Venom is one of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes and easily one of the most mainstream ones. You can talk to almost anyone who has ever heard of Spider-Man and they’ll be able to give you a basic rundown of how Venom works. Alien, symbiote, feeds off anger and adrenaline, hosted by both Peter Parker and Eddie Brock. What most people probably wouldn’t be able to instantly tell you about is Venom’s connection to one of humanity’s worst ailments: Cancer. It’s a factor of the symbiote’s character that even most comic fans probably wouldn’t pin point as absolutely vital lore.
However, when I did a binge read of every Spider-Man comic back during the pandemic I noticed a clear pattern of Venom material set both inside and outside of the mainline Marvel Universe making the symbiote be related to cancer in some shape of form. So today I would just like to briefly go over the linked history between various versions of the symbiote and cancer.
I had originally thought that the first connection between Venom and cancer came from the Spectacular Spider-Man storyline The Hunger, but the actual first connection between the two comes from Brian Michael Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man. During the 34th issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, released in March 2003, Eddie Brock unveils the Venom symbiote to Peter.
In order to give the symbiote a new backstory completely unrelated to interstellar events like Secret Wars, Ultimate Spider-Man opts to introduce the symbiote as an experimental cure for cancer. The way the symbiote was supposed to work in this universe was that it would bond with its host, search their body for natural toxins, and then dispense them toward the cancerous tumor to kill it and cure the host. As expected though, things go wrong when it bonds to Peter Parker and eventually Eddie Brock to become the villain we all know and love.
It wasn’t long before Marvel decided to then give the Venom of the main Marvel Universe a connection to cancer. During July of 2003 a new run of Spectacular Spider-Man by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos began. This run began with a 5 issue storyline titled The Hunger about the Venom symbiote separating from Eddie and hunting down Peter to rebond with him. The 4th issue released in September of that year drops the bombshell that Eddie Brock himself has cancer.
In this issue the purpose of the Venom symbiote and Eddie Brock’s character are retconned. The Venom symbiote is stated to have been feeding off of Eddie’s cancer and the adrenaline it gave him for the years since it first bonded with him. Now the reason Eddie was so desperate to stay bonded with the symbiote all these years is that he will literally die without it. I actually quite enjoy this retcon as I always found one of the weaker parts of Eddie’s character to be a lack of motivation for being Venom. My personal thoughts aside though, it’s very interesting to see two comics released incredibly close to each other both change the Venom symbiote to be cancer related.
With these two stories cementing a link between the Venom symbiote and cancer, it was only inevitable that other stories outside of the Ultimate and mainline Marvel universes would follow suit. Such as in September of 2007 when Amazing Spider-Girl had a storyline written by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz where the Carnage symbiote broke free from government containment and proceeded to bond with the supporting character Moose to terrorize New York.
In an attempt to distract Carnage and Moose long enough to defeat him, Mayday Parker tells Moose why the government had been experimenting on Carnage all these years: because the Symbiote can cure cancer. After hearing about this Moose and Carnage run to the hospital in an attempt to cure Moose’s father of the ailment but Mayday stops them with a sonic blast gun before Moose can infect his father with the symbiote.
This connection to cancer spreads even beyond the bounds of comics. The Venom symbiote’s existence in cartoons and film has typically stuck with a new origin created by 1994’s Spider-Man the Animated Series. In this new origin the Venom symbiote comes to earth either via meteorite or via hitchhiking on a spacecraft John Jonah Jameson is piloting. This origin allows writers to keep the symbiote’s alien nature without the need of a cosmic event like Secret Wars. Most of these adaptations make no mention of the symbiote’s connection to cancer except for one, and even then you must be actively paying attention to every line otherwise you’ll miss this connection. I am of course referring to 2018’s live action Venom movie.
The antagonist of the movie, Carlton Drake, runs a company that is experimenting on these alien symbiotes in evil ways such as bonding them to homeless people who will inevitably die from the experiments. Drake’s intention with these experiments is to create a higher lifeform and take over the world or something, but obviously he doesn’t say that to the public. What does the public think the Life Foundation is actually researching? A cure for cancer and all other human ailments of course.
I have no idea if the blink and you’ll miss it reference to cancer in this film is an intentional reference to the symbiote’s nature in the comics or if it’s just lazy writing and picking the most relatable ailment on the planet, either way though I feel this is worth mentioning.
That brings us to the present. The connection between Venom and cancer is constant but not quite mainstream, not yet anyway. There is an upcoming product that will involve Venom greatly that I’m willing to bet will involve cancer in some shape or form. That product being Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man 2.
During the post credits scene of 2018’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games, it was revealed that Norman Osborn was keeping his son in some sort of medical tube, with the final shot of the game being some web like material that resembles the symbiote touching the tube from the inside. One of the characters in this scene is Curt Connors, the scientist who becomes the Lizard.
Not only do we know that the upcoming game Spider-Man 2 will involve Venom prominently, we also know that Peter gets the suit while chasing after Connors in his lizard form. I propose the theory that Harry Osborn in this continuity has some form of cancer and that the Venom suit will have its Ultimate Universe origin as a cancer cure here.
If I’m right, this may be the thing that brings the cancer connection of the Venom symbiote to the mainstream. If I’m wrong, well I guess you’ll have the opportunity to come back to this article and tell me that I’m wrong. For now though, I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.