Review by Win Wiacek
Although nominally a collection dedicated to the savagely driven, alien-infected vigilante, Venom: Birth of a Monster only devotes a fraction of its content to Spider-Man’s deadly dark double. Instead this UK published pocketbook collects the superbly powerful, but barely relevant Sin-Eater saga, which much later results in Eddie Brock fusing with the alien Venom symbiote.
The drama begins with the opening chapter of ‘Death of Jean DeWolff: Original Sin’ by Peter David and Rich Buckler. The eponymous lady cop was Spider-Man’s only friend in the NYPD, and has been murdered by a mystery assailant. In the stunned aftermath the department goes into cop-killer overdrive. Spidey befriends detective Stan Carter, even as in a church across town a desperate young man attempts to expiate his recent sins in the confessional booth.
David mixes sightless crusader Matt Murdock (AKA Daredevil) into a plot about muggers preying on old people, and Sin-Eather, a masked killer with a sawn-off shotgun uncaring about who might be collateral damage when a target is in sight. A badly shaken Wall-Crawler resorts to plain old detective work to solve the maniacal mystery as more murders follow as both Spidey and Hornhead follow clues.
The tension shifts into overdrive when political opportunist Reverend Tolliver stirs up racial divisions and Peter learns a bystander he recklessly endangered has died. It all comes to a head at the Daily Bugle building, when the killer comes looking for J. Jonah Jameson and is anticlimactically subdued by Peter Parker and other journalists. However, David has more suprises in store in a shocking final chapter tragic in many respects as the Sin-Eater is finally unmasked. This is separately collected as The Death of Jean DeWolff.
Several years later during Secret Wars, Spider-Man picked up a super-scientific new costume that was actually a hungry alien parasite, which slowly began to permanently bond to its unwitting wearer. The Symbiote ultimately escaped and, like a crazed and jilted lover, tried to re-establish its relationship with the horrified hero; seemingly destroying itself in the attempt.
During a stellar run of scripts by David Michelinie, the beast was revived with a new host and became one of the most acclaimed Marvel villains of all time, helped in no small part by the escalating popularity of rising star artist Todd McFarlane (sample art).
Spider-Man stumbles across a coterie of millionaires constructing a lavish high tech gated community, exposed when a series of weapons shipments go missing. Although a sharp action adventure in its own right, each chapter concludes with a teaser showing a shadowy, bestial figure obsessing over clippings of Spider-Man. An extra-length thriller reveals Venom, a huge hulking, distorted carbon copy of the web-spinner: a murderous psychopath constituted of disgraced reporter Eddie Brock and the now eternally bonded bitter, rejected parasite. Brock obsessively hates Parker and at his lowest moment, the rejected, starving Symbiote found him. As they merged, human and alien realised they hungered for vengeance on the self-same man.
The story is a stunning blend of action and suspense with an unforgettable classic duel between Good and Evil. The savage, shape-changing anti-hero – a perfect dark-side version of the Amazing Arachnid – went on to his own blood-drenched series and eventually the spidery rivals reached a tenuous détente.
This book’s incongruent and perhaps misleading title does reproduce a pair of powerfully entertaining tales of the hard-luck hero’s long and stellar canon. If it’s fantastic superhero action you’re after, both tales are a very pleasant way to while away your midnight hours.