Chronologically, this is the second batch of solo Venom, covering 1994 to 1995, and opening with ‘The Mace’. Hopes may be high as Carl Potts wrote the best Venom story in The Enemy Within, but his form has dipped. He includes the situations established by the writers who followed including, as unlikely as it seems, Venom’s girlfriend, and his status as protector of San Francisco’s homeless, and throws in a mercenary wearing a suit with stealth technology. Liam Sharp’s art is a mixed blessing (sample art left). It’s messy looking with the viewpoints often not the best chosen, but he’s also the first of Venom’s solo artists to really exaggerate the character, removing him from resembling Spider-Man so closely. Why his armoured assassin so resembles a version of Iron Man is never explained.

Eddie Brock’s girlfriend Beck also features in ‘Nights of Vengeance’ where Brock’s life is complicated by a second woman falling for him. Both that and the title story are written by Howard Mackie. He has a few interesting ideas, but these are buried in stories without any kind of creativity in the telling. Venom is first teamed with Vengeance to fight a group equipped with alien technology, Ron Lim’s art the epitome of 1990s excess, with poorly drawn people (sample art right) and no sense for page layouts. His highlight is the visual effect devised for those using alien technology.

Splitting Mackie’s two stories is Venom’s encounter with Spider-Man clone Ben Reilly, later Scarlet Spider. If any ongoing project exemplified Marvel’s 1990s mediocrity it was the endless saga of Peter Parker’s clone, and here among much hand-wringing and soul-searching he decides to prove himself by dealing with Venom. Mackie and Terry Kavanagh saturate the four chapters in fake emotion, expository dialogue and repetition. It may be in 1990s style, but at least artists Steven Butler and Tom Lyle show some talent.

The title story has Brock separated from symbiote, but never mind because the surrogates introduced in Lethal Protector provide substitute action, while the main symbiote occupies others as they search for Eddie. The fundamental idea isn’t poor, but it’s dragged on, has unrealistic dialogue and Ron Randall attempting to alter his natural style to match the excess of previous Venom artists isn’t a pretty sight.

Once again, there’s little to recommend among this mediocre content, but it’s all available along with much more in the first oversized hardcover Venomnibus. Way back in the 1990s there was also a slimmer Separation Anxiety paperback presenting just the four chapters of that story. Follow the link for greater detail. The next collection chronologically is Carnage Unleashed.