The Poison and Perils of Symbiotic Plots in Marvel’s ‘Venomized #1’

The war between the symbiotes and the Poisons escalates to new extremes.

Venomized #1
Cullen Bunn, Iban Coello
Marvel Comics
04 Apr 2018

Alien life has an uncanny ability to fascinate because it is, by definition, alien. Humans have amazing imaginations, but no matter how creative or elaborate it gets, it’s still limited by the amount of gray matter within the human brain. Alien creatures like the symbiotes, whose function is both radically different and somewhat disturbing in the context of the non-comic book world, push those perceptions even further.

As a character, Venom checks all the right boxes for a menacing creature operating with an alien mindset. It’s not just some monstrous glob with a biological imperative to hate Spider-Man. A part of that hatred comes directly from its alien persona. It’s part of a race whose survival depends on more than just finding a host. It must also improve that host, something that puts it far beyond any tapeworm or tick.

Venom, and symbiotes in general, take on the best and worst of a host, turning the volume on their most defining traits up to the max and beyond. For someone like Eddie Brock, it takes almost any story to extremes. Whether it’s trying to kill Spider-Man or a cosmic journey with time-displaced X-men, every element takes on an a more intense context. Whereas hating Spider-Man is a fairly common narrative that has played out any number of ways since the Reagan Administration, Cullen Bunn crafts a different story with Venom in Venomized.

Spinning right out of the events of X-men Blue, another series Bunn writes, Venomized builds directly on top of those events that brought Venom into conflict with the Poisons. That story establishes that, like all forms of life, there’s competition for resources, as well as diseases. For symbiotes, Poisons are both. Bunn establishes that these creatures are to symbiotes what mosquitoes and malaria are to humans.

In Venomized #1, the Poisons grow even bolder. Whereas Poison X in X-men Blue focused primarily on the time-displaced X-men, this story expands that conflict to the wider Marvel universe. The X-men, the Avengers, SHIELD, Spider-Man, and even the villains who fight them get involved. The symbiotes don’t discriminate. When it comes to hosts, they’re more egalitarian than most humans can hope to be.

Much of the story revolves around corrupted symbiotes attacking and infecting other heroes. It makes for plenty of colorful sequences involving major characters like Thor, Hercules, Storm, and Iron Heart getting infected. It’s not the kind of epic struggle that often plays out with Spider-Man every time he encounters a symbiote, nor does it try to be. Turning heroes into hosts is just part of a larger agenda that unfolds quickly and chaotically.

It’s an agenda that’s more ambitious than anything Venom has attempted before. With and without a host, be it Peter Parker or Eddie Brock, Venom is a highly individualistic character. Sometimes it’s downright greedy, which is part of what leads it to clashing with Spider-Man so often. It makes for an unusual dichotomy, having that sense of individualism while still needing a host to survive. That’s part of what gives Venom his character. It’s also part of how it influences its hosts.

By contrast, the Poisons work to subvert the individualism in symbiotes like Venom. They’re not content with simply improving a host, which is as far as any symbiote will go. They’ll completely consume it and use the body of that host to empower a larger collective. It’s like communism mixed with parasitism mixed with cannibalism. Even by symbiote standards, it’s pretty gruesome.

The elements of a larger symbiote war are in place. However, Venom and the time-displaced X-men are behind the curve for most of the story in Venomized #1. They don’t arrive on the scene until after the Poisons have landed and started attacking the heroes. Even when they do arrive, they aren’t able to do much to slow the Poisons down. Their already several steps ahead of them. While this does add more urgency to the story, it also hinders it in some ways.

Things don’t just happen quickly. There’s a lot that apparently happens off-panel. Even if the agenda of the Poisons is fairly clear, the details are somewhat lost in the spectacle. That’s to be expected, to some extent, for a story that covers so much ground with so many characters. However, those lack of details creates the impression that there’s so much more going on behind the scenes and too little of it unfolds in the actual narrative.

While this helps create many symbiote-fueled battles throughout Venomized #1, there isn’t much in terms of drama. Compared to the Poisons X arc that played out in X-men Blue, there aren’t a whole lot of emotions to explore beyond Thor and Hercules drunkenly stumbling out of a bar. Even when Spider-Man gets involved, a character whose history with symbiotes is full of drama, the drama falls fairly flat.

The potential for drama is still there and hints of it even emerge towards the end once Carnage enters the picture. It’s still somewhat limited in terms of impact. The story has plenty of structure to build around, going back to the Edge of the Venomverse. It’s only lacking the dramatic weight that gives greater purpose to all the symbiote-fueled fighting.

Even without that weight though, Venomized #1 still has plenty to offer. It’s very much in keeping with the spirit of symbiotes and extremes. It puts heroes and villains alike in a position where they have to take part in a war that spans the both the multiverse and Venom’s own personal ego. In terms of scope, it’s hard to get more extreme than that.

RATING 6 / 10