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Spider-Man - The Venom Saga
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2005

Format: Movie
Genre:   Superhero/Animation
Released:   June 13, 2005 (DVD Release)
Review Date:   July 05, 2005
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

Well, first you had the 1967 Ralph Bakshi animated Spider-Man series — the one with the ever-enduring theme song that most everybody remembers, whether they watched the show or not. In 1978 there was the live-action Spider-Man TV movie that served as a pilot episode for a series. This was followed in 1981 by another animated series, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. When that show went off the air in 1986, all trace of Spider-Man left the airwaves for years, and probably with good reason. . . .

They were all crap.

Not to say we don't have a certain fondness for some of them in our hearts, but by today's standards they're virtually unwatchable. Comic book super heroes just about disappeared from televison for several years until 1992, when they made a dramatic comeback with Batman: The Animated Series. Not be outdone, a couple of years later Marvel Comics launched a new and much improved Spider-Man animated series to compete for Saturday morning's ratings.

The new Spider-Man cartoons were never great, but plenty of them could be said to be good. Once you got past the 3D backgrounds that never meshed well with the rest of the 2D animation, and the incessant rambling — a voice-over of each and every one of Peter Parker's thoughts — it was an enjoyable show. It was good at adapting most of its storylines from Spider-Man's decades of history in comic books and even managed to retain the same soap operatic feel.

Spider-Man — The Venom Saga focuses on the collection of episodes that introduced one of Spidey's arch-villains, Venom.

Spider-Man comes in contact with a tar-like substance from another planet, which attaches itself to him and won't let go. Before he can get a chance to panic, the substance proves itself to be a valuable asset. It can read his thoughts and morph into whatever he needs: a new costume, street clothes, a place to stash his camera. It even shoots its own organic webbing so he doesn't have to worry about running out of web-shooter cartridges. AND it makes him stronger than before! What more could you ask for?

Just as things seem too good to be true, Spider-Man has some revelations about his new "suit" that make it more of a monkey's paw than a magic lamp:

It wraps itself around him and forces him to fight crime even when he's asleep.
It's slowly taking over his mind and making him more aggressive.
Um . . . what was that last one? Oh yeah, IT'S ALIVE!!!

That's right. The suit isn't just an alien substance, it's an alien being. A symbiote using Spider-Man as a host. And to make things worse, the harder Spider-Man (who's pretty panicked at this point) tries to get it off, the harder it clings to him. He eventually discovers that the creature's weakness is ultrasound (or just loud sound, really), and uses the giant ringing bell in a tower to force the separation.

This rejection leaves the creature pissed beyond all reason at Spider-Man. It slinks away until it finds Eddie Brock, an unemployed photographer equally pissed at Peter Parker, believing Parker ruined his life. These two engines of hate bond to form Venom, perhaps Spider-Man's deadliest foe ever.

Venom is maybe the only character created since the Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko days of the '60s worthy of being one of Spider-Man's A-List villains and a member of the Sinister Six. He's a bigger, stronger, darker version of Spider-Man who knows all of Peter Parker's secrets and doesn't set off his Spider-sense. I remember reading the venom stories in the comics and feeling a tinge of genuine fear. When Spider-Man was able to defeat Venom it was almost a pyrrhic victory.

These cartoons do a pretty good job of adapting those stories and carrying that same feeling. There are a few changes — they cut out the part with the symbiote being the product of the interstellar Secret Wars and make it something John Jameson picked up on a space shuttle mission; also, it's now Dr. Connors and not Reed Richards that discovers that the symbiote is a living creature — but they are mostly for the better.

The last two episodes on the disc deal with the return of Venom and the birth of Carnage. Carnage is one of those characters I never cared much for, and I can't tell how accurate the story is to the comic book version. It obviously takes place much later in the timeline of the show, and has guest appearances by Dormamu, Baron Mordo, Iron Man and War Machine. That might sound good, but it just doesn't have the coherency of the Venom stories. Still, I've seen much worse.


And speaking of "much worse," we have only to go to the Bonus Features of the DVD for perhaps the worst extras I've ever come across:

1. Stan Lee's Soapbox: This is nothing more than Stan Lee (possibly on mushrooms) rambling randomly about Spider-Man and Venom for 20 minutes or more (I lost track of time). There's no revelation of anything you don't see in the episodes. Not to disparage Stan Lee. They probably set a camera in front of him and kept urging him to "Just keep talking."

2. The Venomous Web: Here Dave Micheleine, the creator of Venom, spends 20 minutes patting himself on the back for what a great job he did. It's very similar to Stan's soapbox. The big difference is here it's all broken into snippets and sound bites you have to push a button to navigate yourself through. Trust me, it doesn't gain anything being taken out of context.

3. Episode Introductions by Stan Lee: More of Stan's ramblings describing everything you're about to see in each episode right before you see it.

Seriously, this isn't a bad DVD to own, especially if a neophyte Spider-Man fan asks, "Who is this 'Venom' guy, anyway?" (You laugh, but my wife did just a month ago.) Otherwise, it's more an annoyance than anything.

It should also be noted that for now one of the Disney channels airs episodes of this Spider-Man series every night.

The Movie Itself: 5 out of 10
The DVD Features: 1 out of 10

RevSF contributor Martin Thomas does whatever a spider can. Which is eat bugs, scare his wife, and run from house-pets and quickly-decending Kleenexes.

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