When I was a kid, my dad took me to some local convention or trade show. I have no idea why because my dad wasn’t the type who would go to such an event. He liked car shows, but from what I can remember this was more of a hobby show. It was early in 1993 and that was a moment in time when I lived in Virginia. My family only lived there for about 9 months so even trying to remember where this place was located is basically impossible. Anyway, I mostly just remember seeing lots of individuals selling old toys, comics, and baseball cards. That sort of thing. It’s possible my dad was trying to nurture my just emerging interest in model car building, or maybe my mother and sister were doing something together that day and he was just looking for a way to kill some time. It was while there though that he offered to buy me a comic book. I was newly interested in X-Men and always had a fondness for Batman, plus a comic book was probably the cheapest way to send me home with something. When we started looking at books, my eyes were immediately drawn to one comic: a red, foil, cover of the newly released Venom Lethal Protector #1. To a kid, anytime you see the number 1 on an issue it immediately screams “value,” and the red foil spider-webs behind this giant image of Venom just looked awesome. I wanted that one and my dad bought it for me. It was the start of my love affair with the character Venom.
Prior to that fateful day, I knew who Venom was. I mostly knew him as a Spider-Man foe and what little I knew of the character’s lore came from the back of the Toy Biz action figure card. Lethal Protector would be like my first, proper, introduction and I was smitten. Mark Bagley’s interpretation of the character would forever become my preferred one. He was drawn to be this massive dude, but not as chunky as the McFarlane original. He had this huge mouth with an insane amount of pointy teeth and that tongue was always flailing about with green slime dripping off. He was cool! And I loved that book though strangely I never bought another issue from that story.
When Toy Biz launched a Spider-Man line of toys to coincide with the 1994 release of the cartoon, Spider-Man, Venom followed. I actually didn’t like the inaugural jaw-chomping Venom released with the first wave, but I made it a point to collect every iteration of the character to follow. And I was pumped to see Venom make an appearance in the show. The wait for that felt excruciating at the time, but it was only the 10th episode when Venom appeared. Still, a weekly show for a kid is bad enough between episodes, 10 weeks (not including the weeks the show took off for reruns) probably felt like an eternity. And when he finally did show up it was for just one episode, and then old Eddie Brock found himself powerless and in jail. What a tease.
I mentioned it in my recent post about the upcoming X-Men animated line of figures, but the Spider-Man line from back in the day was similar in that it wasn’t exactly a reproduction of the show. It was however much closer than Toy Biz’s X-Men line and basically every major villain from the cartoon would make the jump to toy. The card backs also utilized the show logo and artwork from the show of each character so there was an obvious synergy with the cartoon. As the line went on it would move away from the cartoon a bit, especially with the Venom subline, but for the most part fans of the cartoon had the toys they wanted. Now though, we’re in an age where those who grew up with that cartoon are adults and have a certain fondness for it. And while the toys were close to the toon, they weren’t exact which just leaves enough room for a company like Hasbro to step in.
This year, Hasbro celebrated itself with its own virtual convention. Pulse Con took place on October 22nd and 23rd and it was an event with some reveals of Hasbro’s upcoming product and also a time to sell some exclusives. One of those exclusives was a special edition of Venom. And not just any Venom, but a Venom from the Spider-Man animated series. That version of the character is pretty unique as far as Venoms go. He had to be simplified in order to properly animate him, so the artists couldn’t give him rows of teeth or go too nutty on the tongue. Instead, he has just some obvious sharp teeth and they even gave him some thick, blue, lips. Venom’s eyes, always something that seems to change with the artist, were also simplified to a more definite shape. A little jagged on the edge, but also now with a more pronounced middle portion that included a large point cut-out of the white of the eye giving off the appearance of pupils. He has almost a reptilian quality to his face as a result, a little bit crocodile, but his mouth also sometimes took on a duckbill quality too in some of the less flattering stills. And foe whatever reason (and you can see it on the card art) sometimes he had a “butt head” where it curved into the center slightly before rounding out again like the top of a heart.
The feature of this Venom most likely remember though is the odd approach to shading the show took. When you have a show that takes place mostly at night, a big, black, monster of a character is tough to do. He needs to pop when on screen, so he basically needs to be outlined. Often times in comics or in cartoons blue is used to shade black. It makes no sense in the real world, but in the comic one it’s basically a rule of law. The show did use blue when it came to Spider-Man as he had to wear the black costume first. And when Eddie Brock took control of it they used blue again, but only for about half the body. The other half used red which didn’t make any sense in the real world or in the world of comics and cartoons. Why did they do that? I have no idea. Maybe it was just to differentiate him from Spider-Man? Red has a bit of a malevolent reputation, so I guess it makes him look more sinister. Then again, the giant mouth of sharp teeth accomplished that fine on its own. Maybe it was foreshadowing the Carnage symbiote? His dominant color is red, so it’s possible. For what it’s worth, when Carnage did show up the red on Venom had become even more saturated and bold, but that was probably just a variation in production. Maybe someone on staff felt the blue and red combo illustrated Venom’s anti-hero persona. He’s not a villain in the classic mold, he’s more like a guy who just hates Spider-Man and wants to make his life miserable. That’s probably a pretty far-fetched assumption though. Instead, it’s just an odd peculiarity with this version of the character, and it’s not the last! For his second appearance in the show, the artists added these web-like veins to his forearms which just seemed to draw even more attention to the red and blue thing. Of all the villains in the show, Venom definitely feels like the one who was the most unique as far as comparisons to his comic counterpart go. Similar to how Apocalypse had a completely different color scheme in X-Men versus the comics.
Because of that reality, and because Venom has remained a very popular character, is likely why Hasbro saw fit to do a cartoon version of the character. Hasbro has been releasing Spider-Man figures on retro card backs for a little while now with more planned. All of them feel more like an homage to the old toyline or just a fun way to release new Spider-Man figures. Venom is the only one that seems to be deliberately based on the cartoon. And the action figure does a pretty good job of capturing that likeness. First of all, he gets his own special box with his beautiful mug plastered on the front. The eyes are the dead give-away that this is animated Venom as opposed to one based on comic art. Inside that box is just a standard, retro, blister card with the figure inside. The card art matches the original jaw-chomping Venom from 1994 while the back has been updated for the new wave. If you have not bought one of these retro card releases, they’re a little different from what was sold in stores 30 years ago. The card itself is thicker and oversized. The blister also isn’t glued down over the artwork, but the artwork is actually laid over that. I wish Hasbro had invested in something resealable (especially since this release is about 10 bucks more expensive than a standard retail one), but as best I can tell the only way to remove the figure is to cut through the blister. Or you could just tare it apart.
Once freed from his confines, Venom stands a tick over 7″. He’s pretty beefy, especially compared to the Web-Man figure I looked at recently. The main body of this figure is apparently repurposed from Hasbro’s Omega Red release which was part of a Wolverine five-pack. It works well as a Venom body, though one could argue the shoulders could stand to be beefed up a bit. They sit low, which is a thing Hasbro has been doing for awhile, so in certain poses it looks a little off. The Venom from the toon had a really large upper body with a comparably small head. This Venom has more standard proportions and might actually be closer to the show’s model sheets than the character was on screen. The animation definitely wasn’t great and there are some pretty funky pictures of Venom out there. This figure most looks like Venom as he appears at the end of the opening credits. The other big drawback to this sculpt though comes from Omega Red having oversized shoulder pads. They apparently peg into the shoulders because Venom has a pair of holes in his traps. They’re basically right in the top of the figure, which also stinks because if they were more towards the figure’s back they’d be less visible. Or better yet, Hasbro could have spent a few cents more to inject some plastic into those holes or even fashion plugs. Either way, it sucks that this figure has random holes in its upper body.
Complaints about the holes aside, the rest of the figure looks quite lovely. The face looks dead-on for this version of Venom with light blue accents on the right side of his face and red on the left. In the show, the shading was usually of a bisected nature, though one color wasn’t specifically reserved for one side. It just depended on which way the character was facing. They would also do both colors on the limbs with one on the outside and one inside. As funky a design choice as it was, it’s pretty fun to see it replicated so well here. He also has the big, white, spider on his chest which properly wraps around to the back of the figure. To fit it inside the joints though, the spider on the rear of the figure is a bit squished, but it’s not as noticeable as it would be if they did that on the front. And they did to a point as the spider’s legs purposefully avoid the butterfly joint, but I don’t think it really harm’s the figure’s aesthetics. He does have his unique, forked, tongue which I’m not certain was ever supposed to be a true forked tongue in the show or if the animators just failed to paint the slime most of the time. Either way, this looks the part. The forearms of the figure also have the web-veins as seen in the character’s second appearance on the show, though Hasbro declined to paint them which is disappointing. What’s more disappointing is the absence of the white portions on the back of Venom’s hands. He had those in the show, so it’s bizarre to see them excluded here and it truly does bug me. Those are all design flaws though, the actual execution on this guy is pretty good though. The paint looks clean and it’s even well done around the teeth, where things could have certainly gone off the rails. The spider logo is sharp and neat and they definitely nailed those eyes. The sculpt, outside of the head, doesn’t have to do much since this is just a muscle dude in a skin-tight suit, but what’s there is well done.
Despite the premium price, Venom doesn’t come with a whole lot. We’re likely paying for a head-sculpt that will never be utilized again and for the special paint job, because Venom comes with just three accessories: a pair of fists and second head. Out of the box, Venom has open, style-posed hands. His right hand is more open than the left, but if you don’t like that look for your figure then Hasbro included some fists. They’re just fists, but they have the blue and red shading on them. They seem undersized to me, and that might be the way the forearms are sculpted on Venom which just causes them to sink into the arm. I don’t really care for the look as a result, but maybe that’s just me. The second head is the same as the the one that comes on the figure, only this one has a smaller tongue. The eyes, teeth, and expression are entirely the same, Hasbro was just able to glue a different tongue piece that’s contained inside the figure’s mouth rather than one that’s flailing about. It’s cool for anyone who dislikes the tongue, but I feel like that’s probably not many people. I would have preferred a closed mouth with a big grin, but again, this is a head-sculpt that probably won’t be repeated so I understand why we’re essentially just getting one.
Hasbro may have gone light on the accessories, but at least they didn’t when it comes to the figure’s articulation. The base body is pretty well loaded with a lot of functional articulation. Perhaps the only shortcoming is right at the top. The head is on a ball and hinge, but sits pretty low on that ball so the range isn’t very good. He can look up and down just a bit and rotate. Some neck articulation would have helped him look down further, and since he towers over Spider-Man that would be beneficial, but it’s passable. The shoulders are ball-hinged and the way the sculpt of the shoulder area slopes down does prevent Venom from raising his arms out to the side, but he gets close. The rotation is fine and there is also a butterfly joint in each one that lets him reach across his body. It moves well and only gets a little chunky looking when Venom rears back, but on the whole it looks fine and works better. After the shoulders we have biceps swivels, double-jointed elbows that achieve about 90 degree bends, and wrists that swivel and hinge horizontally. It all works fine, but the red/blue shading might drive you nuts if you’re intent on making sure the various swaths of color line up. In the torso, there’s an ab crunch that’s done quite well. Only when bending him all the way back does a hint of a gap start to show. There’s also a waist twist and ball joints at the legs. He can’t come close to pulling off a split, which is a little disappointing as Venom is quite limber despite his bulk, but I don’t consider it a deal-breaker. There’s a thigh cut and double-jointed knees that allow Venom to bend past 90 and he has hinge and ankle rockers down below that work great. Nothing really is missing. A lower neck joint would have been cool to see, but at least there’s nothing breaking up the sculpt. Everything is at a nice tolerance and no joints were stuck on my figure. Nothing is floppy and there are no joints that breakup the sculpt in a way that isn’t worthwhile.
Hasbro’s attempt at a cartoon accurate Venom is pretty damn close to a homerun. Any issues I have with the sculpt are what I consider nitpicking on my part. The only real issues I have with the figure is the missing paint on the back of his hands and those two holes in his traps. The hands might be an oversight or a design choice since they did put blue and red shading on the back of the hands, but the holes are just Hasbro getting cheap on us. Considering this guy was priced at $34, I feel like they could have fixed those and still made a tidy profit. Oh well, that’s Hasbro for you. Beyond those two issues though, this is a really attractive and fun piece to have on your shelf. The red and blue shading, as odd as it was back in 1994, is an attention grabber and makes this Venom design and figure feel truly unique. I didn’t even particularly like the character’s look in the show when I was a kid, but as an adult this does get my nostalgia juices flowing.
If you’re looking to get a Venom animated figure of your own, I’m afraid you’ve already missed the boat. Hasbro sold this one exclusively via its Pulse website following Pulse Con. It was up for about a day, but is now sold out. I would bet on a retro card Venom to follow at some point for a regular retail release, but it probably won’t have this head nor will it have the red and blue shading. That means if you’re really into this look for the character you’ll probably have to turn to the secondary market where it’s presently selling for 70-80 bucks. It’s hard to predict where the prices will go from here as it could climb, or maybe when Hasbro does a comic accurate Venom on this card-back it depresses the value of this one. It’s also hard to say if more characters in this style will follow. Venom is one of the more unique designs from the show, but there are a few others like Morbius and Punisher. And with Hasbro launching the X-Men line based on the cartoon it certainly could be a door-opening moment for Spider-Man as well. Whether or not this potential line is one and done, I’m quite happy with my purchase and I don’t know what I’d pay had I missed out. Best of luck to any who are trying to get him.