A separate Spider-Man Vs. Venom Omnibus collects Venom’s earliest appearances, which for a few years after his introduction were all battling Spider-Man. The first Venomnibus picks up with the 1993 decision being taken to see if Venom could be separated from Spider-Man and cut it as a superhero. It’s not a pretty sight.

Written by Venom’s creator David Michelinie, Lethal Protector kicks off the volume, having been available as a standalone graphic novel. It still induces a warm glow among Venom fans who were there in the early 1990s, but don’t get your hopes up. It now reads as a half-hearted compromise, neutering Venom’s essential savagery in the hopes of attracting a wider audience, and while Mark Bagley’s art is at least proficient in a bland style, Ron Lim finishing the story is poor (sample art left). However compared to much of what follows ‘Lethal Protector’  is the gold standard.

One uninspired creative pairing after another offers their version of Venom, the quality dipping ever further down. The first two chapters of Carl Potts and Tom Lyle’s ‘Funeral Pyre’ are about the best on offer, supplying a tight crime drama and a man trapped undercover and in danger of losing his life. The conclusion isn’t as convincing, but it’s the best solo Venom in the nearly 400 pages.

Almost as good is Peter David’s funny teaming of Venom and the Hulk, but that’s let down by Jim Craig’s distorted art. He’s not the only example of an artist whose usual style is modified attempting to imitate the grim 1990s growling close-ups, pin-ups and hang-ups, as pages by Kelley Jones, Ron Randall and Liam Sharp look no better.

The Hulk team-up can be found as part of The Enemy Within, but Venom running up against other Marvel mainstays is missing from that and follow-up collection Separation Anxiety. Scott McDaniel’s art when Venom meets Daredevil still looks good, as does Steven Butler on battles with the Scarlet Spider (sample right) and Silver Sable. The stories, though, leave much to be desired as does Venom in action against Darkhawk, Iron Man and Nightwatch.

It was Larry Hama who finally hit on the formula for a successful Venom series, and he’d write a lot of them, beginning with ‘Carnage Unleashed’. Hama’s solution to the creative mediocrity was to ramp things up even further to almost ludicrous levels of excess, and the inclusion of Venom’s even more savage red lookalike Carnage helps with that. Andrew Wildman doesn’t always pick up the visual cues, but his art improves on most of what comes before.

Venom remains a perennially popular character, and eventually there would be good Venom stories, but you’ll find none of them here. The quality improves slightly with Venomnibus Vol. 2.

Oh yes, the title. It does just give Venom’s name on the cover, with the interior indicia referring to the book as Venomnibus.