Some of the best Batman stories I’ve read deal with Bruce Wayne’s response to failure. Whether it’s the loss of a Robin, the loss of mobility, or the loss of a Robin, watching Batman come to terms with his own fallibility tends to make for good reading. Batman: Venom considers the lengths to which the Dark Knight will go to compensate for coming up short.
This volume collects all five issues of the Venom arc, originally appearing in Legends of the Dark Knight in 1991:
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #16
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #17
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #18
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #19
- Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #20
A child’s down there
Venom begins with our hero racing to save young Sissy Porter, recently kidnapped and left tied up in a flooding, caving tunnel. Unable to remove an enormous chunk of rock that blocks his way, Batman watches the girl drown as the water rises above her head. When Sissy’s father offers him a chance to enhance his strength, the Dark Knight reluctantly accepts, determined that he will never again come up short because of a physical limitation.
A handful of capsules
If, like me, you’re picking this up after reading Knightfall, a few interesting details stand out. First, the very title of the arc, Venom, recalls the strength-enhancing substance used by Bane in that arc. Second, the latter half of the book takes place in Bane’s home country of Santa Prisca. Knowing these things makes the story a bit more enjoyable, with Bane looming large over the narrative in spite of his absence from it.
The little-known Kris Kristofferson One-Arm Batsuit
That’s not to suggest that this book can’t stand on its own. Denny O’Neil’s script does a lot of things right, especially Batman’s progression from despair to addiction, and his subsequent triumph over that addiction. Alfred’s presence and perseverance stand out, his concern for Bruce often half-hidden under his characteristic dry sarcasm.
The villains’ scheme–to create super-soldiers–feels excessively familiar, but it’s still plenty of fun to see Bruce strive against it. A variety of locations and high-stakes situations certainly help in that; for me, it never gets old seeing Batman work his way out of a tight spot.
The bats. They won’t answer me.
Venom’s primary shortcoming lies in the flat characterization of its villains. O’Neil never explicitly says so, but it seems likely that poor Sissy Porter was offered up by her father, Dr. Randolph Porter, with the intention of drawing Batman out. I would have appreciated seeing this confirmed or at least danced around a bit more. Unfortunately, all we really get of Porter is a pure egoist without any emotional depth. His partner, General Slaycroft, isn’t any better, reading more like a stereotypical power-hungry military man than a real person.
Some folks might have a problem with how hard Bruce is on himself for not being able to lift six hundred pounds, and then how quickly he turns to Venom to make up for this physical “limitation”. I did at first, but once the story gets going, it becomes easier to roll with it, and seeing Batman battling his addiction is engaging enough to make the questions recede into the background.
Am I supposed to be impressed?
Russel Braun does a serviceable job on pencils, and even has the occasional great panel, but the star artist here is hands-down Trevor Von Eeden, whose exciting layouts propel the story forward even when O’Neil’s script lags or Braun’s faces come out a little odd. I wouldn’t say any of the five installments have any truly remarkable art, but from a storytelling perspective, Von Eeden, Braun, and company get the job done and avoid doing anything too distracting.
Except for this. This is very distracting. And disturbing.
Other than the original covers, there aren’t any extras included.
You can score this used or new from third party sellers on Amazon for about $10, and that’s a good value for five issues of decent story.
Batman: Venom is somewhat better in concept than in execution. Most of the characters are flat, and I feel like O’Neil missed an opportunity to go someplace interesting with Dr. Porter. Nevertheless, this book is an interesting read with a strong arc for Batman and Alfred, and I did enjoy working through it. The artwork fails to stand out in any meaningful way, but it does do its job in helping to tell O’Neil’s story (and even pick up some slack when the script falters). At the right price, there’s enough good stuff here to justify adding this to your collection.