that holding its form as Venom proves increasingly difficult on its own. Meanwhile, Eddie is eventually cured of his cancer (thank timey-wimey mystic comic book science), but this cure causes Eddie’s body to slowly poison the symbiote when they return to one another. All these factors prevent the expected smooth reestablishment of their bond, and Sandoval perfectly captured the subsequent emotional turmoil through Venom’s harsher appearance and corporate instability. It’s not a very attractive visual, but a necessary one in the context of this love story.
As Costa continued to explore the increasingly stabilizing Venom romance, other artists were soon brought onto the ongoing series. Mark Bagley made a triumphant return as the series’ main artist, and he stepped into the position with a modern upgrade to his original design.
Following the cues of the character’s recent artists, Bagley’s modern Venom is now all black rather than blue, carries a little more meat on their bones, and can also exist in a separate external form when it’s just the symbiote hanging out with Eddie. He also played around with Venom’s physical nastiness more when it came to all the things that mouth can do in the story, something that Bagley at first seemed restrained in exploring in his early work. Yet once again Bagley’s biggest contribution to this new age of Venom was making Eddie stupid hot and as naked as editorial allowed at all times. Sandoval gave him an opening by making 2010s Eddie a jacked up army officer once his cancer was cured, and good old reliable Bagley stepped through that door. He will truly go down as one if the greatest Venom artists of all time.
However, special mention should go to the ongoing series’ guest interior contributors: Tradd Moore, Paulo Siqueira, and Javier Garron. Each artist only had a random one-off issue during Costa and Bagley’s Venom run, but their unique art styles seriously brought the heat. For example, Moore’s loopy lines in Venom #150 gave the character a dynamic, animalistic physicality.
Siqueria gave us a truly grotesque-looking symbiote—impressively achieved through minute distortions of its already discomforting grin—that still managed to be a little cute. He also gave us multiple pages of Eddie and the symbiote in bed.
And Garron’s Venom in #161 is just… USDA Prime beef. All this beef is actually a little unusual among the artists who prefer the character maintaining a realistic human physique, as most in this camp make their Venom a little lean around their waist and stomach. However, I for one think we’re all better for Garron’s departure from the norm, even though he loses some brownie points for giving Venom pupils for some unfathomable reason.
The Costa/Bagley et al. run was a simpler time for readers, a fluffy romp into the Venom romance that focused exclusively on the duo’s attempts to heal themselves and their relationship rather than, say, a coherent or significantly earth-shattering plot. Literally, the biggest drama from this run was the birth of Eddie and the symbiote’s new child, completing Venom’s transformation from a Daddy to a DILF these past two years.
While still a hot commodity among the more passionate Domestic AU appreciators within the fandom, this newly domesticated form didn’t sit right with Marvel. They had a scary movie to promote this year with this character, damn it, and no one would give a shit if Venom couldn’t make them shit their pants in their theater seats. Or something. I don’t really know the reason behind it, but this summer saw an edgier reboot/technical continuation of the ongoing Venom series with a new creative team, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman.
For better or for worse, the new run is where we find ourselves at the close of 2018. Cates has our dynamic duo battling against the God of the Symbiotes with some scrappy help from Miles Morales and a Vietnam War veteran with a few symbiotic secrets of his own. Plot-wise it’s a pretty unique mix of the mundane and magical to keep even a casual fan interested, even though longtime fans might disapprove at the somewhat regressive—and uh, recently tragic—development between Eddie and his Other.
At the same time… I know what you’re wondering. Is Venom still hot?
Stegman has an array of seminal Venom art behind him, and he seems to have taken the best components of this diverse repertoire to create this latest version of the Eddie/symbiote OTP. Their physique is relatively human while their stature is extraterrestrially massive… which in the world of fucky monsterdom is hot, of course. Rather than an unnatural smoothness, the symbiotic black skin is basically painted onto every crevice and contour of Eddie’s body… which is mega hot all on its own. The solo symbiote is still incredibly ugly-cute, but its noodle form is now topped off by a floating black skull. So like, that’s gothic hot. Venom’s tongue is not as free flowing in this series as it is in the past, but when it does appear it is as long and wild and excessively wet (and hot) as we all remember it. While Eddie is back to sporting his hobo hair from the ’90s, well, it does make him look pretty hot while he’s brooding dramatically in the rain. So, my professional assessment of the current Venom run is that we are all in good hands.
Plus, one of the best things about Stegman as the newest Venom artist is that he knows what we’re all really here for:
I always draw the dick and the editors take it out.
— Ryan "venom boy" $tegman (@RyanStegman) May 10, 2018
And this month, after over 30 years of Venom gracing the pages of Marvel Comics, this morally dubious thirst trap is finally leaping onto the big screen in all their juicy—but more importantly, correct—glory.
Lots of fans will swear up and down that Sony’s Venom is more Larsen than McFarlane. Other fans will pick up artistic cues from Bagley’s Lethal Protector or Halsted’s The Hunger. And some will even point to Stegman’s horror film sensibilities as the harbinger of the symbiote’s newest adventures in its own cinematic universe. But the important thing here is the medley of comic book art influences that went into the movie’s final design, all playing off one another to form just another fantastic version of this sexy little nightmare. This isn’t the poor attempt made by Spider-Man 3, folks. This is a monster marinated in the rich artistic flavors of its own legacy.
If this artistic overview has taught you anything, then let it be this: Venom may take on many different shapes, sizes, and hosts over the years, but the strange appeal of Eddie Brock and his symbiote bae is completely unparalleled in canon. The first Venom’s hotness is simply eternal. Now that there is an entire live-action movie celebrating the Venom artists’ decades-long crusade to make Venom hot, hopefully the movie will give all the monsterfuckers of the world the multi-film franchise they have long deserved.