Earlier this week, Sony Pictures gave us a new glimpse at the Venom solo movie. While this second trailer addresses the main criticism stirred up by the first (namely, that the debut trailer for the Venom movie didn't, you know, show us Venom), there's now a new complaint being typed into many a comments section.
Among all the hot takes, frame-by-frame analyses, and Tumblr posts about how much people want to have sex with this black goop monster (it's a thing, look it up), there's one argument that I keep seeing: Venom needs Spider-Man to make sense.
I'll refrain from passing any judgment on the quality of the trailer or movie, but I want to address this particular line of thinking. Because, frankly, it's bollocks. Here's why:
It focuses on the wrong person
In case you're not terribly familiar with Marvel Comics history, here's the short version of the Venom origin story: During one of his adventures, Spider-Man obtains what he thinks is a new suit. It is later revealed this "suit" is actually a sentient organism, and has been attempting to permanently latch onto Peter.
Eventually, Spider-Man separates himself from the creature. Wounded and seeking revenge, the alien symbiote attaches to Eddie Brock, a former journalist who (by coincidence) also hates Spider-Man. Together, the two form a new entity that calls itself "Venom".
Largely due to this history, Venom is often seen as a dark mirror of Spider-Man. They have very similar powers, and both have a spider emblem on their chest, but that's about where the similarities end.
The making of a Venomverse
Where Spider-Man uses his powers to help others, Venom is selfish. Where Spider-Man is forgiving and kind, Venom is driven by obsession and revenge. Where Spider-Man is lithe and colorful (both literally and figuratively with his jokey dialogue), Venom is bulky, covered in black, and menacing. His one-liners, if he says any, are far more likely to involve the eating of brains or snapping of spines.
In short, Venom has all of the great power, none of the great responsibility. He is basically "What if Spider-Man, but evil?" And you know what, that works as a storytelling device - when the subject of your story is Spider-Man.
Venom can (and has) worked on his own
The problem with thinking Venom needs Spider-Man so that we can see him as a foil to the beloved hero is that it recenters the focus on said hero. Venom ceases to be an interesting character in his own right and is only there to let the audience see a literal representation of the dark and monstrous urges that Spider-Man must cast off - he is Peter Parker's internal conflict made external.
Again, not a bad trope necessarily, but it limits Venom by making everything about him come back to Spidey; it's a boring, one-dimensional portrayal of a character who deserves better. Don't believe me? Just watch Spider-Man 3.
Is that the Venom you want? Because that's the Venom you get when demanding he come with Spider-Man.
Thankfully, it doesn't have to be this way. Various writers throughout the years have shown that Venom can be more than just Evil Spider-Man - whether that's as a lethal protector who safeguards the innocent, an agent of the government who acts as a one-man black ops crew, or space knight who rights wrongs across the stars.
Most recently, the Venom comics penned by Mike Costa dig deep into the nature of a single being composed of two minds, and it's fascinating stuff. Eddie and the symbiote treat each other almost like lovers in a codependent relationship, struggling to define where one entity ends and the other begins. Does Venom's infamous rage come from Eddie or the symbiote? Both? Neither? Is one answer better than the other? How do these two people (okay, one person and one alien) cope with their own flaws and the flaws of their partner?
Each of those questions has ramifications infinitely more interesting than "what if Spider-Man was a bad guy."
Origin stories can (and should) be tweaked
Part of the beef with Venom not being tied to Spider-Man comes from a historical perspective, i.e. that's not how Venom was originally conceived or introduced, ergo that's not Venom at all. But this is just plain stubbornness. Origin stories need not be rehashed with the same beats for all eternity, and treating them as untouchable sacred cows only prevents more interesting art from sprouting up in its place or piggybacking off those original ideas.
For example, when complaining that the Venom movie won't feature Spider-Man, many such arguments conveniently ignore the fact that this also means it won't feature the Beyonder or Battleworld.
What are those two silly-sounding proper names, you ask? Exactly. We don't need Venom to come from Spider-Man any more than we need Spider-Man to discover the black costume because an all-powerful cosmic entity rounded up the Marvel universe and made them participate in gladiator-style combat because he was bored. It's baggage. Fun baggage, if you ever want to go back and read the original 1984 Secret Wars mini-series, but baggage nonetheless.
Now look to the movies. Did we see Uncle Ben's death in Spider-Man: Homecoming? No. Did we see Peter Parker selfishly let a robber get away, thus teaching him that with great power comes great responsibility? No.
Hell, the Spider-Man suit in Homecoming isn't even Peter's creation. It's now a Tony Stark invention - an idea which only works in the film because the MCU has so solidly cemented the idea of cinematic universes that we don't even bat an eye when Robert Downey Jr. shows up to act as Peter's surrogate father figure and give him the iconic suit. You want to talk about reworking a character's origin story, Homecoming practically disassembles Spider-Man's.
Yet this was not seen as some great travesty. Homecoming's decision to eschew the character's origin story and tie Peter Parker and Iron Man more closely together works because it allows the film to focus in on Peter's inexperience, naivety, and youthful enthusiasm, which (for this story) are more important than Uncle Ben's death spurring him into hero-dom in the first place.
In short, the details don't matter - what matters is thematic consistency. And you don't need Peter Parker or his masked alter-ego for that.
Hand off your heroes
I didn't always disagree with the argument that "Venom needs Spider-Man," you know. I had the same hesitance, the same "but that's not my Venom" gut reaction way back when it was announced there was going to be a Venom film sans Spidey. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was being selfish, wanting the world to cater to my vision of this character.
And you know what? I don't want to be selfish. I don't want to tell people they shouldn't like something just because it's not the version I grew up with. I want to share the campy, silly, exciting, powerful love I have for the character. I want to pass that on so the character can outgrow and outlive me.
Venom is going to be in a major Hollywood film. He's going to be introduced to a new generation. He's going to inspire people to draw, to read, to get more involved in this wild and wonderful world of heroes, villains, and everything in-between.
That's pretty damn cool, regardless of the origin.