Venom’s string of solo titles in the 90’s may have been stretching things by calling him an “anti-hero.” Though, according to the writers of the time, that was definitely what the publishers wanted him to be. Dark, evil-looking Spider-Man’s suddenly a hit character? Give him his own title and have him fight even worse guys! Except, in practice, a lot of effort was put into making the character true to his villainous early appearances. Which meant Venom was still an unstable maniac. His greatest superpower: rationalizing whatever he did as either heroic or caused by someone else. Sure, sometimes he’d fight villains. Sometimes he’d try to kill J Jonah Jameson by mistake! That’s the take character co-creator David Michelinie is returning to in Venom: Lethal Protector #1. So if you’re not into Venom becoming a better person, here he’s throwing cars at petty thieves.
Set during the early days of Venom’s career, the issue finds Eddie Brock trying to figure out his place in the world. He knows he wants to protect the innocent (and kill Spider-Man), but is upset his attempts at vigilante justice aren’t being appreciated. Things aren’t helped when he has a bit more trouble than expected with a bumbling villain out to prove himself. And a returning sinister organization begins to carry out their plans for poor Venom…
This issue is a reunion of sorts for Spider-Man characters Michelinie introduced during his long tenure on the title. The fake Avengers Taskmaster trained in Amazing Spider-Man #367 show up in the opening pages, and the obscure villains only continue to reappear from there. But the D-list villains with silly powers help add to the darkly comedic tone Venom Lethal Protector #1 sets for itself. This is a Venom whose time as a journalist has left him with a flowery vocabulary – “That’s why we lead you here, where we wouldn’t be bothered by buttinskies with badges!” he shouts in the opening pages. It all comes with an air of goofiness. That’s not to say that none of Venom’s concerns are treated seriously. But this is a character with a monster-face whose attempts at eloquent language just end up scaring old ladies. So hell, why shouldn’t he be fun?
Eddie also tries to open up to his symbiote throughout the issue, in what ends up being a one-sided conversation. All his attempts to get the symbiote to talk about its past are met with silence. This is interesting, since the relationship between Eddie and his symbiote has always been best described as that of two enablers. Both coming off sour rejections, bonding over shared hatred, and pushing one another to further destructive extremes. But here, we see a frostier symbiote acting more as an occasional voice of reason. Eddie even decides he needs someone more human to talk to, and seeks out his ex-wife. Though she’s… less open to conversation. Eddie’s only gonna end up relying on his alien friend more and more.
Venom’s the kind of cool, clean design that’s inspired thousands and thousands of doodles in school notebooks across the country. Guy must be fun to draw. Ivan Fiorelli definitely looks like he’s having fun. He provides plenty of closeups on Venom’s sinister grin, dozens of perfectly sharpened little teeth protruding from his gigantic gums. And for an issue centered around a man with a permanent grin, there’s a lot of expressiveness on show here. A certain guest villain that the climax of the issue revolves around is presented with droopy, ill fitting clothes, and a lanky, cartoony body. Eddie gives a delightfully smug smirk after an attempted good deed.
Bryan Valenza, meanwhile, goes for a cartoony, bright color palette. Though he also relies on a lot of urban browns and greys. Superhero or not, this is a comic about a man who lives in the sewers. It’s up to the silly costumes of the comic’s cast to provide splashes of color, along with autumn leaves, and the vibrant city skyline at night. VC’s Tavis Lanham provides clear, pleasant lettering throughout. Venom himself is given a subtly wobbly, horror-tinged font whenever he yells, giving his speech a properly monstrous character to it. Though his white-on-black speech bubbles certainly help as well.
Venom: Lethal Protector #1 is a fun throwback to before Venom and the symbiotes splintered off into their own corner of the Marvel universe. This issue doesn’t let you forget Venom is primarily a Spider-Man character- its world populated by petty thugs in spandex and ungrateful New Yorkers. But sometimes its fun to take a spin with a character who’s a lot less responsible than that uptight Peter Parker. So keep a lookout for when the issue releases from Marvel Comics on March 23rd.