Originally written 6-19-12
Eddie Brock aka Venom, breaks out of the prison for super powered villains called the Vault leaving behind him a trail of death. He makes his way back to New York City and begins a Spider-Man hunt. The wall crawler not only has to worry about Venom trying to bash his skull in, but another duo who goes by the names of Styx and Stone. -summary
When I think of Spider-Man and all the reasons why I like him so much, his rogue's gallery and how some of them are used stands out as one of the more interesting points. A really good villain can bring out the best in a hero this we all know, in the case of Spider-Man, some of the best hero-villain encounters took place with his enemies who knew the man under the mask. This began back in the mid 60's with Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin. This character exploited the hazards of a psychotic villain knowing this important secret, and later on, this concept would be expanded on with both Jackal and Carrion during the Original Clone Saga. Marvel knew they were on to something, and despite several good stories in the Spider-Man mythos long after the "deaths" of these characters; with the exception of Kraven's Last Hunt, where Kraven shot Spider-Man and buried him for two weeks and usurped his identity, and maybe the feud with the original Hobgoblin, I don't believe Marvel struck any serious gold with a significant threat to Spider-Man, that is, until Venom was introduced.
For those who may not know, Venom was among the wallcrawler's ultimate nemesis. Venom is the fusion of fallen journalist Eddie Brock, and the black costume Spider-Man brought back from Battleworld (Originally, Venom was not the name of the costume or the man, it would become so later due to Marvel and mainly fans taking his characterization completely out of context). Spider-Man learned that the costume was indeed a living symbiote that attempted to bond with him. He was able to separate himself from the costume by using the sound of church bells. Angry due to rejection, the symbiote sensed Brock's hatred for Spider-Man and joined with him. The costume learned a majority of Spider-Man's abilities. Now together as Venom, they were able to do almost everything Spider-Man could do, plus with far more muscle Spider-Man was physically outmatched. In addition, since the costume couldn't provide Venom with a "spider-sense" to warn him of danger, it told Brock about Spider-Man's and it was able to block it. As an added bonus, the symbiote revealed Spider-Man's identity and everyone close to him to Brock. From there, they would go on to torment Spider-Man for a long time.
This TPB Spider-Man: Vengeance of Venom, is the direct follow up to the Birth of Venom, which continues their deadly feud. This TPB written by Peter David and David Michelinie collects The Amazing Spider-Man 332, 333, 346, 347, 361-363, 374, 375, The Trial of Venom, material from 373, 388, Annual 25,26, Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 12, and Web of Spider-Man 8.
The first part of this book features another encounter between the two, and guest stars villains Styx and Stone whom are hired to kill Spider-Man. Although these two are heavily overshadowed by Venom, their presence is known and they play a serious role into the story, plus their actions would set up the next story arc between Spider-Man and Venom. New readers unfamiliar with Venom would quickly see he's a threat. This first story I would say is OK at best; it doesn't really hold up to their very first batch of battles.
The second chapter Venom Returns takes place in 346 and 347. Venom sets up another encounter where he takes Spider-Man to a deserted island for their final showdown. Venom's problem up to this point to a certain degree has been an outside force interfering with him killing Spider-Man, plus Spider-man always resulting to some type of trick to beat him as opposed to doing it with brute force. This battle was meant to work in Venom's favor eliminating all of those factors. This is a pretty good fight that felt like a throwback to their original deciding fight, with Spider-Man up against hopeless odds and Venom using tricks against him never seen before. Despite how good this story is, for some reason, I always had a hard time buying into the ending, but I think it has something to do with Venom's insanity Spider-Man banks on.
At some point, you could sense that the feud between Spider-Man and Venom was growing kind of stale, and I believe this is what motivated Marvel to expand on the concept of the symbiote. They already revealed that the alien had feelings, and understood both love and hate. Michelinie introduced the alien's ability to give birth asexually, which introduces Venom's murderous offspring Carnage. This story takes place in 361-363, and I always found this to be one of the better Marvel debuts of the 90's. Carnage is a sociopath, that is so evil and careless when taking people's lives, he even makes Venom sick.
One of the most interesting stories is the Trial of Venom. This story features Daredevil's alter-ego Matt Murdoch, as he's tasked with defending Eddie Brock in court with Spider-Man taking the witness stand. The story makes one wonder, "Is Brock really responsible for his actions?" This is an entertaining and sometimes funny story, that sees Matt take it to Spider-Man even though they're friends who know each others identities. The final story takes place with Venom going on the loose again, and this time he goes after Spider-Man parent's (long story how they fit into this). This sets up their final confrontation.
These stories are indeed action packed and pretty well written with a good amount of suspense. The battle against Carnage stands out the most here, because he possesses all of Venom's power, with the ability to morph his limbs into sharp weapons. On top of this, he's stronger than both Spider-Man and Venom combined, which makes defeating him with brute force completely out of the question. Now don't think that these stories are all action, there's a great amount of character development to be found here, and I remember Carnage being an instant hit. However, to get the most out of the Spider-Man/Venom feud, Birth of Venom should be read prior coming into this.
There are a host of pencilers, most notably Mark Bagley and Eric Larsen. I always had a thing for the 90's artwork, and there are various moments where it can outshine some of today's works. The action can be easily followed, and Venom has such a menacing appearance. He is heavily built, and he looks stronger than the Fantastic Four's Thing. Carnage's design which is a skinnier red version of Venom had always appeared simple yet very effective.
Spider-Man's feud with Venom has left lasting effects in the Marvel Universe. These encounters would go on to expand on the anti-hero aspect of Venom, which actually lead to his own mini-series Lethal Protector, as well as numerous sequels. Carnage would wreak terror again in the Spider-Man crossover Maximum Carnage, and another big story would come along to expand on the aliens origin, this being Planet of the Symbiotes.
The symbiote still plays a role in mainstream Marvel today, and even though I may not care for how it's being used, I will give Marvel credit for doing something creative with it. In any case, this is a very good batch of stories not only because they're entertaining, but this TPB renders two books obsolete; Spider-Man: Venom Returns and Spider-Man: Carnage. The latter especially was being price gouged badly last I saw it. For the sake of new and casual readers; I'll put together a TPB list as well as a recommended reading order.
Saga of the Alien Costume - This is where it all begins, and you do not need this book unless you picked up Spider-Man vs. Venom. If you do not own this, then skip it completely for Birth of Venom.
Spider-Man vs. Venom - If you do not own the first story, then you don't need this book at all, skip it for Birth of Venom.
Birth of Venom - This collects both of the previous books, but it omits Spider-Man #260 which is in the first book. That issue is not important at all if your focus is on Venom.
Venom Returns - Skip this book for Vengeance of Venom.
Carnage - This gives very small details on how Carnage came to be, but you can learn this in future stories. Skip this for Vengeance also unless you're a serious Spider-Man completest.
Spirits of Venom - This is a Spider-Man/Ghost Rider crossover featuring Venom that has plenty of entertaining moments. It works well as a stand alone; read this after Carnage but before Trial of Venom.
Vengeance of Venom - This renders Venom Returns and Carnage obsolete, and even if you do have those two books, you need this anyway because it contains the Trial of Venom and The Final Confrontation which the latter sets the stage for Venom: Lethal Protector, and provides the reason Venom doesn't try to kill Spider-Man later.
Maximum Carnage - The biggest Spider-Man crossover by this point, and it's essential if you're sold on Venom and Carnage.
Pros: Very solid collection of stories, lots of action, nice artwork
Cons: Average first story, forces you to pick up previous TPB's for two new ones