A quick primer on Spidey's most complicated foe.

Before You See Venom, Here’s Everything You Should Know

Tomorrow, Sony’s slimy, vicious, horror-tinged, Spider-Man-less Spider-Man spinoff Venomfinally hits theatres. Perhaps you have heard about it because the trailers have kept your children from sleeping at night for months, or because your neighbourhood is currently slathered in grotesque billboards and posters for it, or because the movie’s star has been loudly and unreservedly denigrating it in interviews. But do you even really know what Venom’s about? Who or what is Venom, anyway?

We’re glad you asked. Before you plonk down $13 to watch a CGI’d-up Tom Hardy belligerently eat people for two hours, let’s walk you through some history. Three whole decades of it, in fact: Venom’s release this year coincides with the 30th anniversary of the character’s introduction to the world—in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #300 in May 1988.

The razor-toothed creature’s backstory began even earlier, though, as a costume change for Peter Parker. In 1982, Marvel held a competition in search of alternate looks for Spider-Man. When fan Randy Schueller sent in a black stealth suit, editor-in-chief Jim Shooter was so enamored by the sleek and simple look, he bought the idea for $220.

Before long, Marvel turned the costume into its own character. Introduced during 1984’s space-faring Secret Wars crossover event, the alien uniform latched onto Spider-Man, offering him the ability to suit up at will, a never-ending supply of webbing and enhanced reflexes. But Spidey soon realized the suit was, in fact, a living organism—a symbiote that refused to be pried from his skin. With Mr. Fantastic’s help, Spider-Man managed to separate himself from the suit by blasting it with sound waves.

Seeking a new host, the organism stumbled upon Eddie Brock, a rival reporter who despised both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. The symbiote used that hatred to unleash a more sinister side to Brock’s personality, turning them together into the monstrous Venom.

Venom’s main powers are obvious: it’s enormously strong and fast, with a gruesome array of razor-sharp teeth at its disposal. The symbiote is able to absorb and amplify the abilities of its hosts, and its true liquid form makes it easy for it to escape and jump hosts with ease. Its main weaknesses are extreme sound and fire. You might remember Topher Grace’s Venom in Spider-Man 3—the character’s last, truly horrendous big-screen depiction—being defeated by Spidey clanging a bunch of pipes.

Venom quickly established himself as one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome foes, inching closer and closer to killing the webslinger each time they clashed. But he also began to play antihero, hunting down and often slaying those he believed to be guilty. His shady code of honour prevented him from hurting anyone innocent, but if he later determined that person was, in fact, guilty, all bets were off.

“[Venom] is not purely evil,” says Matthew Manning, the author of more than 75 books on superheroes. “It depends on who’s hosting it. Brock wants to do the right thing but Venom can also reveal someone’s dark side.”

That kind of internal battle is what makes Hardy the perfect candidate to play Brock. He drew from his recent high-wire performance as two brothers in Legend to pull off Venom’s schizophrenic duality. “I thought I could do a similar technique,” Hardy told The Hollywood Reporter, “but this time I get to play with a huge, visual effects monster with an abundance of money to spend on it.” 

But will Venom be able to stand on its own two slimy feet without Spider-Man around to prop it up? Manning points to the fact that the character has sustained nearly 30 years’ worth of solo comics—something a lot of HOF-worthy villains haven’t succeeded at. “The Joker got his own series in the ‘70s,” Manning says, “but it didn’t last long because without Batman, it was tough to carry Joker on his own.”1

We’ll find out tomorrow if Hardy’s Venomwas worth the yearlong media onslaught we just endured—and the three decades of waiting before that to see Marvel’s most vicious character get a real shot on the big screen. For now, though, at least you can say you know who he is.

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1. Not that that’s stopped DC from trying—with multiple Joker flicks in the works right now.