Review by Frank Plowright
The Enemy Within takes its title from one of the three longer 1990s stories featured, all of them running to three chapters, with the bonus of Venom taking on the Hulk in a shorter piece.
Marvel’s first attempt at pulling Venom away from Spider-Man into a solo series was Lethal Protector, financially successful if creatively disappointing, so Marvel editor Carl Potts took over for ‘Funeral Pyre’. Potts retains the idea of host Eddie Brock attempting to suppress Venom’s predatory nature and acting as a protector in San Franciso while also injecting a grittier realism. The gang members shown over the opening pages are nihilisticly repellent, but Marvel aren’t yet sure enough that Venom is a solo act, so hedge their bets by featuring the Punisher. It results in a neat crime drama well drawn by Tom Lyle (sample art left), the Punisher and Venom counterpointed by the trials of a compromised reporter undercover in a gang. For two chapters it’s significantly better than anything else in the collection, but the conclusion drops the quality, with Lyle only providing layouts for Joe Rubinstein, and the intrusion of a super-powered gangster removing all tension.
‘The Madness’ is theoretically Venom vs Juggernaut, but as supplied by Ann Nocenti and Kelley Jones it veers off into very strange, almost incoherent territory and a very ill-advised near rape scene. Jones sets a gothic mood and provides some really gross illustrations, but otherwise there’s little to recommend an overwrought, unsubtle and meandering read that doesn’t make a lot of sense and has some truly atrocious dialogue.
Bruce Jones and Bob McLeod provide the title story, in which Venom teams with another conflicted monster, Morbius, the Living Vampire in dealing with demonic goblins unleashed on San Francisco and a crooked politician. McLeod makes the most of a fifty foot demon on the Bay Bridge, but it’s largely an exercise in filling the pages, any sense of desperation never adequately conveyed.
It’s the Hulk with Bruce Banner’s brain that shows up when San Francisco is threatened by an anonymous lunatic who claims to have an earthquake-creating device. Peter David holds his end up with a funny plot making good use of Venom and the Hulk, but Jim Craig’s mid-1990s version of the Hulk is now gruesome to behold.
There’s really very little to recommend The Enemy Within, but if you’re not put off by this mediocre content, it’s all available along with much more in the first oversized hardcover Venomnibus. The book is rounded off with Venom illustrations from trading card sets, and a puff piece from in-house promo magazine Marvel Age promoting the first story. If you’re following Venom’s adventures chronologically, the next read is Separation Anxiety.