The Marvel Universe is full of all sorts of strange alien creatures. As a Spider-Man fan, I’m not exposed to a lot of them, but the one that gets a lot of exposure in the Spider-Man comics is a great one, the symbiotes. We’ve since learned a lot more about the symbiotes as a species (now revealed to be the Klyntars) in the modern Guardians of the Galaxy comic, but until very recently, they were a blank slate. The Venom symbiote first showed up in Marvel in the Secret Wars crossover in the 1980s. Spider-Man reached into the wrong machine when he was trying to repair his costume at the base he stayed in with the other heroes and instead of a new suit of clothes, he got an alien parasite. Spider-Man eventually rid himself of the black goo creature, but it quickly found a new host: Eddie Brock, a man who hated Spider-Man and the two bonded over their hatred for him and set out to make his life a living hell. I’ll admit, not all of the Venom stories have held up well over time, but as a kid who was first introduced to Spider-Man thanks to the great 1995 Fox Kids cartoon, Venom has a special place in my nerdy heart. I’ve snagged quite a few versions of Venom over the years, but hands down, the best one came from the Marvel Select line. Not only is it a great figure, but it’s very versatile.
Venom is a character whose look really depends on the artist. The Marvel Select figure comes with a wide range of interchangeable parts (in lieu of a typical highly-detailed display base), allowing the figure to replicate three distinct looks from the character’s history. Venom was first created by, then-cutting-edge-now-kind-of-hacky comic book writer/artist Todd McFarlane. He originally drew Venom as a hulking but sleek figure. It really made venom look surprisingly inhuman. That was partly because at the time, no one at Marvel was sure whether the Venom symbiote was going to have another host or not since Spider-Man had fought the symbiote itself a few times. This is the first look Venom had, so I figure it should also be the first look for the review. The figure’s articulation all remains the same: Venom has hinged ankles, hinged knees, swivels at the mid-thigh, hinges and swivels in the hips (creating a pseudo-balljoint), a waist swivel, a chest swivel, balljointed shoulders, bicep swivels, hinged elbows, wrist swivels and a balljointed neck. It leaves you with a very poseable figure, though it’s not as poseable as figures out the Marvel Legends line. That’s the trade-off. If you want a bit more poseability, but a slightly less-detailed sculpt, go with Legends. If you like incredible sculpts that sacrifice a bit of articulation, go for Select. Whoever sculpted this figure did a great job with it. Venom’s got a very imposing presence, and honestly, he’s a pretty hefty figure. Despite the weight, though, he’s not terribly prone to tipping. Venom’s head, in his original incarnation, looked quite slick and alien and had a large, almost Joker-like grin. That’s what this head has as well. Despite its apparent smoothness, there are some nice wrinkles sculpted in there and the large grin looks appropriately off-putting. Part of what made the McFarlane-era Venom look so creepy was that he looked so close to human, but clearly he was not. The body is a little off-model with the McFarlane Venom. As I said, the original Venom was pretty slick and smooth. He was still incredibly buff, but the vein-y detailing of the musculature was lacking for many years. However, that’s part of what allows Venom to pull triple duty. It’s honestly not that big of a deal, but if you’re looking for a perfect representation of McFarlane’s take on Venom, you’re not going to find it here. The large white spider is sculpted into his chest and painted well. The paint work on Venom is spot on. The black and white are applied crisply and to replicate the comic art, there is a subtle blue highlight on the top of this head. It’s not much, but on close inspection it’s there. I appreciate Marvel Select adding in this little detail but I’m also glad it’s subtle enough that you don’t know it’s there unless you’re looking for it. I’ve passed on a lot of Marvel Legends Venoms (and black costume Spider-Men) because they really over did the blue wash.
As the years went on, Venom grew in size and scary factor. Artist Erik Larsen did the redesign on Venom where he picked up the large, scary teeth, the big tongue, the constant green drool and the massive clawed hands. Marvel Select Venom has a spare head and clawed hands to help recreate this look. I’ll admit, I’m partial to this look for Venom. This was my Venom and that’s how he spends most of the time on my display shelf. The fanged maw looks frightening and the tongue sticks out menacingly. This is a bit of a secret feature, but the tongue itself is also removable. It’s in there awfully tightly from the factory, but it can be pulled out if you don’t want Venom with his tongue sticking out all the time. It slides back in easily and it’s a nice touch. With the tongue out of his mouth, it’s far easier to appreciate the sculpting work that went into his head. The teeth are askew and give Venom a very frightening appearance. This is a version of Venom you won’t mistake for Spider-Man at a quick glance. The clawed hands are intimidating and look like he could do some serious damage with them. That’s the beauty of the symbiotes. Since they’re living creatures that respond to their hosts, they can assume a wide range of terrifying shapes. The face is horrifying and the large clawed hands, combined with Venom’s augmented strength turn him into a dangerous foe and this version of Venom definitely looks the part. The McFarlane Venom is creepy, but the Larsen Venom is a creature that would kill you just as soon as look at you. It’s no wonder he got dubbed the “Lethal Protector” when Marvel wanted to make Venom into a hero in the 90s with Larsen (and later Mark Bagley) drawing him.
The final option for Venom also incorporates the most extra parts. In the mid to late 90s, Marvel turned Venom into an anti-hero, with varying degrees of success. The sales were never strong enough for a full monthly series, but there were quite a few limited series. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the one that this look is based on, but it’s clear that the final Venom option was based on the limited series, The Madness, where Venom got exposed to some dangerous chemicals that mutated the symbiote into an even crazier beast. The head is based on cover art from Mark Bagley’s “Venom Returns” arc, but I think it kind of fits here with the Madness look since Venom’s transforming into something even nastier in that arc. The transforming head just like of looks at home here. Plus, there’s not really a Madness specific head, so I made due with this one. This head surprised me. There have been attempts at showing a Venom transformation before, but I’ve never been that impressed. However, this head actually looks pretty good. It’s designed around a very good piece of art, which helps, but the transformation is good and I kind of like seeing it on this version of Venom. When the symbiote was mutated by some toxic chemicals, Venom sprouted some extra arms and a bunch of extra heads. To accomplish this, Marvel Select essentially created a backpack with these details on it. It fits snugly on Venom’s shoulders, though Madness Venom (to co-opt the name ToyBiz used when they created a version of this Venom) is a bit more prone to tipping because the pack makes him a bit back heavy. Three of the heads have neck joints and the arms on the back have joints at the wrists, elbows, and “shoulders.” Fully mutated, Venom also sprouted some additional small arms elsewhere and to recreate that look, there are two arms that can plug into Venom’s forearms. I’ll admit, these aren’t the best pieces. The fit isn’t great and honestly, those arms were something that looked okay in artwork but just don’t look that great in 3D form. In The Madness, Eddie Brock really started losing control of the Venom symbiote and I think this look does a great job representing that particular look, even if it’s not a Venom story I’ve ever felt compelled to track down.
By any metric you look at Marvel Select Venom, it’s an amazing figure. The sculpting is spot on, the paint work is excellent, and he comes with enough extra parts that you can essentially get three figures out of him. Just to recap: He’s got three different heads, three sets of hands (two closed fists, two open, and two clawed), a pair of small arms, and a large back piece with two additional sets of arms built in (that he removable hands fit into). I got lucky and snagged my for suggested retail price ($30), but truthfully, it’s such a great figure and you get so much bang for your buck that in my way of thinking, suggested retail price was a pretty big steal. I’ll admit, I wish Venom had come with some sort of character-specific base like other Marvel Select figures do, but honestly, you get so much out of the add-ons, I understand why any potential base was cut. Given the choice, I’d rather have the option to make Venom look how I want than have a base that increases the figure’s footprint on my limited shelf space. Marvel Select Venom is the best version of Venom I think has been released period. There are some good Venom figures from back in the day, but Marvel Legends and its other related lines never figured out a good way to handle Venom. Yes, Marvel Select Venom is a bit bigger than the Marvel Legends figures, but considering he’s always been drawn as a hulking presence, I think his large size just bring him in line with how he’s traditionally drawn, so he looks perfectly fine squaring off against a Marvel Legends Spider-Man figure.