All products and services featured by Variety are independently selected by Variety editors. However, Variety may receive a commission on orders placed through its retail links, and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.
If audiences can take one thing from “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” it should perhaps be that Venom can be a little bit out there, as a character. Perhaps it comes from the core concept of a human and alien co-existing as a slobbering goo monster, or maybe it’s just that no-one really knows what to do with Tom Hardy’s goofy energy in the title role — but the former Spider-Man villain turned leading man (well, leading creature) has turned out to be a character that certainly seems to appeal to the freaks in the audience, by letting them know that when it comes down to it, he’s one of them.
With that in mind, when exploring the comic book career of Venom, there’s one guiding principle to bear in mind: go for the strangest material available; the truly odd, kind of dumb, stuff that really cuts to the appeal of the character. In other words, don’t just go for the greatest hits or the biggest sellers.
Instead, read these books.
Venom Epic Collection: Symbiosis
Perhaps more than any other major Marvel character, Venom has undergone considerable change and growth since his mid-1980s introduction as (checks notes) Spider-Man’s new costume. This mammoth collection tells the story of how a piece of alien clothing became a monster with teeth and a massive tongue, and it is as melodramatic and overblown as anyone could imagine: think “Fatal Attraction,” as directed by Brian DePalma, but starring Spider-Man, an alien, and a journalist who has beef with Peter Parker, and you’re pretty much there — except, somehow, it’s even weirder. Reading this storyline, suddenly Tom Hardy’s performance from the first movie makes far more sense.
Venomnibus Vol. 1
While Venom has never really managed to be an out-and-out superhero, he definitely transformed from villain to… well, as the title of one of the stories in this collection puts it, a “lethal protector.” The anti-hero version of Venom is arguably the one most recognizable to non-comic readers, but it’s hard to overstate how genuinely strange his first forays into quasi-good guydom actually were. Prepare for lots of team-ups and cameos from familiar faces, and a general sense of unease about just what passed for heroism back in the 1990s.
Venom: Planet of the Symbiotes
The second Venom movie introduces the symbiote “son” of Venom, Carnage — but why have just two symbiotic parasites when you can have a whole bucketful? Just years after Venom’s debut, he was at the center of this storyline where the alien race that Venom comes from starts to threaten the Earth — only to be hijacked by a version of Carnage that goes so far beyond anything Woody Harrelson could imagine in terms of craziness. Who says that mind-controlled murder and assisted suicide isn’t what most people would expect from an alien invasion story that also stars Spider-Man and a clone of Spider-Man?
Venom vs. Carnage
If Venom isn’t thrilled about having a psychopathic son in the first place, how do you think he’ll feel about being a grandfather? In this purposefully over-the-top slugfest, it’s time for soap opera to meet punching as often as possible, with Carnage’s offspring — spoilers, they have the appropriately melodramatic name “Toxin” — becoming the latest reason for Venom to try and finally take down Carnage once and for all. What are the odds that Toxin will turn out to be just as murderous as his father? I mean, given his name, it certainly seems as if we all know the answer…
Given that Venom is the result of the simple math equation [Spider-Man + Monster], it was only a matter of time before Marvel realized that other superheroes could be inserted into that formula for more fun and, potentially, profit. “Venomverse” is what happens when that line of thought is followed through to its logical conclusion, as Venom is pulled through the multiverse to meet lots of alternative versions of himself… who just happen to be joined with characters such as Captain America, Doctor Strange, and other high profile Marvel heroes. If you watch “Into the Spider-Verse” but wished there was more tongue, then this is likely to be your drooling jam.
King in Black
What if Venom wasn’t just Venom? What if there was an elaborate, none-more-goth style mythology built up around the character and the very concept of goo symbiotes that bond themselves to humans and other creatures? Those are the questions at the heart of “King in Black,” a self-consciously metal epic that pits Venom (and his teenage son, Dylan, who proves to be important to the larger plot because it’s that kind of story) against the godlike entity that created him and his entire race. There are swords, frowns, and no shortage of ultraviolence as the Marvel Universe faces its latest impossibly big threat.
Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble
Sometimes, you just want to reinvent a monster as a cute, family-friendly buff gremlin for a kid-friendly romp with an endlessly merchandisable superhero. This remarkably adorable adventure from Mariko Tamaki and artist collective Gurihiru manages to give a makeover to its title characters while maintaining just enough edge to keep things fun and far away from being too saccharine to read. Despite it’s all-ages focus, could this be the wildest Venom story on this entire list?