Spider-Man: The Venom Saga review by Mike Long

I've been an on-again/off-again fan of comic books since I was five years old, and I've always been fascinated by super heroes. But, unlike many, I never cared for super villains. I'm not sure why -- may be it was because they were all a bunch of big meanies -- but I also focused on the heroes and saw the villains as a simple function of the story. That is, until Venom came along. As a life-long Spider-Man devotee, I was enthralled by this character who was the ultimate nemesis for Spider-Man. And when Venom appeared on the early 90s Spider-Man TV show, I was very interested to see how his complicated origin would be handled. Well, in case you missed those shows, they've been collected on a new DVD called Spider-Man: The Venom Saga.

Before we jump into an examination of Spider-Man: The Venom Saga, let's have a quick refresher course in comic-book history. In the 1980s, Marvel released a 12-issue series called "The Secret Wars" in which the super-heroes and super-villains were captured by an alien force known as The Beyonder and forced to fight. While on an alien planet, Spider-Man's costume is damaged. He goes to a machine, which he thinks will repair the suit, and is given a black blob. This blob flows onto Spider-Man's body and forms a new, black costume. Now, this story is far too complicated (and convoluted) for the TV series, so a new story was created.

(Note: The Spider-Man: The Venom Saga DVD contains five episodes from the Spider-Man show. "The Alien Costume, Part One" (Original airdate: 4/29/95), "The Alien Costume, Part Two" (Original airdate: 5/6/95), "The Alien Costume, Part Three" (Original airdate: 5/13/95), "The Sins of the Fathers, Chapter X, Venom Returns" (Original airdate: 11/2/96), and "The Sins of the Fathers, Chatper XI, Carnage" (Original airdate: 11/9/96). These episodes contain two distinct, yet connected storylines.)

As our story opens, the space shuttle is returning from a mission and crash lands on the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man/Peter Parker (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) rushes to rescue the astronauts, who include the son of Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson (voiced by Ed Asner), and finds himself covered in a strange black substance. Thinking that it's slime from the Hudson River, Spider-Man returns home and goes to bed. He then awakens to find himself hanging from a building, wearing a new black costume. He quickly learns that the suit augments his own strength and can morph to look like other clothing. But, Peter Parker slowly begins to realize that the suit is an alien entity which has a mind of its own and that it's quickly changing the way that he thinks. Peter's only choice is to get rid of the suit.

Meanwhile, disgraced Bugle reporter Eddie Brock (voiced by Hank Azaria), tries to get his job back by telling Jameson that he saw Spider-Man steal something from the shuttle. When this is exposed as a lie, Brock vows vengeance on Spider-Man. In a freak coincidence, Brock is in the exact location where Spider-Man gets ride of his new suit. As Brock hates Spider-Man and the suit feels rejected by him, they join forces to become Venom, a nasty creature who has great strength and all of Spider-Man's powers. In addition, Venom is the one creature that doesn't set off Spider-Man's "spider sense". Venom then begins to play mind-games with Peter Parker by visiting his home and threatening those closest to Spider-Man. Peter realizes that the only way to defeat Venom is to send the suit back where it came from.

The second part of the story takes place some time later. Eddie Brock has been captured and incarcerated. Separated from the alien costume, Brock is beginning to stabilize again. However, dark forces have plans for Venom and the suit returns to him -- Venom is reborn. Cletus Kasady (Scott Cleverdon), the insane killer in the cell next to Brock's, hears of Brock's rediscovered power, and begs for the same gift. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for everyone else, the alien suit has reproduced and the offspring melds to Kasady, creating a creature called Carnage. Carnage begins to run amok in the city, taking the lifeforce from innocent citizens. Spider-Man and Venom realize that they must team-up to stop this deadly entity.

While this story veers away from the comics when it comes to many of the finer details, it gets the broad ideas right and proves, once again, why Spider-Man was such a great show -- it took the ideas right from the comics and tweaked them only to streamline the stories. The show is able to walk the very fine line of dummying things down for Saturday morning TV (all of the guns shoots lasers instead of bullets) and keeping things true to the comics (Venom is scary and Carnage is insane). The result is an entertaining show which will introduce these characters to a new audience while not totally alienating the loyal fan-base.

Of course, things here aren't perfect. Even though the episodes are only 11 years old, the animation looks incredibly dated and lacks detail most of the time. While Spider-Man did an amazing job of sticking to the Marvel Universe, sometimes the appearances of other Marvel characters felt very forced and this is no exception. The story of Venom could have easily been told without cameos by The Rhino, Iron Man, The Kingpin, The Shocker, and Dormamu. On the plus side, the voice acting is top-notch. Spider-Man: The Venom Saga is definitely entertaining, and it's great to know that my favorite super-villain appeared on TV. But, I have the same complaint with this set that I do with every Spider-Man DVD that Disney releases -- I'd rather have complete season sets.

Spider-Man: The Venom Saga comes to DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The five episodes included on this DVD are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The shows look fine, surpassing the re-runs currently being aired on Toon Disney. But, there are some minor problems. The image is somewhat hazy at times and the colors run together. There is no grain or defects from the source materials, but there is some slight artifacting. Also, the digital transfer has accentuated the defects in the animation. The DVD features a Dolby Digital stereo audio mix which provides clear dialogue and music.

The DVD contains a few extras. "Stan Lee's Soapbox" allows the Spider-Man creator to ramble for 11 minutes. He starts off talking about Venom and super-villains and then veers off onto a tangent. Lee also provides optional introductions for each episode. "The Venomous Web" is a neat idea where "The Amazing Spider-Man" writer David Micheline talks about the creation of the Venom character. Unfortunately, one is forced to navigate a confusing web-shaped menu to learn all about the character.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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