Spider-Man - The Venom Saga
Many of the studios have been cashing in on the recent popularity of comic books made into major feature films. With the incredible success of the Spider-Man franchise over at Sony, it was only natural for Disney to roll out they animated series they presented in the mid nineties. Instead of releasing complete season sets Disney opted for editions of specific story line oriented DVDs. The latest features one of the darker villains to go up against Spidey, Venom. More than then usual super bad guy Venom was the dark side of Spider-Man, an alien entity that can not only emulate Spideyís powers but improve on them.
The saga begins with the return of the space shuttle commanded by Col. John Jameson (voiced by Michael Horton), son of newspaper manager J. Jonah Jameson (voiced by Ed Asner). The big news was two mysterious rocks the crew discovered, a potentially extremely powerful source of energy called Prometheus X. Upon reentry the shuttle loses control and Spider-Man (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) saves the day preventing a major lose of life. Spider-Manís suit is stained by a black, tar like substance as he goes about rescuing the astronauts and while Peter thinks nothing of it at first he soon realizes that this is not your typical goop. Meanwhile, Rhino (voiced by Don Stark) steals the Prometheus X for his boss, crime lord Kingpin (voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne). Witnessing this theft is the overly disgruntled Eddie Brock (voice by Hank Azaria) who sees that by framing Spider-Man for the crime can seek his revenge on the web slinger and get back in the good graces of JJ James. Are you getting the idea that this is not the simple plotted Saturday morning cartoon so many of us grew up with?
The black stain on the Spidey suit soon grows to transform it into a nifty black version with what seems like the added benefit of greatly expanding all of Spider-Manís amazing powers. While initially this seems like a boon to Peter he soon realizes that the substance is a living entity, binding its DNA with Parkers. Before Spider-Man can remove the suit he has to first find John Jameson, who has been kidnapped by Kingpinís dastardly minions and recover the Prometheus X. After defeating Rhino, this massive grey villain goes after Eddie drawing him into the fray. Spidey finally manages to save Brock and remove the black suit but this is only the start. The substance covers Brock transforming him into Venom, a bigger, stronger and meaner version of Spider-Man.
I used to collect the original Spider-Man Marvel comics but I never really got into the animated series in the nineties. This set was not only a great way to become familiar with it but it also opened a flood gate of memories of my enjoyment of the comic in my youth. The series was true to the original intent of the comics offering a more complex set of characters and story lines. While there is the requisite good versus evil found in all super hero epics there is also a deeper, shade of grey present. When the alien tar first covers Spider-Manís suit Parker is elated at the prospect of greatly enhanced power. As the substance starts to control Parker, bringing him to the verge of murder, he realizes that he has the responsibility to remove it. It was threads like this that made Marvel comics better than most from DC, after all Superman never had to battle his tights.
Even though this saga has a purely evil villain in the person of Kingpin the more insidious bad guy is Venom, or rather Eddie Brock. Brock has been dumped on all his life and since he is unable to take responsibility for his own failure has to target the blame on someone else, Spider-Man. He even goes so far as to blame his eviction from his apartment and a head cold on the web slinger. Rather than the usual quest for world domination, Brock wants to use his Venom powers to destroy the object of his resentment. This gives us a bad guy we can almost feel sorry for, we all know an Eddie Brock, someone that seems to always be covered by a black cloud, blaming everyone but himself for his constant misfortune.
The selection of actors to voice the characters is for the most part brilliant. Ed Asner is perfect as the acerbic JJ Jameson. After all, Asnerís defining role on television as the rough journalist Lou Grant. His rough voice is a perfect match for what I always imagined when I read the comics. Hank Azaria is perhaps the most successful voice over actor today. With dozens of voices on the Simpsons to his credit he can customize his agile voice to any part and brings a human feel to the part of Eddie. I have always been amazed by the deep, resonant tones of Roscoe Lee Browne. From the nights I used to listen to him on the local radio to his screen work this man has the commanding voice necessary for a powerful crime figure like Kingpin.
While many fans of the series would have enjoyed full season sets the concept of theme sets isnít bad. You can watch the whole story as if it was a feature film. The set includes not only the original three episode arc but the two episode sequel that depicts the return of Venom. Some continuity is lost such as the events that made Eddie resent Spider-Man but like a good soap opera there is more than enough exposition to catch you up. The video is presented in full screen and is very clear with a well balanced color palette. It seems to be better than some of the reruns that turn up on television every so often. The Dolby two channel audio is free of distortion and provides a nice overall sound. You can view the episode sequentially or if you opt for individual viewings you are treated to a little introduction by Marvel lord and master, Stan ĎThe Maní Lee. For extras there is the Stan Lee Soapbox, a feature that dates back to the comic days, where Lee muses over the origins of Venom and various other details of his work. He talks about these comic characters as if they where his own children, with a fondness that comes right off the screen. There is a little featurette called the Venomous Web that provides trivia, background and details about the character. Even if you never got into these animated series during its broadcast days this is a great way to catch up and enjoy something with the whole family.