Originally presented in a 5-part story arc in “Legends of the Dark Knight” in the late 80’s, BATMAN VENOM collects the stories by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Trevor Von Eeden. Those familiar with the Batman stories know “venom” is the drug that gives a normal man near-superhuman strength used by Bane in “Knightfall”. O’Neil introduced the fictional drug in “Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter” in the early 70’s and recast it in Detective Comics in 1978. Dennis O’Neil was dissatisfied with the way he portrayed the venom drug and it took him three tries to finally get the concept perfect according to him. “Batman VENOM” is that landmark third try. O’Neil presents the story during the early years of the Dark Knight’s career with a lot of real emotions and dramatic content that proved exciting, compelling and suspenseful.
“Nobody ever becomes an addict to ruin his or her life. Addiction always begins with a desire to be Better. Stronger. Smarter. Suaver. Richer. Braver. More. The Promise is always greater fulfillment but the promise is always a LIE. It’s a lesson millions of people are learning, particularly on the streets of our cities--an agonizingly intense human lesson, and as such is appropriate as the theme of a Batman Story because despite his flamboyance and epic adventures; Batman is the most human of the great comic-book heroes.” -from the introduction of Dennis O’Neil.
When Batman fails to save a little girl named Sissy Porter from drowning in a collapsing tunnel, Bruce Wayne becomes wracked with guilt. Sissy was kidnapped to get the secrets of a research being performed by her father. Wayne is becomes obsessed with his failure that he agrees to partake of a drug called Venom to make himself stronger and faster. But there is a huge price, as Bruce Wayne is about to find out; that may come at the price of his very sanity. To make matters worst, Sissy’s father is working with a retired general named Slaycroft to make superhuman soldiers with Slaycroft’s own son as the guinea pig. Can the Dark Knight overcome his very human weaknesses to stop Porter and Slaycroft from unleashing their evil plans?
This story arc is among my favorites ever published in the Batman books because of its realism, its portrayal of human flaws and emotions as written by ace Batman writer Dennis O’Neil. The story focuses on Wayne’s obsession of pushing himself to the limit; his respect for the sanctity of human life and his brilliance is on grand display, Many readers believe that “Arkham Asylum” and “The Killing Joke” were among the best stories told about the Dark Knight and while I do agree, “Venom” stands side by side with “The Dark Knight Returns”, “Year One” and “Two” as one of the best presented in multiple issue formats. I guess this is why the 5-issues are now collected in one volume.
I guess the reason why I find this story so compelling is the fact that Batman is presented as a fallible human being; built on desires and some may even say vanity. I also enjoyed the fact that Batman foes appear to be much like regular folk albeit with the most malicious of intentions; but they are not garbed in costumes or armed with gimmicks as Catwoman and the Riddler were. Porter and Slaycroft represent the vilest qualities that humans are stoop to; they are arrogant, evil and have this “God-complex” going for them. Yes, there are villains in the book, but the greatest foe is the one raging within Bruce Wayne himself. He becomes his own worst enemy.
The reader becomes privy to the Dark Knight’s fall and reliance to a drug that can make one stronger in the beginning until it destroys him from within. I loved the fact when Batman appeared to consider killing his oldest confidant then Lieutenant James Gordon just to get his ’fix’. The dialogue is full of mature emotions and the art by Von Eeden is damn impressive in expressing the battle of wills being raged inside Wayne. I was impressed in the way O’Neil and Von Eeden managed to present a very mature premise in the pages of a comic book. The stories are emotionally charged especially chapters 1-3 that when it goes full circle in the last chapters, the reader is kept in pure suspense as to how the story can end. Batman was always portrayed as one of the most resourceful of comic book heroes and this book illustrates his early years as to how and why he is so driven to win.
The book is also extremely violent and depicts a strong violence against women. The illustrations never relent in presenting a bloody affair and even has a scene of physical torture. The layouts have that strong brooding atmosphere that can definitely be adapted into an excellent movie screenplay. The action is very intense, and doesn’t portray the Batman as strong, very fast and invincible. You see the humanity in the layouts as an injured Batman falls to a couple of thugs and even has a difficult time admitting to his very human frailties. Of course, the interactions between Batman and Gordon and Alfred were also done with meticulous style. This is Batman in his early years and this is Gordon and Alfred in their early years as well in their relationship with Wayne and his alter-ego the Bat.
“Batman Venom” is one of the most ambitious, dramatic tales that ever graced the pages of a Batman comic book. This series was published during a time when the term “graphic novel” barely graced the halls of the DC Publications. This is mature comic entertainment but still holds a compelling morality significance that both the young and old should be taught. Most people say that Batman is one of the greatest fictional characters ever created that graced the annals of pop culture--you know why, he is human. “Venom” takes his humanity into full exposition.
Highly Recommended! [5 Stars]