Despite trailer watchers’ initial misgivings about the film, the Venom movie starring Tom Hardy as Symbiote host Eddie Brock has been met with a warm box office welcome. The character of Venom is undeniably likable, and its popularity has only grown since first appearing in Marvel comics in 1988. Scholarly Web-Heads know full-well the history behind everyone’s favorite Spider-Man villain/at times anti-hero, but those who are less savant in all things related to the tangled web that is everyone’s favorite wall-crawling New Yorker may not be as informed. Fear not, faithful friends, because Geeks + Gamers is here to get you up to snuff! The Symbiote alien, now recently discovered to be part of a race called the Klyntar, is a naturally amorphous and inorganic race of extraterrestrial beings requiring a symbiotic relationship with a host sentient being in order to survive off of their homeworld of the same name (more on that later). The Klyntar, or, as they were originally known, the Symbiote, was first introduced in Marvel comics in The Amazing Spider-Man #252 in May of 1984 following the events of the 12-part mini-series Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars, an event that saw the cosmic entity known only as the Beyonder summon a collective of Marvel universe superheroes and villains to a planet of his own creation which he dubbed “Battleworld” and forced them all to fight in a gladiatorial contest of sorts. That’s the short version of Secret Wars, but it is there that a lone Symbiote attached itself to Peter Parker and returned with the wall-crawling Empire State hero to Earth 616.
Peter quickly discovered that his new suit granted him a marked increase in his already impressive super-strength, as well as augmentation to his reflexes and other abilities. Noticing other abnormalities occurring with his body, Peter took the new “suit” to his friend and fellow super-hero, Reed Richards (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic). Richards informed Peter that not only was his new attire not a suit but rather a sentient lifeform, it was also a parasitic being attempting to bond itself to him. Most comic book readers know what happens not long after this: Peter casts off the Symbiote while in the bell tower of a church, and the angry and betrayed lifeform finds and bonds itself to a loathing and vengeful Eddie Brock, thus creating of the iconic character known as Venom. But that can’t be all there is to know about the Klyntar, can it? Well, it most certainly is not. The name “Klyntar” is only a recent addition to the alien Symbiote lore, and the Venom Symbiote is obviously not the only Klyntar of note; far from it! If you’ve seen the new Sony Pictures movie Venom, then you’re already familiar with the idea that there are multiple entities of this Symbiote classification, but you may not know the more nuanced ins and outs of them, as the film didn’t shed much light on them. We’ll get to the others, but first, let’s handle a bit of history as it relates to their presence within the Marvel universe and not just when they were first introduced to readers.
I’m going to have to go Old Testament for a moment here and Genesis this next segment, so bear with me. Before the Marvel Universe, as we know it was created, there existed only an endless void of darkness. In the midst of this darkness, there was a solitary deity known as Knull who, while malevolent in nature, was contently adrift amidst the black of the empty void. Knull’s sailing through the blackness was eventually interrupted by the divine Celestials, who, desiring to fill the void with light and life, began crafting the universe. Finding the light penetrating his kingdom of darkness to be an assault on and affront to his existence, Knull responded in kind, forging for himself out of his own shadow a living sword which he christened the “All-Black.” This living blade, which would become feared by many names (including the Necrosword and the Godslayer), would be the very first Symbiote. In retaliation for his rude awakening, Knull baptized his newly formed Symbiote sword in the blood of one of the Celestials by severing its head. This decapitation of a god went over about as well as one could expect with the other Celestials, and they immediately banished Knull for the slaying of one of their own, casting the rogue deity back into the void. He did not go alone, however; taking with him the severed head of the Celestial he’d slain, Knull used its divine energies as a forge with which he would temper All-Black with the goal of slaying the remaining Celestials and devouring their light, which they’d been so intent on spreading. This decapitated Celestial head would later become known by the name “Knowhere” (a location you might recognize as being the base of operations for the Collector from the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Guardians of the Galaxy). Failing in his deity genocide, Knull was gravely wounded and left to rot on a desolate planet where his sword was stolen by the being who would eventually become known as Gorr the God Butcher. Following these setbacks, Knull went about amassing legions of new Symbiotes for the purpose of devouring entire planets and civilizations. His universal extinction was cut short when a conglomerate of Symbiotes resembling a dragon traveled to Earth, where the Viking civilization it attacked named it “Grendel.” It was defeated by Thor, who trapped it for centuries within a glacier. This simultaneously severed Knull’s connection to his Symbiote horde and trapped his consciousness within Grendel’s body mass. The newly-freed Symbiotes began to bond with benevolent hosts and were imbued with a sense of honor and nobility. They trapped the physical form of Knull within a planet they created of their own biomass, naming it after their word for “cage,” Klyntar. The Kylntar then rebranded themselves and fixed their reputation by forming an order of cosmic protectors called the Agents of the Cosmos.
The Venom Symbiote that Spider-Man brought home from Battleworld had been banished to that world by other members of its race for its radical ideas of wanting a mutual, symbiotic relationship with its host as opposed to possessing them through total control. The Klyntar, when bonded with their hosts, are affected by the host’s state of mind and demeanor just as much as the host’s personality is augmented by the alien. When bonded to a benevolent host, like Peter Parker or Flash Thompson, the Symbiote doesn’t typically change more than heightening their level of aggression in combat situations. Conversely, if bonded to a host who naturally is malevolent and violent, especially if the Klyntar itself is already naturally violent, the result is a far more vicious and wicked being, such as in the case of Cletus Kasady and his psychotic Carnage Symbiote. And on that note, it’s time to talk about the Symbiotes themselves!
The most well-known Symbiote is the one known as Venom. Venom has had numerous hosts, beginning with Peter Parker and then moving to his most recognizable host, Eddie Brock (Amazing Spider-Man #299). Upon bonding itself to the depressed, betrayed, and suicidal Eddie, Venom too became imbued with vengeful and violent thoughts, resulting in the toothy, footlong-tongued, spider-hunting, redhead-terrorizing villain whose popularity rivals that of the hero he faces off against. While bonded to the Venom Symbiote, Eddie gained many of Peter’s Spider-Man abilities, such as sticking to walls, shooting webs (though Venom does not require the use of web shooters, being able to produce webs naturally), his own spider-sense, and super-strength and reflexes superior to that of Spider-Man. Venom has also been bonded to the son of ganglord Don Fortunato, Angelo, in an effort to make a name for himself, as well as Mac “Scorpion” Gargan, Otto Octavius (while his mind was inhabiting the body of Peter Parker during the Superior Spider-Man arc), and Spider-Gwen for a short stint. Despite the number of other hosts, Venom always found its way back to Eddie; the only other host with which it truly made a strong bond was Flash Thompson, who was a wounded combat veteran contracted by the US government to use the alien life form and act as Agent Venom. It was while bonded to Flash that Venom was able to travel to its homeworld and receive a boost in power, becoming Agent of the Cosmos Venom for a short period.
The next most notorious Symbiote is Carnage (Amazing Spider-Man #345), the offspring of Venom. If that sounds a bit strange, it’s probably because it is; the Klyntar entities reproduce asexually using various compounds from their own biomass. A general rule is that each offspring is stronger than the parent. When Eddie Brock was incarcerated in a cell at Ryker’s Island with deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady, the Venom Symbiote broke him out; however, it left behind its spawn in the process, which bonded with Eddie’s psychotic cellmate. Thus, Carnage was born. Carnage is a Symbiote with a particular affinity for destruction, as its host possessed a predisposed bloodlust even prior to the bonding. Carnage also is bonded to Kasady’s bloodstream, making separation nigh impossible. As it is Venom’s offspring, Carnage possesses all of the same strengths and abilities of its parent; additionally, Carnage has the ability to form a number of melee weapons from its own biomass – usually objects that are extremely sharp. On his own, Carnage is twice as strong as both Venom and Spider-Man, and on multiple occasions it has necessitated the combined powers of the two nemeses and several other super-heroes in order to be subdued, including the Maximum Carnage arc, which was used to make a video game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Just as with its parent Symbiote, Carnage eventually approached a point in its maturity wherein it would soon spawn an offspring of its own. Knowing full-well its measurably higher power over Venom, Carnage feared for its existence in the level of power that its spawn could possess over it. During a battle against its aforementioned parent (Venom vs. Carnage #2), Carnage attempted to suppress its own offspring’s “birth,” but Venom understood what was happening within Carnage and wanted to instead raise and train its soon-to-be-born Symbiote grandchild as an ally. The newborn, which Venom named “Toxin” after himself, was bonded to an NYPD officer name Patrick Mulligan. Fearing him because he was bonded to someone of a good alignment, Venom and Carnage forged a temporary alliance in order to subdue Toxin, but were thwarted by the efforts of Spider-Man, Toxin, and Black Cat. Toxin was mentored by its host in a light-side mentality that stuck with it long after Patrick was murdered and the Symbiote taken from him. His former host’s protector mentality carried over to when it was bonded to Eddie Brock for a time, until, after a battle against Carnage and the Elder God Chthon, it faded into a golden light; Toxin is presumed deceased (Carnage Vol.2 #16). Being the 1,000th in its Symbiote lineage, Toxin was the strongest of its known kind, apart from the abyssal god Knull. Its strength far surpassed that of both Venom and Carnage combined, and its abilities included all those of its predecessors.
When Eddie Brock was separated from the Venom Symbiote, he found himself dying of cancer. Following a failed attempt on Aunt May’s life, he resigned himself to his fate and decided to work alongside her at Martin Li’s F.E.A.S.T. Center as a volunteer. When Li’ used his Mr. Negative powers to rid Eddie of the cancer, he had – unbeknownst to them at the time – infused his white blood cells with the what remained of the Venom Symbiote in his system. Upon the Symbiote attempting to once again bond with Eddie, a new hybrid Symbiote was created and dubbed “Anti-Venom” (Amazing Spider-Man #569). As its name may suggest, Anti-Venom possesses properties that are unique to it on top of those typical of its species; for example, it has healing properties which it can use to heal a person’s body of any disease. It can also cleanse the body of further impurities, such as those implanted by various drugs or toxins. Anti-Venom’s most interesting property, however, lies in its ability to effectively negate Peter’s spider-powers. This developed when Anti-Venom attempted to cleanse Spider-Man of any Symbiote remnants, but in doing so, almost removed the radiation from his bloodstream as well. To top it off, Anti-Venom is not affected by fire or sonics, as its Symbiote counterparts are; in fact, it is immune to them (good thing he’s a good guy!).
The Klyntar mentioned above are certainly the most well-known of the Symbiote creatures, but that would be far from a comprehensive list. The evil Life Foundation, whom you’ll recognize from the new movie, captured the Venom Symbiote and extracted five of its “seeds” for the purpose of raising and bonding them to their own security in order to have a super-powered police force for the utopian civilization they wished to create (Venom: Lethal Protector #4 – the story on which that the movie is loosely based). These five new offspring would become known by the names Scream, Riot, Agony, Lasher, and Phage. These young Symbiotes, save for Scream, would become imprisoned within the high-tech government prison for super-powered beings known as the Vault, but upon feeling compassion for the alien beings and not wanting them to be resigned to a life of imprisonment, guard Scott Washington freed them. Though he would lose his job for breaking the aliens out of Vault containment, the four weakened Symbiotes would all merge together and bond with Washington, forming the hybrid Symbiote “Hybrid” (comic books are clever, people; never forget that). Yet another spawn of Venom was born when, during a battle against Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, his tongue was severed. This forcibly removed portion of the Symbiote would be used to create a Venom clone whom would eventually be bonded to Andrea Benton and known as “Mania” (Venom #1 in June 2003) before being forcibly unbonded from Benton by Lee Price for himself to become “Maniac.” Other Symbiotes include Zzxz, a Klyntar with a penchant for feasting on its hosts’ brains (and whom the Shi’ar Empire considers to be one of the five most dangerous criminals they had ever captured), and the seventh spawn of the Venom Symbiote called “Sleeper.” Sleeper would aid Eddie Brock and Venom against the latter’s original host (rewritten origin, because comics), the Kree supersoldier outcast Tel-Kar.
Each Symbiote and their various hosts have their own corresponding story arcs, with varying levels of detail and expounding to be had within. As Marvel comics has never truly rebooted their entire main universe’s continuity, the origins of the Klyntar (that moniker is a recent addition as well, as mentioned earlier) have altered slightly with each writer that has taken up the stories featuring them. While there is far more detail to go into for many of the more pronounced Symbiotes such as Venom, Carnage, Toxin, and Anti-Venom, that would necessitate individual real estate for each. This article should serve as a thorough introduction to the gooey glory of the Marvel Universe’s resident amorphous lifeforms that have given us some of the coolest villains, heroes, and anti-heroes in comics. Want to know more about any of the Symbiotes that were touched on here? Let us know in the comments down below and stay tuned to Geeks + Gamers!
- Venom: Lethal Protector
- Venom: Separation Anxiety
- Carnage U.S.A.
- Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars (1984)
- Venom vs. Carnage