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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.

Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – Venom and What Could Have Been

We’re going to do something a little different this time. Remember our look at the alternate and “What Could Have Been” takes on Doctor Who? This time, we’re going to take a similar gander at Spider-Man’s black and white costume, which later led to the creation of the villain Venom. When it comes to the creation of the suit itself and the origin story of the villain it became associated with, the published product wasn’t the original plan. Let’s take a look!


In the 1980s, Marvel Comics ran some competitions and try-outs for aspiring creators. In 1983, Spidey fan Randy Schueller sent in a suggestion about Peter Parker gaining a new costume created by Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) and designed by fashionista Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp). This costume was basically the Venom suit we know today, except red and black and with the classic Spidey underarm webbing that Steve Ditko loved.

The costume would be stealthy and constructed of unstable molecule fabric (which the Fantastic Four and certain other heroes wear), in order to provide less interference with Spidey’s wall-clinging abilities than normal cloth. Its UMF nature also meant it wouldn’t tear in battle, which happened to Spidey now and then. The final touch was built-in web-shooters that responded to Peter’s thought commands, provided by Tony “I am Iron Man” Stark.

Now, the idea of putting Peter in red and black wasn’t a new one but rather a reversion to the old days. You see, in the first few Spider-Man comics, artist Steve Ditko meant for the classic costume to be black and red. He just added a bit of blue here and there to highlight texture. But a couple of issues down the line, the blue started overwhelming the black areas. Less than a year after his introduction, Spidey was now clearly wearing a red and blue costume.

Back to Schueller’s idea for a new Spidey costume. Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter liked the basic idea and design and contacted the fan. He paid Randy Schueller $220 for the idea and offered him a chance to write the story introducing it. Jim Shooter himself started writing stories for DC Comics when he was a young teenager, so it makes sense he would be up for hiring a fan who showed promise.

Randy accepted the deal, but further correspondence with Marvel frustrated him. As he later admitted, he realized that writing a comic book story and rewriting things to suit editors was more difficult than he’d imagined, and he finally gave up. In the meantime, Shooter worked with artists Mike Zeck and Rick Leonardi to design what would become Spidey’s new black and white suit.

Marvel tweaked the costume a bit before they used it in a published comic. The red became white and the underarm webbing went away entirely. It was also decided not to make this costume a technological wonder donated to Spidey through the efforts of three other superheroes. But we were THIS close to seeing Spidey in a red and black costume that the Black Widow would have been proud of, rather than a monochromatic uniform. I still sometimes think I would’ve liked the red more.


In Amazing Spider-Man #251, our hero walked into a futuristic version of Stonehenge and was teleported away to some far off location in deep space. In Amazing Spider-Man #252 (May, 1984), Spidey emerged from the same structure weeks later, now sporting this black and white costume that had built-in web-shooters, altered its appearance based on his thoughts, and created little invisible pockets to hold stuff like his camera. Readers were told that this costume was a creation of alien science, obtained by Peter on another world. To learn more, they needed to read the crossover story Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars that was about to be published.

SPIDER-MAN: “Wait, Sizzler, why did an alien origin make more sense than saying Mr. Fantastic, a friend of mine, gave me a gift?”

Peter, shut up. I’m doing a column here.

SPIDER-MAN: “No, but – Sizz, seriously. Alien costume? Sure, by 1984 I’d had a few random encounters with Thanos, Adam Warlock, the Silver Surfer and the Stranger. Plus there was that one early adventure where I thought I stopped an alien invasion and it later turned out to be Mysterio and the Tinkerer wearing alien costumes because. . . reasons. And I’ve hung out with Thor several times, who’s sort of a god AND an alien – which is just greedy. But any time I had an adventure with aliens, the point was me as a fish out of water. Seems against my atmosphere to give me a costume with an alien origin rather than saying it was created by a strange experiment, like 90% of my enemies.”

I know that and I agree, but Shooter was writing this big Secret Wars crossover that took place in space on “Battleworld” and he probably figured to drum up reader interest by saying your new costume came from said world of battle.

SPIDER-MAN: “Oh, I get it. At least this is the only time I was given a costume just to tie-in to a crossover event, right?”

Um, yeah. So, about six months after the black costume debuted, it origin started unfolding in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #7 In that issue, Julia Carpenter made her full debut as the second hero to be called Spider-Woman, sporting a familiar black and white costume.

SPIDER-MAN: “Wait, Julia wore my black costume before me?”

Historically, no. Retroactively, yes. It’s not EXACTLY your costume. It lets her hair and mouth show, plus there are feminine style long boots and gloves. All to make sure that we know she’s a lady, in case her body wasn’t a clue. This was just the first step towards the alien suit.

In Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8, Spidey’s outfit was pretty damaged. Then, while he and the heroes were hanging out in an alien fortress, Thor told him dude, there is verily a machine in the next room that constructs fabric according to your thoughts. Spidey went into the room and it turned out there were a LOT of machines, none of which were conveniently labeled “I MAKE YOU CLOTHES, FOOL.”

So Spidey tried one machine that wound up releasing a black orb of goo. Like the scientist he is, Peter touched it without hesitation. It expanded, destroying the fabric he wore, forming into a costume similar to Julia’s. Evidently, Pete had been impressed with her look and the alien suit sensed this.

SPIDER-MAN: “Isn’t it confusing that Marvel dressed us both that way? The Superman family is literally family. But Spider-Woman II and I barely interacted at all during the Secret Wars and then we didn’t have anything to do with each other for years. Why link us with near-identical outfits?”

It’s definitely odd. I always thought you two needed a closer relationship. At least that did happen eventually, when she became Madame Web. But we’ve gone on another tangent. The point is you got yourself this funky costume that you assumed was thought-controlled fabric created by alien tech.

A few years back, I discussed this black costume with fashion authority Tim Gunn, known for his excellent books and from TV shows such as Project Runway and Under the Gunn. Tim is a huge fan of Spidey’s classic look, but his immediate reaction to seeing the black costume was, “Disappointing. . . I also think it’s too literal. . . A little too obvious for me.”

I completely agree with Tim. When I was a kid, I thought the costume was cool because it was black and sleek. Nowadays, I don’t think there’s much to it other than bug-eyes and a giant spider, whereas Ditko’s costume design is unique. Also, I am a big believer that the costume should reflect the personality and atmosphere of the character. Spidey has dark adventures sometimes, but is not by nature a dark guy. Even when he gets gloomy from time to time, he figures tomorrow will be a better day and will crack a joke about his situation in life.

SPIDER-MAN: “But didn’t the alien costume bring out my dark side? ”

Spider-Man, you ignorant slut. Have you so easily forgotten the 1980s? True, in later adaptations, the alien costume did have that effect. But in the original comics when you wore this suit, that was NOT the case. You were exactly the same in your personality and the only ill effect caused by your new wardrobe was that you felt tired more often. So no, the black costume doesn’t reflect a change in you.

Anyway, as time when on, things with the costume got noticeably weird. Finally, Spidey asked Reed Richards to run some tests and he discovered it wasn’t alien fabric but an alien “symbiote” (which is very similar to a symbiont except spelled differently for some reason and apparently more parasitic). This was a creature living off of Peter and trying to permanently attach. Mr. Fantastic quickly imprisoned the alien and sent Peter on his way.

Pete wore the classic red and blue suit for a bit, but then his on-again, off-again girlfriend Felicia Hardy AKA the Black Cat gave him a cloth version of his black costume as a present. Her reasons? She thought the design was sexier. So more often than not, Spidey still wore this black design for the next few years 1988.


The alien costume later escaped and attempted another connection with Peter, but he fought it off and seemingly killed it in a church (there’s a metaphor there, I’m sure). Then in Amazing Spider-Man #299, Pete’s wife Mary Jane Watson was terrorized and brought to tears by a new enemy. In Amazing Spider-Man #300, Peter confronted this villain: Eddie Brock, who had bonded with the alien symbiote to become Venom. This adventure led to Spidey burning his black suit and returning to his red and blue standard.

Two years before, Spidey’s longtime friend NYPD Captain Jean DeWolff was found dead in her bed. The web-slinger and Daredevil worked together to track down the killer, a man called Sin-Eater. At one point, it seemed that the killed was revealed and arrested, but the two vigilantes discovered otherwise and brought in the real Sin-Eater.

Now, Eddie Brock explained that these events had changed his life. He had helped bring about the false Sin-Eater’s arrest, after publishing an exclusive interview about his crimes. But then Spider-Man and Daredevil’s actions labeled his story a hoax. He was humiliated, blacklisted from major news outlets and forced to work in trashy tabloids. He had contemplated suicide and gone to a church for guidance, only to find the symbiote.

Learning Peter’s identity and gaining his powers from the alien, Eddie now wanted vengeance against the hero he held responsible for ruining his life. He was obviously really angry about those tabloids, too, because he told Spidey, “You may call me Venom, for that’s what I’m paid to spew out these days.”

SPIDER-MAN: “That’s a lame reason for the name.”

I know. Remember, this was the grim 1980s leading into the strange 1990s. It was all the rage to name characters after random objects, adjective or verbs. You had soldiers named Cable, villains named Conduit and Bane.

Now with Venom’s design, it would have been a natural choice to make him identical to Spidey’s black look. But artist Todd McFarlane made Venom’s enormous physique antithetical to Spidey’s agile, acrobatic build. The symbiote could alter its appearance, so McFarlane gave him a monstrous appearance, growing a visible mouth on his mask with elongated teeth.

Artists Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley took Venom a few steps further, giving him fangs and an elongated tongue. Venom is now truly a distorted reflection of Spider-Man. While I don’t think the simple monochromatic design worked for Peter, it does work for Eddie Brock, who refuses to see the world in anything beyond his own black and white morality.

Despite his popularity as a villain, Venom’s origin as a disgraced journalist who blamed Spider-Man for his own failures didn’t always mesh with folks. Over the years, his backstory was given greater context by writers David Michelinie and Paul Jenkins. In adaptations, Eddie Brock is usually reinterpreted as someone who personally knows Peter and develops animosity towards him and Spider-Man over the course of several encounters, only later bonding with the alien.

The best version of Venom’s origin and animosity presented, in my own opinion, was in the cartoon The Spectacular Spider-Man, developed by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook. They even gave a decent explanation for why he would call himself “Venom,” saying he was determined to be a poisonous element in the Peter Parker’s life.

And now we come to our biggest What Could Have Been. Namely. . .


The black costume was never intended to spawn a villain. The only plot-twist Jim Shooter and writer Tom DeFalco envisioned was Spider-Man learning it was a weird parasite and promptly trying to cage or kill it.

SPIDER-MAN: “That really isn’t much of a plot twist. ‘Oh no, my costume wants me to wear it permanently!’ I mean, we took care of it in two pages and then I went back to using fabric. It’s not like the alien spoke or did anything threatening to me, during that initial story. It was just. . . icky.”

Very true, Peter. And after it seemingly died in that church, Marvel was ready to let the symbiote story end. But David Michelinie had other plans. It had been seen that the alien could transfer Spider-Man’s powers to a new host and that it didn’t set off his danger-warning “spider-sense.” Michelinie thought this could be used to create a new archenemy. Starting in 1986, he wrote a couple of stories where Peter Parker suffered random attacks by an unseen person who surprised him then always slipped away. Peter was understandably worried that his spider-sense wasn’t working, since normally it was sensitive enough to let him know if he were being followed or watched by a camera.

Michelinie’s plan was to reveal that the hidden enemy was a woman. She had once been married and with a baby on the way. But then she and her husband were nearby one of Spider-Man’s public battles in New York and a driver, distracted by the fighting, struck them with his car. Her husband died and the trauma caused her to lose her child. Devastated, the woman was consumed with grief. Eventually, she encountered the barely alive symbiote, which sensed her anger towards Spider-Man and bonded with her. Now she wanted nothing more than vengeance for the loss of her family.

Edutir Jim Salicrup definitely wanted a new archenemy to debut in Spidey’s 300th issue, one that was deadly, vicious and ominous. But he didn’t think readers would accept a woman would be such a formidable threat to our hero. So, Michelinie had to change the story and that’s how we got Eddie Brock.

Still, we have to wonder “what could have been?” What if Michelinie had been allowed to make Spider-Man’s new enemy a woman who’d lost her family, whose anger against the hero was something we could understand? Yes, there have been women characters in the comics who were bonded to their own symbiotes. But none of them were meant to stand as true archenemies against the web-slinger. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a male superhero who’s archenemy is a woman, and along with that, one whom he isn’t romantically drawn to. Michelinie’s character could’ve been something different indeed.

Next week, we’ll l focus on what has happened with the other incarnations of Venom. Eddie Brock hasn’t been the suit’s only villainous host, you know.

Alan Sizzler Kistler is an actor/writer and the author of Doctor Who: A History.

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  • Anonymous

    I found it odd that they reasoned that Spider-Man doesn’t have many female rogues because it wouldn’t seem believable. Isn’t that really a chicken or the egg thing? If you show female villains being able to go toe to toe with him then it really can’t possibly suspend disbelief anymore than ya know, radioactive spiders giving people superpowers.

    Great piece as always, Alan.

  • Adrian

    In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a male superhero who’s archenemy is a woman, and along with that, one whom he isn’t romantically drawn to. Michelinie’s character could’ve been something different indeed.

    I love Catwoman as an anti-hero but I wish sometimes she’d go full-evil and be Batman’s greatest archvillain. Same with Poison Ivy.

  • Anonymous

    Since you are discussing the creation of Venom, I thought I’d share what John Byrne had to say about it.

    “I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating for illustration purposes: Todd McFarlane likes to say he “created” Venom — usually forgetting David Michelinie. When I hear this, I usually respond by saying “No! I created Venom!” And it goes like this: Iron Fist used to be getting his costume torn up all the time.

    By the next issue, it was usually repaired again. I didn’t much like the notion of Danny Rand sitting in a corner with a needle and thread, so, extrapolating from Chris’s (then) idea that K’Un L’Un was actually a crashed spaceship that used its warp drive to phase between dimensions (Chris being in a sci-fi mode that week), I suggested that the outfit was made of some kind of biological material that “healed” instead of having to be patched.

    We never got around to using that in IRON FIST, and years later, after Spider-Man got his alien costume in SECRET WARS, Roger Stern asked if he could use the notion, and added the idea that the suit was some kind of symbiote. Tom DeFalco (if memory serves) took this a few steps further, until David and the Toddler added a big, ugly mouth and gave it a name, Venom.

    So, who “created” Venom?”

  • Cy

    I really enjoyed the article. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the black to blue story about the original suit. That’s interesting. I much prefer the red and blue. I don’t like the red spider on the black suit though. It looks odd with the big white eyes. I prefer the black and white.

  • John W

    And now I know….the rest of the story. Cool.

  • TheChief

    It seems that most of the popular male heroes (not counting teams) don’t have many female rogues especially big name rogues. Batman kind of stands out in that regard.

  • Alan Kistler

    But in both of those cases, you have someone romantically drawn to the hero.

  • Alan Kistler

    You have pointed out the obvious yet all-too-often ignored truth. And thanks for your kinds words.

  • Anonymous

    The X-Men seem to have a lot of arches who are women, though it’s not a specifically singular male hero versus a singular female arch, originally with little or no romantic tension: White Queen, Mystique, Selene, Deathbird, The Sisterhood, Lady Deathstrike, etc.

    In fact, separately, Lady Deathstrike could probably be considered one of Wolverine’s many arches, who is not portrayed as having any romantic tension with him, and doesn’t fill a lesser anti-hero role. She’s a straight up villain.

  • Alan Kistler

    I’m familiar with what John Byrne has said on the matter. I haven’t found anyone who backed that story up (though if I’ve missed something, obviously I’d like to learn more). But that’s really more towards who created the alien suit rather than who created Venom. They’re different events.

  • Alan Kistler

    Yeah, it’s only something that gets occasionally referenced when modern artists are doing flashback tales. Some of them will give Peter a black and red costume in those flashbacks, indicating that his studio costume had those colors and that he started making new red and blue suits when he became a full-time superhero. I always thought it would be fun to see that transition in a movie.

  • Alan Kistler


  • Alan Kistler

    I’d consider her more a Carol Danvers arch. Wolverine has many enemies, but few who fit the arch category of truly being a personal foe he’s not sure he can beat. You’re certainly right about the X-Men in general, though Mystique was later connected romantically to Sabretooth, Wolverine, Azazel and Gambit in different ways, whereas in the movies they’ve connected her in that way to Wolverine, Magneto, Azazel, Xavier and Beast.

  • Adrian

    Yeah, I know. I didn’t mean to present the idea as an answer to that riddle, it’s just something I’d like to see! I agree that it’s problematic if all the female villains share mutual romantic feelings with the hero, but isn’t it less of a problem if the villain does not reciprocate the attraction? Even if Bats wants to get all cuddly with Poison Ivy, that doesn’t have to prevent her from performing as an arch-enemy.

  • Rob Payne

    Wolverine is definitely more Lady Deathstrike’s arch than she is his. If it weren’t for Sabretooth, maybe things would be different. Ah, what might have been, right?

  • Rob Payne

    I like Catwoman’s position where she is, because I’m a big softy and want Alfred’s possible fantasy in The Dark Knight Rises to be true. But Poison Ivy needs to shed or get off the potted plant.

  • Rob Payne

    I love that he called MacFarlane “Toddler.” I hope that ends up in Rob Liefeld’s Image movie.

  • Travis

    Awesome article. I was surprised that there was still stuff about the symbiote’s history I didn’t know about (the fan-made origin and the potential for Lady Venom.) Very cool.

    I’ve always kind of thought it was a missed opportunity that Felecia Hardy never got her claws on the symbiote. The thing’s whole deal is that it’s pissed at Peter for rejecting it. Mixing it up with Peter’s ex-girlfriend would be interesting.

    Plus it would take care of the whole “You don’t actually have any powers” thing that Felecia has always had to deal with.

  • Travis

    Sounds like Byrne is being facetious.

  • Michael Rhodd

    I agree with you whole heartedly about the Spectacular Spiderman Cartoon being the best version of Venom. Ive been a Spidey fan since amazing was in low double digits and I never liked Venom. He was cool as a force of nature villain but always lacked the connection that Spidey’s important enemies had wit him. When I watched the cartoon with my nephew I was ready to dismiss it until I realized they made Brock a close friend…….. brilliant.

  • Travis

    There aren’t many female villains for the same reason there aren’t many female or minority anything in comics. The majority of popular characters, both heroes and villains, were created in the 60s and they were nearly exclusively straight white guys.

    And while the industry has taken a few steps since then, you’re probably still not going to see too many female villains because society doesn’t look kindly on men beating up women, even if the woman is a puppy eating monster with death rays for eyes.

  • Alan Kistler

    I personally think it would still be a bit played out. And in the comics, it was Poison Ivy who had the attraction to Batman, drawn by his will and resistance to temptation, even once saying she would only stop her schemes if he gave her a kiss.

  • Alan Kistler

    Yes, they did an excellent job in really building up Brock into a villain. Better yet, you understood where he was coming from. it wasn’t just a guy who blamed someone else for his screw-up.

  • Alan Kistler

    I hear what you’re saying, but for me that just falls back into the jilted lover turns evil trope. Not terribly interesting for me.

  • Travis

    I’m not saying as a villain. I’m saying Felecia would be the perfect counter-balance to even the symbiote out. A positive influence on the thing, rather than Brock’s irrational anger.

  • Penny Marie Sautereau

    Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes has a female arch enemy.

    Shut up, it count because reasons.

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t they abandon that conceit many continuity reboots ago?

  • Alan Kistler

    It was part of Post-Crisis and Post IC continuity. Not sure about it in New 52.

  • Alan Kistler

    Again, there was romantic involvement.

  • Alan Kistler

    That would work except that any time the symbiote has bonded to someone who isn’t angry, it’s made them angry or just totally taken over. It’s not interested in being balanced, just on thrills and feeding.

  • Anonymous

    It’s never come up in the comics I’ve read from that period. Her fixation on Batman came across like she wanted to dominate & humiliate him not that she was romantically attracted to him like Catwoman.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! That was a lot of great info! I got Marvel stories a bit late and compiled in Sweden which means I got the Secret Wars before the episode where Spdey turns up on earth in the black costume, had no idea these events were so far apart in original publishing.

    Can’t help but wonder about the reception if Salicrup had pushed a story of a female Venom who was angry from being romantically rejected by Spidey – if the editors would have been more onboard with that. (i.e. ‘Hell hath no fury’ trope version 1B). The original story sounded really dark and tragic, and too ‘real’ for happy funny Spider-Man.

    Interesting that there are so few female arch nemeses. And most of the female supervillains eventually become anti-hero semi-reformed bad girls so the hero gets an excuse to get close and personal (Cat Woman, Viper, Emma Frost, Mystique, Diamondback, Asp, Black Mamba etc). It would maybe be easier to list female villains who don’t go down this path…?

  • TheChief

    I have been trying to think about female villains who are at least somewhat major that are not love interest with any hero. All I could think about off the top of my head was Granny Goodness. There may be a few more, but they are probably few and far between.

  • Randy Schueller

    This is probably the best retelling of the black costume’s “Secret Origin” that I’ve seen yet. I especially loved seeing the original design with the red spider. I’ve been looking for that picture for years – thanks for posting! (PS I never cared much for Venom in any of his/her incarnations.)

  • Alan Kistler

    If by “that period” you mean Post-Crisis and Post IC, it definitely has in her origin tales, Batman Chronicles, the main Batman title and the mini-series Widening Gyre. If by “that period” you mean New52, then that sounds right, I haven’t seen it all.

  • Alan Kistler

    Concerning the story seeming too dark and real, keep in mind that this was in keeping with comics at the time. Spider-Man’s dear friend was found murdered in her bed by a serial killer (and we saw the body). Kraven the Hunter had buried Spider-Man alive for a week and then shot himself in the head with a rifle. Mary Jane had a violent stalker. Aunt May’s boyfriend was killed by the Vulture. The Lizard started eating people. There was a lot of darkness going around.

  • Anonymous

    I’d say that the closest thing to an “arch-enemy” that Yorick has in Y–The Last Man is a woman, and there’s definitely no romantic involvement there. Lyta in Sandman could sort of go in that category, too, though who exactly is the enemy there is pretty complicated (and really, Dream is his own arch-enemy).

    Love your posts, BTW!

  • Alan Kistler

    I suggest checking out the SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN cartoon DVDs. That’s the best version of Venom I’ve seen, makes him more than just “scary Spider-Man.”

  • Anonymous

    It’s not in the Shadow of the Bat Annual #3 origin. Secret Origins #36 does include her initial crush on Batman, but there’s nothing about a pledge to give up supervillainy if he willingly kisses her. In various non-origin comics I’ve read her attitude towards Batman has evolved toward enslaving or killing him & it’s secondary to her ecological goals. I think it’s a disservice to Poison Ivy’s growth to lump her in with love interest supervillianesses.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think half those stories were translated to Swedish… By the time I could read English fluently I had moved on to X-Men, Sandman and Hellblazer for more mature content (little did I know).
    Now I wish Constantine had worn tights, then maybe you could have done a segment on him :)

  • Anonymous

    Wait, Poison Ivy’s not canonically a lesbian? Paul Dini lied to me?!

  • Asura

    Those have been later retcons/character developments that weren’t initially present.