Lethal Protector was the first step testing the waters to see if Venom could be a viable commercial property divorced from Spider-Man, and it now reads as extremely half-hearted. It seems Marvel wanted to let Venom loose, but without going the full horror route, so they moved him from New York to San Francisco and set him up as a hero for the disenfranchised.

David Michelinie was to all intents and purposes Venom’s creator, writing the Spider-Man arc when it became obvious that the black costume Spider-Man retrieved from an alien planet was an independent lifeform. For that he should be cut some slack, but Venom scaring off a mugger and saying to the victim “Your joy is reward enough and sends me leaping happily on my way.” takes some swallowing. Lethal Protector is not as terrifying as the graphic novel blurb would have you believe, and much of the opening chapter has Venom swinging through town and carrying on a dialogue with himself in high camp.

He eventually falls in with a group of homeless people living beneath the city who need protection from massive armoured creations, that plot widening to involve assorted dull corporate villains. Spider-Man is sniffing around all the time, not quite able to believe that Venom/Eddie Brock has gone straight. There’s a point where it seems there may be a spark of life when several other Venoms are created. Unfortunately by then the art has switched from Mark Bagley’s efficient if not very distinctive style to Ron Lim’s Image-lite pages, all poorly designed close-ups and grimacing.

This hasn’t dated well, and there’s a lot of Venom to struggle through before finding anything that has. Several creators follow in The Enemy Within collection, for which at least the hamstrung compromise was given a little more bite. That and this are also combined in oversized hardback as the first Venomnibus.