One of the great things about picking up a video game based on a comic book is that you get to inhabit the role of your favorite super hero. Whether it’s swinging around the streets of New York as Spider-Man, soaring through the air as the Man of Steel or frightening foes from the shadows as the Dark Knight, there’s no replacing the thrill you get as playing as these characters and why a site like this one exists.
Some of the best characters in comics however, are not the heroes, but the villains they go up against: the brilliant but insane clown prince of crime, the Joker, the dictating ruler of Latveria, Doctor Doom, the supposed savior of mutant kind, Magneto, or Thor’s mischevious half-brother, Loki. These are a just a few examples of characters that are considered evil that who are just as, if not more loved, than the foes they terrorize.
Playing as a bad guy in a video game is not a foreign concept; On the low end of the spectrum you have the universally detested Shadow the Hedgehog and on the exact opposite end you have titles in the inFAMOUS and Mass Effect franchises where you can actively choose the path of darkness over light.
That’s not to say that you can never play as a comic book villain in a video game, on the contrary. The original Lego Batman has a fifteen missions campaign devoted to the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes also provided the opportunity to play as the bad guy’s, though in the freeplay and open world missions after finishing the main game. A large, if not all, fighting games series that take inspiration from comics let you select a bad guy as a main fighter, a recent example being last year’s Injustice: Gods Among Us or traditionally Capcom’s mega popular “VS. Series.”
One character who has gone against this trend is Venom. Though he has been a boss character and antagonist to his arch-nemesis Spider-Man in video games going back as far as “Spider-Man” on the Sega Genesis and more recently 2008’s Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, he has been a playable, and even top billed, character in several games as well.
The first of course is the much beloved Spider-Man/Venom: Maximum Carnage based on the comic story of the same name. The player couldn’t start out playing as Venom in that game, but he did become available after a few short levels, and if you’re like me, you didn’t switch back to Spider-Man once you got the opportunity to use the character. Maximum Carnage’s follow up, Separation Anxiety, arrived a year later and with it came a few improvements from its predecessor. One of which was the ability to play the entire game with a friend, the other was that should they want, the player could select Venom to play from the start in either solo or co-op play.
When the Spider-Man video game franchised shifted to 3-D in 2000’s “Spider-Man” from Activision, Venom returned to his villainous ways, but through a misunderstanding in that game’s plot, ended up helping the web-slinger in the end. The character would return to playable status again in the first open world game after the game changing Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man. This continued a trend for the Venom character in that the games were he was billed as an alternate character were based in the world of the comics, though with a caveat.
Whereas Maximum Carnage and Separation Anxiety were based on story lines that appeared in comics, Ultimate Spider-Man was at the time positioned in continuity of the “Ultimate” universe. It showed what happened to Eddie Brock, the second Venom host in the regular and Ultimate universe after Spider-Man himself, after he was seemingly killed in battle. The story further delved into the disappearance behind the parents of Eddie Brock and Peter Parker as well as the symbiote suit. It was also the first time the “Ultimate” version of Venom was featured on anything but a cover with his trademark white spider logo.
There was a ten-year gap between Venom’s playable character status from Separation Anxiety to Ultimate Spider-Man, but his next outing would not be that far away. He was one of the many villains who players could take the role of in the based in the movie-verse kid friendly Spider-Man: Friend or Foe released in 2007, and again in 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, continuing on the trend of games Venom was featured in based on comic lines, as its plot took inspiration from both the Secret War and Civil War story-lines. Technically Venom was playable also in the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance, but he was a downloadable character that is not obtainable to the public unless you own a copy of the Gold Edition of the title or have downloaded him previously.
What makes Venom a candidate above all villains to get the status of co-playable character? For starters, timing. Venom’s popularity in the 90’s rose alongside the growing popularity of video games in the mid-to-early part of the decade. The character has also straddled a fine line between hero and anti-hero, only really terrorizing Spider-Man and not the innocent. The anti-hero, one that does good but goes about it in immoral ways, was something that also trended in the 90’s with the advent of Image Comics and more specfically, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. McFarlane also had a hand in the creation of the Venom character.
Venom is also in the unique position that whatever Spider-Man can do, he can do, so on a base level he can be a simple palette swap to his nemesis. He did have his own unique moves in both Maximum Carnage as well Separation Anxiety, but in the end he could still do whatever a spider can (climb on walls, punch bad guys, swing on webs.)
This year will see the release of the second iteration of Disney Infinity that will get its own Spider-Man themed playset based around a symbiote invasion. Not only will Venom be a character you can control in that game, but one you can own as a figure as well. With the character joining the ranks of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comic world and a possibly solo Venom film in the works at Sony pictures, I wouldn’t expect Venom to start disappearing from the video game spotlight anytime soon.