A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the new version of Venom as he appears in the cartoon series Ultimate Spider-Man. In the column, I praised the writers on the show for bypassing the sticky areas of Venom’s continuity, such as his alien heritage and his bonding with Eddie Brock, in order to make for a more streamlined continuity for the character. Recently, Venom was re-introduced to the show with a startling new twist — the creature’s host, this time around, was none other than Spidey’s best friend, Harry Osborn. Seeing as how this leads to some major ramifications for this version of Venom and for the continuity of both Peter Parker and Harry, I thought it prudent to revisit the topic.
First, let’s do a quick recap of what we’ve seen so far. In the Lethal Protector’s debut episode, simply titled “Venom,” Doctor Octopus stole a sample of Spider-Man’s blood during a fight between the wall-crawler and one of Doc Ock’s Matrix-style tentacled robots. The sample was taken back to Ock’s lab, where Norman Osborn implored him to use the sample to create a new line of super-soldiers, which in Norman’s dream sequence looked awfully familiar to the Flash Thompson version of Venom currently appearing in the eponymous comic series currently written by Rick Remender.
Eventually, the inky sludge that Ock creates works its way up to Norman Osborn’s house, via the toilet, on the same night that Harry is throwing a house party. It is first discovered by Thompson, in a fitting nod to the current comic book iteration of the character, before jumping from one character to the other and finally winding up on Spidey, where it adopts the familiar mouth and white spider / bat chest emblem that we’re all familiar with. Spidey beats it with the help of some electric webbing, but a small remnant of the symbiote remains.
Flash forward to the eighth episode of the series, titled “Back in Black,” and we see a black-suited Spider-Man hitting the scene and causing Spidey to look like a second-rate version of himself. As Nick Fury and the other heroes begin to speculate as to who this new Spider-Man is and where he came from, Harry Osborn pulls Peter aside and reveals to him a wrist-mounted device that he’s started wearing after the Venom incident a few weeks ago. With the touch of a button, Harry is covered in the inky substance and takes on the appearance of the Black Spider-Man.
Soon, the symbiote’s rage and spite overpowers Harry, and he goes from an aspiring usurper of the Spider-Man mantle to the bestial entity that we associate with Venom. The two do battle and Spidey employs another well-timed electro-shock to ward off the symbiote and bail out his friend. The conflict is resolved, although we can be certain that this won’t be the last we see of Venom or of Harry Osborn’s dark side.
I’m not sure if Harry’s Venom works for me in the same way that Flash’s Venom does. In my original post about this show’s handling of Venom, I said that it proved there was never any need for Eddie Brock in the first place, that if they needed a blond meathead with a petty grievance against Peter Parker and a creepy adoration of Spider-Man, they already had it in Flash Thompson. Flash, after all, goes on to acquire the symbiote anyway in the comics, so assuming they keep Flash as Venom from the beginning, I’m onboard. Venom is meant to be a sort of evil (or at least less-stable) parallel to the Peter Parker / Spider-Man story, and Flash would definitely be that; a twisted version of the bespectacled science geek that gains spider-powers and becomes a hero. Flash / Venom is the flipside to that, being a dumb jock that gets the powers and would go on to be a villain. He is the school bully, which is exactly what Venom is to Spider-Man.
Harry doesn’t have this kind of parallel. His connection to Venom is a little different. There is a dark side to Harry, being as he is the unwanted son of a super-scientist and will never live up to his father’s expectations. This goes beyond just high school social politics. If my speculations about the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man movie are accurate, Peter will be revealed as the unassuming lab rat of a group of super scientists that his father was a part of. This group, I would imagine, would also include Curt Connors and Norman Osborn, as well as Otto Octavius, Spencer Smythe, and any other scientists in Spidey’s rogue’s gallery. Each of these characters, with the exception of Otto, have fathered a son that has, in some way, been corrupted or transformed as a result of their work. In this way, Harry’s character could be seen as a parallel to Peter Parker, although the Venom suit isn’t necessary for that parallel to occur.
Secondly, I am much more of a fan of Harry’s work as the Green Goblin than of him as the Black Spider-Man. Granted, it was interesting to see him try to out-Spidey Spider-Man in order to impress his father, who still couldn’t be bothered with him by the end of the episode. That stuff worked better than his stint as Venom and really set the stage for his inevitable dark turn later on when it’ll be time to chug some Goblin serum, but I’m in no hurry to see him reclaim the Black Spider-Man mantle.
The tragedy of Harry Osborn is that his father hates him, but he becomes the Goblin anyway in order to be closer to his father and to carry on the family name even though his dad didn’t think he was worthy of it. I suspect that the show’s writers and producers are aware of how well Harry works on his own, as they’ve recently said that their version of Venom will be used more as a weekly mash-up character, so they are probably still planning to use Harry as a Goblin character. This Venom episode could just be to spotlight his turmoil with his father and his ever-growing darker half.
I would also like to mention my dismay at the overall blandness of the Venom design in this latest appearance. His look here made no attempt at either the ferocity of his ‘90s cartoon counterpart or the snarling punkishness of the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon series. Instead it’s just a very boring rendition of the classic Venom design without any visual hierarchy or bold tweaks. Even the earlier episode in which Flash wore the symbiote utilized a creepy black-teeth-on-black-mouth design that I thought worked pretty well. Where’d that go? I mean you’d expect to at least see some kind of Goblin-esque flair when Harry puts it on, but nope. Nothing. Oh well.
But I suppose, in all honesty, I can’t get too angry at the cartoon series that gave us this epic frame…
…or this one.
Black Spidey and Doop to the rescue? Sold.